Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tuesday haiku

Scuddy clouds go stag
Sky sitting on the asphalt
Too cold to stay up

Friday, January 27, 2006

Be my Varentine

Valentine's Day is coming up, and I do not plan to blog about it at the time, unless something bordering on tectonic has occurred in my romantic life, which is currently doing its best possible impression of nothing. But today I found this T-shirt in the selection of love-worthy items at the fabulous ThinkGeek, and for the record, this would win me over in a second.

Actually, that's not that hard, for unlike most ass-kicking, boot-wearing chicks such as I am, I am a total sucker for flowers and chocolate in terribly kitsch boxes. Nevertheless, this t-shirt is an act of true love. The person who gave me this shirt would not only understand how a perfectly normal person can know that FF3300 is orange, but most importantly of all, the price beyond rubies of all your base are belong to us.

I'd marry that person.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Me me me me meme

From the brilliant Mechanical Contrivium.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Xtin!

1. Only fifty-five percent of men wash their hands after using Xtin.
2. Xtin will often rub up against people to lay her scent and mark her territory.
3. Birds do not sleep in Xtin, though they may rest in her from time to time.
4. Baby swans are called Xtin.
5. Xtin can drink over 25 gallons of water at a time.
6. Xtin does not have toes.
7. Reindeer like to eat Xtin.
8. It took Xtin 22 years to build the Taj Mahal.
9. In the Spanish edition of Cluedo, Xtin is the victim.
10. If the Sun were the size of a beach ball then Jupiter would be the size of a golf ball and Xtin would be as small as a pea.

Xtin's Comments on the Contrivium's Verdict

1. Ew!
2. My god, I didn't realise anyone noticed that.
3. Comfy like a chair in McDonald's, that's moi.
4. Of course they are. I am paradigm cuteness.
5. Good for the skin.
6. Put my foot in my mouth one too many times.
7. Tasty delicious, and very nutritious. Also, I have hot antlers.
8. Goddamn plumbers.
9. Yeah, well. I'm so killable.
10. A minted pea, I should stress.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The most terrifying thing in the world ...

... is clicking this button. No, seriously.

[fingers in ears] ... I believe in democracy, I believe in democracy, I believe, I believe ...

At least you have to submit an audition tape to get into the Big Brother house.

I see a theme emerging

Today I noticed two things that bothered me. Duly, I filed them in the Things That Bother Me part of my brain, for later consideration of relevant irk-factors. Because, dear reader, of course I Must Know Why.

1. Cash-register receipts. Those maddening slices of shiny thermal paper you get for EVERY transaction you have the misfortune to conduct in your daily business, slightly curved as though they wish they were an autumn leaf, but they aren't. One for your lunch. One for using the ATM. One for the packet of Q-tips you bought at the pharmacy in the afternoon. And so on and so on and so on until it looks as if there is a miniature fax machine living in your handbag, constantly receiving encrypted messages from the unknown. Jeez.

2. Wedding invitations from people that you know vaguely, for ceremonies that are occurring very, very far away. Not the next county, but the other side of the world.

Common irk factor: implication that you should do something that you're not going to. In the case of the receipt, every time I get one of the damn things I'm reminded that certain hyper-anal individuals are actually keeping them as records of the bloody transaction, perhaps even using them to *gasp* help with their budgeting! Or even *choke* checking them against their bank statement and cheque book! Heaven, say I, forfend. Just give me my goddamn sandwich and stop making statements about the way I discharge my financial duties, mmkay?

Which brings us to distant wedding. Implication. Financial. Not. Join the dots.

And no, I don't want a receipt!

Tuesday haiku

Paper pile thinking
pointing its corners, whitely
lining its edges.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mad scientist

Ahem. Sorry about that. But I feel much better now.

I've calmed myself with a devious plan to make a zillion dollars with my new invention, dreamed up on the way into the office as my left hand froze into a tiny excruciating pink spider of ice. Why only my left, you ask? The right was cosily ensconced inside my lambskin glove. The left, however, was master of the iPod clickwheel, which, sensitive creature that it is, speaks not to the suede finish of the glove but only to the tender ministrations of the bare fingertip. (Yes. But don't go there).

So this evening I will be working on the patent application for my thermal glove with iPod-sensitive pad in the thumbtip. Frozen-fingered music lovers! Reclaim the shuffle!

Rotten apple for the teacher

Warning: Rant

Gawd help me, I cannot stand it a moment longer. And I just can't stand that I just can't stand it! What has happened to me? I used to be all dewy-eyed an' shit about ed-yew-katin' the young 'uns.

The dew, dear friends, has fled. Burnt off in the ferocious sun of actual students. I have a nauseating suspicion that this is because it takes me longer than any other idealist on the face of the planet to have their ideals shattered. When I got into this thing, I had a starry-eyed view of what I would actually be teaching. Sure. So far, so normal. But it has taken me this long to realise that it is impossible that all of the students I've seen in the last three years can be exceptions. They are actually (choke) representative of what I do, as a rule. In strange and exceptional circumstances, I do what I thought I'd be doing most of the time, viz: talking about how brilliant philosophical arguments work.

