Saturday, October 29, 2011

Narrative & Catastrophe

In the life of a professor, there's always a new project waiting in the wings.  So, I no sooner finish the grant proposal than I have to start thinking about the conference papers I'll be proposing.

There's an upcoming conference on "Catastrophe and Change" and my thinking is that, given the past several years of my life, this oughta be right up my alley.

I actually have ideas for two separate proposals, so it'll merely be a question of whether I can pull them together in time.  I think I can, I think I can...

So I'm going to muse a bit about one of them here, in the hopes that this will speed the proposal along a bit.

I've always wanted to write about John Hersey's Hiroshima.  I blogged about it a bit last year, in my post about the fact that Rhode Island still celebrates VJ day (Victories, Pyrrhic or Not).

There's an excellent article by Steven Rothman detailing the history and circumstances behind the publication of Hersey's essay in The New Yorker in 1946.  The story of its publication alone is an interesting fact of American culture and its response to the end of World War II, the start of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

The intensity of the subject matter Hersey writes about goes without saying.  In spite of its brevity and the accessibility of its style, Hiroshima is not an easy book to read.

Henrik Hertzberg phrased it best, I think, in Hersey's obituary in The New Yorker in 1993:
"If ever there was a subject calculated to make a writer overwrought and a piece overwritten, it was the bombing of Hiroshima; yet Hersey's reporting was so meticulous, his sentences and paragraphs were so clear, calm, and restrained, that the horror of the story he had to tell came through all the more chillingly."
The self-described "flat style" that Hersey adopted to convey the accounts of six of the survivors of the atomic blast is an interesting study in narrative perspective.  The details are horrific, but the style is always calm: one survivor describes being stopped by a soldier who realizes that something is wrong because he can't see.

He doesn't realize that he can't see because his eyeballs have melted and are running down the front of his face.

This is the challenge that Hersey effectively faced: how to put into human language sights that defy human comprehension.  And to do it in a way that does justice to the events and their witnesses.

When I teach literary journalism, we spend a great deal of time talking about "objectivity"--what it is, who has it, how we can know, why it's beneficial.  We also spend a great deal of time talking about the advantages of subjectivity in writing: how do you balance the benefits of the emotional connection you can forge with your reader through subjective engagement against the necessity of historical accuracy?

We discuss the distinctions between those who witness, and those who write.  The question of narrative voice takes on a very different kind of urgency when you purport to speak for a victim--or a perpetrator.

What I want to look at is the specifics of Hersey's use of narrative voice (what he describes, how and why) in contrast to the information offered in "The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," the document created by The Manhattan Project Investigating Group.

In August of 1945, just days after the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American military organized an effort "to secure scientific, technical and medical intelligence in the atomic bomb field from within Japan as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities."

One group went to Hiroshima, one to Nagasaki, and a third focused on "information concerning general Japanese activities in the field of atomic bombs." 

Their mission served two primary purposes: "[t]o make certain that no unusual hazards were present in the bombed cities" and "[t]o secure all possible information concerning the effects of the bombs, both usual and unusual, and particularly with regard to radioactive effects, if any, on the targets or elsewhere."

I'm interested in comparing and contrasting how the members of these information-gathering groups use language to describe precisely the same phenomena as those described by Hersey.  All of the writers and observers are interested in "intelligence" and "information," broadly defined.  Clearly, something very different and profoundly important, with extensive implications for the future of humanity itself, happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

The approach to communicating that intelligence, however, is obviously very different.  For instance, in Chapter 3: Summary of Damages and Injuries, The Manhattan Investigating Group parenthetically indicates that, for the purposes of its report, "the point directly under the explosion" "will hereafter in this report be referred to as X."

