Live and Direct

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chowder, oil, and group think

So far, the polling on Manhattan vs. New England clam chowder is skewing heavily in the direction of New England. The only identifiable trend in the stats is that Americans living in Denmark prefer Manhattan style, which means either that moving here has an effect on your tastebuds, which is very possible, or that I need more data. Either way, the polls are still open.

And on a different note and in connection with my obsession with peak oil and the impending collapes of the American economy, my friend Erik, who has worked in and around the oil industry for many years, forwarded these links. I haven't had time to investigate them all extensively, but suffice it to say that what I've read so far paints a somber picture.

And just so I can feel like this is somebody else's fault, here's an interesting link to excerpts from an article from The New Yorker discussing the substantial ways in which Brent Scowcroft disagrees with George W. Bush. For those of us like myself with short memories it helps to be reminded that Scowcroft was Bush Sr.'s most important advisor on foreign affairs, particularly related to the Middle East. He was against an invasion and occupation of Iraq during the first Gulf War and was against it during the second. Obviously, one Bush listened and another didn't. And lest you think that this is an instance of an obsolete elder statesman attempting to butt in where he isn't wanted, pay particular attention to this excerpt:

"Scowcroft's colleagues told me that he would have preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a Washington insider, was by then definitively on the outside, and there was no one in the White House who would listen to him. On the face of it, this is remarkable: Scowcroft's best friend's son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protege; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protege and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group."

If Brent Scowcroft, friend of Bush Sr., friend of Cheney, and mentor of Rice and Hadley can't get the message across, who can?

When I was doing my undergrad degree in psychology, I took a class on social psychology. Among other things, we studied the phenomenon of group think, the tendency of pressurized groups to close ranks around the dominant idea as backed by the most powerful figure and discourage lateral or divergent thoughts. The classic case study is the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It's beyond sad to think that measures haven't been taken to prevent history from repeating itself, but it seems more and more demonstrable that our country is being run by a cadre incapable of listening to any idea that doesn't affirm its current worldview. I can think of few things worse to say about a President.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Back in the Big DK

So I'm back from my brief visit to the States. I've had my first decent night of sleep in a few days, since jetlag was a lot harder to deal with than usual while there. On the whole, I was pleased with the conference and I'm happy to be back. I got a chance to meet a number of people I had been looking forward to meeting, the paper wasn't laughed out of the building and I learned a few tricks for the next time I present at a game dev conference, and I learned a lot about the state of game development and game research. On the whole, a worthy use of my department's money.

Whenever I've been in Denmark for a while and then return to the States, I'm always struck by a few things. In no particular order, this is what struck me this time:

1) How cheap everything is. I got a decent haircut for $11 from a nice, motherly woman who gave me advice about whether to move to Lansing, MI, or not. Not, I think. I also stocked up on Taco Bell brand refried beans and Progresso clam chowder, Manhattan and New England, measuring cups, and a potato masher for under $30. Speaking of clam chowder, can I get an informal poll of what kind people prefer? I'm thinking there might be a demonstrable personality metric in there.

2) How spread out everything is. Lansing and East Lansing have a combined population of about 400,000. But in terms of sheer size, it seemed about the size of greater Copenhagen, which is over three times as populous. Accordingly, there are no pedestrians on the streets, as you can't really walk anywhere worth getting to.

3) College towns are funny. I forgot to bring my passport out one night, and got carded and denied by kids that seemed half my age. Standing between me and my drink is a dangerous thing to do, but it's a particularly dangerous thing to do when I have bunions older than you.

Upon returning to Denmark, the first thing I noticed, almost immediately, is that everywhere and everything smells like cigarette smoke. Even the non-smoking airport. We really need to do something about that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Off to Lansing

So I leave for Lansing, MI, in a few hours so I can attend this conference. It should be a good conference for me, as a number of people I would like to talk to are attending; people who's work I've been quoting for the past few months. I am also unusually nervous about delivering my paper. I've done enough of them that normally it doesn't phase me too much, but this is the first that I've delivered at a game developers conference. It's a new field for me, and unlike an academic conference, I can't defend any old BS that I make up as simply my opinion. They tend to expect tangible results at game dev conferences. It doesn't help that my paper is the first of the conference. Ah well, nothing to do now but sling it out there and cross my fingers.