What I in fact teach is:

1. What plagiarism is
2. What plagiarism is, again
3. How an opinion is not an argument
4. How my opinion that an opinion is not an argument is not "just my opinion"
5. That being a skeptic does not mean you think we are in the Matrix

OK, I'm overstating it. There's also some really scary stuff like having to explain in great detail how modern relativist and social constructivist theories do not mean that you get to believe whatever cockamamie undergraduate thing you believe right now with no fear of challenge. And lots, lots more. I know they're learning something, truly I do. But the trouble is that I know lots of things about the way that I ought to support that learning, and I'm not doing them. And the reason I'm not doing them is because right at the moment, I feel like they're not coming to the party. They're not reading anything, they're not thinking for themselves except to conclude that philosophy is an excuse to brand anyone a complete idiot (including Hume, Descartes, and any number of DWMs with huge brains) who argues for conclusions which conflict with their tiny little unplumbed intuitions. It just completely chaps my ass to bust my chops (pardon my metaphor trainwreck) coming up with a 2-minute potted exegesis of Duhem's views about underdetermination, with, you know, helpful and ed-yew-kational questions and investigations upon student contained therein, with a view to ever-so-slightly offsetting woeful misunderstanding evidenced by student's paper, only to be told in snippy tones by said undergraduate that sure, she understands everything I just said, but Duhem's view is "just so logically weak".

Let's just say that I don't hold pencils, because they'd all die short, snappy deaths. As it is, I have to grit my teeth to stop my head from splitting in half from the sheer brass of this sort of thing. Student (i) has not read Duhem (ii) does not know what "logic" is (iii) is using "logically weak" as a synonym for "has a conclusion I don't like". Sometimes I make the mistake of attempting to unpack their intuitions about conclusions they don't like. Then I get treated as though I tried to get into their underwear drawer -- shocked, wide eyes as they brandish their unopened library copy of the text in question like a talisman. What do you mean, WHY don't I like it? What kind of question is that? It just ... [earnest, philosophical tones]... seems wrong to me.

Oh, yeah. Deep.

Now kindly fuck off. I need to retrieve my idealism.

Pony up

On Saturday, H and I went for a walk on Wicken Fen. Wicken is pretty unusual, for a bit of fenland, because it lacks that operatic bleakness that generally characterises the breed.

First we took a spin through the little National Trust shop and tearoom, festooned with nest boxes and baskets, bird-feeders, handy polar-fleece rugs for the back of the Rover, postcards of ringed plover and fantastically cliched yet totally fabulous wildlife photographs with limited edition numbers pencilled importantly on to them.

In one corner were the wares of a certain Nadine Anderson, Basketmaker. (Sidebar: I am completely, utterly seduced by these sorts of identifications. Lawyer. Poet. Ninja. Philatelist. Antiquary. Seamstress. Basketmaker. As soon as it has a name, I want to be one. It is a deadly combination of the power and romance of Words, and the endless desire for Identity. I'm suckered in every time. But I digress.) So Anderson, Basketmaker's things were lovely beyond belief, and infinitely lovelier because they're made of the Fen. Willow stems and cherry wood cut straight from the mud and magicked into something with a handle. (Sidebar #2: I also have a thing for handles. See previous psychology about names. I don't think Freud would have needed to get very deep into an analysis of "I can't handle it", n'est-ce pas?)

H bought me a gorgeous willow and black maul basket with a curved cherry handle in very much the style of Red Riding Hood, which I slung over my arm and off we went into the forest. I mean fens.

I was an insanely gorgeous day, with a crispy wind that tasted like a gimlet and cinematically buttercup-coloured sunshine bouncing off everything. Of course, this had brought out more wilderness punters than just ourselves, and the view over the reeds was alive with red and blue and green North Face fleeces and puffer jackets along with a couple of hardcores toting half a king's ransom in birding optics.

We saw gulls and partridges, widgeons, teals and bluetits, a merlin and a short-eared owl prowling for dinner, a pair of stone chats flirting from the tops of the reeds. We faced off good-naturedly with the Highland bull, with his fantastic Muppet horns.

A yearling pony blew thoughtfully on our hands with his fuzzy apostrophe nostrils. H and I blew back.

He seemed to know something I didn't.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Make a wish

Today is my friend M's birthday.

Sometimes, I can't believe my luck. Living in this mad town means I get to hang out with a lot of really, really smart people. Not just that, but smart people who run practically the entire gamut of the ways there are for smart people to be interesting.

But even in that crowd, M is special. His hyper-geekery is the kind that makes him some sort of ninja. Even in this world of the multipy-degreed, he has too many degrees. His brain is slowly chewing up the entire structure of the universe until there is nothing left and he is transformed into the Lawnmower Man. But along with all this goes a strange, oddly benevolent asceticism. He dresses carefully and beautifully in simple, monochromatic clothes. He speaks rarely, listens with chameleon invisible focus, and chews up the intellectual scenery without even trying. Every now and then, if you watch very closely, you can see a thought form in his eyes, like the impossibly bright point mass at the beginning of the universe.

