Sunday, April 30, 2006
Why don't people blog about their dreams more often? Answer below
I seem to understand that I can float here indefinitely – flotation is not the worry. It’s the sun. We’re going to get burned to a crisp in a day or two if we’re not rescued. So a couple of us in the water decide we have to swim in a direction. If we move, we increase our chances of encountering an improvement in our situation – an island, a passing ship. But the distances are so vast, how could we possibly?
Yet after hardly any swimming there is a change – I drift up to an invisible boundary line in the ocean, where the color changes from a placid sheen to a dark blue. It’s the line where the Pacific, in which we’re floating, meets the Atlantic. And that dark water is way colder – look, I shout to my companions, ice bergs in the distance. But also a snowy, white schooner! It’s motoring by too fast – we'll never be able to swim up to it before it’s gone.
But we try anyway. And the water isn’t so unbearably cold. We miss the schooner, but somehow end up on dry land, on the shoulder of a highway at night. It’s Iceland! We run along the highway, and though shoeless, find that it’s tolerably comfortable if we run on our tiptoes.
The Icelandic authorities put us up in a mountain resort where we can recuperate from our ordeal. Strange, I thought Iceland was flat. I am walking down a long outdoor stairway crowded with resort guests. I’m letting gravity do the work, bounding down hundreds of steps and effortlessly managing the 1,000 feet of vertical drop. Getting back up to the room will be a chore, though. Where are we all going?
A cafeteria line! Three lines, short medium and long. Why the difference? The short line is serving up some unappetizing-looking broiled shrimp. The medium line has burgers and bratwurst. The long line has some overcooked steak, but also a prime rib – how badly could they have screwed that one up?
A young woman wearing the uniform of a resort employee smiles at me – a pick up gesture? – but she’s not cute enough to divert me from the prime rib. But that line! Maybe bratwurst now, and prime rib this evening.
What I really wanted was a gargoyle, but all I got was this lousy trained cat
The cat is on the roof (of my garage).
If you think this is just a random post about cats, you're wrong: it's a shameless attempt to generate blog traffic. Did you know there are people right now surfing the web for cat images?
Here's a blog that linked to me last year because it was compiling a list of cat links.
Here's a post of mine with cat pictures. See? You looked!
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Biological warfare, 1781
In late September 1781, General Lord Cornwallis, commander of the increasingly desperate British forces beseiged on the Yorktown peninsula, ordered that a number of black slaves* be infected with smallpox and sent into the American-French lines.
*The slaves had been induced to join the British by promises of freedom.
Friday, April 28, 2006
A funny thing happened
Afterward, B said:
"I'm going to dine out on that one for years."This is one of my favorite expressions. But since it means to retell the story in social settings, I was puzzled and alarmed. As I said, it's very personal.
"Who with?" I asked.
"Just me. Table for one."
Existential Friday: Enjoy it while it lasts
As part of my ongoing life as a rock star, I was one of six panelists for a panel in a University Journalism School on Blogging and Journalist Ethics.
Candidly, I'm more of an obscure opening act than a rock star, since the J-school's first choice was the splendid and brilliant Ann Althouse, but she was unavailable. So I flew into town from Wherever It Is That I Live to participate in the panel.
The first thing I noticed as the panelists took their seats was that we were six white guys between thirty and fifty. Six married white guys. From my seat on one end of the dias, I looked to my right and caught an excellent "I wish had my camera" visual of five left hands resting in a neat row on the table, each sporting a wedding ring. From now on, if the topic is blog-related, I'm just going to take the damn photo and say "it's for my blog!"
The second thing I noticed was that the other five panelists were all professional print or broadcast journalists who seemed to believe that there are only two kinds of blogs: those that function as news clipping services -- essentially filtering and linking to useful news items that may not make the final edition of their paper or news show -- and those for people who want to post pictures of their babies.
I was dumbstruck, and kept thinking "man, if Althouse were here, she'd be ripping these guys a new one!"
It turns out that the topic, of which the student organizers informed me in only the vaguest terms, was not really blogging per se. Rather it was whether this particular incident -- the LA Times' decision to cancel the blog of a columnist who had posted anonymous comments on the blogosphere -- was an appropriate application of "journalist ethics."
I know very little about journalist ethics, and my only information about the LA Times incident was a printout of an online New York Times story of the incident handed out at the panel. But the story was so poorly written that I had only a foggy idea of what bad thing this guy supposedly did. And as the only non-journalist in the whole damned room, and the author of "the wrong kind of blog," I was beginning to feel like I was in that Monty Python episode:
And on my right - putting the case [from the law professor perspective] - is a small patch of brown liquid which could be creosote or some extract used in industrial varnishing[.]Luckily for me, everyone digressed shamelessly as the frustrated moderator -- a charming and intelligent J-school professor -- desperately tried to refocus us on the LA Times/ethics topic.
The problem is that it's hard to focus on such a narrow, fussy topic when the surrounding context is so huge and problematic. The elephant in the room was for me the very interesting and troubling implications of having mainstream media crash the blogosphere.
I was neither eloquent nor particularly coherent, since the real point only slowly dawned on me, but what I stumbled and stammered to get out was that the LA Times act of self restraint is merely an insignificant trickle running against a predictable flood. The blogosphere has its own norms and ethics, growing out of the chaotic, democratic nature of the internet. And while the journalists pompously trumpeted their supplemental-news-outlet blogs as "the true blogs," the fact remains that they are largely advance men for corporate MSM who are staring into a future in which the public increasingly reads its news on line rather than on paper. And these media moguls are in a bit of a panic, because on-line information is right now very decentralized, and largely not-for-profit, in comparison to traditional print and broadcast media.
