Renaissance = Medieval

Scholars of the fifteenth century will be happy to know that the folks at google have resolved a longstanding issue by determining the Renaissance and the Middle Ages to be the SAME.

You know how when you do a google search it boldfaces the words that you used in your search when they appear in the results?

I just searched "magic charms Renaissance" (DON'T ASK) and it gave me numerous results with Middle Ages along with charms and magic in bold face. Apparently, google uses Middle Ages as a synonym of Renaissance. Try it yourself!



One of these things is not like the others


PowerBars, Wheat Thins, M&Ms, Ghirardelli Mint Chocolates, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Fig Newtons, Sahara Pita Bread:

Which of these does not contain high-fructose corn syrup?

Oh this is all very confusing. I've been trying to add trackback, but it seems to cause all kinds of editing errors. Well, maybe Haloscan trackback has been added to this blog...



Another RNC update

For anyone who's still wondering, the drummers I was so taken with at the RNC protest are the infamous Infernal Noise Brigade.

Once I get all the video edited I'll try to make a version of it available on the web...


Perils of Publicity

I owe to bitchPhD the fact that I cannot get magical Trevor and his lyric "Where is the cow/Hidden [NOT Headin'] right now?" out of my head. Go check out Trevor, then read this post.

Today I experienced a certain uncomfortable lack of hiddenness of my own.

A couple months ago I published an article in what we'll call Culture Section of Major City Newspaper, which happens to be the local paper of Town Where I Went To College. Well, as it happens, a lot of inhabitants of Town Where I Went To College read Major City Newspaper. One of them was someone I never thought would enter my life again.

The summer after I graduated from college I worked at a number of different part-time jobs. All these jobs were odd, but the oddest was a word-processing job involving an obscure academic field, for a boss who was himself a freelancer -- let's call him Roger Bellik. Roger Bellik was odder than the job. He'd sort of talk and harrumph to himself as he worked at a nearby computer in the computer lab; he sometimes sort of smelled; and to top it off he, well, sort of kept asking me out.

Well, in early drafts of my Novel-In-Progress, Roger Bellik, a character inspired by the real-life Roger Bellik, not his real name, figured prominently. In an attempt at comedy, I exaggerated his deficiencies as potential boyfriend; I think the word "deliquescent" was used.

Well, you guessed it. Today I received a letter from the real-life Roger Bellik. A two-page letter in which he congratulates his former assistant on having made good, and gives various pieces of professional advice, mentioning that he thinks the piece was quite well-written, for a newspaper article.

I guess I should be glad this happened now. Who knows what would have happened if I'd published Novel-In-Progress under my real name with references to Roger Bellik, and his deliquescence, intact? Sooner or later would I find a guy with a whip on my doorstep, growling "Where is the cow hidden right now?"


Vote here now

CZ sends this. Sigh.



A Cat Post That's Also A Political Post

Last night in a gathering I was mentioning the complexities of bringing a new cat into the household and spoke of the cats' "personalities." This led me to be berated by a boy grad student who said I was anthropomorphizing the cats, that they were nothing but automata, and that if their behavior appeared to differ one from another it was only that the dice in their heads had happened to land differently in the given moment.

I told him to go back home (I wish I'd said "to your spider hole") and read some more Descartes, who was the philosophical originator of the silly idea that non-human animals are nothing but automata (and various other silly ideas involving the pineal gland). Not only is it antiquated philosophy, it's bad biology. Like all mammals, cats have complex brains and a great deal of behavioral variety among individuals and the difference between that and "personality" is smaller than many of us would like to admit. Note that this isn't even a nature-nurture question; it's not about whether cats' behavior patterns are hardwired or not. It's about whether individual cats behave differently according to patterns that are not random.

Now, the reason this is a political post is that the lad was a student in the Social Thought department at the U of Chicago, which was also the home of Leo Strauss and his disciple Allan Bloom, forebear(s) of the neocon philosophy and thus of the current disaster in Iraq. I don't want to say that calling cats automata is the same as invading Iraq. But both seem consistent, I'd say, with a mindset in which empirical observation is discarded in favor of antiquated philosophical dogma.



