Last week (4/8-4/12) was my absolute favorite week of the year. I laughed much more than usual. My brain got stimulated in unusual directions. I got up before 9 am for five days straight. What provoked this? The 54th Annual Conference on World Affairs. This brain dump is somewhat after the fact, because I put off everything that could be put off last week, so had a major crunch the past four days. What follows is a collection of notes (some to myself), insights, humorous or thought-provoking one-liners, and stories from memory. As a reward for reading through the whole thing, you get to learn second-hand about lots of details in Mulholland Drive.
For the uninitiated, the CWA structure is as follows. 100 cool and interesting people accepted the invitation to, as Roger Ebert put it, "Take a week off from work, pay for a ticket to Denver, get picked up by a student in a hippie van, sleep on a couch in someone's basement, and eat free food prepared by the university." At any given time throughout the day, several panels were in progress with 3-5 or so panelists. Each panel comes with a short title like "Internet: A Cross-Cultural Event," "Here Comes the Globalization Train (Wreck)," or "A Phat New Conversation, Dude; That's Hella Confusing." All the attendees knows about the panel is this title and who the panelists are. Frequently, this is all the panelists know, too. Of course, the panelists usually have a fair amount of experience on the topic, and so have lots to talk about, given just the title as a starting point. After each panelist speaks for about 10 or 15 minutes, the panelists can ask each other questions, though they often don't. Then, the floor is opened for questions, comments, and (unfortunately) unfocused diatribes which are only tangentially related to the topic at hand. Also part of the conference are plenaries and ariae (is that the correct plural of aria?) in which a single speaker talks for about an hour and then fields questions.
I usually skip almost every class in favor of attending panels. However, Monday morning's lecture in Eastern Philosophy was about Ch'an philosophy. I figured that this sort of topic was the reason I took the class in the first place, so I attendance would justify a semester of 9AM classes 3 days a week. Ugh. I did catch the question portion of the panel I wanted to attend, Political Humor During a Crisis: What Are the Limits? I'm glad I went to class instead, since it didn't seem like any of the panelists took a position of "there should be no limits," so it felt rather middle-of-the-road, what-people-did-after-9-11-was-
After that, I headed back to Brackett to gather my residents to attend the conference opening brunch, catered by Illegal Pete's. I got about 8 of them to come for the food, and got 45 minutes to encourage them to attend the conference. Maybe one of that group went to one panel. Ah well, I at least tried.
I then went to Norman Solomon's plenary, Reclaiming Our Responsibilities for Democratic Discourse. Solomon is a media analyst and critic and an excellent speaker. Quotes: "Don't say anything unless it improves on silence." -- source? "Let's save pessimism for better times." -- ? Galiano "There's a lot of decibels, but not a lot of debate." -- Norman on what you'll find on TV/radio. "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." -- Liebeling (?) In 1983, 50 companies controlled most of the media in the U.S. In 2000, only six do. "In the newspaper, you'll find the business news, but where's the labor news?" -- Norman "If liberty means anything it is the ability to tell others what they don't want to hear." -- George Orwell "We cannot believe the principle that some people are acting on that you can take human lives for political goals." -- Colin Powell (major player in the Gulf War), just after 9/11. On the whole, Solomon's point was that media news and entertainment are very narrow in focus and positions aired. I of course knew this, but it was a very good talk.
I next attended The Language of Music and the Music of Language. There wasn't a lot of discussion about cognitive structures, language evolution, or my other big interests, but some cool things were said, especially by Lillian Boutt&eaccent;, a New Orleans jazz singer (who works in Europe most of the time). You could feel her power as soon as she opened her mouth. She rocks. Quotes from this panel: "The best music is free of purism." -- Alan Simms. He also recommended the (electronica) album "Music Has the Right to Children," by Boards of Canada. I stumbled across a Boards of Canada album on Carracho the other day, and it sounds pretty cool.
Later that afternoon, I went to A Place for Humor with Patch Adams, Lillian, and a writer for the Financial Times. The latter said that the funniest financial story he'd ever seen was "". (That's really a verbal joke. It doesn't serialize well.) Those of you who only know about Patch from the movie are missing LOTS. First, everything in the movie is an understatement. Patch has only worn clown clothes for over 20 years. (He has normal button/collar shirts, they're just lots of wild colors. And pants with a seat that goes half way to his knees.) He has grey hair, but a quarter of it is died blue. And he wants to end capitalism. The movie that bears his name earned $300 million. Nobody associated with it gave him any money. At all. But more on that later. He says he spent as long becoming a clown as he did becoming a doctor. The moderator didn't notice my hand in the back, though, so I couldn't ask him what he did in that time. If I heard him right, he said he wrote a paper called A Fun Death.. I want to find that. Quotes: "Laughter is just a context. Friendship is the best medicine." "Humor is the best way to keep a community together." "We had barf-alongs with bulemics." "Schizophrenia is a natural response to a capitalist system." "Mental illness is the most self-centered state a person can be in. Even schizos stop at the curb." -- all from Patch. Lillian said that someone discovered that children laugh 300 times per day. I think that "ha ha ha" counts as three laughs, and that the average adult laughs 16 times a day. I'm certainly far above the average adult, and I was at child levels all week.
