Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A wholehearted endorsement

Back when I posted my complaint about the New York Times Book Review Best Books of 2006, my friend Jake emailed to say he agreed. Then he added, "I would add one thing to your list of complaints: where the hell was The Road on that list? Don't know if you read it or liked it, but I fucking loved that book. Scared the hell out of me, but, god, I loved it."

I hadn't read Cormac McCarthy's The Road yet, but I have now. I couldn't agree with Jake more. It's an incredible novel. I think its flaws are minor (though there are some interesting and troubling gender issues worth discussing), but the novel is so moving, so well crafted, so horrifying, I can't believe there wasn't a place for it in the NYTBR list. I keep thinking about the novel, not only for its emotional potency (that's my fancy way of saying it scared the hell out of me, too), but for how brilliantly put together it is. It's one of those novels where you close the book once you're done and say out loud, "Wow."

So put down that book on your comps list and go read The Road.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays, Bill Simmons!

As we veer closer to the new year and the end of the NFL Regular Season, I'd like us all to take note of a special event that's coming up: the final nail in the coffin of Bill Simmons' credibility. You see, this season, he's decided to compete against his wife in picking NFL games. With one week to go, she's four games up on him. I can't claim that he can retain his dignity by winning by one game, but that would be something, I suppose.

Still, she's pretty routinely kicked his ass at picking games despite the fact that she knows little about football. Also, each week, she's had a sidebar column that demonstrates hubby Bill's biggest weakness as a writer: he can't condense. He just types and types and types; he doesn't know how to hit it and quit (R.I.P., James Brown). So keep a close eye on NFL games this Sunday. Both Simmons' picks will go up on the Worldwide Leader's site on Friday. And next week, he'll be claiming (again) that this has been the weirdest gambling season ever. For the rest of us, it'll be the happiest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NBA fans, what's wrong with this statement?

From NBA Kommissar David Stern: "We believe that the heat of the moment allows certain overstepping of traditional bounds."

Quiz time: This statement was used by Stern regarding:
  • a. the league's crackdown on players complaining to officials about calls? You know, the one where players get technicals for looking at refs wrong?
  • or b. Isiah Thomas' insanity after the brawl at MSG?
If you answered "b," you are correct. Now, for the lightning round. Is Stern's above quote deeply ironic in terms of
  • a. the league's crackdown on players complaining to officials about calls? You know, the one where players get technicals for looking at refs wrong?
  • b. Isiah Thomas' insanity after the brawl at MSG?
  • or c. all of the above?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some easy thoughts about difficult poetry

My Funkytown acquaintance Kristi Maxwell writes over at her blog, "Thinking: We should banish the terms "difficult" and "difficulty" from our discussions of poetry." Though I like the idea of banishing certain terms from poetry discussions, I wonder who takes care of this. Where are the thuggish poets to do this? Will the Poetry Society of America send over John Ashbery to confuse us and Yusef Komunyakaa to make us cry? Will the Academy of American Poets take conference fees from us and brick us in, cask-of-amontillado-like, behind Norton anthologies? Will Billy Collins come tickle us until we wet ourselves and cry uncle? Or will some devious character place the collected poems of Robert Lowell and James Merrill precariously on some top shelf to topple onto us and trap us in some awkward position so we can only count down the moments until our last breath?

Seriously, though, I think I agree with Kristi, at least in principle. Calling certain poetry "difficult" is like calling certain children "difficult": why won't you just behave and do as I'd like you to? What's with all the noise and seeming nonsense? "Difficult" is simply a term that obscures the real discussion--what is this poem doing or trying to do? (I imagine this term is particularly annoying in workshop.)

At the same time, though, "difficult" can be useful. The syntax in Paradise Lost, for example, is difficult to access, especially because we have to read complex sentences with line breaks. Plus, we like our sentences short and obvious these days. But that difficulty is a good (and important) thing in Paradise Lost. The syntactic difficulty seems like a fruitful thing to talk about. Also, I think "difficulty" can be a good starting point. So what do you mean, difficult? Is the poem illogical? Or does it rely on another kind of logic? Say, the logic of sound. Or does it follow wordplay and rhyme with little apparent attention to the immediately comprehensible?

And if we get right down to it, any poem worth reading is "difficult" in some way. (Sweeping generalization alert!) Good poems require a high level of attentiveness, even if (as in the case of, say, Frost) they seem narratively simple to understand. Another way of saying this: what is the aesthetic of the non-difficult poem?

But these are just some starting thoughts, and I'm not a poet or scholar of poetry. Someone more coherent and intelligible take over from here.

Update, 12/15, 9:31 am. In the comments, Kristi says what I meant to say, only more clearly--when people use the word "difficult," they're referring to the surface of the poem. So thanks to Kristi, "more coherent and intelligible" than me as I predicted.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My wife is going to be pissed

BREAKING NEWS: Soy makes you gay!

(Via Crooks and Liars, via Right Wing Watch, via dolorosa)

As a (mostly) vegetarian, I'm in real trouble. Praise be for the wisdom of the ever-sane World Net Daily. According to Jim Rutz, who seems a little crazy (or at the very least, needs a proofreader), soy is "a devil food" that leads to increased homosexuality by stimulating your "'female side,' physically and mentally"; "commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality"; might "explain the dramatic increase in obesity today"; and "may be boosting the rapidly rising incidence of leukemia in children."

If you'd like to read all the scientific evidence that proves just how dangerous soy is, well, you won't get it from Jim. He provides no links, though he does claim that there's research and scientific evidence for all his claims. Plus, he reassures me with his opening: "Now, I'm a health-food guy, a fanatic who seldom allows anything into his kitchen unless it's organic. I state my bias here just so you'll know I'm not anti-health food." Whew.

Of course, I'm scared here because I don't want to find that my "testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen." (Geez, I think Rutz must have gone to Harvard Medical School.) But this explains that, despite the fact that I've always hated musicals, I've recently realized Singin' in the Rain is one of my favorite movies. Plus, I have no qualms about carrying a rainbow umbrella when I walk the dog in the rain. Also, my beard (not to mention my wife, my other beard) must be cover as a heterosexual. What am I to do?

Oh, wait, I'm largely in the clear: "If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate." Again, whew.

As it turns out, fermented soy (including soy sauce and tempeh) is okay, but tofu will increase your gayness, you baby-hating so-and-so.

Don't let the fact that he's a religious nutball and has no background in science or medicine keep you away. Avoid the soy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Aargh

You know, I just get so peeved at the New York Times Book Review. I can't help it, I suppose. In this past Sunday's edition, they listed their "10 Best Books of 2006": five works of fiction, five works on nonfiction. (They are so kind as to include poetry on their 100 Notable Books of the Year.) Here's what bugs me:
  • Of the ten books, all were published by major presses. Oh, and of the publishers included, several are owned under the same subsidiaries (Penguin Group, Random House), and one (Henry Holt) also publishes the imprint Times Books, a joint venture with the New York Times. God Bless 'em.
  • Of the ten writers, seven have contributed their writing to the Times within the past year.
  • Several received multiple reviews by the Times (including Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, which received not only two reviews, but also an odd piece by Charles McGrath about riding through New Jersey with Ford).
  • The NYTBR devotes its cover to the list but only one page and capsule reviews for the books.
  • And speaking of the cover, it's a vending machine with the books in it. I suppose next year they'll have an iPod with the books listed as songs.
The books aren't ranked, but the usual problems of "Best Books" lists are apparent, in addition to the problems I listed above. Why not ask prominent writers to contribute essays about this year's books that they loved or that intrigued them. I'd be interested in, say, Marisha Pessl (one of the Times fawnees, both on the list and in their coverage of the book throughout the year; oh, and she sometimes writes for them, too) tying together disparate books, fiction and nonfiction, that she read, or dealing with a novel that she can't stop thinking about.

Besides, any "Best Books" list that doesn't include Grisham is just plain shallow. I mean, come on--do Times reviewers not travel in airports?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Anything to help a grad student out

Go here.

Holiday Vandalism Challenge!

Of all the kitschy shit people are putting on their lawns this holiday season, I think the one that disturbs me the most is the white skeletal deer that lights up. There are several varieties, as I learned on my most recent walk with the dog, but the one I see most commonly is a pair that features one deer with its head down as if sniffing the ground, the other with its head tilted upward as if sniffing the air. Naturally, their heads rotate.

I mention this because last year, a family down the street from my parents had the pair of deer with rotating heads. Some enterprising vandal arranged the deer so that the one with its head in the air appeared to be mounting the one with its nose to the ground. Remember, heads rotating. Somehow, the owners of the display failed to notice for about a week. Tragically, though my mom drove by it twice a day and kept telling herself to get a picture, she failed to do so.

That brings us to the first ever Crazy Little Thing Called Blog Holiday Vandalism Challenge!©®™ If you can provide me with a photo (better yet, with video) of the wonder that must be two lit deer engaging in amorous holiday cheer, I'll post it to this here blog and you'll win some sort of as-yet undecided prize. (Please note: I am not endorsing vandalism; what I describe above is probably illegal, and you should probably not do it. Or at least not get caught. I'm simply endorsing comic/journalistic recording of said vandalism.)

Royale, avec fromage

So I saw the new Bond flick, Casino Royale, this weekend. Pretty good, all in all. Daniel Craig's a great actor, and my wife made her requisite loud gasps at surprising moments. But here's what bugs me: in a movie series known for its gadgets and mechanical trickeration, how could you have an agent say, "It's amazing what you can do with Photoshop these days"? Honestly, aren't spies using software a little more sophisticated than Photoshop? I mean, they aren't just pranksters.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Yet more things I want for Ex-mass

  • An acceptance letter.
  • Any Regina Spektor cd, but especially "Begin to Hope." (By the way, go watch her video for "Fidelity" if you haven't already.)
  • The end of sweatshop labor, or at least a drastic reduction.
  • Fewer fast-moving cold fronts with winds that wake me up in the middle of the night.
  • Something good on dvd, I don't know what.
  • A re-release of Superman Returns on dvd with the right goddamn ending. (Long story--watched the movie last night; the studio clearly demanded a different ending. And the studio got it.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

All I want for Christmas

(and my birthday, which falls shortly after Christmas)

  • The tea stains off my two front teeth.
  • Elvis Costello cd's, including "My Aim is True," "Get Happy!" "Imperial Bedroom," "Trust," and "The Delivery Man."
  • [REDACTED]
  • The final Harry Potter book to come out so I can gloat when most of my predictions about it are true.
  • Good mental health.
  • A scarf.
  • [REDACTED]
  • Whatever the best Jay-Z cd is.
  • All the white evangelicals to realize how inherently racist it is to wish for a return to America's glory days of the pre-1950s.
  • For said evangelicals to realize how inherently silly it is to believe that God guides American history and that He/She/It speaks directly to them.
  • A good Hold Steady cd.
  • The ability to eat the apples I buy and not forget about them, letting them rot into softness next to the stove.
  • Nothing pony-related. (Take heed, bro and sister-in-law.)
  • An academy award for Borat.
  • More email, less junk email.
  • [REDACTED]
Updated
  • A new pair of jeans.
  • Less back pain.
  • Really stylish hair, but just for about a month.
  • Underwear. Well, only from my wife.
  • Functional government.
  • [REDACTED]
  • Funnier running jokes.
  • A new laptop.
  • A working knowledge of a foreign language.
  • Cable television without the addiction to bad television.
  • Funkytown's football team to make it to the NFL playoffs. (This would be funnier if they weren't an NFL team.)
  • Bill Maher to realize that a comedian wearing a suit is still merely a comedian.
  • For said comedian to realize that his one-liners aren't that great, that few comedians use one-liners anymore, that smirking when you reach the one-liner doesn't make it funny.
  • To ease up a bit on people like Bill Maher and direct my energy elsewhere. Like Deadspin.
  • Coffee, without the shakes.
Updated again
  • A one-credit course for all incoming undergraduates on how to use the fucking bathroom, including the normalcy of using a urinal, the good reasons not to pee on the seat, and how to flush.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hey Douchebag! "Hitchens Hearts Borat" Edition

(Warning: Borat spoilers ahead)

If Christopher Hitchens were to dine with a Southern, Christian family that lived on Secession Drive, how long do you think he’d last before being asked to leave? I ask because Hitchens has written an odd, scattershot essay about Borat for Slate. That means it’s time for another installment of “Hey Douchebag!

Ever the contrarian (or reactionary, I can’t decide which), Hitchens doesn’t like Borat. But it’s where Hitchens begins that signals just how off his piece is: he makes a lot of hay about a bad summary of the movie in a review in The New Statesman (subscriber only). He begins with the bad table-of-contents listing (not likely to have been written by the reviewer), “Sacha Baron Cohen’s exposure of crass Americana.” Like any headline, that one does an injustice to both the movie and the review. Neither the film nor Ryan Gilbey, the reviewer in question, is interested solely in “crass Americana.” Hitchens, of course, cannot deny the volume or variety of American crassness in the movie (the homophobe who tells Borat to shave his mustache because he looks like a Muslim and terrorist; the frat boys who extol bad behavior with women, then go on to support slavery; the Pentacostals who speak in tongues and “save” Borat; the incredibly long line of people waiting with books, magazines, and life-sized reproductions of Pamela Anderson’s character in Barb Wire, who all want their memorabilia signed by her). Given how troubling the acknowledgement of so much crassness would be to his thesis, he ignores it.

Gilbey’s offending paragraph is, as Hitchens points out, inaccurate, especially in Gilbey’s odd (though not entirely inaccurate) use of the word “compliance” to describe how storeowners respond to Borat. But instead of acknowledging that Borat receives at times compliance and at times resistance (though it’s actually no surprise that a gun owner wouldn’t sell a “Kazakh” a gun with a camera trained on him), Hitchens focuses on “the discovery that Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse.” He then catalogs the good manners of those who come into contact with Borat and acknowledges the normalcy of those who threaten Borat on the subway. But here’s what Hitchens (and many other reviewers) have missed: Borat isn’t just satirizing the “attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan” (Hitchens) or “crass Americana”: he’s also (and maybe most importantly) exposing how Americans use decorum and politesse to obscure their narrowmindedness (and worse).

Let’s take the example of the formal dinner Borat attends in Birmingham, which Hitchens returns to as a prime example of the pedantic hospitality and politesse of Americans. We’re introduced to the diners by way of a street sign, the above-mentioned Secession Drive. On this street that stands as a stark reminder of the South’s enduring legacy of the Civil War, they tolerate his behavior admirably. (It’s worth noting they knew they were on camera and signed waivers.) But they speak to him and of him in the most condescending way. When Borat compliments a woman on her “erotic physique,” the pastor in the group says with the slow nod of patronizing, “That’s correct. That’s a very good observation.” And when Borat is out of the room, a woman speaks of how easy it would be to “Americanize” Borat. Hitchens summarizes that moment as when they “agree what a nice young American he might make,” a summary that elides just how patronizing that moment is.

Borat’s vulgarity and crassness escalates in each scene not to elicit the vulgarity and crassness of some Americans (though he succeeds in that), it escalates to show how we mask our crassness. That’s why scenes such as “The Running of the Jew” matter so much as counterpoint—many Americans imagine that we’ve moved well beyond crass racism, jingoism, and prejudice. The counterpoint of Borat’s crassness with the disturbing (and sometimes easily pierced) masks of Americans is what the movie is really all about.

That, and the opportunity to hear a fat man yell, “Eat my asshole!”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NFL Officiating Officially Sucks

In an era when any play in a football game has at least four camera angles, bad officiating simply should not have a role in deciding games. A few weeks ago against Tampa Bay, Cincinnati got screwed on a phantom roughing the passer call on Robert Geathers, and today, on Cincinnati's last-chance drive against Baltimore, officials failed to call an obvious 4th down pass interference that would have kept the drive alive. Would Cincinnati have won today's game? Not necessarily, but they should be 5-3 (the Tampa game) and could be 6-2 if they'd had a shot on their last drive. The cameras were in the right place to see, but not the officials.

*****

A plea to sportswriters everywhere:

Stop using the phrase "perfect storm." Any time a couple of circumstances lead to an outcome, a sportswriter (or, in the case of Randy Cross, an announcer) will call it a "perfect storm." And each time they do, I get the sense that they're using it because they think it makes them sound smart. But now it's become a sports cliche. Go ahead, use Google to see how often ESPN's writers use it, or Sports Illustrated's, or the writers aggregated through Yahoo Sports.

*****

I love the Sports Gal

As I've mentioned elsewhere, Bill Simmons has long since lost his edge, but at least his football picks are worth reading for his wife's brief columns. She's funny, and unlike her hubby, she doesn't labor the jokes she makes, she just makes them and moves on. Also, she's out-picking him so far this NFL season. I'm rooting for her.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It is futile to resist

Olive wants you to call for change.













If you don't, she'll take away your frisbee.













