Monday, December 29, 2008

Pirate Jimmy's movies

Pirate Jimmy has taken the movie quotes challenge (done by me here, inspired by Jon here). I'm headed there to guess now . . .

The Return of the Fish


Stanley Fish is back from wherever he went. Probably something to do with teaching. I derived a lot of joy from his essay about AT&T, "The Worst Company in the World." Maybe joy isn't the right word, but it amused me that a big fancy-pants public figure has to go through the same idiotic electronic gauntlet that I do. It's a familiar set of steps:

1. Press zero until you get to talk to someone (doesn't always work, unfortunately)
2. Find out that you can't get what you want
3. Find out that the person you're talking to can't do anything helpful
4. Get transferred into the aether
5. Repeat 1-4.
Optional Step: Embarrass yourself by ranting impotently

An acquaintance of mine works for AT&T, and I'd love to ask him why a phone company is so bad at using a phone system. But it's easier to be a crank in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Reading


It has nothing to do with Christmas, but I enjoyed reading In the Beginning Was the Command Line, by Neal Stephanson. I was sent to it by Alan Jacobs on one of his blogs. It's a great combination of history (of technology), polemic, and literature (it definitely expanded my vocabulary). It's also somewhat of a time capsule, as a technology book published in 1999.


One of my favorite parts is his allegory of operating systems as vehicles. Windows sells clunky station wagons, Apple sells sleek, expensive Euro-style sedans, and a motley group of hackers (Linux) offers free tanks by the side of the road . . .


The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns, trying to draw customers' attention to this incredible situation. A typical conversation goes something like this:


Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"


Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is true...but...er...I don't know how to maintain a tank!"


Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"


Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music."


Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"


Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"


That accurately captures my feelings about Linux, although I've started to use a few free/GNU programs like the GIMP (which I used to create the effect on our Christmas card photo) and Notepad++.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Old School Web-log Post


Got up early today (for a Saturday) to go to what was probably the most important meeting of my short life. We may have made the right decision, but I don't think any of us feel good about it.

When we got back, I was keen to take advantage of 75-cent laundry day. It's a Christmas present from the apartment management. They've been putting out little gestures of kindness for the last several months, probably to soften the blow of impending measures to squeeze more money out of us. The latest plan is to start charging us for utilities, but according to the letter the management sent, it's to help the environment. So I guess that makes it all right.

Mrs. Chaka had to go to a cookie-decorating party, so she left the laundry in my hands. Regular readers will remember that these hands have been shown to be less than capable, so it was a risk on her part. I made it through without disaster, though, possibly because our only remaining expensive electronic items are too large to fit in pants pockets. Between trips to the laundry room, I got a recipe for pie crust, tracked down some more addresses for the Christmas card mailing, and did some German flashcards on my Palm.

Mrs. Chaka had told me last week that all she wanted for Christmas was for me to clean the bathtub, so I knocked that out; now I don't have to buy her anything. That's a relief, since I had no idea what to buy her.

I kid, I kid.

I've discovered that Sound Opinions makes an excellent companion to Saturday afternoon chores and errands. I also listened to an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly from Dec. 19, 1941. (on the Those Were the Days radio program). There was a little topical humor:

A: You know why Hitler gives all his addresses in Beer Gardens?
B: No why?
A: So that when he starts foaming at the mouth, nobody can tell!

Not a great joke, but it got the biggest laugh of the show.

What's odd about those radio shows is how stationary they are. The whole show takes place in one scene, in one room. Characters walk on, tell exactly five jokes, and walk off. Half of the jokes are in stories that people are telling about things that happened offstage.

Mrs. Chaka returned in the afternoon, concealing my Christmas present and nursing an upset stomach. She's been out of commission for the rest of the day. We concluded that the anxiety of the morning meeting may have done it to her. At least, we're hoping it's that and not some virus that will now be spread throughout the Western suburbs via a vector of Christmas cookies.

I catalogued some books for the library that a friend is planning to found in Liberia. We passed the 1,000-volume mark with a commentary on Revelation from Inter-Varsity Press (this volume was published by the British version, which uses the hyphen, unlike its CamelCased American cousin).

Then it was dinner, a comfort movie for my ailing wife (which featured Ann Paul Veal!), and writing this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A new Il-LOW-nois


At least the last one wasn't arrested in office. But that probably just means the prosecutors weren't on the ball as fast. I know I shouldn't trust Wikipedia's entry on a controversial public figure, but I couldn't resist reading Milorad's. It was a trip down inbred-scandal-ridden-Illinois-politics lane.

Mrs. Chaka reports: "We had a little discussion in our office in which N____ and I assured D___ and L___ (both Illinois natives) that other states aren't like this."

Just so you know, she wasn't cursing. I redacted the names (a la a Victorian novelist) to protect the innocent.

I just have one question: Can we take his name off the Open Road Tolling arches now?



No? How about the children's healthcare plan logo?


Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Paradox of Christian Ethics


Jon has posted an excellent, lengthy quote from Chesterton, in which he speaks of the paradoxes inherent in the Christian virtues: faith, hope, and charity. It reminds me of a question I wanted to pose to my ethics professor. (Unfortunately, the class was not question-friendly. Maybe D. C. Cramer can shed light on the question.)

The ethics class introduced me to the categories of moral erogation and moral super-erogation. Erogation is doing what is ethically required of you, like not shooting your enemy in the back. Super-erogation is going beyond what is ethically required, like jumping in front of a bullet to save your enemy. You could see these categories in terms of Chesterton's pagan virtue of justice: erogation is giving a man what he deserves, super-erogation is giving him better than what he deserves.

The ethics course also taught that the foundation of ethics was divine command. That is, we don't first determine what is ethical based on the consequences of our action. The ethical mandate isn't some consequentialist goal such as "Maximize happiness," or "Acheive equality for all persons." Your first call is to do what God has commanded.

But here's the wrinkle: Hasn't God in Christ commanded us to do super-erogation? Hasn't he said that we are obligated to "go the extra mile," love our enemies, and treat the undeserving with charity? If so, then based on divine command theory, just about anything you can think of to call super-erogation is just plain old erogation. What I wanted to ask my professor is how these can be useful categories in divine command theory.

