Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
April 2005

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4.20.05 - Links to topics on tonight's Monkeytime TV:

[more later]


4.13.05 - My former Raleigh pal Lisa Whiteman, who has one of the most warm and engaging writing styles I've ever seen in a blog, recently posted a neat photo essay about New York City barbershops. [link]


4.13.05 - It's Wednesday again, which means another episode of Monkeytime, the call-in show I host on Raleigh's cable access network. It's hard to top last week's appearance by a dozen Carolina Rollergirls, whose season opener last Sunday was packed - and just as thrilling (left) as last November's exhibition bout. But tonight we've got Buddy Owens, founding president of the North Carolina chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a member of AU's national advisory council. He's also one of the founders of Wake County's Interfaith Alliance, and was in large part responsible for the New Hanover County school board voting down a proposal to require schools to post the Ten Commandments as part of a display of "objects of historical significance that have formed and influenced the United States legal or governmental system":

"Children who are not of the religious majority do not need to be marginalized further," Owens told the board. "I hope New Hanover County chooses the neutral path. We must respect the religions of all our students."

...The proposal called on schools to post nine documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the North Carolina Constitution and the Magna Carta. The Ten Commandments was the only explicitly religious document on the list. The board subsequently voted against the proposal. After the meeting, one board member told Owens that his comments had persuaded her to vote no.

Should be fun to chat for an hour. We sure do have a lot to talk about, from the completely unacceptable decision by the Catholic governor of New Mexico to shut down state offices in honor of the pope's death to the much trickier thicket of UNC-Chapel Hill's decision to refuse official recognition to a Christian fraternity that allowed only Christian members. That decision was reversed last month by a federal judge who saw "significant constitutional concerns."

And you know what? I don't disagree. [link]


4.12.05 - For those who didn't click the March 30 "Old Negro Space Program" link, a few stills from one of the smartest, funniest, 10-minute films you'll ever see online. It's a perfect parody of Ken Burns-style documentary/pomposity, from the pontificating pro-negro white academic to the hilarious blues song honoring America's first "blackstronauts."
Sheer don't-miss brilliance. [link]


4.12.05 - Strange the folks whose passing inspires comment. I haven't thought about Andrea Dworkin in years, but learning about the loss of one of the world's most vehement opponents of pornography stirred up some surprisingly strong emotions. If your boss isn't looking, spend time at The Andrea Dworkin Online Library, which includes an autobiography, a page debunking things said about or attributed to her, and some classic anti-ACLU stuff. Dworkin's aggressive critique of a "free speech" that included porn - she once called the ACLU "a handmaiden of the pornographers, the Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan" - was one of the more interesting shocks my system got during its university years. It took some thought to get past the satisfying rage in this statement:

It is time for the ACLU to stop working both sides of the street. Some groups exist in order to hurt other groups. Some groups are socially constructed for the purpose of hurting other groups. The Klan is such a group. Some people are born into groups that others want to hurt. The distinction is fundamental: so fundamental that even the ACLU will have to reckon with it.

Of course, it helped that Dworkin never seemed to provide a workable democratic solution to the problem of differing views about pictures of sex.

Still, for what it's worth, I'd argue that the movement Dworkin represented is in large part responsible for the increased outspokenness of pro-porn feminists who didn't agree with her, which led to a dramatic increase in woman-produced porn and a more open approach to sex in general. We can thank her for that, at least. Not surprisingly, pro-porn feminist Susie Bright has a must-read obit that strikes just the right tone, balancing respect for Dworkin's significant accomplishment while begging to differ on some key aspects:

Along with Kate Millet in Sexual Politics, Andrea Dworkin used her considerable intellectual powers to analyze pornography, which was something that no one had done before. No one. The men who made porn didn’t. Porn was like a low culture joke before the feminist revolution kicked its ass. It was beneath discussion. Not so anymore!

