Sunday, May 28, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
One last note: I'm voting for a new holiday: Pabstover.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Monday, May 22, 2006
The Unknown Slugger
This Marble Asterisk Is Erected by Bud Selig
He was found by the Office of Major League Baseball to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
But all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a taint,
For in everything he did he served the Barry Community.
Except for one year till the day he retired
He played for weak teams and never got fired
up—unsatisfied with his employers, the bad team.
Yet he wasn’t too bad or odd in his views,
For his Mistress reports that he paid some dues,
(Our report on his Mistress shows he’s a clown)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with himself and liked the Cream.
The Press are convinced that he brought an evil every day
And that his reactions to questions were abnormal in every way.
Steroids taken in his arm prove that it’s gone to his head,
And his cap size shows he was once much skinnier but not unfed.
Both Sports Illustrated and The Chronicle declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Roid-taking Plan
And had everything necessary to an Arrogant Man,
A hypodermic, a mistress, a bat and a cruel stare.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are pissed
That he took clean tests during the baseball year;
When it was winter, he was for drugs; when they played ball, he missed.
He was quite good and added seven MVPs to his mantle,
Which our Bud Selig says is fine and good—those we won’t dismantle—
And his coaches report that Bonds never choked Jeff Kent or ranted.
Was he clean? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had Barry Bonds used drugs, we should certainly have heard.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
"If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms," Robertson said May 8. On Wednesday, he added, "There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest."
Apparently, God's not taking any chances on predictions. Don't storms hit the American coastline every year? Is God getting senile in his old age? Has he forgotten the Hurricane season he created? And I love the "well may be" of the tsunami prediction. God must be taking cues from horoscopes these days.
Oh, wait, it's not God making predictions, it's Pat Robertson, Christian extraordinaire, who's brought us such gems as:
- his gesture of lovingkindness in calling for Hugo Chavez's assassination;
- his turning the other cheek in agreeing with Jerry Falwell that feminists and gays were responsible for the September 11th attacks (Osama bin Laden, gay feminist?);
- his nuanced analysis of evolutionary theory, which he says is the religion of atheists, as a cult religion, a nuanced analysis Ann Coulter will reiterate in her next screed.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Friday, May 12, 2006
The list will likely get a lot of publicity as did the Modern Library's list of the Best 100 Novels of the 20th Century because it's naturally faulty. If you ask for the "Best Book," there's likely a certain pressure to vote for the Big Social Novel; after all, writers produced an awful lot of those as the millenium approached, so choosing one is likely indicative of an important literary trend. A lot of the judges are writers I admire, writers I would have assumed would reply to a query about the Best Book with a, "Thanks, no. This is ridiculous." Only a few writers who placed also voted--Norman Rush, Don DeLillo ("how many can I nominate?"), Marilynne Robinson.
After Beloved, the next four were:
- Underworld, Don DeLillo. I read the prologue to the novel, which was later published in its own hardcover. The prologue was both brilliant and maddenly pompous and falsely portentous. I later heard that's the best part of the novel. I'll probably go back and read it someday, but for now I'm using it as a yoga brick. That isn't a joke.
- Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. Haven't read it.
- Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, John Updike. I loved Rabbit, Run--I read most of the novel posing for my brother, a painter, and broke the binding on the mass-market paperback--and I liked Rabbit, Redux. His prose writing amazes me.
- American Pastoral, Philip Roth. I read a ton of Roth in high school and early college; he is for me as a writer like Annabel is to Humbert Humbert in Lolita, the formative experience you can never escape. Still, I stopped reading American Pastoral at page 50.
- A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. Long live Ignatius J. Reilly. Apparently some voters resisted the novel because it was written beyond the scope of the last 25 years but published within it. I say screw them. I would have voted for Tristram Shandy.
- The Counterlife, Philip Roth. I enjoyed this book immensely and went through a period of shoving funny passages from it in people's faces. That said, in the intervening years I've conflated it with Operation Shylock, another Roth novel on the Times list I enjoy.
- Where I'm Calling From, Raymond Carver. Good call. Unexpected.
- The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien. Admittedly, the first book that came to my mind when someone mentioned the list to me.
- Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth. Really? I enjoyed this when I read it. My brother (again the painter) read it, then destroyed it in two sentences for me. I can't believe this novel is on the list.
- The Plot Against America, Philip Roth. He must've called in a lot of debts. Not a bad novel. Not a great one, either.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
But I'm not here to report on a good lecture. I'm here to register my anger. Our department has someone who insists on asking brutally tough and vicious-sounding questions at lectures. I have no problem with asking tough questions; it's mainly the confrontational tone, the absolute failure of tact and respect I'm sick of. For example:
- If you're going to ask a question, ask one. Don't ask three with your pitch and volume rising throughout, so the first question gets lost in the mix (and is often incoherent to begin with).
