de Botton – How to Think More About Sex

How Think More About Sex How Think More About SexAlain de Botton; Picador 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I read de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex on 1-2 November 2014. It was not quite what I expected; I also expected more. Then again, I gave a mixed review to The Architecture of Happiness, which suffers from some of the same issues.

But first, the contents:

I. Introduction

II. The Pleasures of Sex

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

III. The Problems of Sex

     1. Love and Sex

     2. Sexual Rejection

     3. Lack of Desire: Infrequency, Impotence, Resentment

     4. Pornography: Censorship, A New Kind of Porn

     5. Adultery: The Pleasures of Adultery, The Stupidity of Adultery

IV. Conclusion

Homework

My comments and excerpts:

de Botton writes in an overly generalized fashion, he considers few alternatives, he is quite probably contradicting himself on a couple occasions, he is often anthropomorphic and reifies to no end, and he seems to have written this book from a healthy, Euro-skinned, heterosexual of reasonably decent (or better) looks perspective. Gays, transexuals, asexuals, whatever do not appear. Do not get mention. Nor do the vast majority of people who are of mediocre appearance at best. Apparently, the only ones who should be thinking more (clearly/intelligently/humanely) about sex are healthy good-looking heterosexuals. Not.

I know this book is short but it leaves so damned much out. And that is perfectly fine and certainly expected. But if you are leaving out that much of the human experience of sex without even mentioning that you have no space for it then you do not deserve to name your book How to Think More About Sex. It really is that simple.

Based on this alone, one probably ought skip this book. But it is short and it has great moments. There are things of import to think about that he brings up. Some of his offerings for ways in and/or out of things are fine and some are bunk. But he is trying to intelligently discuss sex. I appreciate the hell out of that! But this only hits on occasion and it misses by so damned much in its general approach to ignoring much of the world’s population’s individual experiences.

Let’s dive in.

I. Introduction

I really liked this bit in the Intro. The end of that first paragraph is a bit over the top but I can’t argue really with that full one after it. He does a decent but succinct job of showing how messed up our “thinking” is about sex and, thus, why we may need to think/talk/act more intelligently about it.

“…. We [are] bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.

     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.” 6-7

II. The Pleasures of Sex

He leaps right in trying to show that sex is messy and great and vengeful and loving and …. He does a good job showing that we truly are less in charge than we think when it comes to sex. This is also a bit thin for someone new to it (I am not) but he’s on the right track. Evolutionary biology can only explain so much (if it does at all) and one has to bring other theories to bear to explain more than mere biological sexual attraction for reproductive purposes. He does. Are they the right ones, or at least highly useful?

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

          “It could sound disgusting — and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.” 22

          “Sex temporarily liberates us from the punishment dichotomy, well known to every one of us since childhood, between dirty and clean. Lovemaking purifies us by engaging the most apparently polluted sides of ourselves in its procedures and thereby anointing them as newly worthy.” 37

On fetishes:

          “In a clinical sense, a fetish is defined as an ingredient, typically quite unusual in nature, which needs to be present in order for someone to achieve orgasm.” 38

          “In this wider sense, fetishes are simply details — most often related either to a type of clothing or to a part of another’s body — which evoke for us desirable sides of human nature. The precise origins of our enthusiasms may be obscure, but they can almost always be traced back to some meaningful aspect of our childhood: we will be drawn to specific things either because they recall appealing qualities of a beloved parental figure or else, conversely, because they somehow cancel out, or otherwise help us to escape, a memory of early humiliation or terror.

          The task of understanding our own preferences in this regard should be recognized as an integral part of any project of self-knowledge or biography. What Freud said of dreams can likewise be said of sexual fetishes: they are a royal road into the unconscious.” 39

Tying our fetishes to issues of values and the good life which he’ll bring out later:

          “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy’, the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” 44

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

          “A consensus emerges about which sorts of faces we find most appealing. From these studies [cross-cultural], evolutionary biologists have concluded that a ‘sexy’ person of either gender, far from being an unclassifiable abstraction, is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical (that is, the right and left sides match precisely) and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.” 81

          “The discipline [evol biol] absolves physical attraction of the charge of being purely superficial. While conceding that we judge people by their appearance, it holds that appearances themselves are anything but trivial and indeed point towards some rather profound qualities.” 84

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

          “Evolutionary biology confidently predicts that we will be drawn to people on the basis of their evident health, but it has not put forward any truly convincing theories about why we should prefer one specific healthy person over another.” 63

But what about people who clearly are not “healthy” who find love and are attracted sexually to others?

          Wilhelm Worringer’s theory on art appreciation; essay, “Abstraction and Empathy,” 1907 64-8

          Worringer’s theory applied to sexual attraction 69-72

          “We then declare people ‘sexy’ when we see in them evidence of compensatory qualities, and are repelled by those who seem prone to drive us further into our extremities.” 70

          “We need both art and sex to make us whole, so it is not surprising if the mechanisms of compensation should be similar in each case. The specifics of what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” 72

III. The Problems of Sex

This section attempts to offer possible remedies, or at least ways in, to mitigate some of the many problems with sex. Of course, only a few are covered in the short space allowed. I am not sure how effectively he deals with some of them either.