Whenever I see that, part of me hopes, like a kid hopes there's still a chocolate biscuit left in the jar, that M will say something about the thought. Often he doesn't, and the thought becomes part of the expanding event horizon of his brain without the rest of us seeing it. And I confess that the other part of me, when I see the blinding point mass, hopes that he doesn't say anything, because god help me, it is as intimidating as hell.

I love it.

Happy birthday M!

Thursday, January 19, 2006


This fabulous piece of cultural history has just hit the bookstands. I've read it. And it's as funny, as erudite, as informed and interesting as the woman herself.

All academics have publication envy, because your publication list is your penis. Or something. But Ms Pluvialis has done that extraordinary thing: publish a book for everyone before she publishes the one that's readable only to the three persons in the world who are specialists in your special branch of your special specialty (a fate to which I am almost certainly doomed). Academics have a tendency to cover their nakedness of spirit over that point by being condescending and sniffy about 'popular' books, as though they are some way down the intellectual food chain. But this is 100% pure bullshit. It is as difficult and nuanced a task to write for a general audience as it is to write for the cliquey clusterf**k which is the specialist branch of your academic field ... and way, way cooler.

Buy one.

Thursday appraisal

The good

1. Mistress Masham's repose.. Fucking brilliant.
2. Slice of banana and walnut cake, with coffee, for afternoon tea.
3. my boned Firetrap jacket with the laced-up back. I love this jacket.

The bad

1. Paper cut from my new copy of Szabo Gendler & Hawthorne. Smallest injury a human can sustain. Papercuts have inferiority issues, which must be why they hurt so motherfreaking much.
2. Three hours of seminars, in which I pinged unattractively from overengagement to the point of cardiac arrest, to insolent apathy. I'm just loving my attitude issues right now. I am a total boon to society.
3. Too hot. Too cold. Too hot. Repeat.

The ugly

1. Rejection letter #98,374,987. Or you know, near enough, phenomenologically speaking. ::sigh::

The irrelevant but cool

The picture is of a standard tactile symbol for "Thursday" for blind and visually impaired students. The shape of the backing is for the category TIME. The net texture is for DAYS OF THE WEEK and the lego piece denotes "Thursday".

That is just cool.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Today, I've read and written brief critiques of:

1. Cumminskey, 'Reference failure and scientific realism: a response to the meta-induction', British Journal of Philosophy of Science.
2. Niiniluoto, 'Reference invariance and truthlikeness', Philosophy of Science.
3. Kuhn, 'Dubbing and redubbing: the vulnerability of rigid designation', Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science XIV.

My confessions are:

1. Sometimes, I swear to god, I just cannot believe how boring this is. Have mercy.
2. Right now, I am getting a gleefully sadistic kick out of the fact that other people like me are going to get a google hit on this page when they are looking for the articles to read. Ha! Hahaha!


I really, really need to think about something else soon. I'm am just having major trouble caring about whether or not optical aether theories really advanced us toward modern theories of light. And believe it or not, an integral feature of my life is supposed to be that I care about this. And more amazingly still ... I usually do.


1. get new life
2. retain life, rearrange priorities
3. retain life, retrieve priorities from the dark place in hell where I have apparently stuffed them

I'll get back to you on this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tuesday haiku

Smooths a hair in place
Tucks small crisp desolation
behind an ear, cocked

Monday, January 16, 2006

Things I don't believe. Nuh-uh. Not at all.

First, a word about Louis Sachar's novel Holes. Yes, I realise it was written for those poor benighted sods they call 'young adults', but anyone who writes for a living needs to read it. Seriously, anyone. It is an unmarked tour de force of the sort of writing that makes text invisible. Sachar makes his points neither by planting signs all over them with arrows saying "LOOK! Here's the POINT! In case you MISSED it!" nor by shoehorning them into something that sometimes called subtext (which it isn't) ... but just by making them. Simply, and with the sort of directness that makes you feel like music is playing inside your head, rather than coming from the hifi in the corner. This is just so freakily rare that reading his prose is like aquaplaning in your car -- you're out of control, sliding frictionless over the tarmac, and it's almost disconcerting, so accustomed are we to the grind and drag of crappy, tortured mangling of language. And that's not even paying any attention to the brilliant, brilliant narrative control. But anyway.

The hero of Sachar's novel is a kid called Stanley, whose family has some problems his father attributes to his no-good dirty rotten pig-stealing great great grandfather, who among other things reneged on his promise to carry a certain Madame Zeroni up a mountain in return for advice on fattening his pig. (This is only a tiny fraction of the fractally fabulous plot). Stanley's father is trying to develop a cure for foot odor, but isn't making any headway. Clipped into the story like a tiny oiled cog in its intricate, silvery gears, is the fact that Stanley unknowingly meets Madame Zeroni's great great grandson, and carries him up a mountain. That day, Stanley's father hits on the cure for foot odor.

