Healthcare Meme

You know the healthcare meme "The United States has the best health care in the world." I'm not sure what the comparitive data shows, but a recent study on treatment administation by medical doctors (conducted by the Rand corporation, so take it for what it may be worth) observes that:
The researchers argue that the U.S. health-care system is too fragmented, with care often provided by several different doctors and other professionals who don't coordinate or often even know all that's been done for a patient, and that the system lacks enough financial incentives for providing the best care.

Sounds like a systemic problem partially bourne out by the urge to decentralize. How do we re-splice the wetware back into a healthcare system that seems increasingly beholden to spreadsheet demands and less dedicated to administering and dispensing recommended treatments/therapies to the soft tissue the system is ostensibly supposed to serve.


Summer Interlude

The warming weather has me thinking about last summer's trip to Italy (a trip I started saving for in graduate school). This summer? Grading AP Exams in Daytona.


Odds n' Ends

The first article I started working on when I took this job is finally out in TCQ this month (Takes a LONG time to get these things through the pipeline).

I'm not at ATTW or the Cs this year. I kind of whiffed the entries and would rather spend this year getting some more of my scholarship out there. Hope y'all are having fun at the C's. For what it is worth, I definitely enjoy the Cs more than SXSW--I prefer a glass of wine with friends over losing my hearing at a bar with a bunch of people I do not really relate to. Freaks and geeks...my kind of folks.


Modernist Architecture

JG Ballard (of Crash fame. Not the Academy Award-winning movie, but the postmodern novel) gives a brilliant critique of the brutalism of modernist architecture in this Guardian article (via Johndan's datacloud).

Modernism's attempt to build a better world with the aid of science and technology now seems almost heroic. Bertolt Brecht, no fan of modernism, remarked that the mud, blood and carnage of the first world war trenches left its survivors longing for a future that resembled a white-tiled bathroom.

I kind of wonder if we aren't in a similar utopian moment that longs for the empty luminousness of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Quick note--I used to live in the "the ziggurat residential blocks at the University of East Anglia" in the picture above when I attended UEA in the early 90s. The insides are as stark as the outside. The glorified cot that I slept on was wedged next to a radiator and a concrete block wall. Unless you were VERY careful, you would rip skin off every time your hand or elbow brushed the rough concrete wall. Funny thing is, I ended up LOVING the room because of the ascetic monkishness it seemed to inspire in my studies.


Job Wiki

Job Hunters from the Academic Hordes (at least the English and Modern Language studies section of the horde) have been working together on this interesting wiki. I've had colleagues grumble about this wiki, but overall, I agree with Clancy Ratliff. It IS luverli.


Quality of Writing

Not going to belabor the quality of the latest Time magazine "Evil/Great Technology and Kids" article (gotta get a day pass or subscription for this one).

Requisite "From the time of cavemen" BS quote:

Human beings have always had a capacity to attend to several things at once. Mothers have done it since the hunter-gatherer era—picking berries while suckling an infant, stirring the pot with one eye on the toddler.

Contrasting Meatspace with Virtualspace without discussing how the former is just as mediated:

But both parents worry about the ways that kids' compulsive screen time is affecting their schoolwork and squeezing out family life. "We rarely have dinner together anymore," frets Stephen. "Everyone is in their own little world, and we don't get out together to have a social life."

Standard Ongian bifurcation between oral and literate culture:

Every generation of adults sees new technology—and the social changes it stirs—as a threat to the rightful order of things: Plato warned (correctly) that reading would be the downfall of oral tradition and memory.

Finally, the best case of "interesting data, wrong conclusion" I've seen in a long time:

Koonz and Turkle believe that today's students are less tolerant of ambiguity than the students they taught in the past. "They demand clarity," says Koonz. They want identifiable good guys and bad guys, which she finds problematic in teaching complex topics like Hutu-Tutsi history in Rwanda. She also thinks there are political implications: "Their belief in the simple answer, put together in a visual way, is, I think, dangerous." Koonz thinks this aversion to complexity is directly related to multitasking: "It's as if they have too many windows open on their hard drive. In order to have a taste for sifting through different layers of truth, you have to stay with a topic and pursue it deeply, rather than go across the surface with your toolbar." She tries to encourage her students to find a quiet spot on campus to just think, cell phone off, laptop packed away.

Why I don't buy popular press general opinion mags.
1.) Unanalytic and frankly misogynistic and misanthropic assumptions (since the time of "ooga booga" man enthymematic insertions).
2.) Quoting intelligent people and not connecting or contrasting what they say in a coherent or thoughtful manner.
3.) Refusing to challenge sound-bite logic, even when writing stories that ostensibly challenge sound-bite logic.

I think these things come from trying to please both middle-class consumers and the companies that advertise. This laziness often gets characterized as liberal bias by bougies, but I think it can be better characterized as underestimating your audience.