I think that Christ likes to play havoc with our categories. He takes the common idea of justice--giving a man what he's due--and inverts it. Justice isn't a matter of giving someone what they've earned; it's a matter of giving someone what you haven't earned, but have gotten anyway. You must forgive, because you have been forgiven. God's grace to you obligates you to be gracious.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Gobbler


I've been meaning to post this link since Thanksgiving Day. You must check out Lileks's Gobbler site. This will make your day, friend.

Old Message, New Vid

This is really well produced:



Thanks to Pirate Jimmy for accepting the movie challenge. PJ, you know Alan Tudyk's name but not his character's name? That's weird. Also, you should have known #8 from the beginning.

Then again, I'm sure I won't be able to rattle off half of your list when you make it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More regional bigotry



Lingamish sums up the experience of every rural American:

"In the small town where I grew up we absorbed from infancy a loathing of the citizens of the nearly identical town down the road."

The rivalry I grew up in was between Worthington and Adrian. It goes back to battles over which town would become county seat, with some Protestant vs. Catholic animosity thrown in. Adrian's Wikipedia page actually talks about it.

A professor in college once told a story about the Masons duking it out with the Knights of Columbus in her rural Nebraska town. And by duking it out, I mean fisticuffs and destruction of property. I wonder if any of that went down in Nobles County.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Movie Quote Challenge

Jon's posted quotes from his 30 favorite movies. I don't know that many of his, so I decided to post my own. Make your guesses in the comments!

1. A: I adore anyone who adores Emerson. B: And I adore anyone who adores anyone who adores Emerson, your turn!

2. Alright, yer 'fugees now. Show Syd the 'fugee face. Sad face.

3. A and B: What book? C: You have the diary in your pocket.

4. Ride now!... Ride now!... Ride! Ride to ruin and the world's ending! Death!

5. Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but - well, there haven't been any quiet moments.

6. I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

7. Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

8. Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and makes me very angry.

9. You mean you were diagnosed with something called a brain cloud and didn't ask for a second opinion?

10. Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.

11. Hi, Peter. What's happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.

12. I am not wasting one more minute of my life on prayer. Not one more minute. Understood?

13. And then they decide I'm supposed to get a smaller share, like I'm someone extra special stupid. Even if it is a democracy, in a democracy it don't matter how stupid you are, you still get an equal share.

14. Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.

15. I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?

16. A: She seems to have such nicely rounded diphthongs. B: That's what got her into this jam.

17. This crown gives me a feeling of power! Power! Forgive me a cruel chuckle. Heh-heh-heh. Power . . .

18. The heads. You're looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far. He's the first one to admit it.

19. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they've done.

20. Well, I don't want Fop, goddamn it! I'm a Dapper Dan man!

21. Now listen to me, all of you. You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live.

22. I haven't lost my temper in forty years, but pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed. Somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. . . The hell I won't.

23. Listen, we're a small business but we're expanding. Expanding! Just like you frogs expand. Don't you frogs expand?

24. A: Oh, no... it's just I thought you had hidden depths. B: No, no, you've always had that wrong about me. I really am this shallow.

25. His name is Robert Paulson.

26. I didn't do anything. I'm a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me 'that's that' before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say 'that's that', Mattress Man.

27. I am the creator . . . of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.

28. Look I probably should have told you this before but you see... well... insanity runs in my family... It practically gallops.

29. I'm a leaf on the wind . . .

30. I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Beer and Skittles

My new favorite entry in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Not to be confused with skittles and combos.

I know what you're thinking.



+



???

Doesn't sound all that appealing. Beer and peanuts, definitely. Beer and peanut m&ms, ok. Beer and plain m&ms . . . well, ok, but it's a stretch. But beer and skittles?

Ah, but look at the date in Webster's: 1857. That's a good hundred-plus years before the invention of Skittles bite-sized candies. So this is what you should picture:



Now, beer definitely goes with that kind of skittles. My favorite thing about that picture is that I have partaken of both beer and skittles in that very room, at The Sheep Heid in Edinburgh. Yes, it was while I lived in studied abroad in Scotland. Yes, I am white. Why do you ask?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Lileks for the Day

The day was yesterday.

The evening: watched “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which I’d been led to believe was disappointing. It wasn’t. I liked it just fine, even though the long chase sequence through the jungle was a bit ridiculous; the old straddling-two-fast-moving-vehicles-while-underbrush-strikes-you-in-the-goolies is a bit old, and the bit with the waterfalls patently unbelievable. They might as well have sprouted wings and flown down to the next scene.


I apologize for using HTML's blockquote there. It's ugly, but my usual trick of bumping the quote over by putting it in a table isn't working for some reason. Man, do I hate blockquote, though.

And as long as I'm kvetching, I'd like to ask the gods of the world wide web why I can't find a way to apply an XSL template to an element based on whether it has a certain attribute. It's like having a natural language where there's no combination of words that allows you to address your wife on days beginning with "T". Said the guy who's been using XML for all of three days.

Maybe Pirate Jimmy can help, and we'll rename the blog "Ask a Pirate."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bigotry


Spent the weekend in Worthington, my hometown in southwest Minnesota. It reminded me how hilarious regional stereotypes are. Wherever you grew up, you were probably indoctrinated with the local stereotypes. There was some class of "others" who were clueless, obtuse, the butt of your jokes. It could have been the people from the next town or from across the state line. You knew it was an exaggeration, the kind of stereotype that your sixth grade teacher taught you to recognize as the root of prejudice; but everyone seemed to acknowledge the same set of stereotypes.

If you moved away from home, you discovered that in your new location, they told the same jokes, but with different people as the punchline. Thus it was that I discovered that people in the Twin Cities didn't think Iowans were stupid.

They thought Wisconsinites were stupid.

A sample of the regional bigotry I heard over the weekend:

Upon hearing that a new roundabout was planned for the junction of US-59 and MN-60, a family member remarked, "That's a horrible idea. That intersection is already clogged up with people from Iowa trying to figure out where to turn. There's no way they'll be able to figure out a roundabout."

There was no hint of irony in his assessment.

So who did people make fun of where you grew up?