Two years ago, I flew home to visit my family in Australia, via Singapore. I had several hours to kill in the Singapore airport transit lounge, which is an enormous sprawling mop of pink carpeted causeways and departure lounges garnished with shops containing brightly coloured national dress and sparkling digital gadgetry and Swiss watches and sushi bars with plate glass frontages which gleam as though minions in blue-grey overalls polish them with chamoises every ten minutes. Wait, they do. Naturally, it is soul-suckingly vile beyond belief.

But that day, among the miniature copies of Singapore Airlines flight attendent cheong-sams, there was a calligrapher. He was wiry and leathery and had crinkly, hooded eyes, and spoke no English. He had a table, a pile of paper, some ink blocks and his brushes laid out on a wooden tray like surgical instruments. It was about 7AM, and there was no-one about. I watched him paint scrolls, and carefully lay them aside to dry. Sometimes, he would make a stroke he didn't like, and the sheet would be whipped from the table as from a typewriter, and dumped unceremoniously on the floor underneath the table. Of course, it was mesmerising. My favourite part was the moment he finished a scroll which pleased him, and he would take up his small square signature block, press it carefully into the red ink, and mark it to the paper as though tucking it into bed.

After a while, the shop attendent came over to see how he was doing, and offer him some tea. He spoke to her, and she turned to me. "He says, would you like to buy one?" Of course I did. I hated to think what they cost, but I'd been watching him an hour. I gestured at the drying scrolls, all different. "What do these mean?" I asked. I watched her translate for me, but he waved his arms impatiently before she was done. "He says, no, one for you. What do you do?" I told her that I was a student. "Of what?"


She didn't even blink. She turns to my Yoda-impersonator calligrapher. Out came the brushes and the new sheet of paper. First try ... no, he doesn't like it. Second sheet. Sweep, stroke, sweep. He puts the red signature block on to it and holds it out to me. "What does it mean?" She thinks carefully.

"Diligent thinking."

This is so bizarrely apposite that I'm silenced. And it's ludicrously cheap. They wrap it in cellophane for me and I put it into my suitcase and forget about it. For two years it's been shuttling around, under beds, in cupboards, down the side of the filing cabinet, under a pile of journal articles.

Last week, I finally got around to putting it into a dark-stained birch frame, and propping it over my desk. This week, I've written 7,500 words, lodged a job application and a writing sample to support another job application, read nine journal articles, ordered all the books I need for the next term, and revised an article for publication that ought to have been finished six months ago.

'Course, there could be lots of reasons. Maybe.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Self-assessment exercise, 2

Following a brilliantly tempting link from profgrrrl, MyHeritage face recognition has examined a photo of me and concluded that the celebrity I look most like is ... ::drumroll:: ... Willow!

This is the highlight of my week.

Of course, now that I have been sucked in by this hyper-bourgeois scrap of bait, I've no doubt the CIA has now got a detailed biometric analysis of my face on file for future comparison with world CCTV footage.

No, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Why do you ask?

Edit: Further research has revealed that my current fantasy nemesis Nick Bostrom looks most like Mussolini. I may have to revise my highlight of the week.

Self-assessment exercise

Academic philosophy is an intellectual game characterised by a lot of cut-and-thrust gladiatorial behaviour. Some of the fighting happens in person, and lots of it happens in the very strange time-delayed world of peer-reviewed publication.

Aspects of my personality compatible with the game
  1. I think unusually quickly on the fly. This makes me good in real-time debates.

  2. I don't find the gladiatorial thing threatening. Criticism of my philosophical views doesn't make me feel defensive or insecure. I like challenges to my arguments, and find them fun and interesting. I've been surprised to discover this, because I can be woefully oversensitive about other things.

  3. I get real joy out of good philosophical arguments, of just the kind that I get from music or mountains.

Aspects of my personality incompatible with the game
  1. I overthink things. If the debate is happening in real time, I don't have time for this, so I come across as pithy and decisive. My written work, on the other hand, suffers from getting bogged down with a million disclaimers and overcautious hedging. This means that it lacks clarity and punch. Also, the hedging takes too long and fosters insecurity in my argument, which apparently I can only generate myself. This in turn means that I never get done with anything written because either I'm dissatisfied because it's unclear or because it's not hedged enough, and I am constantly pinging from the fish to the bait cutting.

  2. I get angry about terrible arguments. I get so frustrated and enraged about the necessity of defending good positions from really terrible, weak objections and opponent positions that I can't concentrate. If I'm listening to or reading an argument with a huge hole in it, or one which dismisses a beautiful, powerful position on some bullshit grounds, I have to breathe slowly to calm myself down. I have developed doodling strategies to help. This is completely crazy. In the first place, I can't understand why my response is so extreme -- it is completely disproportional to my own assessment of how important it is. Second, I really need to attenuate this response if I'm going to succeed in this academic gig, because otherwise I'm going to die early.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Child-proof lock

Naturally, I have letter-recognition turned on for the comments section of my blog, because otherwise I get thrilling comment-spam offering me unmissable investment opportunities and the chance to earn $350,000 a month from home, not to mention hot teen sluts, all of which leaves me all hotly enraged not to mention conflicted about the $350,000, and I'm just annoying when I get enraged. Inarticulate and shrill.