What are blogs? The question was poorly answered by my panel, but I would say blogs are published daily expression. MSM figures, hey we're professionals at this, what's with all the amateurs? Don't you think that if they could figure out a way to wrest control over the internet, to make it like the rest of the publishing and broadcasting world, they'd do it in a heartbeat? (I said this at the panel.)
And in fact they are doing this. If and when the corporations who own the cables succeed in their current plan of gaining control over the internet itself, who do you think it is that will pay the access fees to get favored access to web surfers? You? Me? Or the LA Times, etc.?
So the LA Times tiny act of deploying journalistic ethics to restrain its web presence impresses me very little, and to devote a panel to it is like debating whether the people on the Titanic should or should not have said "excuse me" while elbowing their way to the life boats.
That's at best -- at worst, the LA Times little ethical snit is an indirect attack on "the wrong kind of blogs" as unethical and unreliable. That sort of professionalization could neatly serve the interests of media centralization. But no one on the panel acknowledged that point.
If there's a real journalism "ethics" issue here, it's the conflict of interest of mainstream journalists entering the web. Their credibility and First Amendment privilege is based on their contribution to a democratic society, but they enter the web as front men for businesses that want to reign in the web's democratic character. (One of the panelists kept talking about the "need" for bloggers to get "libel insurance," as if he wanted to scare us off.)
The last thing I noticed is how the audience of mostly (though not all) college students was strikingly naive about the future of the internet. They just assume things will stay the way the are now -- they seemed untoubled and oblivious to the spectre of corporate penetration of the blogosphere.
Perhaps ironically, it's a lack of historical consciousness that makes people unable to think seriously about the high tech future. I don't mean that young people are oblivious because they don't know that the Treaty of Paris formally ending the American Revolution wasn't signed until 1783, two years after Yorktown. Though, frankly, a broad appreciation of the history of the closing of the American frontier provides at least some pertinent analogies.
What I mean is that people are surprisingly oblivious to the fact that the present is always just a snapshot in an evolutionary process.
We have lots of historical examples of markets with low-density regulation and relatively or (temporarily lowered) entry costs -- essentially what the internet is now. And whether your parallel example is land in 19th century America or industries following deregulation, what you almost invariably see is a strong trend toward centralization after a more chaotic, competitive phase.
The democratic, chaotic, practically-free internet has been a beautiful thing. But panels about blogging, it seems to me, have to be talking about how that internet is in peril. Fight for it -- or enjoy it while it lasts.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Action grocery shopping
I had my high-tech cell phone headset deployed in the grocery store and called B.
"Where exactly is that Pita bread?"By moving quickly, and using law enforcement telcom jargon wherever possible, I wasn't just a shopper: I was George Clooney carrying a gun.
"It's in the freezer section."
"The whu -- ?"
"Oh, for God's sake... where are you now?"
"Turn around and go to the end of the aisle. You should be at the deli counter."
"Turn 90 degrees left... now walk straight ahead about 20 yards. Do you see the pasta in the freezer?"
"Go to the third door. The pita bread should be there."
"There it is... I have visual contact!!"
"Make sure to get wheat free..."
Note the headset on the right side of his face.
There is a down side, however. When I reached the car with my grocery bags, I realized that in my excitement I had forgotten the Barleans High Lignan Flax Seed Oil.
Flax seed oil is high in Omega-3's. I don't know precisely what Omega-3's are, but it's my understanding that they are good for your short term memory. Chez Madison, we put it in a vinaigrette and turn our salads into magic brain food. We had run out of flax seed oil about three weeks ago and, perhaps ironically, kept forgetting to buy it on several trips to the store.
It's not just any forgotten grocery item that will send me from the car back to the store. The failure to remember to buy Barleans High Lignan Flax Seed Oil is much more than ironic. It's a deadly vicious cycle that might not end until I have full blown amnesia. But that's another story...
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Is technology holding me back?
This gives you the slightest taste of what I saw.
Do I need to shell out for a digital SLR?
I guess it just pays to know the right people
I've previously complained about how few opportunities there are for adult men to get hockey instruction and playing experience at the beginner level. Clinics and coached teams at accessible recreational levels are mostly either for kids or adult women. Men's rec leagues tend to be more competitive and inhospitable to learning. And frankly, experienced men rec players tend to play a hot-dogging, playground style showing little interest in structured team play.
Well, one of my mottos, from the great Scoop Nisker, is: "if you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own." Taking matters into my own hands, I set up my very own co-ed adult hockey clinic. A friend and I rented five 1.5 hour blocks of ice time on successive Tuesday nights at a local hockey rink, we hired a coach, and rounded up 16 skaters to pay $100 each to make this thing happen.
It was great, and it ended last night, and most the clinic participants went over to sports bar afterward. Three of the participants in my clinic are the organizers of this women's hockey league, and they gathered at a table with piles of player application forms. As I watched these three women poring over the application forms, it struck me that sports are a kind of office space for rec sports players, sort of the way coffee shops are for students, artsy types and bloggers.
Anyway, they were arranging player application forms into four piles, each pile representing one team. Each form had a colored post-it representing a position (wing, center, defense) the player applicant claimed to play the best -- this was their system to balance out teams by positions.
"Am I already on a team?" I asked.Yes! I'm the token guy on a women's hockey team! Call me crazy, but I find this to be an honor.
"We're just spreading the four guys out, one to a team," I was told.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I was just a kid again...
