Saturday, June 6, 2009

Neuroanthropology 2009 Student Posts

The student posts for Dan Lende's class on 'Culture and Compulsion' are posted on Neuroanthropology. As usual, interesting reading that shows off the quality of our majors. Pretty interesting stuff, worth a look. Here are the individual topics, go to the Neuroanthropology link above to access them:

• Why Do They Do It? Portrayals of Alcohol on Facebook and MySpace
• Gambling and Compulsion: Neurobiology Meets Casinos
• What’s the Dope on Music and Drugs?
• Tobacco Worse Than Cocaine?
• Caught in the Net – The Internet & Compulsion
• Lights, Camera… Alcohol?
• Confessions of a Shopaholic
• Can Videogames Actually Be Good For You?
• The New Performance Enhancing Drugs

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Movie Night: "Up"

Michael, Doug and I have been hitting the theaters over the past few weeks to see a variety of movies. Today was supposed to be "Terminator," but "Up" won out due to the time. And I'm glad it did - what an enjoyable movie. (I made this colorful skull balloon image in honor of the film).

Highly recommended - good story about realizing life goals, friendship, adventure, fatherhood, aging, etc. It's also a very beautiful, colorful film. Totally worth going to - with or without kids in tow.

Here's part of a critique of the film:

As a Depression-era kid, Carl thrills to the newsreel exploits of explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who pilots his dirigible the Spirit of Adventure to exotic climes. Brought together by a mutual admiration for Muntz, young Carl bonds with tomboyish Ellie, and their make-believe adventures give way to an achingly lovely montage of their marriage and life together. Alas, real-world demands force the couple to perpetually postpone travelling until Ellie becomes too frail for such excitement.

As a stubborn widower, Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) refuses to budge from the couple's pastel Victorian home, even though it's surrounded by a mammoth urban construction site. Rather than go gently to a retirement home, Carl resolves to keep his pledge to Ellie and sets off for South America with the help of a zillion helium balloons. Carl finds an unwanted companion in the perky Boy Scout Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai). Russell wants to help the elderly man, but never expected to be shanghaied by a flying house.

Docter turns Up's whimsical notions into surprisingly potent metaphors. On arrival in South America, Carl and Russell end up on terra firma, tethered to the house like it's a parade float. Docter shows Carl tugging his home, possessions and memories almost literally on his back, as if he's both treasuring his past and shouldering a Sisyphean burden. Ironically, Carl arrives in the land of his dreams but still drags his mundane reality around with him.

Carl encounters a sinister alter ego when he discovers the fate of long-lost Muntz, but Up doesn't dwell on its heavier ideas. Instead, the film strikes a lighter-than-air balancing act, with dizzying adventure scenes inspired by pulp novels and movie serials. Docter shows his genius for spinning endless variations off a handful of clever ideas. For instance, Dug, a floppy-eared, slack-tongued mutt, has a gizmo on his collar that translates his single-minded canine concerns into words. Dug's ability to speak turns out to be the beginning of a series of uproarious, dog-based jokes that prove as inspired as anything in Pixar's canon.

As two of Pixar's rare human heroes, Carl and Russell have facial designs that wittily reflect their life experiences...The audience feels privileged to soar and drift with them. In fact, you may never want to go back down to earth.

From: "Pixar's new movie Up sweeps audiences off their feet." by Curt Holman, 5/27/09, Creative Loafing blog.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yay ND Winner!!

Congratulations to Patrick Tucker for winning the 2009 Jeopardy College Championship. Must've been quite an end to a senior year.

He's a friend of Mary D's, who said they had a nightly viewing in his dorm - during which he told people that he really hadn't done that well, had blown simple questions, etc. Lured 'em in. Well done.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Movie Madness

I took the past week off, and in addition to lots of sleep and housecleaning, I went to see several new movies. Big fun!

On the Friday it opened, several folks from the Department went to see the new Star Trek movie. We grabbed dinner at Fiddler's Hearth -- which is going on my "firsts" list because apparently my never having been there before marks me as seriously lame -- and then to the movie (very early, thanks to my anal planning). The movie was/is AWESOME!! Whole new franchise in the making.

The next week, I returned to see the movie with Michael and Doug. The next day we took in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Both days we went to see the movie around 5, which meant a) no crowds, and b) a feeling of being slightly naughty by playing 'hooky' from work.

Today we repeated our afternoon outing to see "Angels and Demons." Escapist fun. Followed it up by "Thai-ing one on" (meaning - dinner at Siam Thai). Nice evening.

