Lots of horrible and horrifying things coming out of the news. I keep thinking of a book I just read, called Isaac’s Storm, about the “worst” hurricane to hit the United States. The hurricane hit Galveston Texas near the turn of the century and killed around 8000 people. The book documents the movements of the town’s U.S. Weather Service rep and his failure to save either the town or his wife. The stories of people huddled in their houses as the water rose come back with vivid clarity as I read about helicopter crews chopping their way into attics. The key subtext in Isaac’s storm is the blistering arrogance of the rational scientist. Isaac thought he knew weather–he’d written papers about how Galveston was impossible for a hurricane to hit. I wonder how well we warned about the severity of this storm?

Most disturbing to me is the fact that the water is polluted and dangerous. I keep trying to imagine the tsunami–where this sort of thing happened across whole countries. I’m also hit by this paragraph:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number — 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious [hooey] about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources — meaning, the political will — weren’t there to get them out.
(from boingboing)

The same could be said about the tsunami in Asia–California has offshore sensors to warn of such waves, but there are no such sensors in the countries hit by the tsunami. I can’t help but see the everyone for him/herself attitude as part and parcel of the capitalist mentality. Best and worst thing to happen to humankind indeed.

Golf? Me?

I went to the JA Classic this weekend, a friendly best-ball scramble hosted by some friends of mine in the wilds of western Wisconsin. I’m a terrible golfer but I had fun.

Frederic Golf Course 3

Movie meme

Clancy asks: Who would you like to play you in a movie based on your life?


But come on, who would probably really end up playing you in a movie based on your life?


Update (8 Sept):

Rob suggests Alan Tudyk. Good call.


Oh Columbo, you genius!

Last night I watched a Columbo from 1974, which was excellent for its fascinated use of reel-to-reel tape recorders. At one point, Columbo encounters an answering machine and isn’t quite sure what to make of it. He leaves the following message:

Hello … this is … lieutenant Columbo … with the Homocide division …. Please give me a call at the main precinct…. The number is … you can look that up ….

I was wondering two things about Columbo:

  1. He nearly always investigates the wealthy. The shtick of the show is that the wealthy/connected murderer believes he’s (I’ve only seen one episode with a female villain) smarter than Columbo. I’m curious about whether Columbo’s doofus act would work with people who aren’t so arrogant. He does seem to adopt a different level of competence when he’s talking to others.
  2. How much of Columbo’s goofiness is supposed to be an act? He’s clearly meant to be manipulating the villain with his disarming manner. I ask because of the finale of this last episode. Columbo goes to confront the murderer for the last time. He brings along a paper bag with the crucial evidence in it. When he moves to pull out the evidence, though, the first thing he finds is a sandwich in wax paper. “Oh. That’s my lunch. Don’t worry about that, sir.”

    Why was his sandwich in there? We can assume he went to the precinct to pack his bag ‘o evidence. We can also assume that he doesn’t need his goofy act any more—the crucial moment in each episode is the moment where he sheds that act and nabs the murderer. Yet Columbo put his sandwich in there.

American Flagg!

I’m a bit late getting this comic up, but this was the comic I found in the bins during my random search. I must admit–I’ve heard of this before and was pretty excited about finding it. Nonetheless, I’ve scanned a few panels for the Rose Hobarth project:

American Flagg! 1 cover


New music habits

We just re-arranged our home office and, as a result, I no longer have a stereo on my desk. This isn’t a problem–I still have access to a stereo, just not as conveniently. I thought I’d take this opportunity to leap into the digital age and start using some of the 220GB of unused space on my hard drive. Thus, instead of loading three CDs in the stereo to shuffle all week, I’m going to rip one CD each day and start building an Mp3 library.

My question for you readers is: what advice do you have for using such a library? I’m using the cheapo software that came with my Dell at present, but is there something better? Should I be downloading iTunes? I haven’t got an iPod and don’t expect to get one (though who knows). What can I do with a bunch of Mp3s?

Stuff I plan to watch this fall

Gonna check out:

I’m looking forward to the return of:

  • Veronica Mars (Watch this!)
  • numb3rs (is this coming back?)
  • Alias

Something to work against

“The inertia of habituation is at work.”

Greg Urban uses that short sentence to explain how Casper Weinberger acquired his tendency to use the first person plural we primarily to describe US citizens.

I think the notion of culture as objects moving through space (with inertia, acceleration, and deceleration) is a great way to explain the importance of cultural studies and education in general. Education in its best form accelerates and re-combines culture; it also shows learners how to do the same.

Having explained this concept to my students, I can imagine using the notion of the inertia of habituation to address concepts we know by habit.

I can tell I’m going to like this book a lot. Thanks Jeff!

Greg U

An early reaction to Metaculture, which I started reading this morning.

In the foreward and opening pages of chapter 1, Urban (aided in the forward by Lee) suggests that the metaculture of “newness” drives capitalism and modernity. Two observations about this:

  • LINK: Urban mentions that meta-cultural texts (like film reviews or “news” shows about fiction TV) help accelerate the process of cultural circulation. I’m reminded of a passage in Steven Johnson’s Interface Culture in which he predicted (quite rightly, I’d say) that metaculture will be one of our primary sorting mechanisms as the digital age expands.
  • Grand narrative: By default, I tend to look at things through the grand narrative of electracy, the emergence of the third age of human communication being a key part of our culture’s development at present. Thus, when I read the following, I made another connection:

    The interpretation of culture that is intrinsic to
    metaculture, immaterial as it is, focuses attention on the cultural
    thing, helps to make it an object of interest and, hence,
    facilitates its circulation. (4)

    I locked on the word interpretation because of my interest in the
    demise of hermeneutics as a scholarly research model. I look forward to examining the relationship of the production of metaculture to the search for something new; to whit, what kind of metaculture is Ulmer’s heuretic method?

A fun trip to Niagara

We took a fun trip to Niagara Falls and Upstate New York during the last couple weeks. Here are three amusing photos:

Slippery When ... Turkey?

Turkeys are as slippery as bananna peels.

Niagara Lights

As commercial as it is, the illumination of the falls is pretty cool.


Skunks like garbage. And they come out early.

What amazed me most about the trip was how commercial the Canada side of the falls are. My impression has always been that Americans are the crass ones, what with our affinity for yard butts and Fear Factor. Niagara Falls presents a counterexample. The American side is a park, with a big tent, lots of grassy space, and a few hotels in the distance. The Canadian side teems with touristy goodness: hotels and shops butt right up against the gorge overlooking the falls, souvenir stands and price gouging services abound. Unexpected.

Back in the saddle

Stereo’s set for the first week back from summer break.

  • Flogging Molly, Drunken Lullabies

  • Ministry, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

  • Less Than Jake, Hello, Rockview


I’ll be traveling a bit during the next couple weeks. so expect The Digital Sextant to be silent until mid-August. When I return I hope to get back to (almost) daily posts.

Ah, Summer.

Until then, check out Hermes.