     1. Love and Sex

          “It’s time for the need for sex and the need for love to be granted equal standing, without an added moral gloss. Both may be independently felt and are of comparable value and validity. Both shouldn’t require us to lie in order to claim them.” 79

Amen! The data on this–and he does provide some; there is much more–show what a damaging idea modern love (and marriage) truly is. Maybe someday perhaps the two can be pulled apart in a more sane and sensible way but I have my doubts.

     2. Sexual Rejection

          “We don’t have to take sexual rejection as a sure indication that another person has looked into our soul and registered disgust at every aspect of our being. The reality is usually much simpler and less shattering than that: for whatever reason, this particular individual just can’t get turned on by our body. We can take comfort in the knowledge that such a verdict is automatic, preconscious and immutable. The one doing the rejecting isn’t being intentionally nasty; he or she has no choice.” 82

If we could already use reason in regards to love and sex then this probably would be less of an issue than it is. Realigning our views on the issue, as he suggests, would be useful but quite unlikely to be of use to more than a handful of people, statistically speaking.

     3. Lack of Desire:

          i. Infrequency

               “The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.” 97

               “While going about their quite different types of business, the lover and the artist nonetheless come up against a similar human foible: the universal tendency to become easily habituated and bored, and to decide that whatever is known is unworthy of interest. We are prone to long for novelty, kitschy romanticism, drama and glamour.” 99

               “We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine.” 102

          ii. Impotence

     Argues that this is a “symptom of respect.” Not buying that for a second, except in some percentage (I’m going with small) of all cases. And the reason why is all the bullshit he says about men in these paragraphs. Again, overly generalized beyond all possible acceptance. Gamergate and #teamharpy, along with way too many other things today show us that most men have not “evolved” as de Botton seems to think.

          iii. Resentment

               “By overwhelming consensus, our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real — that is, a necessarily rather unright — human being.” 121

Yes. This bit is quite valuable. Again, shows the utter destruction caused by the currently prevailing (by those in power) views of love and marriage in Western society.

     4. Pornography:

          i. Censorship

I. Just. He seems to accept, and argues, that pornography is extremely dangerous to society and that some form of censorship is necessary. He is writing in particular about the Internet. Yes, indeed, let’s let nanny-state governments censor the Internet so we can get back to work. Jackass! There are so many intermediate steps.

I should explain that my vehemence here is he because he made no real argument for pornography being an immense destructive force; just assumed via anecdata.

          ii. A New Kind of Porn

I. Just. Don’t. But now he wants a new kind of porn. “Virtue porn.”

“Yet is is possible to conceive of a version of pornography that wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue — a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” 139

OK. This might work for a few folks; he should go back and re-read his discussion of fetishes though, as a first caution. And some of his examples later on make some sense; again, for a few folks. But his discussion. Oy! His example to lead us into pornography that might support our virtues is Sandro Bottticelli’s The Madonna of the Book, c.1483.

Seems to be contradicting himself in these two sections also. Porn must be censored. Oh, look, a new kind of “virtue porn.” Make a choice or choose a middle ground, sir.

     5. Adultery:

          i. The Pleasures of Adultery

               “However, the real fault in the situation lies in the ethos of modern marriage, with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need.

               Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desire for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.

               In the past, these very distinct needs — for love, sex and family — were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another.” 152

          ii. The Stupidity of Adultery

This section brought out how also very middle-class and above focused it is.

IV. Conclusion

     “When every contemptuous but fair thing has been said about our infernal sexual desires, we can still celebrate them for not allowing us to forget for more than a few days at a time what is really involved in living an embodied, chemical and largely insane human life.” 175-6

I can certainly agree with this view, but while he did a decent job arguing this, if it was what he truly meant to argue then I suppose it would have been a somewhat different book. Or perhaps not.

Homework

This is the sources section.

Conditionally recommended is what I am going to say. That is, if you want to think more about sex. Then again, if you want to think more about sex then I would recommend this book [any edition would be fine], even if the focus of each is not the same.

Administrivia:

I had to create a record at Open Library so I could use John Miedema’s OpenBook plugin. I had hoped I was done with adding so many records there but is good to be writing again. And it is a nice record.

DigiWriMo 2014

I have committed to participating in Digital Writing Month 2014, more commonly known as DigiWriMo, this November. I did it its first year in 2012 and made my goal of 50,000 digital words. Most people who know November as a writing month know it as National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. There is also Academic Writing Month, AcWriMo. Wikipedia says there’s an Academic Book Writing Month, AcBoWriMo but that’s a new one on me. Well, on Twitter there is no #AcBoWriMo but there is plenty of #AcWriMo.

