March 30, 2007

Spring Cleaning of Late Summer Bookmark Cleaning

Attention conservation notice: I wrote the following in late August, trying to clear out my stuff-to-blog bookmarks folder. For reasons I don't remember, I left it aside then, and only ran across it again now. I haven't updated anything, just checked that none of the links have rotted. You've probably already seen any which you would have found interesting.

Jack Balkin has put the full text of his 1998 book Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology on-line for free. This is a really good book, where Balkin makes a serious attempt to tackle two huge problems, namely how we manage to have shared cultural meanings, and how culture can help produce injustice. The tools he uses are the idea of memes (in a broad sense, compatible with say Sperber's critiques), along with some more experimentally-grounded psychology. I think he succeeds, but what he ends up with is 190-proof liberal evolutionary naturalism, which is mostly what I believe anyway. (He doesn't make much of the way he's recapitulating both the origins of American pragmatism in evolutionary and psychological science, e.g. this, and its outcome in a liberal social philosophy, but I can't imagine it's escaped his notice.) What's really curious, though, is that Balkin does all of this while suffering from a mild strain of the French Disease (he does teach at Yale), so that he appeals to Lyotard and Foucault in the course of defending motherhood, apple pie, and even the flag. Straightforward appeals to not let over-simplified stereotypes of group differences blind us to the reality of individual diversity therefore get prefaced by elaborate Derrida-for-beginners deconstructions of all binary oppositions. I suspect that Balkin has thus managed to write a book which will irritate almost all of its prospective readers — some with "naive scientism", and others with "postmodern bullshit" — but is nonetheless actually very good and worth reading. And, now, free. [This is the short version of the review which has been sitting, in draft form, on my hard-disk since the fall of 2000.]

Meera Nanda gives a progressive Indian perspective on American affirmative action, in the context of the debate on "reservation for backward castes". (Via Nanopolitan.) — Has anyone done a systematic comparison of the Indian caste system and the American racial system? It seems to obvious to have been left alone...

Charlie Stross contemplates the future, and sees a world whose constitution was written by Gary Gygax. It's not pretty to imagine how this will intersect with the economy of phishing.

Michael Bérubé has his head split open by Yeats. (I predicted Jonathan Goodwin's response, but not publicly, so that doesn't count.)

Elif Shafak writes about having a novel which is charged with the crime of insulting Turkishness:

The fictional Armenian characters in my latest novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, are blamed for defaming and belittling Turkishness. Thus for instance, a character named Auntie Varsenig is in trouble now for saying the following on page 57:
"Tell me how many Turks ever learned Armenian. None! Why did our mothers learn their language and not vice versa? Isn't it clear who has dominated whom? Only a handful of Turks come from Central Asia, right, and then the next thing you know they are everywhere! What happened to the millions of Armenians who were already there? Assimilated! Massacred! Orphaned! Deported! And then forgotten! How can you give your flesh and blood daughter to those who are responsible for our being so few and in so much pain today? Mesrop Mashtots would turn in his grave!"
Similarly, another character, Dikran Stamboulian, is in dire straits now for saying the following:
"What will that innocent lamb tell her friends when she grows up? My father is Barsam Tchakhmakhchian, my great-uncle is Dikran Stamboulian, his father is Varvant Istanboluian, my name is Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, all my family tree has been Something Somethingian, and I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives in the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915, but I myself have been brainwashed to deny the genocide because I was raised by some Turk named Mustapha! What kind of a joke is that ... Ah, marnim khalasim!"
As much as I believe in their vivacity, my Armenian fictional characters cannot go to court to be tried under Article 301. Instead of them, my Turkish publisher, Semi Sökmen, and I, will be there when the time comes. It will be a long legal battle from then on, and certainly a hassle and cause of stress. But, we Turkish writers are not pitiful or forlorn victims unable to go out into the street for fear of nationalist assault. After all, we do know, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that a similar clash of opinions between the progressive-minded and the close-minded xenophobes is under way almost everywhere and the world is not a safe planet anymore.
Commenting on this idiocy, Walter Jon Williams (one of my favorite authors) takes a break from blogging a fascinating account of a trip to Turkey (now at part eleven and counting) to write "I would say something like, 'In solidarity with our literary siblings, let us all insult Turkishness together,' except that I happen to like Turkishness. It's just shithead Turkish politicians I despise."

Not-unrelated, the Editors call for the rectification of names.

The Sarong Theorem archive is "an electronic archive of images of people proving theorems while wearing sarongs."

Ilya Nemenman has put his bibliography file online, with rather uninhibited remarks on the papers concerned. Since Nemenman is very smart, this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in scientific applications of information theory, and should be emulated.

Nothing is eternal dep't: old sand in the Taklimakan Desert; old rocks in the the Sierra Nevada.

Giant ground sloths in Iowa.

Gary Farber reads about crackpot Nazi science so you don't have to! (Unless you find that sort of thing amusing, of course.) — Amygdala, by the way, is one of the most consistently interesting, and broad-ranging, weblogs I've found; Gary really does blog about almost everything three to six months before everybody else does. Since contributions really do help keep him on the air, it's a good idea to follow the links at the top of each page and contribute a little, if you can.

I have far, far too many links to arresting images and off-beat ideas from Geoff Manaugh's consistently-delightful BLDGBLOG, which is poised somplace near the triple point of photography, urbanism and architecture. Without pretending that these are the best, here the ones in my folder: Mount St. Helens of Glass; When Landscapes Sing; or, London Instrument; Where Cathedrals Go to Die; The Knot Driver; the Mine, the Rivers, the Caves and Drainscaping Nevada's Gold; The Scrap Lung; Famous Hulls of the Alaskan Sea; Silt; Optometric Metropolis; Urban Diptychs; The Hedge-Bridge; Landscapes Undone; Euclidean Agriculture; A Mars Supreme; glowing Oceans; Cities of Amorphous Carbonia; Earth Surface Machine; The Architecture of Spam; Seal Silo.


Posted at March 30, 2007 16:00 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth