How a Stupid Bill becomes a Law

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2006

“A bill”: presently working its way through the state legislature here in Arizona proposes that universities and colleges be required to “provide a student with alternative coursework if the student deems regular coursework to be personally offensive,” that is, where “a course, coursework, learning material or activity is personally offensive if it conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion.” The “Arizona Daily Star”: and “Inside Higher Ed”: have more. Although Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, the bill was prompted not by evolutionary theory but by “Rick Moody’s”: novel, _The Ice Storm_. No, really. Someone didn’t like the description of the wife-swapping key party in the book, which you will recall from the book and film is not exactly full of admiration and cheerful praise for the well-balanced people participating in it. (And even if it were, etc …) “There’s no defense of this book,” said State Senator Thayer Verschoor ==(R)==, “I can’t believe that anyone would come up here and try to defend that kind of material.” (I heard recently that a book by some filthy-minded Irish guttersnipe containing graphic descriptions of bowel movements, urination, masturbation and sexual intercourse is on the syllabus of many college English courses. I can’t believe that, either.) Senator Jake Flake (R – Snowflake. No, really) partly disagreed, but mainly I wanted to mention that his name was Jake Flake, of Snowflake, AZ.

Since I’ve been teaching at the University of Arizona, my feeling is that my undergraduate students have been personally offended mostly by the reading and writing requirements for my courses. So in the (hopefully) unlikely event that this legislation passes, maybe I’ll have to provide an alternative “No Work/Sleep All You Like” option for them.

Best TV miniseries

by Chris Bertram on February 17, 2006

Following on from Kieran’s “post about British and US TV”: the other day, I started thinking about the best “TV miniseries/drama serial”: ever, by which I mean just the best drama series telling a story over a limited number of episodes. My list of five contains four British examples and one German. Maybe I’m just parochial, but maybe this is a format the British excel in and the Americans don’t. That’s my hunch. So here’s my list (with annotations). Post rival suggestions in comments.

1. “Heimat”: . Does this count? It is long by miniseries standards, but Edgar Reitz’s story of the the Simon family and the village of Schabbach from the end of the First World War to the 1970s is simply the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV. The sequels, Heimat 2 and Heimat 3 are also pretty good, and some think Heimat 2 the best of the three. They’re wrong, but non-culpably so.

2. “The Edge of Darkness”: . Mid 80s nuclear drama set in Britain as policeman Bob Peck goes after the killers of his daughter (Joanne Whalley) with help from rogue CIA man Joe Don Baker. Eric Clapton soundtrack with frequent playings of Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher” thrown in (the daughter’s favourite record). Tense, paranoid, and secured Peck his role in Jurassic Park.

3. “The Singing Detective”: . Who could watch the pathethic Hollywood remake after this? Michael Gambon, Joanne Whalley (again!) and a sense of growing incredulity that the plot can actually come together. Complete with Dennis Potter’s trademark use of music and song as the key to the unconscious. His best work.

4. “Our Friends in the North”: . Currently being shown again in the UK. From 1960s idealism, through local government and police corruption, vice, and the miner’s strike. Christopher Ecclestone and Gina McKee both superb.

5. “Traffik”: . Why did they ever make the crummy Hollywood version with Douglas and Zeta-Jones? Lindsay Duncan gives an ice-cold performance as the wife as the various threads come together in the UK, Germany and Pakistan. Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet as the backing music.

I note the dates for these are 1984, 1985, 1986, 1996 and 1989, suggesting the 1980s as a golden age for the format. I might have included Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Blackstuff”: (1982) or “GBH”: (1991) on a different day.

An Unlikely Peon

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2006

Observed in the wild, from a book I was reading this morning:

bq. Adam Smith … opens _The Wealth of Nations_ with an unlikely peon to a pin factory.

Sounds like the first few scenes in a Dickensian novel — the unlikely peon (because, as will be revealed later, he is really the heir to a large fortune) is sent by his bitter guardian to work cutting, drawing and polishing pins. Or, seeing as it’s Smith, doing only one of these things.

Clever ad

by Eszter Hargittai on February 17, 2006

Ebay exchange point at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof Train stations often (or sometimes?) have meeting points where people can arrange – surprise-surprise – to meet up with others. This can be helpful if you don’t know the train station at all since you can just decide to meet at the point and then look for it once there. It’s also helpful if you do know the train station since you can avoid having to address the question of specific meeting location every time you’re meeting up with someone.

I was at the Zürich train station last week and noticed an interesting twist on all this: the ebay Xchange point. I had never seen one before. It looks like a really clever way to advertise the service. Not only is it an ad for the auction site, it is also a very helpful place for people to meet up to exchange items bought and sold on ebay. While people could just say “see you at the meeting point” that’s less helpful when you have never met the person before and since the regular meeting point tends to get quite crowded at times, it’s useful to have a separate location for these exchanges.

Anyone know of other such points elsewhere? Extra credit for having pictures of other such locations.:)