Thursday, March 25, 2004

Robert Bresson

I recently watched Bresson's "A Man Escaped from Death or The Wind Will Blow Where it Wants". It's a wonderful movie, one of the most memorable I have ever seen. The film very nicely straddles the fence between an existentialist view of reality oriented towards individual action, and a christian view where Providence has great import. If time allows over the weekend, I may say something about it in a little more depth. For now, I must be off. I have to come to some sort of understanding of Deleuze's "Image-mouvement" for my presentation tomorrow.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Amnesty International Toes the Wrong Line

In a recent report entitled "It's in our Hands: Stop Violence Against Women", Amnesty International has come out in favour of voluntary censorship. As an article from the Globe and Mail online says:

Amnesty says it is not officially condemning Kill Bill, a film about an ex-assassin betrayed by her boss who swears revenge on her former master, or calling for censorship of Hollywood films.

Instead, the human-rights group, which also lobbies for freedom of expression, is calling on filmmakers, entertainers and the media to be more responsible in their depiction of women.

"People should think when they compose music or lyrics how their attitudes towards women may contribute to violence against women," said Gita Sahgal, who is with Amnesty's international secretariat. "We are not calling for a ban on films, or for more controls. The film industry contributes to a tolerance of violence towards women. We urge those in popular culture to think about ways they might be stereotyping women."

My problem is this:

I don't believe we need anyone handing Lieberman, Gore, and their future ilk (Liberal and Conservative alike) anymore fodder for pushing through censorship legislation (or anthing similar in Canada). In supporting the view that popular culture determines peoples' belief structure (I'm just making up terms here) and, hence (to some extent), their consequent action, Amnesty has given that movement (pro-censorship) greater credence and a larger voice. The problem is that politicians tend not towards voluntary arrangements, but to legislation and its consequent laws. As conceivable as it is that Amnesty and other censorship minded politicians may be right about the deleterious effect of pop culture on morality, the risk of government censhorship is a far greater evil than the possible consequences of any cultural artifact (books, movie, music, etc.). Though Amnesty states that they "are not calling" for censorship, their position on the underlying issue cannot but advance the cause of the would be censors.

An afterthought:

Having stated the case as I believe it needs to be, I am willing to admit that I was perhaps too polemical in arguing the above. Though I did admit that it is conceivable that art has a direct influence on morality, I didn't give any reasons as to why. This is in part because I haven't the faintest idea myself, at least not in any coherent articulable manner. But I will at least add here that some notable philosophers believe art to have a rather powerful ability in the domain of moral education/analysis. Both Martha Nussbaum and the late Iris Murdoch have written about the literary text as a focus for ethical issues. The former has asserted, controversially, that novels can themselves be works of moral philosophy.

If a text can elucidate morality, can it not then also obfuscate it, perhaps hampering it and bringing about a regression in moral aptitude? Could this not also be true of other mediums of communication (other arts). It seems rather odd to speak of moral aptitude. Being that I am not ethicist, I may have framed the question wrong, though in Mrs. Murdoch's view it would be my ignorance of metaphysics that has left me unable to formulate the proper question. If the question interests you, here are a couple of journals worth looking at (I haven't read them, but they were cited more than occasionally in my cursory research):
"Symposium on Morality and Literature" in Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 2 (January, 1988)
"Literature and/as Moral Philosophy" in New Literary History, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Autumn, 1983)

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Crustacean Competition

Ozzies love a gamble. This tendency is often exploited by the economically vibrant pub scene. Indeed, it was not long ago that the proliferation of "pokies" (slot machines) in pubs was met by a grand public opposition, in favour of preservation of the social values of public houses (this dissent was perhaps in vain; today nearly every pub in Sydney has an entire room filled with rows of juggernaut pokies). Familiarly, the objects of wager extend from the machine world into the animal kingdom: to dogs, horses, rabbits, and other speedy beasts. You might think, however, that small marine invertebrates would not be good candidates for competitions of speed and physical excellence. Not so. Such animals, I was told, are indeed sported down under, and so I made it my task to investigate into this matter.

Thus I found myself on Wednesday at the crab races.

I arrived at the Friend in Hand pub with my group of international superfriends (two Canadians, three Germans, three Bostonians, a Mexican and a Turk) just before the first round of races began. The bets for 30 competitors were quickly collected. That timeless hockey techno song began to thump as a prodigious man with a rubber crab stapled to his fedora called out the names of the betters. Each gambler who responded got sprayed prodigiously with a pressurized water gun. The bets were thus closed.