And it is.  As the report indicates in Chapter 17: Flash Burn,

...a characteristic feature of the atomic bomb, which is quite foreign to ordinary explosives, is that a very appreciable fraction of the energy liberated goes into radiant heat and light. For a sufficiently large explosion, the flash burn produced by this radiated energy will become the dominant cause of damage, since the area of burn damage will increase in proportion to the energy released, whereas the area of blast damage increases only with the two-thirds power of the energy.  
In Chapter 19: Burns, "The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" concludes that
[t]he maximum distance from X at which flash burns were observed is of paramount interest. It has been estimated that patients with burns at Hiroshima were all less than 7,500 feet from the center of the explosion at the time of the
bombing. At Nagasaki, patients with burns were observed out to the remarkable distance of 13,800 feet.
When you contrast these official descriptions with Hersey's account of a survivor who has to repeatedly remind himself that "these are human beings" in order to fight off the overwhelming nausea that would otherwise prevent him from helping the injured, I think you can begin to make an interesting argument about the moral and ethical implications of narrative descriptions of global catastrophe.

My goal is to make this argument and to see what conclusions (if any) I can draw about the function and purpose of "objectivity" in narratives of catastrophe.

As I think through these ideas, I'm reminded of the words of the Japanese photographer Yosuke Yamahata who photographed the devastation of Nagasaki less than 24 hours after it occurred. 

In the words of Rupert Jenkins, Yamahata's photographs represent "the only extensive photographic record of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki" (Nagasaki Journey). 

Despite The Manhattan Project Investigating Group's "[f]ailure to find any clinical evidence of persons harmed by persistent radioactivity," Yamahata himself died of cancer twenty years later, probably as a result of the residual effects of radiation exposure at Nagasaki in the aftermath of the bombings.

In "Photographing the Bomb: A Memo," written seven years later, in 1952, Yamahata notes,
Human memory has a tendency to slip, and critical judgment to fade, with the years and with changes in life-style and circumstance. But the camera, just as it seized the grim realities of that time, brings the stark facts of seven years ago before our eyes without the need for the slightest embellishment. Today, with the remarkable recovery made by both Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it may be difficult to recall the past, but these photographs will continue to provide us with an unwavering testimony to the realities of that time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"A Good Life"

Sometimes there's airplanes I can't jump out
Sometimes there's bullshit that don't work now
We are god of stories but please tell me
What there is to complain about?

When you're happy like a fool
Let it take you over
When everything is out
You gotta take it in...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Temper, Temper

Once again I'm coming off of a week in which I was too busy to think and almost too busy to breathe.  And it's not over yet... but as God is my witness, I WILL get my grading finished by Tuesday.

I have to.  Another batch of papers is coming in on Tuesday night.

But I need a change of pace, so I think I'll blog about the bugs.  It's an all-out war.  As George Costanza's father shouted when he spotted a mouse, "I will not tolerate infestation!!!!"

Actually, I shouted that a few times as I was cleaning out my pantry last weekend.  It was my desperate effort to make myself laugh at the creepy-crawly grossness.

It turns out, the toaster had been compromised.  So I tossed it.  This may sound insane and you're probably thinking, "But just clean it... I'm sure it'll be fine...."

Oh, are you?  Are you really?  Would you keep that cavalier attitude if you knew that there was a possibility that dozens of THESE had been crawling around inside of it?

English muffin, anyone?

Yeah, I didn't think so.  Indian meal moth eggs are microscopic and each moth lays hundreds of them

Don't be naive, soldier.  There is NO margin for error here.

And if it sounds like I've gone off the deep end about this, I'd like to see how zen you are after lying on your back and your stomach with your feet hanging out of a pantry cupboard that just happens to have a lazy susan installed, trying desperately to believe that this is a battle you can actually win with a vacuum cleaner.

I can't even get to the back of the cupboard to clean it: I don't fit.

I read somewhere that they don't like bay leaves, so I put them into my canisters of flour and sugar, hoping for the best.  I never found any in there, ever, so I'm hoping.

Of course this meant that when I sleepily took the lid off of the sugar canister bright and early one morning to fix myself a nice cup of coffee, I almost jumped out of my skin.

"It's only a bay leaf.  That I put there.  Myself.  It'll be okay."

I have no idea whether this will work, but I couldn't resist a completely vindictive gesture: I was making jelly with jalapenos, and I actually put a couple of seeds on the shelf where I had found the worms.

I hope they crawl right into that little capsacin landmine and it blows their disgusting little red heads off.

Really, I'm not a violent person.  Not at all.  But it isn't much fun to live in fear every time you want to cook or eat a whole grain.  Or open the pantry.