(By the way, the realization hit me a few years ago that the widespread negative opinion of New Jersey probably has little to do with what it's like to actually live in New Jersey and more to do with New Yorkers broadcasting their own local bigotry from their positions of media influence.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Ghost of Susan B. Anthony Exacts Her Revenge


So Mrs. Chaka and I decided to take advantage of early voting tonight. The polling place was open until 7:00 pm, so we had to eat dinner quickly in order to make it there in time. This derailed my plan to cook chicken this evening; instead, we had leftover soup from the freezer. I sighed and said to Mrs. Chaka, "If only one of us could go vote for the other. Matter of fact, it weren't for that pesky nineteenth amendment, I could go vote for both of us, and you could have dinner made for me when I get back."


This was a joke, you see. I don't actually believe the argument made by those old opponents of women's suffrage that the man votes on behalf of his entire household (even though my beloved Chesterton looked askance at women's suffrage). Unlike some of my fellow evangelical Christians, I make no defense of patriarchy, partly because I can see no good reason why defenders of patriarchy (or male headship/leadership) should be troubled by women being denied the vote. (Not that I've heard a real live person argue that they should be denied the vote. Of course, you can always find someone who believes anything on the internet. Sigh.) I have on my desk right now a picture of my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Simon Klein, campaigning for women's suffrage in Chicago in 1915. I do most of the cooking. When we have children, I'm willing to be the one who stays home with the kids.


So it was a joke, you see. But the Ghost of Susan B. Anthony heard me mock the hard-fought victory of the suffragettes. She heard me wish that one vote could suffice for a household, and decided to teach me a lesson.


When we arrived at the polling place, the clerks could not find my registration. They found Mrs. Chaka's easily enough, but not mine. I felt that old familiar feeling settle on me; that combination of anger, disbelief, and frustration at Illinois finding new ways to suck. I was becoming Illinoyed. My name was misspelled in their database, you see. Moreover, I was listed as an inactive voter because they had sent me mail, and the mail had been returned. Possibly because my name was misspelled on it. The clerk gave me a number to call in the morning. He made no promises about their ability to sort it out before election day.


Did I mention that I discovered the misspelling when I voted in the primary back in February? And that I asked the election commission to correct it back in February?


But as much as I'd love to blame this god- and sense-forsaken state for disenfranchising me, I know who is really responsible. The Ghost of Susan B. Anthony watched with uncharacteristically undignified amusement as Mrs. Chaka cast her vote on behalf of our household.


Now the question is, what do I have to do to appease her spirit? I'd burn a bra, but I don't think she'd approve. (And snopes.com says that feminists never actually did that.) What do you think I should do?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ravers


The last couple sermons at my church have been about worship. Last week, the pastor was describing some common worshipful experiences that we don't tend to think of as worship. For example, the football fan leaps out of his chair with elation; he turns to his friend and yells, "Did you see that catch?" He doesn't think of it this way, but he's worshiping.

I understood the point, but not being all that much of a football fan, I sent my mind out looking for something comparable in my life. As I was half-listening to the pastor, a sentence suddenly drew my attention back: "Worshipers are ravers."

I almost laughed out loud; one of my coworkers (I won't say which) has been labeled a raver. What he mainly raves about are books. The image suddenly struck me of Yahweh's worshippers writing blurbs for him. Ridiculously outlandish blurbs, in the vein of "If funny were measured in people, David Sedaris would be China."

So how would you blurb God? Here's my contribution:

"Yahweh's book is the one reason for the illiterate to learn how to read. It's what made the whole rigmarole of inventing the alphabet worth the trouble. In fact, it's still making new alphabets worth the trouble." - Chaka McNaka, professional raver

Friday, October 17, 2008

You all love poetry, don't you?

Lingamish (the internet moniker of an SIL translator named David Ker) does some pretty cool poems called Cyber Psalms. This one is particularly good. Though not as good as the one where he thanked God for George Bush. I still don't know what to think about that one; he seems to be in earnest, and there's something very authentic, very psalm-like about it. But he has to know that he's not allowed to talk like that, doesn't he?

I can only imagine the reaction from some of my Anabaptist-influenced internet acquaintances. Not to mention the Chavist ones.

I love you all, and I'm not trying to goad anyone. (Well, maybe a little.) What do you make of Cyber Psalms 37 and/or 51?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Proud Return of Victory Gardens and Meatless Mondays

This article is spectacular (HT: Jon). I mean spec-tac-ular. There are too many gems and interesting items to point out, but I have no time at the moment. Go read it yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming Clean

Many moons ago, Adam asked us to own up to our man crushes. For a long time, I couldn't think of one. But seeing Anatoly Liberman's handsome face at the top of my blog a few times made me realize that I was hiding from my true feelings. So there you have it. Liberman is my man crush.

So here are some Liberman stories:

On the first day of class (History of English Words), he challenged us to identify his country of origin, saying that no one was ever able to place his accent. On the surface, his speech seemed pure British RP. After listening to him carefully for the class session, however, I noticed two occasional "foreign-sounding" elements: a very pure monophthong o and a pronunciation of English w as v. That led me to guess a that his mother tongue was a Slavic language. You'll have to take my word for it, though, since I didn't venture a guess to his face.

He later told us that he is Russian, but when strangers ask about his nationality, he likes to tell them that he's Basque or Faroese. I had no idea that people lived on the Faroe Islands at the time, but I was proud I knew about them a few years later, when I met Neils.

He once parodied the argumentation of Chomskyan linguistics: "Such-and-such is true of every language in the world. Take English, for example." Cut me to the quick, that one. My program required 3 years of a foreign language; but that just exposed me to more Chomsky-deprogramming from Francisco Ocampo.

One day, Frank offered him some candy from his lunch. Liberman replied, "No thank you. I never eat sweets."

I can't remember the exact point, but the biggest laugh he got in class was when he started talking about the sound symbolic value of the phonemes in "fo' shizzle ma' nizzle."

On the other hand, the class nearly mutinied when he made an offhand statement about sign systems such as ASL not being languages in the complete sense. He seemed slightly taken aback by the vehemence with which the students disagreed. No doubt he suspected that political correctness at least formed part of the background of our insistence. I understand the concern, but based on my (limited) exposure to ASL, I stand by the arguments I made that day. I don't know if Liberman has been convinced, though.

His favorite movie is Animal House.

Outside of class, he expressed his distate for the College of Liberal Arts' focus on Race, Class, and Gender. "It's precisely what the Soviet educational system was fixated on." And he would know. I'd love to read his autobiography. Or at least an intellectual memoir.