I started Tuesday with Is Virtual Sex Cheating? The qualified panelists were Danni Ashe stripper and proprietor of Danni's Hard Drive, Andy Ihnatko, geek, Inga Muscio, lesbian author of Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, and David Finkle, gay theater critic. Andy defined virtual sex as "Any sex act that wouldn't survive a power outage." Danni said that "Virtual sex is the pursuit of a fantasy you plan to pursue alone or with someone with whom you're not really connected." This includes porn, cybersex, strippers, and prostitutes. She defined cheating as "When it's overwhelming you and you can't tell someone." Thus, it's not cheating to go to a prostitute if you can talk to your partner about it, but it is cheating if you can't tell your partner that you visit bubblewrap fetish sites online. Quotes: "Sex takes place up here." -- Andy, pointing to his head. "Why would someone choose not to engage with their partner and instead go online with a distant third party?" -- Inga. "If (virtual) sex doesn't meet your own needs, you are cheating on yourself." -- David. "People who are trying to guard secrets spend a lot of psychic energy." -- David. David also pondered about couples who both sit in a room and engage with virtual sex with either distinct third parties or themselves. What's going on in their minds? Someone from the audience says she runs a site which sounded like "Boister xxx dot com," but I can't find it. It's a porn site designed for couples to use together to enhance their sex life. If I recall, Danni talked about how men and women perceive cheating differently -- men tend to focus more on whether penetration (or other particular physical actions happened) while women are more concerned with their partner devoting time to someone else, even if no sex is had. This makes evolutionary sense, of course. After the panel, I asked Danni what kind of virtual sex women tended to participate in, and she said it's predominantly cybersex, rather than porn, etc.
My next panel was Women's Way of Business which was something of a letdown. They didn't talk about how women differ in their approach to business, which was what I wanted to find out. But some interesting bits of information came out. Appearantly, a lot of women were at the top of failed dot coms. Ellen McGirt said, after talking about women having the same freedom as men, "One thing we're free to do is mess up shareholders' profits, etc." Ellen started Cassandra's Revenge a financial website for women. Her motivation was that she had made a lot of bad financial decisions, then gone to work for an unscrupulous brokerage which convinced retired people to blow their money and had David Duke as a client. (He apparently got in a lot of trouble and is now living in Russia.) Someone said that men have trouble with relationships, women have trouble with individuation. They often have a hard time distinguishing themselves from their mother, their social group, etc. Someone mentioned Chalice and the Blade. I may want to read that. Have you? What's it about?
Next on the plate was Why We Watch: Privileging the Visual, with Danni, David Finkle, Leonard Shlain, and Peter Steinhauer, a photographer who now lives in SE Asia. Quotes: "The period of contemplation after watching is getting shorter and shorter." -- Danni. That is, images today are flashed very rapidly before us, MTV style, not theater style. It's often hard to think about what you're watching. "The first look is the fantasy, the second is reality." -- Finkle. "We don't see violence every day, so we watch. We wouldn't watch a TV show about people walking around on the street." -- Steinhauer. "Violence is a threat to survival, sex is about reproduction, so we pay attention [because those are important]." -- Shlain. "We watch Jerry Springer because the people on the show are worse than we are." -- Finkle. Danni described Danni's Hard Drive as "pornography with a human perspective." The girls on the site are treated well, visitors have a chance to get to know more about the models than their bust size. Healthy (large tracts of natural land, frex) bodies are emphasized. Shlain, a surgeon and author, who I'll talk more about later, shared the following facts. "Of 3 million reproducing species, for only one does the appearance of the female matter [in courtship]." This is because women have hidden sexual readiness -- they don't release pheromones, their pubic area doesn't turn bright pink, etc. "Mother Nature chose youth, healthy, and beauty to attract men to." "Men fall in love with their eyes, women with their ears." Cones (used for color, detail) make up less than 1% of our retinal surface. Men have more cones than women. This is because color and detail are vital for hunting, while good peripheral vision is a good thing to have with kids running around. Furthermore, about 8% of men are color deficient (e.g. red-green "color blind"), while less than .1% of women are. What evolutionary advantage is this? The typical hunting groups were about 12 men, and if one member of the group couldn't differentiate between red and green, he has an advantage in spotting camouflage. Oxytosin is the love hormone (Prescription Oxytosin sounds like a neat name for a band/album/song). It's released when a newborn starts sucking on a nipple. Its release signals the uterus to stop bleeding. Humans are fairly unique in their ability to choose whether to care for a kid. Baptism was originally a European tradition -- if the kid survives a dunk in cold water, it's a keeper.
