Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer
Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

What do you do if, as an up-and-coming Necromancer, you sold your soul to the devil only to discover that being soul-less throws off the reliability of your investigations into mysteries both scientific and occult?  You make a wager with Satan to get it back, of course.  Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer is a delightful, creepy tale of the evil magician with a kernel of gold at the core of his heart (just a tiny kernel, mind you).  A few thoughts:

  • The mix of magic and science are pretty great here.  At one point, Cabal explains that magicians stopped using magic not because it doesn’t work, but because science is so much easier.
  • When Cabal makes his wager with Satan, he’s given an evil carnival with which to tempt unwitting souls.  The evil carnival is pretty damn cool, with all manner of ghoulish carnal traps.  I like the notion that when we’re celebratory, we lose our inhibitions and give way to temptation more easily.
  • Minor spoiler: Cabal’s brother, Horst, is a delightful counterpoint to our villain.  His supreme good looks and confidence work as a great foil to the straightforwardly-evil Johannes.
  • I like the way Howard brings in alternate viewpoints for short passages.  This works much better than in some other books I’ve read, most notably The Fury, which was irritating in its extra viewpoints that did little to add to the story.
  • I’ve complained, for a long time, about the season finale of Bones in which beloved lab assistant (and probable resident on the Autism spectrum)  Zach turned out to be the assistant of the occultist serial killer Gormagant.  They reveal that Zach, though brilliant, had such a tenuous grasp of empathy that he was able to sway himself, by logic, to side with a killer.  I never bought that aspect of the character and grouse about it regularly.  But after reading this novel, in which the eponymous character could well be described as traveling the same path with the same errors in logic and reason, I can understand it more easily.

An entertaining and solid read.  I recommend it.

Marple: Cutie or Ghoul?

The Mirror Crack'd
The Mirror Crack'd

I’ve seen quite a few Miss Marple mysteries over the years and I usually enjoy them.  So when we stumbled upon a 1980 Marple movie starring Angela Lansbury, how could we pass it up?  A few thoughts about the movie, and then a bit more about Marples in general:

  • We’ve seen The Mirror Crack’d in at least one other guise, so I remembered the solution to the murder very on.  That said, it was fun to see how the story played out with the stars they’d recruited for the story.  It was a bit goofier and a bit more crass than the later BBC version was.
  • Speaking of which, somebody with serious mojo must have cobbled together this dynamo: we had Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson as the director and his muse, Kim Novak and Tony Curtis as the producer and Taylor’s rival.  I was also happy to see Rocky Horror’s No-necked narrator, Charles Gray as the butler.
  • Angela Lansbury is okay as Miss Marple, but I tend to think of Marple as a small woman, which Lansbury certainly isn’t.  My favorite Marple, Geraldine McEwan, is a tiny little woman with a mischievous glint in her eye.  You know she’s planning something sneaky!
  • It also must have been depressing to be the ladies in this movie: Lansbury would have been 55 in 1980, and was clearly playing a sixty-something.  Perhaps she was hoping for a longer role out of the movie.  It worked, eh?  When Pam asked me if Lansbury had played Marple before, I answered, “yep, but she went by Jessica Fletcher.”  But like Sunset Boulevard, both Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak played aging stars pretending they weren’t as old as they were.

The thing I noticed most is where Lansbury fits on the Marple scale.  She’s a larger woman, both taller and more robust than some of the smaller Marples.  They usually play the part more aggressively, often verging on “annoying busybody” status, with a touch of “bossy.”  Lansbury plays it with a hint of maliciousness and a hint of arrogance, along with a twinkle in her eye.  Searching for images of Geraldine McEwan on Google reminded me just how many Marples there have been.  Check out this quick and easy chart:

Margaret Rutherford Margaret Rutherford:
The first Miss Marple, mostly in movies.  Funny but also bossy.
Angela Lansbury Angela Lansbury: Marple in just this one movie, then afterward in Murder, She Wrote. Joan Hickson Joan Hickson:
The first T.V. Marple, the most bossy of the Marples, IMO.
Geraldine McEwan Geraldine McEwan:
The first Marple in the BBC reboot.  The cutest and nicest Marple.
Julia McKenzie Julia McKenzie:
(Current Marple) Took over in series 4 of the BBC reboot, nicer than Hickson, with a hint of the cute friendliness brought in by McEwan.
Jennifer Garner Jennifer Garner:
Cast by Disney to play a new kind of Marple.  “Word on the street is that the movie will make Miss Marple younger and sexier, not to mention a lot more kick-butt.” (link)

Did you catch that last one? Next they’ll cast a badass bruiser to be Hercule Poirot, perhaps Bradley Cooper.  Then they can have them solve a mystery together.  Their detective agency can be called Christies (perhaps a joke that they have an office in the rooms above the famous auction house, so they used the same name to piggyback on the advertising).  The first trailer will have lots of punching (imagine someone calling Poirot French and he punches them out: “I’m Belgian.”)  The tagline for the movie can be “Christies: You broke it, you bought it.”

