A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2003

[BOOK REVIEW] On American Empires and their Futures

Bill Emmott. 20:21 Vision, Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. 373 pp.
Emmanuel Todd. Aprs l’empire: Essai sur la décomposition du système américain. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2002. 232 pp.

Whenever I examine the prognostications of pundits on the future, I’m always interested to see where they agree. As a rule, I’m skeptical about long-term predictions, which as a rule have proven themselves to be wrong: My favourite example is that of early 20th century demographers in regards to the French population, which was supposed to decline sharply thanks to below-replacement fertility to less than 29 million when in fact in 1985 there were some 55 million French. Still, when two prognosticators using different methods agree on common factors in their future it should mean something.

Emmott (editor of the Economist) and Todd (a French writer and demographer) agree that, after a tumultuous 20th century in which the United States played a vital role by reinforcing generally liberal regimes worldwide against successive totalitarian threats, the United States has acquired a position of unchallenged dominance. The United States maintains a sophisticated and powerful military capable of global deployment; more importantly still, the United States has a first-class economy, a high level of human development, and a high degree of cultural influence that reinforces the United States’ power. There is no challenger: Europe remains disunited and concerned by its demographic problems, China is preoccupied by its pressing need for economic development, Japan is still adjusting to its post-boom situation, Russia is far from reclaiming the superpower role it once had, and there are no other plausible contenders. (Todd is less sure of this than Emmott, but more later.)

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Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2003 at 10:56 pm

Posted in Assorted

Brief Notes

Sunday evening, I walked down from work to the waterfront. I ate some fries (with curried garden dip and fresh-squeezed lemonade) at a food shop on Peake’s Quay before walking back up to the Comic Hunter, where I met up with Dave and Allan. Three games of Carcassonne ended up being played that night, ending with a pass by the Town & Country for dinner (I had clam chowder and arak liqueur, they had cheeseburger platters), back down to the waterfront, and then returning to our respective residences after an agreement to meet for the play (at Erin‘s desk in the Confederation Centre at 5:30 tomorrow).

Nothing much done today, apart from cleaning my room and pulling more information on Queen’s for the student loan application and marvelling at the thunderstorm. Hopefully more tomorrow, or later tonight, including a fair bit of writing.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2003 at 7:41 pm

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Kingston and Queen’s

The more I think about the upcoming year, the more I think it will be fun. I can hardly wait.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2003 at 3:02 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] The Problems of the University

Earlier I said I’d talk about my dialogue with Dr. MacLaine on problems facing the university in our post-modern era. Let’s see how much I get right:

To an extent, the university is facing problems because it wasn’t designed to be what it is now. Universities in the Western tradition can trace their origins to medieval times, as places where ambitious young men (sons of the aristocracy, sons of the proto-bourgeoisie, occasionally talented students from every walk of life) could go to learn about God and Christian theology, in the tradition of Western humanism represented by Abelard. (Incidentally, compare this to the madrassahs of the Islamic world.) The university was not intended, as they are now, to be a place of unhindered intellectual discourse where sizable fractions of the general population could be educated in the liberal arts and the physical science and the theories of business (among other subjects); it was intended to be a place of indoctrination.

The heyday of the university as it was supposed to function may have been in the 1960s and 1970s, when despite the strains forced by the rapid expansion of university to the general population rapid economic growth easily produced enough wealth to sustain a student population in relative comfort and to ensure them a decent likelihood of eventual tenure. Dr. MacLaine recalled how, when he was a graduate student, some of his colleagues said that if worst came to worst, one could drop the role of full-time student and take a job. That isn’t an option nowadays. Indeed, the intellectual premises of the modern university are increasingly coming under threat because of financial constraints facing both students and universities.