Next up was an aria on Energy Efficiency and Substitution, which took place in the Engineering Center. The speaker works at BP. He said that BP's position is that "Even if science is inconclusive about human involvement [in global warming], we will behave as if it did [have an effect]." He gave statistics about BP's reduction of greenhouse gasses, etc. Quotes from Wolfgang Schollnberger: "We cannot save our way to prosperity, because there's growth." "... like putting solar panels on window blinds. It's possible to make an energy positive building." "We need voter confidence in alternate fuels. Perhaps we could get school districts to be efficient with energy, this practice may carry over to the private consumer." "The petrol industry is more progressive than the administration." -- audience comment re: investment in alternate technology.
I had trouble getting out of bed on time on Wednesday, so I elected to show up late for class (missing part of a video) rather than just go to part of a q/a portion. My first panel of the day was thus The Beauty of Music and Why We Destroy It -- Part I. This was another let-down panel, because the panelists mostly talked about commercialization, selling out, etc. and not much about cacophonous musical styles (punk, metal, certain electronica) which destroy the beauty of music, but are good nonetheless, although someone did say "Ugly music is fantastic." There were some good quotes, though. "New Age music is based on a position of not wanting to offend anyone." -- Dave Grusin. "Some people try to make music too beautiful." -- Derek Nash. This leads to "writing safe music to get more airplay," like smoothe jazz. Lillian Boutt&eaccent; was convinced to sing a song called "You got the right key but you're working on the wrong hole" for a movie (Angelheart), not realizing it was a porno. That song ties into my afternoons for the week, as you'll learn later. Don Grusin then said he'd written soundtracks to a few pornos, and said they'd show the movie without sound and ask him to sort of compose on the spot, or something. It sounded humorous.
Next up, The Modern-Day Tribe: Building Community starring Patch Adams, Ellen McGirt, and Liz Weir, a cool storyteller from Northern Ireland. She said that some of the seeds of violence in NI came from relocating people from inner city Belfast slums, where their family and friends were, to the drab and detached suburbs. (Personal aside I thought of around this time -- the Internet creates community based on ideals, rather than race, activity, and other typical community cores.) Patch says that the worst thing a doctor can see is loneliness. In today's world, often "we don't have anyone to pick our nits." "Old lonely people create their days around the post office community, the grocery store community, etc. They go there to hang." -- Patch. "Whenever there's more than one person, I assume I belong." -- Patch. "Communes are like marriages, very little thought goes into either." -- Patch. "My greatest dream is to be stuck in an elevator with 20 people for 7 hours." -- Patch. "George Mitchell took leaders out to dinner and they just talked. Not about politics." -- Liz. "If it's nice it's a burden because it stops us from consuming. That's why people call it the 'burden of care.'" -- Patch. "I am an immediate invitation to start a conversation just by my appearance." -- Patch. (I subscribe to this philosophy :-) "I spent 1-2 hours a day calling wrong numbers to practice talking to people." -- Patch. "I'd recommend to married couples to have the same argument, but take off all their clothes and jump up and down." -- Patch.
I then followed Patch to his plenary, Medicine for Fun, not Funds. I didn't take many notes, since I wanted to engage myself fully. Some facts about him: his dad died from war when Patch was 16. After three suicide attempts, Patch made two decisions. One was to only help, not harm people. The second was to never have another bad day. "The first lead me to become a doctor, the second to become a clown." He was a class clown because he was a nerd, and finished his work early and discovered that smart kids never get in real trouble. "I am a clown who doctors, not a doctor who clowns." For the first 12 years of the Gesundheit Institute (when they were running the world's only silly hospital), nobody ever gave them any money. (They had a policy not to accept donations from patients within six months of their treatment.) Thus, they had to work outside jobs to buy supplies, as well as working about 60 hours a week in the hospital at which they lived. "There was never any privacy. The bathrooms were one person using the toilet, one person taking a shower, one person using the sink, and two people hanging out." They shut the hospital down so that they could campaign, try to get money and spread the idea. They own 300 acres in West Virginia (the state that spends the least on health care), and are moving forward on constructing their hospital. It will have concert halls, fun rooms, doctors/nurses will live there, etc. They receive 1,000 applications a year from doctors and nurses who want to work there for $3,000 a year. "Imagine how much interest they will have when we actually open." Nationwide, there's a shortage of nurses, because care has been removed from health care. They don't carry malpractice insurance, because that means you're afraid of your patient, which is not a proper relationship for a doctor and patient. Their total unwillingness to compromise on their core principles is in part why no foundation has ever given them any money. Patch spends 300 days a year travelling. He does lots of talks, but also clowns for humanity. He got 22 clowns from all six continents to go into Afghanis tan for three weeks in October last year (they brought three tons of aid, too). Every year, he clowns for a week in Russia (there are two other trips, which have a different main clown). He takes the first 20 people who sign up and can pay their way. They don't have to try out. The theory, I think, is that by being together and clowning, it will naturally develop. I decided then and there that this is a goal, maybe for as soon as next year. It's pretty expensive ($3500 or so), but would be a totally amazing experience. Plus, I've always wanted to travel to Russia and always wanted to make a difference in the world with humor. While he supports the Internet, Patch has never touched a computer. He writs 600 long-hand letters a week and regularly corresponds with 1200 people. He didn't think he would like the curt tone of email, and he knows he'd be completely inundated with email were he to sign up. He does have a website, though he's never seen it. "You won't believe how cheap you can live if you decide to share." "Would anyone watch a show called 'Who Wants to be a Good Friend?'" He wants to end capitalism, which makes people enemies, and replace it with "friendshipism." "If it's founded on care and love, it doesn't matter what the government system is." People in the audience wanted him to endorse a Canadian-style universal health care system, but he wouldn't go further than saying it was marginally better than the U.S. system. Insurance companies (et al.) make medicine a for-profit business, which is inherently at odds with patient care. (From an angle he didn't really use, doctors in our system have a financial interest in you getting sick frequently.)
