Poem: "apple-faced kids"

when the clock sounds
the apple-faced kids
rush to class
not to learn
but to whiz in their heads
the wonders of the world


Apple's New Creation (and I hope it's not called an iPad)

A company known for its draconian tactics to protect internal secrets, Apple is expected to announce its new creation tomorrow (which was sent out to "friends" last week but cannot be found on Apple's site).
Everyone is abuzz. Since Christmas, I have been reading blog forecasts about the secret Apple device. What's it going to be? Apple remains mute. The consensus among the technorati seems to be some kind of multi-touch super-sized iPod on steroids running a version of the Mac OS X operating system.

As David Pogue wrote in his blog, quoting Robert Burns, “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” The certainty is so certain all of us are in some kind of suspended state of uncertainty: "What's it going to be?!" I have never experienced such a paradox: an emphatic declaration of a device's existence that may or may not exist. When journalists write about the iPad (I hope they don't name it this, as Mad TV humorously demonstrated), iSlate, iTablet, Mac Tablet, MacBook Touch - or whatever the damn thing's going to be called - it is usually prefaced with the epithet "the probable" or "expected" Apple miracle device. Are we talking about an unidentified flying object or a real thing? I dunno.

The device (which may or may not exist) has been deemed to have any number of features:

  • a Kindle killer
  • vendors will allow consumers to download lush, color graphic books, magazines, and newspapers. I must say if I can read National Geographic in full color and swipe the pages with my finger I want an iThingy too. 
  • a Nexus One killer
  •  If the new device signs on with Verizon who's going to want a Nexus One? I really doubt though that people who will have bought a Nexus One anyway are going to drop it for Apple.
  • Video Game Console Killer  
  • Adolescents and twenty-somethings will supposedly be wowed by the device which will undoubtedly beat anything the Playstation can do (Grand Theft Auto anyone?)
  • and even a laptop killer
 Well, if all you do is search the net and check email, then yes a multi-touch device would be an adequate replacement. But, anything more than that, in my humble opinion, is going to need a laptop or a desktop.    
I have read it may have the following features:
Whatever "the creation" is, I have the same sinking suspicion as David Pogue, that "there are some aspects, some angles, that nobody’s guessed." Apple has been notorious in the past for concealing its hidden angles. Throughout the company's history, Apple has revealed products that wow the masses and changed the status quo. Here are some notable game-changing features Apple has wowed us with in the past:
With the company's successes, however, there have been some notable guffaws, 
  • the Newton (which seems to be the closest product matching tomorrow's rumored gadget) 
  • or the Cube. Now, even though the Cube was a failure, Apple persisted and came up with the Mini. So, if tomorrow's device is some kind of tablet PC, hopefully, it will forgive the tarnish of the Newton.
Amidst the mass of speculation, I think I can offer one piece of clear, objective fact. Whatever is unveiled at tomorrow's press conference in San Francisco will inevitably face the trial of the hoi polloi. If the announcement does not live up to its hype, then Cupertino will surely suffer. People will be quick to say, "Apple has lost its ability to produce cutting-edge products." If the product dazzles, then Apple shares will exponentially rise. But: here is the rub. How quickly can Apple's Research and Development team concoct the next WOW device before the public gets bored of this one (which is not even out yet!)? Apple has always been able to foresee a market niche even before the market realizes such a niche exists. Case in point is the iPhone. Apple realized creating content for the mobile web was the way go even though many phones on the market only had measly WAP access to the net.

Apple's greatest strength is its weakness. Can it continue to foresee market trends? With Google now in on the hardware market, I think Apple will have a tough time in the future staying above the rest. I personally do not think they have lost their edge.

My own prognostication is that tomorrow's device will surely wow us. We will be impressed. I have a hunch though, that by Christmas 2010, the technorati will be buzzing again about another fabled Apple device. The question is, can Apple keep up with this game? What will the rumors be in six months? The flexible Apple device that fits in the palm of your hand, feels like a book, but miraculously is made up of tiny nanomites that feed its internal architecture (thanks GI Joe)!


Poem: "nursing home"

her lying, sheets thin, mattress barely a support
she dying
glistening fluorescent light a harsh reveal
of her ruddy body, bare
save for the taffeta pajamas,
a crispy swath of rose embers,
issued by a crisis,
yet, her mouth curved a bit, sitting next to her -- so low --
i felt gravity’s relentless tug
and she curved, wincing at the pain,
although it hurt; a scissor-like pain throughout her entire frame,
she said it was okay;
her hair, long and brown like spaghetti string,
matted by the months of neglectful uncombing;
her beauty an archetypal beauty, matching the faces of every woman who was,
his, an is, an unmediated face of pathos lines, matching every face of those who are


