|The following is in response to this tweet from Sarah Palin and the ensuing backlash.|
I hate to say it, but while her timing could probably not be any worse, Palin is right. (Sort of.) The absolute worst case scenario oil production disaster in ANWR would be spilled milk compared to the Gulf oil spill.
While ANWR has a denser strata of biodiversity than the rest of the Alaskan tundra, it contains no endangered species and, in fact, all the flora and fauna are found in abundance in other parts of the state. You just can't find as many different species in as small a geographical area in other places. Its a large amount of biodiversity *for tundra* but that is a big qualifier. I couldn't quickly find a source for comparison but I'd make a healthy wager that there is more species represented in a few well chosen acres of Brazilian rain forest than in the entirety of ANWR. The scales tip even further when talking about threatened species.
Based on media portrayal you probably think ANWR looks like this but in fact most of it looks like this.
I'm not saying that the area isn't worth protecting, but if I have to choose between ANWR or coastal wetlands or ANWR and rain forest, the areas with higher biodiversity and more threatened species win out no contest. And like it or not, thats the choice we are faced with. Our oil addiction isn't going to go away until there is an alternative fuel source of comparable cost. (Don't say biodiesel. Corn subsidies are not going to solve your fuel crisis.) In the mean time, drilling is going to happen somewhere, and as we have seen, the risks of deep water drilling are much greater than anything as easy access as ANWR.
However, everything else Palin has to say on the subject is bullshit. Drilling in ANWR is not going to have any impact on our economic woes, unless we're still dealing with the same woes a decade after drilling begins. And even then, the oil produced from ANWR will account for a tiny amount of the energy the US consumes. The reason Palin is so excited about drilling in ANWR is the jobs and tax revenue it would generate for Alaska. It means Alaskans can continue getting permanent fund dividend checks every year instead of paying income tax.
If it sounds like I'm pro ANWR drilling, thats not really the case. I just see it as inevitable. We can start drilling now or we can wait until the cost of oil gets high enough that Americans lose interest in protecting tundra. The environmental impact will be about the same either way. What I think would be a more productive political fight is to get legislation passed that siphons off some of the ANWR revenue and it use it to set up more protected areas where there are more threatened species. You could buy up A LOT of rain forest with that kind of money.
|(This is totally unrelated to my recent posts.)|
Earlier today, I posted this tweet as a sort of snide response to this one.
After posting that, I wondered at why, as someone with almost no interest at all in the avant-garde art world, I should even be aware of Matthew Barney's decade long, self-indulgent gender project? And moreover, with its completion some 8 years ago, why would it be present in mind to draw comparison to Lady Gaga?
Well, the short answer is because I've ended up on the Cremaster Cycle wikipedia page at least 3 times since January. Prior to that time, I was vaguely aware that at some point, somewhere, someone had made an art installation of some note named after the muscle [NSFW - no, really] that causes the ballsack to descend and retract. Actually, there were 5 such installations, but anyway...
This was curious to me. At least 4 or 5 times this year I have, in a variety of unrelated contexts, encountered this rather obscure scrotal meme that should have peaked in social relevance nearly a decade ago but appears to be making a comeback. This smacks of Malcom Gladwell, so I decided to try to reconstruct the sequence of influences that brought me to the point of taking swipes at the weak and derivative art direction of Lady Gaga videos. Perhaps I'll learn something about how trends emerge and social media companies will throw money at me. Fortunately, the ability to search RSS subscriptions and filter google hits by date range made this task easier.
The first occurrence didn't even involve the internet (at the time). Towards the end of January, I took a 1-day trip with some friends to Seattle for a bar crawl. The morning after, as the least drunk/hung-over of the party, I walked across the street from the hotel to the poorly named Pamela's Fine Foods to wait 48 minutes for coffee and the 3 worst bagel sandwiches I have ever purchased. During that time, I perused a copy of the local indie newspaper, The Stranger, and saw mention of an upcoming showing of the Cremaster Cycle at The SIFF. This barely registered at the time, but I think it was the entry point to my conscience that would make subsequent allusions more memorable.
