Friday, March 31, 2006

News Round-Up

The blog's been a bit light. Apologies. Life calls, and all that.

To kick off the weekend, here are a few news stories that have caught my eye over the past few days:

--As a part-time horse racing fan, I was interested in/concerned by the news that horses are being cloned. For now, thoroughbred racing officials are wisely refusing to deal with cloned animals, but if they ever change their mind, identical horses will certainly make handicapping even more difficult than it already is. ("I really like the way this horse ran his last race, and how he's been working out; but then again, this other horse is the same horse.")

--A couple of weeks ago, I raved about a play called "Well" that's opening on Broadway. Today, Ben Brantley seconds that emotion.

--My friend Patty sent me a link to this story, and her subject line was: What century is this again? (As much as I'd love to leave it at that, I have to say -- there might be some interest or value in studying the positive physical effects, if any, for those who have some strong psychological attachment to faith, etc., but surely studying whether other people praying for someone does any good is a serious, serious waste of time and money.)

--Finally, there's really only one word for this story: Creepy. OK, two words: Incredibly creepy.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Archive of the Day

This is a long one, but a good one. A poem called "How to Go Home" by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

You’ve got to go all the way around the Earth
in order to get back to those people:
the luminous moon over a bassinet,
the great shoe widening out to a leg, the endless
torso, the lecturing head.

You’ve got to never go back home
but always go home forward,
ending every day further onward,
away from the good china,
away from your carpeted room.

Out there, on your way around the Earth: true
love appeals to your sense of destination
but does not show up, oddly does not come
true. You’ve read that the Neanderthals,
according to the DNA, were not supplanted

but rather mated with the Sapian
Sapians and you and I are the mix. It seems
this matter of worrying over with whom to sleep
extends backward a good long while,
and so little progress! Meanwhile,

you’ve got to get around the Earth.
Or some other assignment. It’s not altogether
arbitrary. You’ve got to perambulate a lot, that’s
for certain, and you’ve got to come at the origins
of species from an unheard-of direction:

step out into the first kitchen of your consciousness
from inside the squat refrigerator, or come up
from the drain in the sink. Or walk up to that man
in the backyard after having walked away from him
down and around the Earth.

And he still barbecuing! It’s unbelievable.
Sure, the Neanderthals must have mooned
a good bit at the way things turned out,
the brooding brow, the pouting jaw, the pollen
in the grave. But you’ve still got to get out of there.

They were overtaken, yes, but that’s a risk everyone
takes when they mate. That has to apply
to the women in the capri pants spoon-feeding you
strained peas and the guy pausing between setting down
his briefcase and putting a key in your door.

It’s not actually surprising that they wanted sleep so much
that they knocked your chatterbox around.
Ah, well, go in circles around your violent memories.
It is not arbitrary that atoms and galaxies are all described
by spinning one fist around the other. The secret is

apparently in the process of revolution,
around the Earth and up the cellar stairs
to some original vision, to some platonic linoleum glare
in which truth might be found. And yet you keep just going
up the path. As if that could get you anywhere.

AP Fair Warning Headline of the Day

Tim McGraw Has Lots in the Works


Take Me Seriously!

It seems David Schwimmer is about to hit Broadway in a play based on The Caine Mutiny, and the picture of him on this promotional page is cracking me up.

Come on, Ross. No one's afraid of you.


Just a quick birthday shout to younger sister of ASWOBA, who's spending the day in Iowa catching her hubby in a play. And a belated birthday shout to mother of ASWOBA, who celebrated hers last Saturday.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Archive of the Day

From A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce:
He had no temptations to sin mortally. It surprised him however to find that at the end of his course of intricate piety and selfrestraint he was so easily at the mercy of childish and unworthy imperfections. His prayers and fasts availed him little for the suppression of anger at hearing his mother sneeze or at being disturbed in his devotions. It needed an immense effort of his will to master the impulse which urged him to give outlet to such irritation. Images of the outbursts of trivial anger which he had often noted among his masters, their twitching mouths, closeshut lips and flushed cheeks, recurred to his memory, discouraging him, for all his practice of humility, by the comparison. To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was harder for him than any fasting or prayer and it was his constant failure to do this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at last a sensation of spiritual dryness together with a growth of doubts and scruples.

It's Not Unusual To Be Knighted By Anyone

The other day at lunch, Nick was wondering if the bar for knighthood in the UK has been lowered, and whether more people are being knighted these days. I think we have our answer.

(Via Pop Candy)

Writers on Books They Love

Norman Geras' "Writer's Choice" series, simply described on his site as "writers writing about books," recently featured two contributions from friends of mine: Jen and Carlene. Enjoy.

Monday, March 27, 2006

One of Many Benefits of Paying Attention to the Comments

A few days ago, I wrote about a song I like by a band called Band of Horses. In the comments section under that post, my friend E.J. wrote, in part: "you should go to their website and download their demos. i liked those more than the ones they released on their cd."

This turns out to be a very nice call. If you go to this page on the band's site, you get superior versions (to my ears) of "Wicked Gil" and "Funeral," two songs that sound OK on the album, but there "Gil," if it's even the same song, is over-produced and the vocals sound almost Black Sabbath-like. The demo is more mellow, as you might expect.

Seminar on War Against Science

Kramer vs. Kramer vs. God

Here I've been blathering from time to time in defense (essentially) of religious faith, something I've never felt strongly myself, so it's only right to showcase a potent example of its too-frequent ugliness. Today, Andrew Sullivan has a reminder of how pernicious anti-atheism can be. People of all religious persuasions have had cause to complain about persecution at some point in history, but maybe none more so than non-believers. I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising, but there's a disturbing trend of atheism being held against parents in custody situations. As Sullivan writes: "When Christianists declare that they are fighting for religious freedom, bring this issue up. It will determine whether they are in good faith, so to speak, or not."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Public Space: Excerpts from Robinson

In the inaugural issue of A Public Space, a new literary journal edited by Brigid Hughes, formerly of The Paris Review, there's an essay titled "You Need Not Doubt What I Say Because It Is Not True" by Marilynne Robinson, in which the acclaimed author of Housekeeping and Gilead "makes a case for fiction." If you forget that the title of the essay has the cloying ring that one might expect from the title of Dave Eggers' next novel, or that Robinson's arguments are ornate but not the most coherent I've ever seen, there are some great nuggets, several of which pertain to recent concerns on this blog. Here are three:
Our extraordinary complexity is not only our distinction among the animals, and our glory -- it is also our tragedy, and our capacity to do extraordinary harm. We may have most of our genome in common with the higher primates -- as well as with pigs and fungi, it seems -- but we are the only creatures who would ever have thought to split the atom. This is an instance of our unique ability to get ourselves into the worst kind of trouble: to create trouble this seismic world, left to itself, would have spared us. To err is human. To err catastrophically is definitively human. ... The neo-Darwinists insist that we and our behavior are formed around the project of assuring our genetic survival. History should be sufficient rebuttal.

