Assistant Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric, technology, and writing.
2371 stories
·
36 followers

[Weekly Review ] | Weekly Review, by Joe Kloc

1 Share

Fatal misunderstandings

Read the whole story
betajames
8 hours ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Fall In

1 Share
chris-lawton-154388

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash.

I’m writing this on the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

Depending upon where you are, it might not feel like fall yet. Right now, for instance, it’s 92°F outside where I live. And humid. More summer than fall. Yet, at the same time, school’s back in session, football is being played, and Halloween paraphernalia is appearing in stores.

The leaves on one of the trees outside my window are starting to change color. Some leaves have even started to fall. It’s getting darker earlier and lighter later. And even though it’s still hot out during the day, it’s cooling down more at night.

Change is in the air.

This leads to a question: Should one also change in conjunction with the seasons? By this I mean more than donning a natty scarf when the temperature drops below a certain level—I mean changing things about the way you eat, sleep, live, and work.

Conventional productivity advice doesn’t really take up this question. One of the things, in fact, that irks me about such advice is that it tends to frame things in terms of daily routines, routines that are ostensibly the same regardless of the season. In other words, most productivity advice is seasonless. Here I’m thinking of things like Mason Currey’s engrossing 2013 book Daily Rituals and Tim Ferriss’s more tech bro-y late-2016 knockoff Tools for Titans.

Now, I’m as interested in famous people’s daily routines as anyone. But at the same time, I feel it’s important to resist the tyranny of “the day.”

What do I mean by that?

Well, we live in a world of seasons—and increasingly more variable and violent seasons at that—but productivity advice seems to always think in terms of the day, the week, the year, or five years, never the season, the sun, and the shadow.

In Lewis Mumford’s endlessly-rich 1937 book Technics and Civilization, he explains how the clock altered human relations by organizing everything around twenty-four little hours instead of, say, the rhythm of the seasons.

The consequences of this, Mumford argues, are profound:

When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter’s night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day. When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence.

Because of the clock, Mumford continues, “Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it. A generalized time-consciousness accompanied the wider use of clocks: dissociating time from organic sequences….”

Since we all pretty much live according to “clock time” now, the autumnal equinox presents us with an opportunity to cast off our Apple Watches and reflect on some of the benefits of living according to what might be called “seasonal time.” To that end, I encourage you to step out of “clock time” and into “seasonal time.”

This will, no doubt, strike some as unappealing. Many people see nature as something to overcome or counteract, not as something to flow with or submit to. For others, it will be impossible. “Clock time” is simply imposed on them too strongly. But if you can do it, even just a little bit, I strongly recommend it, if only for the perspective it brings.

To quote Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season.” What if we took that adage seriously, not just by buying pumpkin spice lattes but by doing key things in a more fall-like way? Fall-like might take different forms. The point is to embrace fall in particular and seasonal change in general. I’m definitely not recommending becoming “Mr. Autumn Man”. I’m talking about something else, something deeper.

One example I like is how novelist Lee Child sits down every September and begins work on a new Jack Reacher novel. He finishes up sometime the following spring and then spends the rest of the year doing other stuff—stuff like spending the entire month of August on vacation. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty nice.) Note, too, that this routine produces a book a year. (As someone who writes much more slowly, this sounds pretty nice to me as well.) And Child has been doing things this way since the late 1990s. (For more on Child’s process, see Andy Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me.)

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming—rather than fighting against—the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock. The result has been I’m able to prioritize better.

And yes, fall for me also means some of the stereotypical stuff: apple picking, leafy walks, we’re even trying to go to a corn maze this year.

In sum, as the Earth wobbles around the Sun, don’t be afraid to switch things up. I can’t promise an uptick in productivity, but when you think of things in terms of seasons instead of a single day, the entire year becomes your canvas.


Filed under: endorsements, inspiration, longreads, work, writing Tagged: autumn, fall, Lee Child, Lewis Mumford, productivity



Read the whole story
betajames
8 hours ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Study: Flint’s poisoned water caused drop in number of healthy pregnancies and births

1 Share
Due to lead-poisoned water in Flint, fertility rates dropped, and the number of women who miscarried, had a stillbirth, or delivered babies with health problems, increased.
Read the whole story
betajames
8 hours ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

State health chief gave different timelines of Flint's legionella outbreak

1 Share
Prosecutors also questioned why Flint wasn't warned of the outbreak.



Read the whole story
betajames
1 day ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Lead in Flint water increased fetal deaths, lowered fertility, study says

1 Share
Flint's lead-in-water contamination crisis caused lower fertility rates and higher infant death rates, a new study says.



