Monthly Archives: January 2005

Two Things I Heard about the Solomon Islands

“The Solomon Islander ornaments everything he can, spares no pains about it, and has an excellent eye for proportion.” (J. Barnard Davis, “A Few Notes Upon the Hair, and Some Other Peculiarities of Oceanic Races.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 2 [1873]: 98)

“I heard the prime minister of the Solomon Islands express surprise that his was one of the nations enlisted in the ‘coalition of the willing’: ‘I was completely unaware of it.’” (Elliot Weinberger, “What I Heard about Iraq.”)

Two Thoughts on Easterbrook on Diamond

La la la la.

  1. The difference between an island and a continent is of degree, not of kind.
  2. “And is it really an ‘impossibility’ for developing-world living standards to reach the Western level? A century ago, rationalists would have called global consumption of 78 million barrels per day of petroleum an impossibility, and that’s the latest figure.” If we’re talking about economic rationalizers, then I’m certain that Taylor would have thought anything possible if you would just carry the fucking pig iron the way he tells you. MacTaggart would sublate the hell out of that prediction.


I’m sympathetically disposed towards the author of this article because of the endless hours of amusement Borat has given me over the last few months. But who could have thought up an experiment that involved having infant children look at a mechanical mobile? How can you reasonably draw conclusions about a male preference for systematicity at such an early developmental age? How about if it’s just shiny? I’m tempted to write a “just-so” about aliens to really explain this effect.

And what narrow cultural preference leads us to devise personality inventories with system/emotion polarities? I can see no reason for thinking these things exclusive. There’s a deep emotional content in all systematic description. I watched Brent Scowcroft on CSPAN last night talk about depleted uranium shells, the inert type of uranium vs. the other kind, and how it’s the heaviest metal and thus has the most tank-busting momentum and so forth. It might have sounded dispassionate, but not to he with ears to hear.

Similarly, any one who’s listened to popular music, which is completely encaged by a generic system, knows how deep emotional resonances, gusty wet roads on autumn nights, can be formed from the most soulless synthesizers?

The Teaching of Intelligent Design

As long-time readers know, I taught a course last semester called “The Rhetoric of Evolution in America.” This course was organized into three sections, with last two focusing on debates without and within evolutionary theory. As you might expect, in the fomer I taught selections from intelligent designers along with even YECs. One of the student comments on the course evaluation complained that I only taught “well-written articles from an evolutionist perspective and poorly written creationist ones” or something similar. That might be true, but I fear it’s not selection bias which explains it. You’re going to look bad rhetorically next to Dawkins, Gould., and Lewontin even if your argument has scientific merit.

I find intelligent design theory to be of considerable sociological interest, however. I don’t think you could teach a course on the aforementioned subject without talking about it, so I disagree somewhat with the attitude taken by this Academe article on the subject. Of course, I was not teaching it as science; but it is inevitable that, however carefully you present the opposing evidence, that students predisposed to be skeptical of evolution are going to find intelligent design’s scientific veneer comforting, especially if they’re of a mechanical mind.

I have to say that I was disturbed to learn that Alvin Plantinga and Frank Tipler were sympathetic to the Discovery Institute.

It’s Funny Because It’s True

The US television network that recently broadcast a passing glimpse at Janet Jackson’s anatomy was excoriated for its wanton lapse of taste; but the avalanche of accompanying commercials for products designed to enhance male potency passed quite without comment. The female breast, it seems, can rot a nation’s moral core; but malfunctioning penises are wholesome family fare.

From this New York Review article by Tony Judt, which is well worth reading.

S/W Hypo Avant, Evidence for

“It is easier to explain what is meant by economic nationalism in German than English.” Gregory, T.E. “Economic Nationalism.”
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1931-1939) 10. 3 (May 1931): 289.

Also, on a different but still fascinating topic, note “the argument that you have to keep agriculture going as a type of economic production which requires a vigorous manhood, since you also require a vigorous type of manhood in war” (294).