Fragment: The Moon Shines Bright


Stolen Shot: Midnight Cowboy

One of the best on-location street scenes in movie history was actually an accident (although there are some naysayers who say the shot was scripted). When "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) yells, "I'm walking here!" to a New York City taxi driver in Midnight Cowboy (1969), the cabbie was a real-life cabbie. To save money, Director John Schlesinger did not file a permit with the city to use the Midtown Manhattan street for his film. The scene is a "stolen shot," which in film rhetoric means the director did not get official permission to shoot on a city street. The pedestrians are real New Yorkers, not extras. Their surprise is not canned. The cameramen were poised in a van a block away, shooting the scene. The cab driver is an actual pissed off cab driver. No extras on set.
Hoffman is brilliant in this scene. He does not break character. He keeps Ratso's limp intact (evidently Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to keep his limp consistent for every shot). His cigarette falls to the ground; he doesn't bother to pick it up. When his buddy (John Voight) looks stunned, Hoffman pulls him along by the arm. Hoffman's adlib is perfect; after a near brush with a yellow cab, he keeps it hot, muttering in character, "Actually, that ain't a bad way to pick up insurance, you know"; you can tell Voight is a little surprised by the interruption, but even still, he stays in character.

Me, describing him

"when I look at him now 
face scrunched into the shape of an oval 
he thinks with his jaw set"

 me, describing him

PDF Copy for Printing  


Mental Health Resource: Stress Fact Sheet

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
What is stress? Stress is the body’s response to its environment when it feels threatened or challenged. All higher order mammals (with a functioning pre-frontal cortex) respond to stressors in its environment with either a “fight or flight” response. If I unsuspectingly walk into a house and stumble upon a snake slithering across the floor, my body’s pituitary glands will secrete adrenaline into the cardiovascular system and I will jump back, startled. The body’s stress response can be triggered by any number of external factors, “real or imaginary.” For example, when a student feels a professor is too demanding, the same scenario can enact the same adrenaline rush.
Stress is also highly subjective. People respond to job demands, friendships and expectations differently. In helping someone cope with stress, it can be helpful to help the person say out loud how they perceive stress in their life. Never be afraid to ask. Improperly managed stress can cause serious medical or psychological problems, high blood pressure, or even stomach ulcers. We got get out what we feel. Coping strategies are only as good as a person’s own storehouse of internal resources and a healthy ability to self-reflect. Once a person can learn what is causing the stressful situation, they can then marshall their own resources to cope.
Unnecessary expectations and requirements: Sometimes, stuff piles on and we can feel the world is pushing down on us like a thumb on a tack. Does our boss make unreasonable demands by giving unclear or impossible requirements? Are daily plans frequently disrupted? Internal homeostasis — that is, their level of equilibrium — has been unduly disturbed if demands are impossible to meet. If you hold your fist closed and held it closed for a month, after a certain period of time you would being to feel pain. When your body is that “tight”, the stress will manifest itself physically. Studies have shown that the bigger the consequence for failure the more stress one can expect.
Chronic stress. In some cases, a healthy amount of stress can encourage people to perform better than if they had an open window for completion of a project. The problem to keep in mind is chronic stress. Chronic stress pervasively and consistently inhibits our ability to succeed. Chronic stress is dangerous and can cause serious human and spiritual formation problems.
Need for Validation: Lack of recognition of achievement can cause even the most hardy of us to feel stressed out. People require healthy doses of positive reinforcement, especially when it comes from others who mean the most to us. Students, for example, perform better when they know and are told they are doing a good job by their teacher. Also, having good friends to share your life and stories with is vital for healthy psycho-social development. A good sense of how we “play” (how we enjoy our relationship with others), especially with our mentors, peers, buddies and whomever, is beneficial and essential to our human development and is a sign of our capacity for friendship and love. Lack of such dynamic support can diminish a person’s belief that they are doing well. This can lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies. More commonly, chronic stress is perhaps the largest cause of burn-out. Those who work for the church, social workers, teacher, or the “helping professions” can often take on too heavy of a workload in order to feel validated. When the body is chronically stressed, the need to isolate oneself and to limit empathic response is increased. Consider your own capacities. How easily do you get burned out? How easy is it to fall into a pattern of stressful situations because of loneliness or lack of support?

Primary Coping Strategies: behavioral approach

turn off the tv | organize your files | take notes in class | relaxation | call a supportive friend | write in a journal | team problem solving | yoga | remove distractions |
negative: harming others, harming self, destructive behavior, alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
Secondary Coping Strategies: cognitive approach
prayer | spirituality | think positive | reframing perceptions| learn from mistakes | humor | acceptance of stressor’s reality |
negative: denial of stressor, negative self-image, suicidal thoughts, mental escapism

Practical Scenario
A client comes to a shrink's office expressing concern that the architectural plans he has prepared for his immediate supervisor consistently gets sent back for a redo. The client claims that he has worked many hours to get his plans just right, including requesting outside help from colleagues and from his books. With all of his extra work, the client states that he is not achieving what the boss expects to be quality work. Because of his difficulty in giving a “good” finished product, his self-image has been tarnished and he has been questioning his ability to do well; his sexual libido has diminished and he begs off meeting with friends after work.
1. Coping mechanisms can either be primary or secondary. Primary coping strategies are direct ways we can can control our environment. Secondary coping strategies are ways we change our perceptions. How can this guy cope with his problem? Are there better coping strategies the client could employ?
2. What are the expectations of the client in this scenario? How can he reconceive the problem?
3. Can it be assumed the problem lies with the supervisor?

works cited:Johnson, John J. "STRESS IN CHILDREN." Journal of Pastoral Counseling 39 (2004): 68-87; Park, Crystal L. "Religion as a Meaning-Making Framework in Coping with Life Stress" Journal of Social Issues 61.4 (Dec. 2005): 707-729;Pector, Elizabeth A. “Professional Burnout Detection, Prevention, and Coping” Clergy Journal; Sep2005, Vol. 81 Issue 9, p19-20, 2p;Wagner, Cynthia G. "Stress and the Brain" Futurist 40.2 (Mar. 2006): 12-13. web sites: stress.about.com, helpguide.org.