Getting the Monkey Off Your Back

Last night, I was driven to the internet to see my alma mater's gladiators dismantle the University of Florida basketball team.

Of course, I am talking about the women's tournament, as the Mountain West teams on the men's side folded faster than a summer deck chair on Mt. Washington. The Lady Lobos not only beat a very talented team in Florida, they utterly destroyed them. Pretty significant for a team, school, and conference accused of not being able to win outside of a home arena. Of course, this criticism is usually levelled at upstart mid-majors who do not know their place. The fact that the Big East, SEC, etc. schedule 20 home games does not merit the same criticism. So, for the Mountain West to win 3 of 3 4 of 4 games in the first round, all in which the MWC team got a lower seeds than their RPI merited means something big.

BTW, I actually like the University of Florida (sport grew up there), and I have their men's team going another two rounds.


Tournament Miscellany

1. Sport and I got back from teaching last night (a commute through the driving snow) and promptly went to the new Tony Packo's for a little late-night madness. We watched Adam Morrison pick up the Gonzagaentire team over the really big bump that was Xavier. I think everyone in the building (including the Xavier players) was watching to see if AM would rise to the occasion. When AM was running through double screens and getting smacked in the face, I turned to sport and said "the game is over..." I knew that the smack in the face would center the gawky trucker wunderkid. He made the rest of his shots (free throws, nice lane-penetrators, js, and tres). ESPN's writeup noted the same thing. Apparently, "smack Adam around" was bullet point #1 on the coaches' whiteboards.
2. Damn Syracuse for losing so early. They used to be my perennial "choke" pick, and they got all "we're-gonna-make-a-magical-run" on me with their conference tournament. I'll have to put them back in the perennial "choke" hopper with Arizona and Cinci.
3. Mountain West is now out of every Men's Tournament. Gotta say that San Diego State shoulda' won that game and that Air Force was not the patsy every whiner thought they were. Air Force would have beaten just about every 6 seed and below.
4. I picked the wrong 5-12 upsets. I should have gone with my gut with the Montana game.
5. Comfort food (dumplings, mac-n-cheese, german potato salad, and baked beans) go real well with frenetic CBS game shuttling (I think the smooth and mushy food makes the jarring game changes "stick to the ribs" better).
7. I still think UConn will take it all.


It's THAT time...



Confronted with Outer Darkness

So I'm introducing N. Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman to my graduate seminar last night when a student declares "in my experience, the less a person knows, the happier that person is."

I really like this class (and they are doing great work), but I'm amazed at how consistent this critique pops up in graduate English courses. I sense that it is a reaction to having someone assign a difficult text. I empathize with having to do the kind of work that seems so foreign (Hayles' text is pretty dense, and many of my class members are from different countries). While I find it really difficult to explain why knowledge is better than ignorance, I can't really come up with anything better than Michael B's blog post on how he explained sadness to his son Jamie.


Living your Work

I worked with Marlene. This story is not just a feel-good puff piece. It really represents who I saw during work and after hours.

Marlene Brown is a pioneer, among the first people in Albuquerque who chose to power their homes with the sun.

"There's a term for people who adopt technology before it's economically feasible: `the early adopters,' " said Jeff Buell, a spokesman for the Public Service Company of New Mexico. "That's what Marlene is. Even before the incentives, she made a commitment to the environment, to alternative energy sources for the sake of her values."

Brown's home on Vassar Drive near the University of New Mexico is powered by a 1.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system installed in May 2004.

At the time, she was teaching an all-female class on installing solar energy systems.

Brown teaches about two hands-on, five-day seminars a year on installing the systems. She'll teach an all women's class at the end of April and a co-ed class in May. Both are through the New Mexico Solar Energy Association.

"I really want to empower women," Brown said. "I really think it's important."

Read the whole story here.


Language weirds words

Articulation can be pretty funny. Just encountered the truncated phrase "Jump the Couch." In case you are living in a Pop Culture couch, it modifies the editorial phrase "Jump the Shark" (itself an articulation referencing the Happy Days episode where "The Fonz" jump over a shark tank is frozen in mid-jump as the end of the show. The audience presumably was enjoined/enjambed to watch the next episode mostly to see if the writers would ghoulishly dis-member a central fixture of the cast. People generally apply it to serialized television shows when the writers acknowledge that the audience is no longer sticking around to see the original plot/character development/premise.)