I draw my examples from science because I will argue that our sense of the world is always hypothesis, and that we are sane to the degree that we understand this. To proceed by hypothesis is the method of modern science, ideally. It is one of the dominant assumptions of modern culture that science by its nature drives back the shadows of error. It is this confidence that very often leads science to forget skepticism, and to take itself for the unique domain of truth. Many of the darkest shadows in the modern period have been the products of science -- and there is no reason to call it by another name than science, simply because it was grossly in error. Racial theory and eugenics are cases in point. I say this because I wish to assert that all thought always inclines toward error. The prejudices that would exclude one tradition of thought from this tendency -- be it science, be it theology -- is simply another instance of the tendency toward error.

The psychologies that have come and gone since the word psychology was coined have tended to describe what they have taken to be universal attributes. All the men in the world want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers. Or, more recently, we are all of us merely passive receptors which allow for the survival and propagation of memes, concepts and fragments of concepts afloat virus-like in the medium of collective life. The fact that two theories so utterly incompatible could coexist -- and Freudianism still pervades the culture -- can only mean that we have not the slightest idea what we are actually talking about.

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Maddest Ever

This has been the best NCAA tournament I can remember, and I've been paying pretty close attention to the sucker for each of the past 20 years or so. Just off the top of my head, the all-time classic games include Connecticut-Washington, UCLA-Gonzaga, Connecticut-George Mason, and Texas-West Virginia. That's not to mention LSU-Duke and Villanova-Boston College, both great games, and any number of close games in the first two rounds.

George Mason played with incredible confidence in its historic win over Connecticut today, so I'm not going to put anything past the Patriots, but LSU is my pick to take home the title next weekend.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Y'all Want to Run Along the Frontage Road in Our Sneakers to Go Get Some Soda?

Here's a pronunciation/usage quiz that determines where you reside along the great Yankee-Rebel divide. The higher the score, the more you're a hick. Or something like that. I say that with love, though, since I'm not exactly pure north myself. My score came up: "43% Dixie. Barely in Yankeedom." This is partly because, strangely, I pronounce "route" and "pajamas" in a strongly southeastern way, despite having spent just about no time in that part of the country (aside from two trips to Disney World before I was 10). My southernness was also exposed by "access road," which is what frontage roads are called in Texas, where I learned to drive.

I could have been even more Dixie if you were allowed two answers for a question -- for how I address a group of people, I went with "you guys," because that's generally true. But I can slip into "y'all" pretty easily.

(Via Living the Scientific Life)

Some Great Basketball

The NCAA basketball games the past couple of nights have been ridiculously dramatic. When six out of eight games come down to the final seconds, it's hard to believe someone's not scripting them. But they're not. That's what sports has over every other cultural offering -- spontaneity and uncertainty.

Last night's Connecticut-Washington game was one of the best I've ever seen. For one thing, it had a fluid pace, with lots of offense. Even the best tourney games often don't feature that. By the end of the night, four of Washington's key players had fouled out, but still they almost managed to topple the team everyone agrees has the deepest roster of talent in the country.

Villanova was another top seed that barely survived, winning in overtime against Boston College. I needed BC to win (badly) for a couple of office pools, and you can make an argument they were robbed. (Sean Williams grabbed a rebound late in the game, and then was pulled to the floor by a Villanova player. Instead of a foul, Williams was called for traveling.) I know lots of sketchy calls occur during every game -- it's the nature of the sport -- but I was disturbed last night by how the most important calls very late in the game went to the top seeds, who needed every break to win. I'm not crying conspiracy, but just to show I'm not only talking about my selfish gambling interests -- I also "needed" UConn to win, but I ended up rooting for Washington, and late in the game, the team's best player, Brandon Roy, put up a shot that was blocked and probably should've counted because of goaltending. It wasn't called. I think the refs, however subconsciously, gave Villanova and Connecticut the benefit of the doubt down the stretch, and that's the last thing we need to give an accomplished, top-seeded team that's been largely outplayed.

AP Very Important Correction of the Day

NEW YORK (AP) -- In a March 23 story about the ratings for the 10th-season premiere of "South Park," The Associated Press reported erroneously that the show's grade-schoolers tried to revive the apparently dead character Chef. Instead, it was "Super Adventure Club" members who tried to revive Chef.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Archive of the Day

From The Floating Opera by John Barth:
So, I begin each day with a gesture of cynicism, and close it with a gesture of faith; or, if you prefer, begin it by reminding myself that, for me at least, goals and objectives are without value, and close it by demonstrating that the fact is irrelevant. A gesture of temporality, a gesture of eternity. It is in the tension between these two gestures that I have lived my adult life.

Duke Down

I owe a friend a post about the benefits of living in New York, but that will have to wait. The NCAA tournament and two pleasant phone conversations have conspired to pass the night pretty quickly. So, it's a light night -- an archive above, and this, a post celebrating the defeat of Duke. Good riddance to the Blue Devils, who were vanquished by a scary-talented LSU team tonight (if LSU could hit some free throws, and if their freshman phenom Tyrus Thomas didn't appear to share the emotional make-up of Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest, they'd probably be my pick to go the distance).

I felt bad for Duke's Shelden Williams at the end of tonight's game, a senior who's had a great, undersung career. Less bad for J.J. Redick, who was the same pouty, pushy punk in this game that he's been during his career. I think someone on the comments board at Deadspin put it best: "OH, YES! JJ REDICK'S TEARS! SO DELICIOUS! I DON'T KNOW IF I HAVE ANY ROOM, THEY'RE SO FILLING! Aw, heck, I'll have some more. DELICIOUS!" And I feel the least bad for freshman Josh McRoberts, who screamed and mugged his way through every call he disputed, and seems perfectly capable of fitting into the role of Most Hated Blue Devil next year. He was born to play it, I think. Here's a picture of him you can boo at during the offseason, for practice:

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Article About Debate Generates Debate

It's no less true just because it's massively pathetic to say that the proudest moment of accomplishment in my life might have occurred during my time as a high school debater. Most successful debaters surpass such a moment, because they go on to become decorated lawyers or advocates for important causes or powerful politicians. Me, I like blogging.

Anyway, Jim over at Encyclopedia Hanasiana is doing his part to keep debate in the spotlight, taking the stuffing out of the Liberty University team that was profiled in last weekend's New York Times Magazine.

Way, Way More

Just to follow up on the Isaac Hayes/South Park post below, I saw the new episode tonight (I don't normally watch it), and it's a bit stunning that they produced something so topical in about a week's time. The show was even more gleefully vulgar than I remembered, revolving around a "Super Adventure Club" (a stand-in for scientology) that brainwashes Chef (The Character Formerly Voiced by Hayes) into becoming a pedophile.

At one point, one of the kids calls the Super Adventure Club's central message "retarded," and the club's leader asks, and I'm paraphrasing (a lot), "Is it any more retarded than the son of God coming to Earth to save us, or a Buddhist sitting in a tree for 20 years?" And one of the kids responds: "Yes, it's way, way more retarded."

