Repetition with a Variation

I'm headed back to the Valley of the Sun, the place where I relocated at age 11. This time, however, I'm headed there by choice to help my colleagues at Arizona State University create a world-class User Experience Center. To be honest, this move was a difficult choice. I had a chance to join the department I'm currently joining ten years ago, but sport and I cut that possibility short when NDSU made us the offer to come and be a part of a growing department and research university. NDSU has been generous and supportive, and Fargo-Moorhead has been a genuinely exciting place to live as it has matured into a wonderful mid-sized city. It is small enough to know just about everyone you want to know, and big enough to keep you engaged with everything that you might want connect with (in my case, the art and entrepreneurship scene).

Still, Arizona beckoned at an inflection point. The political and economic winds seem to be taking a positive turn in a place where we can work on solving global problems. Climate shifts, population shifts, and sustainability are issues that Arizona State University, Phoenix, and Arizona are beginning to acknowledge and address. There are still decades of complacency and gated-community denial to overcome, but even the tea party types are beginning to feel the pressure to address, if not openly admit to, collective problems. Sport and I are sad that we are leaving our friends, department, university, and city, but we're excited at the chance for her to conduct her research in Kenya as a Fulbright scholar, and for me to build a center that would anchor an already-great program. Thank for you making the leap possible friends. We won't forget the kindness, and will try to keep paying that forward.

Giddy up.


Running towards bullets

Jim Kristofic notes in his autobiography, Navajos Wear Nikes, that school violence can be horrifically commonplace on the Rez. Still, most violence happens in homes and in secret. Kristofic's vivid images of patching up bloody abrasions and suturing cuts reflect an awareness, but only a tangential one, of the violence that dominates the everyday reality of people caught in cycles of poverty and trauma. This is true on the reservation and this is true in most places in the U.S. There is no way that just being a "tough noodle" can protect you from eruptions of violence that eventually maim and kill.

There were certainly markers of this kind of extreme violence where I grew up. The family station wagon I spent my early youth packing and riding carried a wound from a school parking lot shootout. While my mom was driving to school, a murderer sprayed a bullet into the tailgate of her car. I don't remember the shooting, save the fact that our car had a scar for taking the projectile--I was only four, after all. I had an awareness that a police officer was killed, as there was a memorial eventually erected in the parking lot. What I also don't remember is much discussion of this kind of extreme violence--which seems a little odd to me because my father was a social worker who dealt with broken lives. It just didn't come up.

In my family, conversations about violence centered upon dealing with the occasional violence we might encounter at school. "Hit back: hit hard," my dad would advise me when he discovered I was thrown in the mud, along with my books and homework, by a group of older kids in 2nd grade; he reminded me to "remember that they don't hate you--they hate their lives" when I was surrounded by a group of kids in 3rd grade who thought it would be funny to try to stone me; he urged me to "remember that you have it better, but know that you have to stand up to people who want hurt you"when I was pulled down from behind and beaten by a group of kids in 4th grade. I eventually learned how to deal with the surface violence. Lay low. Don't bring attention to yourself. Don't be loud. Don't stand too tall. When cornered, make it apparent that you can and will do damage if pressed. Quickly, and with effectiveness.

This kind of temporary hardness helped me when I had a knife pulled on my in junior high, when I played football in high school, when I had to kick wannabe gangsters and drunk troublemakers out of where I worked, and, eventually, when I had to stop would-be rapists on the street. This is the kind of violence that exists around us all. It's what we all swim through, even if we never have to throw a punch or talk down somebody shaking and screaming for a fight in the middle of a busy intersection.

A little less certain, however, is how anybody will deal with circumstances that might result in cascading death. I would like to think I would be like the Sandy Hook principal who ran to stop the slaughter. After all, this March, in South Sudan we ran into the pitch-black night towards the gunshot of an AK-47 to see if we could protect a Thompson's gazelle we were bottle-feeding. Still, there is no way to know how I would deal with this hypothetical. Only soldiers and civilians living in war zones know about living on the serrated edge of these eruptions.