I then trekked back to the Engineering Center for a Cronos status meeting, snarfed some lunch, and turned in my algorithms homework I'd been working on until 5AM. Did I mention I didn't get much sleep at the beginning of the week?
I meandered back to the UMC for Big Scary Anthrax: Bioterrorism Fact and Fiction. "Terror(ism) is fear magnified in proportion by rumors and misinformation." "It's very hard to grow bugs outside of biology." -- Fintan Steele. Evidence points to the anthrax mail culprit as an American, formerly with high clearance in federal labs working on weaponizing very potent anthrax strains, who was annoyed at something/someone. It seems that the list of potential culprits is fairly short, so I wonder why the FBI has done zilch on this case. The U.S. may not have intentionally spiked donation blankets for American Indians with smallpox, since it happened before we knew much about how smallpox spread, but it may have been an unforseen "boon." During the French and Indian War, some Indians took scalps back home and contracted diseases to which the soldiers had been immune.
Thursday morning, I opted to attend Native American Culture: Indigenous, But Why Indigent, with various Indian panelists. It took place in the CU Museum's dinosaur hall, which was an interesting touch. There weren't a lot of great quotes, but some interesting, if somewhat disjoint, things were said. A lot of the discussion was about improving economic situations. Joaquin Muñoz said that some reservations have done well with casinos, others have done rather poorly, providing jobs, but no significant revenue. However, reservations who hope (with encouragement by "outside experts") to have a casino be their savior are violating a basic principle of economics -- diversify, diversify, diversify! There may be some neat stuff at The National Indian Technology Initiative. I'm not sure what I took from the panel. It wasn't as great as I'd hoped. Some quotes: "I don't forgive John Wayne because he shot all those Indians, but because he wore pink underwear." -- ? "They became alcoholics because their spirits were broken." -- Elouise Cobell (I especially like the unintended play on words).
My next panel was in the same hall, and approached similar issues in both similar and different ways. Development is Obligatory featured Charles Jess, Mildred Robbins Leet, who runs the Trickle Up program, and Deirdre McCloskey, a professor of economics, history, and English at University of Illinois, Chicago and a post-op transsexual. The UN established a declaration that the right to development is a human right. THis is a human rights approach to development -- a right to sustainable development. The U.S., of all parties, cast the only negative vote. This, Charles suggested, is because the American interpretation of "right" implies that one can sue for it. The Trickle Up program is pretty awesome -- they provide microloans (on the order of $100) to poor people in the third world (mostly women, I think) to start a business (anything from running an ice cream stand to knitting). This program has been highly successful, certainly more efficient at improving people's lives than World Bank and IMF loans. I heard from another panel that these loans have a higher rate of repayment and are repayed more quickly than student loans to Harvard students. Interestingly, women given these loans spend the money very wisely, while their husbands often blow wages on booze. Deirdre, like many economics researchers, is on a "free market economics will solve all of the world's problems" kick not unlike philosophers' "philosophy will solve all the world's problems," and the sociologist's "everything is socially constructed." She does have some pretty interesting things to say, though (and her stuttering pattern is kind of interesting). Her main claim was that development would save the poor and the environment, and that "Real economic growth is all trickle up." She said that it doesn't happen through imperial initiatives, foreign aid, etc. Political stability from the Marshall Plan and the American army provided for European economic development, not the Marshall Plan investments. (Incidentally, I have heard that Finland is the only country that paid back its Marshall Plan debt. So not only are poor women more responsible than Harvard graduates, they're also more responsible than most of Europe.) The environmental connection is that you have to be above survival level to be an environmentalist. If you're starving, the non-immediate environment is the least of your concerns. Deirdre also proposed that poverty (or something, I can't remember exactly what, but something that's a problem for the poor) would end by 2050 "if the world doesn't make the terrible mistake of adopting socialism again." Her denouncement of socialism seemed to be entirely based on the failures of the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China. Either she doesn't think that Scandanavia et al. should be considered socialist or that they are failures. She also seems to include communism/communalism in the umbrella of socialism or to ignore it. I prodded her a bit in the Q/A period, stating that the USSR had problems in large part for bureaucratic reasons, and that a system like Patch's friendshipism would work much better, since it's free from bureaucracy and springs from the heart. She responded that "Capitalism is friendshipism. It works best from the ground up." Now, she hadn't been at Patch's talk, so I think she assumed "friendshipism" meant something like "having friends and establishing business deals with them." During a later panel that day, The Best of All Possible Worlds which I only caught the beginning of, she and Patch got into a big argument about what capitalism was and what (as Deirdre had remembered my comment) "friendism." After my question to Deirdre, a couple old intellectual socialism fans came over to me and thanked me for stating my point clearly. They seemed to want me to say something like "socialism is great," but I talked vaguely about community communes and Kibbutzim. As a background process, I've lately been evaluating my economic positions. I need to find some good critical books on economics written at the Scientific American level. I think there is value to be extracted from capitalist theory, especially locally-based. However, classical economics makes some seriously flawed assumptions and fails to appropriately take environment (surroundings rather than nature) into account. For instance, the claim "free market capitalism is the best system" without situational qualification is obviously absurd. Any parents who ran their family on supply and demand and other market principles would be hauled off for child abuse. Not even extended families function anywhere remotely like this. Families and friendships are based on care and love. Friendshipism is extending this compassion to everyone you meet. Capitalism is a system for interaction between people without much of a special bond. This is why you pay a prostitute cash, but have a much more complex system of exchange with your significant other.