Parking protocol

I've decided that one of the things I didn't learn because I was an only child is how to handle things when I feel under attack by someone. Last night I took a parking spot in the Whole Foods parking lot that another driver thought was rightfully his. I'd been expecting the person in front of him to take it, and when that person didn't I grabbed it -- realizing only as I committed to the turn that this guy had his signal on. He pulled into the (illegal) spot next to me at an angle I interpreted as vaguely threatening (though I don't think he meant it that way) and harangued me, and I sputtered and didn't know what to say. I wish I'd had the presence of mind either to make a snappy comeback, or to apologize and ask him what he really wanted me to do about it.

We finally resolved it when he said "I was assuming I would get the space if the person in front of me didn't take it" and I said, "well, I was thinking the same thing," and he said, "Well, OK," and moved off.

I don't think he was a mean person. I think he only wanted to be acknowledged. If I'd thought to say it I would have said "I'm sorry I didn't see you, but I bet you'll get a better spot than this anyway." It was 8pm, and though the lot looked pretty full, I think more people were leaving than arriving, and I think he probably did get a better spot.

This isn't the first time I've had an exchange like this with someone who thought a parking spot I'd taken was rightfully his -- or, actually more often, hers. In one case, I pulled up to back into a spot on 59th St. after passing by it once and going around the Midway to get it, and someone came up behind me, blocking me from entering the space, and insisted it was hers because she had been looking for a long time and had also gone around the Midway to get it. (I can't remember how this was resolved. Did I refuse to move, forcing her to leave? Or did I move on and let her have it?)

What are the grounds for believing one has the right to a particular parking spot?

Our friends at PPF would probably tell us we shouldn't be driving anyway. Our friends at PPF might be interested in this.



Sloganeering, Take Two

So, what do y'all think of my new favorite slogan:

"A vote for Kerry is a vote for voting."




Fine specimens

Last night Mike and I went to see John Sayles's new movie, Silver City. I managed to tune out the people sitting next to us, but apparently they were talking through the film. When they arrived, I wondered honestly if the woman was a call girl, based on a comparison of her apparel and her boyfriend's. There was gold lamé, cleavage, dyed hair, etc. involved, on the one hand, and schlumpy khakis or something on the other. In any case, she was very drunk, or high, or both. She tried to climb over the railing to get into her seat ("She's very forward," her boyfriend said indulgently), made all kinds of high-pitched exclamations, and then went in and out of the theater about four times before and during the movie.

And as soon as the movie was over, the boyfriend revealed his political stripes by proclaiming loudly that this was "Hollywood liberal crap" that said "all corporations are bad" and that the director "is a Communist." I'm not sure how they ended up watching that movie. But then, I guess the instruction provided at the Barbara and Jenna Bush School of Traditional Republican Values is not all that great on cultural literacy...




Listening to NPR yesterday I thought, it's all over. They were talking about the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) for Iraq and how hopeless the situation is over there, and how rosy a picture Bush is painting in his stump speeches, and I thought, people aren't necessarily deluded about that, they know he's not telling the truth and they will still vote for him. Because the worse the situation there gets, the less likely they are to want someone like Kerry who has not presented a strong position. Am I deluded in thinking he should have staked out a strong anti-war position? I've never viscerally understood the notion that you shouldn't change horses in midstream, but I felt like I suddenly did (not that I agree with it, of course). It would be one thing if Kerry were going to bring the troops home. But if you were a swing voter, would you want the troops to be led by someone who doesn't seem entirely sure whether or not we should be over there?

Can someone make me optimistic again?




Several people have asked me to explain where the name "overease" came from.

Here's how it originated: a friend and I have a long history of planning (and never actually eggs-ecuting) an egg-themed zine. Individual issues would have had titles drawn from different styles of cooking eggs. Hence, overeasy.

Overeasy, though, was taken on blogger by someone who never used it but still prevented me from having it, so I chose overease.

And an odd pronunciation of my initials might also be construed as being contained in overease.

And then there's the fact that we Americans have it too easy compared to much of the rest of the world...

So, you see, the signifier is polyvalent.




A few questions:

MUSEEM. Is pronouncing "museum" as if it has two syllables (as opposed to three) a regional [East Coast] thing, or a museum-world thing? (See, my blog really IS about art and not just politics.)