I think the stress is taking its toll.  I bought a new trash can (not because of the bugs, but because I wanted a smaller one that fit under the sink) and the latch on it crapped out after a week.  So much for the cheap plastic option from Target.

I got so annoyed that it wouldn't stay shut that I actually pounded the lid repeatedly with my fist and then kicked the trash can.  When I realized what I was doing, I yelled, "Walk it off!" and... walked it off.

Yeah, I have a temper.  I inherited it from my dad.  We're amazingly balanced and easygoing most of the time (we're Libras after all), but every now and then, something sends us right over the edge. 

I got mad at a roll of cheap plastic wrap one time (couldn't find the end and it just kept peeling out in small strips, not a full length), so I pounded it like baseball bat on the kitchen counter and flung it against the wall.

I walked that one off too.

Time to meet your maker, meal moths.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going Buggy

To my great shame I must admit: I have bugs.

In my pantry.  It started this summer, when I was away a lot.  I discovered, upon my grief-stricken return, that I had what are known as Indian Meal Moths in my rice.  The rice was old, it had been stored for a while, I threw it out and moved on with my life.

I bought two new, five-pound-bags of rice.  I bet you can see where this is headed.

On Sunday, I discovered larvae.  In my new bags of rice.  And my raisins.  And my barley.  And my cocoa.

When I finished shrieking and flinging things in the trash and running them out to the curb, I ran shrieking to my computer and being typing furiously.

Turns out, these bugs can be quite difficult to control or eliminate: in a lot of cases, their eggs are actually on the food that you buy.

Yeah, hey, thanks for that, Uncle Ben.  I didn't think it was possible to feel more skeeved out than I already did, but it is.

Obviously, it won't hurt you if you ingest the eggs or the larvae--or probably the moths, for that matter--although I'm reminded of the insane convict Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  He liked to eat flies.  Then he progressed to spiders, I think, then birds.

When he subsequently asked for a kitten, they told him, "No."

So anyway, there are discussion boards out there for all of those fellow-sufferers of the Meal Moths.  God, they are gross.  There is nothing that makes you less inclined to eat rice than to see it... moving.

Oh, and if you're sitting there thinking, "Well, but that's her problem: I know I'm good because I have everything stored in airtight containers," then I should let you know that while you sit on your high horse, the little moth larvae are clutching their grain-filled bellies while they laugh and laugh.

"Airtight" is meaningless.  I found one in a tupperware of barley that hadn't been opened in a year.  My new bags of rice were SEALED.

They can get in.  They just can.  If you store your grains in the fridge or the freezer, you'll prevent the eggs from hatching, if they're already in there.  Which they might well be.

One person traced the source of their home-infestation not to grain, but to a box of plastic baggies.  Basically, if it's stored for any length of time in a warehouse, it can have the eggs.

My only hope--and I realize it's a slim one, but believe me, if you saw these things, you'd clutch at any hope you could find--is that, by catching them in the "larva" stage this time around, I may have interrupted their life cycle.

I threw everything out.  I cleaned the entire pantry.  I put new bags of stuff in the fridge.  My hope is, if they're still in there, in egg-form, they can hatch but then they'll starve. 

As I said, a slim hope.  I'm clinging to it nevertheless.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Birthday With Bukowski

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I'll be 43.  And since I'll be on the road most of the day, I thought I'd blog about it today.

It's been an odd and difficult year--two years, actually--if you think about the fact that my mom died in March of 2010.

I learned a lot about life and what it does and what if offers and how you can respond. 

You can always blame someone else.  Nothing new there.

Or you can learn something new, about yourself and other people. 

What was really driven home to me in all of that is, it's just as easy--if not easier--to treat people well.  If you have--as one guy once put it to me (with a chuckle, unfortunately)--"a long history of treating women badly," you'll end up living out that legacy. 

People don't forget.

Women always have fathers and brothers and sons and husbands, as well as sisters and friends and cousins, so even if you think the damage is limited, you're always making a lot of people quite angry, when you treat someone badly. 

And they quietly watch and wait.  Most of the time, people won't openly take a stand against someone that they feel is behaving badly.  They don't like to get involved. 