Call For Change

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why the mother-loving internet exists

Positively literal

Usage pet peeve: people who use "literally" to modify something figurative. For example, from a marketing book I recently read: "People are literally bombarded with advertisements in their mailbox every day." Unless the writer is describing Iraq, I don't think that's a literal bombardment.

But in reading a book about Abraham Lincoln's depression, Lincoln's Melancholy, I came across the following description of the raucous reception Lincoln received one week before the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago:

"The crowd went wild. Delegates and onlookers threw hats, books, and canes into the air. The wigwam shook so much that its canvas exterior became detached from the wood beams. 'The roof was literally cheered off the building,' declared an early account of the maelstrom."

Now the pleasure of a sentence like the one from the early account is diminished because people don't care enough to know the distinction between literal and figurative. Nuts.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Teachers, my gift to you

Those of you who've ever taught understand the frustration of a student who's done little work, trying to scrape by on some misguided notion of "charm" and the slack standards of public school (NB: the slack standards of public school made my hellish teenage years slightly smoother than they would have been otherwise), coming to you and complaining about his or her grade. "But I deserve [to pass] [an A] [a B] etc."

Well, teachers, here's the balm for your scabbed hearts, a phrase you can use in the office to complain. Or if you're the brutal sort, you can use it with your students. My gift to you: revisionist bitchery. Use it wisely, use it often, use it well.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

An unexpected pleasure

I'm not a Fiona Apple fan, but she and Elvis Costello do an incredible job here of one of my favorite E.C. songs. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Somewhere, off in the distance, a blog barked

The first time I heard the term "flame war," it gurgled from the mouth of an anxious English teacher and fantasy geek. He wasn't sure whether he should post a response to another fantasy geek looking for the only kind of fight he could win, a curse-laden, unproofread discussion board screed about D&D or World of Warcraft. "I don't want to start a flame war," he said. I probably left to use the bathroom.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The regimen

Sorry about the slow posting the last few days. Between the sinus infection and my newfound work ethic, I haven't had much time for blogging.

But I'd like to list what I'm taking in the morning while I'm sick, just to give you a sense of how unhuman I feel right now:

  1. Anti-depressant
  2. Methylcobalamin, sublingual B-12 (dissolved under the tongue)
  3. Generic Sudafed (not with pseudephedrin, but with the other ingredient)
  4. Two teaspoons elderberry syrup
  5. Homeopathic sinus/cold remedy, dissolved under the tongue (two pills)
  6. Three asprin
  7. Ricola

Ugh.

In a completely unrelated note, Sports Illustrated football "expert" Peter King was 7-7 in predicting the weekend's games. My congrats to him.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Laughing Cure

Two anecdotes:

  1. A few years ago, I went into the men's room at a Barnes & Noble. At the urinal was a bald man wearing a shirt my mom would describe as "loud," kicking her faint Southern accent into full Arkie (that's Arkansan) mode. As he's urinating, he farts loudly, then sighs. Why do I note this? He was my therapist at the time.
  2. In my second or third therapy session of all time, I was describing my making out with a girl outside a bar the weekend prior. The therapist interrupts and asks, "Was there heavy petting?"
I'm telling these stories a) because they're funny (I think) and b) because they signal to me the major problem of therapy: it's with another human being, one who farts, wears ugly shirts, likes bad movies, laughs inappropriately, and uses phrases no one's used since Beaver Cleaver.

That's all. Go about your business.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Please be tender with the ouchy groin

"Peter King knows football," reads the ad at the top of the page. The subhead for the article declares, "Bucs, Panthers will do anything to avoid 0-2 start." Well, anything short of winning, it seems. That's right, Peter King's Weekend Pickoff NFL predictions provide me again with the joy that only bad predictions made by an expert can. To wit:

Atlanta 14, Tampa Bay 3
PK's Pick: Tampa Bay 16, Atlanta 13. King writes, "You know how Jon Gruden is. The sky is falling, the world is ending, the entire planet will grind to a halt if we don't win this week. That's what he's telling his team this week. And I'm naive enough -- particularly with John Abraham's ouchy groin either limiting him or sidelining him -- to buy it."

I'd like to note here that Michael Koenen, Atlanta's kicker, went 0-4 on field goals, so the game wasn't really as close as 14-3. Perhaps he has what King calls an "ouchy groin." After the game, King was found in the NBC men's room hitting his head against the hand dryer and repeating over and over again, "Why am I so naive?"


Buffalo 16, Miami 6
PK's Pick: Miami 16, Buffalo 14. According to King, "I like the Bills a lot more than I thought I would. But if you think they're going to win at Nick Saban's house, after Saban limp-wristed the replay flag in the fourth quarter during the Pittsburgh loss and after the Dolphins have had three extra days to prepare, you're crazy."

See, if you predict the future accurately, you're crazy. And Sunday night, King went to Saban's house, where he screamed about Saban's "limp-wristed play calling." Saban responded by punching King in the face and instructing Daunte Culpepper to throw a football at King. Fortunately for King, the ball slipped out of Culpepper's hand.

New Orleans 34, Green Bay 27
PK's Pick: Green Bay 17, New Orleans 12. Still angry about the Saints winning in Week One, King writes of this pick, "I don't know why, really. I guess because this game, quite literally, is the Packers' season. They're at Detroit, at Philly and at Miami for three of their next four, and starting 0-2 at home would end any hopes they have of salvaging Mike McCarthy's rookie year."

Yes, Peter King knows football. I don't know why, really.

New York Giants 30, Philadelphia 24
PK's Pick: Philadelphia 19, New York 17. King writes, "I loved hearing Tom Coughlin the other day. Everyone's anointing the Giants as a very good team (me among them). He came out and said: Hey, you gotta win to be a very good team. Winning. Pretty important factor."

To King's credit, had he picked Philly to win at halftime, I would have agreed. This game will probably lead to Bill Simmons recalibrating his "Levels of Losing"--not that Simmons would rehash an old column because he's out of ideas. Hey, why's it quiet in here all of a sudden? Anyway, notice that King says absolutely nothing about the game. You know, everyone's anointing King as a football expert. Correctly picking games. Pretty important factor.

Minnesota 16, Carolina 13
PK's Pick: Carolina 23, Minnesota 20. King: "I have a bad feeling about the Panthers right now. Really bad. Dan Morgan's fifth concussion, Maake Kemoeatu looking like a turnstile against the Falcons' run game, Travelle Wharton out for the year, necessitating Jordan Gross' move from right to left tackle. But John Fox will be Grudenesque this week. It's must-win time."

Why isn't King reading the first things he writes before making his pick? Again: "I have a bad feeling about the Panthers right now. Really bad." At least he was right about John Fox being Grudenesque.

San Fransisco 20, St. Louis 13
PK's Pick: St. Louis 20, San Fransisco 13. Man, he almost had that one perfect. King writes, "Talked to Scott Linehan the other day. What a cool cucumber. Raved about two of the best leaders he's seen in the league: La'Roi Glover and Corey Chavous. They might be pretty good."

What do cool cucumbers do? They rave. Chavous' stats? One tackle, assisted. Glover's? Zero tackles. Yes, they might be pretty good.

So all in all, King didn't pick so badly; just six losses (I'm writing this before the Pittsburgh/Jacksonville game is over, so there could be a seventh loss; it's an exciting 0-0 halftime tie as I write). But when he's off, man, he's way off. Seriously, though, seriously: he's got an ouchy groin.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why I blog anonymously

or, Lee Siegel is so, so fetching.

Every Sunday I open The New York Times Magazine, I tell myself, "No, Crazy Little Thing, don't read "Questions for ________." You'll just get mad that they've chosen the idiot they've chosen this week for a shallow, boot-licking "interview." And it happened again this morning, when I turned to "Questions for Lee Siegel," which was right after a nice short piece by Michael Bérubé about "liberalism" in the university and why it's not a problem (though if you've ever been to MB's blog, you've read similar things before). By the way, all you need to know about Lee Siegel is that he's a self-indulgent cultural critic who got suspended from blogging for The New Republic because he anonymously attacked his critics in comments to his own posts.

So how bad was "Questions for Lee Siegel?" Bad. Bad bad. Me stripped of words and stuff to articumulate it. (More on this in a moment.) It all begins with the first clause of Deborah Solomon's first question: "As one of the country's most eloquent and acid-tongued cultural critics..." Ahem. I know it's spoken in an interview, but how about this eloquence from Siegel: "Seriously, the blogosphere strips argument of logic and rhetoric down to the naked emotion behind it."