Also, I found this in my image search.  Too funny to leave out of the post:

Keith Richards

2011-05-29 Tweets

  • Wicked cool outdoor nature art. Looks like a giant dutch milkmaid discarded her hat. #mortonarb #natureunframed #
  • #mortonarb Looking for tadpoles and praying the kids don't fall in the water (didn't bring a change of clothes). #parentingwithoutanet #
  • Avery hung a picture on the inside of her door using a bit of "silly pilly" (silly putty) because she was out of tape. #
  • @kristinarola I thought Magnets worked by miracle. in reply to kristinarola #
  • Back from #cwcon (great conference, everyone! Thanks to the SWC ppl) and back to the grind. Daily word count posts begin again. #discipline #
  • No matter how hard I try, I can't shake the verb "taped" to refer to programs I've recorded on my TiVO. #feelingold #
  • Just had to teach SCRIVENER spellcheck 'blog' and 'Facebook' #
  • Back on the horse. Today's book wordcount: 927. #
  • "Bumblebee tuna" by mephiskapheles continues to be a hit among the under 6 crowd during dance time. #
  • @Zombieranian this sounds like a great way to lure in potential catering customers. in reply to Zombieranian #
  • Ugh, hard slog this morning. only 455 words. #
  • The @foofighters "Learn to Fly" came on in the van. Avery (5yo) read the title and said "This is a good song for birdies to learn!" #
  • Server pooped in the middle of the WordPress upgrade. Had to do it by hand to fix: #annoying 10 minutes instead of automagic 10 seconds. #
  • Avery, firmly able to read level 2 books now, declared last night that she will put herself to bed tonight. Also, made her own breakfast. #
  • @Zombieranian this is both funny and utterly confounding. in reply to Zombieranian #
  • Ze Frank said it. Cutest thing ever: #
  • Andrew Kozma brings the wisdom: "The truth about writing is that as long as you keep writing, everything will be okay." #
  • After two days lost to end-of-year celebrations at kids' schools, back on track. 956 #wordcount today. #
  • Spotted at Midway: old guy in a navy Town car, fist pumping and grinning maniacally at the soaring operatic aria blaring out his window. #
  • The fun-with-the-box phenomenon: a whole tunnel slide gym to play with at McD's, and 6 kids push and shove to watch the rain out the window. #
  • It's weird to have a bowling video game at a bowling alley. Just sayin' #

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The strange conundrum of well-educated Anti-Vaxxers

I’ve blogged before about the anti-vaccination movement, that strange trend in modern America for upper and upper-middle class people to reject the biggest medical advance in human history (except, perhaps, washing hands) over unfounded and unproven risk claims.  The history of the movement is long and varied, but its recent incarnation stems from Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent and thoroughly debunked 1998 Lancet study, which suggested that the MMR vaccine caused autism.

There’s a study circulating the science blogs right now suggesting an anthropological subtext to the anti-Vax community that rings true to me.  Shethought blogger Anthropologist Underground writes:

Many women who can afford to stay home gave up careers to do so. Larger society undervalues stay-home moms (as well as teachers and other child care workers). So bright, educated women find themselves in clusters, isolated from prestige, and they bring the work ethic and focus that advanced them in careers to parenting. They must seek status and validation from other members of the stay-home community, and this requires separating themselves from the unwashed masses. (My friend calls this “competitive parenting.”)

This subculture fosters increasing intensity and extremism, and practices that might have begun as reasonable choices are pushed to extremes. Once everyone in the group is breastfeeding infants, for example, the higher-status women are the ones who breastfeed kindergartners.

This trajectory translates to increasingly harmful cultural norms. Once everyone treats vaccination as an ala carte menu, the higher-status women are the ones who are rejecting vaccines, or rejecting prenatal care, or obstetrical care, or whatever. Statistics are such that the individual mothers and children are likely to be unharmed by these decisions, and this leads to strong confirmation bias.

As a man, my authority and ability to comment on these ideas already treads on thin ice. But with a nod to the fact that this theory sounds really paternalistic and reductionist, I’ll also say that it sounds right to me.

