Passing glances: protests and sex on campus

The University of California at Berkeley, which in the 60s originated what came to be called the free speech movement, has now become a major home of an un-free-speech movement, and American college campuses are now one setting for a clash, which is also playing out in the wider world, between conflicting stances toward sexual behavior. Some recent reading illustrates the issues.

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Sunday miscellany: Spinoza, website ads, and a viral outbreak

A possible goal: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere (not to laugh, to cry, or to condemn, but to understand). From Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.


From something that happened earlier today: It’s funny but kind of stupid when a timed pop-up ad gets in the way of a timed display ad on a web page. If I were one of those clever smarty-pants web writers who’s always talking about things that happen on the web, I might try to work up an essay about this. Continue reading

Language watch: desultory remarks on emoji, forms of “emoji,” etc.

Language is one of the things we’re fond of here at Je Suis…; we find ourselves resorting to it quite often, in fact. (A character in Tom Stoppard’s After Magritte insists at one point, “Now there’s no need to use language!” We disagree, and besides, she’s talking about something else.) Not long ago, our eye was caught by a particular profusion of word forms, which we forwarded to the editor of the World Wide Words newsletter but didn’t think to post here until now. This is the second paragraph of a New York Times article published in June:

“You know, sometimes you’ve typed a whole message and you realize at the end that you’re entirely lacking in emojification,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president for software engineering. “So we provided the solution: When you tap on the emoji button, we’ll highlight all the emojifiable words there, and you can just tap, tap, tap, tap and emojify.”

To which a modest response Continue reading

What athletes have in common with actors

In a books column on the sports business in the May 16, 2016, New Yorker, Louis Menand mentioned this:

The entire industry rests on the labor of athletes. The number of athletes is actually quite small, but, as a class, they are not getting that much of the money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13,700 people make their living playing spectator sports in the United States (compared with, for example, sixty-nine thousand people who are actors). The median annual wage for athletes is $44,680.

Are those numbers correct? Prepare for a bit of head spinning.

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In space, no one can hear you campaign: Hillary Clinton talks about aliens

NYT teaser for Hillary on UFOs

A few days ago, a story teaser on the New York Times website said “space enthusiasts” were excited that Hillary Clinton has spoken openly about the possibility that extraterrestrials have visited our planet. Maybe they are, but I haven’t seen any scientists or science writers talking about the Times’s story. To put it politely, “space enthusiasts” is probably not the best term for those who are excited by this development.

But there’s a bigger glitch here. Continue reading

Reading notes: On leadership and Brecht and writing

From a commentary on the “leadership industry” in the 2/29/16 New Yorker, by Joshua Rothman:

“Crises of leadership are the order of the day at the beginning of the twenty-first century,” Elizabeth Samet writes, in the introduction to “Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers” (Norton). “If we live in a world of crisis,” she continues, “we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for an addiction to the twenty-four-hour news cycle, multiple information streams, and constant stimulation.” Samet believes that our growing addiction to the narrative of crisis has gone hand in hand with an increasing veneration of leadership—a veneration that leaves us vulnerable to “the false prophets, the smooth operators, the gangsters, and the demagogues” who say they can save us. She quotes John Adams, who suggested, in a letter to a friend, that there was something both undemocratic and unwise in the lionization of leadership. The country won’t improve, Adams wrote, until the people begin to “consider themselves as the fountain of power.” He went on, “They must be taught to reverence themselves, instead of adoring their servants, their generals, admirals, bishops, and statesmen.” It can be dangerous to decide that you need to be led.

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A brief post about writer’s block, coincidentally proving that I don’t have writer’s block

Does writer’s block exist? In 1950, according to a recent New Yorker website post, a psychoanalyst who had studied the issue published a paper under that very title. He concluded that it does. But there’s a potential difficulty with disorders of the mind, which the Western world’s materialist science has more or less left behind in cases of somatic (that is, bodily) disorders: we can’t literally see what’s wrong, because we have no direct access to the area in question. Besides, some disorders seem to be culturally conditioned and/or psychologically conditioned. Among other things, this means that—odd as it sounds—the illnesses we can come down with may depend on where and when we’re living, or on beliefs we hold about ourselves.

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