I certainly enjoy the wit and visual artistry of features like the Toy Story series and Monsters Inc., but that's a wholly different experience from entering a fantasy world. And, while entertained, I'm largely unmoved by cartoonists' efforts to reach more sophisticated palates. Stuff like the Triplettes of Belleville is too trippy and vacuous, and Tim Burton's movies seem like elaborate advertizements for a new theme-park ride.
So I was quite astonished to find myself feeling something close to childlike wonder at a cartoon this past weekend. The film: Howl's Moving Castle. The original Japanese anime version has been remastered with English language voice-overs. Moving indeed. I won't try to paint a word picture -- you should watch it.
Monday, April 24, 2006
It doesn't count as a nap if you doze off on top of the blanket.Actually, that information should be pretty useful to most folks.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
When "grrrrr" melts into "awwww"
Close up of neice's bed in foreground:
What big oeuvre you have, Mr. Mehta
But as too often happens to artists, his imitators seem to be soaking up the lion's share of recognition!
Go recognize him. He has even provided a helpful index.
WORD VERIFICTIONARY FOOTNOTE: After complimenting Neel on his artistry, I got this word verification on his blog comments--
jeohs: the obligatory expressions of humility to be uttered in response to a compliment.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
My increasingly threadbare veil of pseudonymity
Yesterday, I was more or less greeted at the door by a group of 3-4 students. This conversation ensued:
Student: I like your blog.My true identity is something of an open, or poorly kept, secret. In fact, the main function of my pseudonymity is to encourage precisely the reaction this student had -- that moment of doubt about whether it's a suitable topic of conversation around the law school.
Student: Yes. "The Columnist Manifesto," right?
Me: Uh... yeah.
Student: Am I not supposed to say that?
Me: Well, let's just keep it our little secret.
I've blogged about this before. While I don't feel a need to keep this blog as a totally compartmentalized secret side, neither do I want students to come up to me and say things like:
"Hey, Professor Madison, exactly what sex acts do you think were missing from the marriage of those people who sat next to you in that deli?"or
"Hey, Professor Madison, you said 'big butt!' Big butt, big butt, big butt!!!"The fact is, I'm not completely consistent. On some level, I'd kind of like getting 300 hits per day to this blog from students. As long as we observed the little formality of "what's said on the blog stays outside the law school."
I guess it's not so much to ask that I can shed the mantle of "dignified law professor" and have a private life. And note that a "private life" shouldn't have to be as restricted as a "secret life."
Friday, April 21, 2006
Existential Friday: "Pack your knives ... and go."
Top Chef takes the Runway concept and applies it to cooking. The contestants, whittled down from an original 12 chefs, are given creative cooking challenges with sharp budgetary and time limits. One chef is sent packing each week.
There's definitely stuff to criticize about the show. They surprisingly don't show that much footage of actual food preparation -- which would be fascinating -- instead spending lots of time on the backbiting interviews and the final presentation of everybody's dish.
They don't have a good tag line, to match Tim Gunn's "make it work, people!" The closest we get to that is the judge's self righteous mantra, "it's about the food."
The guy in the Tim Gunn role, Chef Tom Colicchio, is smart and likeable, and exudes competence and authority. But he is also one of the judges, and doesn't do Gunn's critical mother hen routine, to which he's probably not temperamentally suited. And Colicchio isn't (or doesn't show) funny.
In fact, the climax of the show -- the dismissal of the loser -- is flat and depressing, like a corporate firing. It's just a characterless "pack your knives and go," without any of the sassy irony of Heidi Klum's auf weidersehen.
And yet there's something strangely compelling about it. I like most of the chef contestants, and find it almost -- almost -- touching how they mostly bond with each other despite the tensely competitive environment.
And what's that about? Top Chef, after all, is just another "reality" show (a bizarre use of the term "reality" that is oddly fitting in the George w Bush era). And every last one of these reality shows, as far as I can tell, is premised on eliminating contestants one-by-one until only the winner is left standing.
What's so real about that? And even if we know it's not real, what's so entertaining, so hypnotically alluring about the elimination format? Who is trying to sell us the idea that life is a zero-sum, winner-take-all game? And why?
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Wednesday Word Verifictionary: Sometimes Life is Unfair ...
ckanibum ([skænəbʊm] scan-a-bum, noun, slang/colloquial): 1. North America: electronic security search of politicians as they are processed into jail after arrest on corruption charges; 2. chiefly UK: Practice of photocopying or scanning one's bare posterior, esp. on office equipment.
Yes, I admit I was very impressed by his phonetically correct symbols, but I'm not going to penalize him for being a professional linguist.
dyrze--(AKA: die, rise) The thing Christians celebrate on Easter, the same day that when approaching starts my Pavlovian response for Cadbury Creme Eggs.
efczi--(effect z)-- The snappy skill employed by cartoonists to show their characters are sleeping.
gwhor-- G. W. (w)hore, better known as the FOX cable channel.
kests- A combination of the word "kiss" and "tests." We knew Ennis and Jack aced the kests when they were reunited.This last one also wins the Special Award for "best word verifictionary related to the accompanying blog post" (re: Brokeback Mountain).
fflzecwn (fef-el-zek-wun) The first point scored in the game of "ffl" which involves herding soap bubbles towards a goal.
rxmgl - (arh-eks-mogul) A pharmacist.
eglaap - the egg tray from an Ikea refrigerator.
khjubdrp (kah-JUB-drop): an expression of utter astonishment at winning first prize in verifictionary.
apigq--obviously a line at the trough.
bwikdxz: be wicked sexy
hnginthrndntqutblgng: hang in there and don't quit blogging!! (ok, so I made that up.)
hwmgt (HOW-im-get): a term Southerners like me use to describe a plan to acquire something.
boidlh (BOID-al): describes those thick magazines that New Jersey's engaged women buy to prepare.
nycgs: why the big city smells so bad.
zclce (SEEK-uh-lace): the hardened sugar-coated glaze that forms atop restaurant desserts.
umeokz--shorthand for asking your partner to accompany you into a glade of oak trees ("You, me, oaks!")
irkslf: to annoy oneself
ilolzsa: I am laughing out loud at Zsa Zsa Gabor.
txtacq-- tax attack -- another name for the ides of april
vggdr -- a naturalistic herbalist healer.
tgljp = tug lip -- that distinctive lip-stroking movement associated with psychanalysts and also with men who stand in contemplation of a giant pickle.
iaqai - Mayan for sneeze.