One last quote: "Perhaps you like to listen to Country Music. Or, perhaps you are politically liberal, so you listen to music that sounds exactly the same but is called Folk Music."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

One of those essayists who are always worth reading, no matter what they're saying

Professor Anatoly Liberman takes up the issue of they/their/them as a singular gender-neutral pronoun on the Oxford University Press blog. He does not approve. Unlike most web commentaries on the usage, Liberman's essay goes into detail on its history. As usual, it's an interesting read. I have to thank Liberman for introducing me to a new proverb: "It's wasted labor to shut up a neighbor." Also for the wonderful Victorian understatement, "give a deliberate twist to verity."

I admit to being confused, however, by the distinction he makes between singular antecedents like "everybody," "person," and "someone," which can be referenced with "they," and antecedents like "tenant." What is the natural class that defines these boundaries? I think I can hear the difference, but I've learned not to trust my ear. What words qualify as the "similar examples" that Liberman challenges us to find pre-1965?

On another score, I have doubts about Liberman's claim that "They for a singular subject was introduced by those who wanted to rid English of sexism." When I read examples like "If a tenant has an eviction on their record, it does not mean they were a bad tenant," I recognize them as something I might hear or say in my hometown. My hometown is pretty far away from the state headquarters of antisexism in The Cities, as we call Minneapolis-St. Paul. I find it counterintuitive that the conservative folk in outstate Minnesota are taking grammar lessons from militant feminism. Some other gender-neutral devices like "he or she" or simply "she" are purely academic antisexism, but using "they" as a singular pronoun seems merely colloquial. It may not be everyone's idea of beautiful speech, but neither are sentences like "I seen him coming towards me." But that's the way some of us talk.

I would be curious to know what Liberman would identify as the criteria for preferred usage. I am open to the argument that truth and beauty should be among them. Truth, for example, would require that dictionaries not distort the history of usage. Beauty might require that they/their only be used for a singular antecedent when it can do so without calling attention to itself. I freely admit that "The traveler has nowhere to lay their head" sounds uglier to me than "A person cannot help their birth."

Parting shot: as I've said before on this blog, using "she" as the generic singular pronoun no longer bothers me. The first few times I read it, it "distorted the meaning of the passage" for me, but interestingly, it doesn't anymore. It's actually my favored solution, because it doesn't delve into the less-than-beautiful grammatical constructions that Liberman points out. Once one creates a new semantic association (she can = generic), it's smooth sailing. One could say that the distortion here is on the reader's end.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Into the aether


This is old news by now, but Google has made their index from 2001 available for searches. I was excited about this, but after playing around with it for awhile, I thought, I'd really like to look at older stuff. Pages from '97, '96. The pioneer days.

That led me to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. When I signed up for my first email account, it probably looked like this. I signed up so I could email the cute girl I met on a college visit to Houghton. I ended up going elsewhere. She ended up going to Princeton. So yeah, she was probably out of my league, but so is my wife. So there.

I wonder if I could go further back. Back to the first time I ventured out on the internet, in junior high, so around '95 or '96. I was researching Henry David Thoreau for a Minnesota History Day project that I never completed. I found the entire text of Civil Disobedience--for free! I sent the whole thing to the printer. My heart beat faster as I mentally urged the printer to hurry; soon the librarian would be back to kick me off before I spent too much money. Unfortunately, I don't remember what website I found the text on. It probably looked something like this (which happens to be the first Father Brown story, worth a read).

(Ok, I just wandered into a tangent to my tangent. This page is just called "Oxymorons". But the first several examples aren't oxymorons, they're tautologies. And eventually the page slides into a bunch of quotes from Samuel Goldwyn. To be fair, a few of these are oxymorons. But they're mostly malapropisms. A question for you to answer in the comments: This page of "Oxymorons" is of more value than what percentage of blogs?)

You can read about the background of the Internet Archive here. Interesting stuff for those who understand it. I think I understand about 80% of it, which means I probably really understand 40%.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sonic Threatened By Financial Crisis


From a McCain press release:



      Sonic Corporation, a drive-in restaurant chain based in Oklahoma, learned on Thursday that one of its lenders, GE Capital, had stopped extending new loans to the chain's franchisees. That will block plans to rebuild restaurants, add equipment and open new locations. When small businesses like Sonic franchisees can't borrow, contractors don't get the remodeling work, equipment-makers lose sales, and restaurants go out of business. It hurts the entire community.


Chaka sez: "He doesn't mention the most important thing: the dire threat to the Banana Cream Pie Milkshake!"

Mrs. Chaka sez: "They probably don't need a line of credit to buy bananas. But maybe we should drive to Lockport right now."

The Global Pool of Money


Go here to hear about it. Financial reporting that you can actually understand and enjoy (other than the whole we're-going-to-relive-the-seventies part).

It's nice to know, though, that our financial troubles, like the increase in our gasoline prices, are triggered by the rest of the world being less poor than they used to be. It makes the troubles more like a badge of honor.

I saw a billboard the other day for Miller High Life (I believe it was). It said "Tell the recession where to go." So I guess we've bought into the fact that things will be bad for awhile and we're embracing it. No doubt the brief revival of 80s fashion will now be gobbled up by a resurgence of 70s fashion. And you thought the 70s went out with the late 90s. You even got rid of your bootcut jeans. Silly rabbit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's Wrong with Illinois?

I've argued in the distant and recent past for the principle of subsidiarity. (HT to Jon Schindler for giving me the word for what I was arguing for). I also firmly believe that Illinois is the worst-governed state that I've lived in. Honesty requires me to acknowledge that a recently acquired fact puts these two principles, both near and dear to me, in seeming contradiction.

Apparently, the voters of Illinois are asked every twenty years whether they want to have a brand new constitutional convention. Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State, recently sent me a pamphlet explaining the proposed call for a convention, along with arguments for and against the call.

Incidently, Jesse White is one of my prime examples of the illness in Illinois governance. His name (and often his likeness) is plastered on everything associated with the Secretary of State's office, as though it was his own personal fiefdom. Which it probably is.

Exhibit A, your honor. This ain't a campaign site, kids; it's where you go for all your licensing needs in the big Ill.

Anyway, the Secretary of State's office sent this pamphlet, which happens to mention that "Illinois has over 6,900 units of government far more than any other state in the nation. Delegates to a constitutional convention could propose ideas to consolidate state and local governments to provide citizens with a more responsive and cost-effective government services."