Read the whole story
betajames
2 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

"Ancient Aliens" Is Everything That's Wrong With America

1 Comment and 2 Shares

I don’t know if you knew, but the Hebrews didn’t spend forty years in the Sinai after the Exodus because they’d incurred the wrath of God. And they didn’t leave that desert because the offending generation had died off. The chosen people were forced into the Promised Land because the algae-based-protein-bar machine that dispensed the “manna from heaven” they’d been eating finally broke down.

“Of course, [the machine] needed energy, for cultivating the algae, and this was produced, we postulate, by a small nuclear reactor,” says Rodney Dale, a wild-eyed madman.

This is the History Channel, circa 2009. “But,” asks the narrator, “If the Israelites’ survival depended upon the manna machine, where did they get it? Some believe they had stolen it from the Egyptians prior to their exodus. Other suspect extraterrestrials gave it to them as a humanitarian gesture to prevent their starvation in the desert.” The show is “Ancient Aliens,” and it’s everything that’s wrong in America.

What I mean is that when it debuted in 2009, “Ancient Aliens” put to work certain attitudes and argumentative techniques that have, in the age of Trump, come to dominate our discourse. “Ancient Aliens” is a more popular show than you might think, but I doubt it’s got much influence on the zeitgeist, and I know that it didn’t invent what it’s doing. Richard Hofstadter taught us a half-century ago that things like anti-intellectualism and the ‘paranoid style’ have been with us since at least 1776. “Ancient Aliens” was just the canary in the mine this time around.

Cards on the table, I realize that “Ancient Aliens” isn’t the only show in the History Channel’s lineup that’s gotten away from history as such.

Yeah.

“Ancient Aliens” wasn’t the network’s first show to break away from its formerly staid documentary style—“Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men,” which focused more on reality-style personal relationships and on-camera drama rather than exploring the history of northern trucking and lumberjacking, came out in 2007 and 2008. “Conspiracy?” and “Decoding the Past”—looking at universally debunked theories and trying to match history to prophecy, like those of Nostradamus, respectively—realized that Americans were much more interested in Dan Brown than they were in history books as early as 2005. But while those experiments used ancient prognostications and grassy-knoll-theorism to spice up their facts, “Ancient Aliens” put its spurious nonsense front and center.

The show’s bedrock is an inversion of Occam’s tool for sorting hypotheses. Call it Giorgio’s Razor:

Take the show’s investigation of the Saqqara Bird, a small wooden falcon removed from an Egyptian tomb in 1898. To archaeologists, it looks like a toy, maybe a weathervane.

To “ancient alien theorists,” it’s evidence that the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom had airplanes. To prove that hypothesis on the show, an “aviation and aerodynamics expert” builds a scale model of the bird to see if it will fly.

The series narrator Robert Clotworthy1 intones over the footage that “during the [expert’s] tests, it was discovered that the only thing preventing the Saqqara bird from achieving flight was the lack of a rear stabilizing rudder, or elevator.” So they add the rudder, and airfoil wings, and discover that if you angle it upwards in a wind-tunnel, it’ll generate lift. Like literally any piece of wood.

The show asks: Did ancient Egyptians invent powered flight and leave exactly one child’s toy behind to prove it? Or might it be that the Saqqara bird looks aerodynamic and lacks a horizontal tail rudder because it’s, well, a bird? Applying Giorgio’s Razor reveals the answer.

It was aliens.

Aliens were flying around in Egypt.

Even extraterrestrial intervention becomes banal when it’s behind every mysterious thing in history, and that approach wrecks any of the value that could be had from the show’s topics. Neil Postman argued in the 1980s that TV had given us a discourse that “denied interconnectedness, proceeded without context, argued the irrelevance of history, explained nothing, and offered fascination in place of complexity and coherence.” Until the election in 2016, “Ancient Aliens” was the fullest flowering of that trend.The show works to turn matters of expertise into questions of faith. Time after time, statements about belief don’t just contend with but demolish the testimony of actual experts. At the start of season two, the program explores Marcahuasi, a high Peruvian plateau filled with strange rock formations.