We need to keep demilitarizing our country, until we can see beneath the trauma. We are not there yet.



A few of you asked me to post my thoughts on the Alien(s) prequel Prometheus, so I'll share 10 assorted thoughts and questions, with none of them particularly summative (I think). If you want my more global take on the movie, I fall somewhere between Roger Ebert's awe and Kenneth Turan's disappointment. I really enjoyed the movie (in some ways, more than the original Alien).

1. When critics say that the movie poses more questions than answers, they are right. It does. No, it doesn't quite make sense. Neither did Alien (or, frankly, Star Wars).

2. It is a colorful, and often bright movie. I was surprised by how the open shots of every planet felt so depopulated, but that even the most claustrophobic inside shots felt like they were full of life. The grandeur of space felt incredibly empty, and contrasted easily with the lived spaces of the spaceship Prometheus and the alien environments.

3. Do the Alien snakes descend from the earthworms that the camera briefly flashes before us? Is that what eventually turns into the nasty menace we see in the later films? If so, what role does the Engineer goop-weapon play? The simplest answer seems to be that the "Creators" created evolution, which overtakes them. Allegory, anyone?

4. Loved the Iceland landscapes. Great choice of location to film.

5. Noomi Rapace is great (as is Charlize Theron), but Michael Fassbender just steals every scene that he is in. I had a hard time NOT suspending disbelief in this cool, resentful android. Creepy, cold, and yet completely and believably human in his hubris and treachery.

6. It's interesting that this film is halfway between an epic adventure and a horror film. Almost every film in this series attempts a different genre (haunted house horror/war movie/thriller/adventure/etc.). I think this genre blending is where it mostly fails. Horror fans are disappointed, as are the epic fanboys.

7. Seeing The Avengers right after this film shows just how well made it is. It's certainly no Blade Runner, or even Thelma and Louise, but this a solid movie on almost all levels. Not transcendent, but just go to Battleship to show just how off the mark a big-budget CAN be. Readjust expectation.

8. Didn't see it in 3-D. Won't. Don't care.

9. I appreciate Scott throwing in two idiots to kill off first. It makes the rest of the carnage less difficult to stomach. It's a cheap thrill, but it shows that Scott isn't above appealing to the groundlings in all of us.

10. Even though the now-famous self-performed C-section wasn't as horrific as I expected (it could hardly live up to what my mind conjured), the sequence that ensues elevates Dr. Shaw to the Pantheon of Badasses. Ripping one alien out of your body, surviving a meeting with her maker, and then surviving the destruction of not one, but two ships (all while we realize she is still probably leaking from her self-surgery) pretty much puts her in the Hall of Badassery. As far as I'm concerned, that should be enough--Dr. Shaw then insisting on going after the Gods who caused all of this mayhem pushes her to the front of the table. Bad. Freaking. Ass.


Academic Vindication

In September of 2006, I shared a small observation about Sport's research on pap smears and HPV. Just a little over 5 years later, her research was vindicated on an NPR morning edition story. Sport's conclusion, which she delineates in her 2010 Feminist Formations Journal article, is that "terms like 'risk and "sexually transmitted disease (STD)' are used to simplify the discussions about HPV to simple 'for' or 'against' positions about vaccinating women and girls. Such positions limit the ways actors can address Gardasil and place public health responsibility upon the bodies of women and girls." Turns out that HPV causes "cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in females; penile cancer in boys; both get HPV-associated genital warts" and may be at least partially responsible for "an epidemic of head and neck cancers, and we are seeing this increase in ... nonsmokers." HPV is not an STD, insofar as warts are not only spread through sexual touching. Foucault, were he alive would have a field day with this. Instead, Sport took it upon herself to identify this problematic cultural enthymeme that NOBODY seems to tackle.

