Friday, February 27, 2009

Song reflections: The Butthole Surfers, "Pepper"

This is a song that for a time was constantly being played on the college radio station I listened to when I was in high school (Susquehanna University--the frequency and call letters now escape me, alas), so I know it well. I was kind of resistant to it at first, because I found the band's name so mortifying (I was very self-conscious about such things back then), but now I will not deny that I like it, although I am unfamiliar with the rest of the Surfers' ouevre. Apparently, it's a grimmer song than I had thought: for the longest time--until I bothered to look up the lyrics online--I heard the line "they were all in love with dyin'" as "they were all in love with Dianne." Okay, so maybe it doesn't make too much sense that way, but you tend to accept these things in song lyrics. Also, some serious buzzkills on the internet inform me that it's actually about heroin. Thanks a lot, internet buzzkills. Regardless, I find the line "I can taste you on my lips and smell you in my clothes" terribly romantic. Don't give me nonna yer subtext! I do find it irksome, however, that each iteration of the chorus goes up in pitch (or however you say that--musical terms are obviously not my thing). The first one's the best, and then every subsequent one's a letdown. Just like heroin! Okay, I'm pretty sure that's reading way too much into it.

But the main purpose of this post is the following: "They were all in love with dyin' they were drinking from a fountain that was pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain." I hate to bring my own brand of buzzkillery into play here, but I can't help noticing: if they were drinking from a fountain that's pouring--isn't this, in point of fact, more like a waterfall than an avalanche? To a rather substantial degree? You can't drink from an avalanche.

This is the kind of thing English students think about. I still recommend the song, however.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Occasional Adventures in Pedagogy

Today I did a sinful thing: I decided at the last moment to administer a pop quiz on the day's reading--Paul Auster's City of Glass--to my class. I could be wrong, but I don't think one can find detailed plot summaries online--certainly not with a cursory glance--so I thought it might be interesting to figure out how many of the lads and lasses actually read it. The answer is somewhat inconclusive: the majority of those who actually turned their quizzes in did okay, but a substantial number didn't even bother to turn anything in. What did amuse me, however, was this: one of the questions--and anyone who's read the book will be able to answer this immediately, as it's one of the most striking episodes--was: What phrase does Peter Stillman spell out via his peregrinations through Manhattan (I didn't actually use the word "peregrinations"--that would've been a non-starter)? Then, I got back two quizzes, from a pair of students sitting next to each other. It's obvious that they were attempting to cheat from one another, because they both responded: "Labyrinth." A word that they presumably chose because earlier we were reading Borges stories about labyrinths, which word turned out to be strange and exotic to a substantial portion of the class. It has no relation to the correct answer ("The Tower of Babel"), and yet they both used it. Did they think a unified front would make their wrongness appear more convincing somehow? Student psychology is a strange and sometimes troubling thing.

Vote for Strawfoot

I am informed that this is something you should do, and I am inclined to agree. That's right--all twenty-whatever of you. You may not be familiar with the band, but it's not like you're a huge fan of any of the OTHER choices, right? Right. So let's do this thing. Just as a small favor to me.

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man...well, nothing much changed.

So in the English building, there a drink machine that is somewhat high-tech. When you put money in it and make your selection, a little ramp goes up, your drink is dispensed into it, and it slides down the ramp into the dispensing slot and there you are. That's the idea, at any rate. It often fails to function properly, however--bottles get stuck in the ramp, and if you want a drink, that is too dern bad, for you cannot have one. Anyway, the other day there were seven bottles in a jumbled heap at the bottom. This was funny, because seriously, foax, who's gonna see six bottles down there and think, well, all THOSE ones got stuck, but I'm sure things will be different this time!? But then it occurred to me that maybe some of them did it on purpose--just to make even more of a mess out of the machine. And that appealed to me. Watching a soda machine malfunction is the kind of entertainment you just can't put a price on, if you are six years old. Naturally, I had to get in on this.

I was all prepared to spend a few bucks on this, but then I came to the happy realization that when the machine does not work, it refunds your money. So: infinite opportunity! I messed up a little by not spending more time on the higher tiers first; it pretty quickly reached the point where the ramp was so jammed that it wouldn't go up at all--it would just spastically jerk a little. You better believe I would have gotten every single bottle in the machine in that pile if I could have. I did, however, add ten-ish extras to the pile--good fun for me and hopefully entertaining for anyone who passes by and sees it. Sometimes, the burden of having to pretend to be some sort of "adult" gets to be just too much to bear.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oh look, Joe the Plumber-ish has a book.