But when they see a chance, they remember what happened and they speak and they act, quietly.

That was what stood out to me in my own experience this year: how many men will quietly approach and tell their wives to warn a woman they like and respect that a guy isn't all he's pretending to be.

And everyone has a story, it seems.  When it hits the fan, that's what comes out: all of the stories from years ago.  People want you to realize that you're not wrong, that what happened to you has happened to them.

It's how community is forged, through collective support.  In good times, but especially in bad.

I think of my favorite scene in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (a scene I actually wrote about, years ago). For years, Jason Compson has been sneaking around, confiscating money his sister sends him for the care of her daughter and pretending to reject the money outright, to honor his mother's wishes.

He pretends to be a dutiful brother and son, but outside of the home (and inside of it too, as it turns out), he's actually a bully and a loud-mouth. 

And everyone knows it: his family has lived in the same town all of their lives.  Everyone knows everyone.

Jason thinks women are fools.  He thinks he can do what he wants and treat them however he pleases.   He thinks he's entitled, because he's "the man" of the family.  His life didn't work out the way it should have: in his opinion, everyone else took what was supposed to be his.  He was deserving, they were not.  Life isn't fair and he has a right to be angry. 

His narrative is a litany of bitterness and scorn and blame.

Faulkner ultimately sends Jason on a wild goose chase and drags him through the mud--and a huge patch of poison ivy (my favorite moment).  When his teenaged niece meets a man, she steals the money her mother has been sending Jason and runs off.

Jason calls the sheriff, determined to have her found and arrested:  "Jason told him, his sense of injury and impotence feeding upon its own sound, so that after a time he forgot his haste in the violent cumulation of his self justification and his outrage" (378).

But instead, the sheriff simply listens to Jason's rant and then asks a series of questions.  He offers a string of quiet observations: "But you don't know they done it.  You just think so", and "What were you doing with three thousand dollars hid in the house?" and "Did your mother know you had that much on the place?" and "What do you aim to do with that girl, if you catch them?" (378-379).

When Jason angrily insists that "How I conduct my family is no business of yours," the sheriff notes, "You drove her away from home... And I have some suspicions about who that money belongs to that I don't reckon I'll ever know for certain." (379-380).

Although the law is theoretically on Jason's side, the sheriff turns Jason's years of self-vindication and angry insistence on "proof" against him, in the end.  He has treated everyone around him like crap (to put it mildly), and he's done so for years.

Now they won't help him.  When the chips are down, they refuse to back him.  They pretend they don't see.

They remember.  So they help his niece, simply by doing nothing to help him.

When Jason finally realizes, "You're not going to make any effort to catch them for me?", the sheriff comments, "That's not any of my business, Jason. If you had any actual proof.  I'd have to act.  But without that I dont figger its any of my business" (380).

Jason has spent his life taking everyone's inventory but his own and angrily telling the people around him that they should mind their own business. 

So, in the end, they do.

In my own case, out of a drama that might so easily have led to a legacy of serious male-bashing and vindictive and snarky cat-fighting, I can only say that, at the end of the day, I like people. 

They're Faulkner's sheriff, more often than not.

There's always more to someone than meets the eye.  If you use people for your own advantage, you end up forgetting that because eventually you get to the point where you see only what is useful to yourself. 

You forget what's beneath the surface.

It's in that spirit that I found this poem for my birthday.  Somewhat ironically, it's by Charles Bukowski, with whom I'm quite certain I would have had serious issues, were we ever to attempt to speak to one another.  And he certainly wasn't the most upbeat or people-friendly of poets.

Or was he?  Luckily, he wrote poetry, so that we can always think and wonder and admire.

"Poem for My 43rd Birthday"
To end up alone
in a tomb of a room
without cigarettes
or wine--
just a lightbulb
and a potbelly,
and glad to have
the room. the morning
they're out there
making money:
judges, carpenters,
plumbers, doctors,
newsboys, policemen,
barbers, carwashers,
dentists, florists,
waitresses, cooks,
and you turn over
to your left side
to get the sun
on your back
and out
of your eyes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Mean-Eyed Cat"

This is one of my favorite country songs.