The next panel was Passion and the Possible, a plenary by Jean Houston. I got an immediate sense that she is the sort of woman who says all sorts of powerful things, and offers lots of spiritual workshops, but doesn't have anything specific to say. So I didn't really take anything meaningful away, but did grab some nice quotes. "The tyranny of not using the vastness that we are." In grade school, she met Helen Keller. Helen put her hand on Jean's face, feeling her lips with her palm and her expressions by her fingers. "Real security requires political eros." "The hound of heaven at your heels at every morning going 'woof woof woof.'" "Different cultures cultivate different capacities in different ways." -- Margaret Mead (there was more to the quote, but I couldn't write it down fast enough). "Most of us have been raised to be white males in 1921." "I have never seen a stupid child, but I have seen stupid systems of education." "Spelunkers in the caves of their creativity." She mentioned people with synesthesia, which sounds pretty cool. People tasting the telephone ring, hearing a painting, etc. "Apolitea (Greek - civil society) requires the courage to follow through, or all you're left with is a series of narcissistic moments." "Some of you are so full of holes you've become holy." Re: Sitcoms - "Turn off the TV and turn on the neighborhood." "Be informed on world issues from the perspectives of other cultures."
The next panel, True Confessions featured Roger Ebert, Danni Ashe, and Fintan Steele. Sure to be a good time. The moderator said that the panelists would start by sharing some of their own true confessions before turning the floor over to the audience to hear our confessions. Danni started by saying that, though she's a stripper and runs a porn site, her personal life is fairly dull -- nothing interesting to confess. "I really love doing the books for the business. I'm a spreadsheet fetishist." So instead she shared confessions of other people. There was the ex-husband of a coworker who got his jollies by having her wrap her legs around his head and farting in his face. The regular at her strip club who would have her kick him in the balls (though he tipped well, it was hard for her to get another table dance after his). The guy who was kicked in the back of the head in a movie theater by the attractive popular girls in high school, and so developed a fetish for being kicked in the back of the head in a movie theater. The member of Danni's fan club (she got started with the internet because she had a fan club who would send special photography requests, receive newsletters, etc.) who swore he could see her nose hair on the cover of Gent magazine and wanted closeups of her nose from below (he didn't include a check, so she was disappointed at being unable to indulge). Later, Danni said that "Lots of women are both nurses and strippers. As the latter, they're caretakers for people's fantasies." Roger Ebert quipped that the conference organizers had pretty high expectations if they thought, after 31 years, he had any new confessions. "I will say that for the first ten years I came to this conference mostly hoping to get laid." He talked about his fetish for big breasts, "If that is a fetish and not just a keen interest." He talked about Russ Meyer (director of well made movies about women with big breasts), who explained that he never made hardcore porn because "I'm just not that interested in anything that goes on below the waist." He recalled a panel from last year (The Happy Fun Sex Panel) in which he said he liked big breasts and got attacked by a few other panelists for buying into <social science jargon term> and "a gay man who didn't like breasts." Then another panelist (lesbian Evelyn Resh) said "You know, I also like big breasts!" As he was telling the story, someone from the audience corrected a detail, reinforcing his view that most of the audience could share his confessions just as easily as he could. Fintan then said "I was on that panel, and it's not that I don't like breasts, I'm just not that interested in them." Roger responded "They're just not your D-cup of tea." Fintan then talked about sex and the catholic church. Apparently, bestiality is better than masturbation, because there's a chance of conception. He said that shortly after being ordained, he heard confession in a nunnery, which consisted in a long string of horribly dull confessions of "I had a mean thought about Sister So-and-So." But then an old nun confessed that for the past several decades she'd had masturbatory fantasies in which Jesus descends and has (rough? nasty? I can't remember) sex with her. He said that lots of gay guys (who know it or just know they aren't interested in girls) enter the clergy because it's an acceptable avenue for someone who doesn't feel the urge to start a family. When homosexual scandals of the priesthood come out, the church can't use the excuse "Well, most of the straight ones are having affairs too." The first woman to stand up during the audience participation portion told Roger she was "One of those in the first ten years running around hoping you would." He tried to recover by saying "Of course, I was walking around all the time hoping to get laid." The next woman came up to the microphone and said she was disappointed in the panel, which she thought was going to be about the 1981 movie True Confessions. She then told Ebert that her daughter went to his talk the previous day at Boulder High (How to Watch a Movie) and hated it. She continued, saying that her daughter was sick of guys staring at her big breasts and was thinking about having them be reduced because they were giving her back problems. She apparently