Quinn the Brain
hfdustvw (Hef-dust-view) -- what Hugh's girlfriend see up close and personal every night
kroccmq: new all rock station in Iraq
poofdt: what happened to my old WV because I waited too long
oswodcwl -- So, an Operating system without CDs will -- what?
mjdqpbrf -- Michael Jordan Dairy Queen promo? Barf!
A premonition that my love affair with ice hockey will end badly
In the last couple of weeks, the game has further seduced me by giving me a different kind of enjoyment. I've started to play well. No longer am I playing like a robot dissociated from my body and obeying remote control commands (move feet! move stick to puck! turn around!).
Today, I felt I was really keeping up with the fast paced Wedesnday a.m. scrimmage and having a great time. Then, with about 10 minutes to go, the defenseman on the other team hit a hard shot off the outside edge of my foot.
A few weeks ago, I took a hard shot off the inside of my foot, between the ball and the ankle. I couldn't walk for two days, and missed over a week of hockey. The puck is hard, and the skate is remarkably unprotective of the foot (other then the hard shell at the toe and the heel). I don't know how bad this injury is -- I can imagine being back on the ice on Friday, and I can imagine a slight fracture that takes months to heal. Foot bones are tricky.
I've also had a couple of close calls in the form of collision near misses the last couple of days. On the one hand, I congratulated myself on my dexterity. On the other hand, I realized I may have just been damned lucky.
How long can I keep playing this game? Are my days already numbered?
TEASER: Check back early evening for Wednesday Word Verifictionary!!!
Monday, April 17, 2006
(It's related to, but different from, my resistance to movie peer pressure. The latter is my friends saying, "you must see this," and the former is Hollywood saying "you must see this.")
But I overcame my resistance and was fully prepared to enjoy and be emotionally open to the film. And I will say that the scene where Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhall) kiss at the bottom of the stairs to Ennis's apartment movingly captured the heat between the star-crossed lovers.
But other than that -- and the beautiful Canadian-faux-Wyoming mountain landscapes -- the movie was so ponderously dull and dreary that I stopped watching it about five minutes after that scene. My worst fears had been realized: watching the movie was like taking medicine: it stunk, but was "good for me." Actually, it was more like taking a driving test: a tedious chore that was necessary to get my license to be part of our moviegoing culture.
Literary theorists remind us that there are really only an astonishingly small number of stories in our literary history -- 10 or even 5. One of those stories is "star-crossed lovers." It's Romeo and Juliet. I'm not saying every movie on this theme has to offer a fresh take, but there at least has to be some character development deeper than laconic, pensive stares over the end of a lit cigarette. (See my post on Bill Murray's performance in Broken Flowers.)
My favorite thing about Brokeback Mountain was that it inspired Jon Stewart and his writing staff at the Oscars to put together that fabulous montage of clips from old movie westerns that now seem so painfully obviously gay.
And the most surprising thing to me about Brokeback Mountain was what excellent gaydar the folks of Wyoming had back in 1963. All Jack has to do to give himself away is to start a friendly conversation in a bar. I'd have thought that, back then, even seeing a couple of cowpokes rassling with each other would not have tripped homophobic alarms (as it did with the Randy Quaid character when he spies on the two men at their campsite).
It makes me think of the recent, notorious remark of idiot Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee:
“In our lifetimes, we’ve seen our country go from ‘Leave It to Beaver’ to ‘Beavis and Butt-head,’ from Barney Fife to Barney Frank, from ‘Father Knows Best’ to television shows where father knows nothing.”If Mike Huckabee cannot see in 2006 that Barney Fife (the late Don Knotts) was about as gay as a deputy sheriff could possibly be, then how could circa 1963 Wyoming folk have been so perceptive?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
When thank you notes go bad
B and I had been invited to a dinner party, where the hosts had put themselves out with a lavish spread and which had enough formality that a thank you note was called for. My invitation was through the host, a colleague, but I realized I did not know that hostess's last name. I knew, however, that she did not use her husband's last name.
What to do to address the envelope? Do you write "Bob Smith and Elaine"? That's just too weird. And "Elaine and Bob Smith," implying that she has taken on "Smith" as her married name, would just be wrong. Neither the phone book nor the web-based white pages listed her with his name.
So I did what any trained legal researcher would do. I looked up their property on the electronic database for mortgage and property tax records.
There it was: "1234 Maple Street -- Bob Smith and Elaine Jones."
But at this point, I knew that if I just scrolled down a bit, I could find out the assessed property value of their home. How could I be expected not to peek? (And by the way: Holy cow!!)
Dear Ms. Manners:
Which is worse? Addressing a thank you note without the hostess's last name, or looking up how much their house is worth?
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Read my post from "yesterday"
Anyway, the day took an unpleasant, wearing turn, I got caught up in events, and forgot what my blog post was going to be.
