Friday, December 30, 2005

Snowy stroll through the park


Gripped by cabin fever and tired of typing away at our computer screens, Ira and I took a leisurely, snowy stroll through Gävle's main park this afternoon.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cornhuskers Comeback to Defeat Michigan

Last night before reluctantly heading to bed, I e-mailed my sister the following message:

just under 90 minutes until gametime. I’ve been wearing red all day, as has daniel, though he left to play hockey hours ago & hasn’t returned, but will probably head to bed soon. it’ll be 2 a.m. here when the game starts, & I would have to watch the few-minutes-behind updates on espn.com. that could make for a long, tense night.

I saw that Bo Ruud won’t be playing at linebacker b/c of a broken arm – that sucks. still, I think nebraska will surprise & win by 3 or 4.

Go Big Red!


So, this morning I'm elated to learn that my beloved Huskers didn't disappoint and that my Alamo Bown prediction was spot on: Nebraska 32 Michigan 28

I hope someone recorded the game. It's been an up-and-down season for Nebraska, but the last two games - victories over Colorado and Michigan - are paraticularly sweet, and I want to be able to remember this Alamo.

All I've seen of the game is the highlight footage from ESPN.com. The last play was nuts. It looked like a rugby game out there. Given Michigan's history of luckily squeezing out victories in the final seconds of games, the Huskers should be counting their lucky stars that the Wolverines didn't win on a fluke.

Now, will Nebraska be ranked when the season ends? Despite losing the Kansas and some lackluster victories at the season's beginning, I think they are deserving of a place in the top 25.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Student Recovers Stolen Thesis

As the title indicates, this tale of a stolen master's thesis ends happily, if improbably: Student Finds a Stolen Thesis by Thinking Like a Thief. Let it serve as a reminder to (quoting Adam Richer, Mac Guru) back that shit up.

Make multiple backups daily and store them in several locations: on your laptop's hard drive, on an external hard drive, on a key drive, on a CD or DVD, on the university's server... (Yes, Ira, I am talking to you.)

After reading this, I'm going to be sure NOT to carry my portable key drive in my laptop back. That way should (fingers crossed) I somehow lose one, I will have the other. When I fly, it makes me nervous when I pack my backup hard drive in the same carry-on bag as my laptop, but I don't see that I have much choice. I am wary of packing it, or any other electronic device, in my checked luggage.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy...

Eliot Weinberger: What I heard about Iraq in 2005. Appalling, obscene, perverse. What will it take to put an end to this shit?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Homeland Security Interrogates Student for Interlibrary Loan Request

The student, an unnamed senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, requested an interlibrary copy of an unabridged version of Mao Tse-Tung's The Little Red Book. I wonder what triggered the alarm which led to an unexpected visit at his parents' house, where he lives, from the Department of Homeland Security? Was it that the student had travelled to South America?

The student ordered Mao's book to do research for a paper for a history class taught by Brian Glyn Williams, a professor who specializes on Islamic studies. Williams' class focused on fascism and totalitarianism. No need to look too far in the historical past to learn about those topics. Apparently the Big Brother Bush regime, which has admitted to and stridently defends its practice of spying upon domestic citizens, is intent upon transforming the United States into a privatized police state.

Chilling, truly chilling.

Will Congress please impeach this president before its too late.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Who and What Defines America?

Harold Bloom can be a bit boorish at times (constantly scapegoating poststructuralist theorists for the declining status of the arts and humanities in our ever-more-corporate universities) but this essay, Reflections in the Evening Land, in which he turns to canonical American literature for insight regarding "our national self-destructiveness," is brilliant - one of the best things I've read by him in some time.

Bloom doesn't say anything particularly new, but he is eloquent in describing the toxic reign of the Bush regime, which "daily fuses more tightly together elements of oligarchy, plutocracy, and theocracy," and makes some important points worth airing in clear and simple language: "'Democracy'" is a ruined word, because of its misuse in the American political rhetoric of our moment."

At the age of 75, I wonder if the Democratic party ever again will hold the presidency or control the Congress in my lifetime. I am not sanguine, because our rulers have demonstrated their prowess in Florida (twice) and in Ohio at shaping voting procedures, and they control the Supreme Court. The economist-journalist Paul Krugman recently observed that the Republicans dare not allow themselves to lose either Congress or the White House, because subsequent investigations could disclose dark matters indeed. Krugman did not specify, but among the profiteers of our Iraq crusade are big oil (House of Bush/House of Saud), Halliburton (the vice-president), Bechtel (a nest of mighty Republicans) and so forth.

All of this is extraordinarily blatant, yet the American people seem benumbed, unable to read, think, or remember, and thus fit subjects for a president who shares their limitations. A grumpy old Democrat, I observe to my friends that our emperor is himself the best argument for intelligent design, the current theocratic substitute for what used to be called creationism. Sigmund Freud might be chagrined to discover that he is forgotten, while the satan of America is now Charles Darwin. President Bush, who says that Jesus is his "favourite philosopher", recently decreed in regard to intelligent design and evolution: "Both sides ought to be properly taught."

I am a teacher by profession, about to begin my 51st year at Yale, where frequently my subject is American writers. Without any particular competence in politics, I assert no special insight in regard to the American malaise. But I am a student of what I have learned to call the American Religion, which has little in common with European Christianity. There is now a parody of the American Jesus, a kind of Republican CEO who disapproves of taxes, and who has widened the needle's eye so that camels and the wealthy pass readily into the Kingdom of Heaven. We have also an American holy spirit, the comforter of our burgeoning poor, who don't bother to vote. The American trinity pragmatically is completed by an imperial warrior God, trampling with shock and awe.


Yes, the current state of the nation is enough to make Walt Whitman weep.

... so I should savor Sweden while I'm here for the holiday. Ira brought home a Christmas tree today, the first I've had at home in years. We'll have to heat up some glögg and decorate the tree later.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blurb Writing

This evening Lori Emerson, ebr's current book reviews editor (a job I once held, which is a lot of work) e-mailed me to ask if I would write the blurbs for several pieces I've written that will be published soon. Lori suggested it would only take me ten minutes, as opposed to an hour for her. If only. I'm an obsessive reviser and find that the word constraints that blurb writing impose only intensify my impulse to repeatedly rewrite. After a couple hours, I came up with the following blurbs. We'll see if they appear this way on ebr.

1. “What Would Zizek Do?: Redeeming Christianity’s Perverse Core”: Jokes play a fundamental role in Slavoj Zizek’s philosophizing. Is Zizek joking when he extols the virtues of Christianity to the Left? Eric Dean Rasmussen analyzes Zizek’s pro-Christian proselytizing as attacks on modes of PC-ness – political correctness and perverse Christianity - that sustain an undesirable neoliberalism.

2. “Putting the Brakes on the Zizek Machine”: Eric Dean Rasmussen traces the contours of Hanjo Berressem’s rigorous, bi-tempo reading of Organs without Bodies, which finds Zizek’s philosophical buggering of Deleuze to be wanting.

3. “Liberation Hurts: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek”: A post-9/11 discussion between Zizek and Eric Dean Rasmussen concerning liberation as a an act and a state of awareness. Topics include: biopolitics and belief, ideology and infinitude, violence and vulgarity, and the parallax view required to perceive various posthistoricist paradoxes.

Dissertation Work with DEVONthink

Since break began I've been working long days, rising around 6 a.m. and reading, researching, and writing until almost midnight. I'm still jetlagged, so I take a nap in the afternoon and time off to cook and eat, but having submitted grades the other day I've been a diligent dissertation worker.

Having read a glowing review of DEVONthink Pro, a database-based information-management program, in the New York Times, I recently downloaded a trial copy of the software. When the trial period expires, I will definitely purchase the program as it has been incredibly useful for organizing my academic files. I can download academic journal articles from UIC's databases and import them into my database's organizational structures.

For a rhizomatic thinker prone to forgetting or misplacing ideas that rapidly come to mind, the software serves a crucial purpose. It helps me to reign in conceptual 'lines of flight'. I just wish I had more time to learn about and make use of all its organizational features. Perhaps I'll write about the software in a future post. For now, this Macworld review DEVONthink Pro 1.0 will have to suffice. It contains a link to the DEVONtechnologies website.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

An indispensable Guide to GOP D.C.

A word of advice to travelers destined for D.C.: watch yourself in Washington. Republicans rule our capital city (for now, anyway) so to avoid getting lost in the crooked city make sure to pack a copy of The New Republic's Rough Guide to GOP D.C.. Remember, power corrupts. Be wary about associating with right-wing politicos and avoid engaging in activites that might get you embroiled in a scandal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rachael Rips Sunoco Refinery For 'Abnormal Releases'

This is a shout out to my activist friend Rachael Belz - one of the leaders of Ohio Citizen Action, a 100,000+-member strong environmental group. She can be seen here protesting pollution by Sunoco Inc.

Let me take this opportunity to let Rachael know that I'm always impressed by her idealism, which does not remain at the level of theoretical abstraction (something we politically-minded academics tend to fret about in moments of existential crisis that tend to occur at the end of the semester when students' final papers and exams may prompt us to question the effectiveness of our pedaogic efforts) and gets things done in the world! You go grrrl! Kick some corrupt corporate ass!

(Thanks, Jim, for sending me this article).

Follow this link to learn more about Ohio Citizen Action's campaign to get the Sunoco Refinery to clean up its act.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dirty Secrets in the War on Terror

In the global war on terror, the unofficial motto of America's intelligence agenies is "The end justifies the means." For an overview of the extralegal powers the Bush Admistration has granted the CIA as it wages a largely covert war read "On the Trail of the CIA."