The final unanimous ranking -- Star Trek by far eclipsed the other two. Angels & Demons comes in at #2. Wolverine - just okay.

Graduation Done Right

Great graduation service. Fr. Jenkins gave a terrific introduction for President Obama, who then directly addressed the controversy of the past few months. Nice acknowledgment of Fr. Hesburgh's role in the civil rights movement too. I was particularly proud of the graduation class who chose John Jenkins as the 2009 Senior Fellow for his tenacity in this situation, and for their unified response when hecklers interrupted the President.

Here's a link to Obama's speech:

And to John Jenkins' charge to the class of 2009:

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Things around campus have been pretty crazy with the upcoming visit of President Obama. Randall Terry brought his 3-ring circus to town over a month ago, renting homes, trucks, and planes from which to spread his message. Rather than spending the money on useful items like adoption issues, prenatal care, etc., they looked for the most radical way to get themselves on the evening news. Hubris at its finest. And a message of intolerance that does not permit room for dialogue.

I considered going on a rant about the activities of the past month, but I think I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves. By way of a quick explanation, the shots are of a plane that has been flying around campus for a month towing signs such as the one pictured saying "This is what you're honoring."

There are giant aborted fetus signs as well - while someone not wanting their children to see such images could easily take a different route and avoid campus, there are trucks that drive all around town with the same images attached (as pictured). Not pictured are the baby carriages full of bloody dolls that they wheel onto campus in order to get arrested and thus garner further attention. Nutjob Alan Keyes has now joined the fray, thus enhancing the furvor of this fundamentalist minority.

Below the pictures, I've posted an essay that discusses this issue as clearly as I've seen. The author correctly points out that the policies President Obama has put into place will do more to reduce the nation's abortion rate than anything our previous "pro-life" President did (the "pro-life" handle of course ignoring the fact that he killed more prisoners as governor than all 49 other states combined, and began an unjust war that has killed thousands. But I digress...)

These final pictures from the press capture the true nature of the situation -- Randall Terry + Alan Keyes = film crews. I confess I question the piety of such acts...

Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame
A War of Words That Folds Neatly into the New Century's War of Weapons
By James Carroll

President Obama goes to Notre Dame University this Sunday to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree, the ninth U.S. president to be so honored. The event has stirred up a hornet's nest of conservative Catholics, with more than 40 bishops objecting, and hundreds of thousands of Catholics signing petitions in protest. In the words of South Bend's Bishop John M. D'Arcy, the complaint boils down to President Obama's "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred." Notre Dame, the bishop charged, has chosen "prestige over truth."

Not even most Catholics agree with such criticism. A recent Pew poll, for instance, shows that 50% of Catholics support Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama; little more than one-quarter oppose. It is, after all, possible to acknowledge the subtle complexities of "life" questions -- When actually does human life begin? How is stem cell research to be ethically carried out? -- and even to suggest that they are more complex than most Catholic bishops think, without thereby "refusing to hold human life as sacred."

For many outside the ranks of conservative religious belief, this dispute may seem arcane indeed. Since it's more than likely that the anti-Obama complainers were once John McCain supporters, many observers see the Notre Dame flap as little more than mischief by Republicans who still deplore the Democratic victory in November. Given the ways in which the dispute can be reduced to the merely parochial, why should Americans care?

Medievalism in Our Future?

In fact, the crucial question that underlies the flap at Notre Dame has enormous importance for the unfolding twenty-first century: Will Roman Catholicism, with its global reach, including more than a billion people crossing every boundary of race, class, education, geography, and culture, be swept into the rising tide of religious fundamentalism?

Those Catholics who regard a moderate progressive like Barack Obama as the enemy -- despite the fact that his already unfolding social and health programs, including support for impoverished women, will do more to reduce the number of abortions in America than the glibly pro-life George W. Bush ever did -- have so purged ethical thought of any capacity to draw meaningful distinctions as to reduce religious faith to blind irrationality. They have so embraced a spirit of sectarian intolerance as to undercut the Church's traditional catholicity, adding fuel to the spreading fire of religious contempt for those who depart from rigidly defined orthodoxies. They are resurrecting the lost cause of religion's war against modernity -- a war of words that folds neatly into the new century's war of weapons.