Book Review: The Lives of Animals

In J.M. Coetzee’s novella, The Lives of Animals, protagonist Elizabeth Costello is an aged novelist famous for writing The House on Eccles Street, in which she imagines the life of Marion Bloom of Joyce’s Ulysses. She has been invited to lecture on a topic of her own choosing at Appleton College, where her son is a physics professor. The novella is interesting because it is dubbed an academic work, a strange genre form that offers footnotes and, in this case, two full lectures on animal rights, as part of the University Center for Values Series.    Elizabeth, a non-human animal sympathizer, provokes a visceral response from the faculty — and her family — because of her views.  People cringe to sit at the same dinner table with a vegetarian — “an animal lover” — because it puts into question their own self-assumed values and assumptions that they may have held since childhood.  so, when Elizabeth sits down at the dinner table with her son and daughter-in-law (who is a philosopher) she wonders where are the children.  Norma answers that they are eating in the other room because she doesn’t want to inculcate in them the belief that eating chicken is wrong.  In this delicate scene, it is obvious that Elizabeth’s beliefs are not strictly theoretical and impervious to the sphere of breaking bread in the domestic sphere, for her beliefs concerning animal rights impose upon the familial as well as the academic. What we considered clean to eat and what we consider polluted, has perhaps, defined us as human beings, and when these basic assumptions are challenged, it causes us to defend ourselves because we do not want to be considered “polluted.”  As Mary Douglas in her book, Purity and Danger, wrote, “Pollution dangers strike when form has been attacked” (130).  Pollution — or dirt — is a deciding cultural factor that humans worry about; dirt makes us anxious — especially if we feel dirty or polluted or made to feel that way, for it threatens our sense of form and “unity of experience.”
    Coetzee’s novel is interesting because, as readers, we are privy not only to the two lectures Elizabeth gives at Appleton college on animals: one on animal rights and another on animals in literature — but also the responses and behaviors of those who hear her speak.  Again, the theme of who is polluted and who is clean surfaces.  Elizabeth makes the startling claim that the Germans, living near the Treblinka death camp, were willfully ignorant of the slaughter of millions of human beings.  They could have acted, but they went on with their lives, acting otherwise.  This willed ignorance, this inability to act, argues Elizabeth, is a mark of their self-inscribed inability to be human.  They refuse to see the death camps as a mark of their own pollution.
    Costello makes the analogy that the willed ignorance of the Germans of the Third Reich is tantamount to the willed ignorance of those who refuse to do anything about the inhumanity of the factory farms or lab testing on animals.  This is a shocking claim.  For isn’t Burger King and McDonalds an industry we tolerate?  Costello and writers like Peter Singer would claim that in both cases, the ill-treatment and murder of human beings like cattle, and the actual ill-treatment and slaughter of cattle, are considered equally unethical, and a mark of a human being’s propensity to use his reason, his practical mind, as a means to use someone or something for his own end.  The inability of humans to recognize this unethical state of affairs is a sin, according to Elizabeth.  Because it makes the human being less human.  The Germans who refused to recognize the horrors at Treblinka or Dachau, their inability to realize that the gold chain they wore, or the soap they used to wash their children — once belonged to a dead prisoner marks them as polluted.  This inability of the citizens of the Third Reich to realize their own complicity in the systematic transportation, labor and eventual slaughter of millions of people is the same — and Singer would argue too — of the industrial raising and feeding of factory farm animals for eventual slaughter and consumption.  The point being raised, is that the common element we share, all sentient beings, nonhuman and human — is the capacity to suffer.  The inability to recognize the animal who has the ability to suffer is what animal rights seem to address.  No one would rather think of a sentence like this, written by Singer, about a slaughterhouse in his book Animal Liberation: “Millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine seeped into the environment from collapsed, leaking or overflowing storage lagoons.”
    But I don’t think most carnivores think of an actual, living, sentient being who suffered when they bite into their burgers.  Most American, would not consider Plutarch’s ancient, infamous expression “Of Eating of Flesh,” concerning animal rights, “You ask me why I refuse to eat flesh.  I, for my part, am astonished that you can put in your mouth the corpse of a dead animal, astonished that you do not find it nasty to chew hacked flesh and swallow the juices of death-wounds.” (quoted in Coetzee 38).      