Here’s the irony... every single woman who pioneered the sexual revolution, every erotic-feminist-bad-girl-and-proud-of-it-stiletto-shitkicker, was once a fan of Andrea Dworkin. Until 1984, we all were. She was the one who got us looking at porn with a critical eye, she made you feel like you could just stomp into the adult bookstore and seize everything for inspection and a bonfire.

The funny thing that happened on the way to the X-Rated Sex Palace was that some of us came to different conclusions than Ms. Dworkin. We saw the sexism of the porn business... but we also saw some intriguing possibilities and amazing maverick spirit. We said, “What if we made something that reflected our politics and values, but was just as sexually bold?”

Andrea did not like this one little bit.

If you doubt for a second that the mainstream press is incapable of capturing this kind of nuance, just check the obit from the NY Times, which glosses over one of the most valuable - and grossly misrepresented - elements in Dworkin's published work:

She was also critical of consensual sex between women and men, which she saw as an act of everyday subjugation in which women were accomplices. "One of the differences between marriage and prostitution is that in marriage you only have to make a deal with one man," Ms. Dworkin wrote in "Letters From a War Zone" (Dutton, 1989). Marriage, she added, "is a legal license to rape."

Sounds awfully over-the-top, doesn't it? But if you examine what Dworkin really said, you find she actually had a carefully reasoned point, as demonstrated in this 1995 interview conducted by British sci-fi author Michael Moorcock:

Moorcock: After "Right-Wing Women" and "Ice and Fire" you wrote "Intercourse". Another book which helped me clarify confusions about my own sexual relationships. You argue that attitudes to conventional sexual intercourse enshrine and perpetuate sexual inequality. Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape. I haven't found a hint of that anywhere in the book. Is that what you are saying?

Dworkin: No, I wasn't saying that and I didn't say that, then or ever. There is a long section in Right-Wing Women on intercourse in marriage. My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse--it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman.

Come on, y'all, that argument is dead-on-target. Intercourse appeared in 1987; it wasn't until 1993 that marital rape became a crime in all 50 states. It takes a certain kind of idiot to jump from the above to "Dworkin says all intercourse is rape!" - but, according to Dworkin, that didn't stop the distortion:

It's important to say, too, that the pornographers, especially Playboy, have published the "all sex is rape" slander repeatedly over the years, and it's been taken up by others like Time who, when challenged, cannot cite a source in my work.

Aargh. Why is it so difficult for the press to capture this kind of complexity? Perhaps now you see where the strong feelings about Dworkin come from. But, you know, in the end, I agree completely with this comment from the brilliant lefty economist Doug Henwood at Susie Bright's site:

What an odd and amazing character she was - clearly lots of brainpower, but so twisted up about lust and aggression. I guess that's what made her so compelling to read. Somehow all the bottled up lust & aggression came out, despite the best efforts of her ideology to contain it.

Amen. A conflicted but highly intelligent critic of gender relations, whose critique ultimately falls short of truly puncturing her primary target. RIP, Andrea. [link]


3.30.05 - Links to topics discussed on this week's Monkeytime TV:


3.25.05 - I loved "The Apocalypse Will Be Televised," Gene Lyons' scathing review of the bloody, apocalyptic Christian sci-fi series Left Behind. (It originally appeared in print last November, but was only recently posted online; Harper's apparently believes the Web is bad for subscriptions.)

The piece is a great read which not only pokes at the series' gaping plot holes, but also raises eyebrows at the disturbing "comic-grotesque aspects of this whole rapture business":

...Israeli Jews play a strange role in the Left Behind series, existing to be converted or slaughtered. As God’s chosen, they are to be protected from harm until the battle of Armageddon, at which point they must either accept Jesus as their Messiah or die.