From here, the timeline gets fuzzy, because there were some meta-allusions, i.e. I was reading something that linked to an older something that mentioned the Cremaster. These are harder to pin down, even if I can find them, and google's "linkto:" search key has been no help. But some time since Mike from Milwaukee eviscerated the Phantom Menace (yes, I watched all 70 minutes and so should you) and George Lucas's public trial, the ensuing discourse directed me to this guy spooging all over slate.com with his comparisons of Star Wars to the Cremaster (no, I didn't read it all and neither should you).
And speaking of slate.com, this one is straight from the RSS feed. I originally followed the link only because I also hate popcorn and thought I might find some kinship with the author. I didn't really, although I remember wondering if any cremaster cycles is one too many.
And last but not least, just yesterday, I was perusing the Woot Blog and encountered this commentary on the MoMA's most recent acquisition (the @, which I didn't know one could acquire). The reference here is somewhat oblique unless you tend to click random links like I do. I don't read much gawker, so I didn't even know Bjork had broken up with that guy from Snatch.
I feel like there was at least one other recent encounter with the Cremaster, but I've given up trying to remember or find it. So what have we learned, aside from some mechanics of the male anatomy and the dating habits of alternative pop stars?
No solid conclusions yet, but the first link may offer the biggest clue. Except for an already-discontinued 30 minute excerpt from the 3rd cycle, the Cremaster has never been (publicly) released on DVD (and will never be so long as Barney gets his way). According to wikipedia (which cites a discussion on a message board), 20 sets of DVDs were produced, each selling for in excess of $100,000 dollars. Presumably some of the buyers were museums with an eye towards future exhibits, such as the one this April in Seattle, or perhaps rich collectors who lend the sets for such purpose. The list of screenings on the official site, Cremaster.net, doesn't show any screenings in the US since 2005. If such a production and sale did occur recently, as the cited message board claims, it might be the impact of that tiny release that is starting to trickle into the collective consciousness. That hypothesis doesn't have much substance, but the only competing theory at this point is elaborate coincidence.
What is most curious to me, though, is the star wars article (and maybe another meta-reference I can't find). Is it possible that particular slate article's hits spiked 5 years after publication because some guy was arguing online about whether Episodes I-III sucked ass, saw some reference to the cremaster elsewhere for unrelated reasons, and then a subconscious process recalled that link? In other words, would that article have been brought into a present day conversation about star wars (several years after the actual movies) if there wasn't already the more obscure peripheral discussion of the cremaster cycle happening at present (also several years after the actual movies)? Again, no way of knowing, but it suggests the possibility of an interesting dialectic process.
|I've sidelined Milton for a little while so I can do some of the relevant background reading, as well as some other literary diversions. Currently I'm reading the Iliad and listening to the Odyssey in audiobook form. Blogging about Homer seems sort of ridiculous, as few works of literature have been so thoroughly explored and documented as those, and I assuredly have nothing original to contribute. But I'm going to record my first impressions here, if only for my own sake.|
I think what is most striking about reading Homer (to me, if not modern readers in general) is the ability of ancient greeks to recognize and deconstruct their own cultural assumptions and critically reflect on their worth. I think post-modernity likes to claim ownership of this skill as its own invention. Achilles first refuses to fight for Agamemnon because of an assault to his honor, but the sense of social alienation offers him a glimpse of the cultural assumptions he is subject to, namely the expectation that he risk death in war in exchange gain gold, honor, and maybe women. Reflecting upon this, Achilles realizes this isn't a very good deal, more so if you've already got a surplus of the rewards from past battles, and especially if spoils can be taken away ex post facto or you know you're not going to survive to enjoy them. So Achilles isn't simply endangering Agamemnon and his army by refusing to fight, he is displaying a scandalous disregard for a social contract considered to hold greek society together. Wealth and honor are the only bargaining chips to offer in exchange for military service, and if they aren't sufficient, greek society has no hopes of defending itself. Achilles does eventually fight, despite the poor bargain, but its open to interpretation whether he does so because a convincing shift in beliefs or simply because the format of the epic poem demands it.