    Most Americans, it has been said, don’t care how their meat is produced as long as it doesn’t kill them.  Probably, many people would assume it is a Darwinian survival of the fittest: eat them before they eat you!  We may care tenderly for our pet canine or feed affectionately the doves at the local park, but it seems, that we do not consider the ethical complicity we share in the disavowal of the animal to be nothing other than a means without any real end. 
    I would agree, that at this level, we are prone to see the animal as merely an automaton.  We would rather not think that the animal has the capacity to suffer, like us.  We would rather consign to a non-ethical realm our decision to eat meat, to be carnivorous — for as Coetzee, suggests, most of our beliefs about what is clean and what is polluted lie in deeply set cultural and familial mores.  The prevailing ethos in the West is the notion that only the human, the most perfect in the animal kingdom, has the Adamic privilege to render that which is less perfect, as subject to himself (see Aquinas on this issue).
    As concerns my own beliefs, I have had several stints of vegetarianism throughout my life, but I have to admit, I have not been consistent in my resolve to put away a carnivorous appetite.  But, as we mentioned in class, even the vegan probably has animal leather on their sandal.  So even they are not fully removed from involvement in the suffering of animals.  We are all complicit at some level with the suffering of the sentient creatures that inhabit this planet.  None of us can exonerate ourselves completely.  But, I think the heart of Animal Liberation, and any liberation for that matter, is consciousness raising; for, we cannot think, that just because we freed the slaves, or that we gave women the right to vote, that all forms of oppression have been eliminated.


Book Review: On Clarice Lispector with Heidegger

 What is being?  What does it mean to be?  How does being situate itself in relation to the human being, Dasein?  How does the choice I make in the morning to get out of my cocoon of a bed reflect my a priori relationship to beingness, not only my own Being, but my relationship to the beingness of my bed, of the cat purring closer to the floorboard, to the beingness of those I encounter at breakfast?  Does this being-in-the-world irrevocably mark me as a human Being, made distinct by the metaphysical priority that having a world seems to grant?
  Heidegger states in his book Being and Time, that the human Being, Dasein, has a certain facticity, he calls it, towards his own beingness, “such that its Being-in-the-world has always dispersed [zerstreut] itself or even split itself up into definite ways of Being-in” (83). Heidegger seems to suggest that Dasein’s Being not only resides in the world, but Dasein, specifically has a world, in which he makes Being his home.  In his Letter on Humanism, he writes that “Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home” (?).  Does my own encounter, my engagement, with the world, through my language, or my body, to put it that way, reflect my own rich interrelatedness to the world, my being-in-the-world, that differs from say, the chicken, in Clarice Lispector’s short story?  Does Lispector’s chicken have a specific facticity towards its own Beingness?  Can a chicken, in fact, have a facticity towards its Being?  Or is it , say, just a being, an aggregate that is not present, not at hand, independent, in its own Being-in?
    The chicken seems, by the first paragraph of the story, to have a certain anxiety, that “No one would ever have guessed...”  Is it because the chicken has its own language by which it makes its own home that Dasein, the human being who seems to be rich in the world, does not have access to?  Can Dasein, only, feel anxiety about its own existence?  Can it only feel alone in the world, or make existentel choices about its own existence?
    But Lispector asks, “What was it in the chicken’s entrails that made her a being?  The chicken, is, in fact, a being” (50).  Heidegger would argue that the animal, that the chicken, does not have a constitutive being that makes it independently its own Being.  The being of the chicken is poor-in-the-world because only Dasein can be-in-the-world.  Only Dasein has a world to inhabit, in this way, only Dasein has a Being that is verhanden, present-at-hand.  The chicken, by extension, does not have a world to inhabit.  The chicken is identical in appearance to all the other chickens, and its being is such, that if one were to die, like this chicken, another automatically appears to take its place.  Lispector seems to suggest that the chicken, for the most part, struts around the house, oblivious to its own existence, its own mortality, to its own relationship to the family, that wants to kill it, then wants to keep it, when it lays an egg, professing its maternity when the child of the house cries out, “Don’t kill the chicken, she’s laid an egg!” (51).
    But in its apparent oblivious to its own place in the world, the chicken has moments of expressing its own beingness, by strutting her chest out, when she feels threatened, and seems to embody certain human categories: apathy, fear, anxiety, hesitant, solitude, dumb and intent.  But in its oblivious embodiment of characteristic human attributes, the chicken is, Lispector notes, “unconscious of the life that had been spared her.”  And like I said, at the moment the chicken is about to become lunch, about to be not only commodified, but, literally modified into chicken parts, the chicken is plopped down on the kitchen floor by the father.  “It was then that it happened.  Positively flustered, the chicken laid an egg.”  By exhibiting its motherhood, its somewhat complicit engagement with the human family, but at the same time, exhibiting its otherness, its chickenness, its obliviousness, “the chicken became part of the family.”
    It is not as if Lispector is suggesting that the chicken became a member of the family in the same way that Dasein becomes a member of its own house, for in the final paragraph, in the final sentence, in fact, the tenuous nature of the chicken’s own Beingness is conscripted to its ugly consignment of a empty head, a chicken head, and the family kills her for dinner, “and the years rolled on.”
    The chicken appears to be present-at-hand; it appears to strut its chest out like a proud mother, affecting its maternity, eliciting an emotional response from the child in the family to exclaim, “The chicken loves us!” 
    But this apparent being-present-at-hand is quickly taken into Dasein’s own hand.  What I mean is that the chicken’s own sense of power, its apathy, and fear, is quickly, and quite unceremoniously, consigned to a hollow silence. The chicken is, after all, merely a empty-headed entity, right? — devoid of any ethical dignity or care!  And it seems, from the story’s conclusion of the chicken’s own fate, that the chicken has not been denied, in its short life, life, its way of being — whatever that is! — but can it ever have a say in this life, outside of which is transcribed by the human other?!  What it has been denied, though, is a place in the world; its way of being, in Heidegger’s view, will never grant the chicken a metaphysical priority of that of Dasein.