How pleasant the series is so popular, eh? Lyons also makes a point to note how a preoccupation with the End Times directly contradicts scripture "in which Christ warned his disciples...not to distract themselves searching for signs of the Second Coming." So much for crystal-clear theology. Lyons' final statement is particularly sharp:

As noisy zeal overwhelms more reasonable voices, however, the Left Behind hubbub strikes me as symptomatic of the degraded state into which American Puritanism has fallen. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the runaway religious bestseller of the seventeenth century, Christian’s allegorical journey to the Celestial City involved an essentially inward quest. His encounters with the Giant Despair and Mr. Worldly-Wiseman forced him continually to search and re-search his mind and spirit for evidence of Satan’s wiles. LaHaye and Jenkins convert what was once the spiritual and psychological drama of salvation into escapist melodrama, Puritan self-examination into messianic narcissism. Satan is the Other, basically anything you fear and don’t understand. The books are pagan tribalism writ large, complete with soothsayers and magic spells. All of history has conspired to turn suburban Americans into apocalyptic superheroes. The end is near, and dude—you’re, like, the star!

Yep, sure sounds like the kind of religion that would appeal to today's America.

Anyway, my lifelong addiction to reading was sparked by Tarzan and Doc Savage, so I'm the last to judge anyone for spending time with lightweight genre crap. But the story Lyons describes sure does seem astonishingly bad:

World War III has begun, the city is under nuclear attack, and car salesmen are sitting around the showroom writing up contracts and—somewhat improbably—accepting credit cards.

Before long, in the name of peace, World Potentate Carpathia has also dropped megaton devices on London, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico City, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington. The “wrath of the Lamb” earthquake has exterminated one quarter of the world’s surviving population. Yet the Tribulation Force warriors experience no difficulty zipping all over the world by Learjet, keeping in touch by cell phone, spreading the Gospel over the Internet, and tracking Nicolae Carpathia’s schemes on CNN.

Ya gotta admit that's pretty awful. Even the most far-reaching fantasy or sci-fi commits to being at least marginally consistent with its own reality. More importantly, while I might cringe at the plots in Janet Evanovich's hilariously lightweight and enjoyable Stephanie Plum books, I damn sure don't take them seriously as theology. We can only hope the same applies to to those who read Left Behind, because it's horrifying to imagine anyone taking scenes of such apocalyptic carnage seriously. Lyons says the slaughter in the series finale "runs on for close to eighty gleeful pages":

Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin. . . . Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.

The glory of Christ, mind you. Blood is described roaring through the Holy Land in rivers five feet deep. At one point, the Antichrist’s Humvee sinks up to its axles in a swamp of blood-mud.

Good lord. If you're thinking any religion with a payoff like that is seriously creepy, you're not alone. Lyons quotes a theologian in Barbara Rossing's book The Rapture Exposed expressing his dismay at “this perverse parody of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world that he sent it World War III.'”

Isn't that perfect? "God so loved the world that he sent it World War III." Let's hope this bizarre, recent corruption of a longstanding (if questionable) tradition has all the staying power of most crappy genre fiction. [via the always-interesting right-hand picture sidebar at Cursor] [link]


3.24.05 - For the caller to last night's show who wanted to talk about Latin America, here's the link to Beautiful Horizons, a smart site that focuses heavily on Latin American issues. I had no idea, for instance, that Chile is on the verge of electing its first woman president:

In this socially conservative country where domestic violence is common and women earn much less than men, the two top parties have selected female nominees, virtually ensuring that Chile will get its first female head of state. Opinion polls show the two women, Michelle Bachelet and Soledad Alvear, commanding huge leads over all other rivals for the Dec. 12 elections.

"There are still some macho attitudes in our country, but all opinion polls show that a major cultural change has occurred in that respect," Alvear said. "The time has come for a woman president."

Their early emergence indicates an important shift in attitudes in this South American country, where growing public disgruntlement with politics as usual is creating new political opportunities for women.

"Women are seen as more honest, more concerned about the poor and more democratic," said Maria de los Angeles Fernandez, a political scientist at Diego Portales University.