The camera pans over the landscape, and Clotworthy narrates:

Most geologists consider the many stone formations on the plateau to be naturally formed. Born of millions of years of erosion and other natural processes. But is there more here than first meets the eye? Some consider Marcahuasi to be a massive sculpture garden, filled with carvings left behind by an ancient civilization…Could this be not just a collection of rocks but a sanctuary of stone monuments made by people tens or even hundreds of thousands of years ago?

A parade of breathless ancient alien theorists follows Clothworthy and details Marcahuasi’s special energies and vibrations, extraterrestrial visitations, and potential as a landing site for Noah’s Ark, their every statement backed up by, “I believe,” “I believe,” “I believe.” The show, by way of Clotworthy’s narration, makes sure we know that compared to these luminaries, “most geologists” are a bunch of shit-kicking dirt-lookers.

Hofstadter traced anti-intellectualism to the founding of the republic, but the particular sneering smugness of the show towards science and experts in general is newer than it feels. Climate change is the sine qua non for anti-science “scholarship” in the US today, but even George W. Bush couldn’t write it off or deny it completely, either in 2001 or in 2007.

“Ancient Aliens” deployed its anti-scientism earlier than the G.O.P., and beat out Donald Trump’s beliefs about birth certificates by a full two years. Both they and the show rely on an attitude that Hannah Arendt called “vulgarity,” which, “with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories carried with it a frank admission of the worst and a disregard for all pretenses,” something that viewers, whether of Fox News or “Ancient Aliens,” take not as a criminal condescension, but which they “mistake for courage and a new style of life.”

The courage of “Ancient Aliens” lies in telling its truths in the face of the “scientists” and “mainstream historians” that Clotworthy sets up and knocks down. It is brave in the same way that Trump is brave when he spits on the establishment, that Jeffrey Lord and the other conservative hacks are brave when they spit into the wind. And as I slogged through the show’s twelve seasons, that vulgarity became a full-on assault against truth, something as absurd to see on the History Channel as it has been in the White House.From the beginning, the evidence presented in “Ancient Aliens” was weak. The models, the re- and mis- and kind of un-interpretations of scripture, the half-explanations of history, all of it plain bunkum.

At various points, the series turns to the Anasazi, a Native American tribe that abandoned its cliff-carved civilization in Utah centuries ago. In a line of thinking possibly cribbed from the “X-Files,” Clotworthy explains that “some ancient astronaut theorists, like author David Childress, propose that there is in fact more to the disappearance of the Anasazi elders than a simple migration.” Cut to Childress, standing in front of a stone wall covered in Anasazi carvings. He indicates several spirals carved into the cliff.

“Archaeologists believe that they represent the sun. But some of these spirals are very unusual. One even has little spirals coming off of it. So you have to ask yourself, ‘Are these spirals in fact representations of some kind of portal? Some door to another dimension?’”

But then “Ancient Aliens” turned up something interesting: that there are no scientific explanations for the right angles and worked stones of the too-sunken “city” at Yonaguni; that the Dogon people of Mali had folklore about Sirius B, a star that is not visible to the naked eye; that there’s a clear contemporary account of an aerial attack on the army of Alexander the Great.

Each time, maybe predictably, the show was just lying. It’s not common that stones settle like they have at Yonaguni, but it’s not that rare either. It’s not really clear what the Dogon were talking about, and it’s likely that Europeans misinterpreted something they really wanted to hear. Some Italian dude either mistranslated a source or created the Alexander story out of whole cloth. After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I got tired of looking things up and began assuming that anything interesting on the show must be fake. It’s the same thing we do with whatever comes out of the President and his Twitter account.

The show turns by the second season from ancient to recent alien visits, and its fantastical history as quickly becomes conspiracy, a web of plots that ties together Roswell with Hitler, the Cold War with the Mexican Zone of Silence, and implicates what must be most of the world’s governments in extraterrestrial schemes.