Yup. Check out the "editorial reviews," which are attributed to random people with no identifying details and somewhat shaky syntactical facility. Featuring the ringing endorsement of "I read it in two days."

Western civilization's last gasp? Maybe, but check out the things with which people have tagged it and be heartened. The top four are "american idiot," "go away," "waste of time," and "white trash tax cheat." And it only gets better from there. By my count, one hundred fifty-six of the tags are clear insults, while a mere fifty-five are neutral or positive (and that's a conservative estimate--is the dude who entered "conservative thought" being sarcastic or not? Who can tell?).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Okay okay--anonymous commenting is reopened.

But the fact remains, I can't fucking stand anonymous trolls. I know it seems like a little thing, but I just find it FUCKING RUDE when people act like assholes and refuse to even use a half-assed pseudonym. So the following proviso is now in effect: if you want to troll, do your worst, but leave a name. If you try to do so anonymously, your comment will still appear, but it will appear under the name "Thidwick the Dim-Witted Moose." Fair warning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Classic Chick Tract

I'm ashamed. Earlier, I accused Jack Chick of being late to the Left Behind bandwagon, but I obviously have not studied the Gospel According to Jack closely enough, because if I had, I would have remembered The Last Generation, a gem from 1992. The Chickster was down with the rapture well before LaHaye and Jenkins. I should never have doubted him.

And it really is a gem of a tract. There is literally nothing about it that is not totally awesome. Bobby-the-Hitler-Youth's teacher instructing kids to sacrifice adorable puppies and kitties is obviously the high point, but the bizarre Spanish-Inquisition-Superhero is a close second.

Really, though, you can't totally blame Bobby for his behavior--after all, "the kids call him slime because his @!!!**! parents are still married. Rest assured, this happens ALL THE TIME. Just like how in the army, if you believe in Jesus, your sergeant tells you to "knock off this shit about religion right now or you're a dead man!" GOOD GOD, I love Jack Chick!

You may think ALL Chick Tracts are unsubtle, but this is really the ne plus ultra. And the weird, semi-realistic art style brings it on home. This is really the man at his prime.


Forget your fancy manners/Forget your English grammar

Now look, it's hard for me to write fairly about this, because I am who I am, and I DO notice these things and know how they work. You won't see me confusing "who" and "whom" or sticking apostrophes where they don't belong or using unnecessary quotation marks. You WILL see me violating those arbitrary rules based on Latin, but fuck a buncha infinitives anyway. The point is, I KNOW them.

So I DO indeed notice language errors, and I won't claim that they don't bother me on a non-rational level, or that I don't, consciously or not, judge people based upon these things (although I'm substantially MORE judgmental about instant-messenger-style cavespeak, really). But that's my own neurosis, and I see no reason why the world should be required to BOW BEFORE MY LEET SKILLZ. If any action needs to be taken, the action should consist of getting over it, and it should be undertaken by me.

This isn't to say that there's anything particularly wrong with wanting language to follow its own rules--we as humans like to have that sense of order, don't we? I enjoy it when I find myself noting and following an especially picky rule in my own writing. It's fun for me, and probably for a lot of people. And no, it's not all that fun to be assaulted by error after error after error in student writing. But I can't help but find obsessive sticklers of the Eats Shoots and Leaves variety substantially more obnoxious than the rule-breakers whom they're attempting to school. They're always so goddamn smug, as though their personal linguistic sensibilities--which are usually more class markers than anything that they consciously developed--somehow makes them better people than the great unwashed masses. Oh look--you noticed that it should be "ten items or fewer." So what? Do you want some sort of prize? Would you like to write a paragraph for me in which you explain WHY exactly this is an affront to all that's good and decent--a paragraph that does NOT reference your own particular sensibilities? You can't do it, my friends. David Foster Wallace was a stickler, but he was also self-aware about it; it's no coincidence that the mother in Infinite Jest--in whom this behavior manifests itself--is also a psychosexual mess.

One should try to follow the rules because, like it or not, they are a signifier of social status. That's just the way it is. It's an important factor that shouldn't be ignored. But let's be honest: that's really the ONLY reason. "Because it offends my particular tastes" isn't going to carry much weight, as well it shouldn't. And otherwise, what does it matter if someone writes "your" for "you're" or uses quotation marks for "emphasis?" Sticklers will assert that poor usage obscures meaning. And sure, occasionally this is true, in which case it should be corrected. Emphasis on occasionally, however. Because really, who's fooling whom? That's nothing more than a convenient smokescreen to hide behind. Ninety percent of the time usage errors, in context, don't cause any confusion whatsoever. Sure, it sounds off to me when people use "infer" for "imply," but that doesn't mean I don't know what they're trying to say. "I want to thank my parents, Jesus and Ayn Rand" is funny, but stop pretending that it somehow confuses you, goddamnit! It just makes you even more irritating. It's disingenuous and not particularly flattering to you personally when you pretend that you're too dimwitted to understand a sign that says "children drive slowly."