Sport knew that the rhetorical force of incorrectly calling HPV an STD set all sorts of social machinery in motion. In the process of trying to get this article published, Sport felt pushback from nearly everyone. The primary investigator in the CDC Gardasil trials both resisted calling for boys to be immunized and calling HPV something other than an STD (and she considers herself a feminist). Friends questioned her expertise (and right) to dabble in seemingly settled medical issues. Colleagues cobbled together anecdotal evidence to suggest that perhaps HPV should indeed be called an STD (or that she should sympathize with those who continue to do so). When she brought up the topic on the feminist blogs, most commenters would protest that this kind of dangerous attitude might hurt girls (turns out that calling HPV an STD made immunizing girls a non-starter for many, many parents). Even the editors at Feminist Formations suggested to Sport that she back off of her conclusions.

Anybody who knows her would be unsurprised that Sport was undeterred. Her passionate advocacy for women's autonomy--medical or otherwise--kept her on a path of declaring that the Emperor had no clothes. To be fair, all of the critique and criticism from others DID help her point her critique squarely at the heart of the problem--gendered formulation of medical research, diagnosis, and treatment regimes. Feminist Formations did publish this article (I can send a copy if you would like it). Perhaps most gratifyingly, it turns out, the medical establishment has begun to recognize what she knew nearly 5 years ago--gender assumptions still permeate the medical industrial complex. Breaking these gender chains might better help us prevent pain for 12,000 women who have cervical cancer, 1,400 men who have penile cancer, and 50,000 men and women who have head and neck cancer. EVERY YEAR.

It's nice to see academic work vindicated--doubly so when so many people cast doubt on it. Sport did a good, good thing.



There are moments in your life when the distance of your journey snaps into clarity--this afternoon I had one of those moments.

About 20 years ago, I was an undergrad trying to keep the glow of my time in England alive. I poured the inspirational energy of a chance meeting with Toni Morrison into my honors thesis on Morrison's Song of Solomon--a book tracing the adventures of an African-American protagonist who travels south in search of his past, and who finds himself in a parallel journey with the flying African, Solomon. My frantic attempts to connect this artistic tradition with the postmodern theorizing of Henry Louis Gates Jr. found its echo this morning. The first piece of work I did today was to email two colleagues at Kenyatta University to set up a classroom translation collaboration between our two universities. Next, I found myself in a high-level meeting discussing the possible creation of an immersive media M.A. program, and the possibilities of dovetailing it with my posthuman studies of an African social movement. Finally, I had a meeting with a city employee looking for ways to set up a social media campaign for a six-figure NEH grant which aims connect a Manhattan artist, local artists, and an under-represented/underserved part of the Fargo community to create an ecological art installation/community commons. All three projects are completely fantastic, and frankly beyond what I would have imagined even a few months ago, but here I am combining my interest in Africa, my American pragmatism, and my understanding of our strange, postmodern historical moment.

The line between that naive undergrad and me seems strangely straight, but the distance is very clear. It was at that moment that I sort of sat back and wondered how the heck I've made it this far. I really don't know, other than through the generosity (and occasional underestimation) by others. Thanks. For both.


Hawaii 2011 (Day Ten)

This was day we circled to board the plane, which, means that we had to get a lot packed in. Our queen of hospitality, LK, was nice enough to give us some amazing French-press coffee. Not only did she not complain about our coffee snobbery, she pretty much exceeded our skills at placating caffeinated savagery.

Before departing back to the mainland, we knew that we had to see where LK works--The East-West Center. Yes, kids, this is where the magic happens. ALL of the magic.

Fortunately, there was an exhibit from North Korea when we visited. I like the way that this artist mixed both photo-realistic techniques with some of the more rough-hewn elegance of traditional brushstrokes.

As we walked the campus at the University of Hawaii, I was pretty amazed at how much it resembles Fargo year-round. Or something. Not jealous. Nope.

This lion with the groovy eyewear was just BEGGING for a snap with the Docs Marai.

I had seen a sala before, but never one quite this beautiful (and never one on a campus). There are many days that I wish I had a quiet outdoor space for contemplation.

I had been begging LK and Miriam to allow me to go to Hank's Haute Dogs since LK had first mentioned it (and, no, it's not because this guy featured it on his train wreck of a show). The carnage of being dragged through Fierispeak did catch my attention, but it was mostly the lobster dog that attracted my interest.