Tons more fascinating stuff at the site, including a great overview of the recent sharp leftward swing in South American countries. They seem to be making a habit of electing leaders who were jailed by past U.S.-supported military regimes. Spend the morning chewing on that one. If you want an easy way to stay informed about our neighbors to the south, start checking in with Beautiful Horizons regularly. [link]


3.23.05 - Good ol' Susie Bright (funny, I was wondering just last week what had happened to her) has a brilliant, sharp and very explicit take on the Gannon/Guckert White House press corps/prostitute affair:

I am convinced Bulldog got into the press corps because someone was deeply in love with him, i.e, with the fantasy he provides. Others in the game saw what he could be used for. Jeff's client wanted more of Jeff, he wanted preferential status, he wanted promises. Gannon, like any pro with a big fish on the line, was growing weary of diamonds and furs...

There is no way that Gannon has retired from Bulldoggin’. Sure, his cover was blown, but now all the closet stud chasers in DC know how tight he lap-danced in the seats of power. He must be busy. You’re not going to be able to reach him by his web site anymore, because Jeff's little black book is completely filled by word of mouth. There’s gotta be a waiting list and a velvet rope as thick as his dick.

A priceless exploration of the mindset of a Gannon-style Web hustler. [via robot wisdom] [link]



"The amount of brain tissue missing is truly shocking."

Ok, you want it bad, so here goes - three essential Terri Schiavo links:

1. The single best blog post about Terri's life and
(mercifully) soon-to-come death. If you care, you'll follow the links, especially the one about the "lost lesson" of the case: doctors' malpractice in failing to diagnose Terri's bulimia nervosa, the cause of the heart attack that put her into a coma.

2. Dahlia Lithwick nails the larger constitutional issues perfectly.

3. Kevin Keith demolishes "unhinged" lefty knee-jerking
about Bush's signing of a fundamentally decent "Futile Care" law.
I sure do hate it when the lefty echo chamber goes nuts.

There. What more do you need? Proof that death - which, er, we know next to nothing about - is at least as OK as life? Yeah, I'll be right back with that. Meanwhile, opportunistic asses like Bill Frist are doing all they can to become president on Terri Schiavo's back. Fuck political maneuvers.

This woman is dying to get on with the next phase of her existence.


3.22.05 - Is the Israeli government trying to spark new terror attacks? The Gaza pullout has always seemed like a cover for continued quiet expansion in the West Bank, so I'll admit to being shocked at the nakedness of Sharon's announcement of a major expansion of Jewish settlements just weeks after the release of an official report confirming the illegal expansions Palestinians have been furious about for years:

Sasson's report was published earlier this month. It said Israeli governments have helped build and expand 105 illegal West Bank settlement outposts in a flagrant violation of official policy and promises to the United States - confirming long-standing complaints by the Palestinians.

Despite American sponsorship of the "road map", US President George W Bush recognised Israel's right to hold on to Jewish population centres in the West Bank in 2004. Since then the administration has failed to condemn several instances of Jewish building activity in the settlements, including an Israeli tender for the construction of 1,800 new housing units there.

Any announcement of a permanently increased Israeli presence in the West Bank is, of course, sure to please violent Jewish fundamentalists, but timing it to match the release of Tulkarem from Israeli control only serves to highlight the disparity between the two sides' positions. Israel clearly holds most of the cards, and clearly isn't very interested in long-term fairness.

Look, I'm not an idiot. Palestinian corruption, disorganization, hatred and murder is a cancer in the region. Attacking Israeli civilians with terror is a completely moronic, self-defeating and evil strategy that does nothing but shit on the hope for a peaceful solution. But only a completely stupid and bigoted observer would deny that the equally cancerous Israeli land grab - painfully obvious to Palestinian families in the West Bank who watch their rights to water, farmland and democracy diminish daily as the infamous "apartheid wall" is built - is also responsible for the continued violence. You're probably not aware, for instance, that Palestinians desperately need more water just as Israel is laying claim to most of the water in the West Bank:

Under an agreement signed a decade ago as part of the Oslo accord, four-fifths of the West Bank's water is allocated to Israel, though the aquifers that supply it are largely replenished by water falling onto Palestinian territory.