Point #1: Nice generalization, sprezzatura. That generalization had the appearance of no effort. Point #2: While the rhetoric on blogs may be weak or poorly thought-out, it's still there. See, if it were just the "naked emotion behind it," it might look like this: kljma,.mkljw y;hqgjakl/nmfsad;ljasjdgahfsadaaaaaaaargh!

I will praise Deborah Solomon for the greatest question ever asked of Siegel: "What are you talking about?" But even asking that crucial question, she's still indulged him too much. Consider the following:

Did you feel that you were doing something ethically questionable when you posted, for instance, a comment by Sprezzatura that carried the headline “Siegel Is My Hero”?

Every man is a hero to his alias. No, it never occurred to me at the time that I was doing something wrong. There are other people who appear anonymously on Web sites; they do battle with their detractors. Anonymity is a universal convention of the blogosphere, and the wicked expedience is that you can speak without consequences. What was wrong about it is that I did it under the aegis of The New Republic, as a senior editor of the magazine.

But beyond the breach of your journalistic compact, don’t you think it’s intellectually lame to express one’s opinions anonymously?

I do indeed. Everyone seems to be fleeing from the responsibilities that come from being who you are. I think that is why the blogosphere is thriving. It allows people to develop a fantasy self.

*****
This brings me to my point: I blog anonymously (seriously, Crazy Little Thing is not my real name). A few points on this. I'm not a hero to my alias in any sense; anonymity is far from being a "universal collection"--see Daily Kos, Crooks & Liars, Think Progress, any number of the bloggers at Science Blogs, the above-linked Michael Bérubé, even Instapundit and Michelle Malkin; the error was not blogging anonymously "under the aegis of The New Republic," it was "the dishonesty and sockpuppetry"; and finally, thanks again for the overgeneralization of "everyone seems to be fleeing from the responsibilities." Eloquent, indeed.

So why do I blog anonymously?
  1. I'm a grad student working toward a Ph.D., and I also teach undergraduates. What I write on the blog has little to do with my academic work, but given the discomfort many in academia seem to have with blogs, anonymity allows me a certain comfort to know irrelevant ramblings won't adversely affect me on the job market someday.
  2. I'm also a fiction writer, but that work is also distinct from what I do on the blog. I don't want to use the blog as a stepping stone for publication, but as a conversation with a few friends and, sometimes, for a wider audience.
  3. The blog can function as a kind of journal, which allows me to post more personal things with confidence and comfort.
But you know what? Sprezzagella has a point: if you choose to blog anonymously, you should acknowledge some responsibilities. Ultimately, if my blog cowl were removed and I could no longer growl, "I'm Blogman" without my real identity being known, I'd be okay with that. I've still maintained boundaries of decorum and respect. I don't libel or make personal attacks; and if I do veer into name-calling and immaturity, it's not under Siegel's incomprehensible saying, "I am too childlike to be immature," it's because I back it up with an argument invested with a pretty high level of logic and rhetoric, or at least as much as I can. (Unless I'm writing about sports. But that's different.) So I'll go on being "intellectually lame" for a while.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hey douchebag!

Today, I'm beginning an occasional series I've wanted to begin for a while: Hey douchebag! My goal is to confront the problems with Slate magazine's contrarianism. They post any number of ridiculous things in the course of a week, and they need more watchdogs. Among their most telling efforts, see Christopher Hitchens' bizarre attack on Juan Cole. Of course, he chides Cole not for his published writing, but for a comment on a closed discussion board. Or see Jacob Weisberg's god-awful column claiming that Hillary Clinton's iPod demonstrates that she's a calculated politician and that Bush's iPod demonstrates that he's an uncalculating regular guy.

So why "Hey douchebag!" and not, say, "A reasonable dissent from the tone and style of Slate?" Because I'm aping their silly contrarianism, the penchant for startling headlines.

(Note: I regularly visit Slate, and I often enjoy what they produce. This is, in part, an effort to enjoy more of what they produce by curbing the badness in any small way I can.)

For the first installment, let's look at how Slate approaches science: with dilettante Gregg Easterbrook, who has no qualifications to write on science. Yet he tries to tell us that String Theory is junk, based on the fact that he's read one (count 'em, one) book. Now, Easterbrook, summarizing Smolin, might be right about string theory. In fact, other scienticians who've read the book take Smolin's argument seriously. And Smolin is a reputable scientist. (NB: I'm also not a scientician, and I'm happy to let actual scienticians do the research.)

However, let's bear in mind that Slate gives us the review of Smolin's book through the filter of a writer manifestly unqualified to write about science, a writer who clearly has other axes to grind. For example, here's Easterbrook's opening paragraph:

"The leading universities are dominated by hooded monks who speak in impenetrable mumbo-jumbo; insist on the existence of fantastic mystical forces, yet can produce no evidence of these forces; and enforce a rigid guild structure of beliefs in order to maintain their positions and status. The Middle Ages? No, the current situation in university physics departments. I just invented the part about the hoods."

So we know what Easterbrook begins with. All university physicists are trying to protect their narrow, myopic world. (By the way, Easterbrook only recently came around to "believing" in global warming, and he advocates teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. Just fyi.) Easterbrook again:

"If you worry that even in the 21st century, intellectual fads have as much to do with university politics and careerism as with the search for abstract truth, The Trouble With Physics is a book you absolutely must read."

Yes, folks, that's right, let's base our approach to this book on overgeneralized biases about the state of the university. Because nothing helps out "the search for abstract truth" like overgeneralized biases.

"The physics establishment reacted adversely to Smolin's cosmic natural selection because the idea implies direction: Over time, existence progresses toward a condition more to the liking of beings such as us. In recent decades it has become essential at the top of academia to posit utter meaninglessness to all aspects of physics."

I'd like to note that Easterbrook cites absolutely no one who claims that science must look toward meaninglessness. I'm sure he can find plenty of scientists who note the difference between study of the physical world and study of the metaphysical world (i.e. science and religion). However, noting that separation and arguing for meaninglessness are not the same thing. Of course, then we get to Easterbrook's particular axe to grind:

"Today if a professor at Princeton claims there are 11 unobservable dimensions about which he can speak with great confidence despite an utter lack of supporting evidence, that professor is praised for incredible sophistication. If another person in the same place asserted there exists one unobservable dimension, the plane of the spirit, he would be hooted down as a superstitious crank."

Poor Gregg, unable to tout his religious ideas in a scientific forum. But let me be the first to say: whether or not Easterbrook is a superstitious crank, I don't know. But he's certainly a crank.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

There'll be days like this, my marmoset

We're drunk on power and website hits today, going so far as to use the first-person plural (or as I once called it in an undergrad class, "the fourth person"). I'm also drunk on love. And some beer. Thanks to Deadspin, Awful Announcing, The Big Lead, and Javadog Sports, for linking to me over the past two days and sending my ego soaring. So send them all some love back and go visit them, if you don't already.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Am I right to be this pissed off?

In a pretty shallow essay over at Slate, Stephen Metcalf writes one sentence that pissed me off at first. Now I'm not sure if I should be pissed off, but I can't shake the feeling. In discussing Donald Antrim's memoir The Afterlife, Metcalf writes, "If Antrim's book is predictable--—and it is, taking us through all the standard cliches, including an episode of sexual abuse--—what accounts for its strange power?"

Now, if you include sexual abuse in a novel, it can be a narrative cliche. But in a memoir? A tragic event from someone's life is now a cliche? What the fuck?

(Sorry, by the way, for the lack of accents in "cliche" throughout the post. I can't figure out how to add them.)

My "deconversion" narrative

Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist is calling atheists and agnostics for their "deconversion narratives," so I thought this is as good a time as any to post mine. (In case you're curious, the conversion narrative plays an interesting role in Christianity, depending on who you ask. One site details Thomas Hooker's six steps to conversion (scroll down).

I grew up in what was essentially a non-religious household. Though my grandparents (who lived near but not with us) believed and went to church, we only began going when I was around nine, and then only because my older brother was curious about going. We attended a Methodist church led by the friendly Brother Steve, and my parents bought us King James Versions of the Bible. I still have mine, complete with my name and the date I received it written on the first page in thick calligraphy.

Mostly we hated church, though I enjoyed the day we got to dress in surplices and light the candles on the altar at the beginning of the service. The ritual was fun. And I still remember fondly our exit among the crowd, with Brother Steve waiting for us all at the entrance/exit with a firm handshake and a smile. Still, the enduring feelings (not memories exactly, but sensations) are of exhaustion--the difficulty of keeping still against the hard-backed pew and keeping my head erect, not lolling near my shoulders--and the oppressive ache of perfume.

