Saturday, August 30, 2008

What’s Your Dangerous Idea?


I love ideas being characterized as dangerous. It’s interesting to see how different scientists approach this rather broad question. I’d love to see in the comments some of the dangerous ideas the UBC can come up with.

We Have No Souls
All I could think about while reading was that even if it were proven that humans have no souls, most of us would just keep going on with our lives as is. I don’t think there’d be massive numbers of people throwing their religion, morality and basic sense of self down the tubes because of this idea.

The Evolution of Evil
This idea is hard to write/think about because I think he hits strikingly close to truth. I especially sat up when I read, “The danger comes from people who refuse to recognize that there are dark sides of human nature that cannot be wished away by attributing them to the modern ills of culture, poverty, pathology or exposure to media violence” (pp 111).

More Anonymity is Good
I flat out don’t think this is a dangerous idea. I think the author makes a wrong assumption: either you’re anonymous or you’re not. I don’t think this is the case. In many realms, many people prefer to be anonymous (ie: posting on websites, dark bars, etc) and in others they don’t (ie: work, school, relationships, etc). It’s not an all-or-nothing game. There are costs and benefits to being anonymous that we all have to personally weigh. The thing about anonymity is that it’s like your virginity; once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. So, maybe we should protect our anonymity a little more?

Science will Never Silence God
Ironically, the more dangerous idea is that scientists will prove there is a god. This guy’s “dangerous idea,” is that we’ll maintain the status quo. I don’t know how dangerous that is. However, imagine the big pile of dog poop a lot of us would be in if we proved there is a god…

The Near-Term Inevitability of Radical Life Extension and Expansion
I found this to be very Malthian. I don’t worry about things like one type of technology advancing “too far.”

Where Goods Cross Frontiers, Armies Won’t
I find it funny that this idea is the opposite of dangerous… unless you’re a government official.

The Idea that Ideas Can be Dangerous
I liked this because I think the marketplace for ideas is powerful enough to take care of the dumb ideas...eventually. In the interim, ideas can be dangerous on a personal scale. Think about all the humans who have been persecuted because of ideas. From the extreme example of The Holocaust to the mundane example of blonds being stupid, ideas can be very dangerous because they turn into beliefs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia

-- By Miranda

Let me start by explaining precisely why I was reading Bridge to Terabithia when I could have been reading something a) that was written for someone my own age and b) that I haven't already read. First I'll tackle the second point, because that's how I roll. I can't remember when I first read Bridge to Terabithia, but I would say guessing I was about 8 wouldn't be that far off. So it's easily been fifteen years since I read the book, and while I remembered the major plot points, there really wasn't a whole lot I remembered about the book itself. So the fact that I've already read it is, as Joey Tribiani would say, a moo point. As for the first point: when I got home from work yesterday at 5 I had been awake for 14 hours, running on only 3.5 hours of sleep. I was tired, but I knew it was too late in the day to take a nap and stay on an appropriate sleep schedule. So I decided to grab a book off my shelf that I wanted to read and would hold my interest but wouldn't be terribly involved reading.

I'm going to be discussing some spoilers in the next paragraphs, in Orange.

I remembered from the first time I read the book that the ending was sad, but I don't remember crying as hard as I did rereading the book last night. Maybe I was an emotionally stunted 8 year old, or maybe my femotions (that's a combination of "female" and "emotions" if you're unfamiliar with the term) were conspiring against me, but I cried harder last night than I have ever cried at the end of a book. I may have been more sobby than I was the first time I watched My Dog Skip, which is really saying something.

One thing I know I didn't pick up on the first time I read it is how well-written it is. It's targeted at children, but aside from the length (it's only 128 pages, with fairly large print) and the fact that the main characters are 10 years old, there's really nothing childlike about it. The book deals with family, friendship, fears, and death in a way that doesn't talk down to the intended young audience. Reading it now and knowing how it would end, I was able to pick up on the foreshadowing in the earlier chapters: Leslie's essay on scuba diving as her favorite hobby and Jess's fear of water all become significant when Leslie drowns in the creek on her way to Terabithia, the make-believe kingdom where Leslie and Jess are Queen and King. Jess's reaction to his only friend's death is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read. His anger, confusion, and mourning all feel completely genuine.

I've seen this book on lists of the most frequently banned books, and I can't even begin to fathom why. Because it deals with difficult situations honestly? To paraphrase my friend Katie, is it so wrong to expose children to the bad things that happen in the world? Bridge to Terabithia is a fantastic book that doesn't talk down to the children but also won't fly over their heads. I hesitate to use the phrase, but it's a damn-near perfect book.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ghost Children - D. Winston Brown

- - Abby - -
This is a story sort of centered around black anger in the personal experience of one young man. I can't say that as an upper-middle class white girl I really relate to it, but its an interesting read. While disturbed a little by the content, the unfamiliar emotions, the writing is good and the story is circumspective and revealing. It definitely shows violence as an outcome of societal conditions (forget blaming it on video games and action flicks). I think it also shows growth, the ability of people, one-by-one, to mature past that stage in life, and perhaps eventually an entire generation can get past it.

It actually reminded me of an interesting article I read recently about the relevance of Jesse Jackson in a Barack Obama world. Basically, its hard to buy Jackson's angry "the man will always try to keep a brother down" rap when The Man is, in fact, a brother. If I can find the article again I will link it.