thought that Roger was to blame for liking big breasts and went on a diatribe about how Europeans like smaller breasts, and why can't America be more like them? "You obviously haven't been coming to this conference for long if you thought this panel would be about a 1981 movie." When asked why her daughter didn't like the talk, the woman responded that she didn't find out, they had changed their conversation. Roger then talked about how fetishes aren't something you choose, they form from early experiences, and he was glad he didn't have a fetish that was hard to indulge. Furthermore, he doubted the woman would like Europe much more than America, since she obviously had issues with sexuality, and would probably have a hard time coping at nude beaches and the like.After some more confessions, I noted that all of the confessions had been sexual in nature, which I thought was telling about our culture's taboos, and asked if anyone had something non-sexual to confess. The panelists noted that it was interesting, and asked if I had any. After some thought, I confessed that, having lived my whole life in Boulder, when I see black people I often have an odd and curious mental reaction that I don't have when I see whites, even odd looking ones. I also confessed that I'd recently watched Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! Unfortunately, nobody continued to share nonsexual confessions, though after the panel a few folks approached me and said "that was a good confession" or something. A good quote from the audience: "Baptists disallow sex because it leads to dancing."
Unplanned, I hung around for the beginning of the next panel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Deirdre said that "friendism is capitalism" which just about sent Patch into conniptions. Some quotes: "We have to die, so what you have to do, do it now." -- Antonia Brancati. "I spend all my life preparing, and so I am prepared." -- Patch. "I try to be the best of all possible me." -- Patch. "If we all love each other, we could live in cities of 100 million. We could get around on big twisty slides." -- Patch. "There are some great love poems, but not many [good?] love novels." -- Patch. I departed before the question and answer period to watch Mulholland Drive, so I missed the heated debate.
I then got a front-row seat for Leonard Shlain's aria, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, a presentation based on his book of the same title, subtitled The Conflict Between Word and Image. The presentation was totally gripping. He made the best use of Power Point I'd ever seen, since he didn't use it to show abbreviated versions of what he said, but instead flashed all manner of cool images of idols, people, brains, and other imagery while he was talking. Roughly 1/3 of the notes I took during the whole conference were from his talk, which I will try to here summarize. Some of the items are just notes I made at that point in the presentation. If something doesn't make sense, skip it.
- His first book, Art and Physics is about how artists anticipated developments in math and science. The Alphabet vs. the Goddess is about the cognitive interplay between words, and other serial focused mental phenomena, and image, and other holistic synthetic all-at-once mental phenomena.
- Greek temples were originally all consecrated to goddesses, but were later changed. What could have been so pervasive as to change the sex of god?
- Plants can't run away, but animals can. Moving from frugivore to omnivore required advances in cognition.
- A human baby's head is as big as possible without frequently causing death to the mother. A 700 lb gorilla gives birth to a 3 lb baby. A 100 lb human gives birth to a 7 lb baby. Women's pelvises are built in a way disadvantageous to walking and running so that the baby's head can come out. But even with such a huge lump of grey, nature can't instill everything that needs to be known in the baby's head. So "waiting for the baby is the other half of the baby's brain." Culture.
- Language and other sequential linear stuff is in the left brain. (Throughout the talk, right-handers are assumed.) The right brain runs the all-at-once processes like image recognition.
- Because human children take so long to develop, human females must be built with caring and compassion. This plays into the fact that humans are they only social predators where the women are not in charge of the kill. (Think lions.) The human male had to have a brain capable of savagery and cruelty. Humans are therefore both the most vicious and the most tender species.
- Many of the skills required for hunting, like throwing a spear, are serial left brain-dominated tasks. Many of the tasks of care, like paying attention to several children, are gestalt right brain-dominated tasks. We therefore find that the right brain is the center for nurture, the left the center for killing. Feminine/masculine duality.
- The right brain has what's needed to figure out what a baby needs. The left has modules useful for killing.
- Rods correspond to the right hemisphere, cones to the left. Rods are for low-light, peripheral vision. Cones are for detail, color, vision that focuses on one element at a time. Women have more rods, men more cones.
- Women and men hold babies, ward off blows, and carry shields with their left arm -- the right-brain controlled appendage.
- In the early days of animal husbandry and agriculture, the Feminine was dominant. The rise of the Earth Goddess and her companion who dies and is reborn each year. Lots of other gods and goddesses, but goddesses were a bigger deal.
- Around 5,000 years ago, humans saw the rise of gods to the exclusion of goddesses.