Despite my feelings for church, I prayed. Not in any actual sense Christianity might condone, but in the hopeful, immature yearning of adolescent boys for heaven-sent girls. I remember one night, when I was twelve, running up to the hill near our apartment complex and sitting on the wet grass (I hated sitting in wet grass but endured it anyway), praying that the overweight girl with a crush on me would give up and that the girl at school I liked would come around.

So in the long run, I had little to sacrifice in terms of faith. My older brother, who's fierce in his intelligence and his opinions, helped me "see" the lack of evidence for God's existence. Eventually, I came to understand that faith is not a matter of evidence or the lack thereof; both faith and doubt rely on the same assumption: that something we cannot understand with our senses or scientific measures does or does not exist. I'm comfortable making the leap that no God exists.

And that's what's strange to me about my deconversion narrative. I don't remember the key moment I became an atheist; I only remember moments in the mellowing of my atheism. I used to be an aggressive atheist, starting arguments with believers for the sake of knowing I would win them; after all, no one could prove God existed. I remember hearing an agnostic say, "I can't be an atheist because it's the same leap. If life has taught me anything, it's that there's little I ever remain certain of."

And finally, what's strangest to me is that I admire faith. I like the idea of it, that we could blindly place authority in something, that we could trust something. I admire the great things faith has led to, even in the face of the cruelties, prejudices, violences, it has led to.

So there's my deconversion narrative. And now I'll never be able to run for public office.

Watch this

This is utterly bizarre, mesmerizing and mundanely horrifying, if that makes sense. Go watch. (It doesn't need volume.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This just in: Simmons begins reading US Weekly

NFL predictions always amuse me, in part because so few people are any good at them. For example, in Week One, Bill Simmons was 6-10. On it's own, not a big deal. But he got beat by his wife, who went 8-8.

Peter King, coffee-drinker and Kissing Suzy Kolber-lover extraordinnaire, went 9-7. But he does it with such verve, not only picking the winner, but also the final score, some stats, and the major play(s). But I don't think he ever gets called on his predictions, which is odd given how much time seems put into them. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to show which games PK got wrong, then predict what he did after learning how wrong his pick was.

New Orleans 19, Cleveland 14

PK's pick: Cleveland 20, New Orleans 17. King writes, " It's not an ideal debut for Reggie Bush, losing his opener and getting pelted with milkbones at the same time, but I have a feeling he'd better get used to it -- at least the losing part."

Bush actually produces over 140 total yards. King commences to chant, "He's still overrated," as the Starbucks employees sweeping up call the regional manager for advice on getting him out of the place.

Baltimore 27, Tampa Bay 0

PK's pick: Tampa Bay 16, Baltimore 10. King writes, "Simeon Rice, meet Steve McNair. Three times. The Ravens had better learn how to protect McNair or he'll never last 16 games."

McNair gets sacked only once and leads the Ravens to victory and notches a 94.8 quarterback rating. King calls Jon Gruden and offers Mary Beth King's services for the rest of the season.

St. Louis 18, Denver 10

PK's pick: Denver 34, St. Louis 20. King writes, "Jake Plummer laughs at the people trying to give away his job. After a series of those chuckles, he strafes the Rams for 330 yards. Oh, and the Denver running-back job? Looks like Mike Bell's. He's one of the day's rushing leaders, with 132 yards."

Plummer turns the ball over four times and, um, strafes the Rams for 138 yards. He also gets sacked four times as Jay Cutler giggles mightily behind his clipboard. Also, Tatum Bell outrushes Mike Bell by 45 yards. After the game, King asks Bob Costas for a hug. Costas politely turns him down and stands on the other side of Chris Collinsworth from PK.

Seattle 9, Detroit 6

PK's pick: Detroit 24, Seattle 20. King writes, "After this game, no one at Ford Field boos president Matt Millen. They're too busy cheering new coach Rod Marinelli and his offensive genius, Mike Martz."

After the game, King consoles offensive genius Mike Martz by driving them both naked to Wendy's.

NY Jets 23, Tennessee 16

PK's pick: Tennessee 20, NY Jets 17. King writes, "Kerry Collins looks across the field and says: Where am I? Back in New York? With only two weeks of his nose in the playbook, Collins outduels old pal Chad Pennington and leads the Titans to two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Cardiac Titans win their opener."

Pennington's line: 24/33, 319 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT. Game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Collins' line: 17/38, 223 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT. Unfortunately, King had no way of knowing Tennessee had signed Collins just two weeks before the season started. After the game, he calls Dr. Z and leaves a long, rambling message about the virtues of lattes and the shortcomings of wine and Z sits in his easy chair smacking his forehead.

Jacksonville 24, Dallas 17

PK's pick: Dallas 21, Jacksonville 10. King writes, "After the game, Byron Leftwich shakes the cobwebs out after a seven-sack afternoon. "I never knew where they were coming from," he says. "Seems like two guys were coming free every time I dropped back to pass." That, friends, is the 2006 Dallas defense."

In reality, Leftwich gets sacked once. King drives to Leftwich's house and tries to tackle Leftwich as he walks from his driveway to the front door, but King misses and lands in the shrubs. That, friends, is Peter King.

*******
Update, 9/13, 2:00. Check the comments; apparently, I miscounted on Simmons and his wife. Even with the numbers in front of me, I screw up. At least King is just guessing.

Some thoughts about September 11

Whenever I look at a digital clock and the time reads 9:11, I shudder and feel a sudden depression. Then I'm annoyed with myself that five years on, I can't shake that response. Yet whenever I hear a politician refer to 9/11, I don't feel the same shudder, just anger at the way it's used as justification for bad decisions, for hollow and redundant remembrance.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my newspaper didn't come. I was getting ready for school (I had just started a Masters program in English then), and I needed some kind of noise as I ate breakfast and drank my coffee. So I turned on the Today Show around 8:30 and went around my apartment. I had finally sat down on my ratty, twenty-year-old couch to sip my coffee and drift mindlessly on pablum before heading to a class on modernism, when the show comes back from commerical to a shot of the first tower on fire with part of a jetliner sticking out.

Katie Couric was interviewing an NBC producer who lived near the towers by phone. As the second tower was hit, Couric was asking a question. She continued asking through the shot and through the producer's screams of "Oh my God!" for about five seconds. For that reason, to this day I cringe when I see or hear Couric.

I called my mom and told her to turn on the television. I went to class, where I was the only grad student in a class of 30. Before class, people were talking, sharing rumors (a bomb outside the State Department, hijacked planes all over the country), and I felt like even more of an outsider, unable to share in what they knew and didn't know.

After class I spent some time trying to log onto news sites; I informed a fellow grad student, Bill, of what had happened. Several times over the next few years, he reminded me that I was the one who made him aware of what was happening on September 11.

I tutored a foreign-exchange student in the Writing Lab, part of a new building designed to house all the university's tutoring and career help centers. I kept looking away from her essay to the 80s televisions on rolling stands in the distance, when through the crowd around the TVs I could get a glimpse of the towers falling. "Why are all those people watching the TVs?" she asked.

"People flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon this morning."

"Why would people do that?" she said, now unable to think about the essay that had been the cause of her day's anxiety until then.

"I don't know," I said.

I went home afterward and watched news coverage all day, glued to recurring shots of jumpers, of the tops of the towers surreally sliding earthward, taking the rest of the towers with them. Footage of concrete dust billowing, then blackening the street, then giving way to a gray haze. Tom Brokaw and the skyline of wind-blown smoke behind him.

I had bad, predictable dreams in the weeks afterward. I tried to write a September 11 story after declaring only awful ones would be written. I have nothing new to say, nothing new to feel about it, nothing new at all. So if you've kept reading, thanks.

Does Monsanto hate you?

Go watch this. Go read this. Beware Monsanto, beware milk.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Path to Propaganda

If you haven't heard, on Sept. 10 & 11, ABC will run a film called The Path to 9/11 which is filled with bizarre inaccuracies. Not only will it try to capitalize off of 9/11, it will slander Bill Clinton. Go read more here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What the hell?

So I checked my blog hit stats today to find that, since around 3:00 pm, over fifty people have come to my blog, most of them searching for something related to David Horowitz and his "blog" about his book. Anyone want to fill me in on why?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sniffing the protein powder

So I went to the nearby GNC today to get methylcobalamin, a less-common source of B-12. The most common source is cyanocobalamin, but it's often more difficult for the body to process. You take methylcobalamin sublingually (let it dissolve under the tongue), so it bypasses the digestive system and gets metabolized quicker. Some uses are to slow or prevent Alzheimer's disease, decrease the risk of heart disease, and improve one's mood.