This morning, it was sunny and the birds were singing, and I remembered. So, even though I just wrote it, I decided to back date it to Friday. Here.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Existential Friday: Carma
But it also felt luxurious. Clearly it's not a luxury car -- you can get the same engine housed in greater cachet by buying an Audi -- but it felt luxurious to me, and I was determined to "keep it nice." No eating scones while driving! No treating it like a briefcase or a junk drawer!
That resolution lasted a good 6-8 months. Then I realized, "sometimes you just have to throw stuff in your car... and who wants to clean it out every day (or month)?"
And I realized, "a scone would taste so good right now... but who has time to sit around in Rude 'N' Slow's?"
I think scone crumbs are the worst. Like rocks getting ground down to sand, they can get smaller and smaller, and still retain their crumb-like integrity, visibly clinging to surfaces while, like sand, finding every hard-to-clean seam there is.
The carpets looked like the carpet in your house would look if you never took off your boots after traipsing in dirty, slushy, salty snow.
There were footprints on the dashboard above the glove compartment. (B sometimes likes to put up her feet when riding shotgun.)
There were newspapers. Newspapers that had been read but not yet recycled. Newspapers that were brought along to be read in the coffee shop but that got left in the car. Newspapers that were still in their bright blue New York Times doggie bags. Empty bright blue New York Times doggie bags. Stray rubber bands from newspapers. Empty drink cups. Empty plastic drink bottles. Bent straws. Dirty crumpled paper sandwich bags. Napkins, used and new.
You get the idea.
On Thursday, we decided to have the car dealer do a full detail of our car, inside and out. We had to bring it in anyway so they could replace the fuel pump on a manufacturer-recall.
When I picked up the car, it looked almost like new. It shone, it was spotless, the crumbs were gone, the carpets shone like the coat of a dog fresh from the pet groomer. The car looked like it did when we first drove it off the lot. I felt ... new car pride! "Darn, we're going to get this done every few months!" I decided.
That night, with absolutely no warning, our area was briefly pummeled by hailstones. I think the term "golf-ball sized hailstones" is greatly overused -- these were more the size of kumquats. Nevertheless, they were pretty big, they fall at about 50 m.p.h., and the put lots of dings on the car.
Clearly God was telling me something: "Go forth and get some scones!"
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Report: what makes men tick
Going postal chess
Is it just me, or do I have an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law?
Email chess has all the advantages of postal chess, with a twist. In the old days, people actually played chess games via snail mail. You would set up the chess board, make your move, and mail it to your distant opponent. Up side: plenty of time to think about your next move. Down side: board just sits out there on coffee table or side board for weeks.
Another up side, of course, is the trash talking. In regular face-to-face chess games, unless you're playing speed chess or a pick-up game in Washington Square Park, trash talking is discouraged. The tradition in chess has always been the non-verbal psych out.
But it was never considered rude to trash talk in postal chess. To see a nice example of this, I recommend The Gossage-Vardabedian Papers. A short story in Woody Allen's collection Getting Even (1978), it's (in my humble opinion) the funniest thing Allen ever wrote, including all his screenplays. You can read it here.
The email postal chess program solves the "chess game in progress taking up the coffee table" problem, since the board is on line. And the email chess program, through Soundkeepers.com, includes a little "dialogue box" in which you can send a message along with your move. I call it the "trash talk" box.
Major Steel (playing white) is a very high brow trash-talker. After
1) P-K4, P-QB3... Major Steel accompanied his next move,
2) N-QB3 ...... with this remark: "Since I am employing the Sicilian opening, I should remind you that you should never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"
To which I responded: "Fool! It only becomes the Sicilian defense because I, playing black, opened with my queen's bishop pawn! It is I who defined this opening!"
He is so going to be my chess b----
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Turns out I have a low IQ
Question. Which of these is not like the others?
The red ant, because that's the only one I'm afraid of.
The butterly, because that's the only one that's pretty to look at.
The fly, because that's the only one I'd kill without any qualms.
I guess knowing the answer the test-writers are looking for is a kind of intelligence.
In case you missed the irony
Tuesday: Dick Cheney, whose party faithful we can thank for the recent attacks on immigrants*, throws out the world's lamest first pitch in America's pasttime, the game of baseball, which then is played brilliantly by numerous Latino players, many of them immigrants.
*Yes, the Bush administration is trying to take a position somewhat more moderate than the "let's instantly make every undocumented person a felon" approach. But I guess when you make your political bed, you have to lie with those bedfellows.
Cheney's first pitch in the dirt
Plus, the pols almost always look terrible. Despite some news wire photos which create the mistaken impression that Cheney looked like he knew what he was doing, if you see the video footage, Cheney looked like a foolish, arrogant old man who overestimated his own capabilities. He short-armed it. He didn't even attempt the mound -- that would have been the Mount Everest of folly -- and yet, standing only about 20 feet from his target, he bounced it to the catcher on about three hops. Plus it was waaaaaay outside.
If it's sound electoral strategy to try to erode your opponents' base of support, the Dems should show the video clip over and over in their ads in the run up to the November elections. It doesn't matter what the voice over in the ad says. Just show Cheney tossing the 10 foot dribbler. It's bound to make him unpopular with the gun crown.
Oh, and in the actual baseball game, the Mets kicked the Nats' butts.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Where has Arnold Schwarzenegger been in this recent storm of controversy? Have you noticed how you haven't heard anything lately about that constitutional amendment that would let him run for president (by abolishing the requirement that the president must have been born in the United States)?