If the Catholic reactionaries succeed in dominating their church, a heretofore unfundamentalist tradition, what would follow? The triumph of a strain of contemporary Roman Catholicism that rejects pluralism, feminism, clerical reform, religious self-criticism, historically-minded theology, and the scientific method as applied to sacred texts would only exacerbate alarming trends in world Christianity as a whole, and at the worst of times. This may especially be so in the nations of the southern hemisphere where Catholicism sees its future. It's there that proselytizing evangelical belief, Protestant and Catholic both, is spreading rapidly. Between 1985 and 2001, for example, Catholic membership increased in Africa by 87%, in Europe by 1%.

In their shared determination to restore the medieval European Catholicism into which they were born, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI became inadvertent avatars of the new Catholic fundamentalism, a fact reflected in the character of the bishops they appointed to run the Church, so many of whom now find President Obama to be a threat to virtue. The great question now is whether this defensive, pre-Enlightenment view of the faith will maintain a permanent grip on the Catholic imagination. John Paul II and Benedict XVI may be self-described apostles of peace, yet if this narrow aspect of their legacy takes hold, they will have helped to undermine global peace, not through political intention, but deeply felt religious conviction.

Something to Cheer

No one can today doubt that the phenomenon of "fundamentalism" is having an extraordinary impact on our world. But what precisely is it? Some fundamentalists pursue openly political agendas in, for instance, Northern Ireland, Israel, and Iran. Some like Latin American Pentecostals are apolitical. In war zones like Sudan, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Sri Lanka, fundamentalism is energizing conflict. Most notably, after the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq in 2003, the insurgent groups there jelled around fundamentalist religion, and their co-extremists are now carrying the fight, terrifyingly, in the direction of the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan. Catholic fundamentalists in the U.S. are far from being terrorists, but an exclusionary, intolerant, militant true belief is on display this week in their rallying to denounce President Obama in Indiana.

Obviously, these manifestations are so varied as to resist being defined by one word in the singular, which is why scholars of religion prefer to speak of "fundamentalisms." But they all do have something in common, and it is dangerous. The impulse toward fundamentalism may begin with fine intentions: the wish to affirm basic values and sources of meaning which seem threatened. Rejecting any secular claims to replace the sacred as the chief source of meaning, all fundamentalisms are skeptical of Enlightenment values, even as the Enlightenment project has developed its own mechanisms of self-criticism. But the discontents of modernity are only the beginning of the problem.

Now "old time religion" of whatever stripe faces a plethora of threats: new technologies, a shaken world economy, rampant individualism, diversity, pluralism, mobility -- all that makes for twenty-first century life. The shock of the unprecedented can involve not only difficulty, but disaster. And fundamentalisms will especially thrive wherever there is violent conflict, and wherever there is stark poverty. This is so simply because these religiously absolute movements promise meaning where there is no meaning. For all these reasons, fundamentalisms are everywhere.

In contemporary Roman Catholicism, whose deep traditions include the very intellectual innovations that gave rise to modernity -- Copernicus, after all, was a priest -- Catholic fundamentalists are more likely to be called "traditionalists." They are galvanized now around the moral complexities of "life," at a time when the very meaning of human reproduction is being upended by technical innovation, and once-unthinkable medical and genetic breakthroughs are transforming the meaning of death as well.

Like other fundamentalists, they are attuned to the dark consequences of the Enlightenment assumptions implied in such developments, from the Pandora's Box opened by science unconnected to morality to the grotesque inequities that follow from industrialization and, more recently, globalization. Where others celebrate new information technologies, traditionalists, even while using those technologies, warn of the coarsening of culture, the destruction of privacy, and, especially, threats to the family. In nothing more than its emphasis on a rigorous and comprehensive sexual ethic -- anti-feminist, radically pro-life, contemptuous of homosexuality -- does this brand of Catholicism echo a broader fundamentalism.

In the immediate aftermath of the liberalizing Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Catholic traditionalists, with their attachment to the Latin Mass, fiddle-back vestments, clerical supremacy, and the entire culture of the Counter-Reformation, were rebels. That was why the anti-Council sect, the Lefebrites, including the notorious Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson, was excommunicated in 1988.

Today, as indicated by Pope Benedict's lifting of that excommunication, the Vatican is the sponsor of such anti-liberal rebels. Instead of reading the Bible uncritically, as Protestant fundamentalists do, Catholic traditionalists read Papal statements that way. To affirm the eternal validity of prior Papal statements, as in the case of the on-going Papal condemnation of "artificial birth control," traditionalists willingly sacrifice common sense and honesty.

If the Catholic Church is as opposed to abortion as it claims, why has it not embraced the single most effective means of reducing abortion rates, which is birth control? The answer, alas, is evident: the overriding issue for Catholic fundamentalists is not sexual morality, or even "life," but papal authority. As Protestant fundamentalists effectively make an idol of biblical texts, Catholic fundamentalists, in obedience to the Vatican, make an idol of the papacy.

