Sunday, November 30, 2008

Communicable diseases

I once heard a most intriguing talk by Jim Mussell on "The 'Very Proteus of Disease': Media, Materiality, and the Flu in 1890s London." He tracked the way that influenza epidemics and newspaper accounts of the aforementioned epidemics were received, the one causing the other and (allegedly) vice-versa, as people eager to be the first to know the news developed psychosomatic runny noses.

Now I read in the NYT that
a few weeks ago, Google deployed an early-warning service for spotting flu trends, based on search queries for flu-related symptoms.
Doubtless this will be extremely useful for those of us who like to pre-emptively stock up on orange juice. The article is at least ostensibly about privacy, and a researcher adds,
“The new information tools symbolized [sic] by the Internet are radically changing the possibility of how we can organize large-scale human efforts,” said Thomas W. Malone, director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence.

“For most of human history, people have lived in small tribes where everything they did was known by everyone they knew,” Dr. Malone said. “In some sense we’re becoming a global village. Privacy may turn out to have become an anomaly.”

We can use our brand-new media to track the flu, and are turning into what you might call a "global village." In other words, all your McLuhan are belong to us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


There's an article in the NYT just now on the proposed Berkeley Art Museum. I quite like the new design, although I don't see what the author, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has against the current building (apart from the fact that it's falling down). He writes,
Standing on a rough commercial strip at the campus’s southern edge, the old building is still marred by the big steel columns that were installed after the quake to support its cantilevered floors. Its rough, angular concrete forms and oddly shaped galleries are awkward settings for art.
I beg to differ: its oddly shaped galleries are awesome. I'm also not sure what Ourossoff means by "a rough commercial strip." Surely he doesn't think Bancroft and Bowditch is a rough neighborhood. But then, he does come out with things like
On a local level, the museum could help break down the divide between the ivory tower at the top of the hill and the gritty neighborhood at the bottom.
Gritty, gritty Shattuck Ave.

One thing I do think Ouroussoff did get right is this, the very first line of the article:
I have no idea whether, in this dismal economic climate, the University of California will find the money to build its new art museum here.

Good question. Since, you know, we've fired the lecturers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In light of a recent email I received from a stranger, I feel compelled to post a link to the pinnacle of Jorge Cham's achievement: "Answer times two." It... it speaks to me so often.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Apocalyptic narratives about narrative

NYT: MIT's Media Lab Will Study Film Narrative in Center for Future Storytelling.

In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Kirkpatrick said he might take a cue from Al Gore, who used a documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” to heighten concern about global warming. Mr. Kirkpatrick is now considering an alarm-bell documentary of his own, he said.

Its tentative title: “A World Without Story.”

As Arcadia put it when she emailed me the link, "NYT or Onion?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jeff Sypeck posts some of his google search strings. (Sypeck is the author of Becoming Charlemagne.)

New readers continue to find “Quid Plura?” through the thaumaturgy of the modern search engine. Below in bold are some of their stranger searches. I’ve endeavored to add helpful responses on the off chance they didn’t find the answers they were looking for.

beowulf fungus
One of my college roommates contracted the Beowulf fungus. Afterwards, people found it impossible to date him with any certainty.

how stupid is sir gawain?
Gawain is so stupid, it takes him two hours to watch “60 Minutes”!
Gawain is so stupid, he took an umbrella to see “Purple Rain”!
Gawain is so stupid, he thought Sherlock Holmes was a housing project!
Gawain is so stupid, he believed that every instance of the final inflectional -e in MS Cotton Nero A.x was unsounded because he had overlooked the possibility that specifically poetic archaisms may not have existed in prose and failed to consider that an unsounded final -e might corrupt the meter in at least a dozen places in the manuscript!

becoming charlemagne summary
Becoming Charlemagne is the story of the emperor who won renown as the inventor of gargling, which prior to that time had been practiced only furtively by a remote tribe of Saxons who passed the secret down from father to son as part of their oral tradition.

becoming charlemagne sparknotes
Set against the turbulent backdrop of 19th-century Russia, Becoming Charlemagne is the story of a young princess who gradually awakens to her own potential as a poet, a lover, and a queen. (Tell your teacher you found this summary on the author’s Web site. You will astonish her.) [Her? -- N.C.]

Read the whole post for the most hilarious of these search strings. (Via Ducks and Drakes.)

Curiously, ever since I wrote that post on Mary Hoffman and Diana Wynne Jones, I've gotten a large number of searches on cross-dressing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Austin Grossman has a very interesting review of Maze of Bones.
It’s a story about people born into the most privileged family in the world, who then set out to become the most important people in history. Whatever happened to just owning your own chocolate factory?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The NYT reports, "Tough Times Strain Colleges Rich and Poor."

Well, I could have told you that.

The article speaks directly of the UC system:

On Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed a midyear budget cut of $65.5 million for the University of California system — on top of the $48 million reduction already in the budget.

“Budget cuts mean that campuses won’t be able to fill faculty vacancies, that the student-faculty ratio rises, that students have lecturers instead of tenured professors,” said Mark G. Yudof, president of the California system. “Higher education is very labor intensive. We may be getting to the point where there will have to be some basic change in the model.”

I wonder what that change would be. A change to a model that's somehow less labor-intensive? What would be the point of higher education, in that case?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children's Rhymes

When I was a chile we used to play,
"One -- two -- buckle my shoe!"
and things like that. But now, Lord,
listen at them little varmints!

     By what sends
     the white kids
     I ain't sent:
     I know I can't
     be President.

There is two thousand children
in this block, I do believe!

     What don't bug
     them white kids
     sure bugs me:
     We knows everybody
     ain't free!

Some of these young ones is cert'ly bad --
One batted a hard ball right through my window
and my gold fish et the glass.

     What's written down
     for white folks
     ain't for us a-tall:
     "Liberty And Justice --
     Huh -- For All."

     Skee! Daddle-de-do!

Salt' peanuts!


          -- Langston Hughes, 1951

Hyde Park