Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Procrastination

Dungeons and Discourse

Even though it’s not on his blog, I’ll still blame Russ from Knotted Paths for this one: click through to see the full strip…

Dungeons and Discourse comic excerpt

Note: @2005-2006 Aaron Diaz

Industrious Inaction

Scott Eric Kaufman has gone on strike, refusing to add new posts to his blog until a particular comments thread reaches 500 comments – terms and conditions apply, see blockquote for details:

There will be no new posts on Acephalous until there are 500 (five hundred) comments on this one. The person who posts the five hundredth comment wins the honor of suggesting the topic of the subsequent post. Any comments containing the number four, a dollar sign or the open bracket/fancy-open bracket will not count toward the total, as those keys are missing from my keyboard.

I’ve told Scott that, should I happen to post the 500th comment, he will have to answer Sinthome’s question on determinate negation

Tragedy or Hope

The things you find when putting together course materials… I was trawling through the Internet Archive, trying to find some short video material on postwar history that I could use to illustrate some points for the planning theory class. And of course I couldn’t help but get distracted when one of my searches pulled up: Tragedy or Hope: Educating 1960s campus protesters as to “what’s right with America.” Online reviewer Max Grody comments appreciatively:

This is just as appropriate today, except the creepy self-loathing sorts in America today can barely get more then 50 people to go to any protests. Thank god.

Though it is a strange idea, with revolutionary American clubbing down the dumb kid, it makes sense. Nothing wrong with America except the lazy abdicate their participation in government. Most who criticize America slough their responsibilities and cry because the world doesn’t dance to their childish, narcissistic whims. Instead they wish to enslave everyone to work half heartedly for communist ideas, or socialism (communism-lite).

In the 60’s people really purchased sophistry wholesale, and it still screws up this country. If this was tighter, with a slightly better direction, it should still be shown today…. if we have to indoctrinate our kids, why not use positive messages?


What interested me most in the film, I have to admit, is what was chosen as the main positive message – which is, in the words of the film, “America’s contribution to the world in materialistic ways” – material invention (or, where even this film becomes self-conscious about its more elaborate claims, something more like the capitalisation or commercial distribution of invention…). Our protagonist John Smith – “honours student, football star, Vietnam veteran” – has chosen “the way to anarchy and self-destruction” because he fails to appreciate America’s material contribution to the world – apparently he was rendered vulnerable to communist propaganda, because, like so many youth of his time, “he is a victim of irresponsible parenting – he has missed the stabilising influence of a good home and religious upbringing” and has therefore fallen under the influence of the wrong people, who have led him into “drugs, loose morals, and wanton destruction”. Fortunately for John, his many ancestors who return to haunt him during the short, as well as a concerned and clear-thinking history professor, are able to compensate for this lack, and turn John from his radical ways – just in time, for he was on the verge of opening the doors to let rioters in to destroy the medical books from his college’s library…

This piece is apparently a slimmed-down version of a longer effort titled Brink of Disaster, which I haven’t viewed. These films are part of a collection of materials on the virtues of capitalism generated from Harding College.

Coffee Blogging

I think my affection for my coffee shop has long since reached the level where I should just create a “coffee blogging” category and have done with it. I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to read the things I write on this place – like the time that I spend here, the entries I write about the experience are personal indulgences. Below the fold, then, before I bore everyone visiting the site… Read more of this post

I Do

This may be just about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen (it helps if you’re somewhat familiar with L Magee’s site and the topics discussed over there):

“HI! I’ve have similar topic at my blog! Please check it..

To the hundreds of fastidious commentators out there – I would love to “check it”. But the link always goes to some site which sells pharmaceuticals or other products I have no interest in. I really appreciate the sincere effort to connect on an intellectual level with my various interests: social theory, philosophy, computer science, the Semantic Web – but I’m not sure how your “blog” is “similar”? Did I miss the link to biological ontologies on your site?

Anyway, would love to discuss this further. Great blog by the way.