Ah, the bitter taste of cognitive dissonance. I would have thought that multiple small units of government would make for more responsive government than a few gigantic ones. But my experiences/uninformed prejudices tell me that Illinois does this badly. What to believe?

And what to vote? I like the idea of voting for the convention just to shake things up, but I don't have any confidence that the delegates would get right what the legislature gets wrong.

Lastly, I can't resist linking to this. My internal Gollum agrees entirely with Barney Frank on this one. Actually, Gollum doesn't give a fig for patriotism, precious. He just has a very shallow well of pity for people who make millions of dollars screwing things up.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Internal Dialogue


Gollum: Another bailout. We can’t stands it.

Smeagol: But we dursn’t let the markets to fail, precious.

Gollum: You mean the rich government people dursn’t let their rich friends lose their fortunes. If we was to go bankrupt, where would our bailout be?

Smeagol: But the people in charge are getting fired when the governmentses takes over, they are.

Gollum: Fired? Fired?! And getting millions of dollars for getting fired, they are. We’d love to get fired like them, wouldn’t we? If the governmentses want to nationalize a company, they should have the courage to go all the way—nationalize the Latin American way.

Smeagol: Nasty, socialist Gollum!

Gollum: Nationalization should be a bitter pill, it should.

Smeagol: Anywayses, it’s not only the rich company mangers that would suffer if the companieses went under. They’re too big to fail, they are.

Gollum: Too big to fail? **Gollum** **Gollum** Whose idea was it to let them get too big to fail, now? We thought that Teddy Roosevelt dealt with companieses that were too big to fail. Why should anything be allowed to become too big to fail?

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Didn't Try to Steal Pirate Jimmy's Identity

But according to this quiz,



My pirate name is:


Dirty James Kidd



You're the pirate everyone else wants to throw in the ocean -- not to get rid of you, you understand; just to get rid of the smell. Even though you're not always the traditional swaggering gallant, your steadiness and planning make you a fine, reliable pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network



Shouldn't that be "Me true name be"? Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Micronations


How did I not know about Sealand until today? You can read all about it at the big W.

Would Herder support such endeavors, or would he recognize them for what they are--a descent of the concept of nationhood into parody? Why am I obsessed with asking what a dead person would think of a contemporary phenomenon? What would Freud make of that?

(He would diagnose me as a shameless name-dropper. And throw in an Oedipal complex free of charge. I wonder if that's in the DSM IV?)

Incidently, it seems that Herder studied under a "Francophobe" ancestor of Pirate Jimmy.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I probably should stick to the comments since this is Chaka's blog, but no one took away my ability to post yet so I'll post, hehe. While I wish I'd been reading Nietzsche lately and could toss in some sort of quote here, all I can offer are my own words. I don't consider myself a philosopher, but I do have philosophies.

I'll have to admit, I'm disappointed in the post about the movie being a waste of $6.25. My tickets cost $10 when I went to see it... where are movies only $6.25 these days? But anyway, did I like the movie? Yes. Was it worth the $10? Positively. Did I enjoy it all three times I saw it in the theatre? Of course. So I guess I'll have to join the group of folks who thinks it was _not_ a complete waste of time. And having read about as much of the bible as I've read works by Nietzsche in the past few months I'm going to blindly place Jesus as someone who agrees with me. Is that blasphemy? Perhaps. Am I already directing too many rhetorical questions towards myself? Definitely. Will I stop? No. So will I share my barbaric analysis of the movie? I suppose.

I'm pretty sure Jesus liked to do shit with folks, though chances are they weren't ALL "bible-worthy" events. In that respect, I think it's alright to do shit with folks, just don't expect it to be recorded in the bible. Though maybe taking your friendly neighborhood pastor to a movie like The Dark Knight WOULD indeed be a "bible-worthy" event. Maybe it's just the rebel in me, but I like the whole idea of offending people's sensibilities, that's certainly my favourite part about Jesus. Jesus was kind of a badass, he offended a lot of people's sensibilities in his day. Do you happen to remember that statement I made a while back? "The search for truth is beset on all sides by pleasant lies?" I think one of those pleasant lies might be the strange idea that sheltering yourself from seeing evil makes you a better person. I don't think hiding from all outside influences helps you grow as an individual or as a christian. Maybe I'm wrong and it's my belief right there that's truly the pleasant lie, but what if I'm right?

But that's really beside the point of actually examining the movie. I honestly just enjoyed the movie because it kept to the spirit of the cartoon I grew up watching, while making it entirely real. I did find a message in it as well, it was about doing the right thing without needing a reason. The Joker used the faults of humanity (that are undeniably everywhere) to justify being an agent of chaos. Batman saw the faults of humanity to justify being an agent of good. Both did so with no want of reward, and little regard for personal safety. They truly are polar opposites, arch-nemeses, and theirs is an undying rivalry.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gotham's Accusers


Gotham City is not a place you would want to live. If you had to choose one word to describe it, it would probably be corrupt. It's a city where the rulers are criminals and the criminals rule. All the good people either left years ago or slid into the same sharp-edged lifestyle as their neighbors. You have to be sharp to stay alive in Gotham. Sharp and crooked.

Gotham City is eating itself alive. Having consumed whatever was pure and good in their midst, the wicked ones have turned on each other. Rival gangs battle for turf; rival bureaucracies fight over the privilege of selling their souls to the gangs for kickbacks.

So why should we care what happens to Gotham City? Why should we not happily watch it all go down in flames? Wouldn't that be fair? Or at least interesting?

If Gotham City has a soul, it's a soul facing damnation. In the two most recent Batman movies, it has also faced two accusers eager to hasten its damnation. Ra's al Ghul and the Joker aren't your typical comic book bad guys. They aren't in it for the money or for world domination. They want to see Gotham go down.

Admittedly, these two opponents differ greatly from each other: where one is dignified, the other is garish. One speaks of punishing criminals; the other speaks merely of upsetting the schemers. But neither believes that there are enough righteous men in Gotham to save it, and they intend to quicken it's end by strengthening the wicked ones. Both plan to unleash madness on the city, breaking the facade of civility that restrains evil.