- If you're going to accuse someone of misquoting, why not say, "I remember this quote differently. Are you sure that's how he put it?" I don't recommend beginning with, "You misquoted so-and-so." Though when it turns out that your accusation of misquoting is wrong ("would you like the page number?"), I do have the pleasure of hearing you shot down.
- If you're going to be the first person to ask a question, don't immediately leave after the speaker has answered, whether you have a good reason to leave or not. (Letting your dogs out five minutes earlier than you would if you stayed for the whole q-and-a is not a good reason.) It makes you look petty and as if you're trying to draw attention to yourself.
- If you're going to ask a question, don't yell. In fact, you don't even need to raise your voice at all.
- If you do choose to stay after asking your question(s), don't talk through the entire rest of the q-and-a so other audience members can't hear. You may not be aware, but not only is everyone else being civil, you're supposed to be modelling professional behavior for graduate students. Does your incessant prattling mean I can take your class and talk during your lecture or during someone else's presentation? Can I pretend to authority by aggressive disagreement? Can I abruptly leave?
- If you have a question, please decide what it is before you ask it. When you claim to have three questions, but really you have one question that you keep revising as you speak, it makes you seem incoherent. And the thing is, we know you're not incoherent. We know you're otherwise articulate and intelligent.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I liked Atonement but found it a little overrated, so I was resistant to Saturday to begin with. Let me say this: McEwan writes incredible scenes. When Henry Perowne, the narrator, interacts with other characters, McEwan manages the interior and exterior life of our main character brilliantly, constantly ratcheting up the tension through Perowne's ethical ambiguity and the background of larger events. He also handles intimate gestures well; Perowne has an eye that allows McEwan to focus on minute human actions that resonate by demonstrating our larger concerns.
That said, McEwan can also be a tremendously redundant writer. He often deals with ideas too explicitly, announcing thematics rather than giving the reader space to explore. James Wood, in a positive review of the novel, points out how McEwan saturates the reader with the fact of Perowne's life as a doctor. Perowne's perspective is artificially limited and limiting. Also, McEwan deals overtly with September 11 and the Iraq War, neither of which seems to serve him well. The passages that deal with arguments about both seem stale, unsurprising to me. I prefer Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Atonement and, instead of Saturday:
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
I disliked Woolf for a long time, eventually acknowledging a grudging respect for To the Lighthouse after I read it the third time. Same with Mrs. Dalloway. On the first reading, I found myself impatient, a little confused. By the second time I read it, a year later, I luxuriated in Woolf's handling of the interior life, the bizarre narrative choices that seem risky even today. Go read it. Feel humbled. And after you're done, read
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Every time I read an Austen novel, I love it, vow to read more, then forget her for two years until circumstances require me to read another, which I love. I'm like a bad boyfriend. (Speaking of which, T.C. Boyle has a story called "I Dated Jane Austen." I'm not a huge Boyle fan, and the joke of the story is in the title--dated, in both senses--but it's a clever story. Smarter people than me recommend it.) Austen's first novel, but published posthumously, Northanger Abbey has gotten short shrift from critics, apparently, but it's a fun, hilarious novel. The comedy is broader and more obvious than in her other novels, but it's a nice palate cleanser (and more complicated than I'm making it sound) after Woolf. Plus, there's this, courtesy of one of the characters: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." Here, here. Plus, one of the characters is one of literature's great douchebags--in fact, Austen almost titled the novel The Douchebag. And not to keep up the feminist reading list, but next read
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
Disturbingly prescient, though Atwood would probably bonk me on the head and say, "No, you douchebag, it described America in the eighties. Things have only gotten worse." Such a smart novel.
I'll leave off there since I've got to go make headway in Michael Cunningham's The Hours, which I'm not enjoying at the moment.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
"How about Congress having weekly hearings on the price of college and the salaries of professors like Churchill? Horowitz has already provided the witness list for the first two years."
That's right--his book isn't a blacklist. But since he's conveniently given us a list, let's use it as one. The noise machine is cranking up for its next fear-mongering campaign, the liberalism of the American university. As most ridiculous media claims begin, this one's starting on the fringes, but it's getting picked up more and more--even the National Review has a blog devoted to bias in education.