It does raise an interesting question, though: what kinds of spam would be relevant to your interests, LM? Perhaps you should engage in a bit of ontology-matching with some representative spammers to see whether your worldviews have more in common than you currently imagine. Perhaps there’s even some commercial potential here – a scale, perhaps, of the likelihood of spammers reaching intersubjective consensus with particular kinds of websites…


My coffeeshop has been going through a remodelling process over the past several months – a process we have occasionally had reason to suspect was orchestrated to make a lot of noise, so as to move us along, when we monopolise a table longer than our collective coffee rent justifies.

Aside from more structural changes, the remodel has also involved the addition of new furniture, including today’s novelty: a large “communal” table created out of a metal ladder, suspended between what look like those small metallic barriers occasionally used by street cafes to create a boundary around their outdoor tables. The rungs of the ladder are capped for the moment by ill-fitting metal plates salvaged from fire-escape-style staircases, but will eventually be covered by deliberately mismatched wooden planks. All pieces of the table – like the rest of the furniture and artwork in this place – have been created from materials salvaged and recycled from other places: the owner steadily collects, gathering materials into storage until he can visualise something that can be made from them. He also weaves people into his creations: the welding was done by a regular customer who happened to overhear the owner wonder who he should get to do that work. I’ve heard this kind of thing happen before here – been drawn into it myself, on occasion.

Because the owner deliberately mixes materials and styles, new creations tend to cause cascading transformations of the entire environment, as their idiosyncratic mix of stuff contrasts too starkly, or blends in too well, inspiring or irritating the owner to transform the space until things settle into a new dynamic tension. The interior of this space is thus in a constant state of transformation, occasionally interrupted by breathing periods of stasis.

The auditory environment is similarly bricoleured. There are times when I will swear the owner deliberately introduces profoundly irritating musical tracks just for the almost expressionist experience of relief it provides when the track has ended – it’s a thing of wonder and beauty, a genuinely novel way of experiencing a mundane and generally dull piece of music, when for the first time you hear it out of context, following something truly awful. Occasionally, I’ve been here when this kind of experiment doesn’t work as intended – when I’ve paused in my reading or writing in a kind of open admiration for how truly abysmal some cover or mix happens to be, only to have the music stop in mid-note and be exchanged for something else: at that point, I’ll know the owner agreed, and that the moment of transcendence I was waiting for – wondering to myself: what can possibly follow and complete this? – will never come.

This morning, though, it was the new table that was the centre of attention. I loved it on sight. I said as much to a member of the waitstaff, who at first smiled indulgently, and then realised I might be serious. They couldn’t contain their surprise: “You do?!” I think it’s wonderful, I repeated. They laughed nervously – I think they were convinced I was teasing them. You don’t agree? I wanted to know. More nervous laughter as they scuttled back to the kitchen.

The staff, apparently, are divided on the issue. The budding opera singer looked at the table with frank admiration. The owner gazes on it with no small mixture of externalised exhibitionism. The most senior staff member doesn’t see the table, only the owner’s tactile enjoyment of it, and that is enough.

Customers are divided as well. Everyone who ducks in for a coffee, even if they don’t normally investigate those nether realms of the establishment where the table resides, must come have a look. Again nervous laughs. Some customers clearly don’t believe this table will stay – it can’t be serious, this table. I mean, just look at it. A few offer suggestions for turning it into a more conventional eating surface: “Why don’t you just, I don’t know, cover it with a big plank of wood?” – “Oh I’ll cover it with several planks,” replies the owner, “but they have to be different colours, you see – they have to have different grains”. Some, too polite, reach for neutral words: “That’ll seat twelve people for sure”, one man offers. Others, more bluntly: “What happened to that medieval table thing you used to have here? I liked that.” The owner points to the fragments of what used to be one large tree-trunk table – now scattered against several pillars throughout the room, multiple tables now. He doesn’t explain that this multiplicity can also coalesce: if you hang around here long enough, you’ll occasionally see the fragments dragged back together into a plausible imitation of their former cohesive self.