Currently, graduate programs are producing far more graduate students than there are positions for graduate students, ensuring a whole host of problems for the students in the process, like, “Can you find a job?” I myself am increasingly certain that I won’t go on for a doctorate after I get my master’s degree, barring some event that makes me want to risk the abominable job market and heavy debt loads for doctoral students in academia. I doubt that anything can resolve this problem, not even mass resignations on the part of baby-boomer professors and their migration to Borneo or the Kalahari. The question of oversupply means, of course, that universities can never be for more than a minority of students a way to become permanent, professional students.

Mind, this won’t necessarily make a difference to universities since increasing class sizes and cutbacks to the academic infrastructure ensure that it will be impossible for students to receive the sort of individualized attention needed to allow a flourishing of independent thought. Dr. MacLaine mentioned a seminar in Vancouver given by a professor who regularly taught classes with hundreds of students, walking around with a microphone headset, gesturing broadly, ensuring mass participation through hand-raising, and generally acting more like a pop-music star in concert or an evangelical preacher on Vision TV than a professor. This sort of orgiastic performance works very well if you want to communicate an intellectual orthodoxy; perhaps the operators of madrassahs and Christian-indoctrination universities might want to look into this.

And on top of this, the university is increasingly being seen as a place to learn valuable skills not as a place to be a permanent student; as a sort of vocational school, not as a place to remain a student.

What is to be done? Well, that’s for the next post.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2003 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Assorted

Bruce Stirling on Rumsfeld

From Wired:

There’s Something About Rummy

Critics be damned! The defense secretary knows what’s right for America.

By Bruce Sterling

My favorite Bush administration figure is the president’s gnomic futurist, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rummy thinks outside the box. He talks in aphorisms, adages, and apothegms, rather like a magazine columnist. So I find it hard not to like him.

He chaired Rand, the gold standard of national security think tanks. He’s vastly preferable to other famous Republican futurists, such as Joan Quigley (Nancy Reagan’s astrologer) and Michael Drosnin (who recently briefed the Pentagon on the prophetic intelligence unveiled by his so-called Bible Code). Unlike those sorry phonies, Rumsfeld has demonstrated his skills in real-world positions of power and accountability. He’s also capable of talking good sense.

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Written by Randy McDonald

June 28, 2003 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Assorted

More Queer as Folk Notes

This Monday past, I watched my fourth episode of Queer as Folk, and I found myself oddly involved: not necessarily entertained, I don’t think, as opposed to stunned. I can think of three reasons why this might be:

  • The scope of their self-destructive tendencies takes me by surprise, and makes me want to watch.

Between rampant promiscuity, drug use, and a whole broader range of self-destructive tendencies, it’s surprising that some of the characters are still around. It’s all rather interesting to watch in a train-wreck sort of way.

  • I envy the stupid bastards.

Given the barrenness of my personal life (as opposed to my professional life), it’s plausible though terribly sad to suggest that I might actually want at some subconscious level to be in that kind of world. It’s short-term and sterile, but at least it fills the long hours.

  • I might actually be a fan of the show, regardless of what the characters do to themselves or others.

What else is there to say to this?

I suspect that an objective evaluation would say all three factors would play a role, though I myself would prefer the first factor to be the dominant one and prefer the third to have a minor role (while the second is too depressing). I’ll probably watch the upcoming episode, though.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2003 at 8:40 pm

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Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2003 at 5:39 pm

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Dinner with Dr. MacLaine at the East Side Mario’s on University Avenue was nice, although I missed him for 10 minutes–I didn’t see him, but I hadn’t thought of looking into the bar area for him. The food was good, and the conversation was quite enjoyable, centering mainly on the problems of university education in the 21st century. (More on this later.)

In the evening, I set up with the parents for the beach–Stanhope, actually, just a kilometre away from Dalvay-by-the-Sea. The weather was kind of cool, but the view–as always–was spectacular despite the very high price for entry–if you’re a native, you need season passes. Lying on the blanket, I read A.H. Clark’s Three Centuries and the Island, a historical geography of PEI that was written in the 1950s; one can only imagine what he would have thought of recent developments (30% growth in population, collapse of the farming population, and so on).