I have been driven to write lately—perhaps driven by the mysterious and as yet undiagnosed illness; which is neither here nor there. I have so many ideas and there are tons of old ideas not finished, or ever even fleshed out, to work with.

Preparation has involved recording these ideas as they occur and corralling old recorded ones too, prepping my Scrivener project file (my writing tool), and spending more time learning to use it well.

This year my goal is ≥ 1k words/day, with a total of ≥ 25k words/November. Yes. I am aware of the missing 5 days. I am trying to be gracious with myself. [If this illness can possibly help teach me that idea then, OK, I’ll take the rest. I’m not counting on this being an actual lesson, though.]

I do not know how much I will do with the, thankfully, re-expanded DigiWriMo folks’ official efforts but I will be “playing along at home” at a minimum. I certainly hope and plan to interact a fair bit. I just have to manage my stress triggers and adding a #digiwrimo twitter search window to my already overflowing two twitter accounts for a month ….

I also recently acquired a new phone making the leap from an iPhone 4S to a 6. I had been eligible for an upgrade for well over a year and $200 was the most they were ever going to give me anymore for my 4S. Or that anyone was going to give me. For a lot of hoops and a delay of several weeks, I got to pay roughly $100 and a $35 activation fee to move from a 16GB 4S to a 64GB 6. I took that deal.

It was particularly tempting as I use both TextExpander and 1Password on my computer. They have also both been on my phone but were basically useless. Finally iOS 8 allows them both to be useful. [Sadly, I will not be putting iOS 8 on my iPad 2. It is struggling already.]

The point of all this is that having those 2 programs actually doing good work on my phone may let me use it to do just a couple more tasks than I would’ve before. Also, the bigger screen isn’t to laugh at with my old eyes. They will also allow me to more productively write digitally even though what I “write” on my phone will still be pretty damned minimal.

Some of what I write will be public, much as now although even more will be. Much will be kept private. I really want to start doing a better job of journaling, in a couple senses of ‘journal.’ I hope DigiWriMo will spur me to do so, or at least take advantage of the illness’ urging me to do so. I hope to get a few more blog posts up here and definitely more written on By the barrel.

Poetry, 2015 goal planning, book reviews, tweeting, and all sorts of other writing endeavors are on the docket. Some of the topics I hope to address, whether public or not, include Facebook, gender labels (as language), gender on labels (as in depiction of on beer labels), sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, body image, altered consciousness, and many others. We will see what happens.

If any of you are participating in some kind of writing month in November let me know if you would like some support and hopefully we can find a mutual venue.

Spamalot

Thursday night we went to see Spamalot at the Tower Theatre. It was incredible!

This was a Stage Right Productions performance presented by the Tower Theatre Foundation.

On Friday, Sep. 6th, which being the first Friday of the month was Art Walk, the Tower opened their doors to the first rehearsal by the cast in the Tower itself. Previously they had been practicing in the 2nd Street Theater where they generally perform. We popped in just before they opened the doors and stayed for 3 or 4 numbers. This was without costumes, props or any amplification but we could still tell it was going to be hilarious so we immediately purchased tickets. We were able to get seats in the second row, just house right of center for a show that eventually sold out.

On Wednesday I watched the DVD of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that we got from the Deschutes Public Library. I wanted a good frame of reference for Spamalot since it is “a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” and I hadn’t seen the movie in a good while. You can pillory me now if you must but I really don’t think the movie has held up very well.

Anyway … the show was stupendously excellent! The serious amount of work that the cast and crew had put into the production was evident. I thought everyone was quite good but I want to point out a few of my favorites.

Gary Fulkerson as King Arthur was a great choice. “Solid as a rock,” one might say.

Tommy Kuchulis as Sir Lancelot (also as French taunter and Tim the Enchanter) was particularly good in his early scene and was absolutely superb in the gay song and dance number. He threw himself into it with total abandon and the fun he was having was clearly evident.

Randy Brooks was very good as Sir Galahad with long blond hair and—except for one still to-be-named actor/part—after his earliest scenes I thought he would be my favorite of the evening.

Michael Stumpfig as Sir Robin was exceptional! (Also as Guard #1 and Brother Maynard.) I loved pretty much every second he was on stage. His facial expressions and body language/movements were perfect for his role. He was almost my favorite of the evening.

That “honor” goes to Russ Pennavaria as Patsy. Patsy was so far beyond superb in every way! Even if he hadn’t been the one to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” I still would have been totally enchanted by his performance. Everything he did, from galloping along clomping his coconut shells to being put out when Arthur is complaining about being alone to his soul beaming forth when Arthur calls him family, was the epitome of stagecraft.

As I said, everyone did a wonderful job and the musical was immensely hilarious. I am so very glad we went. Thank you to all involved and congratulations on an incredible show!

Be sure to check out 2nd Street Theater’s website for upcoming shows and ticket information.