I’ve seen the way the “competitive parenting” influences our own self-esteem about how we raise our kids.  We can’t help but compare ourselves with other people, and it dings our self-esteem a bit when we don’t meet those standards that these other people hold as important.  Of course some, like the two or three-year breast-feeders, sound nuts to me, but other things sound sensible but beyond our ken or our pocketbook (like buying all organic food from Whole Foods).  And the idea that we excel by blazing our own way (or doing so with the select few) carries more weight than doing what society says you should is an obvious and regular part of human society.

So the anti-vaccination (and the home birth) movement hits all these registers: being a part of it makes one a trail-blazer, it makes one an idealist standing up to big corporate interests, and it gives one status in the community.  Unfortunately, it also makes one a free-rider, endangering everyone else by diluting our herd immunity to avoid a risk that epidemiologists have firmly refuted.  What we need are hard-core science moms who can combat the woo; thankfully there are sites like Shethought trying to do just that.



Murder in Mykonos

Murder in Mykonos
Murder in Mykonos

by Jeffrey Siger

Siger’s first novel in the Inspector Kaldis series follows our intrepid detective as he wrestles with the challenges of policing a tourist island against thievery and corruption.  Before he even gets settled in the job, an itinerant worker discovers an horrific murder, and before you can say “Opa!” we’re chasing a serial killer.  A few quick thoughts:

  • Siger does a good job describing the atmosphere and attitude of the Greeks of Mykonos, though I’m not sure it’s a flattering picture.  The corruption throughout the system is pretty disheartening, as is the casual attitude of the men toward date rape, which seems to be approached with the attitude of “tourist girls get what they deserve.”
  • The murders are pretty awful, but fortunately, they’re almost entirely in the past when the novel starts.  That said, man I don’t like the sex-crime serial killers.
  • Siger does a good job ramping up the tension toward the final chase sequence.  I had to work pretty hard to put the book down on my second-to-last night of reading, and I still had 70 pages to go.  I went into it on the last night’s reading knowing I would have to finish it in one go.
  • Kaldis is an enjoyable character, empathetic and noble, but not all that interesting or quirky.  His problem in the Jasper Fforde world (of The Big Over Easy) would be that he didn’t have enough quirky habits.
  • This reminded me a lot of A Season for the Dead by David Hewson, another first novel in a detective series featuring a serial killer and an European country.  That one had a lot more murders of much more gruesome nature, but in style and tone the books are pretty similar.

Overall, a decent thriller with an exotic location and well-thought-out plot.

Where will you be June 11th?

Will you be shambling around the city with an horde of the undead?  If not, why not?


Zombie Me

For the last two years, I’ve joined the Zombie March Chicago in their annual excursion, and I will be doing so again this coming year.  If you’re planning to go and want to meet up, drop me a line.


Reporter zombie commutes

This year, I will be handing out cards asking people to take a survey about the zombie walk.  I did a presentation last year at SSHA on zombie walks, thinking about the social and cultural influences and experiences at play in the practices of zombie walks, and I got lots of good feedback, including comments suggesting that they haven’t seen other work writing about zombie walks in the social science and history field.

My father-in-law does a lot of work with surveys, so working with him, I’m drawing up a general set of survey questions to capture demographic data along with a few more narrow questions, and then I will follow up with phone interviews of a few people.  I’m not sure what will come of it, yet, but it should be super fun.

The biggest challenge of the actual walk will be making sure I don’t mess up my nice camera.  I want to get lots of pics, but I don’t want blood on my Rebel.

Computers and Writing 2011

Good summaries abound on the web, but I thought I’d turn in my thoughts as well.

The venue:

  • Congrats to the folks at the University of Michigan Sweetland Writing Center for their excellent organizing and venue choice.  The panel rooms were great and the dorms were fine.  The union center worked okay, but the audio needed a bit more oomph, as the clinkity clank of silverware made quite a racket.
  • Being in Ann Arbor reminded me a lot of Gainesville.  There were parts of town that were wicked trendy, awesome little businesses (lunch at Zuckerman’s deli owned), and cool college town stuff.  There was also a high quotient of student-priced cheapo-grunge businesses and shitty housing around the campus.  Also, a very high hipster quotient (even compared to my current environment, a Chicago art school).
  • Had a lovely evening at a bar with Bradley Dilger and Alex Reid.  Aside from great conversation both academic and personal, I also learned an excellent theory of group activity: three people is the best number for long, peer events because you can have a single conversation for the whole time.  With four, you break into sets of two.