Do not cross Stone and Parker.

Buscemi as City Mascot

I've been seeing Steve Buscemi around the neighborhood lately -- in line at a bagel shop, waiting with the morning rush crowd on the 7th Ave. subway platform. He strikes me as the ideal New York celebrity, meaning that he stands out about as much as a squirrel does in Prospect Park. He's small(ish), and in person his features don't pop out quite like they do on screen (or rather, they probably do, but so do those of most of the Average Joes surrounding him). As this New York Times article points out, "His characters are usually wild-eyed, with flecks of spittle at the corner of their mouth and a manner that suggests they may have a gun in their pocket." See what I mean? The typical New Yorker.

Wilson on Provisional Deism

Materialists don't come much stricter than E.O. Wilson, and he's interviewed on Salon today about science and religion. You have to have a subscription to read the whole thing, which is here. If you don't, here are the two passages I found most relevant to my recent ramblings:
That's an interesting perspective. Basically, you're saying (religion is) necessary but it's wrong.

Well, you see, that's the dilemma of the 21st century. Possibly the greatest philosophical question of the 21st century is the resolution of religious faith with the growing realization of the very different nature of the material world. You could say that we evolved to accept one truth -- the religious instinct -- but then discovered another. And having discovered another, what are we to do? You might say it's just best to go ahead and accept the two worldviews and let them live side by side. I see no other solution. I believe they can use their different worldviews to solve some of the great problems -- for example, the environment. But generally speaking, the difficulty in saying they can live side by side is a sectarianism in the world today, and traditional religions can be exclusionary and used to justify violence and war. You just can't deny that this is a major problem.

* * * * * * *

Let me follow up on this because I've heard you call yourself a deist.

Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist.

Why not?

You know, being a good scientist, and having been drawn up short so many times on my own theories and speculations -- as all honest scientists are -- I don't want to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity. I think that would be a mistake to say there is no God or supernatural force. As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing? Well, that's a question I'm happy to leave to the astrophysicist -- where the laws of the universe came from and what is the meaning of the origin of existence. But I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity.

That is the distinction between theism and deism.

That is the distinction. So I am not a theist, but I'll be a provisional deist.

To be a deist, you're saying maybe there was some creator, some presence, that set in motion the laws of the universe.

Maybe. That has not yet been discounted as a hypothesis. That's why I use the word provisional.

It's fascinating because everything you've said up until now suggests that you should be an atheist. Why hold out the specter that maybe there was some divine presence that got the whole thing going?

Well, because there's a possibility that a god or gods -- I don't think it would resemble anything of the Judeo-Christian variety -- or a super-intelligent force came along and started the universe with a big bang and moved on to the next universe. I can't discount that.

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Financial What?

When you work for a large corporation like I do, you occasionally get invited to a seminar on the premises. For instance, this week a financial services firm is coming in to give a talk titled "Dispelling 15 Financial Myths."

The e-mail inviting me and others to this talk included the following description.
Topics will include:

Estate Planning

Insurance Strategies

Investment Strategies

Retirement Planning

General Planning
I don't have an estate.

I'm almost certain I have insurance, but less sure it's the kind you strategize about.

I have no investments, unless you count a few rapidly depreciating Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards.

I work in publishing and don't see any way I can possibly retire before age 137 at my current pace.

So I suppose the one thing I could really use is that last one -- General Planning. Perhaps I'll go.

"OK, Then, I'd Like to File a Person-Who-Doesn't-Want-to-be-Bugged Report"

A family of six was rescued on Tuesday after spending 17 days stuck on a snowy road in the mountains of southern Oregon. The story is here. Two things pop out. One is a quote that's no longer in the story, as far as I can tell, but was there earlier today, and it regards the two children (8 and 9 years old) who were part of the group:
Peter Stivers rested his hands on the shoulders of his 9-year-old son, Sabastyan.

"He had fun. They enjoyed it," Peter Stivers said. "They didn't know we were in trouble."
That's astonishing, right? I mean, either the kid was petrified and this is the most condescending quote of all time, or the kid has marbles for brains. I have a 10-year-old sister. If she was marooned in a van on a mountain for two and a half weeks, with adults taking turns on fruitless treks through the snow for help, I don't think she'd describe the experience as "fun."

My favorite moment in the article is a toss-up between that and this quote from the police detective, who was explaining one theory that held the family wasn't missing, but just purposefully keeping a low profile:
"It’s not against the law to be missing," he said. "People say, 'I haven’t seen Fred for three days,' but we can’t go knocking down the door. It may be that Fred just doesn't want to be bugged."

Scientologists Are Really, Really Scary

In case you're not yet convinced that Tom Cruise is an eleven-foot-tall, potentially homosexual space lizard who's having his real identity forcefully suppressed by Scientologists here on Earth, read up on this Isaac Hayes stuff, if you haven't already. He supposedly quit South Park over an episode mocking Scientology, but his whereabouts and the nature of his recent communications are taking on the bizarro tenor of an X-Files episode. Where's Mulder when you need him?

If the blog goes down in the next day or two, send help.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Archive of the Day

From Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates:
"Hi!" They called to one another.

"Hi!..." "Hi!..."

This one glad syllable, borne up through the gathering twilight and redoubling back from the Wheelers' kitchen door, was the traditional herald of an evening's entertainment. Then came the handshakings, the stately puckered kissings, the sighs of amiable exhaustion -- "Ah-h-h"; "Who-o-o" -- suggesting that miles of hot sand had been traveled for the finding of this oasis or that living breath itself had been held, painfully, against the promise of this release. In the living room, having sipped and grimaced at the first frosty brimming of their drinks, they pulled themselves together for a moment of mutual admiration; then they sank into various postures of controlled collapse.

One Song

I just did the five songs thing yesterday, and I'm trying to limit myself to running it every couple of weeks, but occasionally I feel the need to sneak another one in here.

Today, a band called Band of Horses released Everything All the Time, and the cool kids are all over this album. The sound clips on iTunes left me wondering if it's my kind of thing (it seems like My Morning Jacket is a preferred point of comparison, and I'm ambivalent about them, too). But to give them a chance, I downloaded the song that the much-less-cool kids at Entertainment Weekly recommended. It's called "I Go to the Barn Because I Like the"

No, I didn't leave a word off the end. That's the name of the song, and it's pretty good. It starts with overlapping vocal tracks, one whispered and one keening. And it goes through a quiet, satisfying change halfway through its three minutes.

"A Category Mistake"

The Archbishop of Canterbury, whose surname makes him inherently wise, believes that creationism shouldn't be taught in schools. Relevant quote:
I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory, like other theories.
(Via The Stranger.)

Five for Fighting

The younger sister of ASWOBA works at Columbia when she's not lighting up the stage, and she was kind enough to alert me to an event there tonight that featured five prominent thinkers debating the war in Iraq three years after it started. Joe Klein moderated a conversation between Andrew Sullivan, Victor Davis Hanson, Noah Feldman, and Kenneth Pollack.