Levinas's "The Name of the Dog" and Interview

I have to admit, upon reading both Levinas’s essay “The Name of a Dog, Or Natural Rights” and the subsequent interview Levinas gave on animality a few years after, along with the critical review essay, “Ethical Cynicism” by Atterton, my own preconceived notions of Levinas’s ethical system was rather certain. The certainty I felt was in Levinas’s privileged place he sets ethics as first philosophy. For Levinas, Ethics presupposes any metaphysics or epistemology. For him, in order to have a “good” metaphysics, there has to be an ethical foundation to support a view of being-in-the-world, which Heidegger calls the human being, Dasein.  For Heidegger, I imagine, Ethics presupposes care, or, put more succinctly, care for Dasein, that inscrutable post-Freudian Ego which centers much of twentieth-century philosophical discourse.  Dasein is the central figure of any philosophical approach for Heidegger because the human being is the only being that can care, not only for itself, for its own being-in-the-world, but a certain care for others, an emphatic care that seems to situate Dasein as not poor-in-the-world.  The animal can not care; it can richly inhabit the world as dasein. For Levinas, Dasein is situated in the phenomenon of the human face, the central origin point of care and the impetus for any human action, or responsibility, to the other.  
    This ethical situation of the face, for me, seems to fit into a metaphysics that can actually allow for mutual understanding among human beings who have historically and presently, not very good about caring for themselves or others.  So, it seems, Levinas is positing the phenomenon of the face or the ethical sign of the face as that signifier which imbues the human person with humanity.  When the face is stripped of its meaning it becomes “a signifier without a signified,” as Levinas writes about it when he experienced being stripped of his humanity in a German concentration camp during World War II.  “Social aggresion,” Levinas writes, “shuts people away in a class, deprives them of expression and condemns them to being ‘signifiers without a signified’ …” (qtd. in Animal Philosophy, 40).  Even the women and the children of the guards stripped the prisoners of their “human skin.”
    Levinas writes that the only species who actually employed any kind of categorical imperative to recognize the humanity of the Jewish prisoners was a stray dog, affectionately named Bobby, who until the guards disposed of him, greeted the inmates with a happy bark, because of his happy nature.  “For [Bobby] — it was incontestable — we were men.”  The dog’s almost univocal, almost biological, acceptance of the men as human beings who can play with him and give him attention, somehow, for Levinas, was in stark contrast to the artificial “social aggression” of the guards who distinguished the prisoners as undesirable, rooted in anti-semitism and culturally constructed hatred.  Only the dog perceived, through his own species awareness, and not the German guards, the interred humans, Levinas included, as human beings.
    But does Levinas diminish the dignity of the dog by not ascribing to it the same phenomenological category as the human being, as Levinas calls the human face, “a new phenomenon”?  I don’t know.  He does claim in that interview that the dog has a face, but it is not in pure form, as is the human face.  Atterton seems to use this as a way to Say that Levinas is still mired in traditional Western thinking; his thought may be radical — but it could be more so.
    But Atterton challenges that Levinas’s ethical system is only concerned with the face of the human being.  The dog of Levinas’s essay, albeit a real dog, not a fictive one, as Atterton points out, like Odysseus’s faithful pet who recognizes his owner after a twenty-year hiatus, is a kind of hermeneutical clue for Levinas to recognize the efficacy of the human face and it primary role in his Ethics, but the dog is not there, Atterton claims, (and I would imagine Levinas would agree) to prove a kind of ethical primacy for the dog itself.  And as Atterton mentions in his essay, Levinas is not too quick to place this kind of ethical primacy on the dog, even though it has a face (but a snake — Levinas contends in his interview — doesn’t have a face!).  The dog’s face is only a face in so much as the human being is able to recognize the face of the dog and respond to the dog.  This is where Atterton criticizes Levinas for stripping the dog of primia facie being on its own merits, just because it does have the speech, or the logos, to make claim to its own being-in-the-world.  For Levinas, the human face is an “epiphany” in of itself because the human face, which demands and supplicates, “deprived of everything because entitled to everything” is not the same face as the animal other.  I don’t think this takes away from the possibility that a Levinasian ethics could be established that takes this “epiphany” to the animal level.  Levinas was just not ready to go there.  But, it seems, he inched the door open, if just a little, in a few arcane passages about a prison dog named Bobby and an interview with some graduate students about animality.  The ambiguity that Atterton correctly points out in Levinas’s statements about the animal face is not ipso facto a denial on Levinas’s part that there can be no animal/human breakthrough.  He does say, concerning the snake, that further analysis needs to be done.  And, yes, it is true that Levinas had not done any of this analysis.  But, I think just because Levinas is steeped in the Western (and a very Jewish and Christian worldview) does not de-evaluate his claim.  Nietzsche is not somehow more authoritative on what is natural and what is ethical only because he debunks the progress of Western thought as much as a Taoist philosopher and her own musings on animality — if there are any — is not to be devalued solely on the basis that new ground was not broken.  I think the fact that Levinas’s face, albeit distinctly human, can be a medium by which we can, in fact, break new ground in the way animals and human recognize one another as credible and phenomenologically rich.
    I guess, for me, to sum up, this rather rambling response paper, is to conclude by saying that I think there can be made the claim that animals are rich-in-the-world.  I don’t think that is the problem.  I agree with Atterton.  Just because the animal other does not have a discourse by which to lay claim to its own meaningful existence, such as logos, does not eradicate its own ontological richness.  What is bereft here, is a bridge between the two riches — that of the animal and that of the human being.  Our language, our signs, our semiotic waste, is non-communicable to the animal.  At least, as far as we are able to know.  What would happen — I place this as an aside — if we were to confront a different face, like Dick proposes in his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Dick imagines a post-nuclear war Earth where androids pose a threat to human hegemony.  What if we would encounter such an alien race that was more superior than our own, that had mental consciousness at a level we could not grasp?  Would that change the state of affairs?  Would we all of a sudden find ourselves in the situation of Bobby?  I think we would ...