The sessions:

  • This is the first conference I’ve been to in je ne sais how long where I saw no stinko papers.  I wasn’t enchanted with the Tim Wu keynote, but mostly because I thought he didn’t know his audience very well.  We all got what he was saying really fast, and he could have pushed into more detailed discussion earlier.  I thought the Hawisher talk was a nice summary of the past and likely future of the field, but its narrative style didn’t fit the dinner environment, which could have used a strong entertainment component to hold the hungry and beer-seeking audience in thrall. By contrast, all the papers I heard were quite good.
  • #c02 – Laurie Gries gave a really interesting talk weaving de Bord and ideas of psychogeography in with notions of circulation to examine how the Shepard Fairey HOPE image circulated.  Oodles of examples and cool stuff.  Derek Mueller demonstrated the awesome potential of animating the data reflecting how keywords in CCC have circulated over the last 20 years.  Really compelling visuals and interesting conclusions.
  • #d03 – Cynthia Haynes, Jan Holmevik, and Victor Vitanza reflected on MOOs and the current state of the web.  Each presentation was startling, interesting, and different from the others.  Vitanza, as always, entertains as much as he provokes thinking.  Check out my tweets from the session to get more details.
  • #e13 – the “Is Blogging Dead” roundtable yielded lots of great conversation and interesting stuff.  LOVED it.  Bradley has a better summary than I could write, and Dennis Jerz storified the whole twitter sidechannel.  It was good stuff!
  • #f09 – Michael Pennell gave a really interesting piece about using Google Maps as a writing platform, and Tim Amidon related sustainability, ecology, tourism, and writing classes.  I especially liked his use of the Hawaiian term “Haole” (pronounced how-lee) to describe the practice of FY writing students entering digital spaces to do projects.  It’s a great term, one that acknowledges the assholishness of arrogant outsiders but also suggests the good intentions and positive goals those outsiders have.  Respect for the root is a useful idea I took away from the conversation.
  • #TH-02 – The Digital Humanities Roundtable was interesting, but I didn’t get a whole lot out of it.  The main thrust seems to be that the keywords digital humanities open up purse springs for people with grant money and get deans all excited.  Few of the town hallers seemed to have much use for the term themselves.

Overall, the conference was really great for being able to spend time with Bradley, a colleague from my UF days who is simultaneously mentor and peer, far enough ahead of me in his studies and work timeline that I can watch how he navigates various waters and aim to emulate him, but close enough that we are friends who can collaborate and conspire on even ground.  It’s also good to reconnect with Ulmerians sometimes, as we have a similar perspective on the world, even if I’ve drifted more into Popular Culture studies while he has moved more toward Technical Communications as his star rises in the Rhet/Comp world.

The House that Dripped the Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The House That Dripped Blood and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

These two films aren’t really related, but that’s the whole idea of the double-review, no?

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is another in the John Turtletaub/ Nic Cage conspiracy to flood the market with enjoyable pablum of no lasting effect or interest.  While I enjoy National Treasure for its intellectual and historical silliness, its sequel and this movie both strike me as enjoyable but not edifying at all.  They are cinematic Pringles: moderately enjoyable while you’re eating them, but not even memorable.  The film tells the story of the battle between the Merlinians and the Morganians over the fate of the world.  Jay Baruchel is a modern kid who just happens to be the spiritual heir to Merlin, like the Dali Lama but with fireballs.  Some magical jimcrackery ensues, and then the story ends.

The House that Dripped Blood is an early 70s British horror movie in the vein of Tales from the Crypt.  Like the E.C. horror anthologies of the 1950s, the story focuses on a creepy house that seems to cause trouble for everyone who moves in.  Oddly, the trouble never actually has anything to do with the house: it’s just a focal point for the madness or horror of their lives.

The House that Dripped Blood
The House that Dripped Blood

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

A few thoughts about the films:

  • Both films give us a stranger’s eyes through which to view the strange land.  In Sorcerer, it’s Baruchel’s fidgety Dave, who shows the same delight and awe with the magic wielded by Cage and Molina (who plays the main villain) that the audience does. In House, it’s the police detective interviewing the property manager.  We’re just as dubious about these stories as the cop is.
  • Both films have a predictable ending: Dave wins out over Morgana, the cop learns that the house really is evil.  Mwa ha ha.  Neither moves the viewer much.
  • Points go to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which lives up to both aspects of its title.  First, the movie really is about a young man who becomes a sorcerer’s apprentice, so it makes sense.  Second, it also enacts the famous scene from Fantasia in which Mickey (the title character) animates a bunch of cleaning equipment to help him.  Dave does the same, with similarly disastrous results.  By contrast, The House That Dripped Blood is at best a metaphorical title, as there’s literally no blood in the movie (quite a feat in a film that features vampires and two beheadings).  Perhaps you could say the house drips blood because of its terrible history, but that’s pretty LAME.
  • Both movies also feature actors you’re delighted to see.  I’m sure you enjoy seeing Cage and Molina hamming it up, but you’d also enjoy seeing Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Denholm Elliot grappling with villainous forces from beyond the grave.
  • The films also introduce their own mythologies.  Did you know that magic results from humans who can use the other 90% of their brain?  Their rings (or canes, if you’re a dandy and a villain) focus their magic; without the rings, they can’t do magic.  Except for Dave, who can for some reason.  Also, did you know that being a witch is hereditary, and the ability to fashion a voodoo doll is easy to pick up using a garden-variety encyclopedia?  Also, vampires must feed at midnight and vampires infect people not by bites or blood, but by giving someone their cape.

