Archive for August, 2008


Go Slugs!

August 20, 2008

Comes the news from my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Cruz, that the Grateful Dead has donated their complete archives to the University Library’s Special Collections. Believe me, this item made front page, above-the-fold news in the alumni newsletter. The Chancellor commented: “UC Santa Cruz is honored to receive this invaluable gift. The Grateful Dead and UC Santa Cruz are both highly innovative institutions, born the same year [1965]…” What is going to happen to this collection? Researchers will use it to study music and popular culture of the twentieth century. It’s a significant gift and quite a coup for UCSC.

The campus is also known for its mascot, the Banana Slug, which made ESPN’s top ten list of best college nicknames. It seems that when UCSC decided to start competing in NCAA Division III, the administration tried to change the unofficial name to Sea Lions. The students of course protested, and the Banana Slug prevailed.

So here’s my point. Getting back to the Grateful Dead, we learn that all kinds of people have archival material in their possession, that the late twentieth century is now a legitimate field for historical research, and that sometimes scholars approach their work with great glee. This is a scholarly community that understands the joy of the humanities and how they interface with our very personal lives.

Way to go, Slugs!

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Do Museums House the Simulacrum Threat?

August 15, 2008

I know in advance I’m probably way off base here, but this very brief interview with Alison Griffiths at the Columbia University Press blog about her new book Shivers Down Your Spine and the Immersive View kept making me think of “the uncanny valley.”

If you have spent any time on the internet (and given where you’re reading this, I’m certain you have) you have probably heard of the “the uncanny valley,” which is a measure of likeablity for various kinds of “human facsimiles” (robots, muppets, cartoons, etc) that runs from “Super Creepy” to “Totally Great.” I’m going to be pretty general here, if you want something less so, then click the previous link. Basically our willingness to accept certain human forms rises very slowly as facsimiles move from not-human (one of those robot arms that puts bolts in car doors) to an attractive healthy human. But somewhere around Tom Hanks’ character in The Polar Express the general level of acceptability plummets before it rises again with actual humans on the other side of this “uncanny valley,” the unhappy denizens of which are often described as “corpselike.”

At any rate, there’s something here, I think for philosophers in the Baudrillardian tradition. Is Griffiths correct in assuming that the shiver we feel upon entering “the rainforest in the Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History” is rooted in ” a sense of the infinite and divine” as when we enter a Gothic cathedral; are the “shivers down our spine” really inspired by “a disjunct between what we see and feel and what we know is happening to us” similar to the ticklebelly feeling of watching Batman leap from a Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight in IMAX? Or, as the interviewer asks, is it more akin to the “shivers down our spine” we get from horror movies, something rooted in the reptilian part of our brain that seeks survival when confronted with the existential threat of the Artificial pursuing dominance over the Organic? Are we staring into the abyss and recognizing that the face of the beast that looks back is this one?


South Side Dining–Indianapolis: Anyone? Anyone?

August 14, 2008

I moved to Indianapolis in March of 1998 and in the decade between then and now I have lived in ten different residences, which makes me sound far more like a vagabond than I actually am. For most of that time I have lived and worked on Indy’s north side–normally within a stone’s throw of 86/82 Street.

I was especially lucky to have worked in and then lived very near 86th Street and Ditch which, as many Indianapolis residents will tell you, is one of the best intersections in the city. But whether I was there or living nearer Nora, or off of 38th and Lafayette, or in/near Fishers, I have always had access to a hefty portion of Indianapolis’ best restaurants.

Not any more though.

Although I work downtown, I have lived in Indianapolis’s south side for the last 14 months and finding interesting fare near the house is substantially harder. It’s not that there aren’t some options, Yat’s is open down there now, that’s nice. And I’ve always been an on-again/off-again fan of La Bamba’s since attending Ball State in the mid 90s–I just heard the one on the north side has started selling vegetarian tamales, so I’m hoping against hope that’s true at the south side location too.

Thai Spice, near the Greenwood Park Mall, is the new consensus favorite Thai place amongst my friends with whom I eat Thai cuisine (that’s fancy French talk for “food”). And, for a big chain, Stir Crazy at the mall has a tasty menu with a lot of vegetarian options.

And Douglas Karr recently informed his blog readers that The Bean Cup is the place in Greenwood to go for good coffee and although I haven’t tried it yet, he seems like a man who knows what he’s talking about.

I found great chilaquiles on Madison Avenue once (maybe in a dream), somewhere near the KMart but I haven’t been able to find them again.