On Speciesism

“We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as the people do; we are even less free to divide soul from spirit.”  — Nietzche
    The speciesist point of view, that one species has more worth than another, or that one species’ interests takes precedence over another has its origins in the western philosophical hierarchy of the soul, first proposed by Plato in the Republic.  Plato divides the soul into the three distinct parts: as either vegetative, animal or human. The vegetative soul can be likened to an inert stone.  A stone exists.  And that is all a stone can do.  The stone has no interests.  It does not have rights.  No one, except for the hardcore deep ecologists, would posit that a stone has rights, or that a stone has interests.  The stone is no worse off if it is tossed into a gravel driveway or if it lies at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  As Heidegger puts it someplace, a stone is a different kind of being, from say, a bug, and its stoneness is not contingent on its efficiency or potential for breaking a window pane.  We don’t call a stone, “that which breaks windows. “ It is there.  It’s name does not set it apart.  It can be picked up.  It can be skipped across the water.  But the stone cannot think of who is picking it up, nor can it feel anything specific about its trajectory across the surface of the water.  Nor can it be opposed in its mood to decide whether it wishes to be skipped across the water.
    The stone does have a soul, what the Greeks considered its animating force, but only by its nature of existing, nothing else.  What the Greeks originally though of as a the life-force, the soul, in Greek, “psyche,” was bifurcated further, or let’s say, dissected into animal and human parts to distinguish from that which is inert.
    The animal and human soul are different from the “stone soul” in that the “animal soul” can respond to its environment.  For when an animal is picked up it can resist; the animal is not just an aggregate composite of its parts; the animal does have a certain knowledge of its existence and of its efficiency.  The animal can maneuver itself in its world.  But the human soul, Plato claims, is different from the animal soul.  And this is where the speciesist argument comes in, although the deep ecologists might say speciesism is present in disavowing the stone of interests, but I digress. 
    The problematic provenance of the human soul imbued with reason is where the problem arises for me.  The human soul imbued with reason is what is often argued by philosophers as setting the human person apart from the animal.  Peter Singer points out in Animal Liberation that most philosophers have proposed reason as being man’s greatest gift without the realization that this “gift” does not preclude man from being superior to the animals.  Nietzche put it passionately about man being the measure of all things, “We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as the people do; we are even less free to divide soul from spirit.  We are not thinking frogs, nor objectifying and registering mechanisms with their innards removed: constantly, we have to give birth to our thoughts out of our pain and, like mothers, endow them with all we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and catastrophe.  Life—that means for us constantly transforming all that we are into light and flame.”
    It is our reason that has bifurcated the “soul” in the first place.  “I think therefore I am” is a big problem.  It keeps us asleep in the warm blanket of speciesism.  It is our reason that has given us the scissors by which we divide up everything into kinds.  Yes, it is true, that the human being is unique; the human can think; the human can feel; the human can produce art but these abilities do not grant us sole sovereignty because of our intelligence, no more than the color of our skin (the racist strand of speciesism) or our sex (sexism) or the number of limbs to treat cruelly another creature, let alone our own kind.  It is in this dividing into “kinds” which are reason dictates, that has made us into the Nietzchean divider of frogs and spirits.  Even the Adamic principle, that God gave Adam the power to name the animals, should not exclude animals from an equal playing field.  Which is why philosophers like Singer and Jeremey Bentham long before him, saw that universality of suffering, that a dog, as well as an Enron executive, feels pain, levels the playing field.  We all share a commonality in that we suffer and can experience pain.