The interior at Hank's was both inviting and minimalist clean. I love me some modernist postmodern food.

LK opted for the Hawaiian, with with pineapple relish, passion fruit mustard and grilled sweet Maui onions.

Mirm and I shared the Lobster Dog (described as "Lobster sausage seared in butter then dressed with garlic aioli, relish and pickled takuan radish"). We bought a side of truffled mac-and-cheese and house made ginger soda (Hammer, I'll let you know who wins the ginger-off).

After lunch, we had to get rid of all of the gear we had accumulated coming to Hawaii. Our snorkel gear was barely used. Luckily, it served its secondary purpose of signaling our gender to onlookers. Thanks Snorkel Bob!

One of the drawbacks of Oahu is how built up it is. I find the development quite stunning (both positively and negatively stunning).

Our final dinner was at a distinctively Hawaiian kind of Japanese restaurant.

This place has a bit more in the way of food that you might find in a restaurant in Japan (not just sushi). It seems like the Hawaiian Japanese restaurants also have more garlic. Lots more garlic.

The appetizers were probably the best thing we had. The spicy tuna was particularly amazing.

The curry was quite different than Middle Eastern curry (more like gravy than a broth). It was good, but not nearly as good as the appetizers.

Tempura with ponzu sauce? Always good, of course.

Benito busted out the modestly-floral Hawaiian shirt for just this occasion. Naturally, LK decided to up the ante with these decorative earrings designed to be brandished. I think LK was signaling that she was "lo" on her beverage.

Yes, Mirm and I were pretty dang content pre-departure.


Hawaii 2011 (Day Nine)

Nine days seems like a long pause between arriving and doing one of the things you most want to do on vacation. When it comes to surfing, though, that which most attracts also most repels. You see, surfing scares the sea foam out of me, which is approximately 75% of its attraction. Surfing in Hawaii scares me doubly, because of the treacherous coral outcroppings and shallow surf breaks.

Despite the horrific story 'Ito told us about his surf instructor friend almost dying at this Waikiki surf spot, I decided to get past my fears and sign up for a morning surf course/session. I chose to have my surf lessons with the recommended Hans Hederman Surf School (yes, that was who Ito's friend worked for).

As you can might guess from the photo, we had to paddle out past coral during low tide. I didn't wonder why we went over how to both get up on our boards and to crawl back down without actually falling onto the coral. I have not had a lot of long rides on a surfboard, and the prospect of not only popping up and sticking usually doesn't require the added difficulty of crawling back down.

Fortunately, the added fear factor helped me have my longest rides. In fact, I had to come in a bit early because my legs and arms were completely wrecked from successfully catching and riding waves (sadly, being out into the low-tide distance meant that my weak camera couldn't capture any of these rides respectably). I will have to wait for a future surf session for that, sadly.

When we got back from the surf session (and post-surf nosh), LK and 'Ito hosted a party for us (to both celebrate and meet more of their friends). Nothing compliments a morning surf session like pre-party mojito.

Miriam's lei had survived the 9 days with the aid of refrigeration.

A trip to the local Whole Foods netted us this piece of New Mexico. Yes, we had a bit of adult beverage variety going on here. It's Hawaii!

Of course, you know that wherever members of Supper Club™ meet, good food is sure to follow.

Miriam are a little enamored with this zucchini pesto salad (serving the raw zucchini in thin ribbons with basil, cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and lemon is pretty much my definition of a perfect food). When we got back from Hawaii, we ate this every week.

The party guests did impressions of their drinks. Here we have the dread of an Irish Guinness.

The casual friendliness of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hanging loose with nary a glass or tumbler.

LK and 'Ito not only organized our day and evening, they made us feel like honored guests. Thank you for the hospitality!


Hawaii 2011 (Day Eight)

The final day on the North Shore started a bit more calmly. The 30-foot swells had been replaced by a more summerly gentleness. We even recognized our snorkeling spot.