Qualification of a Popular Comparison

Several folks have commented that the Manu Ginobli’s dunk in overtime last night in the Suns game over Stoudemire and Marion was positively Goodwinian. While not disputing the essence of this claim, I should remind everyone that his dunk a) occurred during a game and b) was executed on a 10-ft. rim.

I should also add that not only did that dunk end the game, it also ended the Suns’ entire season. I no longer think they’re going to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Today’s Unexpected Lacan Quote

Available here.

What the hell is that, you may wonder. That’s a very good question, and I’m glad you asked. Here’s a starter article. And here’s a discussion board at the Fortean Times. One and two Metafilter threads. An unfiction forum (site apparently devoted to large-area role-playing games).

The most important depository of information about the matter is the site I linked to above.

I have a theory about how to interpret this. I’ll share it before too long.


The climate here is rather humid, but it must, at the same time, be very healthy, because the people who inhabit the mountains are very healthy and well built. In my opinion, they may be considered the purest type of the race called the Papuan, which, I may say here en passant, has no claims to be considered, ethnologically, a distinct race. These mountaineers appear until recent years to have kept entirely aloof from the world, living quietly in the mountains and having no intercourse with strangers. They were considered cannibals until, in 1872, I was first enabled to ascertain for myself that a European could live among them without running any danger of being cooked and eaten.

D’Albertis, M. “Journeys up the Fly River and in Other Parts of New Guinea.” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series. 1.1 (Jan., 1879): 7.

Significance Regarded As Not-So Protean

From Barb, A.A. “Three Elusive Amulets.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 27 (1964): 3:

There are few Graeco-Roman deities of such protean significance as Hermes-Mercurius. He is the divine messenger and the psychopompos as well as the god of business success—both honest and dishonest.

When I write my Dan Brown parody, it will definitely involve CEOs wearing Gnostic cameos. Adam Gopnik’s recent review of books on Leonardo Da Vinci in the New Yorker contains a line about how the perpetual appeal of the occult in American life should not be mistaken for religiosity. There is a relation, insufficiently charted, between this appeal and commercial life.

Howard Hart on the Universities and the CIA

I suspect that everyone with a blog has linked to this astounding Seymour Hersh story, about which I hope to have more to say later, but for right now I will note that I saw Howard Hart, who’s quoted therein, on CSPAN a while ago; and he suggested that the CIA could no longer recruit from Ivy League type universities as much as they used to because of the left-wing bias of the faculty there. There was also a hint that the current recruiting, which he said came mostly from the South and the Midwest, was not what it could be.

I disagree with Hart, though I’m not surprised that he would think about it that way.

The Wit and Wisdom of Melchior Inchofer


Philosophical works among [the Solipsists] are more or less of this sort: “Does the scarab roll dung into a ball paradigmatically?” “If a mouse urinates in the sea, is there a risk of shipwreck?” “Are mathematical points receptacles for spirits?” “Is a belch an exhalation of the soul?” “Does the barking of a dog make the moon spotted?” and many other arguments of this kind, which are stated and discussed with equal contentiousness. Their Theological works are: “Whether navigation can be established in imaginary space.” “Whether the intelligence known as Burach has the power to digest iron.” “Whether the souls of the Gods have color.” “Whether the excretions of Demons are protective to humans in the eighth degree.” “Whether drums covered with the hide of an ass delight the intellect.”

Courtesy of this article by Ingrid D. Rowland in the impressive U of Chicago Fathom archive. The quotation comes from Inchofer’s The Monarchy of the Solipsists (1645).


I was watching a program on Fox News last evening where the CEO of Walmart was being interviewed. He suggested that not all of the company’s critics were motivated by personal gain. Both the host and I sat in stunned silence.

Odilon Redon on LSD

From the “DNA of Literature” series of digitized Paris Review interviews (and why hasn’t Denis Johnson gotten one of these yet?), I was pleased to read the following from Aldous Huxley:

Maybe an immensely gifted artist–someone like Odilon Redon (who probably saw the world like this all the time, anyhow)–maybe such a man could profit by the lysergic acid experience, could use his visions as models, could reproduce on canvas the external world as it is transfigured by the drug.

I was lucky enough to see in my recent museum visit a few Redons.