Streetcar at Saint Charles and Common

A Saint Charles Avenue streetcar travels uptown in New Orleans at Common Street
- the car is emptier than earlier today. Going uptown, back to the Carrolton neighborhood of my recent re-birth.

NOLA: Saint Charles Streetcar at Freret Street

Taking the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar from my house to a birthday party, I make a few observations along the way.
A street sign at the entrance to the New Orleans French Quarter prohibits the use of cellphones
Winter in New Orleans is Stupid Cold, Ya Heard?       
      28 degrees in New Orleans is as cold as -6 degrees in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Most of us have opted to stay at home. Usually, on a Sunday afternoon, the streetcar is softly filled with tourists making their way past Saint Charles's homes and oak-lined streets. Not today, Satan.
Taking the Streetcar To Attend A Birthday Party
     I am on my way to a birthday party on Saint Louis street. It is a surprise party. I may be late. Punctuality has never been a well-groomed commodity of mine.
     A young couple reverts their seats so they can look at each other and converse. Otherwise, the car is quiet.
The Hum of the Streetcar is My Anodyne for Anxiety
     It never seems to bother me, the contemplative nature of public transportation. If only I can always look and feel while I travel. The back of the car is the front and the front is the back. I tend to migrate to the back and look out as the scenery moves into the past.

Prognostication: A Hurricane and the Flu

Hurricane off the Coast of Florida
Still haunted by Mark Fishetti's article, "Drowning New Orleans" published in October 2001 in Scientific American. Someone had placed a photocopy of the article, replete with graphic maps of drench and ruin, on our work bulletin board the day before Katrina in August of 2005.
Computer models by researchers at Louisiana State university predict that the counter-clockwise winds of a slow moving, Category 4 hurricane (characterized by winds of up to 155 miles per hour with storm surges) crossing the Gulf of Mexico from the southwest would drive a sea surge 30 miles inland, right to New Orlean’s back door. Surging water would also fill Lake Pontchartrain, which would then overflow its western bank and pour into the city. At the height of the flood, the downtown would be under more than 20 feet of water only about 33 hours after the first storm winds touched the southern barrier islands.
Then in 2005, "Preparing for the Worst" was penned by the editors of Scientific American. Using predictions of devastation on the Gulf Coast, the editors warn that the flu virus could reach pandemic proportions if vaccines are not amply supplied by pharmaceutical companies - the death toll could rise ten times more than Hurricane Katrina.

Flu season comes every year as reliably as hurricane season, if we shore up our defenses against both, we will be in a much stronger position when the "big ones" hit.

I am not a doomsday sayer, but it seems to me, that scientists notice disasters long before politicians are willing to act. Maybe we should listen to the hard science prognosticators - we will listen to the dead ringing predictions an ancient Mayan calendar, but find death ears on hard, empirical facts. Surprising. America has left the Enlightenment a long time ago.

Now, granted, both predictions above were worse than the actual chain of events - but still, the worst-case scenario was presented - and the real scenario was not that far from what transpired. New Orleans is still vulnerable to flood waters; The flu did strike a terrible scourge this past September. I am sure 2012 is just a metaphor for incompetency more than Nostradamus's prophecy. Come on, let's give more credibility to science and let them help us a little, huh?


Top Ten Movies in Black and White Made After the Invention of Color Film

1. Wizard of Oz (1939)
Oz is meant to be in dazzling techno-color, right? What is Glinda in black and white but a dried out witch?  As a kid I loved the surprise transition from black and white to color, dazzled by the transition from black and white of Kansas to the sparkling color of the Munchkin village. But, the black and white scenes give us the film's original avatars of the scarecrow, the tin woodsman, the cowardly lion and the wicked witch of the west as shadows of Dorothy's unconscious. Wait! Does that mean the black and white world is the dream and Oz is the reality? Ah hah. I think I've stumbled upon something here. And, don't forget, Dorothy's rendition of "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" is sung in glorious black and white, not color.

2. Schindler's List (1993) 
Image result for schindler's list
A film about the holocaust filmed in black and white seems to suggest that black and white only represents the darkest, most insidious side of human nature, but Steven Spielberg is blithe to contend that even a bit of color can intrude in the darkest moments of human history. Interspersed within the panoply of dark and shadow granulation, a colored spectacle of a fated Jewish girl appears on film. The colored vision Schindler sees is supposed to represent his epiphany - the error of the Aryan solution. Schindler sees her carted off by the Nazis; her colored body adrift among a sea of gray. The absence of color represents everything stark. Everything Gestapo soldiers are not but the color of the little girl is: life, innocence, hope.

3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Although technically not a black and white film, this World War II flick reaches the limit of color while still retaining color status. I think it is the only color film that I still remember in black and white. The director and his color expert drained most of the color out of the scenes to give the film a grainy, realistic look, as if the viewer is right there with the soldiers on Omaha beach. It is a gritty film. I cannot say there is a better film in color that mimics the mise-en-scene of black and white any better than this one. A must-see.

