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'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


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?