It contains two pieces of essential life-advice:

1) Never question what a woman spends to accessorize.
2) Don't disrespect the cat.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tomato Sauce and Aerosmith and Other Random Things

I think I have been busier in the past month than I have been in a long time, if the infrequency of my blog postings is any indication.  There just doesn't seem to be time to write, or if there is, there isn't time to read something interesting and then write about it.

In short, the semester's ON.

I spent the weekend finishing up the last of the summer's canning extravaganza.  I finally made the last batch of tomato sauce from my garden tomatoes.  I ended up with about 10 quarts of it, I think.  It's all a blur.

And, as always, I found that the key to the entire process is finding the right band to listen to.

I'm not sure why the (really rather obscene) lyrics of "Walk This Way" seem to be particularly good to sing along with while processing tomatoes in a food mill, but that has been my own personal experience.  (When it comes time to stir the sauce, though, you need to switch to "Sweet Emotion" or "Dream On," I find.)

"Schoolgirl sweetie with a classy kind of sassy..."

On an odd side note, while I was looking on the web for "Walk This Way," I found someone who actually wanted to know what the lyrics meant, because they didn't know. 

They were told.  So now someone has some serious new knowledge to consider.

I find that looking at the comments on videos on YouTube is often more fun than watching the video itself.  My favorite was an instructional video for the macarena.   

It was truly bizarre: a British woman was demonstrating how to do the macarena and around her were various children in disco-type outfits who repeated the various dance steps with her.

A commenter wrote, "What the fuck am I watching?" 

And really, that pretty much summed up the entire experience.


Shalamov and Kolyma

I'm rereading Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales.
I first encountered Shalamov's work a little over ten years ago.  As the translator John Glad notes in his Foreword,
"If you are about to read the stories of Varlam Shalamov for the first time, you are a person to be envied, a person whose life is about to be changed, a person who will envy others once you yourself have forded these waters." (ix)
He's not exaggerating.  As Glad observes, it is difficult to know how many people actually died in Soviet forced labor camps from the mid-1930's until Stalin's death in 1953, but a "preliminary estimate" offered by historian Dmitry Volkogonov in April of 1990 suggested that approximately 22.5 million people had been murdered or imprisoned in the Soviet gulags (x).

"Gulag" stands for "Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei" or "Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps" and its existence spawned a genre specific to Russia and the Soviet Union--gulag literature--the best-known examples of which are Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago (although some would argue that Dostoevsky's Notes from the House of the Dead can also qualify).

The website, offers an online exhibit and resources designed to encompass the multi-faceted experiences of gulag prisoners.  In particular, there is an online exhibit devoted to "Stalin's Gulag" that describes the general conditions of the gulags under Stalin, and focuses specifically on Kolyma itself.

There is also a 60-page curriculum unit available as a PDF-file courtesy of Harvard University's National Resource Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (NRC).

Kolyma is so remote that it cannot be reached over land: prisoners would be transported by train to transit camps in Siberian port cities where they would wait for the frozen waterways to thaw enough so that they could be shipped to Kolyma itself.

Varlam Shalamov spent a little over fifteen years in various Soviet gulags in and around Kolyma and Magadan.  With regard to his writing, the website devoted to Shalamov's life and work quotes him as saying,
“My writing is no more about camps that St-ExupĂ©ry's is about the sky or Melville's, about the sea. My stories are basically advice to an individual on how to act in a crowd... [To be] not just further to the left than the left, but also more real than reality itself. For blood to be true and nameless.”
In his description of what he saw and learned at Kolyma, Shalamov includes this observation, "a writer must be a stranger — in the subjects he describes. And if he knows the matter well — he will write in such a way that no one would understand him."

I think this is an excellent description of his own work: the Kolyma Tales are typically told with a kind of distance from the subject matter that seems unusual, given the extreme nature of the stories themselves and the fact that they are a blend of both fact and fiction.  Not exclusively autobiographical, they nevertheless use fiction in the service of gruesome historical fact.

And, in a way, because he knows his subject all-too-well, Shalamov writes in a way that reminds readers of what we can never know or understand about what he is telling us.  An otherwise neutral account of seemingly trivial details of prison life, told with indifference, is often shockingly and brutally interrupted by an incident of senseless violence.