4. Psycho (1960)
OK. Now when you thought I'd pepper this blog with only seemingly black and white films, I have finally added a true black and white film. Albeit, the shower scene was filmed with chocolate syrup, I still think the horror of this film is aptly felt. When I show the shower clip in the classroom as an example of the horror genre, the students laugh at the low-tech - but they fail to realize the beauty of the of the edit, the visual deletion of the knife hitting skin. I recently watched Gus Van Sant's loving reproduction of Psycho in full color and still remain partial to the original black and white piece. I think it has to do with the fact that Hitchcock is plain brilliant and Van Sant, although brilliant (recently watched his original genius, Mala Noche, and loved it) does not pull off even in reproduction what Hitchcock was able to do with sheer invention.

5. Raging Bull (1980)
Again going on the metaphor of blood - there is something about seeing blood stream from a boxer's body in the rink that fares better in black and white than it does in color. Scorcese's film is a mixture of color and black and white. I think the reason Scorcese chose this montage was to exacerbate the underlying theme of the film: the vacillation of the alcoholic rage, going from prickly tenderness, as the familial scenes in the kitchen, to the parallel between domestic violence and the grueling games of the rink. I would say this film is almost too perfect to be filmed totally in color. In the discombobulated form of color and gray  

6. Wings of Desire (1987)
If Woody Allen's films form a poetic paen to New York, then Wim Wender's orgiastic love song to war-blown Berlin is equally beauteous. I may be biased because I love the library scene in this film - and library books shine better in sepia tones anyway - a book does not need Technicolor. This film about angels entertaining us unaware is half a dirge and half a love song to humanity. I loved it. One thing about black and white - and sounds cliché but I will say it anyway - black and white cinematography, if done well, brings out the humanity of the human face (as an allusion to Emmanuel Levinas, somewhere).

7. The Seventh Seal (1957)
The black and white image of the Virgin with Child apparition coupled with the dance of death is beauteously rendered in black and white in this entirely diaphanous film. For a film about death, the beauty of a stark, rocky beach - a crusader and the personage of death - is painted in miraculous poetic tones. Of all the films I have ever seen, this film stands out as a gem of cinematic technique.

8.  Manhattan (1979)
So, Woody Allen is a neurotic who cannot keep stuffing sunshine up his you-know-what, I still love this beautiful take on romance and cityscape. And yes, the plot is basically the same as all of Woody's films: an older neurotic cannot keep the young girls from falling all over him - but I have to say, of all the directors in this list, Allen has the unequivocal ability to make cinematic love to his city. What I like about Manhattan more than the dysfunctional romance is the paint brush swathed over a canvas. New York is a commonly filmed town, but Woody Allen's films make New York a character.

9. Europa (1991)
Lars Von Trier's eerie look at post-war France is both a Hitchcockian mystery, Cagney-esqe train thriller and existential romp that will leave you scratching your head. There must be something about existential movies (see the Seventh Seal) that seem to fare so much better in black and white than they do in color. Color is too happy (see Pleasantville) or is reality too much like Kansas (see Wizard of Oz). The distinction between color as freedom and black and white as fascism (and the race against time) seem to be the predominant themes in this little treat of a film from everyone's favorite Dogme hero. I think the prize goes to Europa for the last scene. I cannot image the death any other way than in water and in black and white. Water, trains, floating bodies - black and white for sure!

10. Pleasantville (1998)
Just as the Wizard of Oz begins with a dream and enters dream reality, Pleasantville begins with an illusion and enters a satirical nightmare. Playing on the conventions of boring 1950s black and white television that needs some color, the film playfully looks at the land of Oz from a completely sardonic point of view. I thought the movie deserved a place in this list because it is perhaps the only film I am aware of that is so meta-aware of itself as a black and white film poking fun at black and white films.


Eavesdropping on the Saint Charles Streetcar at Common

    Waiting in the cold morning after a New Year's Eve out! The pavement is moist with the evening's fodder. A brazen, foolish girl prances towards downtown barefoot as a foolish boy admonishes her. Twelve of us wait for the 4:15. Multiple taxis vrooom by. One stops. A couple gets in, frustrated with waiting. A group of handsome guys on my left banter in a language I can't detect.

Poem: Four Loves

The shrink’s nose told me to read The Four Loves
so i did

i read the whole book in two sittings,
even the bibliography,

sorta −

and pondered the book’s message,
you know,

how there are four loves,
according to the greeks,

those sexy helens


like how i used to love diecast cars and bowling
and now i mainly instant message.

how i used to love you in some other symbol,

how i used to gaze on you and blush.

how you ran away and closed the book.

how i came to sit and read

wonderin’ where it all went,


stitching together a story

Goings-On on the Streetcar at the Riverbend in New Orleans, Louisiana

I did not have to pay a fare for the streetcar this evening; apparently, the ticket kiosk was broken. What an odd, egalitarian way to herald in the new year. The car is characteristically loud and obnoxious; slightly drunk 20 and 30 somethings.

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