As means of an opening exhibition, the boys and girls in the pub raced to see who could inflate a balloon to the point of exploding the fastest, with their hands behind their head. The winning boy and girl were hoisted up onto the giant round racing table for a final head-to-head competition (in a typical act of ozzie chivalry, she was given a four second lead). The first to pop won free grog.

Then, amidst a deafening chant of "bring out the crabs," a fish tank full of numbered hermit crabs was brought to the table, and overturned. The race had begun. One can only imagine the poor crabs' position, released defenseless among a throbbing horde of drunken, chanting revelers. Crabs don't, to my knowledge, have aural receptors like us, but the vibrations in the place alone might have felt like a tectonic eruption for those shellfish caught unprepared. Anyway, the poor critters ran, ran amok, each in their own damned direction. It hardly mattered--those crabs that happened to approach the edge of the table were declared the winner, scooped up, and held aloft in triumph. The top five winners (the betters, not the crabs) were then seated around the racing table. Each was served a plate of mini donuts covered with chocolate sauce and salt. With their hands secured behind their head, the competitors raced to eat the donuts and remove all traces of salty sauce from the plates, to the tune of Isaac Hayes' "Chocolate Salty Balls". The first to finish won free grog.

Between periods was the hoola hoop competition. Protesting girls were hoisted atop the table, where each tried to keep the hoola hoop spinning as long as possible (if this sounds innocuous and playful, consider that only the fittest girls were brought to the table, atop which they gyrated their hips for as long as possible, to the enjoyment of the crowd below). The winner was measured by the volume of cheers for their name afterwards, and awarded free grog. I should note that my Canade friend from Ottawa made a valiant attempt; sadly, she was outdone by a local girl who obviously practiced just for this purpose.

The next round of racing progressed predictably, although the sudden death round consisted of giant biscuits instead of salty balls. The winner: free grog. Those of us who were new to the sport quickly learnt to duck the water gun. The second halftime was the six-pack for a six-pack competition: striptease for free grog. The idea was that this was the boys' round, however the six-pack ended up awarded--not surprisingly--to the nearest-naked girl.

I don't remember what got eaten during the final racing round. Neither do my friends. The Mexican and I spirited away the Bostonian women, the Canade and the German got groped by strange Irish men, and the Muslim Turk left sober and uncompromised. Later, I formed a Hungarian-German West Euro union with Thorston the law student, and destroyed the American-South African alliance in pool.

International students, and the antics among them, are microcosmal models for global political relations. If only the powers that be could get along as famously as we do. I am reminded of The Streets: "Imagine the world's leaders on pills. And imagine the morning after!"


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Check it out

CBC Radio 3 site.

Some of you may have noticed that a link was recently added to the CBC radio 3 website. I was introduced to this site by the autralian philosopher when I was last in Vancouver. The reason I'm pointing out the link is that I think it represents an advance in the manner in which information is disseminated on the web. "Advance" is perhaps not the right word. What's immediately striking about the site is it's graphic design and user interface. Most every page is eye catching, and many are elegantly laid out. Probably the coolest element of the interface is the streaming audio. When you first press play, it selects (randomly?) a song, but if you don't like the song, you can skip to the next one. And you can do this again and again and again. If you are particularly impressed by anything you're listening to, you can connect to a web page about the artist that contains a bio and discography (often with more music available for listening). These two taken together, good design and cool implementation of technology, already make for an enjoyable web site. For the most part, the music playing has no relation to the content on the page (some pages will play their own music, but not many), and what I find particularly interesting (and called an 'advance' up above) is the way the content is organized. Roughly speaking, you browse (or surf) through the site as you would a magazine, clicking on a page icon on the upper right hand corner to symbolically turn the page. There is however no table of contents. There's no sitemap page that splits all of the content into broad categories and then further subdivides them to expedite your information gathering. I referred to this as an advance above because I think it is one of the first sites (first site I've seen) to actually make use of the way in which many people surf the web. Perhaps I am part of a small minority, but I often find myself almost randomly going from page to page with no particular goal in mind, simply following my whim. It is not information of any specific category that I am looking for, but simply interesting information. Some might say that it is to its detriment that this site forces you to relinquish the sense of control inherent in following your own whim, but I think it is rather interesting.
springtime in portland
the daffodils are blooming
and it is raining