Monday, November 23, 2009

I Had No Idea I Was So Annoying

Apparently the general public despises my default casual reply to "Thanks." I'm sure that I say "No problem" all the time. I never meant anything by it--it's just one of those pieces of the politeness script that one has to deploy in the conversation ritual.

But it turns out that what people hear when I say "No problem" is "a problem caused by you will be graciously ignored." That's according to the readers of Stanley Fish's blog at Check it out for a list of niceties that they don't find so nice.

I can't agree with most of the list. I do find the corporation-speak offensive: "Your call is important to us"; "For your convenience"; "In order to serve you better." These are expressions that no normal human being would come up with--they spring from spin sessions. They are nakedly disingenuous, each one a malevolent "This is not a pipe."

But most of the things people complain about on Fish's blog aren't in this class. "Is everything all right?"; "Take care"; "Have a nice day." People seriously have a problem with these?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

John M. Ellis wants you to know that the Brothers Grimm are frauds

In One Fairy Story too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales, Ellis documents the evidence for Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm's deceptions and takes folklore scholars to task for stubbornly ignoring this evidence. The Grimms come off looking like a pair of undergraduates faking their research paper; Grimm scholars wind up looking like willfully blind burghers who can't bring themselves to admit that the emperor has no clothes.

Incidentally, "The Emperor's New Clothes" is not one of the stories collected in Grimms' Fairy Tales (auf Deutsch, Kinder- und Hausmarchen); that fairy tale was composed by Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen and the Grimms are traditionally juxtaposed: Andersen was an artist, writing his own fairy tales; the Grimms were scientists, merely collecting and reporting the indigenous tales of Germany. Ellis's book shows that

(1) The Grimms claimed to be just that, scientific collectors and preservers of indigenous German tales;


(2) Their sources were almost entirely drawn from their immediate social sphere: young, local, middle-class, educated, and in many cases, French-speaking;
(3) Far from preserving the wording and content of their sources, the Grimms constantly reworked the material;
(4) This reworking involved substantive changes, including taking out sexually suggestive elements, making the "good guys" better and the "bad guys" worse, and generally making the stories less wild and more rational.

I found Ellis convincing, and I'm surprised that I've never heard his polemic, even though the book was published in 1983. The most disappointing part for me is losing the image of the Grimms as ethnographers: tramping through the German countryside, listening to toothless old women and furiously scribbling down notes. They cultivated that image by, for example, listing the source of one story as "the River Main region" and another as "Cassel"--when in fact, both stories had come from members of the same family (the Hassenpflugs), who had lived in both places but were originally of French Hugenot extraction. This is what we call "fudging the data."

Sigh. I guess the movie got it half right--unfortunately, it was the con artist half, not the traveling-across-Germany half.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stuff Christians Like: Samaritan's Purse

Mrs. Chaka and I just contributed to Samaritan's Purse at the urging of Stuff Christians Like. After raising $30,000 to build a kindergarten in Vietnam in one day, they're now raising funds for two more.

I'm not much for giving to a cause just because a celebrity says I should, but I figured it's the least we could do for a blog that has the funniest (and most edifying) comments on the entire internet.

Linus has probably blown his entire paycheck on this.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Learn to Stay Away from Those Who Carry 'Round a Fire Hose

You could call me a Bob Dylan fan; my music collection has more albums by him than by any other artist. I acknowledge that he's an acquired taste, though. The first time I heard him on the radio ("Like a Rolling Stone" on 98.7 FM KISD), I thought it was a joke. What was this doing on Oldies radio? Organ music and a guy who can't sing? When it went on and on for minute after minute, I thought it was a joke on an immense scale. Then the song ended, and the next song began, without a single word from the DJ to explain what had just happened. Apparently, everyone else was in on the joke.

I think I heard other Dylan songs eventually--"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" at least--but it wasn't until I found out that he was a Minnesotan and had spent time around the University of Minnesota that I picked up one of his albums (Bob Dylan). I knew he was supposed to be cool, so I listened to it over and over again until I liked it. Honestly, that's pretty much what I did. When I found another album in the used bin at Cheapo, I'd buy it and repeat the process.

"Like a Rolling Stone" has grown on me somewhat, but it's still not my favorite. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" probably tops my list. I like the personal connection to "Positively Fourth Street" (I lived for three years in Dinkytown, on the titular Fourth Street). I drive Mrs. Chaka crazy by playing "You Ain't Going Nowhere" over and over again on our cheap acoustic guitar.

I say all that to say this: like Andrew Ferguson (HT: JT), I have no idea why people continue to revere Dylan and buy his albums, when he is in no way the artist he used to be. He never really sang the notes, but his inimitable style did have some charm and emotional resonance. Now his voice is shot so badly that he has only two notes, and only one emotional register: deep mortal anguish.

If Ferguson is right about what's going on inside Dylan's head, then maybe I wasn't so wrong when I heard his music for the first time. Maybe it is a joke on a massive scale.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

M. Levi-Strauss

I had no idea that Levi-Strauss was still alive. And now he's not.

Pretty shameful ignorance for someone who considers himself a casual Levi-Straussian.