- The thing that killed the goddess was the invention of literacy. Every great thing has a drawback. Literacy was one of the greatest discoveries in human history, but it has had a remarkable set of drawbacks.
- The first writing forms, cuneiform and heiroglypics, were very visual in nature. You had to be an artist to be a scribe. Learning to read and write was a major undertaking. Shortly after, the Phoenicians developed a remarkable tool -- the alphabet. Simple enough that a four-year-old can learn it, but powerful enough to be infinitely generative. Pictographic writing is synthetic, the alphabet is serial.
- The medium is the message -- McLuhan
- Non-verbal speech is holistic, synthetic, and concrete.
- Verbal speech is linear, reductionist, and abstract.
- Writing is one-hand only (until the typewriter). The hand that holds the pen also hurls spears.
- We read only with our cones.
- As writing becomes dominant, so does the left hemisphere. Cultures that adopt an alphabet go through a very patriarchal period. Images are deemphasized, words are lauded.
- The first (religious) book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament. The first commandment is that there is only one God (everywhere referred to with a male pronoun). The second commandment is that no images are allowed. It's not just a ban on statues of earth goddesses. All symbolic art is not allowed. Think stained-glass windows, illustrated Bibles, cross necklaces... Having the ten commandments on the wall in an elementary school is even more ironic now.
- The three most important Greek goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) weren't born from a woman and didn't have children. Sparta, a warrior culture which didn't write anything down, treated much better than Athens, the city of democracy and learning. Socrates never wrote anything down and refused to argue with people who took notes. His views of women were pretty egalitarian. Plato, who wrote (and embellished) Socrates's teachings didn't have a balanced gender view, but still gave women important positions in The Republic. Aristotle, who firmly established academia and provided much of the theoretic basis for the next 1500 years, felt women were an inferior species.
- There was near universal literacy around the year 0 -- archaeologists have found graffiti on the walls of the lower class in Pompeii.
- Jesus, though often pictured carrying a book, didn't write anything down. Women had a high place in his world view, and he embraced many aspects of the feminine. Early Christianity followed suit. The Buddha, Confucius, Pythagoras, and many other influential thinkers never wrote anything either.
- When Christianity was transcribed, it became patriarchal, images were banned, the focus was shifted to sin.
- During the Dark Ages, as literacy crumbled, women came once more to the fore in and out of the church. They played roles of healers and saviors. There were lots of abbesses, and art was again produced.
- As we emerged from the Dark Ages, bards sang the praises of women. During the middle ages, there was a great focus on the image of Mary, who is mentioned about 6 times in the New Testament. The figure of the black madona arose from the Earth goddesses.
- The renaissance saw a surge of male creative energy, fueled by the printing press. The Reformation, among other things, got rid of Mary and images. Across Europe conflicts and wars broke out. For the first time in human history, neighbors killed neighbors (rather than tribes attacking tribes). In Spain, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims had peacefully cohabitated for centuries, the rulers decided they all had to be kicked out, starting the Spanish Inquisition. The first Witch burnings and other mass murders of women occurred during this period, the "Age of Reason."
- Cultures that didn't adopt literacy didn't go through these problems. Russia didn't become widely literate until around 1900 -- shortly after, they had violent revolution and suppression. Muslims became similarly intolerant around the same time, when the Koran began to be made by printing press. The Taliban is a newly literate culture. Quickly they became repressive, anti-image, and anti-women.
- Flash forward to the 19th century, where we find two major developments -- photography and electromagnetism. In 1800, if you asked almost anyone in America what one object they would save from their burning house, they would select the family Bible. Within a generation of the invention of photography, the predominant answer changed to the family photograph.
- Electromagnetism and photography combined in film. Film attendance passed church attendance within eight years and hasn't fallen back since. (I assume this is in the U.S.) Charlie Chaplin was the first hero of the world who wasn't a warrior or leader, but a silent clown.
- EEG graphs of brain activity for people watching TV, no matter if it's stimulating British comedy and documentaries or Jerry Springer and soap operas, show lots of alpha and theta waves, also produced by meditation. Reading, no matter the subject, produces beta waves, indicative of concentration.
- Today, personal computers and the Internet are feminizing the world further. Originally, only women were typists -- writing that engages both hands, and thus both brain hemispheres. Men got involved with computers (there's more geeking out you can do with a computer than with a typewriter). "Millions of mens' left hands are now connecting to millions of mens' right brains." The left hemisphere does not have sufficient spatial prowess to properly manipulate a mouse.
- All net deities are female (Indra, et al.).
- In summary, graphs of the rise and fall of literacy and of the goddess and art are counterpunctual. Sophocles said "Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse." Writing is a vast and immensely helpful tool. The curse is that it has tended to repress the feminine. What is needed is more balance.