But I'm not here to discuss alternative medicines. The guy at the GNC store was nothing like the guys I've seen in other stores--not the big, beefy, neckless wonders who wear the store's shirt one size too small. No, he was a post-Avril Lavigne punk rocker, complete with a black t-shirt and black jeans, heavily gelled black hair, silly tattoos on his forearms, and gigantic earrings. I kept wanting to ask him if he was robbing the place, but instead I asked, "Where do you keep the B vitamins?"

And going to the GNC reminded me of a great story. Several years ago, when the first rumors that Mark McGwire was taking andro and creatine were going around, my friend Gary and I went to the local Smoothie King for smoothies. While we waited, we checked out the wall of supplements and found creatine. One of us, in our worst surfer-dude impression, said, "Dude, gimme some andro!" As if sparked to life, one of the Smoothie King employees came up and said, in a hushed voice, "You guys want some andro?" We laughed and said no.

After he walked off and disappeared into the back, I said, "Look at how skinny we are. I can't believe he thinks we use andro." Just then, another employee came up and said, "You guys want some andro?" We bolted when we got our smoothies and never went back.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One more thing

In my post the other day about the Center for Internet Addiction, I forgot to mention their Internet Addiction Test. For each question, here are your possible answers.

  1. Rarely
  2. Occasionally
  3. Frequently
  4. Often
  5. Always
  6. Does not apply

Now I'm not a professional test writer (though I occasionally or rarely give quizzes), but don't Rarely and Occasionally seem too similar, as do Frequently and Often? So I'm going to vote that the website cannot help you. I'll grant that I haven't read their published paper (careful, it's a pdf) about the Internet Addiction Test, and be aware I'm not a scientician. Still, I'm often, or frequently, interested in how language is used to manipulate people.

The sweet taste of The Onion

Fresh off of questioning Adam Carolla's skill as a comic, I found that the good people at The Onion lay into him. See also their great article about a student writing an essay.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Whatever happened to Bill Simmons?

I'll begin by saying I like reading Bill Simmons, aka the Sports Guy. Among the other writers at ESPN.com's Page 2--the tin-earred, falsely drama of Scoop Jackson, the hyper-reaction of Skip Bayless, the schticky logorrhea of Gregg Easterbrook--Simmons is usually clear, direct, and funny. And, as he likes to point out, why complain about a free column?

That said, the quality of his columns has diminished over time. For example, see his tediously long, obvious comparison between Larry Bird and David Ortiz. What a shock that Bird, fondly known to Simmons as "Larry Legend" and "The Basketball Jesus," won out. Or notice the frequency of mailbag columns lately, the truest sign of Simmons mailing it in.

And the apt criticisms have increased. See the Bill Simmons column generator, Awful Announcing's regular analysis of Simmons' columns, or any reaction to the Sports Guy cartoon(scroll down).

So why has this happened? Why have a lot of Simmons' readers turned on him like Philly fans on Santa Claus? I've been thinking about this a lot, in part because I still check regularly for new columns. It's not like he's become a terrible writer; though he's not as sharp as he was, he's still often worth reading. So here's what I think has happened.

1. Simple attrition. He's not a journalist, he's a writer. I wouldn't even call him a sportswriter. He's a writer who happens to use sports as a general guiding focus. But he's been at his best when he rambles, when he veers away from sports to movies, the nature of his relationships with his male friends, etc. He doesn't write about sports so much as the places sports intersects with life.

Plus, he writes as a fan, particularly as a fan of the internet age. Reading Simmons' best columns is like reading one of those long, rambling emails from a friend who you only see a couple of times a year. Except he's obviously considered what ramblings work and what don't. That's why his Curious Guy segments aren't all that interesting--he asks questions like a fan without really challenging who he's writing with. Or the cartoon--the best word to describe the cartoon is, I think, execrable. Simmons is a good writer, but his timing in prose doesn't translate beyond prose. That's his strength and his limit.

At a certain point, of course, Simmons couldn't keep writing the same columns using the same strengths. He had to expand, which meant other kinds of experiments. So we get the good--his book, the columns about sports books (you know, the ones you read, not the ones where his picks aren't as good as he claims they should be)--but we also get the bad. And because he's writing for ESPN, the expectations are raised, and he has less opportunity to experiment on a smaller scale.

2. Age. He's grown up. You can date this to his move to the West Coast, if you'd like, though I think it's a little more complicated than that. He got married, had a daughter, bought what I assume is a big house, etc. Early on, Simmons posted several long columns per week, each one energetic. He posted each day of a week's trip to Vegas; he posted each day of a Super Bowl trip. Now the columns arrive less frequently; notice how often Simmons complains about his body.

So in the last few years we've seen some good ideas poorly executed. The intern contest, for one, which not only dragged on forever but ended with Simmons hiring a guy who always underperformed. Simmons' energy seemed split; writing both columns for ESPN and jokes for Kimmel seemed to drain him.

3. Speaking of the Kimmel show, Simmons seemed to lose perspective once he started writing for it. The show isn't that good. Strangely enough, Simmons regularly claims that Adam Carrolla is the funniest guy in any room he's in. I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but I couldn't agree less.
____________________

All that said, I still enjoy reading the Sports Guy. He's claimed recently he doesn't want to write his column much longer, or doesn't expect to. So let's enjoy what we can while we can. I'll still look forward to the next big project (a book, I hope).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How to cure an internet addiction

While on vacation, I had little access to the internet and found myself much more productive. Now that I'm back, I'm back online a lot, wasting time and feeling annoyed with myself. But it turns out there's a solution: The Center for Internet Addiction. Sounds great. But it's a website, and I'd like to spend less time online. What's worse, the biggest links on the site are to the left: "Download and Listen to our newest Podcast," "Check out our new Recovery Blog," "Find valuable resources in our Referral Directory," "Email this page to a friend," and "Join our mailing list."

Now, not to be too cynical, since I'm assuming the site and group is valid (though I've done no looking into it), but it seems like the website is asking people to spend more time on the internet, not less. And I didn't even mention the downloads, the self-tests, and the scroll-down menus at the top of the page. I particularly like the self-tests; it gives the site an OKCupid! feel.

Here's some money. Now give me some money!

Good liberals that we are, the wife and I have gotten ourselves onto a number of mailing lists for various causes. Oxfam, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NOW, the Democratic National Committee, any candidate who runs for office in Funkytown or our glorious state. (Somehow, my wife also got a Christmas card from President Bush, but we don't know how that happened. It's the only Republican mail we've ever received.)

Of course, most of these mailings are dunning letters printed on thick, clean white paper, along with personal mailing labels and a letter decrying the current state of things. Don't read this as too critical, mind you--I understand why they send these letters out, and at times we're happy to donate a little. But I've just gotten an odd one from UNICEF. It includes the following:
  • The standard letter. The need is urgent, etc.
  • 57 mailing labels with my wife's name and our address. They're cute. Some how flowers in pots, others have New-Englandy lighthouses. Interestingly enough, she loves gardening, and she was raised in New England.
  • Here's the kicker: a shiny nickel. Yes, the non-profit group that needs our money sent us a nickel. It's a nice 1999 one, Jefferson's profile too noble for such a largely useless coin. Not only that (though that still kills me), it was glued to the cover sticker and showing through the clear plastic of the envelope with the address. They'd like me to return the nickel with my donation. Or my wife's. Maybe if they sent me a twenty.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Guess who's back, back again.

Crazy's back. Tell a friend.

Yes, I'm channelling my inner Eminem. My Svelte Shady, as it were. I've returned from my long hiatus to come back to semi-regular posting, refreshed and renewed. In my "Hiatus" post, I mentioned Kant, hummus, and depression as three of the reasons for my time off. So I guess I'll explain those.
  • Immanuel Kant. A double-whammy. I taught this summer during the 3 1/2 week term, meeting for two hours every day, plus individual and group conferences (not to mention grading and time spent ignoring grading). I focused the research-and-writing class around ethics, so we read excerpts from Peter Singer's anthology, Ethics, including five pages of Kant. Incredibly, the class loved the experience of the difficult readings. It's the best class I've ever taught, and I got the most positive evaluations I've ever gotten. Plus, I've been reading Kant for comps. Good times all around.
  • Hummus. I've been eating a lot of hummus, and I don't like leaving pita dust on the keyboard.
  • Depression. Like a lot of people, I suffer from mild chronic depression. Every once in a while it spikes, as it did earlier this summer. I mention this not for pity or sympathy (though I've gotten two recent kind comments about it--thanks C-Wang and WB), but because depression is a common issue that's still a social stigma for a lot of people. By mentioning it here on my semi-anonymous blog, I hope to encourage people that, if you suffer from depression, you, too, can effectively mock athletes.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Update

For those of you who are curious (or sad), I'm now considering the blog on hiatus until late August, around the 23rd. In the meantime, go read Michael Bérubé and learn something. I'll explain the hiatus once I'm back. Needless to say, it involves Immanuel Kant, depression, and hummus.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Blog Deferred

What happens to a blog deferred?

