Archive for January, 2011

I don’t have extensive expertise on the Arab world, so I’ll refrain from extensive comment.

I will say, though, that it’s extremely difficult to predict the eventualities of the current protests. Egypt could have everything from a Tiananmen-style crackdown (Egypt’s military is much stronger than, say, Tunisia’s) to a full-on “color revolution” scenario like the former Soviet republics. But even then, the forces of internal politics and economic turmoil may create a wide range of scenarios.

Demonstrations such as the ones in Egypt create powerful images, but revolutions are necessarily dangerous things. A volatile mix of a large, young population and a vast, powerful military indicate structural difficulties beyond Mubarak and the current regime. Ideally, there would be peaceful transfers of power instead of revolutions (see: Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.), but this cannot always be the case.

As a side note, calls for the U.S. to back the protesters more is a little silly. The last thing most reform movements need is the suggestion that they are backed financially by the United States (see: Iran).

To read informed opinion on the matter, I recommend Juan Cole or Abu Aardvark (aka Marc Lynch).

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This video is making the rounds again, wherein we can laugh at Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric not understand what the Internet is in 1994.

But the fact of the matter is, I bet most people who regularly use the Internet cannot explain it, just like most people who regularly use a telephone or a light switch cannot explain how they work. That’s just human development. I mean, How does a heater work? Or a computer? We know how to work things, not how they work.

Still, I wonder what the best one-sentence answer for “What is the Internet?” The Internet is… a network of computer networks communicating and connecting vast quantities of information. Which is not altogether different from Katie Couric’s 1994 answer.

So maybe we shouldn’t laugh quite so hard.

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Lane Wallace has a post at the Atlantic entitled “Innovation Isn’t About Math,” in which he explains how a renewed focus on math and science education will not necessarily bring about innovation. Although I am amenable to his general premise, Wallace’s post highlights a key problem in education inequality.

Wallace asserts that math and science education alone will not lead to education, and that integrative approaches to education are necessary to solve the “sticky” problems (health care, climate change, etc.) that will face us in the future. Unfortunately, pushing for an integrative approach assumes a broad content knowledge that usually doesn’t exist, especially in the lower tier of our two-tiered system. Without basic content knowledge, such leaps of innovation are impossible. For years, schools have touted integrated learning curricula and frameworks, but they often sacrificed area content for the sake of projects and posters. But when students cannot read, perform basic math, or understand a simple experiment, the hurdles for such integrative curricula become nearly insurmountable.

As much as I am a proponent of polymaths, I guess I’m fairly unconvinced by the suggestion that increased math and science education won’t lead to more innovation. Newton famously said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, and his advances would have been impossible without understanding the advances of his predecessors. For innovation to work, we need not only to help students get onto the shoulders of giants with the fundamental content, but also to get students to recognize that their place will allow them to reach farther than their predecessors.

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Double entendres are the lingua franca of pop music. From Cole Porter (“Kick her right in the Coriolanus!”) through the Beatles (“Baby, you can drive my car!”) through Lil’ Wayne (“She lick me like a lollipop”), double entendres indicate not only the hinted-at taboo act, but also the character of the songwriters and artists. Porter makes a Shakespeare pun to mix with earthy humor, while Lil Wayne prefers a more direct and juvenile approach.

Recently, however, the “single entendre” has begun to dominate pop music.

Here’s Enrique Iglesias’ new single (currently in the Top 10) “Tonight I’m Fucking You.” (video NSFW for language)

So much for subtlety. This is cleaned up for radio, of course, but the song doesn’t make any sense otherwise. But let’s compare Iglesias to the raunchy jump blues double entendres that long predated modern dance-pop.

(various artists, most notably Elvis) – “Good Rockin’ Tonight”:

I say, well, meet me in a hurry
behind the barn,
Don’t you be afraid, darling,
I’ll do you no harm
I want you to bring
along my rockin’ shoes,
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna rock away
all my blues.
I heard the news,
there’s good rockin’ tonight.

All that sexual Elvis energy is restrained by the innuendo of the song. There’s no question what he is really talking about (1950’s fearmongering parents, you were right!), but sex retains some sense of mystery or danger. In the modern single entendre iteration, all of that is removed:

Here’s the situation
Been to every nation
Nobody’s ever made me feel the way that you do
You know my motivation
Given my reputation
Please excuse I don’t mean to be rude
But tonight I’m fucking you

Any pretense is gone; the jump between “I like you” to “Let’s have sex” now takes place in a half second. That’s not to say that the false modesty of the double entendre isn’t still around, but everything about it is insincere. (“I don’t mean to be rude”? Why would that ever be considered rude?)

This particular brand of bravado is new to straight pop music, although it has been relatively common in gangsta rap (Biggie and R. Kelly made this slow jam precursor to “Tonight” in 1997), where all emotions are exaggerated and distilled to their essence. It’s notable, though, that hip-hop’s biggest crossover songs don’t tend to be in this vein.

I wonder more where pop music will go from here. Once you’ve done “Fuck You,” can there be any other kiss-off songs? So much of pop music’s double entendre game depended on toeing a line that created linguistic and musical tension. Surely double entendres will not simply die (see Britney Spears’ latest single), but something in the danger and teasing of those old blues standards cannot quite work with the openness in modern pop. With that line now completely breached, what exactly is left?

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be parody, which seems an unfitting end to a time-honored tradition. Parody and satire have their own richness, to be sure, but pop music’s path towards directness seems to have come to a conclusion. Stanley Cavell famously asked “Must we mean what we say?” Modern pop not only means what it says; it cannot even resist saying it.

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Someone named Alvin Felzenberg is all upset because, as the title of his article in US News states,”Obama’s State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism.” Now, I’m in the academic world, so to me this is a pretty serious accusation. Let’s take a look at one of his examples:

Obama’s concept of the “American family” may well have had its origins in the first State of the State address New York Governor Mario Cuomo delivered in 1983. Cuomo proclaimed the state of New York as a “family.” He also talked about multiple partnerships, both public and private.

Wow! I’m convinced. I mean, just line up the relevant parts of the two speeches: “family” vs. “family.” That says it all right there, folks.

The rest of the article (which I don’t think deserves a link) is pretty much like that. Newsflash: Obama – like every politician – filed his SOTU with a bunch of platitudes that many politicians have used before him. There’s a nice irony that someone accusing Obama of intellectual dishonesty bases his entire argument on… intellectual dishonesty.

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Evangelical Christians helped foster and support Uganda’s barbaric anti-gay regime, but now that people are criticizing them, their fee-fees are all hurt:

“Naturally, I don’t want anyone killed but I don’t feel I had anything to do with that,” said Mr. Schmierer, who added that in Uganda he had focused on parenting skills. He also said that he had been a target of threats himself, recently receiving more than 600 hate mails related to his visit.

“I spoke to help people,” he said, “and I’m getting bludgeoned from one end to the other.” [emphasis added]

I guess I would feel worse for Mr. Schmierer if the quoted article wasn’t about the bludgeoning murder of a gay rights activist in Uganda. To say nothing of the bill currently being considered by the Ugandan Parliament to use the death penalty for homosexuality, which Mr. Schmierer helped to create.

For the record, hate crimes against all Protestant groups in the United States in 2009? 40

Hate crimes against homosexuals in the United States in 2009? 1,390

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I’ll just leave this here (probably NSFW for Nicolas Cage overload):

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