It will also be the first time Sara and I have been apart for any significant amount of time since we left San Diego. One thing about living in a foreign country: it can feel an awful lot like living on an island most of the time. Granted, we do our shopping, interact with the locals occasionally, watch the news... But it all has a sense of being one step removed, as though we had to arrive by boat from our tiny island of Americanness to do our shopping on the mainland of Danish. It will be strange to be back amongst my fellow Americans 24-7.

It occurs to me that this post is pretty much a more elaborate version of one I posted a couple of days ago. So in the interest of variety, here's a website Sara found about cat deformities.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Apartment Life

It's 5:00 in the morning. Why am I awake at this unreasonable hour? Combination of factors, really: thin walls and obnoxious neighbors. We share a wall with a young family, and almost nightly for the past nine months, their three year old has woken up in the middle of the night screaming like bloody murder. I'm not talking about a few cries for a glass of water, though that happens, too. I'm talking about full out, top of the lungs, "I'm being dipped in flaming boiling acid" shrieks. And it goes on for what seems like forever. At first, we thought he was being abused and we were having a full on Susan Vega-Natalie Merchant moment over it. Now we just think he's a nutcase, because it comes fully out of nowhere every night, usually starting with a chorus of "Mo-arrr," which is little kid Danish for "mommy," so either his mom is sneaking up on him in the middle of the night or he's not being abused. At least, not until I get my hands on the little shit.

But tonight I was woken up by the people upstairs, who as middle of the night entertainment are less consistent but certainly more inventive. I think I've mentioned them before, though I've really only seen the male part of the couple, a weedy, shifty looking alcoholic. They like to come home in the middle of the night and play really awful big hat country music at a volume pitched just right to vault us out of sleep. I sleep lightly and wake up early anyway, so if I get woken up at 4:30, that's pretty much it for me. I won't be going back to sleep. Fortunately this time, I was able to catch them before they passed out, and my broom against the ceiling action convinced them to turn it down. This is actually an improvement from them over the last months; up until a few weeks ago, they had some sort of parrot that they kept right above our bedroom. The parrot liked to salute the rising of the sun with a medley of tunes that were so eerily human-like that I kept thinking I'd finally lost it. But we haven't heard from the bird in a while, knock on wood.

It's moments like these that I really start to envy my friends who have their own houses. Yes, you still have to put up with crazy neighbor stuff, but usually they can't wake you up in the middle of the night with the "best" of Barbara Mandrell.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Back in the blogosphere

So I kind of dropped off the face of the internet for a while... I've been busy dealing with the start of classes, which has been particularly challenging as I am teaching an intro course on American literature. The course has taught me many things:

1) Walt Whitman is boring. There, I said it. 80+ pages of free verse isn't poetry, it's masturbation.
2) America has been weird about race longer than we can possibly understand. I think Columbus brought it with him, like small pox.
3) Herman Melville is a bad ass.
4) I'm not qualified to be teaching an American literature course that covers anything before 1910.
5) I'm not interested in teaching an American literature course that covers anything before 1910.
6) I may not have a choice.

It's been weird teaching literature courses again. Even before leaving academia for Sony, I was teaching mostly film and cultural studies, which is really what interests me. But I agreed to teach this course, and while I'm enjoying it and learning a lot, I also realize it isn't something I want to make a career out of. I'm just really out of touch with the field.

Otherwise, I've been busy preparing a presentation for this conference in Lansing, MI, which takes place next week. It should be interesting. I'm presenting the first of my research that will eventually result in a book, and it's a completely new way of working for me. Much more empirical and pragmatically-oriented. I'm also the first paper of the conference, which adds a little pressure. The original paper that I'm delivering is about 30 pages long, so the challenge has been to cut it down to about 12 pages to fit under 30 minutes. I'm also doing my first PowerPoint slideshow. Normally, I'm pretty skeptical about PowerPoint presentations, as I've sat through enough of them that don't really go anywhere, but do it with a lot of style, to realize it's usually a crutch. But in this case, I need to present a lot of additional information that I can't really talk through, so hopefully it will work as a visual complement.

It's going to be strange to be back in the US. I'll let you all know how it goes.