In short, both characters are something more than mere villains. They are diabolical (diabolos, "slanderer"); they are satanic (satan, "adversary"). Like the figure of the satan in the Hebrew Bible, they argue (with some good cause) that human righteousness is mere hypocrisy. "But reach out and take away everything they have, and they will surely curse you to your face!” Like the figure of Satan in the New Testament, however, it becomes clear that they are not merely objective advocates for justice. They aren't just arguing that Gotham is about to fall; they're eager to give it a push.

I won't stretch this argument to turn Batman into a Christ figure. ("He's Gotham's advocate before the Father, symbolized by . . . er . . . Alfred. 'Cause he's old and wise.") Neither do I think the movie really comments on total depravity. You can't just look at the ferry scene from The Dark Knight and conclude that the message is "Human beings are basically good"; not after all the wickedness that has gone before. The educational value of the ferry scene is that it shows up the accuser as a liar.

And this is the value of The Dark Knight for our spiritual formation. Without focusing undue attention on the demonic, we should remember that there is one who accuses us and seeks to destroy us. There is a power that wants us to "get off the sidelines," who wants to enlist us in his plan to break the restraints of evil and unleash madness.

And whether it is presented in The Dark Knight or not, there is another power. One that overrules the accuser. The one who taught us to pray "Don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one."

There are some good explanations of these topics in the NLT Study Bible (topics like the adversary, that is, not Batman; the study Bible went to press to early to incorporate any details about The Dark Knight). You can now use the NLTSB for free (for 30 days) at www.nltstudybible.com. Click on Online Bible and you'll get to see all the features in the printed Bible. I recommend looking at Job and its notes; see especially the theme note called "Satan, the Adversary."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dang It!

Stuff White People Like has ruined another innocent enjoyment of mine. Now I'll never again be able to make Self Aware Hip Hop References in an unself-conscious fashion. From now on I'll be self-conscious of my self awareness.

I mean, it's like they're monitoring my conversation. As recently as last Wednesday, I was dropping some hip hop rhymes over lunch. A coworker mentioned that Ludacris was participating in a rap vs. rock event to benefit the environment (which Google informs me is a TLC reality show called Battleground Earth). I wondered aloud if that meant Ludacris would renounce the attitude of conspicuous consumption portrayed in "Southern Hospitality" (adult juvenile language):





If you didn't catch it, the lyric in question is "Check out the oil my Cadillac spills."

Alas, such sparkling conversational illustrations will never be the same.

Seriously, though, SWPL is doing an excellent job pointing out how much of my culture is built on irony (which has an alienating effect) and a sense of superiority. Why do we hide behind irony? Have we all forgotten the importance of being earnest?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Batman and Nietzsche

What to say about The Dark Knight?

Some say that there is nothing redeeming in it. Others (see comments) argue that it presents a picture that resonates somewhat with how things really are, usually related to human depravity.

This essay by Jason Lee Steorts talks about The Dark Knight and ethics; it reads like a really long blog post, but the ideas are very interesting. At least skim page 1 and read page 2 for real. How do you fight vandals? How can you get people to resist vandalism when they have very little in the way of a metaphysical bulwark against joining the vandals? In four fascinating paragraphs, Steorts defends Nietzsche as a philosopher worth listening to regarding these questions. Maybe it's not so much a defense as an invitation: look into what Nietzsche had to say on the topic. Don't assume that the only way to appreciate him is to "worship him on the way to destroying things." I'm intrigued. (But I wonder what Father Brown would make of Nietzsche's end-of-life madness.)

Pirate Jimmy has graced this blog with some nuggets from Nietzsche in the past. Perhaps he can give us a post about what he's learned from the man with the mustache.

But what should I say about The Dark Knight? Well, I like the direction that Adam takes it, particularly what he suggests about the city of Gotham itself as a character in the movie--a character with a soul that needs saving. This is an element that was not present in the earlier Batman films, and I think the last two have been greatly enriched by it. I'm still hashing out my thoughts on how this thesis affects the interpretation of the films, but I'll be posting them shortly.

In the mean time, watch this and start worrying. I hope he knows what he's talking about, because I sure don't:

Chesterton on Celebrity


Someone at lunch today pronounced the familiar epithet for Paris Hilton: "She's famous for being famous." It's an appropriate characterization (although, when you think about it, it's more charitable than it is accurate). You might think that this form of celebrity is a feature of this-mess-we're-in (whatever you want to call it: postmodernism, consumerism, the Internet age, the last days). I certainly did. But take a gander at this passage from G. K. Chesterton's "The Scandal of Father Brown" (1935). The narrator claims that in America:

       A girl of great beauty or brilliancy will be a sort of uncrowned queen, even if she is not a Film Star or the original of a Gibson Girl. Among those who had the fortune, or misfortune, to exist beautifully in public in this manner, was a certain Hypatia Hard, who had passed through the preliminary stage of receiving florid compliments in society paragraphs of the local press, to the position of one who is actually interviewed by real pressmen. On War and Peace and Patriotism and Prohibition and Evolution and the Bible she had made her pronouncements with a charming smile; and if none of them seemed very near to the real grounds of her own reputation, it was almost equally hard to say what the grounds of her reputation really were. Beauty, and being the daughter of a rich man, are things not rare in her country; but to these she added whatever it is that attracts the wandering eye of journalism. Next to none of her admirers had ever seen her, or even hoped to do so; and none of them could possibly derive any sordid benefit from her father's wealth. It was simply a sort of popular romance, the modern substitute for mythology.


So what is to blame for this vapid form of celebrity? American journalism? The absence of a traditional American mythology? What do you think?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Life in Southeast Carol Stream

An excerpt from one of last night's conversations with the police:

Dispatcher: About how tall was he?
Me: About 5'10", 5'11".
Dispatcher: And about what age?
Me: Early fifties, I guess; he had white hair and a white mustache.
Dispatcher: Okay, give me a minute.

[ . . . ]

Dispatcher: And what was he wearing tonight?
Me: Well, when I saw him, he wasn't wearing anything.

Ask me about it sometime.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mysteries of Adolescence


Why did I like this movie when it came out (1995)? Well, I was a sophomore in high school. Mrs. Chaka and I watched it last night (we grabbed the VHS tape from her parents' house) and I barely felt like finishing it. I kept waiting for the parts I liked, but they never showed up. I still like Val Kilmer's Batman, but did we really have to wait until 2005 to get decent dialogue in a Batman movie? I guess we did.