Hofstadter noted that the paranoid in America make similar efforts to construct elaborate conspiratorial worldviews, and in the same way that Joe McCarthy and Robert Welch “offered a full-scale interpretation of our recent history in which Communists figure at every turn,” the current crop of right-wing fabulists have done as well as Ancient Aliens in creating an all-encompassing, through-a-glass vision of the world.

With the help of winks and nods from the G.O.P., the raving fantasy of the far right has become acknowledged reality for a huge number of Americans: 9/11 was a government plot; Barack Obama is a Muslim; Agenda 21 is a UN plan to take over the USA; Pizzagate; Seth Rich; FEMA camps. It’s hard to listen to Clothworthy in a 2016 episode ask, “Was the Cold War really an orchestrated event intended to serve as a smokescreen for governments to harvest extraterrestrial technology?” And flip to Alex Jones trying to argue that the Newtown shooting was a false-flag operation on NBC and not realize that these two things are of a piece.

Hannah Arendt wrote that one of the strengths of totalitarian propaganda is not that it twists the truth but that it ignores truth entirely. Its content, for the members of the movement, “is no longer an objective issue about which people may have opinions, but has become as real and untouchable an element in their lives as the rules of arithmetic.” It is the leadership’s ability and willingness to swear, knowingly, to each new lie that allows the true believers that make up the body of the movement to forgo critical thought and mountains of contrary evidence.

As I got further and further into “Ancient Aliens,” I saw a similar dynamic emerge among the regulars, like Childress and Tsoukalos. In the first episode of Season 10, Childress goes out on a boat with two alien enthusiasts who think they’ve found something on the bottom of Lake Michigan. They drop a sonar rig in the water and a random jumble of rocks show up onscreen. Childress looks for a few seconds and says, “Yeah, this does look like an artificial alignment.” Later, one of the enthusiasts takes a camera underwater to show Childress a carving of a mastodon on one of the rocks.

You know, right there. On the rock.

Childress doesn’t miss a beat. “It does look like the stone has been carved. Yeah, you can see the legs and a trunk on it. Wow, that’s amazing. Yeah, I’m convinced!”

Whatever else about him, Dave Childress was in 2009 a serious man. He’d traveled the world and done the research and written books. Within the strange world of extraterrestrialists, he was an authority. But on the show, and on that boat, he became a kind of actor, part of the show’s own cynical hierarchy, performing belief for the two yokels and for us, the viewers.

Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and even Paul Ryan were in their way serious people. They went to real schools and did real work. Paul Ryan, for all that he built his career on trying to do great evil in the world, was at least up front about it. Spicer had been known around DC as a stand-up guy. But they made it their jobs, not to shill for bad things they believe in—as Childress had pursued for most of his life a weak theory of aliens that he actually believed in—but for an ever-changing raft of lies that they’ve never countenanced, and which they admit in leaks and in private to know to be false.

Postman pretty famously contended that it would be A Brave New World for us and not 1984. But “Ancient Aliens” might be sending us hints that we don’t have to pick and choose. Trump’s neither charismatic enough to be our Hitler nor smart enough to be our Big Brother, but it might be that we’ve indulged our worst tendencies deeply and long enough to let Trump and his band of “crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is the best guarantee of their loyalty” to do us real and lasting harm. We reached a point in 2009 when one of the hoary institutions of respectable television felt it could better entertain us by throwing in with dangerous nonsense, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising to us that the institutions of the real world—from the EPA now working to eliminate evidence of climate change to the White House’s ethics lawyers justifying out and out corruption—are following suit.

1Clotworthy was, coincidentally, also the voice of Jim Raynor in the Starcraft games

 

 

Like everyone else, Jon Coumes is a struggling writer, and he produces his podcast on the failures of American foreign policy, Safe for Democracy, from Mexico.

Read the whole story
betajames
3 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
cjmcnamara
3 days ago
reply
"The show asks: Did ancient Egyptians invent powered flight and leave exactly one child’s toy behind to prove it? Or might it be that the Saqqara bird looks aerodynamic and lacks a horizontal tail rudder because it’s, well, a bird? Applying Giorgio’s Razor reveals the answer. It was aliens. Aliens were flying around in Egypt."
Next Page of Stories