"The English language is going to devolve and we'll all become uncultured troglodytes!" is the other plaint. This too is misguided. Language evolves because of how people use it. If it is decided by popular consensus that we don't need to distinguish between "there" and "their," then distinguish we won't--end of story. Grammarians pushing back ain't gonna have nothin' to do with it. It has always been thus. It's okay. Really, it is. People like to communicate, and they aren't going to legislate rules that are important for communication out of existence. We'll still be able to infer things, even if we don't do it in the same way. I like "whom," but I'm not going to try to make a case that its neglect represents a great loss. We'll be able to get along just fine without it.

The status marker thing IS important, and for this reason, it's a good idea to have a basic grasp of these rules. But please, people: stop acting like it's some sort of moral imperative. Okay okay--you don't like bad grammar. FINE. Neither do I. But that doesn't make us in some ill-defined way morally superior to people just don't care.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Donald Barthelme stories we love: "The Baby"

Scrolling down, these post titles are looking kind of relentlessly negative, so let's have something happy for once, shall we?

Here. Read it. It's short.

Why is it great? Well, obviously, it's the abrupt transition at the end. If it were a thing where the narrator gradually realizes that his overly rigid ways--"there were many, many rules,"-- are not a good thing, it would just be banal. But as it stands the sudden change--after all this time of thinking it's NOT okay to rip out pages and painting himself into a corner, deciding, apropos of nothing in particular, okay, it IS okay after all, and as long as we're tipping into anarchism, why not smash a few windshields--illustrates the way we could very easily solve a lot of problems that we have if not for the compulsive need to cling to pre-established dogmas and structures. I know that sounds sort of obvious just spelt out like that, but it's really, really not EASY to think of our problems in those terms, and seeing Barthelme illustrate it as he does causes a kind of happy cognitive dissonance: "wait...all that effort, and suddenly he just...stops? What? Can he really DO that?" But obviously, he can. And I find that inspiring. If this story doesn't bring a manic grin to your face, I think there may be something wrong with you. Then, the hard part: trying to actually APPLY this lesson.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things that make us angry

John Fuckin' Sunununununununununu (okay, I think that joke's about dead) was on The Daily Show tonight, talking oh-so-piously about fiscal restraint, and how this stimulus is BAD BAD BAD because we can't saddle Our Children with this terrible, terrible debt (always The Figure of the Child, right?). Stewart pushed him pretty well on this, but not far enough, so:

Will the stimulus actually help anything? I don't know. Economics bores and frightens me. But that's not the point. The point is: you can spend over a trillion dollars on a hugeass fucking pointless war--you can slash the shit out of the taxes for the richest motherfuckers in the country--and that's JUST FUCKING GREAT. You won't hear a PEEP out of John fuckin' Sununu! But what's this--now, having sown the wind, we're reaping the fuckin' whilrwind, and OH NO! FISCALRESTRAINTFISCALRESTRAINTFISCALRESTRAINT! WHAT A COINCIDENCE that the only time we need "fiscal restraint" is when it comes to helping people who aren't the richass motherfuckers who own the republican party! Killing random A-rabs? Grrrreat! Making sure billionaires don't have to skimp on the ermine carpeting for their fleet of private jets? Indispensable! But helping POOR people? "Oh, think of Our Children, saddled with this Terrible Burden!" Seriously, is ANYBODY still stupid enough to believe that you really MEAN this "fiscal restraint" bullshit? That you're not just empathically stunted motherfuckers who mouth empty pieties because actually letting out a full-throated "fuck the poor!" might be politically problematic? GOOD GOD do I wish the Second Coming would happen sooner rather than later just so I could see the looks on your stupid, ugly faces when Jesus gives you the emphatic "I never knew you" that you so richly deserve. Fuck you all.

Poems we hate: AE Housman, "To an Athlete Dying Young"

Why do we hate it? Because the sentiment is incredibly trite, and more than a little insulting. "Boy, you should sure be glad you're buying the farm now; otherwise, your life would have gotten MUCH, MUCH worse, because let's face it--how could it POSSIBLY get any better than the transcendental awesomeness of being a high school track star? Trust me--death is FAR preferable to having to live up to that incredible achievement. You should be grateful."