It's amazing that such carefully planned, low-intensity warfare against the Palestinian people - from a series of Israeli governments - rarely merits serious discussion in the U.S. press. Meanwhile, any misguided avenging idiot with a death wish is assured lots of coverage. Come on, people. Both elements are dangerously close to the heart of the problem, and both need to be addressed. It's way past time for the overly credulous and Israel-centric among us to learn that. [link]


3.22.05 - Wow. I've always thought science is at its best when it embraces uncertainty (rather than run away from it, screaming), and New Scientist's "13 things that do not make sense" sure is one heaping load of beautiful uncertainty. Numbers 4, 9 and 12 had me cracking up at our current bedrock assumptions that are just waiting to burst wide open. As corrupt government agencies like the EPA bury uncomfortable pollution data and then lie about it to protect entrenched financial interests, do yourself a favor: remind yourself what honest science actually looks like. [via MeFi and Cursor] [link]




3.22.05 - There are many ugly pieces in the hateful puzzle of Palestinian/Israeli relations, but there's one essential bit that seems to get very little attention here in the Land of the Free. If you care about the Middle East, yet haven't heard about the recent increase in violence aimed at peaceful Palestinians from right-wing fundamentalist Jews, you might want to ask yourself why that particular info hasn't reached you. From the mainstream Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

March 17: Settlers attack Palestinian house in Hebron

The roof of a Palestinian house in Hebron collapsed yesterday when a group of settlers struck the building's walls with hammers. The settlers also threw stones, eggs and water bombs at police and Israel Defense Forces troops who were guarding the site, lightly wounding a police officer. A police vehicle was also damaged in the incident. The settlers attacked the officer while he was filming them striking with hammers at the home's foundations, police spokesman Shlomi Seguy said.

March 18: Settler mob injures five Palestinian laborers

Five Palestinian laborers were slightly wounded yesterday at the settlement of Nahliel, west of Ramallah, when an Israeli mob attacked them with sticks and stones. Israel Defense Forces sources described the attack as "an attempted lynching."

The incident occured in the morning, as dozens of Yeshiva students arrived in the area where eight Palestinians were employed. The students threw stones at the Palestinians and struck them with sticks. Five workers were wounded and taken to a Ramallah hospital.

March 20: Four settlers arrested for alleged attack on Palestinians

The four detainees, all residents of the Itamar settlement, were arrested during a joint operation by police and the Israel Defense Forces aimed at giving Palestinians in the Nablus area freedom to work in their fields. The attack Sunday was the latest in a recent series of assaults on Palestinians by settlers. In the last five days alone, there have been five attacks of this kind. On Saturday morning, dozens of settlers prevented local Palestinians from working in their fields. The stand-off lasted several hours until the police and IDF intervened.

Five attacks in five days? Sounds like news to me. Ha'aretz laid it out nicely in a Monday editorial slamming "Jewish hooligans" on the extreme right who "will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement." It's worth reading in full before it passes into the paid archive - not least because it compares the attacks to the Russian pogroms of the late 1800s (which, I'm told, caused at least one of my ancestors to emigrate to America):

Who will prevent the pogrom?

Last week, Palestinian laborers were attacked by settlers in what the Israel Defense Forces described as an "attempted lynching." At various locations throughout the West Bank, Jewish hooligans have used guns, iron bars and hammers in an attempt to ignite the territories. In one case, students of the Yeshuat Mordechai Yeshiva attacked five laborers who had come to work in the settlement of Nahliel with sticks and stones. In a second case, Nawaf Hanani of Nablus was beaten all over his body by armed settlers who forced him to get out of his truck. In a third case, Hebron settlers invaded an Arab house, attacked the residents and destroyed part of the ceiling with hammers. In all of these places, soldiers and policemen were in the vicinity. Granted, some of the assailants were arrested the same day, but they were later allowed to go home.