2011-05-22 Tweets

  • @dancpharmd now you need to rent #flight of-the-conchords and your life will be complete. in reply to dancpharmd #
  • @radiokatd I am not in right now, but could do a skype or phone interview between 23:30 and 1am my time. It's 18:50 right now. in reply to radiokatd #
  • @radiokatd very good. Have fun! in reply to radiokatd #
  • The zombie author you'd most want in your survival enclave after the rising, @NJHallard, just called me "Very Eminent." in reply to NJHallard #
  • Avery: that boy is younger, he's 4 or 5. Me: aren't you all 4 or 5? Avery: yeah. But I'm one of the ones that is five, if you ask me. #
  • En route to the Computers and Writing Conference. Planning to tweet a lot, blog after it ends. +1 for the 'blogs are dead' category? #cwcon #
  • #cwcon #timwu keynote: there's a profound connection btw a country's technological infrastructure and the creative potential. #
  • #cwcon #timwu Early cinema discouraged topics of moral turpitude. On-screen burglaries might encourage real life burglaries. #
  • #cwcon #timwu Can we ward off the almost inevitable consolidation of control that all other creative technologies have undergone? #
  • #cwcon #timwu Steve Jobs has the spirit of old hollywood: people don't know what's good for them, like the old Breen code. #
  • #cwcon #timwu the American idea of free speech is slightly about choosing diversity over quality. #
  • The problem with starting each answer in q&a with "great question" is that you insult the person to whom you don't start that way. #
  • #cwcon Laurie Gries: following the circulation of Sheperd F obama image. #coolshit #
  • #cwcon DerekMeuller 'circulation' may replace or join 'definition' as the dominant trope of rhet/comp. #thefuture #
  • #cwcon my kind of academic presentations: they ask "what can we do with this?" #
  • #cwcon good question to Derek Mueller: how much agency exists in these large scale data sets? Could they be influenced? #
  • Trying to hold the video, the moo conversation, and the Haynes lecture in my head at the same time. #cwcon #brainhurt #
  • #cwcon D03 a bit disconcerted by the confluence of MOOs and WOW in Haynes' talk. Would have enjoyed a bit more on that. #
  • #cwcon #d03 Holmevik presents on technological change and MOOs, reading from his cell phone. #
  • #cwcon #d03 Holmevik suggests that HIGH WIRED situated itself between Aarseth's CYBERTEXT and Ulmer's INTERNET INVENTION. #
  • @DennisJerz It's come up in #d03 too — there's an academic guild? Is it possible to build in WOW? I didn't think you could mod… #cwcon in reply to DennisJerz #
  • #cwcon #d03 Holmevik: writing is representation of representation (twice removed), DIFF than graphical v worlds like WOW #
  • @DennisJerz #cwcon #d03 Holmevik seems to be talking about WOW as an actual writing space. in reply to DennisJerz #
  • #cwcon I am a strange loop, Holmevik urged us to go to Twitter feed to see the dig. writing that's going on. I'm already there. #d03 #
  • #cwcon V Vitanza talks are always like listening to a Rhet/Comp Beat Poet. #snappingmyfingers #
  • "coming community of abjection via Web 3" #cwcon #d03 #victorvitanza #
  • #cwcon #d03 Victor Vitanza: the abyss of appliances of web 3; "have you viewed the Japanese film Tetuso (sic) the iron man?" (my error) #
  • "I do not believe in anything but a perverted 3." #cwcon #d03 victor vitanza #grim #
  • "The web will know enough about you to know what you want. Sounds like a Pimp." #cwcon #d03 Victor Vitanza #
  • @gcritel #cwcon Also, when Victor is done with his talk, he starts the clapping himself. #badass #d03 in reply to gcritel #
  • #cwcon Holmevik gives the underlying secret of the digital age: "The command line is always there, you just need to know how to access it." #
  • #cwcon #d03 Cindy Haynes confesses that she tried to shush a WOW guilder from letting Bin Laden news interrupt a raid. #
  • #cwcon banquet hawisher mentions we must demonstrate resrch to attract pub attention or funds. Sounds like Ulmer re: humanities knowledge #
  • #cwcon Congrats to C Bradley Dilger and Jeff Rice, who won the C&C Distinguished Book Award for From A to <A> (in which I have an essay) #
  • Jeepers! This town is an ad for 'look at that f-ing hipster'. I'm not ironic enough for #AnnArbor #
  • #cwcon Conference backup: Didn't bring a paper copy of my talk with me. Have it on my laptop and my phone. #thefutureisnow #
  • #cwcon #e13 Is blogging dead? We settle the question in NQ2255. 17 minutes till the fracas starts! #
  • @DennisJerz FTW. in reply to DennisJerz #
  • #cwcon #e13 Carrie Lamanna: Making blog postsl assignments fit usual school constraints results in "formal school writing." #
  • #cwcon Joannah Portman-Daley – the fog and Delta airlines could keep her away, but her presentation made it here anyhow. #f09 #
  • #cwcon #f09 Michael Pennell – "Prezi is a nice invention" and "I don't recommend writing in Google maps." #
  • #cwcon #f09 Michael Pennell presents with Google Maps: visiualizing geography of scholarship about google maps as teaching tools #
  • #cwcon #f09 History is always there in Rhode Island: "You turn right at the old police station." Michael Pennell #
  • #cwcon #f09 Michael Pennell – Students use Google Maps to chart literacy, test scores, demographic data by community. #coolshit #
  • #cwcon #f09 Michael Pennell: smart summary about how these kinds of projects can give students tools to talk about REAL issues outside class #
  • #cwcon #f09 Nostalgia for 'Book It' program. Thanks, M. Pennell! #
  • #cwcon #f09 Tim Amidon "how we territorialize place determines how we understand citizenship #
  • #cwcon #f09 Tim Amidon uses surfing culture to explain how contested territories influence how to understand place #
  • @DennisJerz Please expand diff between uncompensated authorship on one hand and obligation to gift economy on the other. #cwcon in reply to DennisJerz #
  • #cwcon #f09 Tim Amidon draws a connection b/w keystone-species in ecologies, writers entering communities must mind those species #
  • #cwcon #f09 Tim Amidon – we should keep Hawaii's ban on taking or bringing in mind when we visit writing communities. #
  • #cwcon #f09 Tim Amidon we need to recover from the contradictions between Watchlist possessiveness and Wiki openness #
  • @aristotle_julep And the unjob market is wide open. #cwcon in reply to aristotle_julep #
  • @DennisJerz Ditto #cwcon #f09 in reply to DennisJerz #
  • @aristotle_julep Just Become your own aggregator. #cwcon in reply to aristotle_julep #
  • #cwcon #f09 T. Amidon Students working in wiki spaces feel like ppl who revise their stuff are being mean. Need to show them Talk page. #
  • #cwcon #f09 J. Portman-Daley: Ning was about social networking focused on causes or ideas. Q: What about Meetup? #
  • #cwcon #f09 Sad that J. Portman-Daley wasn't able to come — stuff about using social networks in ways beyond the "like" sounds really cool. #
  • #cwcon #f09 What's the point of making a social network site for a class if the site will die when the class ends? #
  • #cwcon #digitalhumanities is not just a label you put on someone who can make a website. Doug Eyman #
  • #cwcon @eymand Suggests tool-building as valid task for Digital Humanities. Do science tool builders see that as research? Or means to ends? #
  • RL tweet from Dilger (via #whisper : sure as hell making tools is research. Ask anyone who makes spectrographs. #cwcom #
  • @DennisJerz @mkirschenbaum CF SLS keynote Janet Murray a million yrs ago, "Sometimes you just want to bring back the dead white men." in reply to DennisJerz #
  • #cwcom Digital Humanities is a funding term (Cheryl Ball) and a rhetorical turn that could help persuade colleagues to our side. #
  • @digital_sextant But it also becomes a buzzword for others to pitch with. #cwcon in reply to digital_sextant #
  • @lizlosh Sometimes a buzzword is just a buzzword. #cwcon #Freud in reply to lizlosh #
  • Experience is the appropriate focus of multimodal digital humanities. Dominant thread in the field still text analytics. #cwcon Hayles #
  • When mathematicians began working together, they discovered super computing and got expensive. The Humanities are next. #cwcon Hayles #

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Are Blogs Dead?