Were I the dying athlete in question I would respond: "What the fuck, AE? Is this supposed to make me feel better? I was a TEENAGE TRACK STAR. You think that equals eternal glory? I'll TELL you what it equals: There will be a moment of silence in my honor in homeroom. They will put up a plaque for me on a decorative boulder. My name will be remembered by people who live in this town--and in this town ONLY--until they die off. Then, NO ONE will remember. C'est tout. How dare you suggest that this rather-insignificant-in-the-long-run achievement is the best I could do? We're not all doomed to be Rabbit Angstrom, you asshole. It's too bad YOU didn't die young: then someone could have written a poem about what a lucky break YOUR young death was, because if you'd lived longer, people would have been forced to endure your shitty poetry. It wouldn't likely be much of a poem either, but at least it would have irony in its favor."

Watchmen: Why It Will Suck

So as you might have heard, Watchmen the movie is coming out next month. And I have a friend who is going to drag me to see it, about which I'm vaguely resentful, but what can you do? So let me outline the reasons this movie is going to suck. You can call me a visionary later.

1. Directed by Zack Snyder. Okay, so maybe you can't blame Snyder for 300; at least not completely--it's hard to imagine anyone making a great movie out of such fundamentally stupid source material. But the problem is that he and everyone involved seem to think that 300 was a great accomplishment. The previews characterize him as "visionary." This is seriously delusional, but even if we pretend we're living in a bizarre alternate world in which 300 didn't suck, the fact remains that you can't approach something as multilayered as Watchmen in the same way you do something as--straightforward, let's say--as 300. The latter does not train you for the former.

2. It is a superhero movie. This is obvious from all the previews. But to conceptualize Watchmen as a "superhero comic" is to make a serious category error. When you think about it, there really isn't all that much "action," per se. Rorschach tortures some thugs. Dreiberg and Juspeczyk save some people from a burning building. And there's one big, awful explosion. What else? To concentrate on and accentuate these things is to miss the point by a rather wide margin, and that's sure as fuck what's going on in the previews.

3. The movie will almost certainly insist on making non-heroes into heroes. Watchmen has only one hero--I refer of course to Rorschach. Notice how he has a very strong means-justify-the-ends philosophy throughout the comic? Remember his school essay where he says he thinks the atomic bombings of Japan were a good thing for the usual reasons people say this? Recall his journal entry right at the beginning where he announces his intention to let society drown in its own filth--to say "no?" AND THEN--notice how at the end he rejects--is THE ONLY ONE to reject--this worldview? That he actually says, emphatically, YES, even though it costs him his life? Dreiberg and Juspeczyk aren't exactly bad people, but they sure ain't very heroic--how can you not be nauseated by seeing them, at the very end, discuss their plans to go back to playing dress-up? Dr. Manhattan is kind of a dick, even if there are mitigating circumstances. The Comedian is a psychopath. Veidt MIGHT have been a kind of tragic hero were he more self-aware, but he wasn't and he isn't. And he's not. You think the movie is going to be honest about all this? Pfft. You watch--they'll make the Dreiberg/Juspeczyk love story into the movie's emotional center. Just SEE if they don't.

4. It wasn't fucking MEANT to be a movie, you idiots. How are you going to handle the interstitial material? The Black Freighter sequence, especially the parts where the dialogue from the story mirrors that of the characters? Answer: by cutting it all out. Not that the main thrust of the comic isn't powerful on its own, but it's hard to see how it isn't gonna seem pretty damned pallid by comparison.

If this is all tragically wrong, I will acknowledge as much, and reluctantly grant Zack Fucking Snyder that "visionary" status. BUT IT'S NOT.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No good answer

Question: what are you meant to do when you get to class and you can see--because it's right there on the table--that one of your students has printed out a Wikipedia summary of one of the stories that you assigned? First, your mind boggles slightly at the sheer laziness involved here. This story ("Blue Tigers") is nine pages long, which is a bit on the lengthy side for a Borges story, but which still couldn't possibly take even a very slow reader more than a half hour to get through. Then, you realize there's really not much you can do--you could make a snide remark vis-à-vis the printout, but what will that accomplish? She would probably conceal them more effectively in the future, and that's about all. You could make everyone take a quiz on the story, but that would involve reading the summary yourself and formulating questions that the summary does not touch on, which would probably necessarily involve getting so obscure that even people who did read the story itself would have difficulty, and besides which, would seem awfully paranoid, and in any case, it's just a lousy composition class, fergawdsake; making sure that my students don't cheat themselves out of the education that their parents are paying for is well above my pay grade.

Still, I do wish they'd make an honest effort.

Things you wish you didn't know existed...