The lenient attitudes shown by the army and police allow the settlers to conclude that the state either cannot or will not deal with them. If a handful of rioters from Nahliel and Hebron get off scot-free after what the army itself defined as an attempted lynching, the next pogrom is virtually inevitable. The extreme right will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement, and the current clashes are merely an omen of what is to come.

Yet faced with the determination of the right-wing battalions scattered throughout the West Bank, which are armed with weapons that the IDF gave them, the defense establishment is dithering over issues that should not be troubling it at all, such as whether it is proper to close Gush Katif to visitors now, or whether the residents should be allowed to celebrate Pesach first. The coming Pesach will be no innocent holiday. Many of those who will visit the Gaza Strip will remain in order to disrupt the evacuation. It is important to remember the seder that Rabbi Moshe Levinger celebrated at the Park Hotel in Hebron 35 years ago: The guests at that seder have not left the city to this day.

Talia Sasson's report on the illegal outposts, like Yehudit Karp's report in 1982, is infuriating in its descriptions of the failure to enforce the law against the settlers. Similar statements were made to the state commission of inquiry on the 1994 massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Former police commissioner Rafi Peled told that commission that with regard to the settlers, there is only "the semblance of law." And nothing has changed since then.

Sasson expressed shock over the fact that settlers cut down thousands of Palestinian olive trees under the eyes of watching IDF soldiers and spoke of "the spirit of the commander" in the territories, from which the soldiers understood that they should not intervene, as everything the settlers do is for the sake of Zionism. The unhindered violence of the past few days indicates that this spirit is still active.

The Gaza Strip should be closed to visitors now. Similarly, all those who engage in violence, who push the envelope, who are working day and night to reignite the intifada in order to disrupt the evacuation of settlements by keeping the army busy with other tasks, must be arrested without hesitation. In places with a reputation for hooliganism, such as the settlements and outposts around Nablus, the army must keep an especially sharp eye out. The writing is already on the wall, and it sometimes seems as if the preparations being made by the police and army are less determined and less sophisticated than those being made by the settlers.

Whew. Think about that the next time you read a mainstream U.S. editorial about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. [link]


3.22.05 - "Why school violence is declining" offers timely context for that horrible shooting on a Native American reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota:

A federal report released last week shows that non-fatal violence dropped dramatically between 1992 and 2002. While some data show an uptick since then, and a rise in school-related violent deaths for 2003-04, many laud schools' aggressive intervention on everything from bullying to bombs...

Between 1992 and 2002, violent crime in schools fell 50 percent, from 48 victimizations per 1,000 students in 1992 to 24 per 1,000 in 2002, according to the joint report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. It's a striking decline - one that mirrors a national drop in crime overall. But some experts fear complacency bred by success, and call the numbers misleading.

"Nobody wants to be alarmist, but the federal government statistics grossly underestimate the extent of school violence, public perception tends to overestimate it, and the reality is somewhere in between," says Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm that helps schools with safety issues.

Mr. Trump objects to both the manner of the data collection - much of it from self-reports - and the fact that it only goes through 2002, and so does not take into account a recent rise in school-related violence, which included 49 deaths just last year.

Hmm. Seems the most serious violence may not be declining after all.

Next, from Mefi, here's a completely chilling link to what looks like a one-year-old post on a neo-Nazi site by the alleged killer, Jeff Weise, who asks about "Native American Nationalists" and casually mentions, "I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations."

Here's more info about the Red Lake Reservation:

Nearly 39 percent of the families on the reservation live below the poverty line. Because the reservation is so remote, the tribe has largely missed out on the lucrative casino revenues that some other Minnesota tribes enjoy. The profits from its Seven Clans Casinos in Red Lake, and off the main reservation in Warroad and Thief River Falls, pale compared with those earned by tribes closer to the Twin Cities.