The Plot Quickens

Via Mark Liberman at Language Log, Lawrence Saul has assembled a piece on academic conference papers as an episode of 24. I think I’ve seen this plot somewhere before…


The following events take place on February 9, 2007, between the hours of:


Midnight – 1:00 am

Paper exists in skeletal form, with preliminary results. All seems well until hero exposes shadowy bugs in implementation of core routines.


1:00 am – 2:00 am

Hero assembles crack team of students and postdocs by email. Suffers moral anguish knowing that one or more will need to be sacrificed for greater good.


4:00 am – 5:00 am

Team shows signs of cracking under pressure. Hero reverts to “motivational methods” from covert and troubled past. (Episode contains flashbacks.)


5:00 am – 6:00 am

Tensions flare. Team members put aside personal differences when late-breaking experiments yield better than expected results.


6:00 am – 7:00 am

Long overdue literature search reveals large body of related work. Scarce resources must be diverted to decipher its relevance.


7:00 am – 8:00 am

One by one, key members of team disappear for coffee, precisely when they are needed most.


9:00 am – 10:00 am

Student who cannot let go of old ideas must be “retired”.


10:00 am – 11:00 am

Hero is trapped in committee meeting. A secretive channel is opened for instant messaging, enabling further progress.


Noon – 1:00 pm

Hero, exhausted, responds without thinking to knock at door. Undergraduates swarm office with questions about Monday’s homework assignment.


6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Sluggish CPUs reveal rogue team member (previously retired in episode 10) running unauthorized background processes.


9:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Rumor of extended deadline is picked up on Internet chatter. Sources are tracked down and ultimately discredited.


10:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Figures and references added to paper, which consequently overflows to ten pages. Frantic pruning. Rough draft submitted at 10:58 pm.


11:00 pm – Midnight

Proofreading reveals extensive typos and sign errors. Paper teeters on brink of eight page limit through multiple revisions. In act of ultimate sacrifice, hero removes all self-citations. Final submission: 11:59:59 pm.

Blogging for the Bottom Line

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has a post up about blogging as self-experimentation, in which he notes the following effects of blogging – persumably on himself:

Blogging makes us more oriented toward an intellectual bottom line, more interested in the directly empirical, more tolerant of human differences, more analytical in the course of daily life, more interested in people who are interesting, and less patient with Continental philosophy. All you bloggers out there, or spouses of bloggers, what effects do you notice?

I run afoul of the Continental philosophy effect – and am likely also to be an outlier on issues related to the greater appreciation of the directly empirical – but I still enjoyed the post and the subsequent discussion. My favourite comment thus far is this delightfully cynical observation posted by mk:

I really enjoy the fact that blog posts tend to be terse.
I think there are not enough penalties for being verbose or poorly-organized.
Most books strike me as unnecessary. Powerpoint, maybe with a 20-page supporting paper, would do a better job in most cases, I think.

One disadvantage is that blogs may not provide the most natural framework for organizing complicated arguments. But (as with books), we may simply be deluding ourselves if we believe we can understand most complicated arguments anyway.

Regular readers of this blog will not be much tempted to call me “terse” – although L Magee has suggested that, when I do manage a terse post, I sometimes do so artfully… ;-P But LM’s perception of terseness may have been irrevocably impaired by our recent reading of Hegel… ;-P

Guilty Pleasures

Via Sarapen: this Guardian article assembles a list of several intellectuals’ guilty pleasures.

I loved the ambivalence of AC Grayling’s entry:

Boxing should be banned, of course: it causes brain damage, and there is something questionable about the pleasure taken by spectators in watching men hitting one another. And yet… there is also something noble about boxing…

The solitude of the boxer before his opponent, the stripped-down, unfurnished, essential nature of man pitted against man, in a bare space roped off from the rest of the world, sums up everything about courage. In its way boxing recapitulates something ancient, almost primordial, about human striving, with a rough beauty all its own.

