Sunday, May 23, 2010

Flying and the Power of Podcasts

I may get back to SFO back on schedule avoiding volcanic ash and strikes, flight boarding now in LHR. Got two interesting books at WH Smith in Terminal 5, one of them prompted by a Chris Lydon podcast via Google Listen. Podcasts are the source of most of my reading tips these days.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Return from Europe

Lyon airport, on my way to London tonight and to San Francisco tomorrow. Many ideas, lots of connections made, a few wonderful hikes neare Zürich and Grenoble with very enticing Alps views. Need to come back when the snow flies again. Pictures will be uploaded soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Arms for Art

Yesterday in Zürich I went to the penultimate day of the Bührle Collection exhibition at the Kunsthaus. Outstanding 19th century and early 20th century (mostly) French painting, with some earlier Dutch and Italian delights. I had no clue about the collection's origin until I read the historical panels at the exhibition. Emil Georg Bührle was the owner of Oerlikon, famous for its antiaircraft guns that were supplied to all contenders before and during World War II, and later to NATO. The profits from that business paid for the collection's purchase. I don't know what more to say right now, but it's a conflicted feeling to enjoy peaceful Impressionist landscapes brought under one roof by the arms trade. Maybe I should have paid with an even closer look at the darker paintings in the show, like most of the van Gogh's.

(C) Fear Note: I was very tempted to include the image of one of the collection's works, maybe Pissarro's SThe Road under Snow at Louveciennes, but our European friends are touchy about copyright, especially in a not necessarily totally positive critical context.

Kafka on the Shore

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, and something in it resonated deeply with Ta-Nehishi Coates's writing on the confederate history month. But first, an observation. Everywhere I lived, and just now as I travel through Europe and hear the noise of anti-immigrant sentiment from the recent British election to the anti-minaret law just passed in Switzerland, and most lastingly in my experience growing up under Salazar and his successor: fear is a constant of life — biology rules — that forms an easily manipulable (by those who seek power) self-sustaining feedback with ignorance and lack of imagination. Social and economic instability, or their threat, form a favorable environment for that stable conformation. Now Murakami's character Oshima:

But there's one thing I want you to remember, Kafka. Those are exactly the kind of people who murdered Miss Saeki's childhood sweetheart. Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it's important to know what's right and what's wrong. Individual errors in judgment can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive. They're a lost cause, and I don't want anyone like that coming in here.

Rebooting mon Français

Waiting for my bus to Grenoble at the Lyon airport, just arrived from Zürich. The airport coffee is as bad as I remembered it, unlike the good espresso you can find anywhere in Zürich and its airport (which, for weird reasons that may have to do with the habits of traveling Americans, manages to have a busy Starbucks even though you can find nice Segafredo kiosks everywhere). It's nice to be able to speak and understand the language, unlike in Zürich, even when some of it is an annoyed Ça suffit! from a mother to her screaming youngster.

The Atlantic's Observance of Confederate History Month

The Atlantic's Observance of Confederate History Month: Continuing, or in some cases reviving, long-standing but utterly unwelcome customs, several southern states declared April 'Confederate History Month'. The occasion redeemed itself by provoking a long series of posts from Ta-Nehisi Coates at 'The Atlantic', each of which "observ[s]e some aspect of the Confederacy—but through a lens darkly". These begin with one whose peroration is worthy of Mencken,
This is who they are—the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn't "have had all these problems," this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you. If you flirt with secession, even now, then this movement is for you. If you are a "Real American" with no demonstrable interest in "Real America" then, by God, this movement of alchemists and creationists, of anti-science and hair tonic, is for you.
The whole of it is a moving, empathic, and thereby all the more devastating meditation on memory, pride, shame, racism, heroism, moral courage, myths, the great personalities of the Civil War, and the enduring legacy of one of America's two great founding sins; on just how it is that we can be a country where a month set aside to remember a heritage of treason in defense of slavery is intended as a time of celebration and not of soul-searching. (Via Three-Toed Sloth)

I have nothing to add, as this note and Coates's writing speak my mind much better than I could.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Zürich

In the last week:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

World’s most excruciatingly ironic conference?

World’s most excruciatingly ironic conference?: Could this be the world’s most excruciatingly ironic conference? The Second International Symposium on Peer Reviewing (ISPR 2010) is soliciting papers. Their call for papers emphasizes the sorry state of peer-review, calling for ”more research and reflections [that] are urgently needed on research quality assurance and, specifically, on Peer Review.” [...] The conference itself is part of the 14th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WMSCI 2010, and organized by the same institution, the International Institute of Informatics and Systemics (IIIS). Here’s the irony: IIIS and the WMSCI conferences are notorious for their lax standards for paper acceptance, as a cursory web search testifies. (Via The Occasional Pamphlet)

They understand their market exceedingly well: authors who publish in WMSCI must have been pushed there because they couldn't get their papers accepted elsewhere, so they must have complaints about peer review.