Fans--especially culture gossip mavins--recognize that "star" identities are just as constructed. Like a show, these actors and actresses may act bizarrely to attract attention, undercutting what may remain of a perception that the "star" is a consistent person, bounded by the same behavioral rules that govern most humans outside the culture industry. "Tom Cruise," long rumored to have been gay, "Jumped the Shark" when he boisterously proclaimed he was in love with Katie Holmes on Oprah Winfrey's show. This couch gymnastics, performed in "The Oprah's" national Burkean parlor, shattered all sorts of semiotic rules various "Cruise" identites neatly tied together. Among these identities: 1. Tom Cruise as a tightly-controlled and private person ("Intensity Tom"). 2. Tom Cruise as a movie mogul ("Hollywood Tom"). 3. Gay Tom Cruise ("Closet Tom") 3. Super masculine Tom Cruise ("Top Gun Tom"). 4. Tom Cruise the Scientologist ("Eccentric Tom"). His jumping up and down splintered all of these things with his semiotic Calvin and Hobbs'esqe parody. Just about this time, somebody, somewhere, decided to articulate "Jump the Couch"...


What a difference a year makes

This picture was taken through my apartment window last year. This year? In the 50s.


Flik'r Slideshows

Almost done with reframing my startup article.

In the meantime,I just wanted to mention how cool the Flik'r slideshows are. If you get a chance to see this slideshow, it's probably worth the two minutes it takes to see it. Chantal Foster, the main editor at "Duke City Fix" cityblog took an urban hike--covering 12 miles in 8 hours. She took pictures of whatever she thought was interesting (mostly back alley stuff). She walked from approximately where I used to live to the downtown and back. I used to ride my bike down the main streets (definitely the gentrified and more neatly-coiffed side of things), but I still used to see these rougher edges peeking out. There are two really great things about Flik'r slideshows in general, and this one in particular.

1.) These pics give you a sense of movement that mirrors a journey through space. Stories manifesting in time, space, and affect. I am not doing much work in this area (and I know several of you readers are), but I find it really useful to make visible the pleasure and commonality of this kind of work. The analysis is much tougher, but I think it is useful to demonstrate just how human and useful our objects/subjects of study can be. This stuff is important enough to study, not because it is so alien, but precisely because the surprise is so central to what we do as humans.
2.) I love the juxtapositions that these kinds of rhetorics enable. Having a guy working on an old farm truck in front of his obviously-expensive townhouse, or having an F-150 sticking out of the garage of a lime-green live-work loft apartment is rich with meaning that might take pages to describe. Long textual exposition is certainly possible (and often wonderful), but I like the small bites that these kinds of slideshows enable. Sort of like theoretical tapas.


Can't believe it's been almost two weeks

I've been trying to get several articles out the door and to re-tool an article abstract for a special issue (yes, Clay, I'll be submitting it later this week).

Lots of things going through my head, but most of them (ironically) tie up with my thoughts about semiotics and embodiment. Just a short list of some of these thoughts.

  • if theory rises up from embodied particulars (Hayles discusses this in regards to AI and AL projects via three waves of cybernetics), then how do we "bust out" of these blurs of semsation? I know that psychoanalysis and Kantian categories are attempts to stabilize these processes into categories, but I'm suspicious of stable categories for what is supposed to be particular and fleeting.
  • I am struggling with Signature/Event/Context implications. Speech acts like "I pronounce you man and wife" perform that which they describe, and are often used as examples. Still, I'm suspicious because these example seem to be the textual equivalent of a ringer (a professional disguised as an amateur--like when my intramural basketball team recruited Deb Hawhee for her placid and pleasent exterior hiding her Pat Summitt-trained lethal posting, 'bounding, and shooting skills). I like Michael Berube's example of the Stop sign from his essay in Trotsky and Wild Orchids, but it still doesn't get me all the way to more ephemeral communication (the memo, phatic communication, etc.)
  • Collin Brooke has roped me in to Battlestar Galactica (perfectly timed for me to discuss Hayles notion of the posthuman in the graduate seminar I'm teaching). I love the show, and it performs many of the tensions we are reading and discussing in Hayles book (Cylons who are, for all practical purposes, human--as proxy for not only technophobic/technotopic thoughts, but also for fear of the "Other" in terrorism, etc.). My question has to do with the arc of the show. I see the original tensions bleeding into more Space Opera conventions. While the realist film conventions (partial view of spaceships, lens flares, near-silent space, documentary handheld camera shots, a bridge without a giant viewscreen or Captain's Chair, etc.) initially disciplined audience interpretation, the longer these shows stay on the air, the more likely they are to "jump the shark." The material networks that initially tolerate these projects eventually colonize them. The networks of relationships (advertising, semiotic conventions, constituted fans, etc.) persist and are changed, but I wonder how long early story arcs and styles can hold before the centripital forces make the material heterogeneities obvious.
  • Working Blue notes Octavia Butler's passing. Butler's work Dawn was the first book that really made me feel the impact of slavery. That is saying a lot, considering I grew up on the Rez and did my undergraduate honors project on Toni Morrison and signifyin'.