It should, though, be banned.

And of Roger Scruton’s:

Although I argue vehemently against modern pop music, on grounds of its musical incompetence, verbal impoverishment and general morbidity, narcissism and salaciousness; although I fiercely object to disco dancing as a sacrilege against the human form and a collective rejection of civilised courtship; although I defend reels, minuets, galliards, sarabands and (as limiting cases) waltzes and polkas as the only ways in which ordinary humanity should dare to put its sexual nature on festive display, and although I regard the 12-bar blues and the flattened subdominant seventh as the lowest forms of vulgarity in music, I find rock’n’roll in general, and Elvis in particular, irresistible, and would happily dance away the night to it. I cannot explain the thrill of delight with which I hear the first bars of Jailhouse Rock or the eagerness with which I at once search the vicinity for a partner: but there it is, appalling proof that, despite all my efforts, I am human.

I have to agree with Sarapen, though, that the pick of the list must go to Zizek:

Military PC games

I play them compulsively, enjoying the freedom to dwell in the virtual space where I can do with impunity all the horrible things I was always dreaming of – killing innocent civilians, burning churches and houses, betraying allies… Plato was right: there are only two kinds of people on this earth, those who dream about doing horrible things and those who actually do them.

My favourite game? Stalin Subway, a Russian one: Moscow 1952, the player is a KGB investigator, called by Stalin Himself to unearth the plot to kill Stalin and other members of the Politburo. One can arrest and kill suspects at one’s will. If one wins, one gets a medal from Stalin and Beria! What more can one expect in this miserable life?

Read more of this post

Veni… Veni…

Adam Roberts at The Valve is having fun with the marginal notes found in a copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. A sample:

…it is copiously annotated with the blue-ink marginalia of a previous owner of the book: a strong hand, indicative, I feel, of a forceful individuality. Speaking generally I love reading the annotation of previous readers in the second hand books I buy; any number of insights could be contained in the scribbles. And these marginalia are very nice.

A couple of the comments are nicely fatuous. For example: Caesar begins his account, as every schoolchild knows, with the statement that all Gaul is divided into three parts. This, together with ‘veni, vidi, vici’, is surely the most famous thing Caesar ever said. The Loeb left hand page gives us ‘Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’. The right hand page gives us ‘Gaul is a whole divided into three parts.’ Above this my annotator has written, in large and forceful letters:

Gaul ÷ 3 parts

Why on earth would he need such an aide memoire? Is he, like, an idiot, that he could read ‘Gaul is a whole divided into three parts’ and ‘Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’ and then put the book down thinking, ‘right, Gaul. That was an eleven-part division of … um…’

I have to admit I was wondering the other day what sense a future reader might make of some of my marginalia – which are often filled, not with notes on what I’m actually reading (although that occasionally figures, as well) but with things like notes on the ambient conversations occurring around me as I read, or my own free associations about other things I’m writing or plan to write.

God knows what someone would do with the marginalia on Phenomenology, for example, which have occasional marginal comments designed to help me find particular passages quickly, when I expect I’ll want to quote them in writing – I suspect some of these notes would probably look every bit as inane as the “Gaul ÷ 3 parts” annotation mentioned above, as they are actually intended to mark passages that make good sound bites, rather than interpreting a passage difficult to understand. Far more extensive, however, will be notes on fragments of conversations I want to remember (which, given my experiences reading Hegel recently, get pretty racy in places… I’ll wager you that no one else’s notes on Hegel contain the comment: “You make me feel like a natural woman!!!” And I shudder to think what interpretation my hypothetical marginalia voyeur might make of such a comment…), or dot points related to other things I’m writing or planning to write (I love the thought of someone trying to make sense of how these dot points relate to Hegel’s text: they do look like they’re meant to summarise an argument – but it ain’t Hegel’s argument…). The cumulative effect, I suspect, would make me look quite insane. Then again, I shouldn’t worry about this, as I apparently look insane anyway