The next striking feature of the Iliad is how the greeks are able to recognize one cultural bias but remain completely ignorant of another, which I thought was evidenced by the portrayal of women. At least for the translation I am reading, the opening sections leave it rather ambiguous as to whether Paris captured Helen or she simply ran off with him. Since the entire Trojan war hinges upon this, it seems like it would be pretty important. When we finally hear Helen speak, her self-blame suggests complicity, but for Menelaus and the others, it appears immaterial. The basic assumption seems to be that women are too dumb and capricious to be held responsible for any of their actions. There is no more point in blaming Helen for cheating than in blaming a dog for running away from home. So much for cultural self-reflection.
More to come, but thats enough for one post.
|Hail lonely readers of my abandoned blog!|
For some time, I've wanted to read Paradise Lost. While in Claremont, there was a course on Milton at CMC taught by Prof. Fagen that was supposed to be great, but I was never able to fit it into my schedule and it had not even the faintest connection to my concentration. I recently started reading it on my own, and have decided to post my thoughts here, for lack of a better venue.
In my mind, Milton occupies a sort of nexus point in the time-line of English literature (if not Western lit as a whole). I don't know if this notion has any validity, but it seems to me that Milton's poetry is so dense with historical and literary allusions, that if you can do a close reading of Paradise Lost, and really get the meat of everything he is drawing upon, you have a sufficient understanding of everything that happened before Milton to be well prepared for everything in English lit that came after him. But until recently, I was reluctant to attempt reading Paradise Lost outside of an academic setting. It just seemed like too big of an undertaking.
And it is a big undertaking. Besides the actual poem, I need to read The Iliad, Virgil's Aenid, and Ovid's Matamorphoses, among other things. I expect this to take months. BUT...
So far, I have found reading Milton, even though I don't get all of the the allusions (or for that matter, all of what is going on in the actual narrative), far more pleasurable than I anticipated. And even more so to hear it read aloud. From the author of the Introduction to the copy I got from the library:
"No one, not even Shakespeare, surpasses Milton in his command of the sound, the music, the weight and taste and texture of English words." -Philip Pullman
I've found this to be especially true with a good reader. This is a 1958 recording I came across of Sir Anthony Quayle reading the first book (of 12):
Sadly, he only recorded Books I and IV, for whatever reason. There are numerous other audiobook recordings to pick from, and while I think most of them offer a better experience than simply reading the poem, none display the sort of passion and power seen above to do the text its full justice.
Besides the background reading, Yale has put the Prof. John Roger's course lectures on iTunes U and elsewhere for free viewing. He doesn't devote as much time as I would like to Paradise Lost in particular, but the background info of the 7 or so lectures I've watched so far have been both useful and fascinating. Milton's life and personality is almost as entertaining as his poetry. Despite a pretty good knowledge of history and knowing a great many Harvey Mudd students, I have never encountered anyone with an ego the size of Milton's (though Isaac Newton made a good show). He had decided before his teen years that he would be the greatest poet in the history of the English-speaking world, and despite a prolific production of verse as a youngster, he largely refused to write in English before turning 21, lest his juvenalia be mistaken for his contribution to the canon. His first published poem, which he takes great pains to point out was composed within a week of turning 21, is on the subject of Christ's nativity, drawing none too subtle parallels between Christ's entrance into human history with his own entry into the literary world. Whats more, he published his first work with line numbers(!) and from there set out to reform all of western culture, including scripture, in his own image. Hilarious, were it not for the fact that he managed to deliver on most of the promises of his shameless self-promotion.
More to come. If you've read Milton, or are interested in doing so, please post in the comments. I want to hear other people's thoughts.
|A while back, I posted this entry speculating on what Prof. Benjamin had to say in his most recent TED talk. Video of the talk has since been posted. You can view it here.|