It dawned on me as I sat down that at least Pollack, Sullivan and Hanson were for the war in one way or another before it started. Turned out Feldman was, too (I'd seen him speak about it many times since its commencement, but not before). Klein was the lone exception. Surely, I thought, this coterie of supporters would disappoint the upper Manhattan spectators, or rile them into a frenzy (which, come to think of it, might be just what the crowd was looking for on a cold Monday night). As someone whose thinking (on a much less informed level) has followed the same basic trajectory as Sullivan's, I was eager to hear how the four would currently stand after the last year or two of events.

To avoid boring you to tears, and to meet my goal of getting to bed before 3 a.m., I'll just provide a thumbnail sketch of each participant's take.

I read Sullivan's blog religiously, so his comments were the least surprising to me. His body language was something to see, though. He often slouched deep into his chair while listening to the other panelists. When he talked, he sat up straighter, but shuffled his feet a bit and generally seemed quite emotional and worn down about the subject. In fact, he's been writing a lot about the possible effects of pure exhaustion on the Bush administration, and he seemed to exhibit some of it himself. Can't blame him. I blog a hundredth as much as he does, and I can barely remember my middle name.

Feldman was the star of the night, in my opinion. Late in the discussion, he described himself as the only lawyer on stage, so it's not surprising that he has some serious rhetorical tools at his disposal. I'd seen him speak on television, where, frankly, he sometimes seemed a bit too eager and polished, but I realized tonight that that's only an issue of scale; the medium's the problem, not Feldman. He perfectly combined pessimism about the current state of things with a hard-headed pragmatism about what our options are (cutting and running is not one of them, everyone on stage agreed).

His most compelling point, only because I hadn't heard it articulated quite as well before, concerned the inevitability of destabilization in any plan that involved democratization. Again, I'd love to get into this more, but I'm already nodding off, and you're dousing yourself in gasoline like that character who can't escape a chatty neighbor in Airplane!

Pollack, like Feldman, has a lot of experience deep behind the curtain of current events. A member of the National Security Council for years, he made the point that Sullivan's also made recently: Before the war, the number of people who deeply doubted the WMD intelligence from several sources was fairly small. But afterwards, suddenly everyone knew. (And I'm talking about experts; I don't listen much to Bush-bashers on the street who say, "I told you Hussein didn't have any WMD." Oh, OK, what was everyone thinking not listening to you? Are you gonna finish your fries?)

Hanson was the saddest case, for two reasons. The first is a legitimate criticism, which is that he seemed unprepared to talk extemporaneously about things and ended up mangling a couple of his points. The second is less his fault. He's certainly a neocon in many ways, and thus the NY crowd was most agitated by his presence, I think. Sullivan, after expressing respect for his work, called him out on his lack of criticism of the war's execution. (Though Hanson did eventually reel off a mini-diatribe about the administration's faulty plans, his overall tenor was more apologetic.) But Hanson is an incredibly smart guy, so on the train ride home I was wondering why he came across badly, and aside from his politics, something dawned on me: he's an expert on ancient warfare, and someone who's started classics departments, and basically has a much, much longer-term frame of reference than the average commentator or concerned citizen. And his posture throughout the night was decidedly more resigned than the other guests. When people brought up the war's mistakes and shortcomings, he rattled off the mistakes and shortcomings of previous wars, even more retroactively popular ones. (He joked at the beginning of the night that Lincoln's approval rating was probably 10% in August of 1863.) My point is this: Presumptuous as it is to say, I really think Hanson's interior monologue during the evening ran something like, Why are all these people surprised we're at war? Why are they surprised others are dying in armed conflict over ideas and resources? Why are they surprised humans aren't perfectly executing something that's inherently messy and morally ambiguous, at best? This has been going on for tens of thousands of years.

And seen that way, I can almost forgive Hanson his seemingly aloof and stubborn take on things. A lot of people give lip service to "remembering history's lessons," especially when they feel we're taking an initial step down the wrong path. But Hanson's studied those lessons more than almost anyone. And I think there's a chance that it keeps him from being as eager to offer neat solutions for today's problems. After all, those problems are less likely to get solved than they are to just keep mutating, for better or worse, and eventually be placed inside certain explanatory parameters by academics. By morticians of our always deepening history, like himself.

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Five Songs, Chapter Four

"Trains to Brazil" by Guillemots

I wrote about this song a while back, and now it's available on iTunes as part of an eight-song record by the band. Some of the other tracks are pretty good, too, but buy this one. If you're not dancing around to it almost immediately, I'll give you your money back. (Offer good for the first two people who want their money back.)

"Drain" by Jay Farrar

A friend recently said she'd been listening to this song, and I was glad she inspired me to go back to it. It's from Sebastopol, a very good album that I haven't listened to much at all over the past few years. It was released right around 9/11, and at first I wasn't crazy about it, partly because the standards set by Farrar's band, Son Volt, were very high. Pretty quickly, though, its moody songs became the constant soundtrack to my strange routines around that time -- I most vividly remember listening to it while standing on a bus going downtown after work, trying to avoid the subway as much as I could. It's sentimental, I suppose, to say that the music attached itself to the moment (meaning those few weeks), and that the moment was not one I wanted to recall much over the ensuing years. But I'm slowly getting back into the record, and this song in particular is really beautiful.

"Orange Sky" by Alexi Murdoch

This was the soundtrack for a movie preview that I saw with my sister a few years ago, and a while later she tracked it down and gave it to me. I'll be damned if it isn't mostly a shameless Nick Drake rip-off, but I'll be equally damned if I don't like it more than almost anything by Drake.

"Car Song" by Madder Rose

When you want it to feel like 1994 all over again.

"Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major" by Bach (performed by Yo-Yo Ma)

When you want it to feel like 1719 all over again.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Guilt in the Mail

I had three -- count 'em, three -- bills in the mail today. Considering that I get four bills every month, that's a disproportionately rough day. But worse than any of the bills was a letter that I left unopened. When I got Internet and cable TV service through Time Warner a few months ago, I tacked the company's phone service on for convenience and ditched Verizon. I felt bad about it at the time, even though Time Warner convinced me it was a better deal. A few weeks later, I got a form letter from Verizon saying, essentially, "we're sorry that you weren't satisfied for some reason, but we'd love the opportunity to make it up to you in the future if you'll ever take us back." It was kind of emotional. Today, I got a red envelope in the mail, with the Verizon logo prominently displayed alongside this phrase: "What do they got that we haven't got?"

As self-incriminating as this is, it's not an exaggeration to say that I felt a sinking sensation upon reading this question. I felt bad for Verizon, a faceless corporation that I've probably cursed on numerous occasions in the past. Right now, to hopefully move past this once and for all, and if you'll excuse such an unorthodox move, I'd like to address Verizon directly:

There's probably a good, multipart answer to what "they" have that you haven't got, V., but that's not even the point. (And "they" have a name, and you know that, V. Their name is Time Warner.) The point is, I decided to move on. We had our run, but that's over now. Time Warner's not perfect -- look, it's digital service, so it's totally unavailable during a power outage, even emergency numbers! -- but they're my phone service provider now, and it's not fair for you to be asking me hurtful rhetorical questions first thing in the door after work. It's not cool. So can we please just get past this?