I've just started a biography of Alexander Hamilton. Born in the West Indies, Hamilton may have been the American citizen most chagrined by that constitutional limitation. Wouldn't it be funny if the ban that kept Hamilton from running for president were lifted for the likes of Schwarzenegger? Well, not funny exactly.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Clouds on the horizon
What's it all for?
UPDATE: Moral Turpitude snaps me out of it -- here and here.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Bums in seats
No, not because the theatre happens to be dark -- this was taken on a Monday night, after all. Instead, look what they're putting on: Neil Simon's romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, first produced on Broadway in 1963 and then made into a movie in 1967 (with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, who also starred in Broadway).
I understand the theory behind "putting bums in seats,"* but in my view, the contemporary theatre's continual challenge to do this is a sign that the medium is passe.
Barefoot in the Park is cute, but pretty dated. Is there some reason why a stage production of this early 1960s romantic comedy is going to be a more successful crowd pleaser than a 2006 romantic comedy? Yes -- its the economics of art and culture. Hardly anyone with talents in this area is writing plays. They're almost all writing screenplays.
And the only folks willing to shell out the outrageous ticket prices are nostalgic old people with money, tourists determined to see a "Broadway show" and a smattering of younger people with historically-based aesthetics for whom theatre is a window into their parents' (or grandparents') world.
In Shakespeare's day, they filled the theatres with the best and newest that the media of spoken performance had to offer. Today, as a spectator you can get most, all or in some cases more, of that emotional catharsis in movies and even television for a fraction of the price of theatre. The theatre is basically poor-man's movies: it's a medium for creators who don't have access to the capital intensive means of moviemaking.
Movies take dramatic performance and, at their best (to be sure, there's crap in every medium), can intensify them by add thickly layered atmospherics: sensorally powerful sets and effects and sounds. And due to the technological advantage of being recorded, movies can be distributed on a mass basis, with economies of scale that make a movie ticket 90-99% cheaper than a theatre ticket.
I understand that there is "something about live performance" -- though, frankly, I don't feel any closer to a stage actor's distant tiny face from my vantage point in the cheap seats than I do to an actor on the silver screen. And I understand that stage acting places different -- arguably more challenging -- demands on actors: it requires an uninterrupted and sequential performance in contrast to movies, in which chopped up, asynchronous scenes are pieced together sequentially in the editing room.
There is always the argument that theatre's extremely limited ability to create a virtual world is good for the audience because it forces us to exercise our imaginations, whereas movies fill in all the blanks and make us more passive receptors of performance. Well, I'm not a huge believer in this "eat your vegetables" theory of aesthetics and, in any event, I can exercise this aspect of my imagination in the comfort of my own home, for a tiny fraction of the cost, by reading a book.
Stage acting is different -- but better? I myself am not terribly enamored of stage acting, where all emoting has to be done with the voice since facial expressions are not visible in the back half of the theatre; and where speaking has to verge toward the bombastic in order to project the voice throughout the theatre. But to the extent that the theatre creates acting challenges for their own sake, that do not particularly enhance the performance, the differences strike me as more of a treat for the actors than the audience. You might make stage acting an event in a kind of acting Olympics, but frankly I'm less interested in structured displays of virtuosity than I am in a moving performance.
Yes, yes, of course theatre is art. So are madrigals and Gregorian chants. It's really fading into the realm of art history.
*Surprisingly, my brief web search did not uncover a handy definition of this term. I took matters into my own hands and have just submitted the following definition to Urbandictionary.com:
(also "butts in seats" and "butts in the seats"): spectators who have been drawn into a theatre or other entertainment by a low-brow, mass-appeal production. A reference to the economic demand on entertainment business producers to attract paid attendance."We need a show that will put bums in seats."
Saturday, April 08, 2006
I wish I thought up this joke, but at least I can tell it to you
Psychotherapist (to patient): Your problem is that you always see the glass as half empty rather than half full.
Patient: What glass?
Friday, April 07, 2006
Existential Friday: the giant pickle
Some places are just heavily layered with meaning.
The Carnegie Deli in New York is a place I first went to as a young kid with my parents. It's the setting for the comedians' round table in Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose. A short walk uptown from Times Square, it's at once a hackneyed tourist destination and a regular hangout for locals.
The family sitting next to us is a good example. Clearly from one of the plains states -- I'm guessing Kansas from the twang-inflected midwestern accent -- the middle-aged parents are in town visiting their daughter. (How do I know this? The Carnegie jams its tables together, so you often end up seated elbow-to-elbow with total strangers whose conversation can be difficult to ignore.)
Their daughter has been married less than a year and her litany of complaints suggests she had not gotten to know her fiance all that well beforehand. She is quite surprised, and indignant, that her hubby is a slob who doesn't lift a finger around the apartment (the phrase "clean the toilet" grew into a sort of repeated cadence like "hallelujah" at a prayer meeting). B and I guess that she's going to be heading back to Kansas within six months.
The dad, who is straight out of central casting for the unflappable middle-American 55-year-old dad from Kansas, but who was incongrously going to town on a monstrous pastrami sandwich, pipes into the conversation at one point:
"Well, you know, relationships are complicated. Usually both parties have something that they want out of a relationship that they don't get."Mom and daughter pause, look at him briefly. Then with a dismissive wave of the hand, daughter says:
"Like what, Dad? Mom does everything for you. She does the laundry, she cooks."The conversation flows on back to complaints about the daughter's hubby. Hmmm, I wonder, what could Dad have possibly wanted that he didn't get? B gives me a significant look and silently mouths some words: "a 3-way?"
"Mmm," Dad shrugs. "I'm just saying..."
