Archive for December, 2007

links for 2007-12-29

the inventor-of-dynamite peace prize

As much as people may admire the winners of Nobel prizes, the discouraging fact remains that becoming prominent enough in physics or medicine or literature to win one probably lies beyond the intellectual capacity of most. Fortunately for them, a consoling hope still exists in the form of a Nobel prize for mediocre minds: the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s gotten to the point where any Democratic President of the U.S. (or even presidential candidate) who doesn’t win one should probably consider themselves a total failure. All it used to take seemed to be spending a weekend at the presidential retreat with the leaders of a couple of warring Middle Eastern states and standing between them like a minister between bride and groom at a wedding while they recite vows that they are just as unlikely to keep. But now even that much isn’t necessary. Granted Al Gore doesn’t get to take advantage of the presidential retreat to host dictators taking time off from planning their next invasion of their neighbors to take credit for negotiating a settlement to their last one. Still, not only is it entirely unclear how spreading propaganda about global warming contributes to world peace, this is a man so unwilling to bury the hatchet that he did his best to break up the peaceful electoral succession of U.S. leaders by sending a pack of lawyers to Florida to bandy theories about the electoral preferences of a few senile gas emitters from Florida for two months. Now that the Nobel committee has made its criteria for winning the Peace Prize so opaque and unclear through seemingly trying to become a mirror for every trendy global fad of the moment, I’m praying that this doesn’t lead at some point to them wheeling out an actual mirror at the prize-giving ceremony and declaring that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is “YOU.”

Flying blind

For a graduate student in the humanities, someone who by definition is lacking a certain amount of direction in life, street signs are important. As engorged with college students as it is, you would think Boston would have plenty of them, but these East Coasters are philosophers and take the long view of things, so the signs generally only tell you what city you’re going towards, rather than what street you’re on and which intersections might be in your near future. Which gives rise to thoughts like: “oh, so you mean this east-bound street in Cambridge is headed towards Boston? Really? Are you sure about that?” I think even China does a better job labeling its streets, even though every other street in the country looks like it was built in the last 18 months to replace a chicken shed or a field for shooting homosexuals. I don’t know why they don’t just start making signs saying “Rome” with an arrow pointing forward; then they’d be good for every road in the city.

raising/razing the greats

An attack ad against Kant: the narrator seems to have borrowed the narrator’s voice from the “Perelman Adventures”.

Editing Shakespeare: with Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie essentially reprising their personas from Blackadder. Granted, the comedy here is about 90% in the delivery and 10% in the material, but a must for those who love that show nonetheless.

Life stretched thin

If the basic desire of man, as Miguel de Unamuno contends, is personal immortality, and immortality consists of the endless repetition of a person’s thoughts on to eternity, then he comes as close to realizing his dream in Del sentimiento trágico de la vida as anyone probably should. How many different ways can you possibly say “I want to live forever”? Personally, I don’t know what I’d do with eternal life. Generally, I take it as a premise in life that you shouldn’t long for those things which you can have no possible knowledge, evidence or report of, not because they’re impossible but because how do do you know that they’re really all that great? Anyway, if everyone’s existence has a certain finite value and you were to divide it by an infinite length of time, its value at any given point in time would come so close to zero as to make no odds. I call it the Mick Jagger Principle, since he’s basically lived an eternity in rock-star years. Surely I’m not the only one who would respect him a lot more if he had had the dignity to choke to death on his own vomit at 28 like Hendrix? Not that any of this will probably dissuade those hell-bent on immortality (so to speak), but, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, those that most want to live forever are probably those that you’d least want to actually do so.

The three-hour worker’s state

For those that believe that Harvard uses the wrong shade of red to conceal its true nature, the graduate dining hall is probably the best evidence. Rationing and the bread line, or rather the rice bowl line, are still in force there (but only at lunchtime). Of course I understand these are hard economic times, and a $30 billion endowment can get spread pretty thin. What I don’t understand is why these limitations are only in effect at lunchtime, and then at dinner you can eat as much as you want, as if the the conditions of scarcity separating ideal socialism from Actually Existing Socialism disappeared sometime mid-afternoon every day, allowing dialectical materialism to speed through its whole evolutionary course and deliver a true paradise of plenty by 5:15 in the evening. Of course the process reverses itself every night, suggesting that every revolution, as the word’s etymology suggests, is circular.

Just as some people like to compare people’s appearances to that of various animals, comparing Harvard to various totalitarian systems seems to be a surprisingly popular activity here. A friend of mine disagrees with my preference for communism and claims the big ceremonies like inaugurations and commencements, when there are huge red vertical banners on standards all over the Yard, really more resemble the Nuremberg rallies. This view hasn’t caught on as much, in part perhaps because there doesn’t seem to be a good adjective that means “Nazi-like” as distinct from some actual ideological or material link with the Nazis. There are neo-Nazis, sure, but it’s hard to imagine giving this name to groups in Africa or Asia or South America. So as a result fascism, which is not quite the same thing, gets all the credit whenever a bunch of maniacs in peculiarly colored shirts start beating up minorities or whatever. I’m not really sure what would be a good word. “Nazist”? “Nazi-ey”? As for Harvard’s own propensity for shirts in a peculiar shade of red, it seems to be fading a bit, which I see as a good thing, since to me the Harvard Crimson sounds like some shitty Arena Football League team or a particularly grotesque sex act.