So, letter-recognition. You know, the letters that look like they got drunk, skewed in that Very Special Way that makes them totally tractable to the Human Mind (TM) but not to the Evil Machines.

At least two times out of every three, my first attempt at the letters is denied. Can I not read? Do I not have the same brain as the ones that supported the research that got the drunk-letter software written? Can I not read? Am I a machine? My god, I've failed the Turing test.


Delurk, delurk, wherever you are

Apparently, it has taken until Thursday for me to find out that the blogosphere is celebrating International Delurking Week!

This is the time for the great phalanx of my silent fans to come out of the woodwork and tell me that they love me. Although, according to the keyword stats on BlogPatrol, they're more likely to tell me that they have no idea how to build the Alve bureau. Sorry guys. I'll let you know when I've built it.

In the meantime, I am going to contribute to my brand-new Great Procrastinational Project 2006 by borderline-spamming all of my favourite blogs. In the meantime, delurk. Sure, I know you have to do that letter-recognition thing to post a comment, but you love these little puzzles, don't you? Say hello. Confess your sins. Wear your activism or curmudgeonliness or misanthropy with pride. Write a haiku. Shamelessly flog your own blog, unless it sells investment property in Spain or substances which augment body parts, in which case I will relurk your ass. C'mon in ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In space, no-one can hear you screen

So as many of you will know, not least because I've been bitching about it like a refrigerator that hums too loudly when you're trying to sleep, that my laptop screen bit the dust a few weeks back.

In between bitching like a kid with a broken Xbox, I had a bit of a google and discovered, to my sorta-surprise and sorta-not-surprise that this is a known issue with Toshiba laptops, particularly the Satellite aka cheapo-piece-o-shit range. As is often the case trawling the internet, my heart was warmed by the goodness of humankind as I unearthed reams and reams of helpful, expert advice about what to do, and helpful, expert warnings about what kind of misleading, unhelpful go-se I was going to get from Toshiba if I got in touch with them.

So today, I wielded my itty-bitty Philips head in a bid to try out the various solutions. Many of them involved the replacement of the inverter board between the screen and the base, which I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do. I was holding out a special hope that once the screen bezel was off, I'd discover that one of the dinky little connectors wasn't seated properly and shazam! My problems would be solved.

Everything went smoothly until I got to the part where the screen bezel met the hinges of the laptop. Then it became a complete mystery how the thing was clipped together and I abandoned my attempt to completely remove the bezel for fear of destroying something. So I wedged the bezel away from the circuit board with the filing blade of my swiss army knife, pointed my halogen desk lamp into the darkness, and peered in. No connectors were to be seen, so I had to assume they were in the part of the hinge that I hadn't managed to uncover. There's the circuit board. Looks fine. There's the closing pin. Also good. Turning my neck at a completely unergonomic angle, I can just see the connector ribbon disappearing into the nether regions. I turn my head a bit further and hurt myself.

Bollocks. (Shazam, indeed). Too difficult. If I mess around any more, I'm going to break something and a laptop with its ass working attached to the neuron-frying CRT is better than no laptop at all.

So I clip the bezel back on, power up, and ... SHAZAM! The screen works like a charm!

The Force is strong with this one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Four Reasons This Post Gets To Live

  1. I'm feeling prolific today, and it has reached the point of being good for its own sake. Gimme gimme gimme that ol' intrinsic value.

  2. I need an excuse to link to I Blame The Patriarchy, which is a blog of some seriously high quality ranting and has me polishing my Boots for Ass-Kicking much more often than my natural apathy would otherwise permit. What I'd really like is to post something incisive, witty, and well-informed about how motherfucking brilliant Twisty's blog is, but such blogging skillz as I might have had are currently extinguished leaving nothing but the desire to proliferate.

  3. I haven't yet updated the Twisty link in the sidebar, because editing the template at blogspot is a pain in the ass, so this would be my old favourite, the band-aid solution.

  4. There have to be four reasons because I've been memed. And I would hate to mess up Dawkin's theory.

Bostromming my pain with his fingers

Yesterday, I spent some time finding out about Dr Nick Bostrom. The initial motivation was that he has a job going, but then it became self-propelling. Bostrom is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. (No, really). Sadly, I am ineligible for the vacancy they have because I won't be done with my PhD by the required deadline. However, as we shall see, that is almost certainly completely moot -- it wouldn't make a butterfly-wingflap of difference even if I had.