I know lots of people who would dismiss this as crazy talk we don't need to worry about, but remember that we're veering closer to war with Iran and the mainstream media routinely gives air time to claims about the liberal media without examining the growing conservative bias on news talk shows or the MSM's continual avoidance of slaughter in Darfur or the looming dangers in Afghanistan brought on by a sloppy invasion after September 11.
But back to Saint Ann. Among the things in her column that I'd mark up in a freshman essay:
- Noting CNN's coverage of rising gas prices and rising college tuition, she compares the two, answering complaints about gas profits by claiming that college professors are reaping the benefits of higher tuition in the same way oil executives are. Bad analogy. Wouldn't the proper comparison be to college presidents and deans, whose salaries rise at a greater rate than professors'?
- She uses Ward Churchill as an example. Yes, Ward Churchill is a flaming nimrod. And you know what? He's the exception. He's a gasbag in public, and he isn't qualified for his job. Yes, we know. But, again Ann, he's the exception. Of course, she and Horowitz know that, but Churchill makes a more compelling case than Chomsky, what with all his scholarly books and articles (in addition to his political writings) and his insistence on keeping his political and scholarly work as separate as possible.
- "Every sentient, literate adult knows that the current spike in gas prices is 90 percent due to forces completely beyond the control of Congress, the White House or even 'Big Oil' itself." Way to acknowledge opposing arguments and present them before countering them. That's her opening sentence, by the way.
"Liberals think hardworking taxpayers who can't afford gas should pay more in taxes because it is vitally important that young people be taught that America is the worst country on Earth and that the American bond traders who were murdered on 9/11 deserved it." You know, I was just teaching one of Shakespeare's sonnets last week to demonstrate this point. "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes" lends itself really well to Ward Churchillian rants.
- She cites the work of Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, who apparently "has demonstrated, every time the government subsidizes college tuition through tuition tax credits, college tuition rises by the precise amount of the tuition tax credit." And where has Professor Vedder (presumably not one of the liberal professors who hates America) demonstrated this? Well, Coulter doesn't tell us. I'm sure he's written it somewhere, but unlike other columnists, she doesn't actually tell us where he demonstrated it. (I've put an email in to Dr. Vedder.)
- That Al Gore said, "I invented the internet."
- That a woman who spilled a little McDonald's coffee on herself while driving won $10 million when in fact 1) she was in the passenger seat, 2) the car was parked, 3) the jury awarded her $2.7 million, an award lowered to less than $500,000 on appeal, 4) she had never sued anyone in her life and only initially asked McDonald's to pay her hospital bills, 5) the woman suffered third-degree burns on her thighs and groin (go ahead and google pictures of third-degree burns) and had to spend seven days in the hospital, and 6) prior to her case, McDonalds had had over 700 complaints about their coffee being dangerously hot and never consulted a burn expert.
- That the Columbine shooters were part of the "Trenchcoat Mafia" and that they loved the music of Marilyn Manson. And what's more, when provided evidence to the contrary, one student (not representative, but still a college student) said, "But my dad told me they were part of the Trenchcoat Mafia." When pressed, he acknowledged that his father had no credentials.
P.S. While you're at it, boycott Slate.com. They've published an essay by Christopher Hitchens that makes ridiculous claims about Juan Cole, one of the "dangerous perfessers." Cole tears Hitchens a new one on his website. He's also added some more about it, but once you're there, you should be able to find it.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
But my favorite part is the grades. A bitter Mel Kiper, who according to his website can "accurately predict as much as 80 percent of first-round draft selections", gave zero A's. On an entirely unrelated note, he only correctly predicted six of the 32 first-round selections this year--that's only 19%, if you round up. That's an F, even if you grade on a curve.
And the often curmudgeonly Dr. Z over at Sports Illustrated has awarded three A's and two A minuses. What's a perplexed NFL fan to do? We desparately need to know what teams earned what grades. Welcome to the wonderful world of grade norming, where I'll be the arbitor deciding on averages between the iron-haired Kiper (that refers to the tensile strength of his hair, not the color) and the bald Dr. Z (Z works it, though, he works it). I'll just be touching on the interesting differences between them (and teams I can make cheap shots about), not their grades on all the teams. After all, I have actual grading to get back to.
Arizona Cardinals/Buzzsaw: Kiper, B; Z, A
CLT: A-. The lovable losers drafted Matt Leinart, who I'll now call the Human Petri Dish: he's dating Paris Hilton, who I would call the Human Petri Dish if she were human. (Enter rimshot.) If Leinart can spread the ball like he'll be spreading disease after he moves on to Lindsay Lohan, there's no telling what round of the playoffs the Cardinals/Buzzsaw will lose in.