Of course part of the problem is I don’t live in Greenwood and I don’t eat beef or pork which means that one of the (supposedly) best places near my house is essentially off limits: GT South’s.

And while this is an off-topic comment I’ll just quickly note that on the recommendation of the Best of Indy issue of Nuvo I just tried the pizza and Cheestyx II at Gusto’s in Fountain Square and…holy  moly!…it was excellent. It totally deserves the recognition. Really.

So, if you happen to live or visit Indy’s south side, by which I mean Beech Grove, Greenwood, Southport and thereabouts, feel free to send me your favorite places to eat–but Beech Grove/Southport stuff is rarer and so more appreciated.


Applied Humanities

August 13, 2008

You’ve heard of the advances in applied mathematics that led to the Google search engine and other phenoms in the data mining world. Everybody at some point has seen or head a joke involving applied physics, applied biology, applied statistics etc. But what about the applied humanities?

It is a generally agreed upon truth amongst humanists that learning to recognize patterns in art (by which I mean all visual as well as literary, cinematic, and theatrical pieces) better equips us at finding patterns in real life. As James Wood says in his book How Fiction Works (I’m having trouble finding the exact quote, so bear with me as I paraphrase) “Literature teaches us to be better noticers of the details in life, which in turn makes us better readers of fiction, which makes us better noticers of life, and so on.”

Two news stories I’ve discovered highlight leaders putting this thought into practice. One was brought to my attention by James Wood in the aforementioned book. In it Gurria-Quintana of the Financial Times describes the efforts of a municipal chief outside Mexico City attempting to turn his police officers into better citizens by making them read literature. On the reading lists are such authors as:

Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century classic, Don Quixote de la Mancha, as well as 20th-century Mexican novels such as Juan Rulfo’s unsurpassable Pedro Paramo and Carlos Fuentes’ gothic novella, Aura; it listed such highbrow texts as Nobel laureate Octavio Paz’s essay on Mexican culture, “The Labyrinth of Solitude”, alongside modern classics including One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Among other “recommended authors” were Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mexican detective fiction writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

According to the chief of police, reading literature will improve his officers in at least three ways:

First, by allowing them to acquire a wider vocabulary. “A policeman is responsible for communicating fluently. He must be able to speak well, even with delinquents. As his use of language improves, so will his efficiency.” Next, by granting officers the opportunity to acquire experience by proxy. “A police officer must be worldly, and books enrich people’s experience indirectly.” Finally, Amador claims, there is an ethical benefit. “Risking your life to save other people’s lives and property requires deep convictions. Literature can enhance those deep convictions by allowing readers to discover lives lived with similar commitment. We hope that contact with literature will make our police officers more committed to the values they have pledged to defend.

The second story I discovered by way of the Virginia Quarterly Review blog. This Washington Post story (by Liz Kowalczyk) focuses on a newish class at Harvard Med that takes apprentice doctors into art museums to improve their diagnostic skills. As you would expect of a Harvard class, such an innovative approach was not launched as a lark:

Katz’s belief that physicians can improve their diagnostic skills by observing art was bolstered this month when he and his colleagues published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showing that after completing the class, students’ ability to make accurate observations increased 38 percent. When shown artwork and photos of patients, students were more likely to notice features such as a patient’s eyes being asymmetrical or a tiny, healed sore on an index finger. Observations by a control group of students who did not take the class did not change.

But it’s not just about becoming better noticers. It’s about learning that life rarely presents the kinds of cut-and-dry scenarios easily taught from biology manuals and technicians handbooks.

The most difficult part of the class for the high-achieving Harvard students, Miller said, seems to be letting go of their urge to find the one right answer. The Bodhisattva, for example, can spark a wide range of emotions, as the statue is towering and imposing when seen from the front but then “almost disappears into space” when looked at from the side, Miller said. As she pushes students to look harder at the sculpture, using a technique called visual thinking strategies, students’ observations become more complex, and they notice that the Bodhisattva is powerful, but also small and poignant.

So whether you’re looking to make yourself a more marketable person or hoping to raise Junior to take over the family medical practice, now might be good time to join a local reading group or take a trip to the IMA.


Finding Your Father’s War

August 13, 2008

A great post over at the Ball State Library blog by Collections Development Assistant, Teresa L Story.

With all the movies and books and magazines, and History Channel non-stop retreads on World War II it is sometimes hard to remember that many stories about that war–or any war–will never get told because the tragedy of what happened there leads many to keep silent.

This often leaves a painful gap in our understanding of the ones we love the most. It isn’t a panacea but Story talks briefly about Finding Your Father’s War as a way of filling in some of those gaps.