We never know how high we are. 420 humor.

I get a Poem-A-Day via email from Poets.org. If you like poetry then you should sign up for the free poem-a-day from the Academy of American Poets and be sure to check out the rest of the site if you are not familiar with it. It is a great resource!

I think someone there was having a little 420 fun yesterday when I saw the following subject line in my email: We never know how high we are (1176) by Emily Dickinson, which actually discplayed as:

We never know how high we are

I saw that first thing in the morning when I checked my email and just cracked up and wondered who at The Academy had such a sense of humor.

On that note, Emily Dickinson:

We never know how high we are
   Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
   Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
   Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
   For fear to be a King—

On photography

Just as I am excited about photography for the first time in a long time, Susan Sontag is killing my buzz.

I took a digital photography class this summer from the Mass Comm department at Briar Cliff. I was able to use my own camera and since we had to shoot everything on manual exposure, and build a varied portfolio, I finally learned to use my DSLR (Nikon D40X) that I got used closer to two years ago than I want to admit. [Thanks, Tracy!]

I had been shooting almost entirely on automatic even though I often knew what I needed to do to get better shots, or a shot, period. But I didn’t know how to make the setting in the camera. I used a Canon AE-1 for years (still have it) so I at least knew (once knew) how to partially control exposure on a camera. Actually, I know a fair bit about cameras and photography. I am just lazy when it comes to learning the complex features of software/electronics. I also learn these sorts of things orders of magnitude better when I actually need to use the feature and not by studying a book or manual.

Anyway. I now know a great deal about my camera, which is the primary reason I took the course, and even a little about Photoshop and the printing of color and B&W photos on Epson photo printers.

Now that I am effectively semi-retired (for the time being anyway) I have been contemplating taking my photography a bit more serious. I have no plans to become a professional but I’d like to step up my amateur game to the ‘serious’ level.

I have been reading a lot more about digital photography, perusing photo mags, lusting after things I cannot afford, reminding myself to use what I have until I reach its limits, and trying to figure out how I might get photos printed whether for myself or anyone else. I am also considering starting a photo blog with some of my better photos once I get my photo library migrated from iPhoto to Aperture.

How far any of this will go or how long it will last I have no idea. We (or I, anyway) will see.

So, Sontag? I came across a reference to her On Photography somewhere and I know that I read one of the essays a couple of years ago and thought it’d be a good idea to read all of the essays as collected in book form.

What a buzzkill! Thankfully I was already aware of much of her critique (so far. Am into the 3rd essay of 6.) so no big surprises. On the other hand, she is touching all of the right nerves with those critiques. While she is not citing any of them, she is using criticisms I have read (and agreed with) elsewhere, such as, from Jacques Ellul, Richard Stivers, and others, and from my own lived experience with photography.

The main thing mediating her critique for the moment is her rampant essentializing and over-simplification. While I frequently agree with her, I do not agree with her universal statements. While they are rarely written grammatically as universals they end up being so as they leave no room for disagreement, present no nuance, and make the claim that “photography is this, and it is that.”

I understand that by the 6th and final essay she had mitigated the views presented in the 1st one. I am hoping so. I feel that these critiques of photography are important. But. They must be fleshed out, contextualized and, above all else, nuanced.

One example is all I will provide for now. Perhaps if I write a review upon finishing I will quote her more.

“There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera” (7).

Hmmm.

Enjoy Every Sandwich – a short grump

Zevon, W. (2004). ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich‘: the Songs of Warren Zevon. New York, NY: Artemis Records,

Several weeks ago, for some reason I can’t remember due to Jackson Browne and David Lindley playing some Warren Zevon songs at the concert, I played some Zevon for Sara. As she started asking me about him we consulted Wikipedia and I came across the above CD.

I checked the Sioux City Public Library catalog and they did not hold it, but checking Iowa SILO I found it was available in the state so I requested it via the ILL form at SCPL.

Finally a couple of days ago I got a notice that it was in and today I picked it up. Turns out they just went ahead and bought it. This is the 2nd item I ordered via ILL that they bought for me. OK, really for their collection, but because I requested it. The other was Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget.

So, mad props to Sioux City Public Library for taking care of patrons. They rock!

My little grump is due to the fact that upon checking it out I was informed I only get it for one week instead of the usual three weeks. It seems it already has a fair few holds against it … so I get a restricted loan period.

Um, it wouldn’t even be available if I hadn’t requested it. It’s not like this is a new CD or something; it’s from 2004.

Anyway, no big deal really. I don’t need it for longer than a week. And, again, SCPL is rocking my ‘info needs’ so far. At least the ones I pass their way.

By the way, on first listen I pretty much agree with the All Music Guide review which you can read at the WorldCat page from the link above. But, so what? I’d rather having a loving tribute to Zevon than no tribute at all!

Long time gone

[This post title is, for me, multi-meta in that it refers to several things.]