AP Triumph for Decency Headline of the Day

Ban Extended on Kid Rock Sex Video Release

Breaking a Promise; Talkin' Hillary

I realize now that my promise to avoid writing about the maneuverings of presidential candidates until closer to the 2008 election will be impossible to keep. In general, though, I’m an honest guy. Really. Don’t start mistrusting me left and right because of this. I’d hate for that to happen.

Two Sundays ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece by Matt Bai discussing the Democratic hopefuls, and whether anyone will gather the steam necessary to knock Hillary Clinton off the top of the ticket. Bai used Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, as his primary case study.

I had a few reactions to the article:

1. The New York Times not only doesn’t want Mark Warner to be the Democratic candidate in 2008, it might hate him on a personal level. It might want him deported to Gitmo. Warner may have done something inexcusable to every staffer of the Times, even every member of each staffer’s nuclear -- no, extended family. I say this because Mark Warner is, if a little goofy, an average looking person. But the portrait the paper chose for the cover of the magazine (which I can’t find online, unfortunately) makes him look not only like the love child of the most dishonest real estate agent in history and a talking donkey, but a donkey-agent about to uncork a cringe-inducing pickup line in your general direction. Looking at this picture, I don’t just want to keep him off the presidential ticket; I want to keep him at least 300 yards away from any children I might have one day. And this seems unfair, because it really appears that the Times must have digitally made him creepier (the paper has already admitted to altering the color scheme of his shirt and blazer from blue to a hideous pink and purple).

2. Democrats are idiotic. I can say this because I’m proudly listed as an independent voter.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:
The party’s insiders, expecting Clinton to be a virtually unstoppable force, seem to be falling in line behind her, which means there will be only so much additional money and organization left over for those who would challenge her. But more than anything, Democrats will tell you that they are desperate to win next time around, and a lot of pragmatic activists and voters worry that Clinton is simply too divisive a candidate to take back the White House. (In a Gallup poll in January, 51 percent of respondents said they would definitely not vote for her.)
Which leads me to wonder what part of “definitely not” Democrats don’t understand. I mean, we’re at a simple majority of 51 percent here before you even broach the subject of “maybe not” or “we’ll see how I feel after breakfast that day.”

3. (Following directly from #2.) The Democrats are going to lose the next presidential election.

That is, unless the Republicans somehow get together and decide to nominate Jacques Chirac. Here’s the article again:
Clinton encounters ambivalence online because she is a fixture of official Washington, and because she continues to emphasize her cooperation with like-minded Republicans. The party’s online activists don’t want to hear about the compromises it takes to govern; they want someone who will derail the Republican agenda, even if he (or she) has to strap himself to the tracks with two fistfuls of dynamite to do it.
So, the Democrats are split into two camps, as far as I can see: One is the party insiders, who will back Clinton just for the satisfaction of being on the winning team within the party, even if it means not winning the big prize. The other is a clear minority in this country, composed of people who want dynamite-strapped true believers to derail the Republicans, even though no one with that platform would be allowed to enter the larger D.C. area, much less the actual White House.

This is a fairly conservative country, and I don’t even mean that it’s populated mostly by foaming-at-the-mouth Bible-beaters -- I really don’t think it is. They exist, of course, the foamers, but there’s also a vast expanse of centrist people. They are damned hard to please, though, and no one proves that more than Hillary's hubby. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 43% of the popular vote. In 1996, as an incumbent in peacetime, without Monicagate on the public radar, with unprecedented wealth and happiness reigning from sea to shining sea, and running against an uninspired Bob Dole and a dangerously unmedicated Ross Perot, Clinton, a man who’s been praised as the most brilliant natural political talent we’ve ever seen, a centrist from a Southern state, won 49.2% of the vote. Not even half. Against Dole. And Perot.

Now we have Hillary, a smart, successful, hardworking candidate, who 51% of the country would never vote for. Ever. She’s a stiffer public speaker than Bill. She brings almost all of his negative baggage onto the flight with her, and less than all of his gifts.

4. Please, let’s not make this about feminism.

To the article, once more:
It is a perilous mission that Warner and other Democratic hopefuls undertake as they try to cast doubts about (Clinton’s) electability without appearing to attack one of the party’s iconic figures. And it’s risky not just because she is a Clinton, beloved by most of the party’s important interest groups, but also because she is a woman; a lot of voters may wonder if a woman can really be elected president, but they would most likely turn on any male candidate who was crass enough to imply as much.
Reducing this to the electability of a woman is nonsense. It’s like arguing (not quite, of course, but go with me) that the country isn’t ready to elect a black president because Al Sharpton isn’t in the White House yet. I suppose it’s possible that we’re not ready to elect a black president, and that would be sad, but the fact that we’re not ready to elect Al Sharpton is only a sign of collective mental health.

And finally:

5. Democrats are idiotic.

Forgive the repetition. But in the fall of 2000, I was working without pay for a literary-political magazine in New York. As the presidential election neared, a dry-erase board went up in a hallway, and all of the magazine’s staffers wrote down their choice for president. About a dozen people volunteered their preference, all of them writing “Ralph Nader.” These were very well-educated, widely read, socially concerned people, and somehow they had convinced themselves that the necessary response to Clinton’s eight years of success was not the election of his tag-team partner, but of Ralph Nader, a man whose major qualification seemed to be that he once hectored a bunch of us into wearing seat belts more often. They were, in short, insane. (Of course, I’ve come to learn in my ensuing years around these parts that they were likely just participating in a perverse level of self-definition with this vote, like youngish, smart New Yorkers do whenever they self-sabotage an election or buy one cheap beer over another or talk with incredible contempt about something they had enthusiasm for seven minutes ago.) The point is, Bush won, and being in NY and at the headquarters of said magazine, I know how deeply this pissed people off. The benefit of this, of course, was that by the time 2004 rolled around, liberals were willing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there was more of a difference between Dems and Reps than ol’ Ralphy Boy had wanted us to believe. (The fact that they would have nodded along with Ralphy Boy on this point in the first place boggles the mind, and is reason #3,988 that I’ve vowed to never officially join the lefty ranks.)

Now it’s almost time for the 2008 frenzy. Bush’s second term is widely regarded as a disaster, and it’s not even close to half over. If there’s a lesson in what will be the past eight years by the time we vote for prez again, it’s twofold: The Republicans know how to win this thing, even when the chips are down; and “electable” means something different for the Democrats than it does for the Republicans. The party’s got to figure out just what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Hillary Clinton.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Kaplan: Ice Cube a Great Pick for 'Kotter'

The first paragraph of this AP story:
Former "Welcome Back, Kotter" creator-star Gabe Kaplan says rapper-actor Ice Cube is a great choice to play his old role in the big-screen remake of the hit 1970s TV series.
This suggests two things: Hollywood is still fresh out of ideas, and Gabe Kaplan must have a healthy supply of crack.