Does it dry up
like Ann Coulter in the sun?
Or fester like Israeli--
bombing runs?

Does it stink like rotting flesh?
Or crust and sugar over--
like an ignored death?

Maybe it just sags,
like a heavy load.

Or does it implode?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The reports of my demise...

are pretty accurate, really. I took a few days off from the blog, and that became almost a month. And to be honest, I'm not sure if I'm going to keep updating. It seems like a big time suck in a lot of ways, especially since I'm teaching a summer class and reading for comps. Maybe the spirit will move me in the next few days to pick back up, or a chorus of imploring readers will lift me from the anti-blogging doldrums.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

On the marquee

I like to think of myself as an adult, but for some reason, stupid quotes on church marquees drive me to childish reactionary anger. I just want to go up to the church door, knock, and yell out, "How fucking stupid are you?" Yes, I know, it's an overreaction. But here are the ones that bug me:
  • "Coincidences happen when God chooses to remain anonymous."
Really? Do you want to go ahead and admit that you're so frightened of math you choose to believe in coincidences? Really? You know, coincidences are mathematically likely. Please put down your study Bible and go read this book.
  • "Nothing you can see has any real value."
So the church, the Bible, my family, my own body, Christ (assuming one were alive around 33 A.D. or, if you're expecting him to come back soon, you see the Second Coming), priests, saints, preachers, these have no real value? And what do you mean by value?
  • Thankfully, I can't think of an example, but the ones that use letters in "clever" ways bother me, like, "You can't spell church without u." (I made that up, but I'm sure it exists somewhere.
But to show I'm not a completely bad guy, I'll share one that I like, as it applies to fiction writing (though it's a mite disturbing in some ways).
  • "Character is who you are in the dark."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cover your ears!

Know why they call The New York Times the "Gray Lady"? Because it has the sensibility of an old woman:

"[Chicago White Sox Manager] Guillen went into a profanity-laced tirade against Jay Mariotti, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, and called him a number of names, including a derogatory term that is often used to describe someone's sexual orientation."

Now, since I'm not a scaredy-cat, I've been on the interwebnets and seen that Guillen called Mariotti a "fag." Guillen later apologized for using the word, but refused to apologize for calling Mariotti a name. But if I hadn't seen on the interwebnets that Guillen had used the word "fag," imagine my racing thoughts after reading the Times obscurantist phrasing. Was the word:
(Those last two come from the good people at The Dugout.) Also see Deadspin for their helpful list of names Guillen can use in the future. And I think the good people at Jay the Joke, a blog devoted to Mariotti's myriad failures, get it right.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Go read a literary magazine

The July/August issue of Poetry is their humor issue, and I'm happy to tell you to go buy it. Not only do I know two of the contributors, but unlike the last humor issue, this one is actually really funny. I haven't read the whole issue, but it includes some real gems, including:
  • X.J. Kennedy's brilliant parodies.
  • Dean Young beginning poems with laugh-out-loud funny lines, then veering into nearly incomprehensible synaptic leaps.
  • Joan Murray rewriting "We Real Cool" to hilarious effect.
  • Peter Kane Dufault's painful, and intentionally so, poem about Guantanamo.
The prose is less entertaining, though it has its moments. I'm hoping they keep the humor issue as a tradition; it's nice to see a mix of comic poems that seem both light and lasting. Plus, they nailed the cover. Moral: go get the humor issue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Slouching Towards Comprehensive Exams

Now that I'm done with coursework, I'm starting to read for my comprehensive exams. So far, this means tweaking the lists with advisors, color-coding the lists (what I have read, what I haven't, what I know well, what I don't--it looks like my lists are celebrating gay pride right now), making schedules for reading, and even a little bit of actual reading. For those of you keeping score at home, here are my areas:
  1. Primary: Twentieth-Century American Fiction
  2. Secondary: Twentieth-Century British Fiction
  3. Other secondary/tertiary: Literary Theory, emphasizing the History and Theory of the Novel
For my reading schedule, I've divided the first two lists into three time periods each. The plan is to read two books from the first time period of each list, then two books from the next time period, and so on and so forth. (The theory list, by the way, is very much in flux at the moment, so it's less clear right now how I'm scheduling that.) For example, here's what I've got set up so far:

1900-1940: Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (I've got 80 pages left); Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (I'm twenty pages in). Once I finish the Anderson, I read Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome; once I finish Ford, I read Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier. Plato's Ion and Phaedrus dialogues and two books of The Republic fit in there somewhere. Then, it's onto

1941-1970: Gertrude Stein, Ida (I'm looking forward to having Stein behind me, behind me, behind me); Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory; Mary McCarthy, The Company She Keeps; Samuel Beckett, Molloy.

1971-present: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow; Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber; Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street; Zadie Smith, On Beauty.

There's a logic to it all. Retyping this for the post, I feel simultaneously organized and anxious as hell. Organizing is useful, but I think I'm also using planning as a way to delay actual reading. We'll see how I do once my wife goes out of town tomorrow and I can only talk to the dog.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Breakfast, coffee, vandalism

My wife and I woke up to find that, during the night, vandals took two of the planters in our front yard and smashed them in our next-door neighbor's yard. What the hell? Why do this? As I was cleaning it up, my neighbor from across the street came over and told me that it happened around 1:30 am. The noise woke him up, and because his wife's car was parked on the street, he thought someone was fucking with the car. When he turned on his porch light, the kids ran.

So if you see two white teenaged males with short blond hair today, smack them upside the head for me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thank you

A big thanks to Deadspin for linking to my response to J. J. Redick's DWI. The first day, I had 1,488 hits. Yesterday, 930. My first thousand-hit day, and probably the only one I'll ever have. I feel all warm and fuzzy.

In other news, I'm preparing to start reading for comps (technically, I've started, but not in any systematic, real way) by color-coding my lists: what books I know very well (only a few), what books I know pretty well (a surprisingly high number), what books I read a long time ago and remember one meaningless detail from (a few), and the books I haven't read at all (the word "yikes" doesn't even begin to cover it). Am I just doing things to prevent getting started? My wife likes the idea, having been through comps herself. Plus, it's pretty cool to pull up a candy-coated Microsoft Word file. But I'm not sure if it's just one of another set of distractions I'm setting up for myself. Like, you know, blogging.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Required reading

Go give Michael Bérubé some love for his incredible defense of academic freedom.

One of the things he defends universities from is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and its ridiculous report, "How Many Ward Churchills," in which it claims "many" university teachers think, for example, that those who died on 9/11 deserved it. It's the same old story about angry leftists in the university. And their evidence? Why, course descriptions, of course. Here's an example:
  • Animal rights activism has entered the undergraduate classroom in a strikingly open and undisguised way. The University of Colorado offers "Animals and Society," a sociology course that "investigates the social construction of the human/animal boundary," "[c]hallenges ideas that animals are neither thinking nor feeling," "[c]onsiders the link between animal cruelty and other violence," and "[e]xplores the moral status of animals."
The above paragraph is taken verbatim from the report. (I'm not linking to it, but MB does.) They provide no comment on what's wrong with that description. A class that "investigates," "challenges," "considers," and "explores"? Run for the hills, Ma Parker, as Homer Simpson says. What they quote from the description offers nothing that demonstrates animal rights activism in the slightest. In fact, it does what sociology does: explores why and how certain social distinctions exist, what functions they serve, what value(s) they may or may not have.

Two anecdotes, then I'll go. In a classroom discussion about the SAT, I raised the question about whether or not the SAT is a racist test. (In my opinion, it isn't, but only barely.) In the course of the discussion, affirmative action came up, and I asked my students what percentage of our university's population is black. The lowest number I heard was 25%. In fact, it's around 11%.

Two, an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful white student of mine last fall thought it was because of "political correctness" that white people aren't supposed to use the n-word. Not, obviously, his brightest moment.