Our wait person comes up to get our order. The Carnegie always featured a classic archetype -- the obnoxious middle-aged Jewish waiter. This is a 55-60 year old unsmiling, paunchy man in thick horn-rimmed glasses with a thin rim of graying hair around his balding head. He looks like he's about to say something really funny, but he's totally humorless. His conversation extends only to curt negations of your order:
"You don't want the chopped liver today."The problem of course is that this guy was 55-60 about thirty years ago, so now he's gone. Who is there to replace him?
"I'm just telling you. I'd get the smoked fish plate."
Thanks to globalization, sarcastic Jewish waiters are now immigrating from India. The late 30-something Indian waiter may not actually be Jewish, but he does a perfect, "I told you not to order the hamburger!" when the customer at the next table complains about his meal. Problem solved.
But not really. Our wait person is a woman in her 60s, somewhat bent over, moving with difficulty through the dining room. She's wearing thick bright-red lipstick that beautifully highlights her expression of purse-lipped disapproval. But she touches your sympathatic nerve -- you want to jump up and tell her, "No, sit sit!" and clear away some dishes.
Unless she enjoys her work -- and I don't see it -- I really don't like the idea that a woman in her mid-sixties has to keep working swing shift at a physically arduous job.
The Carnegie has it all -- the globalized work force, the aging workforce, women (both patrons and employees) who have to hold down jobs and do all the housework themselves, and of course pastrami sandwiches bigger than your head.
When I count out about a 30% tip, I ask B, "is this too much?"
"I wish we could leave her a 401(k)" says B.On the way out, I find myself backing up near the door and bump into a hard object. It's the giant pickle, shown above. That, too, is symbolic of something. I haven't figured out what.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
"You're having a bad hair day, and you deserve it"
We'd just finished having coffee together at Grandma Moses, and B walked me to the bus stop. I assumed that we'd part company and I would read while awaiting the bus, which was nowhere in sight. When B lingered, I said: "Well, I'm going to catch the bus now."
Dangerous milestone revisited -- dangerous two-milestone
I've written a couple of previous posts about getting close to the "disturbing milestone" of 1,000 emails in my in box.
I'm quite nostalgic about that time, as the "what a character" ultra-disturbing milestone of 2,000 now draws into view. Today, I reached 1,689 emails in the inbox, with 414 unread.
Now before you go and get all critical on me, let's consider some of those unread emails. Today, a colleague sent an email to our faculty list serve. The subject line? "Trivia."
That's right, "Trivia." Two other colleagues picked up the thread, so their subject lines read: "Re: Trivia."
Imagine you are having an extremely busy day, and are trying to stay as focused as you can, despite your neurotic tendency to check the email inbox about 4 times per hour. Are you going to open the email titled "Trivia" and the two titled "Re: Trivia"?
It's easy to say that I should just delete the "Trivia" emails without reading them. But maybe I'll have time in a day or a week or two to read them. My colleagues are not folks who have nothing better to do than waste my time -- the "Trivia" email is probably at least mildy interesting or amusing.
It's like getting an email titled: "This is not terribly important, but I thought it was worth telling you about." Indeed, I get lots of email with that title -- okay, not literally that title, but if emails had a "subject subtext" line, that's what you'd find on the subtext line of many emails I get.
In fact, there are about 414 of those in my inbox right now.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Public service announcement
At 2 minutes and 3 seconds after one p.m., the date and time will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.
Though actually, won't it be 13:02:03 04/05/06? So I slept through the other one early this morning.
Aqua Velva is an “after-shave” that has been around for decades. It was much more heavily marketed on TV ads when I was a kid, and its jingles and slogans are apparently embedded in my unconscious mind. “Shower and shave and use Aqua Velva” was one of their slogans.
And I can still here their jingle: “Feel like a man! Because there’s something about an Aqua Velva man!”
Why, I ask myself today, this shrill, almost desperate repetition of the word “man” in the ads? And it pops into my head that I recently saw a TV commercial for some liquid deodorant soap for men, where the whole shtick was a posse of guys insisting that the soap was manly. (“It comes in a bottle that looks like an oil can!”) Maybe it was even an ad for Irish (“Manly yes, but I like it too!”) Spring.
The answer is pretty obvious. Apparently men want perfume. We want to put perfume on after shaving. We want scented soaps. But perfume and scented soaps being reserved only for women, the advertizing campaigns have to spend all their time reassuring men that they can use the stuff without being "pussies." So perfume is called “cologne,” and it's applied by “slapping it on.”
I never understood after-shave. As a naive 16-year-old initiate into the rites of shaving, I had some lingering notion that after-shave was somehow medically indicated to "protect the skin" or "seal the pores." Once I figured out that that was mere advertizing malarky, it started to dawn on me that after-shave was nothing more or less than perfume -- perfume given a manly edge by virtue of its alcohol content, which made it sting freshly shaved skin. ("Perfume that doesn't hurt is for pussies!")
Well, when you think about it, why stop at perfume? Why not cosmetics? There are undoubtedly teams of marketing researchers buried away in the R and D laboratories of advertizing agencies working on this problem. I bet that selling makeup to men is the holy grail of marketing: the Madison Avenue equivalent of discovering a cure for cancer.
Back by Popular Demand! Word Verifictionary Winners
ohujgiis (1). (oh-hug-geez): a word muttered under one's breath when obligated to hug "touchy-feely" friends.