I think it's time for more pictures:

Best Name in the NCAA Tournament That I've Seen So Far

Pops Mensah-Bonsu (George Washington University)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Too Emotionally Invested in Brackets

Syracuse, showing little respect for itself and even less for the many brackets I entered in various pools, is about to lose to Texas A&M. Pathetic.

I should've seen this coming (The Gambler's Lament). I knew Syracuse was vulnerable, I just didn't think A&M was capable of taking advantage of that. (I have negative feelings about A&M that are stronger than they should be; one of the many hazards of spending formative years in the state of Texas.) I was complaining to a friend the other night that, if the NCAA selection committee is serious about respecting mid-size conferences, then how the hell can a team clearly "on the bubble" a week ago, which Syracuse was, be a 5 seed just because they win a major-conference tournament? Sure, they would have deserved to be invited even without winning the whole Big East shebang last weekend, but why not make them a 9 or 10 seed to reflect their overall mediocrity this season?

OK, I realize that almost all of you tuned out this post. There's stuff about books and exercise below, so please move forward in an orderly fashion if those subjects appeal to you. Just know that I'm going to have to vent occasionally as the tournament progresses. In the beginning, I had flirted with the idea of making this primarily a sports blog, so just be thankful I settled on "occasionally."

Book Recommendation

I've been joking that the recent science/religion thread on the blog represents a new preoccupation for me, but it doesn't really. One of my favorite books, which I read six or seven years ago, is Afterwards, You're a Genius by Chip Brown, more usefully described by its subtitle: Faith, Medicine, and the Metaphysics of Healing. In it, Brown visits faith healers whose practices are grounded in Eastern spiritual traditions (those are the serious ones; the flakier practitioners in the book clearly come from the School of Quackery).

The story he tells is my favorite type of rambling first-person narrative: knowledgeable about its subject; full of entertaining digressions; motivated by, and seen through the prism of, highly personal concerns (in Brown's case, the desire to come to terms with romantic heartbreak, learn more about his own spiritual thinking or lack thereof, and explore the relationship between modern science and ancient thoughts about health.)

The book meanders a bit through its middle section, but not enough to put a dent in my love for it. Its opening paragraph is one of my all-time favorites, and perfectly sets the tone for everything to come. Here it is. Think of it as today's archive, if you must:
More than a few years ago, when I was in a bad way, wallowing in a sob story about an actress who'd exchanged me for a used-car salesman in California, I went to see a psychic. It was half a lark, or so I thought at the time. The heartache that inspired the visit was real enough, but I was not able to make any sense of it until much later, when I happened on Borges's description of love as a religion organized around a fallible god. For the millions of us who press on in a secular age, under Darwin's empty heaven, love may be all we ever know of religion, and the loss of love is that much more wrenching for its likeness to a crisis of faith. What else but a confusion of divine and human realms can account for the pain of misplaced devotion? Pain made worse by the ludicrousness of it all, the ersatz savior and the preposterous church and the disillusioned parishioner, who stumbles around in the aftermath -- stupefied, in my case, by the sight of his highly beloved on Channel 7 in a Fruit of the Loom commercial. There she was! Dressed as a guava or possibly a passion fruit. Something tropical. I couldn't see clearly. I was too busy gasping for air. She turned up again a few weeks later as a guest star on a cheesy detective show, but this time there was an offsetting, even therapeutic, consolation: She got shot in the head.
(Sadly, it seems like the book is out of print. Happily, you can get a used copy cheaply on Amazon. It's a steal.)

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The Unbearable Lightness of Gym Membership

I've belonged to a gym for quite a while now, and almost never go. Dumb, I know, but the way I see it, I've reached an age (never you mind) where having the membership fee show up on my credit card statement each month, despite not having lifted a leg, an arm, or even a towel at the gym during that time, serves as a useful reminder of: a) my stupidity, b) my laziness, and c) my protracted physical decay. The hope being that my cumulative shame in the face of a-through-c will eventually motivate me to walk the...oh, it's so embarrassing...three long blocks to my gym.

Well, tonight I did. I jogged/ran/spazzed a couple of miles on one of those low-impact machines ("low-impact" being perhaps my favorite hyphenated term in the English language). One of the motivating factors in making tonight my first visit in @&@!*% -- in addition to feeling edgy and run-down enough lately that I'm willing to try anything -- was the thought that I could watch an NCAA tournament game on one of the gym's TVs. (I like to replicate the experience of sitting on my couch as much as possible when I work out; this can't be good, I know.) To my astonishment, they didn't have the tournament on every monitor. So I had to turn my head a bit to watch the game, an added bit of physical activity that I resented. The set straightaway in my line of vision was on a music channel showing clips by Britney Spears, Audioslave, and the great Hall and Oates, who have to hold the record for Most Dorky Videos Set Against a Black Background.

At one point, my machine flashed a reading titled "heart rate." The reading was 155. Now, I'm no cardiologist, but I believe that a human heart beating 155 times a minute has reached, technically, "the phase of imminent explosion." I consoled myself with the fact that the machine couldn't possibly be reading my vitals accurately (or at all). But those scrolling numbers can really freak you out -- they're like a Dow Jones ticker of personal doom (heart rate: 485....good this will do if you don't stop drinking: 0....days between tonight and your next visit: 297....)

Stupid machine. Stupid heart.


Four Dolls, One Without a Body

Courtesy of Bad Movie Club, who got it from Gorilla Mask, here's the climactic scene of Seven (sorry, Se7en), played out by stuffed animals (and one alien-looking thing). It's pretty funny, and it reminded me of what I hated about that scene -- Morgan Freeman's insistence that if Brad Pitt shoots Kevin Spacey, then Spacey "will win." This is the nadir of that line of thinking. I mean, tell him not to shoot him because he'll never be the same, or because he'll be punished for it, but not because Spacey "will win." He had just beheaded Pitt's wife. That's sort of game-set-match already, isn't it? (I know, I know -- it's because in killing him, he'll have completed his "cycle of sins" or whatever, but still. Go with me here.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Genetics vs. Cubicles

The crew over at Frinktank, a humorous-take-on-science blog, have a...humorous post contemplating which has caused more depression: Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene, or office cubicles. Tough call.

Frinktank also gets a lot of credit for naming itself after my favorite Simpsons character. Why my favorite? Try this and this and this. And if you need more (much more), go here. (I didn't have that site handy, by the way; I found it through Frinktank. Just saying.)

Oh, and Homer has a pretty great moment here. OK. Enough geekiness. For now.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

AP Your Guess Is As Good As Mine Headline of the Day

Burned Man Says He Was Better Off Naked


AP Are You Sure That's Singular? Headline of the Day

Jay Leno Apologizes to Offended Viewer

Archive of the Day

From The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus:

Of whom and of what indeed can I say: "I know that!" This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up. This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled. Forever I shall be a stranger to myself. In psychology as in logic, there are truths but no truth. Socrates' "Know thyself" has as much value as the "Be virtuous" of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate.