...but now you DO, and there's NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Diddle-iddle-ah...wah wah wah

(in case it's not obvious--and it isn't, because it was a pretty inept effort--that was meant to be the iconic opening chords from the main theme of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)

Jorge Luis Borges' first story collection is called A Universal History of Inequity. It consists of a series of brief, mostly-historical accounts of infamous characters throughout history, with that Borges edge. They don't much resemble his later, more famous work (although you can certainly see the roots), but they're interesting nonetheless.

One of these stories is "The Disinterested Killer Bill Harrigan," by which is meant Billy the Kid, although a quick googling informs me that his actual real name is uncertain. It is three and a half pages long, and it traces Harrigan's life from his youth in a gang of feral children in New York City to his journey west and his establishment as a killer through to his own inevitable murder at the age of twenty-one. There's a bit of speculative psychologizing in the story ("so long as his his trigger finger didn't fail him, he was the most feared (and perhaps most empty and lonely) man on that frontier"), but the overall thrust of the story is that there's this guy--more legend than man, really--and you can recite these bare facts, but you're never really going to understand him or know what exactly was going on in his head.

It's a striking piece of writing. But what if you wanted to write a novel about Billy the Kid instead? Obviously, you couldn't make it exactly the same but longer; short-short stories and novels are not the same thing. Obviously. You could go a bit longer, sure, but if you have three hundred-odd pages about the guy and all you're saying is "look how unknowable he was"--wouldn't that get kinda boring? Simplistic? Very, very limited? I submit that, yes indeed, it would get kinda boring, even if you were a decent stylist. Of course, you could ameliorate the problem by making it less about The Kid and more about the people around him and how they react to him.

But what if you decide, fuck that--it's gonna be about him and how he was a violent motherfucker, and that's all there is to it. I'm not sure what to tell you. I don't think your book will be all that interesting. You might try to say, oh ho, what I'm actually doing is deconstructing American mythology. Booyah! To which I would say, okay, that's cool. It could probably use some deconstruction. But dude: the people by whom the west was won weren't flippin' robots, and if you treat them as such--or maybe they're not technically robots, but they might as well be, because they're endlessly violent and totally unknowable--then how much insight do you expect to be able to bring to the proceedings. Okay okay--they were violent motherfuckers. Is that all you have to say? For hundreds of pages? Because if so, you're not a smart or clever or insightful writer. Sorry. And fuck you.

So tell me, gentle reader: at what point did YOU realize that the whole point of this post was just to take yet another gratuitous swipe at Cormac McCarthy? Probably pretty early, right? You're so perceptive.

Yes, it's the annoying twenty-five things facebook thing

Everybody's probably sick of this little craze, but what the hell--I did it due to peer pressure, so I might as well stick it here to be preserved forever until the world ends or the internets blow up, whichever comes first. It's certainly not the worst thing I've ever written.

1. My big toes are double-jointed, something which serves no practical purpose but DOES freak people out. Come to think of it, I guess that's a practical purpose.

2. TV show that I'm embarrassed to admit being a fan of, because it really kind of sucks: That 70s Show.

3. I like classic arcade games, but there's only one I've played obsessively enough to get good at. Not great, but good enough for government work. The point is, if we were playing Berzerk head-to-head, you would almost certainly lose, unless you're secretly some sort of ringer. Any other game, and all bets are off.

4. Band that most people love but that I can't stand: U2.

5. Over the course of my MA program, I lost somewhere in the area of fifty pounds. It turns out that regular exercise and limited but permanent dietary alterations will do that.

6. I'm immune to the effects of poison ivy, as are my dad and my brothers. It's useful for hiking. Whether this applies also to the Batman villain Poison Ivy, I couldn't say. But it seems like a good bet!

7. I think I might be becoming lactose intolerant, but cutting out cheese is just NOT HAPPENING, unless a doctor tells me point blank, stop eating cheese or you will die. And even then it's gonna require a serious moment of introspection.

8. Over the course of my wasted youth, I read 100+ Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms novels (and let's not leave out the minor, largely-forgotten lines, like Dark Sun, Spelljammer, and Ravenloft). What's strange about that is that, leaving aside all issues of literary merit and judging them purely in terms of escapist adventure stories, the vast majority of these were still just terrible, BORING books. And yet, I persisted, reading through the pain. What the hell was wrong with me?

9. It was an embarrassingly long time before I was willing to read non-genre, capital-L Literary Novels that weren't actually assigned to me. The first one was Zola's Nana. That was after my junior year of college. I think I've more than made up for that deficiency by now, however.