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2003 at 7:53 am

Posted in Assorted


Gee whiz, tell Mommy to stop babying you so much
and get out of the house once in a while. You
are the typical nerd. Congradulations, the
other kids walk all over you and make fun of
you, but you’ll show them someday when you
develop the latest line of anti-depressants
that they will need when they are 35.

What kind of typical high school character from a movie are you?
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Which Matrix Reloaded persona are you?

this quiz was made by beth

You are the Marquis Da Sade. Even stripped of
exaggerations, Your real life was as dramatic
and as tragic as a cautionary tale. Born to an
ancient and noble house, you were married
(against your wishes) to a middle-class heiress
for money, caused scandals with prostitutes and
with your sister-in-law, thus enraging your
mother-in-law, who had you imprisoned under a
lettre de cachet for 14 years until the
Revolution freed you. Amphibian, protean,
charming, you became a Revolutionary,
miraculously escaping the guillotine during the
Terror, only to be arrested later for
publishing your erotic novels. You spent your
final 12 years in the insane asylum at
Charenton, where you caused another scandal by
directing plays using inmates and professional
actors. You died there in 1814, virtually in
the arms of your teenage mistress.
You are a revolutionary deviant. I applaud you.

Which Imfamous criminal are you?
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Which lj user are you?
quiz made by bijouriel

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2003 at 10:37 pm

Posted in Assorted

[GRAD SCHOOL] Some Notes

After I went to the gym today, I dropped by the English Department and happened to see Dr. Murray. I begged a few minutes of her time and asked her what she thought of the job market for doctoral students; she told me the truth, that the labour market wasn’t good. We talked further about alternatives after my degree: a doctorate if I wanted to be a student for purely the joy of learning, transferring into law, doing some other job that made use of my strengths in researching and writing. I’ll be talking to Dr. MacLaine tomorrow over lunch; I’ll enlist his opinion.

And checking my E-mail at work, I noticed I received the below message from Queen’s’ Residence Admissions Office, telling me of the results of the lottery:

To: Graduate and Professional Students – SH

From: Residence Admissions Office

Date: June 25, 2003

Subject: Queen’s Residence Lottery Results

We have now completed the Lottery for Graduate and Professional Students. I am pleased to inform you that you have been successful in obtaining a room in Shortliffe House in Jean Royce Hall We will be sending out a package later in the summer which will contain your room number, phone number, sign-up sheets for Primus long distance and fridge rental form. You can also see your room number on the residence website (www.queensu.ca/residence) in
August. Thank you.

Jean Royce Hall is located outside of the main campus, roughly 15 minutes in walking time to the west. In terms of biking time, it will be considerably less, and there is also a free bus service in fall and winter so I’m unconcerned. The facilities should be decent, to quote the English Department’s website:

Jean Royce Hall, built in 1970, is situated about 2 kilometers from Main Campus (about a 15-minute walk) and is adjacent to the Faculty of Education. The residence houses 576 students in single rooms in 12 houses of 48 students. The houses are designed about 4 floors, with a social grouping of 12 students per floor (men and women) who share a common living room with a kitchen and a common washroom. All rooms at Jean Royce Hall are single. Jean Royce Hall is a unique residence at Queen’s, in that there is a mix of first-year and upper-year, undergraduate, graduate and Education, female and male students. The Social Centre, which the Faculty of Education shares with the residents of Jean Royce Hall, contains lounges, a recreational games room, a television room, a dining room, a University branch library, computing facilities, a gymnasium and vending services. Although situated a mile from the Main Campus, there is a bus service every 15 minutes to and from Main Campus, which is free to all full-time students during the academic year, upon presentation of the Queen’s student card. Residents of Jean Royce Hall also enjoy close proximity to the track and field facilities, tennis courts and stadium facilities of West Campus.

I’m happy I won’t have to worry about this.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2003 at 12:07 am

Posted in Assorted