My three minutes from the excellent roundtable discussion at Computers and Writing 2011 session e13 this morning.  Here you go:

I’ve seen the best ideas of my presentation offered by scholars smarter than I.  Consider this a coda or an echo to the conversations that have come before.

I’ve kept a blog since November of 2004.  At some point, it went silent for several months.  When I posted again, I asked “how long can a blog lie dormant before it’s declared dead?”  Clancy Ratliff replied immediately that “A blog will never die as long as the RSS feed stays alive.”

When I first heard of blogging, I thought of Carl Schmitt’s “Buribunker” essay from Friedrich Kittler’s chapter on Typewriters. Schmitt wrote:

the attitude of the Buribunk, which originates from the desire to record every second of one’s existence for history, to immortalize oneself… [the Buribunk] is nothing more than a diary-keeper, he lives for his diary, he lives in and through his diary, even when he enters in his diary that he no longer knows what to write in his diary…

At first  blogging was logorrhea: Live Journal and MySpace and Blogger were eminently updatable.  I’m Blogging This.  This narcissistic torrent of data spilling the uninterrupted, unedited minutae of our lives onto the world stage, is Dead. So Yes, blogging is dead. But the liforrhea has, obviously, transposed itself to Facebook and Twitter, where schoolchildren “friend” their teachers and then post about how boring class is and divorce lawyers use screenshots instead of honey pots.  So No, blogging is not dead.

Some bloggers tried reportage, but these scrappy conspiracists with tenacious typewriters garnered lots of scorn.  Then came Matt Drudge’s Fedora and Monica Lewinsky’s beret, Dan Rather’s fake documents and Trett Lott at Strom Thurmond’s birthday.  Newscasters who’d sneered at the “bloggers” began covering their stories, and journalists everywhere still hold their breath to see what will come next, how the growing army of citizen journalists will overrun the fourth estate, or whether the strategic capture of these wildcatters will succeed.

But consider Schmitt’s warning for the Buribunker:

The path of evolution silently passes over the silent ones; they are outside of all discourse and as a result can no longer draw attention to themselves… Since they don’t write anymore… they no longer stay current, they disappear from the monthly reports and become nonentities…

Both liforrhea and reportage must stay current, they have to keep going, going, going.

Those kinds of blogging are Dead.  They have either evolved into the sleek tweets or the big aggregators.  What’s left are the blogs that do all sorts the other things.  They create and commemorate.  They set trends or snark on them.  They use the long-form, searchable, permalinked platform to craft and publish diverse texts in ways only possible on blogs.  And whereas the temporal priority of the earlier forms has lost its shine, the small pockets of consistent permanence attest to the fact that Yes, blogging is alive, No, it’s too diverse to die. It has become Other.

Bones of the Earth

Bones of the Earth
Bones of the Earth

Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick

What would happen if we discovered time travel and gave it only to paleontologists to use to study dinosaurs? This book explores that question quite thoroughly.  Here are some of its answers:

  • Creationists would get all in a tizzy and try to sabotage the work.  This doesn’t seem beyond the pale to me, but it does remind me of the sequence in Towing Jehovah when some atheists conspire to bomb (and sink) God’s body so as to prevent the worldwide conversion of humanity.  Both attempts seem stupid to me, but I’ve always been someone who preferred pursuing truth to preserving belief.
  • Some people would try to disrupt causality and would be caught by police who knew they were going to try to disrupt causality because they sent themselves after action reports of who had tried to do things.  They told themselves about their own “yet,” for those of you who know the Continuum universe.
  • The paleontological community would have to keep all their discoveries a secret until the secret of time travel became public knowledge.  After that, they were rock stars who could get big book deals by bringing back photos.
  • It would turn out we were right about some things and very wrong about others, dinosaurily speaking.  Having had my own education in dino-knowledge stopped right around the time I saw Jurassic Park, I would find all the info in this book fascinating, and not know how much is scientific speculation and how much has survived the rigor of long-term debate.
  • I kept waiting for the Timeline trick where one of the archaeologists could leave a clue among known fossils.  This would be much harder to do over millions of years than over a couple hundred, admittedly.