When it comes to Notre Dame, ironically, American Catholic fundamentalists, including the bishops leading the charge against Obama's appearance, are not going to be backed up by the Vatican. In Rome, a tradition of realpolitik tempers the fundamentalist urge of the current establishment. The highest Church authorities have long been accustomed to putting issues of theological purity second to the exigencies of state power.

So, no insults of the American president will be coming from the Vatican this weekend, and its silence on the Notre Dame controversy will speak more clearly than any official statement on the subject might. Indeed, the long history of Roman Catholicism, where Puritanism has steadily lost out to robust earthiness, and doctrinal rigidity has regularly bent before the pressures of lived experience, is itself reason to think that Notre Dame University has found the truest Catholic response to the world's present moment: its brave decision to honor President Barack Obama.

James Carroll is a scholar-in-residence at Suffolk University, columnist for the Boston Globe, and author of the bestselling Constantine's Sword. His most recent book is Practicing Catholic, from which this essay draws.

Copyright 2009 James Carroll

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Catchin' Up

I've been delinquent again. So here's a catch-up email.

1). Happy Cinco de Mayo.

2). I recently moved my office to a more central location. I was tucked back in the corner of our "pod", which admittedly is what I requested 10 years ago. But of late I've felt a bit isolated, and got tired of 'spying' on everyone as they ventured to the restroom. My new office, while notably warmer (a minus), is closer to 'the action', the printer, and has a view of the Dome. As importantly, I can easily see if my Jeep is being ticketed in the spot where I often illegally park ;-) The pictures below are of my crack moving crew:

3). Wiley went to the vet for grooming earlier this week. They sent him home with a bow in his hair. Definitely required a photo for Jaime and Yorke, his arch-nemeses. When he first saw me he meowed in a way that can only be interpreted as yelling (turned the heads of a few techs) - saying, I'm sure, "get me the hell out of this carrier and take this frackin' bow OUT of my hair!!!"

4). And, since I'm in 'cat lady' mode, here are a few cute shots of late. The first picture is of Lemur sunbathing (literally and figuratively). The next is he and Wiley hanging out together, and the final shows my very attentive 'helpers' while I'm eating dinner.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Glad classes ended today. For many reasons, but this one is up there.

Swine flu confirmed at Notre Dame; student has recovered
Dennis Brown
Notre Dame Newswire,
April 28, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More Pollock

I think this has morphed into clear-cut work avoidance...

"Crayon Drippings"

Friday, April 24, 2009


I've been having fun with the new "Pollock" app on my iPhone. I love my iPhone (have I mentioned that before??)

I won't quit my day job...


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gumby I Ain't

I started yoga today. And tho' I feel great right now, I have a feeling I may be immobile tomorrow morning... Definitely noted muscle groups I'd only seen in anatomy books, never actually felt on myself. And my flexibility was compared to that of a steel i-beam. Guess this'll be good for me, who needs an ego anyway ;-)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Dinner

Fun Easter afternoon! Donna G. and I went to Max and Nancy's for dinner, featuring fun company and Randy C's exceptional leg of lamb. Culminating with the traditional lamb cake beheading. This year also featured a new addition, the lamb butter - tho' no one was willing to behead it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And So It Begins

Today there was a protest in front of the main entrance to campus. Fortunately, it was only a small crowd holding up pictures of dead fetuses. Really made me angry - none of the protesters were ND students, this issue has been hijacked by radicals. Really a shame for the graduating seniors.

It came up today in class, I told the seniors to quit signing petitions on Facebook and get their butts out there for a counter protest. Show that the majority of folks at the University are quite excited by the prospect of President Obama's visit.

After class I headed over to do just that, but I guess they punch a time clock, 'cuz no one was there. Good. This whole boondoggle is embarrassing. Recently we made the NY Times:

Invitation to Obama Stirs Up Notre Dame
April 5, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cat Bliss

Tonight I learned that cat nip is in the mint family. I let the boys run around out back this evening, and found Lemur very joyfully rolling around and rubbing his face in a patch of leaves. He seemed utterly content. At one point Wiley walked over to him and started licking his face and chewing on the leaves.

When I picked Lemur up to go inside, I noticed he smelled minty fresh. And he was purring his head off, not something he usually does when forced back into the house. I quickly looked up "cats and mint" and learned my 'something new for the day.'