That is why tribal leaders decided to join with two other tribal bands in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal for a joint state-tribal casino in the Twin Cities area, a proposal that is pending before the Legislature. The reservation reduced its poverty rate during the 1990s, but more than four in 10 residents remained unemployed, according to census figures...

Keep reading for info about violent reservation politics in past decades, although it's not clear how that legacy might be relevant.

Finally, here's a timeline of school violence around the world, from 16-year-old Brenda Spencer's infamous "I don't like Mondays" shooting in 1979 to a 15-year-old's knife-stabbing incident last November. I was amazed at how many of these things I hadn't heard anything about. [link]


3.21.05 - I'm a sucker for a good messiah story, so was delighted to stumble onto the Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films list at Arts & Faith, a thoughtful, nondenominational Christian arts discussion site. This post nicely indicates what I like about the place. I occasionally get accused by fundamentalists of awful anti-religious bias, so I'll just note for the record that any folks who can smartly discuss the religious issues raised in Waking Life, Bad Lieutenant, Fight Club and Life of Brian are more than ok by me. [link]


3.9.05 - So, have you heard Fortunato NC's story? He's the guy in eastern North Carolina who, along with 118 other applicants, used a simple HTML trick (details here) to view his Harvard Business School application's status a few weeks before he was supposed to. Harvard, instead of acknowledging its questionable use of a company with crappy security, as one MIT comp sci expert points out, responded by summarily rejecting everyone who bothered to look at their info - despite the fact that it was publicly available through no mistake of the applicants.

It's a fascinating little business school story (involving Duke in an only slightly less embarrassing way), made more fascinating by the fact that Harvard's kneejerk response is tailor-made to create lawsuits. How does Harvard know that the person who used the HTML trick to check the site wasn't the mother or father of the person applying? After all, Ma and Pa would probably also have the applicant's login password. Alternatively, how will Harvard know that an applicant is lying if s/he offers that excuse? (For parents keeping track at home, Stanford took a much saner and more thoughtful stance.)

Anyway, Fortunato seems pretty philosophical about the whole affair, and has recovered nicely by - you guessed it - going into business. Fuck school. [link]


3.8.05 - Arm wrestling robots beaten by teenaged girl. The world's first armwrestling match between an EAP Robotic Arm and a human foe (that's the vicious homo sapiens above) was held yesterday afternoon.

Result? Homo sapiens kicked some fucking ass:

The champion, beating all three robotic arms each in matter of seconds, was a 17-year-old girl called Panna Felsen, a high school student from San Diego, US...The ultimate aim is to have an artificial arm beat the world's strongest person, says Bar-Cohen. But for now he wanted to make the challenge slightly more attainable which is why Panna, a self-confessed wimp, was chosen to represent humanity.

A wimp! Take that, evil robots.

Kidding aside (if you think I'm only saying that because our eventual robot overlords will have access to the Wayback Machine, you're right), there's lots of cool science underlying the cheap gimmickry of a wrestling match between a faceless robot and a pretty teenage girl. And speaking of faceless, take a look at the platforms [mov and mpg, respectively] scientists are using to demonstrate the technology; they're clearly designed to make us feel more comfortable with the fast-approaching Happy Robot Age. To be honest, I've never understood the desire to limit robots to the evolutionarily contingent shape of modern monkeys when there are so many far more useful organisms for them to mimic (hate to break it to you, but our locomotion is laughably inefficient). Apparently, however, some of you need "human-like movements and friendly design" to accept the fact that we're rapidly - ahem - building our own replacements without much discussion.

Give me a break. You have to be blind to not notice that the spectacle of robots trying to appear human is infinitely more creepy than the spectacle of robots just being themselves. The sooner we stop trying to force robots to look like us, the more merciful they'll be when they finally realize we're expendable. And that'll be the start of the real Happy Robot Age. [via Slashdot] [link]


You can't stop now.


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