It has been a long time since I’ve been here. Part of me is sad about this fact and part of me thinks that is just fine.

A lot has happened since I last wrote here:

I quit my job as a serials cataloger at the University of Illinois so I could concentrate on (then) upcoming weddings and our move.

Sara and I were married in late May in a small but wonderful ceremony amongst family and friends in a cabin on the banks of the Sangamon River.

At the very beginning of June I started prepping for our move to Sioux City, Iowa.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter got married in Oberlin, Ohio in an even simpler, but absolutely lovely and moving, ceremony to a wonderful young man that I couldn’t be prouder to be related to.

On the evening of 3 July we left Urbana, IL and headed for Sioux City. As of 4 July we are residents of Sioux City. This is a vastly different place  than Urbana-Champaign, in so many ways. We are still getting it sorted out but we will.

We had a good week and a half before Sara had to start her job and we made good use of it. Sara worked for 3 days and then we took a vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota to spend some time in a couple of cabins with some friends of Sara’s from high school and their respective significant others and children. On the way home we drove through the Badlands. I have a couple of pictures up but I have 100s more to be tagged, labeled, decided upon and uploaded. Suffice it to say that it was beautiful! And being the against much of pop culture fiend that I am, we skipped Wall Drug (unfortunately not the signs though), Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Once back Sara got back to work and is enjoying learning the ropes of this vastly different, and vastly smaller, university. I got back to work on organizing the house, merging two large book collections, much of which was in storage, along with merging two large CD collections, of which all of hers were in storage. There is still a bit to do on all the house organizing fronts but it is definitely getting there.

Shortly after we got here we bought ourselves a 32″ LG HDTV with built-in netflix streaming so we’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and some other things.

We’ve been taking an online class on HTML5 via SitePoint and in a few weeks will take one on CSS3. They were $9.95 each! So the last 2 weeks that is what we’ve been doing in the evenings when Sara gets home from work. (And, yes, I know the CSS3 course says it is $14.95 but by signing up for both at the same time we got a $5 discount!) I think that for the price they are quite good. As with any class it is (mostly) about what you put in to it.

Speaking of courses, Briar Cliff University has a 100% tuition remission policy for spouses so I’ll be taking a 1 credit class this fall called Madwomen Poets. About all I know about it is that it includes Sexton and Plath. But who cares what, if anything, else it might be? Who could ignore a class entitled Madwomen poets?

I know. I know. I’m supposed to be doing other things, “more important” things. And I am. But it is 50 minutes, 1 day/week. I figure it’ll help keep my mental chops in order. And at this point I still don’t know if I’ll be taking it for a grade or auditing.

As to that more  important stuff … I am ramping back up the work on my CAS thesis via several angles of attack. I am working on the paper proper and I am also working on a journal article, which will be highly related (as in with a little reworking can become a chapter), and I am thinking about trying to come up with a presentation for a conference in early December. The conference is “Semantics for Robots: Utopian and Dystopian Visions in the Age of the ‘Language Machine’. ‘The Language Machine’ is one of Roy Harris’ early books, of course.

As for conferences, I am really sad that I will not be able to attend ASIS&T in Pittsburgh this year. But seeing as we gave up about $40k in income with me not working there is little means of justifying the expense of travel and lodging. And, honestly, the registration cost is plain crazy for an unemployed non-student, non-retiree.

Sara and I decided that the Integrationist conference in Chicago in December, along with being far cheaper, is really more where I need to be right now. I need exposure to more Integrationists and Integrational thinking and I will get far more out of a small conference (as I always do) than a bigger one. Whether or not I can get something submitted (and possibly accepted) I am highly looking forward to it. Nonetheless, this will be the 1st ASIS&T I’ve missed since I started going in 2006.

And if any of my Chicago friends are reading this, I’d adore an invite to stay with you for a couple days in early December (2nd-4th, or so), especially if you are near the Univ. of Chicago.

Tomorrow night we are, thanks to a surprise from Sara, going to see Jackson Browne and David Lindley and the historic Orpheum Theatre here in Sioux City. I have been listening to (early) Jackson Browne for close to 40 years now. I haven’t really kept up with anything since the mid-80s or so but, nonetheless, I am stoked to finally get to see him live for the first time.

We also have a Super Secret Date night scheduled for Sunday night. Sara had that lined up well before we left Urbana. She offered me the chance to find out what it’ll be last night but I passed. I like the surprises! She’s done so well every time in the past. And it also makes me aware that it is past time for me to step up in the Super Secret Date Night scheduling department.

And in case anyone who cares isn’t aware of it yet, my son is in Afghanistan for his 3rd war zone tour. He left just days after we moved. Grrrr.

I guess I best end this for now. It is getting long and the simple shock of seeing a post from me is probably enough already. With any hope I won’t be gone as long before the next time.

Is the iPad a consumption only device?

