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Titan arum1webA titan arum or “corpse plant” is about to bloom in a Cornell University green house:

[The] bloom…has been recorded only 140 times in cultivation, and perhaps that’s for the best, as the plant smells like rotting meat when in bloom. The strong odor and deep purple color of the inner leaf attracts carrion flies for pollination in its native rainforests on the island of Sumatra.

The plant has reached 66 inches in height as of Saturday, 3/17, and might bloom today. Live video can be seen here.

The Apple Store, King of Prussia Mall, Friday at 1 pm:


Taken with an iPhone, of course.

So you’ve seen the Pew survey, that shows that, among other things, atheists and agnostics tend to know a lot about religious doctrines and practices.  Of particular interest to me in the ensuing discussions was Larison’s distinction between academic religious knowledge and lived religious experience.  It’s simply not all that surprising that a religious believer who grew up with her faith culturally would not have high-level academic knowledge of the particulars of it.  High-level academic knowledge is for Jesuits and converts.  (Mutatis mutandis, natch.)

But it also speaks to a broader puzzle, especially regarding the recent games in the press and in blogs concerning Islam.  Any fool can Google up a copy of a religious text and pull out verses to prove almost anything; the connection between disinterested academic discourse about the interpretation of a passage, breezy bloggy interpretations, and the experiences and beliefs of the average believer will wildly diverge (and may be indistinguishable from other cultural practices.)

In any case, it’s unfair to talk about the Pew results without offering an explanation of why atheists and agnostics tend to be well-informed about religion.  My ex recto position: atheists tend to be highly educated; highly educated people tend to run into courses on world religions; and, it is also, in my experience, a common trait among the highly educated to have extraordinarily good memories for trivia.  My knowledge of the Noble Eightfold Path is tucked somewhere between the book of Daniel and the Star Trek episode where Picard has to communicate in literary metaphors.   And indeed, the results mention educational attainment as one thing that correlates with better academic religious knowledge; but apparently with that held constant, atheists still retain more religious knowledge.

Revised theory: the trivia gene eats God.

As long as I’m having fun with YouTube’s “start here” feature, note this standard-issue awesome impassioned Shatner speech by Captain Kirk in “Return to Tomorrow”:

Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn’t reached the moon, or that we hadn’t gone on to Mars, and then to the nearest star?

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One can arrest the progress of a boat about to hit an iceberg with a giant squid.


Today  I:

1.  Thought of Aristotle’s failure to succeed Plato at the Academy in terms of a proto-tenure-denial, which makes the founding of the Lyceum a totally sweet vindication.

2. Reflected further that if Aristotle didn’t get tenure, it was probably due to teaching and not scholarship (“Outside letters compared his writing to rivers of gold.”)  Pondered what his evaluations must have been like  (“Paces too much during lecture.”)

3. Recalled, while reading Plato, a theory expounded by one of my undergraduate professors that, according to some scholars of ancient philosophy, Plato’s dialogues were originally intended to be performed.  This theory permits the interpretation of some parts of Plato as addressing the audience directly, and allows bits of dialogue to be taken as asides to the audience, or read as intended primarily for humorous effect rather than philosophical value (N.B. no clue whether this is a serious theory or even if I am remembering it properly.)

4. Reflected that as an undergraduate, I imagined the performance of Plato’s dialogues to be grand affairs like productions of Hamlet or Othello.  Declaim!  Expound!  By Zeus, Socrates, I know no longer what I did say!

5.  Thought that perhaps a classic multi-camera sitcom might be the more appropriate analogue.  This makes the Socratic elenchus, for example, sort of like a character’s trademarked walk or entry line, something Socrates did that was fresh in the first few seasons, but later he had to do it once per episode to keep the diehard fans happy.  (“I dunno, Plato, throw in something about flute-playing or doctoring, we’re on a deadline here.”)

6. Tried to figure out where the laugh track would go.

ALCIBIADES (bursting in, drunk)

O Socrates, come squish in between me and Agathon, you lover of boys you!



Newest mental toy:

  1. Go to Google.
  2. Type in the beginning of a common phrase (e.g., “how do I..”, “where are…”, “is barack…”)
  3. Look at the drop-down list of suggested searches.
  4. If appropriate, laugh riotously.
  5. e.g.,
..and I'm reasonably sure Google's suggestions are based on the frequency of the search...

..and I'm reasonably sure Google's suggestions are based on the frequency of the search terms being used...

(Also interesting, but less amusing, the number of times the suggestion for $foo is “…pregnant.”)

Post your finds in comments!

It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools, they say. Jorge Colombo drew this week’s New Yorker cover on his iPhone.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

On his authority as Admiral of the battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos addresses a crowd in the United Nations chamber and gets them to condemn the use of the constructed term [edited] “race” with a shout of “So say we all!”

Apart from the, I believe, indisputable general awesomeness of this moment, I’m not sure there’s that much else to say. The poor UN official who set Olmos off by using the word “races”—in quotation marks—was pretty good-humored about it.

Links explaining the occasion here.

Dude overheard:

Brah, you watch Watchmen yet?… Brah, you got to. It’s like 300, but the story is all like deep and sh*t.

(This beast began as the post I promised last week.  Now that I’ve played hooky all my points about the uniqueness of Watchmen‘s narrative mode seem more salient in light of their absence from the film.  So I decided to fold my review into the half-composed post.  But for the record I still never get around to discussing my larger theory of Manhattan as readerly proxy.)

Some books teach you how to read them: Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, JR, and Infinite Jest spring first to mind.  From a purely formal perspective Watchmen belongs in their company.  It does to the conventions of comic narrative what Joyce did to realism, Pynchon did to pulp, Gaddis did to dialogue and Foster Wallace did to sentiment.  All the techniques discussed in the following had been used in comics before—there is nothing new under the oxen of the sun—but never in the service of creating a new breed of reader.  Consider the following sequence of panels from the funeral of the Comedian:


The first three panels transition moment-to-moment.  Such transitions slow down the action by forcing the reader to observe actions divided into their constiuent parts.  They typically depict a realization on the part of the character which the author wants the reader to linger over (for example) or a demonstration of how fast or powerful someone is.  But the “action” that Moore slices into its constiuent parts consists of “listening while standing still.”

For a hack like Mark Millar the amount of dialogue squeezed into the slow zoom of those panels would stretch credulity.  But Moore is no Millar.  (How better to compel readers to pay attention to a face than four consecutive panels that zoom in on it?)  Moore wants the reader to focus his attention on the expression Ozymandias wears and the pat content of the eulogy.  The payoff of the latter is dialogue-driven and immediate; the former, however, pays off in a way only comics can.  When the moment-to-moment transitions give way to the scene-to-scene transitions in the third and fourth panels the change in Ozymandias’s expression is as subtle as it is important:

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Oh, no.  Not the stimulus package.  Battlestar Galactica.  I thought Zarek’s actions were out of character, and designed to ensure that they could wrap up the coup in two episodes, ensuring the audience knew who they were supposed to back.

Key evidence:  The Quorum are wimps.   More discussion (with spoilers*) after the jump.

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This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."