Bostrom has the kind of CV that you couldn't make up. No, seriously. Suppose you have a couple of friends over and you get totally wrecked on absinthe or something similarly hardline, and then to amuse yourselves you decide to make up fantasy CVs for youselves. I guarantee that your combined 180-proof-fuelled efforts would be put into the shade. First, this is because Bostrom really is one of those academic superstar overachievers with the kind of track record and testimonials that make the rest of us feel like we only just mananged to drag ourselves from the primordial soup on our runty little incipient legs. His PhD dissertation got recommended for publication in Routledge's Outstanding Dissertations series. That would be bad enough, but it was Nozick who recommended it. His list of publications is so long that he thoughtfully includes a synopsis of the illustrious journals and periodicals which have published his work in the header.

But actually, much though it grieves my poor little neo-postamphibious heart to say it, this kind of academic superstardom is not actually that unusual. There are scads of these annoying little prats all over the damn place taking all the jobs and forcing us to console ourselves with the thought that they clearly have no time to foster healthy interpersonal relationships. But this does not exhaust the Bostrom story. He is also a vintage, real-deal polymath and public intellectual. His home page indicates links to his academic works with a tiny mortarboard icon, and links to his popular works with a tiny bunch of cherries. (No, really).

He was once a standup comic. On television. He has a published volume of poetry. He's worked for the CIA.

So far, so sickeningly demoralising.

But the thing that really kept me awake last night wondering about my future as an academic was none of these. If it was, I'd never get any sleep. The trouble was the the startling and disconcerting fact that in addition to all this, Bostrom believes in things. He is interested in having an impact on the world, not just for the sake of making an impact, but because some impacts are, according to him, the kind that people should be making. And so, naturally, with his giant brain and fabulous (in the sense of stuff-of-fables) capacity for work, he is going to go and make the sort of impact that he judges to be the right kind.

The first thing that was disconcerting about this was that it was disconcerting at all. Ideally, although Dr Bostrom is surely right to note that it sounds pretty corny, we'd all want to "make a difference". But my erstwhile exposure to that attitude in the academic world has generally been the defensive, tail-between-the-legs kind which characterises the academic who's been told one too many times how pointless her existence is and what a non-contribution her work is to culture/society/humankind/whatever. Such people tend to have responses and activities (such as token involvement in thinktanks and education programs) in their lives all prepped and ready to respond to the question "But what does that matter for the real world?" This kind of thing makes me crazy because it is craven, insincere, and capitulates to the generally very under-developed claim that an academic, classically understood, is not "contributing" anything.

Bostrom, I surmise, couldn't give a toss what anyone supposes the role of an academic is. He has his own view on what he ought to do, and what everyone else ought to do, and is out there telling every kind of person whom he judges ought to hear it. And you just don't get the impression that he's doing it for profile (like some people) although he clearly sees that profile is necessary. For one thing, his work is too good. Do you hate this guy already?

Researching Bostrom's career yesterday has jumped all over many sleeping dogs in my mind. The oldest and most grizzled of these is the one which suspects that the very reason I'm doing all of this is that none of it is particularly meaningful to me. It simply isn't intimately attached to my ethical beliefs about the way the world ought to be and what I ought to be doing about that. Sure, I believe (really) that philosophical research of all kinds, even the most esoteric and abstract, is valuable if it's good. And I love my work -- it is both intellectually and sort of aesthically pleasing to me. But really? I'm not that invested.

This worries me. And now this worry has the form of Dr Nick Bostrom.

In the final analysis, I think it is all about the stand-up comedy. I was of one mind with my friend S when she said that there was something about the inclusion of this little factoid, late in Dr Nick's CV, that indicated that he knows what a pompous, obnoxious, superior little bastard he's being ... and he thinks it's kinda funny.

A thought

How does Scrivener know that I'm a she?

Edit: Elementary.

I'm It!

Dude! I've been tagged by Scrivener! I'll justify this post by saying that so far, this blog contains no memes, but really it's because I'm flattered as hell. Which is a lot, because generally I'm terrified of memes and their extraordinary ability to make my life sound like a paper cutout.

Four Jobs You've Had
  1. Dishwasher loader in college kitchens

  2. Computer salesperson

  3. Marketing consultant

  4. Publicity manager for a UP

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over
  1. The Empire Strikes Back (the pre-butchered print)

  2. Pulp Fiction

  3. To Catch A Thief. But only because I can't say North by Northwest

  4. The Princess Bride
Four Places You've Lived
  1. Melbourne, Australia

  2. Naples, Italy

  3. Cambridge, England

  4. That's all.
Four TV Shows You Love to Watch
  1. CSI: Miami. Horatio, Horatio swooon

  2. Firefly (On DVD).

  3. The West Wing Although Aaron, we miss you.

  4. House, for helping to refine my crustly ol' bastard side
Four Places You've Been on Vacation
  1. San Francisco, CA

  2. Belfast, Ireland

  3. Kuta, Bali

  4. Great Keppel Island, Australia
Four Blogs You Visit Daily
  1. Badgerings

  2. Frogs and Ravens

  3. Fretmarks

  4. Scrivenings
Four of Your Favorite Foods
  1. Moules mariniere

  2. Devilled lambs' kidneys on toast

  3. Sushi, notably toro, a proper example of which I have not seen in a grievous length of time

  4. Grilled lamb chops on cous cous with ratatouille
Four Places You'd Rather Be
  1. Drinking espresso on Acland Street in Melbourne

  2. Hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law and my adorable and super-brainy niece, wherever

  3. In a hot bath

  4. Near the sea (goddamn inland fens. How do people do it?)
Four Albums You Can't Live Without, Lately
  1. Hem, Eveningland

  2. Feist, Let it Die

  3. Beck, Odelay

  4. Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love
Four Vehicles You've Owned
  1. A red 1977 Honda Civic hatch with chain-driven semi-automatic transmission and grey lanbskin seat covers. My one and only car ever. God, how I loved that car.