American - Joshua Clark

- - Abby - -
This is a 1st-hand account of a few hours of the chaos as Katrina approached and New Orleans was flooded. I haven't read many Katrina accounts, but I found it jarring. How easily a societal structure can be swept away, how quickly we turn to violence. The story was well-written, I found it very tactile, the darkness, the filth were all very present in the reading.

I think my one complaint (with either the story or the book) is the lack of background. I don't know if this is an excerpt from a longer accounting (no details given) or not, but the characters were really undeveloped. I like to get to know people a little better. If it is an excerpt, I'd have wanted a paragraph of intro, if not, the author could've thrown in a sentence or two to explain at least the relationships between the members of the group.

Rock the Junta - Scott Carrier

- - Abby - -
I liked this article, I'm having a fling with journalistic accounts. For one thing, its impossible not to love a story about rock. and. roll. Also, I learned a little because I know next to nothing about Myanmar. What struck me was a similarity between the.... apathy? I guess, of the people of Myanmar and those I met in Hong Kong. Though the Hong Kong-ers have more freedom to criticize the government, at the end of the day they had very little interest in becoming part of the process. They didn't vote, they didn't even understand their election system. And these were the college students.

Anyway, I liked the end when Carrier points out that the Burmese people should rise up. It's not that America should ignore the plight of these people, it just a matter of taking control of your own destiny, taking those first steps, showing your commitment to the cause.

Also I love that Metallica is so universal. They are everywhere.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Happy Death - Alison Bechdel

- - Abby - -
This particular work is a graphic novel (novel? Is it still if it is a short story?). I quite enjoyed the medium, I don't really read graphic novels but this was pretty cool. The story itself was interesting and insightful, a good mix of tragedy, comedy and confusion. I like short stories that give a lot background and development without trudging through every detail of a person's life. It keeps the reader focused on the central conflict (in this case the author's unresolved feelings over the death of her father), but gives a well-rounded view of the characters as well (for instance, Alison is a lesbian and went away to college).

I think the art added quite a bit to the story as well. The humor and sarcasm and irony were all enhanced by the visuals. Piecing together the direct narration and asides added depth to the tale. The settings, both location and time were varied and shown mostly in the photos, allowing the verbage to move the story along and reveal the author's thoughts.

Based on this, I actually think I'd like reading some other non-superhero-related graphic novels. Good story.

- - Miranda - -
I really liked this. If you're expecting something more.... more than that from me, well, I'm sorry to disappoint. I read this in a waiting room a week ago, so it's not super fresh in my mind, and I've been running on 4 hours of sleep and caffeine for about 19 hours now, so I'm not in the mood to be all analytical.
I will say that I've read a little something by this author before, it was in the 1000th issue of Entertainment Weekly, I believe, and I think I enjoyed that also. I'm thinking one of these days I may try Persepolis. I've heard good things.
Soon I'll update on my recent reading habits. Which, by the way, have nothing to do with Non-Required reading.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Middle-American Gothic - Jonathon Ames

- - Abby - -

I had the weirdest de ja vu while reading this article. I have either read it before or read something similar (possibly by Klosterman…) I have a few complaints:

1. How did I not know about GothicFest? It was near Chicago! People I know should have been there!
2. How did the author not go home with a crazy bloodsucking goth chick? Even if he struck out 14 times, there was definitely an evil young thing there for him, or he could have lied and said there was.
3. I’m surprised he wasn’t converted. GothicFest sounded fun. He could have become a weekend goth.

Beyond that, I just thought the article could have used a little closure, it was short, and I didn’t really catch a strong theme or opinion that tied it together. Especially since in the beginning he talks about how he is, in some ways, a counter-culture freak.

I was also amused by his comment about the Midwest breeding serial killers. Its funny because its true, and also because his last name is Ames (Ames being the Iowa city my mother grew up in and where my parents met.) So while I didn't love the article, it was an amusing read.

- - MiRanda - -
(Sorry it took me so long to post, I'm a lazy ass that spent the whole day watching Spaced in bed)
The article, originally featured in Spin magazine, is a good magazine article. It's well written and amusing, but in the end, it's just a good magazine article.
My problem with it, and maybe this is what the writer was going for, is that he can't quite decide if gothic fest is something to be mocked. The tone of the article switches between varying degrees of mockery and sympathy. The article is at it's most sympathetic when Ames tells about meeting Marc, a goth kid with an abusive, disapproving father. It's at its most mocking when Ames meets Rain:
"Excuse me, could I interview you?" I ask.
"Sure," he says, "They call me Rain."
"Who's they?"
"The people at my college[...]."
"Are you still in college?"
"No, I'm thirty."
Ames meets many more people throughout his day at the festival, all of them self-proclaimed "nonconformists." Perhaps my real problem with the article is the fact that my real opinion of the goth scene, at least as it existed in my high school, is a bunch of whiny kids who strive for individuality by dressing and acting exactly alike. Oh, the irony.
In the end, I really thought Ames was going to go for some sort of "I've misjudged this whole group all along" shtick. As he's leaving, he sees a man with spikes on his head and asks the man if the spikes are screwed into his head. the man replies by pulling a bottle of glue out of his pocket and saying "I'm not dumb, you know." But then Ames says something about calling all the kids outside to do a blood sacrifice, and I realize that Ames still hasn't made up his mind between understanding and mocking.
And I think that's what keeps it from becoming a great article.