All in all, it’s a good book.  The Bones of the Earth doesn’t spend enough time on the time-travel stuff for my taste, but it’s pretty great anyhow.  As an aside, it also reminded me of this video, so I’ll leave you with that:


The Mysterious Traveler

The Mysterious TravelerStarring Maurice Tarplin and others

The Mysterious Traveler is an anthology radio show from the 1950s that centers around the creepy tales told by some dude who sits next to you on the train.  He tells tales of the murderous, the macabre, and the mysterious, and you enjoy them.  A few thoughts:

  • Tarplin’s narrator has a distinctly seedy voice, not unlike Vincent Price in full “I’m gonna molest you” mode.  My favorite part is how he ends each episode about to say something else, but then bemoans the fact that you have to get off the train.  This is despite the fact that sometimes the “something else” he’s about to tell you is a synopsis of next week’s show.  He even says, “That reminds me of the tale for next week….”  Kinda breaks the digesis.
  • The tales fit under the umbrella of the suspense stories we’re familiar with from other series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.  This series tends to focus on less science-fictional elements, but it still gives way to the supernatural quite often, with ghosts and telepaths making regular appearances.
  • Familiarity with the conventions of the genre mean that the show becomes pretty predictable.   Shortly after I started the series, I was easily predicting the “twist” that would finish the tale.  In one story, for instance, a sad-sack henchmen remains intently loyal to his boss, the “only friend I’ve ever had, other than my brother.”  When the boss has to kill a district attorney and the henchmen expresses doubts, it’s pretty clear the DA will turn out to be the henchman’s brother.  Sure enough, that’s what happens.
  • That said, the voice acting and other elements are pretty good, though two tropes of radio dramas get a little silly.  First, the foley work (sound effects) in the series is rather preposterous, with loud, clomping footsteps and strange clattering sounds representing, well, strange clattering sounds.   Second, the limitations of radio mean that the characters often describe things in ways that break the realism of the show.  For instance, in trudging along an overgrown path, they might say things like “Ugh, this grass is really overgrown; it’s hard to walk through.”  A few episodes got around this problem by telling the story through an embedded narrator, who could reasonably add these descriptive elements.
  • My favorite story was “Death Comes for Adolf Hitler,” which uses a triple-nested story to tell us about an undersea adventure.  The narrator tells us about
    1. Two men who are listening to the news about some Nazis who have been captured on their way to Brazil.  This leads one of the men to tell a tale of his own experience in the War.
    2. He was aboard a Navy ship when he overheard a German submarine operator broadcasting to whomever might hear him.  The German radioman told about how
    3. Adolf Hitler had evaded capture by leaving a lookalike dead in the bunker.  He tried to escape in a submarine, but when they ran afoul of a life boat, he ordered it sunk rather than leaving men alive who had seen him.  After that, mysterious events began happening…
    It’s one of the more compelling stories, perhaps because it’s filtered through so many narrators.

Worth a listen, but probably just worth checking out a few stories rather than the whole thing.  Great if you can get it from your local library like I did.


It’s been a while since I’ve been to church somewhere other than our Unitarian Universalist church.  I went to a Methodist church last weekend for my niece’s baptism, and my brother-in-law delivered the message (he’s the director of youth services at the church).  It was a good sermon, with plenty of humor and a solid discussion of the Apostle’s Creed, a subject he discusses a lot with his youth groups as they grapple with what it means to be a Christian.

I came away thinking about the notion of Creeds versus Covenants.  Unitarian Universalism is a covenant-based faith, meaning that you don’t profess a set of beliefs when you join our church, but rather you agree to a set of principles that you endorse, ideas that bind you together, ideas that are structured more around what we do than what we believe. We don’t spend much time wrestling with what you have to believe to be a Unitarian Universalism, because there isn’t a dogmatic set of beliefs you must entertain.  Instead, it’s an approach to life and ethics that you try to embrace.

Here’s the covenant that we say each week, in the same space during the service that someone would say during the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed during a Christian service:

Love is the doctrine of this congregation.
The quest of truth is our sacrament
and service is our prayer.
To dwell together in peace.
To seek knowledge in freedom.
To serve one another others in fellowship.
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine.
Thus do we covenant with one another and with God.

(We use God language figuratively, open to individual interpretation.  Some people substitute ideas like “life” or “the universe” in place of the traditional supernatural diety.)  Because these covenants are determined by congregations, they differ from church to church.  But this one is pretty standard.

What interests me in this kind of religious profession is the notion that we’re committing to shared ideas about how we act here and now, rather than how we should think about the next life.  I come away from services at Unity temple with a deeper sense of how I should be acting, not because God tells me to act that way, but because I know (through reason and discussion) that it’s right to do so.

And I like that our covenant focuses us around that action, and that thinking.