THE YELLOW RIBBONS. When did those yellow ribbons start appearing on cars? They're all over Maine, at least the area of Maine I was in (where there is a Navy base, and I think some national guard posts). I'd never seen them until I got there in late August, but I did see one on the way back from O'Hare last night. Needless to say, the politics of the yellow ribbon on a car are different from the politics of the flag on a car. My mom talked to one woman wearing a yellow ribbon who indicated (very shyly) that she was voting for Kerry. Maybe the work of Gaia and others will help galvanize that sentiment by showing that it can be OK to support the troops and support changing commanders-in-chief, too.

CAN WE STOP IT WITH THESE TIRED RACIST JOKES ABOUT TERRORISM? On the plane a white businessman was complaining about the search to which his luggage was subjected and his friend said, "Yeah, you look like a terrorist." Not that this should make a difference, but a South Asian young woman was sitting next to where he was standing. I wish I'd said, "Yeah, gosh, you do bear an uncanny resemblance to Tim McVeigh."



Conservatism and its discontents

Phil Agre has written an interesting essay on modern conservatism.

I like the optimism of his statement that "Conservatism [in his definition] is almost gone." This appeals to me because in my own more optimistic moments I remind myself that numerous social movements that seem to have stalled -- like feminism for instance -- are actually pretty young, and their effects may take some time to really be felt.

There are a number of other things in the essay with which to take issue -- his rejection of Marx, for instance (for a useful defense of Marxism for today's issues, one that has optimism without being as pollyannaish as Hardt and Negri's Empire -- just my opinion -- see David Harvey's Spaces of Hope, published in 2000), and disdain for theory.

But the main point, that conservatism is the same thing as aristocratic authoritarianism, seems like a dead end to me. Agre doesn't allow for a small-c conservatism of the type one might see in the old-fashioned Republicans who appear in Garrison Keillor's recent article in In These Times. I suspect that numerically, the number of self-identified "conservatives" who are not in favor of aristocratic rule vastly outnumbers those who are. I suspect many of these people don't think much about politics (viz. previous discussion of Louis Menand article) but have instincts that tend toward suspicion of things they view as "change" or as attacks on traditional values. This is not to say that conservatism doesn't also, in some incarnations, go along with a respect for authority that borders on blind faith, or that this confluence doesn't help bind together the two flanks of the Republican party. But it also has a historically relative character (just like progressive): what is conservative in one historical moment (or geographical location) might not be in another. And what about conserving the environment? I think trying to claim that conservatism tout court is the equivalent of support for an authoritarian aristocracy would not be a tactically helpful strategy for the left. The point to make is that Bush and Co. are not conservative by almost any definition of the word. They're radical.



Chicks with...

Ah. They're the Chicks with missile dicks.


Illiberal unguilt

The reason I asked that question about being born again is that I've been reading this interesting book by a (recently deceased) French psychoanalyst named Pierre Fedida, called Les bienfaits de la depression, or "the benefits of depression." The subtitle means approximately "in praise of talk therapy," so you can see where he's coming from. He has all kinds of interesting things to say about depression, but one almost throwaway comment he makes is that we've gone from a society in which the guilty conscience is central to subjectivity, to one in which what he calls "adaptation performante" is what matters -- adaptation to the behavioral demands of increasingly "flexible" economic circumstance. (Though the term "performante" has other resonances; steroids are referred to as performance-enhancing too, and one might throw Viagra into the pharmacological mix -- the imperative being to perform properly at a moment's notice.)

Anyway, I would find it interesting if fundamentalism were eroding the notion of the guilty conscience because fundies think they're automatically saved. There was a really smug Republican delegate on the news who was asked if she was afraid to be in NY and she said "no, because I'm a Christian." It used to be you were afraid BECAUSE you were a Christian. Different forms of social control, etc., but what Fedida is concerned with is also a loss of memory and dialogue that goes along with the loss of the guilty conscience...




If Alan Keyes has a direct line to Christ, why does he need to run for Senate?

Does anyone reading this happen to know, theologically, whether born-again Christians believe that by being born again they are freed (temporarily or permanently) from original sin?

This might be interesting: Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush.


Where The Wild Things Are

Though I saw a deer by the side of the roadearly in my stay, and lots of interesting birds, I was very excited to see a chipmunk puttering around outside the cottage yesterday, and then a raccoon a bit further afield. I started to say I hadn't seen a raccoon in the flesh in years, when I realized that I'd actually seen one in Hyde Park a month or two ago, crossing 57th St. Ah well. This time, I got a better look. Its nose was pointier -- more rodent-like -- than I remembered, probably because my primary point of reference for raccoons is an excessively cute stuffed animal I had as a child. But the tail was unmistakable, as it trundled away as quickly as its little legs would take it.




Old comments will be returned to the site soon! I finally figured out how to do it... In the meantime, the new system seems to work pretty well.



Cops and Conservatives

My internet access has been a little shaky this past week (though I am happy to report that the local cafe that advertises free wireless now in fact has WORKING free wireless) so it's been hard to keep up with what happened in New York in the smaller, direct-action-oriented and "unpermitted" protests. There seems to have been a lot of police overreaction and very calculated flouting of laws that require people to be released in 24 hours (the point being to keep them off the streets and deal with the legal consequences later). And you thought Giuliani was the law-and-order mayor. Well, anyway, I wouldn't want my earlier post about police restraint to stand without some mention of the lack of restraint shown in subsequent days (including the really sickening police/FBI harassment of a German journalist inside the convention itself). I don't disagree with direct action on principle, but I do wonder, in this particular setting, with the Republicans primed to exploit any "disorder" to their own advantage, if it serves much tactical or strategic purpose other than venting strong emotion. (I know there are people who say this about peaceful protest too, of course.)

I took advantage of my "vacation" to finally read Tom Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas" on the plane, so I had on my mind the people he's talking about -- working-class people, ever closer to the edge economically, who (he argues) are drawn to fundamentalism and cultural conservative causes out of misplaced desire to wage class struggle. I'm not sure about Frank's argument, but if he's right, direct action certainly doesn't seem the best way to win over THESE people.

There are a number of weaknesses in the book. It's not clear by what mechanism any of this false consciousness (because that's really what it is for Frank, I think) appears or operates. He's sympathetic to working-class people, and his accounts of anti-abortion crusaders (and a guy who got himself elected Pope because Vatican II came from the Antichrist) are sensitive and generous. At the same time, he thinks they've been hoodwinked. But who's doing the hoodwinking? Do these sentiments come from ideology factories that exploit evangelical churches to enable elite Republicans to steal from the poor to give to the rich (if so, where are these factories)? Or, do these sentiments bubble up unbidden from the people (in which case it's strange to consider them inauthentic)? Can't people actually care about these issues in their own right? Not that I'd agree with them, of course, but I don't think the anti-abortion protesters who crowded the sidelines of the Women's March in DC were shouting at me because they think I'm rich. (Elitism certainly does seem to me like a problem the left needs to deal with, but that's a subject for a different post.)
My sense is that it's actually probably a little of both, and it's not that Frank is wrong so much as that he leaves me hungry for more details, and more strategy for the left.

He points interestingly to public school as a point of contact with the government/liberal "elite" for working-class Republican Kansans -- a place where they remember being humiliated, and where values they abhor are inculcated into their kids, where the separation of church and state is rammed down their God-loving throats. I wish he'd actually interviewed some schoolteachers and school administrators, visited some classrooms, to test this hypothesis. It makes some sense, but I also wonder how much of it might be a mythical creation of ideology factories (like the latte liberals who don't seem to exist in Kansas, though there are plenty of latte Republicans).

Frank also has lots to say about the strange history of Kansas -- a bastion not just of the Progressive Movement but of all manner of "freaks" in the 19th and early 20th centuries. ("What's the Matter with Kansas" was originally the title of an essay -- or was it a speech? -- about how kooky Kansas was in the late 19th c.)

I didn't mean to write a book review, but there you have it -- I recommend it, with reservations.

I've also recently read Phil Agre's essay on conservatism, which has been going around the internet. I'll have more to say about that later. Agre equates conservatism with aristocratism, and I'm not sure that's the best way to go -- I'd rather say to people in Kansas "these Bushies are NOT conservative" than "these guys are conservative, and you're not, and here's why, because Edmund Burke..."