(2) (o-huge-eyes) - a brand of glasses that makes your eyes VERY large.
kchuwuq - kachoo work -- the hard job of getting that last little tickly thing to finally turn into a proper sneeze
Tom Bozzoilipjz: I live in PJs -- what I could do if I were a professional blogger.
ktmks - this season's new high-fashion boot. "Are those Uggs you're wearing?"; "Ick! What planet are YOU from? These are Ktmks!"
ljftnbk--a small elevator for books in Norwegian libraries
wsnrm-- Was norm-- Your doctor's response, much to your relief, when you asked what your test results were.
layuzdvh -- Polish layaway plan
iymxa - "eye-mixer" -- a person with one brown and one green eye
ppdougi - (papa doo-gee): What to call your grandfather, if he's named Douglas.
plqube (pleh-cube): a box of the blahs; the high-tech version of Pandora's box.
zkank -- skank in French? i don't know. i just want to be a winner this week.
rulezix: a 6-year old with no front teeth explaining rule six.
ucqly (AUK-lee): unattractive and French.
nhjdsqco -- "noodge disco": a dance club where annoying people who pester or whine can meet each other.
cckelu -- ("cc-kuh-loo") an ironic expression of feigned excitement for being copied on an email or letter, as in: "Q: Did you get a copy of my email? A: Big whoop. CCkelu!"
xbeom: (ex-be-ohm) Formerly, I merely existed, but now I am one with the universe.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Two additions to my list of “things I’m glad I won’t be around to see.”
Have you noticed how your cell phone seems to interfere with any electronic device that generates sound through a speaker? Yesterday morning I made a couple of cell phone calls from bed. (Lest you get an image of me luxuriating with breakfast and the newspaper in bed, let me explain that I was fully dressed and in a New York City hotel room that was so tiny that the bed was the only comfortable place to talk on the phone.) The bedside clock radio started making that whiny “hih-hih-hihihitty-hih” sound that I also get from my computer speakers and my car radio when the cell phone is on. I assume it’s cell phone interference.
It then occurred to me that my electronic devices were telling me that my hotel room was receiving “excellent” signals both for the cell phone and for wireless internet. And that a few days ago, a techie-looking guy came into my office at school with some device and reported that my office was now picking up an excellent wireless internet signal. And when I turn on my laptop at home, even though we consciously chose not to have wireless, we’re picking up a weak wireless signal from a neighbor.
The fact is we don’t know what the health effects of all these signals are. It’s just another technology where we just plunge ahead willy-nilly on the assumption that “what we don’t know can’t hurt us.” And I think about that lone voice in the wilderness, the president of that small Canadian liberal arts college who refused to let his campus go wireless because “we still don’t know the health effects of wireless signals.”
What if we’ve basically doomed the next two generations of our people to a high incidence of brain cancer?
Speaking of dooming the next generation, what are we doing to the next generation of spellers? Don’t be fooled by those documentary films about a small enclave of spelling bee nerd kids. Contemporary pedagogy has experimented broadly with “free” spelling in order ot encourage kids to write without constraint, but more importantly, IMing and text-messaging is bringing up the younger generation to non-standard spelling, not to mention a fairly conscious inattention to punctuation and grammar.
Will we revert to the non-standard spelling of early modern English? That is not necessarily an “end of civilization” worry, since Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson, among others, were products of that cultural milieu.
Or will we keep standardization and see our young people come to rely increasingly on “spell check” and “grammar check” software that will turn their chatroom gibberish into comprehensible prose? So basically, all written language will be filtered through computer programs controlled by Bill Gates. Nice thought...
Monday, April 03, 2006
Stop your netching. Or, actually, start netching -- it's really fun
9. If you could replace the word "blogs" in the cultural lexicon, what would you replace it with?
I'm told that the word "blog" is a shortened form of "web log," as in "Jeremy Freese's Weblog." This is very artificial, because nobody calls the internet the "web" anymore -- that's so 90s. And "log" is so Star Trek. It's outdated and geeky and creates an irresistible temptation to make up new words with "blog" in it, like "blogosphere" and the god-awful "blawg" (for "law blog").
I would change the word "blog" to "netch." That's short for "Internet journal," shortened by dropping the "Inter" and the "urnal." It sounds like "kvetch," which a lot of blogging is, does not as easily lend itself to new wordplays, and is based on a more straightforward description of the enterprise. Ooops, there's that Star Trek thing again.
Maybe I should change my name to "Pittsburgh"
The character "Nathan Detroit" in Guys and Dolls (the role that made Sinatra a superstar) was from New York -- it's explained right there in the song "Good old reliable Nathan Detroit" (or whatever). People didn't go around assuming that he was from Detroit.
Jesse at Dane 101 provides the latest installment of the mistaking-me-for-someone-from-Madison saga here. Jesse writes a very nice intro to my responses to his questionnaire, and Dane 101 is a great blog, so you should check it out.
Oh what the heck, let's admit it: Dane 101 is this week's Blog Of the Week.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Blossoms and brownstones
April in New York!
Am I losing my blogging cred?
Here's where I've been this whole weekend.
And I just haven't been fighting for internet access. If I were a real blogger, wouldn't I be willing to offend friends and loved ones and just force some blogging time into my day?
Saturday, April 01, 2006
There aren’t enough opportunities for people to blow off steam in this country. We’re too serious all the time – just look at our TV programming.
We need more opportunities for mainstream media to let their hair down and broadcast fake news stories, like animals escaping from the zoo.
While we’re at it, I can’t believe that we don’t have any formal recognition of “Opposite Day.” I propose October 1, to fill up that big empty expanse between Labor Day and Halloween. It definitely needs to be during the school year. On Opposite Day, every signal means its opposite. “Hello” means “goodbye” and red lights mean “go.” That would be fun.
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