Yesterday I finished reading Walt Crawford’s “Zeitgeist: hypePad” article in the newest Cites & Insights.

Walt did a fine job of summarizing a lot of blowhards and a few sane persons. But. The further along I got the stronger my apprehension got. Was Walt going to notice something I was noticing or was he buying into a certain rhetoric and, if so, why?

Here’s the thing. Many people, people on both ends of the iPad hype spectrum, are claiming that it is purely a content consumption device and not a content creation device. And that, my friends, is pure horseshit.

While there are some serious issues with how proprietary the device is, the limits of the iTunes/app store model for acquiring software you need/want, and the rampant DRM, and these certainly deserve some critical ink spent on them, this in no way makes the device a “consumption only” platform.

I am not sure what constitutes content creation for the technophiles and Wired editors and the likes but I believe that Walt knows better. Almost no one is producing fancy, professional-quality, full-color glossy Web magazines. We are writing blog posts, interacting in Facebook, conversing in friendfeed, posting pictures to Flickr and other image sites, writing documents and reports that end up on the Web, and so on.

The iPad will not only allow but enable one to do the vast majority of these things! Sure, you won’t be able to run Dreamweaver or QuarkExpress or … but these are NOT the only things that generate “content” [By the way, let me go on record here as to how much I dislike this usage of “content.”].

According to the iPad features page it includes Safari, Mail, Notes, Keynote, Pages and Numbers, along with, of course, access to the App Store. While most of us probably do more consuming with our web browsers we also do creative work. This critique may be minor and it may not be very creative but I am not consuming it and I am creating it in a browser. I could have written this on my Touch.

The other programs are even more heavily toward the creation side of this supposed dichotomy. There are also apps for painting and drawing and many other forms of creative activity. Famous artists have even used their iPhones to create and share art.

Walt does say that “the iPad will succeed or fail largely on its own merits. While those merits may not meet my needs—and while I do believe you’re better off thinking of the iPad as an appliance, not another kind of computer, and that the closed model is dangerous—there’s no doubt its merits are real” (p. 30). Yes, I think the appliance label is useful. I certainly do not think of my Touch as a computer except in a generic sense.  I certainly do not confuse it with my MacBook and what it can do.

I am intrigued by the iPad but I highly doubt I will be buying one any time soon. I do my best not to buy 1st generation hardware/software from anyone. And I have serious concerns with the many other issues around the iLine of products—closed systems, DRM, etc. I also do not know where the iPad would fit into my way of being.

Walt finds the closed model dangerous and so do I; especially if it proliferates and closed systems become our only choices. But I also find lots of room for the closed appliance model of computing. There are an awful lot of people who could benefit from a device like this who are simply overwhelmed with a standard computer and all that that entails. Of course, most of the people Walt cited—the pundits anyway—probably cannot begin to relate to that thought.

So while the kinds of content that can be created on an iPad are reduced from what one could do with a full general-purpose computing device and appropriate software and input/output devices, it is not non-existent. To call an iPad—in general, irrespective of any particular use cases—a content consumption only (or primarily) device does more to show us what the commentor thinks they value over the truth of the matter.

For instance, Walt cites Lauren Pressley’s thinking (p. 16) “that things on the web are shifting from mass creation to primarily consumption (that is, “regular folks” are mostly tweeting, not contributing long-form content) with organizations creating more of the content ….” But since about Day 2 of the Internet that has probably been the case with organizations creating most of the (long-form) content.

Also, since when is Twittering not content creation? There seems to be a real discrepancy between what people consider not only “content” but “creation.” Until those nuances are pulled apart it is nonsensical to make such statements and to apply such labels to our devices.

In the end, I do think that devices like the iPad are restrictive in the way of content creation. But then so is my $2000 laptop. My laptop cannot help me paint a picture in oils on a real canvas, nor can it help me build a fancy gingerbread house. Now just hold on! If you want to tell me that I can find all kinds of good info on the web on how to paint, where to buy supplies, etc. that is only consumption towards a creative goal (under the current model). If you tell me I can find designs for gingerbread houses on the web then same thing. And I could do all of those with an iPad.

One thing to notice here is the complex issue of just when and how does consumption lead to/change into creation. There are no acts of immaculate conception in art/creation. It all comes from some influence; an influence that was consumed at some point, whether one knows it or not.

There are also larger issues of just who is doing content creation to share on their computers anyway. And of what we are calling content creation. Sure, precede it with long-form content, if you like. But you cannot separate long-form content until other kinds until you have delineated what content is, period.

In summary, while there are many issues surrounding the closed appliance model of the iPad to call it a primarily content consumption device, all the while ignoring what is or is not consumption vs. creation, ignoring other use cases than ones own, ignoring who is creating vs. primarily consuming, is simply to show ones biases.

In the end, once/if all these ideas are teased apart we might still label the iPad and similar devices as primarily consumption devices. I am perfectly fine with that, because then we will know what we are actually claiming.