J.J. Redick had a bad night

My favorite poet, J.J. Redick, got arrested last night for a DWI. After rolling on the floor and gnashing my teeth, I managed to pull it together long enough to write a poetry parody. In honor of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur."

Duke’s Grandeur

J.J. is charged with driving while drunk;
   He did flame out, like bricking from jump shots;
   He gathers to a sadness, like the reek of shots
Breathed. Why will teams now draft this punk?

Coach Krzyzewski will cry, will cry, will cry—
   No, wait, that’s Redick, bleared, smeared with booze;
   He wears Zima’s smudge and shares the smell; the ruse
Is up now—Duke is not great, it is a lie.

And for all this, J.J. is never spent;
   His mug shot’s up but he will cry in verse,
And like lacrosse, no, he will not repent.
   At least he didn’t throw it in reverse.
His eyes were “very glassy,” and he went
   And u-turned from the cops—what could be worse?

Truth in advertising

My wife was flipping through a local coupon/sales publication when she came across an ad for Revolution Remodeling, a local company that does your home remodeling projects. But here's the brilliant part, blazoned across the top of the ad:

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act"
-George Orwell

Orwell's not rolling over in his grave so much as puzzling in it. But I bet the work Revolution Remodeling does is double plus good.

Monday, June 12, 2006

School's out for summer

Well, until I teach in July. But still. I turned in my grades today, then took a nap. I just ate lunch (more on that in a moment), and I'm keeping an internet eye on the U.S.-Czech Republic World Cup game (the U.S. is getting trounced already) while drinking an Ale81 and working on comps lists. I feel like I'm in the lamest Old Milwaukee commercial ever, except in a good way. "And then the crate of lobsters dropped from the sky."

About lunch. Make this for yourself. Trust me: I marinated half a slab of tofu in a mix of basalmic vinagrette, mustard, and basil (dry, not fresh, unfortunately) for 30 min. in the oven. Overnight marinating gets more flavor, but 30 min. on 300 degrees works. For two sandwiches, cut four slices of sourdough bread. Drizzle a little olive oil and a little of the marinade on the bread. Add whatever toppings you prefer; I just did lettuce, but lettuce, tomato, and onion works well. Cut the marinated tofu in half (yes, that's one quarter of the full slab). Enjoy your sandwich. And don't say I never did anything for you.

*******

By the way, an update from Gilead (if you've read The Handmaid's Tale, you get the reference. And feel free to take Updates from Gilead as a blog name): People are defending Ann Coulter's ridiculous attacks on 9/11 widows. Let me put it this way, Mary Matalin: when Don Imus has the moral high ground on you, it may be time to reassess your views. Media Matters is all over it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Back to Ann Coulter's Sunday School

Once again, Ann Coulter asks us to seek the Bible for guidance. On Hannity & Colmes, claiming that Christ would condone her new book, which "belittles and ridicules a large segment of the American population" (Alan Colmes), she cites the money-changers passage in John 2:12-17. So why don't we look at that?

John 2: 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.
15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”
17
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Now, according to Raggedy Ann, that passage justifies her attacks on those who subscribe to "liberalism." But nowhere does she criticize liberalism for making the church into a place of commerce; she instead criticizes liberalism for being its own religion. Wouldn't that have more to do with false idols? And in the case of false idols, doesn't God do the smiting, or am I forgetting my Old Testament values?

But that's not the only passage on which we require Raggedy Ann's elucidation. Continuing to criticize the widows of 9/11 victims, she says, "do I have to kill my mother so I can be a victim, too?"

Let's ignore for a moment the major logical flaw--the widows of 9/11 did not kill their husbands, their husbands were brutally murdered by fundamentalist terrorists--and focus on her treatment of mourners. A few passages from the New Testament:

Matthew 5:4 (in the Sermon on the Mount): Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Raggedy Ann's gloss: Clearly Jesus was being sarcastic. Blessed, schmessed, I say.

Romans 12:14-16: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Raggedy Ann's gloss: And hate with those who hate. It's my Bible bitches, I can misinterpret it if I want to.

And, finally, Raggedy Ann interpreting herself:

On Rivera Live, 6/7/2000: "Let's say I go out every night, I meet a guy and have sex with him. Good for me. I'm not married."

RaggedyAnn, on The Situation with Tucker Carlson, 6/6/2006: "We've had liberalizing rules on divorce. We've had the sexual revolution. We've had, you know, the pill and burning bras and rampant premarital sex and polymorphous perversity. "

In other words, we need to stop all that damn rampant premarital sex. Just not, you know, the rampant premarital sex she's apparently allowed to have.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Uh oh, Annie make boo-boo, fall down

And on national tv no less. On The Today Show. Yes, that's right, the Serena Joy of the real world attacks 9/11 widows in her new book, and she then defends her claim to Matt Lauer. Here's the important claim from her book: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' death so much."

Ye freaking gods. This is down there with Bill O'Reilly claiming American atrocities in WWII and getting his facts completely backwards.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Stupid globally, stupider locally

Yes, kids, the Douchebag Daily, your window to the world, our local newspaper, is at it again. I don't even subscribe to it, I just notice the ridiculous front page headlines on my way to the library. The top headline on today's front page:

Strict moms produce fat kids

Here's how the article begins:

"'Clean your plate or else!' and other authoritarian parenting methods can lead to overweight children, a new study finds."

In other news, beating your children might make them violent and distant from other people. Unfortunately, the article is not just a local article, it's an Associated Press piece. I won't get into the problems of the study (I won't link to it, but you can easily find it on your own, if you'd like to smack your forehead), but here's what bothers me about the study and the odd publicizing it's getting on the front page: it's the mother's fault. The study didn't take fathers into account, so all the blame--on the top of the front page, no less--goes to mothers. Geez, can't moms do anything right?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I hate our local newspaper

The top headline on the front page of today's Douchebag Daily:

"Big Brother's watching your diet."

Why do I doubt the headline writer has read Orwell?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Enjoy your weekend

One essay down, one to go. (Written, that is; I've still got plenty to grade.)

In the meantime, go enjoy this video. Turn the sound up, and lower your IQ. Trust me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Best American Cookbook of the Last 25 Years

This week's New York Times Book Review is the "Food Issue," devoted entirely to books about food. Yet they have one major oversight: they neglected to elect the Best American Cookbook of the Last 25 Years. What, like people don't buy cookbooks? Cookbooks don't matter anymore? What about Toni Morrison's Beloved Blintzes? Philip Roth's American Pastry? John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Cookbooks? DeLillo's White Sauce? Roth's The Kitchen Counterlife? This is an outrage, an absolute outrage.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The, um, Aesthetics of Karaoke

My pals C-Wang and the WB have already narrated the Karaoke events of the other night (by the way, you can now use "karaokie" as a verb, as in "we karaoked the night away"). So no post-mortems here, but a theory of karaoke, since WB tried to justify why she doesn't do karaoke. Based on the other night, here are the kinds of people who do karaoke, and why:
  1. The actual singers. The rarest of the bunch, these unassuming people shyly step up, then belt out "At Last" or something along those lines and wow the Pabst-swilling masses (CLT included). While they're good singers, I don't think they get the purpose of karaoke--you get to sing as loud as you want in your car, except it's not your car, and you're drunk.
  2. The pretty good singers. These singers aren't bad, and they usually tend to take it more seriously than others. They sing along to their favorite songs and feel really f-ing cool. I don't blame them; they aren't bad. But I think a few too many of them have the sense they've really just rocked the house, when in fact the house went to get another beer or pee.
  3. The mediocre or bad singers who don't know they're bad singers until they get up there. By far the majority, these people are living their rock-in-roll dreams. Strangely enough, these rarely impact the unintentional comedy scale, partly because they're so common.
    Yes, I'm being a little blunt.
  4. The bad singers who know it and vamp it up. After all, it's all about performance, making an ass of yourself. I'm in this category. I can't sing on key, much less scream on key, but I threw myself and my vocal cords into "Helter Skelter." This group consists of graduate students in English and white guys who perform rap songs, usually rap songs over five years old that don't include the n-word. (By the way, I confessed to my wife the next day that I almost signed up to perform Kanye West's "Golddigger." "Thank God," she said. She's probably right.)
My point here is mainly for those who refuse to sing karaoke when everyone else does (Wanda, I'm looking at you): the quality of your voice has very little to do with it. If you don't want to karaoke because you don't want to make a flaming ass of yourself, I understand. I'm happy to be the ass. I can't sing my way out of a paper bag, but I can make-an-ass-of-myself my way out.

One last note: I'm voting for a new holiday: Pabstover.