Of course, by this point, the rich restaurant meals had started to get to me. This morning, Starbucks oatmeal seemed to be the perfect antidote to too many lipids. Of course, the fact that there is a Starbucks in the middle of a chicken-infested semi-rural stretch made me question why Fargo can't seem to keep their Starbucks. Perhaps we need more chickens.

As you may have guessed by now, we tend to veer off of our "plan" (really, it was just a google doc that we used to snarkily collaborate with LK in creating a stroll through a Magnum P.I. episode). This day was no different. When we saw humpback whales in the distance (during our healthy breakfast), we hatched a plan that can only be described as "unsound." At 9 a.m., we were going to squeeze in a whale-watching adventure before circumnavigating the island to return to Honolulu for dinner. Fortunately, a quick trip on the internets, and we found a whale-watching catamaran that would take us, if we could pack our gear and drive to the dock in a languid 25 minutes. As you may have guessed, we made it.

Of course, being married to the love-child of MacGyver and Xena meant that we sat in the netting on the front of this particular craft. Unsurprisingly, the size of the waves (now only 15-20 feet) combined with the netting did not help to keep us dry. Fortunately, we wore our rashies.

Despite the fact that our crew members were interesting and very professional....

...they DID seem a little like extras from the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Our voyage did not disappoint. Despite the fact that it took us a while to catch up to the whales, catch up we did.

This mother/calf pair were only two of many we saw. The rockiness of the ride, and the desire to actually SEE the whales did not result in the taking of fantastic shots. Still, it was magical to see humpback whales slapping flukes and pectoral fins.

Naturally, the brine and the waves made us think of sushi. Yes, it was fresh.

Yes, it was delicious.

The rolls? Yes.

The pork? O.K., so I DID have a few bites of this. Yup. What you might not have guessed is that they served it with potato salad. I. Kid. You. Not.

Green tea ice cream. What's not to like about the perfect end to the nearly-perfect day?


Logic Boxes

In order to more fully experience the argument/line of reasoning/essay Geoffrey Sirc makes in his chapter "Box Logic," we all created a version of the Cornell Box. I added in the caveat that some sort of writing must also be incorporated. Here is what we came up with in the hour we allotted to this particular task.

Stash Hempeck

Creation = life. Life = experience. Experience = nostalgia. Nostalgia = creation.

Chris Lindgren

Invisible Code
i := us[them] - sense; prnt := wrt + i; dig := prnt + i;

loop: prnt := prnt - i;
while us[them] < dig repeat; loop: dig := dig - i;
while us[them] > i;
if us[them] = i then dig[i];

Heather Steinmann

My box presented itself like a found poem, with a city street already printed inside. The poem "The City," by C.P. Cavafy reflected on the encapsulated nature of the subject; the world. The toy ball armed with the means to burn the city down just fit; in the poem and in the box.

Alyson Guthrie

My box entitled "Idealism" is a representation of the idealistic views I often find myself believing in and hoping for. The dreamlike sky, the image of a child, a peace rock, along with different quotations and lyrics evoke these views.

Steven Hammer

My box is titled, "Once a toy, always a toy," and it is an old memory game by Tiger Electronics that I've opened and circuit bent, creating an experimental sound machine. While the sounds aren't universally pleasing or understood as music, both the process of bending and the performance of the sounds exemplify finding the art in the ordinary. The materiality is exposed and nude, and the bender is invited to redirect energy and reconstruct the instrument. The most valuable lesson in the practice of bending is the element of chance, or if you will, the absence of dominant constructions of sound classification (notes and scales, logical and linear). And so on...

Doc Mara

My box, "California Dreaming," offers a chance to examine constructed nostalgia. A picture of a past celebration combines with festive, floral, tropical, and exoticized signifiers. Post-It notes covered with lines of Shakesepare's most celebrated marriage sonnet juxtapose the mundane with the popular imagination of enduring social bonds. The box which contains all of these objects is clementine box from Morocco, and it's final passenger sits in anticipation of its eventual demise.