  2. Purple 12-speed mountain bike I bought from a police sale when I first arrived in England. I worked out after about 10 days that I did not have the cojones to cycle the 12th century streets along with the giant buses and taxis grazing past you with 0.2 of a milimetre to spare, as everyone else seemed to have. I think it is still chained to a gate somewhere.
Thoughts on the meme
How does one manage to make oneself sound interesting with one of these things?

Tuesday haiku

Although it lies still
The pencil trembles slightly
When I touch the keys

Monday, January 09, 2006


Three days ago, The Bird bit my finger. Specifically, the uppermost part of the pad of the third finger of my right hand. It's a minor injury.

But now, I can't type. Every time that finger keys the board, there is a miniscule shooting pain in my finger. This is OK for ten minutes, but then after that I find myself wondering why I am feeling like killing everybody in the room. Of course, it's because I've experienced a couple of thousand small shooting pains by then.

In combination with the the Interlaced Spawn of the Workspace Devil Monitor with which I am still frying my brain since my laptop screen died, I am one micron from utterly postal.

Honestly. Am I really this pathetic? My illustrious academic career is being derailed by an overexcited parrot and a piece of office equipment.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Death becomes it

To my madly gleeful delight, my Christmas present from the inimitable H arrived today. She'd had it shipped on the 22nd, so I'd started to entertain baroque worries that one of the Evil Scamming Postmen had scarpered with it. Although in this case a postman with special interests in interwar illustration.

It is one of the Ravilious lithographs from High Street. It is my favourite lithograph from High Street, 'Letter Makers', which shows a shop which makes signs. Its loveliness is completely untransferable to jpg, but here it is anyway. H and I have whiled away a happy half-hour considering how it ought to be mounted and framed.

Of course, this whole thing makes the bookseller who sold it guilty of bibliocide -- it was once a page in a book. H is an accessory for buying it, and I am an accessory before the fact for being so in love with it as to sway H's moral fortitude. As a minute with google will tell you, there are many kinds of bibliocide: bibliocide by cataloguing, by banning, by burning. But the most commercial of these is bibliocide as a result of the victim's organs being more valuable than the whole body -- almost always the artwork, but sometimes the text as well. The lithographs in High Street are so valuable that in spite of the extortionate prices on intact copies, the killing you could make by razoring the lithographs out of it and selling them separately puts that into the shade.

Here's the thing. I'm never going to own an intact copy of High Street. (I know someone who does. Sometimes I plan ram-raids of this person's house. And not just for the Ravilious). But even if I did own a copy, that really wouldn't be that special ... except for the lithographs. If ever something was written to be a vehicle for the illustrations, this is it. As H put it, it was published by Country Life, for god's sake.

So I'm going to reserve my wrath for booksellers flogging illuminated pages out of 14th century French breviaries and the woodcuts and etchings out of period descriptions of the English countryside. High Street was born to be dismembered. I think my member will look lovely in a double cream mount ...

Much beloved pet

I'm having incrementally more serious worries, as the days pass, that the part of my brain that used to think the kinds of thoughts that people around this place are supposed to think, such as (a) philosophical (b) analytical (c) critical (d) insightful and/or brainy in any way, has gone very seriously AWOL. Not like, my thoughts are slightly blurry or I'm having a little trouble revving up. G-O-N-E. Relaxing on the shores of What The Hell Ever.

Fortunately, my faith in 2006 being the Year of the Kicking of Ass means that my thoughts on the problem have been limited so far to:

This could be interesting.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cite my ass

Yesterday, My Very First Publication appeared in print. Today, H gave me a black mohair jumper of hers which has shrunk in the wash and doesn't fit her any more.

I'm much more excited about my new jumper. What is wrong with me?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Light my Firefly

I'm a philosopher of science. Philosophers of science get very worked up about underdetermination, which is where all of the things about something aren't enough to establish some other thing. Like how all of my genetic code doesn't tell us which country I'm a citizen of. Or how all of the data science can generate doesn't tell us which theories are true. There's also overdetermination, which is where all of the things about something are more than enough to establish some other thing. Like how after one episode there were already well in excess of a sufficient number of reasons for me to be rabid in my adoration of Firefly. Nevertheless, the final episode racked up the latest overdeterminator:

Wash: Psychic? That sounds like something out of science fiction.