On its login page, Blogger is advertising Google's "Adsense" program, which purportedly can enable me to make money via this blog. What I find interesting is that in Google's description of its filters that block ads you would not want to have on your site, the three kinds they mention are are competitor ads, adult ads, and inappropriate ads of which the example is "Death/Chaos/War Ads." Maybe Google thinks Bush campaign ads should be banned.



More on the march

A few more details and thoughts about the protest. I didn't stay for any of the direct action, which didn't really interest me in this context (though I wish I could have gone to some of the other art events) because we had to head back to Maine for various reasons.

One thing that was striking was the military presence; I guess we knew to expect this, but the rifles were still a bit of a shock. In order to avoid Penn Station, my dad and I drove to Hudson, NY, where we picked up our cousin and drove to Poughkeepsie. From there, we took a Metro North train in. The National Guard was stationed at several of the stations on our way in. (On the way back, this was even more obvious, soldiers with rifles all over Grand Central Station, and more soldiers patrolling back and forth in the train we took back to Poughkeepsie.) There seemed to be a couple of cops on every corner of midtown Manhattan.

At the march itself, the police presence (as I said in the previous post) actually seemed a bit muted. Police in New York (who were described in many accounts as wearing riot gear) may have had helmets and bulletproof vests, but they did not have the full body armor that Chicago police wear, and many of them didn't have their helmets on. Not that the police didn't overreact to some of the independent protests, and not that the many helicopters in the sky didn't make an impression. A blimp appeared simply to be advertising Fuji Film but on closer inspection could be seen to possess an NYPD logo.

I have to say I was a little nervous about this protest. I didn't really think there was much chance I'd get arrested, or hurt; but I was worried about what the Repugnicans would do to capitalize on any disorder (which is why I didn't want to engage in direct action). They don't seem to have managed to turn the big protest against the protesters, or against Kerry; most of the press coverage seems to have been neutral to favorable.

The march itself was both joyous and determined, angry and fun. It was also incredibly creative, with homemade signs ("Dick Cheney is an evil robot"; a middle finger labeled "And the pachyderms you rode in on"; "Elephants are not kosher"; "Penguins for peace"; "Kerry sucks less!"; "Draft the Bush twins!"), puppets and masks and performances, giant Earth balloons, pig-masked people on stilts who went around saying "oh, you must be the little people, we've heard so much about you"; Billionaires for Bush (last time weren't they "Billionaires for Bush or Gore"?); a "free speech zone" hat; the inspiration of the Big Lebowski ("This aggression will not stand, man"). Code Pink gave W hundreds of pink slips (shaped like pink slips, get it?); Pink Bloque did its thing; the Church Ladies for Choice sang various ditties (Are you washed in the sins of the church? When you say your Hail Marys do you dream of bashing fairies?). Our cousin was a pallbearer in the march of 1000 coffins that symbolized the dead soldiers whose real coffins have received so little media coverage.

I love the story about the family from suburban New Jersey who decided they wanted to "do something big" for this march, and made a tank (piloted by George Bush, and with its gun turret pointing at a lone Tienanmen Square-style protester) out of insulating foam. That might have cost a little more than most people wanted to spend, but the great thing about the kind of "art" produced for the march is that just about anyone could do it – it didn't cost a lot. Some things better-crafted or more ingenious than others, but the fact that people MADE stuff, in this culture of consumption, is itself so heartening.

I've been to other marches where people did creative things – they certainly do in Chicago – but I think this one may have made a bigger impression on me because the last one I went to, the March for Women's Lives in Washington, had quite a different feel, visually, at least; it was a more mainstream march, organized by relatively mainstream organizations, and they produced enormous quantities of glossy pre-printed signs that most people ended up carrying. There was plenty of creativity, but it was drowned out by the standard signs.

Remaining questions about participants: Who are the red-, white- and blue-haired cowgirl cheerleaders with the silver missile penises who sing about "our boy from Crawford, Texas" with devilishly masked avatars of Bush, Ashcroft and Rumsfeld in tow? Was that supposed to be a lasso Bush was carrying, or a noose? Anyone know anything about the anarchist (?) drum corps? I need to come up with some titles for the video I'm making...

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