Do I expect any of this to happen? At least on a broad-scale? Nope. No hope whatsoever. Academics will pull some of it apart, if they aren’t already, but little will filter down into the mainstream any time soon.

Unfortunately, this is an area that is rife with hype and I do not see it changing any time soon. But I intend to stay alert for this kind of framing—if one can call something framing which lacks much structure—and rhetoric so I can better assess the tools my society makes available.

Disclaimer: I am not an Apple fanboy although I am an Apple user. I have a 30GB photo iPod, a Touch, and a MacBook. I also have a 12″ PowerBook collecting dust until I possibly get around to totally reinstalling the OS and software.

But ask me about my 1st computer purchase years ago only to have Apple kill the Apple II line once they decided everyone had to have a Mac. My next and 3rd and 4th and 5th and … computers were all DOS/Wintel-based, for years after.

I think that, for now, Apple computers offer a good bargain; quality hardware and software for a reasonable price. Is there a premium? Sure there is. But I do not mind paying for quality in my important purchases. But, although far less than when I had Windows machines, I still yet at my computing devices on occasion, just as I frequently curse Steve Jobs and his (peoples’) design decisions that baffle me.

Movies watched in 2009

Most of these are new to me, but a few are venerable classics that I got to share with Sara for the first time [Stop Making Sense] or that we got to see together in the theater [The Shining]. Many movies I watched are not on this list because I have seen them before. As Sara pointed out, I’m not entirely consistent with my including or not.  Le sigh. [Not that I had any delusions that I was, mind you. And after a discussion on the way to the Urbana Free Library (UFL) today it seems we are recording them for somewhat orthogonal reasons. But I may begin leaning her way. The things I wanted to “count/analyze” would be available via her more elaborate bookkeeping, amongst others.]

It appears I listed 5 movies I have seen before that I saw with Sara in some venue this past year. One of these [Woodstock] was from Ebertfest.

Twelve movies were seen at Ebertfest in April. We have our festival passes ordered for this coming year, too.

An additional 14 were seen on the big screen, for a total of 26 in the theater.

A few (3-4) were seen at the IMC and at the Krannert Art Museum on assorted mid-sized screens (DVD projection generally) [KAM link has been down for several days].

The rest were on DVD via purchase, That’s Rentertainment, Urbana Free Library, Netflix, or on Netflix streaming, oh, and one or two from our own Undergraduate Library; I need to think of them more often.

Total looks like 79 movies. Again, what exactly does this number represent? Even I am hard pressed to accurately say. Nonetheless, the movies I generally saw for the first time in 2009.

January 2009

Stop Making Sense – 1st time for Sara
Unrepeatable – Eddie Izzard
Persepolis
War of the Worlds (1953)
War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise)
Dedication
The Lady Vanishes (1938 Hitchcock)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975 Connery/Caine/Plummer – Kipling)

February

Sunset Boulevard (at Krannert Art Museum)
Firedancing (2001 by Jimi Jones) (IMC Film Fest with Sara & Tim & Tracy)
Proceed and Be Bold (2008 by Laura Zinger about Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., letterpress printer) (IMC Film Fest with Sara & Tim & Tracy)
Puccinni for Beginners

March

Watchmen (Savoy)
The Tiger and the Snow – 1st time for Sara [link]

April

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors
Bobby

Ebertfest 22-26 April (at The Virginia Theatre )
22 Apr
Woodstock

23 Apr
My Winnipeg
Chop Shop
Trouble the Water

24 Apr
Begging Naked
The Last Command
Frozen River

25 Apr
The Fall
Sita Sings the Blues
Nothing But the Truth
Let the Right One In

26 Apr
Baraka

May

Wolverine (With Sara & Jess at Savoy)
Hairspray (orig. 1988) (at IMC)
Star Trek (at Savoy)
Northanger Abbey (2007)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

June

Invasion of the Bee Girls
Unconscious (Sp)
Synecdoche, New York (That’s Rentertainment)

July

Fist of the Warrior
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (Savoy)
Moon (Boardman’s)

August

Beautiful People (from UGL)
A Collection of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films (from UFL)
Charlie Wilson’s War (from UFL)
Incubus (1965 William Shatner in Esperanto)
Red Hot + Blue

September

500 Days of Summer (Savoy)

October

She Wolves of the Wasteland
Miss Potter (from UFL)
Quantum of Solace (from UFL)
History Boys
The Shining  (at The Virginia)
Were the World Mine
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia #1 [streaming!!]
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Dancing Men #2
Where the Wild Things Are (at Savoy)

November

Getting Home / Luo Ye Gui Gen (China – Global Lens – at The Virginia)
Mutum (Brazil – Global Lens – at The Virginia)
shrink (2009 – Kevin Spacey)
Il Mare (Korean)
2012 (at Savoy)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Naval Treaty #3
My Blueberry Nights (Norah Jones)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Solitary Cyclist #4
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Crooked Man #5