Apparently in many parts of the world, cat nip is called 'cat mint.' All plants in this family produce a group of chemicals that cats apparently enjoy. Based on Lemur's response, I'd add "...quite a bit." Twenty-five years of cat companions and I never knew this. Fun little discovery, I'm going to plant more.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Whale Farmers

Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered ran their weekly segment "Letters from Our Listeners", where people wrote in to complain about/praise an earlier story about dry-land whale farms. It reported on farmers in Illinois who raised pods of whales in order to use their body parts -- blubber for fuel, the bones for building projects like front porches, etc. One farmer was interviewed about a pod he'd taught to sing whale-song in 3-part harmony. Some viewers complained about the lack of harmony, others about the misuse of bottom land for whale pods, and another about the fact that these farmers wasted the blowholes so shouldn't be claiming complete 'recycling'.

It sounded real.

But it was April 1st.

Today's real segment of "Letters from our Listeners" was loaded with complaints about the cavalier way the story was reported, about the horrific farmers who would engage in such practices, etc.

It worked. Pretty funny.

Here's the link:

Monday, March 30, 2009


A friend posted this on Facebook, made me laugh so hard I cried. Why? It might be THE perfect cat video. Make sure you have the volume on.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Went to see STOMP! today with a friend in the department (Donna G). I've wanted to see them for a very long time, got the 'inspiration' after attending the symphony several weeks back. Came home, and bought tickets so I'd have to go.

Today was an ugly, snowy day. But since the tickets were in hand, off we went. Nice lunch at Le Peep beforehand, then braved the weather to walk (in my case, hobble ;-) up to the Morris Theater.

Pretty awesome performance. Amazingly athletic, and interesting that everything they used (brushes, trashcans, plastic bags, lighters, matches, etc.) were common products. I supposed they can perform in any town with a Lowes.

Did My Part

Did my part for the economy Friday, went to the closing to refinance my house. Now I have a much lower monthly payment (went from a 15 yr adjustable rate to a 30-yr fixed) and have a nice chunk of change to make some improvements to the house. First on the list? Painting. Then the upstairs bathroom. Both projects are about 2 years overdue.

Did my part for Obama (aside from working for his campaign and voting for him).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Serves Me Right

It's broken. Gotta admit, today it started to smart quite a bit. My doctor called to tell me there was a fracture, and said: just turn the toe medially, tape it to the next toe, go get a podiatric shoe, stay off of it as much as possible, and...clean your room ;-)

Yep, a messy bedroom is to blame. I tripped over a shoe while stepping over a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. My mother taught me better ;-) Two of my colleagues said I should make up a heroic story about saving a cat, people would believe it.

The good news...I have something to include on my "50 New Things" list...

Guess I have to give up the stilettos for awhile. Here's my current "fashion statement" (with Wiley for scale). Talk about "sensible shoes."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wee Wee Wee Wee

Ouch. I hurt my little toe last night, am currently waiting on the x-rays to find out if it's broken. Clearly I should've just stayed in bed this month!

Couldn't put on a shoe today, so while still chilly here, I was hobbling around campus in Birkenstocks. Got a few comments, so I just showed 'em my bum toe.

But it was worth it, what having saved that poor old nun carrying a newborn baby and a ...umm, puppy, crossing the street while a giant 18-wheeler was bearing down on them. Pretty heroic of me I think.

That's my story, I'm stickin' with it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Day

Feeling much better today. Not great by any means, but better. I have a new found respect of food poisoning, I've never had something wipe me out for this long before.

I taught yesterday and really thought towards the end of my second lecture (ironically, about disease), that I would be sick right there in front of the students. Interesting pedagogy I 'spose, but I let 'em go a bit early rather than risk it. Came home, slept for about 12 hours.

Today has been notably better. Bolstered by three things:

1) the VERY pretty flowers Diane sent from the Department:

2) the news that President Obama is going to be our commencement speaker!! The glee amongst the students was great to see, I imagine for most of the faculty it is even greater. I went to pick up some groceries after work, ran into Gene Ulrich, shared the news, and he remarked that his day just got so much brighter. I agree, it is wonderful news!

As to about the most boring basket of food. All bland. When I checked out, the woman asked "you sick?" She wasn't looking at me at the time (which is admittedly telling in itself), but at the Gatorade, chicken noodle soup, plain yogurt, bananas, and potatoes going by.

3) This evening is the final Battlestar (I made the skull Viper pilot figure above to commemorate the 'event'). Bittersweet, but I'm looking forward to the episode just the same.