Note to self: Jim Carrey's mid-nineties schtick has not aged well. Do not attempt to relive those days. I wonder if Liar, Liar (1997) is also tainted, or if Jim was transitioning to his less annoying persona. I'm scared to find out.
What else from the mid-nineties will turn out to be horrendous? Surely Independence Day is safe, right?
Right?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

White and Nerdy

Mrs. Chaka and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek lately. And I recently rediscovered my love for the song Riding Dirty. So I thoroughly enjoyed this number . You have to go to YouTube to watch the video, sorry. Weird Al has apparently disallowed embedding of his videos.

Jonathan, there's a special treat for you at about 2:20.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Headline Double-Take


Branson unveils space tourism jet

Branson? Really? I guess they're moving away from the whole "Like Nashville, but with less class and credibility" image:


Oh, wait, you mean this guy.


I watched him on Charlie Rose a few months ago. They were discussing global warming and Branson kept talking about "shugabase ethanol." Eventually I caught on that he was saying "sugar-based ethanol." It sounds like a great idea, but I'm sure the fed'ral gummint will find some way to mess it up. Like trying to make it from sugar beets instead of sugar cane. Or buying sugar from U.S. producers at an inflated price. Sigh.

Two gems from Lileks today. First, his comments on the movie Doomsday, which include this parody of Robert Burns:

"Kidding! I love the Scots. There’s not a windy, rainy day but where I don’t stand by the window and think of how Robert Burns put it: gain the war’d tae nick th’ snick / and gae ye dram-wise tae Gargamac / wit’ nae but thistles an’ th’ song o’ th’ mutton-leaver / aye, t’is wee but for naught. Man had a way with wairds."

If that doesn't make you laugh, then you've never given up memorizing "To a Mouse" when you hit a daiman icker in a thrave and thought to yourself "Who am I trying to impress, exactly?"

Second gem: the matchbook. Come to think of it indeed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

But what kind of name is Waylon?

I heard this song today thanks to Jon. I liked it instantly.






Thanks to Pirate Jimmy for introducing me to songza.

After listening to the song a few times, there was a memory nagging at the back of my mind. I recognized Johnny Cash's voice, but who was the other voice? I liked his sound, so I googled the song and found out it was Waylon Jennings. I made a mental note to listen to some of his stuff. Then it came back to me. He performed this song in this movie.






Notice that there's some similarity between the hooks.

There Ain't No Good Chain Gang
is the earlier song (1978). I was going to accuse Jennings of self-plagiarism, but it actually wasn't written by him. And it turns out he didn't write There Ain't No Road Too Long either.

He did, of course, write this song:






Between that theme song and the Follow That Bird record we had, I heard a lot of Waylon Jennings in my childhood. I'll have to renew my acquaintance with him.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Osteen article


This one is written in a strange voice (HT: JT). Those first-person sentences in the opening and closing paragraphs have to be sarcastic, right? But they're just . . . weird . . . and they don't fit with the rest of the profile, which has a more even tone. But it's worth reading the whole thing.


A couple pieces of punditry: The historical backdrop of Osteen's theology reads a little clumsily. If I were going to mention only two movements as the "leads-up-to" of Osteen, they wouldn't be Puritanism and evangelicalism. The holiness/Pentecostal movement and the faith cure movement seem more relevant.


The part of the article that describes (unflatteringly) how Osteen looks when crying turns me off. In the book Jim & Casper Go to Church (spoken of the last time we talked about Osteen), a couple of preachers get criticized for "choking up" (presumably for manipulative purposes) at the end of the sermon. As someone who is given to excessive lacrimosity* myself, I'd like to protest that some of us just can't help it. I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago and ended up trying to keep the moisture in my eyes and nose from getting out of hand. I didn't plan on it; sometimes it happens that way. I don't know if Osteen's faking it, but since I'd like people to give me the benefit of the doubt, that's what I owe him.


*This phrase stolen from Jonah Goldberg, who attributed it to William F. Buckley.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pepper Pronunciation



Would you like some phonology? Well, you're in luck. There's a little phonological exercise that's been on my mind recently.

This is relatively simple stuff, basic syllabification, so I'm not going to bother with IPA transcription; I'll just use periods to separate the syllables. Now, you may have heard of a fast food Mexican restaurant called "Chipotle." The food is easy to love, but the name is difficult to pronounce (for some). Even an eminent student of linguistics like myself stumbled on it a few times.

The problem is a classic one: When a speaker of language X is confronted with a word from language Y, often the word violates the phonological rules of language X. The speaker has to adopt some strategy for incorporating the word into the phonological rules that govern her speech. There are a few basic strategies:

A. Avoid using the word entirely.
B. Alter the word to fit your native phonology.
C. Alter your phonology to accommodate the word.

In the case of "Chipotle," the speaker of English is confronted with a Mesoamerican word filtered through Spanish. My guess is that the most correct syllabification of the word is

(1) chi . po . tle

I.e., it's a three-syllable word with the structure CV . CV . CCV. Notice that the beginning (or onset) of the third syllable is the consonant cluster tl. This cluster is not allowed in English, but it is allowed in Mesoamerican languages. I don't believe I've ever heard someone pronounce the word this way, but you're welcome to try. This would be strategy C above; it's hard work, but it enables you to look down on almost everybody.

Most of us feel pretty good about ourselves when we can syllabify it as

(2) chi . pot . le

Notice the difference between (1) and (2). The t has moved from being the first consonant of the third syllable to being the closing consonant (the coda) of the second syllable. It would be fairly hard to tell the difference between (1) and (2), but see if you can say it one way and then the other. It's a great way to pass the morning commute. Especially if you carpool.

This is one example of strategy B, altering the word to the demands of English phonology. But is by no means the only example. There are several other pronounciations of this word, which each reflect a different method of coping with that tl cluster. Take

(3) chi . po . tuh . le

This method inserts a small vowel sound (called an epenthetic vowel) between the t and the l. This turns the three-syllable word into a four-syllable word, but unlike (2), it keeps all of the syllables open. This pronunciation is of the form CV . CV. CV . CV; there are no codas. This pronunciation doesn't seem to be as popular as

(4) chi . pot . l

My transcription here isn't terribly accurate, but the idea is that the last syllable is just the l sound (a syllabic "l"), like the last syllable of bottle. This pronunciation pulls the word farther into the heart of "normal" English phonology, so it is somewhat popular. For that same reason, however, those of us sophisticated enough to use pronunciation (2) look down on simpletons who mangle the word with pronunciation (4). But a brief look at the phonology shows that there is relatively little difference between the two methods. Neither amounts to pronouncing the word "correctly," as in, "how a native speaker would pronounce it."