Baltimore Ravens: Kiper, B+; Z, B
CLT: F. A couple of friends of mine used to work at a tutoring facility next to the Ravens' training facility, where, according to my friends, the Raven players' Escalades routinely threatened other cars and occasionally and unapologetically caused accidents. Think of the Ravens as the loud, bulky jerk in the back of the classroom who passes because the teacher is afraid of getting beaten to a pulp. Not this time, though, not this time. What are they going to do, send Kyle Boller to throw something at me?
Carolina Panthers: Kiper, C; Z, B
CLT: B. Dr. Z likes "need drafts." Kiper thinks they got the wrong needs. Can we consider their good coach, great receiver, and decent-enough quarterback? They did, after all, make the playoffs last year.
Chicago Bears: Kiper, B; Z, D
CLT: C+. Settle down, boys. Kiper likes that a team with a great defense and shitty offense drafted for defense; Z points out, rightly, that the Bears drafted for the wrong goddamn side of the ball. If you read closely, you can see Z's neck veins pulse. But I like the city of Chicago, so I'm cutting them a break. Plus, they play in a shitty division, so who cares?
Cincinnati Bengals: Kiper, C; Z, B-
CLT: B. Kiper's right, the Bengals need a tight end, but they have a greater need to shore up a weak defense, and they did a bit of that. Also, Marvin Lewis seems like a smart guy. Don't forget the Bengals did win the division last year, and if Kimo Von Wilkes Booth hadn't rolled over on Carson Palmer, we'd likely have a different Super Bowl champion. Not the Bengals, but not the Steelers, either. Oh, and I like Chad Johnson's teeth.
Cleveland Browns: Kiper, B; Z, B-
CLT: B-. They play in a tough division. They'll probably surprise a few teams because they have a good coach, but until LeBron James or Bugs Bunny plays eleven positions on the field at all times, I don't like their chances.
Denver Broncos: Kiper, B; Z, A.
CLT: C-. They traded up to take Jay Cutler, which seems like bad karma. Why mess with Plummer's stache?
Detroit Lions: Kiper, C+; Z, B+
CLT: F. When a student's last several essays are F's, you don't suddenly give him the benefit of the doubt. Come on, people. Matt Millen needs remedial classes.
Green Bay Packers: Kiper, B; Z, B
CLT: A+. You know what, Favre's coming back to throw more interceptions. Mute the fawning announcers, or MST3000 the game yourself. The team won't improve, but who cares? Draft, schmaft.
Houston Texans: Kiper, B+; Z, D
CLT: D. I'm with Z on this one. If you decide you need to improve your defense more than sell tickets or acquire the most promising (or hyped, anyway) player to come along in a while, why not trade the pick for a defensive veteran and more picks so you can draft more defensive players? Instead, Texans, you picked a talented player who apparently takes plays off and gets most of his sacks against weaker teams. Unless Leinart gives Reggie Bush some of Paris Hilton's, um, travelling companions and Bush has to have his legs amputated, this will go down (pun intended) as a huge mistake.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Kiper, C+, Z, C
CLT: C. Jacksonville reminds me of the kind of student who works hard but just isn't a good writer. Once in a while, he'll make a good point, but he just can't pull it all together.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kiper, C; Z, B-
CLT: C. They've gone from Dick Vermeil's can't-quite-get-far-enough to Herm Edwards's can't-quite-get-far-enough. Good for them.
New Orleans Saints: Kiper, C; Z, A
CLT: A. They went 3-13 last year, they managed to get the most exciting player in the draft, and they just signed Drew Brees. Throw them a bone, Kiper. If the roof were blown off your hair, I'd give you an A if you only picked six out of 32 selections correctly. They play in an impossible division, but Bush will likely rush for around 1,000 yards and pick up a lot of receiving yards from Brees, who seems to prefer the short pass. Plus, I foresee Deuce McAllister playing hard for a big contract elsewhere.
New York Jets: Kiper, B-; Z, A-
CLT: A-. You know what? Kiper seems way off on all of these. The Jets built up their O-line, including a player with a built-in nickname: D'Brick. And his nickname actually relates to his role in the game. Plus, they picked up Brad Smith of Missouri, who won't be a quarterback but might add dimension to the offense.
There are no other really interesting differences. All draft grades are pretty ridiculous, but Kiper's seem ludicrously vengeful. All six teams that picked as he predicted (and I'm counting Denver as one) received at least a B-; all but the Jets received a B or higher. I know he lives for this year-round, but he just seems a little too biased in his grading. But what do I know? I don't wear helmet-hair.