10. I'm a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan. Let's face it: anyone can be a fan of a team (like the Steelers) that actually wins championships now and then. Likewise, it would be easy to be a Lions fan--you'd become resigned pretty quickly. But to support a team that ALWAYS holds out the tantalizing possibility of great things and then ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS goes on to break your heart--that takes moral fortitude.

11. I'm semi-obssessive about the duck (ie, Donald, Scrooge, HDL, etc) comics of Carl Barks from the forties, fifties, and sixties. For this reason, I have a bumper sticker that will only not be completely inscrutable to fellow Barksophiles. If you are one and you see it, honk!

12. Speaking of cartoon ducks, I'm also morbidly fascinated with the terrible right-wing comic strip Mallard Fillmore. It's not just that it's politically misguided; it's that pound for pound, it's easily the most incompetently-written and drawn strip in papers today, easily beating out the bad legacy strips. And yet it's the only comic I faithfully read every day. Go figure.

13. Whenever I learn that someone I know is having a kid, my secret first reaction is always, REALLY? You think it's really a prudent idea to bring more people into the world? NOT THAT I'M NOT HAPPY FOR YOU, and I'll grant that there's at least a CHANCE that they won't grow up in a world where the living envy the dead, but is that really a good bet? Of course, it's very possible that someday I'll have children myself. And then look like a big fat hypocrite. But there you have it.

14. Children's book that terrified me senseless when I was small: The BFG, by Roald Dahl. Dude--it's about EVIL GIANTS who REACH INTO KIDS' ROOMS AT NIGHT and FUCKING EAT THEM, CRUNCHING THEIR BONES and GULPING DOWN THEIR BLOOD. Sure, they all get captured in the end, but is Dahl necessarily a reliable narrator? I had a number of hallucinatory, waking nightmares over this.

15. Two contemporary authors who, in spite of all the fact that they're an established part of the literary canon and seemingly everyone else loves them, I think are fucking awful: Cormac McCarthy and Don Delillo. Don't even get me started.

16. The only time I've ever been cruel to animals was when I was small and a few times a friend and I played a game called "worm doctor." I cringe to think back on that. Anyway, now I try my best to always rescue worms stranded on the pavement after rain. Hopefully doing that consistently will restore some karmic balance.

17. When I was in elementary school, I was pretty good at geography--good enough to win the school geography bee three or four times, anyway. Never moved on, however, because have you SEEN the kinds of qualifying questions they asked? Quick--what's the only kingdom in Oceania? What kind of freakish children know these things?

18. I'm actually a little bit embarrassed to voice such a...conventional opinion, but I really do think that The Wire is the best thing that ever was or will be on TV.

19. I had what we would now call a blog well before the idea was in vogue. It was just a crappy geocities page, but it had exactly the same format--dated entries featuring my thoughts on random topics. Then I realized that it was becoming so large and unwieldy that the stuff on the bottom was getting eaten. That was frustrating. So now I have a real blog (with twenty-six readers daily, I might add!), which is much more convenient. Is it as GOOD? That's an open question. The old one's actually still out there, if you care enough to search for it.

20. When I was small, I collected Koosh Balls. I had probably somewhere close to two hundred of them, all different. And I gave them names, though at a certain point those started to get a little vague. I still have them, but it turns out that that kind of rubber does not like dry air, so a lot of the more venerable ones are in a pretty sorry state. The point is, I could tell you more about Koosh taxonomy, which was fairly involved, than almost anyone else in the world. Seriously--just ask me! You'll never get me to shut up about it!

21. Throughout my teenage years and on through college, I was a big anglophile, especially as far as music went. It it wasn't from the British Isles, I was not interested. I'm not quite sure where this came from. Not that there weren't a lot of good cultural products to choose from, but it was still pretty myopic. I think this started to fade when I was forced to admit to myself that Tom Waits was (and is) fucking awesome.

22. I have beaten Final Fantasy Legend many many MANY times. Many. With all sorts of parties. There is nothing I can't tell you about that game.

23. Even though my living space invariably becomes covered with a thick coating of books and papers, I'm strangely obsessive about organizing my music. Every song on my computer HAS to follow exactly the right protocols in terms of capitalization, and if I realize I've made some sort of mistake, it must be instantly corrected, even if that means waiting FOREVER for itunes to load because the damn thing's full to bursting.

24. Song that sends chills down my spine every time: Bowie's "Rock and Roll Suicide."

25. I have other things that I really ought to be doing right now, but instead I've been working very hard to ensure that most of these are at least minimally interesting. So you'd better appreciate them.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Joe Jackson, I'm the Man

Will amazon publish a review that includes the word "fag?" Stay tuned...