And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes -- how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more. And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but that are not sure. A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes. Everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart, or fatal renunciations.

Trip to Broadway

I'm a bit of a navel-gazer, but this blog gives the impression that I never leave the apartment. Would that it were true (I'm not a great traveler). But in fact, I'm not always in front of my computer (I didn't even have a computer at home four months ago, which seems impossible) or reading up on the contentious state of affairs between God and lab-coated geeks. Tonight, for instance, I had the pleasure of seeing Well, a Broadway play currently in previews and officially opening on March 30.

I highly recommend it. Having left the theater a couple of hours ago, it's a bit soon to sum up my thoughts, but I'll let two women who were discussing it in the lobby afterwards give you a hint:

Woman #1: That was wild.
Woman #2: Yeah, for a normal theater-goer...
Woman #1: What was that, like, meta-theater?

Pretty much. I imagine that anyone who's under 40 and/or seen five minutes of Arrested Development won't have a problem keeping up. Still, it's a creative effort. The writer, Lisa Kron, plays herself. Jayne Houdyshell is phenomenal as Kron's mother, who suffers from chronic fatigue or some form of depression that she chalks up to "allergies." I found the most moving element to be the consideration of what it means to accept someone's illness as part of who they are. I'm not getting at the heart of what's unique about the production, but it's late and I have a long Archive of the Day to transcribe, so if you want to know more, go here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"The Data of Me"

Those of you who have known me a long time must be getting a real kick out of my current obsession with religion and science in this space. If you remember that I'm almost completely unschooled in the hard sciences and often unyielding and fevered in my atheistic declarations, well, memory serves.

The reasons for my renewed interest in the subject, vague as they may be, will hopefully find their way into a longer post some day. For now, I'll just say that the future of the species, to my mind, would seem to depend on the fairly serious cultivation of a Clintonian "third way" between the fundamentalist religious lunacy that would send us back to the caves and the stubborn scientism that fruitlessly aims to snuff out what is clearly a deep-seated (and often beautiful) human need to connect the unreachable lights of the night sky into compelling shapes.

Over the weekend, Slate posted an interview between Robert Wright (a brilliant writer; read Nonzero) and Robert Pollack, a Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia who's quite the believer in God.

There's a brief film clip of the interview here, and a complete transcript here. But the clip is very brief, and the transcript is faithfully rendered with all kinds of repetitions and other speech inefficiencies, and just having read it, I have a blazing headache. So, I've pulled out three excerpts that I find thought-provoking so that you can skip the longer version unless you feel the need to delve deeper. You owe me two aspirin.

First, Pollack discusses the palpable sensation he has of being cared for by an entity greater than himself:
It's not science, but it's not fake so it's data. It's data of me. I'm confronted with the data of me and I don't know what else to do about it but first to describe and second to try and understand it.
Then, he discusses the difference between scientific and religious experience:
And then you say to yourself, well let's go back and see how this works. Ok. Now in science you go back and see how this works by designing testable models, testable experiments, seeking the best model for the test...and that's where scientific aesthetics and scientific pace come in finding the simplest, cleanest way to test something bravely so that if you're wrong you know it fast instead of going through the motions of experimentation but never really pushing yourself. In the case of a religious experience a similar bravery is just the opposite, it's to give up the need for proving it and see how it feels to live inside the experience of not understanding, which for a scientist is very radical. But I accept the burden of not understanding something.
And finally, he discusses the idea of competing schools of religious truth: say that there is a religion which is better than another is as data-free as to say there is one language which is better than the other. There are more or less complicated and more or less sibilant languages and there are more or less complicated and sibilant religions, but I do not...I'm not bothered by the existence of a multiplicity of religions. And I believe that it the obligation of a serious religious person to, having accepted the mystery of his or her own religion, to seek to understand what is the mystery of another religion, to seek to find the commonality in what is irrationally held to and to respect it...

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Keeping a Close Watch on the Enemy

I've been fairly conservative (certainly by New York standards, anyway) in my take on the current war and the events that preceded it, despite the same increasing displeasure with its orchestration that most of the country has been experiencing for some time, but this is ridiculous: The military is claiming that Casio watches on Guantanamo Bay detainees are evidence of terrorist ties.

The reason?
Casios have been used repeatedly in bombs, after all, including one used by the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center attack; the explosive device was set off on a Philippine Airlines flight, killing a passenger.
But as the piece goes on to note:
...there's nothing unique about their use in time bombs. In fact, many household items with timing functions, including such devices as microwave oven timers, can be modified to set off bombs, said David Williams, a retired FBI agent who worked on the first World Trade Center bombing investigation.
Also, detainees with fingers are being monitored closely, as fingers can be used to set timing devices.

In demanding that detainees defend their wristwear, though, we may have inadvertently created some successful ad-copy guys:
"I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they are inexpensive and they last a long time," the 34-year-old detainee told a tribunal. "I like my watch because it is durable. It had a calculator and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to wash up all the way to my elbows."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mmmmm...Doughnut Burger

On our second annual baseball tour this spring, my friend Jon and I are going to wend our way through eastern Texas. But we now have more reason than ever to plan the third trip back in the midwest: The Gateway Grizzlies, a Frontier League team located in Southern Illinois, are adding a concession item this season that boggles the mind, not to mention the arteries.

It's a burger with cheese and bacon, between a bun created by slicing a Krispy Kreme doughnut in half.

I point this out not only to disgust or entice you (based on the strength of your stomach and the perversity of your appetites), but because the ESPN article also notes this: the general manager of the team got the idea from a restaurant in Atlanta, "which has a similar sandwich called the Luther Burger."

But the article doesn't mention who the Luther Burger is named after. Nick, friend and fellow salt-mine worker of ASWOBA, and one-man encyclopedia of great anecdotes about musicians, once told me that Luther Vandross, looking for a midnight snack one night but fresh out of hamburger buns, created this monstrosity (and continued to make it in the future, after enjoying it so much). Though, if memory serves, Luther used two doughnuts for the bun -- no slicing one in half for him, no sir. I found this reference, which leaves the veracity of the story in doubt, but it rings true to me.

(Via Living the Scientific Life)

Plano Ascendant

Just a late-night note: Got home a few minutes ago and had a message from an old friend in Texas. He let me know, among other things, that our alma mater won the Texas state basketball championship tonight for the first time in its history. I figured you'd all want to know. I feel weirdly proud. It's a big state, which makes it significantly harder to win stuff.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Archive of the Day

From The Undiscovered Mind by John Horgan:
(Noam) Chomsky noted that we utter words one at a time, in a linear fashion. But we could conceivably have acquired the ability to emit one set of sounds from the mouth and another from the nose. The ability to utter two separate sequences of noises through both the mouth and nose would provide us with a "much more complex and rich communication. We wouldn't be bound by temporal linearity." If humans had developed such a capacity, Chomsky said, evolutionary psychologists would no doubt have "explained" it as a product of natural selection. Actually, Darwinian theory neither prohibits nor demands language, nor does it constrain how the language capacity should be designed. "It doesn't predict anything!" Chomsky exclaimed.