<applause quantity="lots"> In the question and answer session, Shlain divulged that right-handed heterosexual males have the least bilateral connection between their hemispheres. The benefit of this lack of communication in lots of tasks is that the right brain is freed for full assistance in hunting -- the right brain is a very helpful tool when tracking animals, while the left brain excels at producing the right sequence of movements to hit them. The limit of innate intelligence is the size of a woman's pelvis. Language, writing, and other future peripherals add to the brain's power. Breaking the sound barrier takes things a pilot can only hear and turns them into things he can only see. We are now at a metaphorically similar phase of change. Punctuated equilibrium. We are about to evolve again, but not in the usual way. ("Man is a rope between ape and the Superman." -- Nietzsche) We see color with the right brain and fetch the name of the color with the left. We are now seeing images of violent women (Xena, frex). People predicted that baby boomers, who grew up watching TV would be lethargic, inactive, and the low point in human culture. Instead, they grew up to be the 60s generation -- they grew up with intolerant images, but they were the most tolerant and socially active generation. The importance is the medium, not the message. We are becoming a more oral culture. There's a project in development, Vivo, where you talk to your computer in English. Your friend's computer then talks in Chinese. He responds in Chinese and you hear English back. People tend to chose vocation based on hemispheric dominance. The most dangerous word in surgery is now "whoops," but "hmmmm." By age 12, 80% of the brain's neurons are pruned because they didn't learn anything.
Irony be danged, the next panel in the West Ballroom was Deirdre McCloskey's plenary, Compassionate Capitalism: A Fine Balance. She introduced it by saying that a better title was Bourgeois Virtue, which got a big laugh from the crowd. In the last 150 years, the bourgeoisie has become the predominant class. Her main thrust was that current and recent economic theory is focused on one virtue -- prudence, and self-interested prudence at that. Even Adam Smith (Deirdre crossed herself upon mention of his name) had a more liberal view, incorporating (IIRC) justice, temperance, and courage. Adam Smith was actually an ethics professor, and his other book ("He only wrote two books. He'd be fired from any department in the country") was about virtue ethics. John Nash (subject of A Beautiful Mind) said that economics cannot run on just prudence. In developing game theory, he found that you can't have a game without rules (I beg to differ, but that's equivocating on "game"), and rules can't come straight from prudence. Game theory is traditionally based on pure prudence. Jeremy Bentham collapsed all to prudence, which lead to capitalism. Kant collapsed them all to justice, which lead to modern social and ethical thought. Virtue ethics (non-reductionist theories of ethics based on virtue) is one of few philosophical subdisciplines with a significant percentage of women. Her praises of anarchist free market capitalism included enforcing honesty and niceness (implying something like the iterated prisoner's dilemma with information sharing), it encouraging friendship, working lots of problems out naturally, and benefiting everyone. She argues that corporations are problematic. Adam Smith targets big corporations -- capitalists in groups that seize control of the government. Regulation, "socialism without a backbone," screws the poor (think urban renewal), partly because those who are to be regulated are in charge of setting the policy. The way to move forward is to make the government smaller so that it's not a problem of capitalists taking over. Becoming more well to do entails becoming more environmental, because your concern is not the next meal, but enjoying yourself. Some neat quotes: "One way to be a good capitalist is to make lots of money and give it away." "It's not prostitution if it's a mutually beneficial deal." "Consider in the bowels of Christ that you may be mistaken." -- Cromwell. "All the ethics that money could buy." "They pretend to pay me, I pretend to work." "Participating in the marketplace in some ways makes you more virtuous." "Running a shop is a great way to become a nice person." There is separation of spheres (masculine and feminine) in the household of the bourgeois. "Capitalism is a gigantic engine of help for the poor." "Being engaged in the market is an ethical and creative process." "Greed is the vice version of prudence. Evil is an excess of virtues." "We believe in the golden rule. Those who have the gold rule." -- University of Chicago. "Foundations are better than spending your fortune on a chateau." "Home Depot is better than the Dept. of Defense." "You can do almost anything ethical in two ways, compulsion or persuasion." "We have 3x5 cards of our beliefs and we believe that we believe them." "The optimal way to reduce congestion is toll roads. They have the technology to install cheap boxes in your car that communicate with the roads and make charge you per foot traveled. They already do this by charging tax on gas, but that doesn't take into account supply and demand for road use." This is the first serious road proposal I've heard from a libertarian-minded individual. I think it's still quite problematic, first in the immense additional required infrastructure and the compulsion of installing and retrofitting such devices. Furthermore, she was unclear about whether they'd be private or public. If they're private, a whole other can of worms is opened in terms of traffic law enforcement, standards compliance, and a host of other issues. Further, it reduces rewards for fuel efficiency.
Whew. 18 panels, plenaries, and arias (area?). Add to that five two-hour sessions with Mulholland Drive in Cinema Interruptus, and you have a jam-packed week. I've been working on this journal entry on and off for the past week or so. It's 2am and I get up in about six hours, so I think I'll post this now. I think I'll write a separate post on Mulholland Drive, partly because many people are probably interested in reading that than the entirety of my musings about the CWA. But I did scribble three notes during Ebert's discussion before starting the film. "A movie is not about what it's about, it's about how it's about it." -- Ebert. "It defeats its own purpose." -- Raging Bull. I should check out the work of Bunwell.