(update: they will indeed! Submit your violently homophobic reviews today! Unfortunately, it's been transported back to 2002-ish, where my older, lamer review of the album had been)

I think I gave short shrift to this album earlier. While it isn't on the same level as Look Sharp!, which is just about perfect, I now see that it has more than enough transcendent moments to tip the balance in its favor.

I maintain, however, that "The Band Wore Blue Shirts" is a pretty bad song--musically not very interesting, with lyrics that aren't nearly as clever as they want to be. And "Kinda Kute," while perhaps not bad, isn't anything more than the title would indicate.

That's not the end of it, though, because there are also a number of songs that, while musically appealing, have lyrics that kind of make you wish you didn't understand English. "Geraldine and John" has a nice reggae beat, but the song's central conceit--that we're meant to be shocked! SHOCKED! by "they are married but of course...not to each other," which, as far as sordid revelations go, ain't much--is just comical. The title track is pleasingly propulsive, but its anti-consumerism message is quite overwhelmed by the "you dern kids get off my lawn" vibe that it gives off (skateboards, Joe? Seriously?). And finally, in "Don't Wanna Be like that" (yes, I'm going there--I don't know that you can honestly talk about this album without at least mentioning it), there is just no level on which the line "and the Playboy centerfold leaves me cold, and that ain't 'cause I'm a fag" is not deeply unfortunate (although more than balanced out by later songs like "Fit" and "Real Men").

That still leaves us, however, with five songs which are unreservedly great. "On Your Radio" is joyously vindictive, if such a thing is possible. You gotta hear me on your raaa-diii-oooooo! Likewise, "Get that Girl" is a pure, giddy rush. However, we also see more emotional range than we did on Look Sharp!. When Jackson intones that "you're no aaaaamateur" on "Amateur Hour," the anguish is palpable, and "Friday" paints a compassionate portrait of a girl poorly equipped to face the world's harsh realities. Probably the best "waiting for the weekend" song I know. And let us not forget "It's Different for Girls," that gentle, bemused look at the confusions and contradictions of gender roles and relations. If only for these songs (and hell, maybe you'll feel differently about the others), I'm the Man is kind of a no-brainer for fans of smart, energetic pop music.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Chrono Trigger DS

Sometimes I wonder: whom exactly do I think I'm writing for here? Who reading this blog would possibly be interested in the minutia in the second half of this post? Then I remember, narcissism is what blogging is all about. So I don't worry about it.

Sure, there are things in Chrono Trigger that don't make a great deal of sense. How come Lucca instantly has a perfect understanding of technology from thirteen hundred years in the future? If Magus just wants to get Lavos, why the whole Evil Fiendlord fooferal? Do we really buy that Guardia's judicial system is so dysfunctional? And let's not even get into the endless litany of inevitable time-travel-related paradoxes.

But the thing is, you just don't care. And not only don't you care: you feel as though caring would make you a horrible, joyless person--as indeed it would. There's something about the game's jazzy insouciance; it's complete, fully-justified self-confidence that leads to perfect acceptance. You might think that it would be tonally jarring, in the grim, post-apocalyptic future, to suddenly run into a fifties-rock-and-roll-robot biker. You might think that Chrono's mom would be in some way nonplussed to be introduced to her son's friends, who include a cavewoman, a giant, anthropomorphic amphibian, and a grim, gothic-elf-looking dude. But in both cases, you would be wrong. Johnny doesn't even invoke a raised eyebrow, and Ma takes it all in stride. That's just the kind of game it is.

Leaving aside issues of personal preference, I think Chrono Trigger is the best Japanese RPG I know (assuming that the Mother series doesn't quite fit under the traditional "Japanese RPG" aegis). At the time that it came out--and, when you think about, still, almost--Final Fantasy VI seemed like the only serious competitor for that spot. But while FFVI obviously has more complex, pathos-ridden characters and a more fearsome story, one is forced to admit that--while still FUCKING GREAT (he said, somewhat defensively)--the story does go kind of slack in the back half. CT provides the perfect balance--bright, briskly-paced, aesthetically impeccable (the Kingdom of Zeal will always be one of the most breathtaking videogame things ever), just as long as it needs to be and no longer.

Obviously, "Chrono Trigger is great" is not any sort of news flash to any RPG fan (if it is, god help you), but I just finished the DS version, so I thought I would talk about it.