There's no point in making a moral case against state-sponsored kidnapping, torture, and murder - all techniques apparently used by the CIA and authorized by the Bush Administration. It's apparent that the US intelligence agencies operate according to a morality that it beyond good and evil. But perhaps some people in the US government with the power to dictate policy in the CIA will insist that, in the long run, these violent abuses of power will serve to undermine US interests around the globe. These days who can take seriously the US's claims that it is fighting for freedom? It's disturbing to see America become (some would say this is nothing new) everything that it purports to be fighting against.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Branda Bocken Makes Washington Post

I was doing a Google search on Gävle and was suprised to see that the recent burning of the Christmas bocken made the Washington Post: Vandals Burn Swedish Christmas Goat, Again. Ira identified a couple inaccuracies in the AP report. She said Gävle is 180 km north of Stockholm, not 150 km, and that one of the men seen running from the scene of the crime was not just wearing a Father Christmas mask, but an entire costume. Moreover, the other man was dressed as a gingerbread man.

In any event, I'm pleased to report that the town has since erected a new bokken. We'll see if it remains standing throughout the holiday season. I'll try to snap a photo to post here before it burns.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Beckettian Elements in Pinter's Nobel Lecture

Michael Billington's report on Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture begins by noting the Beckettian aspects of Pinter's powerful performance, particularly the way Pinter appeared to literally embody the deteriorating subject found in so many of Beckett's texts. The figure of Pinter, confined to a wheelchair, legs draped with a blanket, juxtaposed with an image of himself as a younger, healthier man, reminded Billington of Hamm from Beckett's Endgame.

As Ira and I watched pre-recorded lecture (broadcast in prime time on Swedish television), we remarked on the Beckettian aura surrounding the entire event as well. We were thinking primarily of Pinter's dramatic pauses and his effective use of silence and ironic understatement to punctuate a gripping speech that made its polemical points in a measured manner. But Billington is right, I think, to find physical parallels with Beckett. The lecture, for instance, was filmed in a hospital where Pinter has been staying due to leg pains, which remind one of the suffering endured by the protagonists of Molloy. This is not, of course, to suggest that Pinter's mind has suffered the sort of deterioration that afflicts Moran and Molloy.

I wish Pinter's Nobel lecture had taken place a week earlier so I could have screened it for students in my class, who had to write their final papers on Beckettian elements in one of the postmodern novels we read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pinter on Art, Truth and Politics

I arrived in Sweden today, making it to Gavle in time to watch Harold Pinter deliver his pre-recorded Nobel lecture, titled "Art, Truth and Politics" on SVT. Pinter's speech was brilliant - a measured argument asserting that art, especially literature, exists to present the truth - which is largely absent from politics. I'm eager to read a transcript of the speech, which was powerfully delivered. I expect to address several of its points in my dissertation, in which I am discussing the relation between aesthetic affects and political effects in postmodern literature. The first portion of Pinter's speech explained how, as a writer, he works to reveal the truth through language. The second portion of Pinter's speech focused on how politicians use language in the service of power, which requires that language be used to keep people in a state of ignorance.

Pinter chose to use his speech to educate his audience about American foreign-policy abuses since World War II, particularly the widely overlooked fact that in this period the "US government supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world," including "Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippiines, Guatemala, El Salvador and, of course, Chile."

It's admirable that Channel 4 broadcast the speech, which was highly critical of Tony Blair's support for US foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere, in the UK. Perhaps PBS would air such an address in the US, though I'm sure it would generate much controversy and lead to the typical calls for abolishing state support for public broadcasting. I certainly cannot imagine American networks airing such an address. Despite the lip service paid to free speech in the USA, the greedy execs who program our commercial media networks are far too cowardly to broadcast an address by a literary artist, particularly one daring to suggest that the US "has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good." It's fine for a Noam Chomsky to document statements in books published on small, independent, preses, but nobody in the mainstream media wants to take responsibility for documenting the numerous abuses the US government has committed in recent history.

You can watch Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture for the 2005 Literature Prize online at Nobelprize.org.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Class Photo: English & American Fiction, Fall 2005


Today was the last day of classes at UIC. Here's the official class photo for my English and American Fiction section. It was an interesting group with a number of standout students. I had several students whom I spoke with regularly after class who indicated they would stay in touch. I hope so. Over the course of the semester the majority of the students made considerable progress as readers.

In the pic, just over 2/3 of the students are present, which isn't too bad a turnout for the final day, I suppose. Perhaps I should start taking a beginning-of-the-semester and an end-of-the-semester class photo for comparison purposes? The only problem is that the class roster is always in flux for the first few weeks of classes.