Saturday, August 25, 2007


New books came over my threshold:

Mark Andrejevic (2007) iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era. University Press of Kansas.


David Lyon (2007) Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Polity.

Both of which look fantastic.

And I managed to find a used copy of the latest in this series by this Rowling person. Will get to it eventually. Right now it's sitting on top of the Pynchon book next to the bed (stacked together they nearly block out the light from the bedside lamp).

Finished The World Without Us, which I found a fascinating read. Much of the general point we've heard before in many ways: humans environmental impact, the devastation (actual and potential) of nuclear materials, petrochemicals, plastics, and so on. It just frames these matters in an intriguing way and got me thinking about things that I probably knew but was willingly ignoring, like the fact that plastic--any plastic--is not going away at all ever unless burned. That's been going through my head every time I toss a plastic yogurt cup (of a type which is nonrecyclable around here) into the trash, or a piece of cling-wrap, or get groceries in plastic bags (and today I bought a dozen free-range eggs, packaged without irony in double layers of plastic). Again, not a new issue, but the book re-presents these old issues through such an interesting question that at least it's got me thinking more. Between that and watching Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" a few months ago--I remember reading Roger Ebert's review of the film where he said that after seeing the film he went home and started turning out all his lights. I've been doing that, too. Lights off unless an area's being used, and everything unplugged unless in use.

Anyway, for the last thing: sometime over the summer I finished Horst and Miller's Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication, which I really liked. when I mentioned it in this blog last Spring I was worried about all the "impact" talk on the back cover (the impact of the cell phone on the poor in Jamaica, etc.). And it shows up in the book at the very beginning and then again at the end where they are connecting their results with the broader funded study of which they are a part, which made me think that this problematic "impact" language was an artifact of the funded project (can't get funding unless you're showing effects) and it creeps back into their language when they have to articulate it back with the broader project. But for a most part they write quite subtly about communication practices and cell phones (and certainly not treating the latter as if they just fell out of the sky). The cell phone becomes a part of a number of ongoing cultural practices (to the benefit of some and detriment of others, and benefit and detriment at the same time to some) and is taken up within the context of these practices

Friday, August 03, 2007

Antelope Canyon

Photos I took last month on a trip up to Antelope Canyon with my Dad.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


August already?

Just finished a big manuscript so now have a brief bit of time to get caught up on some reading before the semester starts in earnest. Still creeping through Pynchon's "Against the Day" and have half an eye out for a used copy of the 7th book in a certain series.

And just started Alan Weisman's very readable "The World Without Us," which I'm really looking forward to getting further in. The book is a "thought experiment" about what would happen to the planet if humans suddenly disappeared one day: how would things fall apart, what would survive, what would regrow? Parts of the book are like a disaster movie, describing how buildings, bridges, roads fall apart due to the force of water, ice, or rust. How the New York subways would flood as soon as the pumps shut off. And it follows in great detail this story of destruction down to the molecular level (how ice and rust can tear structures apart). All this has a certain fascination; if humans disappear, what that we've built lasts the longest? which is gone the quickest? [The section on New York's bridges was going through my mind when I heard about the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse]. And what of the environment, plants, and animals? A great deal of the book is really about the relation of humans to their environment from prehistoric times to today, living in balance with some animals and wiping out herds of others (including 5 species of giant ground sloths, some the size of modern elephants, which once roamed North America). Plants and animals which depend on humans to survive (most crops, ornamental flowers, even apple trees, to dogs, rats, and roaches) don't last long post-human (he gives cats a decent chance). I've just finished the chapter on plastics, covering how and why plastics really don't break down (it just gets chopped smaller and smaller until plastic particles invade every organism) to how there's a 10 million square mile swirling swath of the Pacific that is basically covered in plastic debris. Looks like the next chapter's about oil. Sobering stuff. There's also fascinating glimpses of places where humans have vacated (like the Korean DMZ; the area around Chernobyl, and others) and how plants and animals reclaim that land (and which plants and animals do so). So it's about how humans have impacted the planet, but also about how and why plants and animals move and transform and compete. It draws on engineering, anthropology, ecology and a host of other fields. Interesting stuff.