The important thing: it's perfect Chrono Trigger: perfect music, no slow-down or any other bugs I could see--nothing. It was, as always, a great pleasure. The translation is somewhat revised, but it's not noticeably better or worse (although fans will mourn the loss of "or am I a bowling ball dreaming I'm a plate of sashimi"). And there are now six letters for names, so you can replace the 'h' in 'Chrono,' although it's still gone by default for some reason. But what about the new content? I will note, first, that there are almost no new graphics--it's all recycled, which is disappointing if inevitable. But there weren't many new graphics in FFIVA's Lunar Ruins, and those are awesome, right? Right.

First, there's the Arena of Ages, a rather aimless monster-fighting game, accessed from the title screen or from a gate at the End of Time. There's no real goal, except to unlock the higher tiers; you can get some decent items and equipment, but that's about it. There's no challenge whatsoever; I never even came close to losing a battle. Somewhat amusing in small doses, but that's about it.

The Lost Sanctum exist in the prehistoric and medieval periods. Here, you must complete various mostly-banal tasks from some very demanding Reptites. The problem is that this necessitates you going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over through the SAME TWO ENVIRONMENTS, and if you think that was tedious to read, imagine how it feels to actually DO it. I actually didn't hate it as much as all THAT, but I do have a higher tedium threshold for these things than many people. I just wanted to see what cool new equipment I would acquire. Answer: some new equipment, but nothing compared to what you find in the last area, the

Dimensional Vortex. Which is...kind of lame, actually. You know how the Lunar Ruins in FFIVA used recycled floors, but spiced them up with occasional cool, non-combat floors, individual character challenges, and even a new village? Well, there's very little of that here. You play through a lot of VERY familiar territory, with very little to break up the monotony. Yes, there are new bosses. They're not very exciting or difficult. I suppose the bright spot is that in one of the sections you get to hear "Singing Mountain," which was on the soundtrack but did not appear in the original game.

Once you've done the Dimensional Vortex in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Future, you can access a new last boss and get a new ending. It DOES deal with the infamous Schala lacuna about as well as it probably needs to; unfortunately, it does not do us the courtesy of pretending that Chrono Cross never existed, which leads to unfortunate attempted linkage. Not something we need from a game with as much structural integrity as CT.

So basically, you get some stupidly overpowered equipment (say hello to ninety percent chance of critical hits for Chrono and quadruple-nine-damage criticals for Robo and Ayla!) and get your levels stupidly high and...that's about it. Don't get me wrong; I'm sufficiently immature that I enjoy this absolutely pointless superpower to a certain extent, but it feels very, very superfluous, and you will not miss much if you give all the extra content a miss.

I wish Justice Ginsburg the best.

Still, imagine if--gah--McCain were President right now. No matter how cynical one is about these things, I think we're all deeply, deeply grateful that we'll have a Democrat deciding our next few justices.

I have to ask, though: if it had to happen to SOMEBODY, why oh why couldn't it have been the endlessly loathsome Antonin "Mere Factual Innocence" Scalia?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Shorter Steeler Nation

"Sure, we just won our sixth fucking super bowl, but we're still so insecure and emotionally fragile that we become angrily defensive at the very idea that anyone would still DARE to say anything mean about our team and hurt our precious little feelings."

I usually like John Cole, but REALLY NOW. You'd better believe that if the Eagles won it all (ha ha), I would be thoroughly indifferent to anything mean that anyone said about McNabb.

Weird Planet Zigorotz

(sounds like an anime title, does it not?)

by: GeoX
age: 12

I will tell you about an exotic planet located in a different universe called Zigorotz. It is one hundred thousand light years away from planet Earth. Its diameter is seventeen thousand eight hundred thirty seven and eighty three billionths miles in diameter.

It has eleven continents on it, and fifty percent of it is water, while only forty seven percent is land.

Every seven years the planet is struck with a huge heat wave, so only the hardiest species survive, but those species are plentiful.

The names of the continents on Zigorotz, in order from smallest to largest, are Hellicon, Xorior, Uvic, Vellor, Keefoy, Tifoz, Ilio, Ecvipt, Icelith, Crocod, Luvid.

There are many volcanoes on Ziggorotz. In fact Hellicon is a huge volcano!!!

Now here is the planet’s animal life.

We will start with the mammals. While there are not many of them on planet Zigorotz, they live on every continent but Hellicon. Hear they are: The Eastern Micro Wombat, the spikey anteater, the arrow tailed squirrl, the carnivorous bat, the venomous lynx, and the mondo manatee.

The only two reptiles living on Ziggorotz are the desert Snapping tortois and the Mega Mouth Gaviel.

The only echoniderm is the Razor Starfish.

Next is the Cnidarias. They are the giant hydra, the assasin jelly fish, the navel base anemonie.

Now, your probably going to say, “Hey you creep, you forgot some of the species.” That is because, although there are not many of them, there are to many to list here.