(5) chi . pol . te

The combination tl as an onset is unheard of in English. As the end of one syllable and the start of another, it is present (as in bottle). However, it is much less common than the combination lt in that same position (as in faulty, celtic, Baltic). Lt can also occur as a coda (felt, smelt, colt). So it is not surprising that some speakers interchange t and l (a process called metathesis).

(6) chi . pol . et

I haven't heard anyone use this pronunciation myself, but a coworker mentioned that her sister used to call it this. It appears to be a second metathesis applied to (5).

Finally, you could adopt strategy A above and just not refer to the word. You could, for example, patronize Qdoba instead of Chipotle. But this strategy has several problems. First, you have to eat Qdoba's soggy food. Second, you have to wonder if the Q is really the uvular stop, and practice the consonant cluster qd over and over again. Third, you have to eat Qdoba's soggy, tasteless food. I could go on, but it's really more of the same. Qdoba's soggy, tasteless, overpriced food . . .

[Update: After writing this post, I checked the Wikipedia entry on chipotle. FWIW, the entry identifies the language of origin as Nahuatl and posits a Nahuatl form of chilpoctli.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Working Class Cool

I love the drive-in. The retro feel, the comfort of your own vehicle, being able to bring whatever food you want, getting two movies for the price of one: it can't be beat. The Cascade is showing two superhero movies this week. What could be more summer than Batman and Will Smith on a July night? (I know that Hancock has gotten bad reviews, but Mrs. Chaka loves Will Smith sci-fi. She liked I, Robot, for goodness sake.)

The Cascade is in West Chicago and has an appropriately working-class vibe going on. The last time we went there, the car of teenagers next to us left a pile of crushed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans behind. I have a certain fondness for the Pabst Brewing Company; I had an small cooler I took on camping trips as a kid that was covered in the Blue Ribbon logo. (It may have gone to church camp with me. Who knows what my counselor thought.) If you drive through any small town in the Midwest, I guarantee that you will see a bar on the main drag with either a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign:

or an Old Style sign (also a product of Pabst Brewing Company).


This pic is actually from Chicago, so it doesn't quite capture the right look. But Google images isn't giving me anything better.

It was in Chicago, however, that I discovered that Pabst Blue Ribbon is also beloved by urban art hipsters. At a show at Heaven Gallery (where my sister-in-law was video curator), I saw a 24-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon sitting next to the wine. At first I thought it was there because it was cheap, but it appears that PBR has developed quite a following in the hipster community. It may be featured on Stuff White People Like any day now.

The interesting story behind this strange meeting of cultures is told in a couple places. Click here for an article in the New York Times magazine. J. L. Schindler also pointed me to a mention in this Salon review.

That night at Heaven Gallery, when I threw a buck into the jar and grabbed a Pabst, I was being reintroduced to a piece of my own cultural background. In a crowd of people very different from me and from where I grew up, I experienced a flash of home. Nostalgia isn't quite the right word; it wasn't like going through the boxes in the attic. For lack of a better word, I'll call it a moment of homeliness.

But it was a funny, postmodern sort of homeliness. It's likely that the person who bought the 24-pack did so ironically. And when I drank that beer (something that I have never actually done in my hometown), I was enjoying it self-consciously. And now, that's the only way I'll ever be able to enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Here's a study in context


You're smart people, so you know that a lot of meaning is conveyed through shared context. When there is no shared context, the meaning can be entirely misapprehended. Or one can assume that there is no meaning, that the "text" is either random, or poorly constructed, or maliciously constructed.

For example, take a look at this cartoon. What's your reaction? Is there a story here? Is it worth trying to figure out what it is?

I clicked over to that piece after reading Lilek's gushing review of it here. (Scroll down to the paragraph that begins "Unlike the finest comic talent of our times, Chris Onstad, who brings it all home with Roast Beef’s wedding.")

Needless to say, I was slightly disappointed with the cartoon. But I'm forced to acknowledge that it isn't meaningless or an attempt to epater le bourgeois.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Keeping busy

Well, that was a Fourth of July weekend filled to the brim with meat and painting. I had my first major experience with spackle. It wasn't pretty.

So, what have I been wasting my time on? Well, I'm about to start my third week of this. I discovered that it is possible for me to enjoy reading a novel. I've had no desire to read for the past few months, a very disorienting feeling for me. But I liked Straight Man, a novel about a fractious English department at a mediocre regional university in Pennsylvania (unfortunately, the picture on Amazon doesn't have a goose on the cover). Thanks to a local English professor who recommended it. It goes nicely alongside two other humorous novels about academia, Pnin (by Vladimir Nabokov) and Portuguese Irregular Verbs (both recommended by J. L. Schindler).
I also saw a good chunk of the musical 1776 on the Fourth, and now have a hankering to read some nonfiction. Maybe David McCullough's book of the same name.

And tonight I watched MacGyver. He's from Minnesota, ya know. (I had forgotton this. It explains the goofy accent, which I had also forgotten about.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And I threw away my cold fusion plans 'cause I thought there wasn't any money in it.


Back to the Future references are always welcome. My favorite part:


"We must travel to the past in order to fix our future," said Mr. Obama at a press conference. The road to our future lies in our past. And so we must go back. To the future."


The forgotten trilogy, Back to the Future.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Your Global Food Issues Update



Yes, We Will Have No Bananas, says the New York Times. I don't know what makes me sadder, the fact that we're supposedly going to lose our bananas or the fact that we already lost a better banana.

Part of me finds it hard to believe that after millenia of trade caravans crossing land and sea for exotic products, we're going to revert back to eating what grows nearby. It's hard to see that trend reversing in any significant way. I'd like to hope we'll be shipping bananas to Mars someday, rather than our colonists eating what they can grow from the local water sources.

Will we call it a "colony," though? That sounds so, imperialist.

A friend of mine has a talent for integrating his features into the faces of other people. How does Drew do it?

This picture might not mean anything to you if you don't know Drew, but it's downright creepy for me.