Zoe: We live on a spaceship, dear.
Many more erudite reasons (and, like, a way funnier post header) over at Fretmarks.

Thoughts on academic job search, 2

Of course, the natural structure of the universe is such that new PhDs with their sights on academia are approximately one peg up the food chain from amoeba. Without even being as cool, because amoeba can totally like, ooze and stuff as well as dividing themselves up into more amoeba, and all I can do is watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and think up boring sophomoric ethical objections to giant television companies building Pottery Barn showroom houses for The Deserving Poor.

The point is, whatever job there is? Whoever wants to hire me to do something even tangentially related to the thing I'm qualified to do? Yippee. I'll take anything. Because I don't have the luxury of being picky about this shit.

Yesterday I printed another job advertisement to put on the growing stack. Like most job advertisements I read, there are red flags all over the place. The most usual red flag is that the job is being advertised in a sub-specialty you know nothing about. This is not generally considered a barrier to application, primarily because if you wait for the job for which you are actually qualified, you are never going to get hired in your lifetime, because it is constitutive of being a new PhD that you are unqualified for any academic job in the known universe.

This job had no requirements on area of specification, so the first red flag was that I'd never heard of the academic institution in question. But hey -- that probaby proves nothing except that I'm ignorant.

Red Flag #2: It describes itself as "a very small, highly selective, Christian college".

Inner voice: remember, you are pond-scum!

Well, OK. I mean, that probably explains why I've not heard of it. And the Christian part? Well, sure. I mean, fundamentalist religious types of all stripes freak me right the hell out, but practically every educational institution in the world has some religious affiliation or other. Mine used to be a collection of monasteries, seminaries, and theological schools, for god's sake. (So to speak). I'm sure that this really isn't going to have a great deal of impact on teaching philosophy to undergraduates.

Red Flag #3: "The College is non-denominational but requires faculty members to sign a statement of faith."

Inner voice: [pause] ... [clears throat] ... uh ... pond-scum!

OOooookay ... I mean, there are any number of things that could mean. And non-denominational! That's good! Very pluralist and all. The statement probably just asks what I have faith in, right? And anyway, let's face it, I'd sign anything for a good job. Probably. And like I said, this is not really going to have a big impact on my teaching experience there if I got the job, anyway. I'm a philosopher! I'll get to tell them about Descartes and Wittgenstein and relativism and social constructivism and realism! So who cares?

Final flag: "Broadly, the curriculum emphasizes the power of (and connections among) free markets, democratic politics, and the pursuit of truth."

Inner voice: [silence]

I am not applying for this job.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tuesday haiku

Wide-eyed soft blackly
tabled binoculars look
closely at the wood.

Monday, January 02, 2006

2005: Stocktake

Talk to the hand.

It happened one knight

Yesterday while stitching together the rich textures of the tapestry of procrastination, I watched First Knight. I love this movie. I'm not at all sure why. Or more exactly, all the reasons I can think of put together seem insufficient to explain why I should love it in spite of its cringe-worthy anachronisms in speech, costume, battlecraft, gender politics or indeed, politics of any kind. Of course, it's not taking itself that seriously and Arthur is the stuff of legend anyway -- it's not like they were recreating a historical event or something, so no need to be churlish about the fact that Camelot looks like a part of Legoland. So maybe I love it because it's so bad. And because Julia Ormond's hair is so good.

Sometimes bits of of film-making suspend belief not by being plausible, by drawing you into the reality of the character's world, but by being so wildly, ostentatiously implausible, so inconsistent and internally contradictory by their very own fictional lights, that you cannot help but be beguiled. You can't help but love it, because it doesn't even care whether or not it seems real ... all it seems like is a movie.

First Knight plays this card with a trump so spectacular it commands even my jaded respect. Naturally we all know the canonical love triangle between Guinevere, Arthur and Lancelot. Even today poor romantic sods like me worry about whether or not something like this will happen to us: you marry the fine, powerful, upstanding, brilliant man that you have loved for as long as you can remember, and then bam! Along comes the Real Man and you (naturally) Just Can't Help Yourself. Twoo wuv.

So far, so cinematic. First Knight casts Richard Gere into the role of Lancelot. Now, I don't 'get' the Richard Gere thing, he seems more vacant than any other person whose facial expressions I've ever had more than five minutes to inspect. Still, his face and leonine hairdo have a certain graven-image style masculinity, and since your credulity levels are already softened up by the fact that you're lounging on the sofa watching reruns,you're prepared to accept that this, plus a little sexy sword expertise, would give him the edge over the old, dull king.

Except King Arthur is ... Sean Connery.

I love it. Anyone who believes that any woman, especially one with hair extensions as fantabulous as Julia Ormond's, would rather tear the leather jerkin off the lanky, permanently gawky-looking physique of Mr Gere than leap into the bearskins with Connery, stalking around the FAO-Schwartz Camelot sets with his knightly skirts flying looking as sexy as anything alive, will believe anything.

You almost feel noble having done it.