And then the indifference and the neutrality resume, as if nothing has happened.  As Shalamov notes, in the camps, he "learned that one can live on indifference."

It is not possible to read Shalamov's work with indifference.

"Kolyma. 1931-1955. A tin and uranium ore mine, Butugychag mountain, south-west Kolyma, the end of the 1940s"
Photo by Tomasz Kizny, all rights reserved by Tomasz Kizny Collection. 
"Gulag Exhibition"

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Is Love?

In his September 30th op-ed piece, "You Love Your I-Phone.  Literally," Martin Lindstrom notes that, in his work as a branding consultant, he has observed the extent to which the iPhone can light up your life--or your brain, at least.

Well, maybe.  Sort of.  (But actually, not really.)

According to Lindstrom, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that human brain activity is (allegedly) "uncannily similar" when viewing images of the Pope, a Harley, a rosary and an iPhone.

Although this is perhaps true for all of those motorcycle-riding, Apple-toting Catholics out there, various neuroscientists have expressed extreme skepticism at these findings.  In particular, they caution against associating any one particular region of the brain with any one particular emotion.

In fact, as David Dobbs points out in his (highly irreverent and therefore thoroughly enjoyable) Oct. 2nd blog post for Wired, "fMRI Shows My Bullshit Detector Going Ape Shit Over I-Phone Lust," although Lindstrom's post is strong on popular appeal, it's very weak on science--if you even want to call it science.

This is a position supported by quite a few other science bloggers, including The Neurocritic,Tal Yarkoni, and Russ Poldrack, all of whom clearly spent a portion of the weekend feeling thoroughly disgusted at Lindstrom's article and at The New York Times for publishing it.

Ironically, as they all point out, these feelings of disgust are also likely to light up the same area of the brain that Lindstrom associates with iPhone "love."

I'm reminded of a comment made by the writer and activist Elie Wiesel.  He once noted, in the entirely humanistic and overtly unscientific way that is his wont, that "The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference."

Still it is reassuring to know that I am probably right to open the op-ed page of The New York Times and find it highly suspicious that, four days before the scheduled release of iPhone 5, someone specializing in neuromarketing for Apple has (coincidentally, I'm sure) contributed an op-ed piece about how much we love the iPhone.

And that The New York Times is eager to publish it.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.

Good to know.

I mean, come on.  Why not just put a profile for the thing up on and be done with it?

Lindstrom concludes, of course, what all anti-techies out there will want to hear: that we should put the (new) iPhone down and go find the "real" thing.

This strikes me as ironic and entirely in keeping with a recent trend in advertising that I've been noticing lately: the anti-technology approach to selling technology to the thirty- and forty-somethings out there who remember the good old days before computers and corporations ruled the world.

I like to think of it as The Golden Age advertising strategy.  Remind everyone of the good old days when corn flakes were, you know, corn flakes.  (See, for example, "The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising," published in January of 2010 on, or Stuart Elliot's Nov. 7, 2010 article in The New York Times, "Mr. Peanut's New Look? Old School.")

Old is the new young.  Old is also the new new. 

So, a recent TV ad shows a daughter bewailing her parents' lame presence on Facebook while repeatedly cutting to their exciting experiences out in the "real" world.

They don't need a computer: they have a car.  And probably an iPhone, with which they may very well have a love-hate relationship.  (One not unlike their relationship with their co-dependent, twenty-something, house-bound daughter.)

Although my thoughts on this phenomenon are still rather vague and off-the-cuff, it seems to me that we are being played upon by an ongoing oscillation in a lot of the current advertising out there.  They entice us with technology and then remind us that we don't want to get so dependent on technology that we lose sight of what's important (cut to pictures of trees and babies and kittens and grandparents).

This strategy is then followed by reminders about how we can have even greater access to all of these important entities if we simply purchase the advertised technology.

From a marketing perspective, it's the best of both worlds. Soft- or mushy- or pseudo-science cloaks itself in touchy-feely humanism, while the hard sciences are dumbed down and transformed into advertising's window-dressing.

So who do you love, and how?  Let me count the ways.

Meanwhile, my iPad arrives on Wednesday.