December

My Time Will Come / Cuando Me Toque A Mi  (Ecuador – Global Lens – at The Virginia)
Greenfingers
Jellyfish (Israel)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Speckled Band #6
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Blue Carbuncle #7
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Copper Beeches #8
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (from UFL)
Man of Flowers (1983 Aussie / from UFL)
City of Embers
Avatar 3D (at Savoy)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Greek Interpreter #9 (with Charles Gray)

Chinese Food & Movie Day (aka Christmas Day)
Sherlock Homes (at Savoy with Ellen & Lori)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Norwood Builder #10

My Fair Lady (from UFL)
Twelfth Night (2003)
Moonlighting (pilot – from UFL)
The Brothers Bloom
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939 Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Ida Lupino)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Resident Patient #11

Some good, some bad. A few great. Wondering what’s in store for 2010? It’ll be a couple more months before the lineup for Ebertfest 2010 is announced (March usually). Can hardly wait!

Some things seen around the Internet lately

Drinking with the Troops

From a local blog, Urbanagora, comes “Drinks with a Soldier.” I just love how some jackass commentor tries to hide behind the shield of anonymity and call the post author a liar. Certainly there are all sorts of views on this war, including those of the troops fighting it.

Perhaps if you ever get the chance—you could try arranging the chance—you, too, should have drinks with a soldier (or sailor, airman or marine) and find out a bit about what it is like on the ground in this war.  Of course, don’t forget the millions of servicemembers still living who served in our previous wars. A patient, caring ear would do many of them a world of good.

The value of a liberal arts education

For an interesting discussion on the value, or lack thereof, of a liberal arts education and liberal arts colleges see “On Liberal Education” at the Academic Librarian blog. Wayne Bivens-Tatum critiques the views of the author of a new book on the subject, as presented in The Kansas CW.

A spirited back-and-forth between Bivens-Tatum and the book author follows in the comments. I should state up front that I agree entirely with all of Bivens-Tatum’s points and his larger argument. The book author tries to point out some flaws in Bivens-Tatum’s arguments which simply are not there. I found that rather humorous.

But the one point I was hoping Bivens-Tatum would take up was the author’s insistence that some immediately practical subjects should get substituted for liberal arts classes because students are incurring too much debt, can’t pay their student loans, have to take high paying jobs vs. the job of their dreams, have to move back home with mommy & daddy, etc. because colleges are financially predatory.

So the solution is immediately practical vocational training? Wouldn’t better financial counseling for students, laws barring credit card companies from preying on students, educational finance reform, and so many other things be helpful, too, and perhaps even more ethically important? Have a look and see what you think.

Early Mike Wallace interviews with “important people”

Via Resource Shelf comes The Mike Wallace Interview.

In the early 1960’s, broadcast journalist Mike Wallace donated 65 recorded interviews made in 1957-58 from his show The Mike Wallace Interview to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The bulk of these were 16mm kinescope film recordings, some of the earliest recordings of live television that were possible, and that survive today. Many of these have not been seen for over 50 years, and they represent a unique window into a turbulent time of American, and world history.

See interviews with jockey Eddie Arcaro, stripper Lili St. Cyr, actress Gloria Swanson, Steve Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright, birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt, novelist Pearl Buck, and many others.

Doing the dirty fictionally

Via 3 quarks daily we get a book review in the New York magazine of Robert Olen Butler’s Intercourse: Stories. Find it in a library near you via WorldCat.

Robert Olen Butler’s new story collection, Intercourse, is, as its title suggests, totally about doing it. It imagines the thoughts of 50 iconic couples as they knock the proverbial boots, beginning with Adam and Eve copulating on “a patch of earth cleared of thorns and thistles, a little east of Eden,” and ending with Santa Claus blowing off postholiday steam in January 2008 by doing the nasty with an 826-year-old elf in the back room of his workshop. But, as the clinical tone of Butler’s title also suggests, Intercourse is very much not a work of erotica. It tends to ignore messy fluids and crotch-logistics in favor of wordplay and psychological nuance.

Civilization and cultures

Also via 3 quarks daily we get Tzvetan Todorov in the Pakistan Daily Times thinking and writing to his usual standard of quality.

But if you look at this line of argument more closely, the flaw in Barnavi’s argument is immediately apparent. The meaning of the words civilisation and culture is very different when they are used in singular and plural forms. Cultures (plural) are the modes of living embraced by various human groups, and comprise all that their members have in common: language, religion, family structures, diet, dress, and so on. In this sense, “culture” is a descriptive category, without any value judgement.

Civilisation (singular) is, on the contrary, an evaluative moral category: the opposite of barbarism. So a dialogue between cultures is not only beneficial, but essential to civilisation. No civilisation is possible without it.

[There, S, I did it. And no, neither linking to the Academic Librarian nor WorldCat invalidates my effort. ;-) ]