Chomsky called evolutionary psychology a "philosophy of mind with a little bit of science thrown in." If anything, evolutionary theory can explain not too little but too much. "You find that people cooperate, you say, 'Yeah, that contributes to their genes' perpetuating.' You find that they fight, you say, 'Sure, that's obvious, because it means that their genes perpetuate and not somebody else's.' In fact, just about anything you find, you can make up some story for it."

Logic in the Mail

It's not often you can describe a letter to the editor as devastating with a straight face, but two such letters appear in this week's issue of The New Yorker. They're both written in response to Malcolm Gladwell's piece about legislation against pit bulls and, by extension, the human folly of racial profiling. Gladwell's almost always provocative, but I did think there was something more than a little troublesome about his argumentation in this case. In part, he wrote about a test for dogs that measures the aggressiveness of their character: "Eighty-four per cent of the pit bulls that have been given the test have passed, which ranks pit bulls ahead of beagles, Airedales, bearded collies, and all but one variety of dachshund." And as Tony Foley of this fine city writes into the magazine: "Of course, most people would take a hundred-per-cent chance of being attacked by a dachshund over a sixteen-per-cent chance of being attacked by a pit bull."


For those of you keeping track at home, here are the participants we're talking about, dachshund on top:

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Saletan Strikes Again

It might be wrong to conclude on only the evidence of a few essays, but if I could choose my first partner in an intellectual battle royal, I think I'd pick William Saletan. His piece about the pro-choice movement on Slate today is open-minded and thought-provoking, two of the last adjectives you'd use to describe the larger cultural debate about the subject.

He also, though, just has a great way with a phrase. At one point, he writes "...I'm not a lefty," and then he sums up one of the maddening reasons why I've always come to the same conclusion about myself:
Liberals treat judgment the way conservatives treat sex: forbid it, except when you're doing it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Photo of the Week

A Southern Illinois cheerleader, Kristi Yamaoka, fell fifteen feet at a basketball game the other night and fractured her neck. It might seem horrible to make fun of this, so rest assured, she's going to be OK. ASWOBA has its limits -- they're pretty far out there, but they exist.

The reason this is hilarious is because Yamaoka, while strapped to a stretcher, completed the cheer to a roar from the crowd. If this doesn't prove cheerleader pep, I don't know what does. It also has, I have to believe, some relationship to my optimism post below.

The Benefits of Optimism

A lot of my friends and authors I admire and thinkers I nod along in agreement with are pessimists, generally speaking. And skeptics and naysayers. The only (fairly predictable) problem is: optimism is good for you. The question is: Can one cultivate optimism, or is one’s outlook in this regard part of the circuitry, essentially immovable? It's probably the most important question I've yet asked on this blog -- not hard to conclude, given that the runner-up is something like "Has anyone heard the new Beth Orton album?"

And the question is probably tied, in all kinds of interesting ways, to the realm of belief, religion, etc. But it's already been a loooong week, and I'll be damned if I have the energy or brainpower to get into all that now. Maybe someday soon.

Religion and Evolution, Again

Because I really never get tired of this subject -- and I'm hoping against hope this holds true for you as well -- I'll send you to Judith Shulevitz's piece on Slate today about Daniel Dennett's most recent book. Pivotal excerpt, for me:
We'd be foolish to single out religion for evolutionary investigation if there is nothing about it that is unique. If religions are just cultures, if religious rituals are functionally indistinguishable from other irrational habits, if a religious idea, or meme, Dennett calls it, is just one more way of interpreting the world, then we ought to be asking much broader questions, such as, why do humans have a penchant for peculiar rituals? Trying to explain religion through evolutionary theory would be as frivolous as trying to understand skateboarding by means of physics.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Round-Up of Nourishing Items

I've been blathering a lot lately -- about the Oscars, about music, even the fate of the Democratic Party (I strain to think of something I'm less qualified to discuss). So time for a bit of random catch-up on other fronts:

--If you're in New York City on Wednesday night, go see Jon Fasman read at the South Street Seaport Museum at 7:00. Jon's a buddy of ASWOBA, the author of a novel that contains more knowledge than I've forgotten in my life, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, a tragic (by definition) Chicago Cubs fan, and -- for all those reasons and more -- a man worth supporting. Plus, what a place to have a reading -- I've already promised to ferry Jon back to Brooklyn in a canoe carved into the visage of Melville.

--Speaking of the Cubs (or their home, at least), check out some very cool pictures of Chicago. (Once inside, I recommend "view photographs by theme," but you can't go wrong.)

--Someone has a lot of free time, but that's the good news for us: they used it to film a live-action version of The Simpsons' opening credits sequence. (Via Andrew Sullivan)

--And while I'm here, how about an AP Headline of the Day? This one from the Disheartening Department: 'The Bachelor' Couple Says Romance Is Over

Five Songs, Chapter Three

So, The Onion has a recently developed feature in which they ask an entertainer to set their iPod on shuffle and talk about the first 10 songs that appear. And that's an OK idea, which I've seen other bloggers adopt, but it seems like the main benefit of its structure is to trip on some embarrassing stuff. I prefer my method of choosing five songs every now and again, because it's targeted. I'm recommending them enthusiastically, not randomly.

I do understand the rubber-necking desire to see some bad stuff, though, so I'll get that out of the way in one fell swoop. Here are a few songs that I should undoubtedly be ashamed of having on my person at nearly all times: "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler. "Never Surrender" by Corey Hart. "Too Young to Fall in Love" by Motley Crue. "I Remember You" by Skid Row (though I will go to my grave unapologetically loving this song. Some things learned at 13 can't be unlearned.)

But out of 5,000 songs, that's pretty much it. Anything else you might find embarrassing (including certain songs by the Dixie Chicks) -- well, you're wrong. I would explain why, but there's not time. On to the latest five songs:

"Pills" by The Perishers

Aside from a couple of songs, I can't take too much Coldplay. So when I'm in the mood for their quieter sound, I've been listening to these guys lately. This is a duet about, surprise, a couple that's not doing so great (see the Nick Hornby excerpt below). The woman isn't a member of the band, and that's too bad; her voice is beautiful. The chorus captures the mood:

One may think we're all right
But we need pills to sleep at night
We need lies to make it through the day
We're not OK

"Give a Man a Home" by Ben Harper


"Circle Dream" by 10,000 Maniacs


"Perfect Situation" by Weezer

Because after seeing the video for it about 8,000 times on VH1 while getting ready in the morning (yes, I toggle between that and the network morning shows; a man's got to have his rituals), I finally downloaded it. This might mean I've turned into a cable-TV-controlled zombie, but if that's the case, I'm a zombie with one more damn catchy song on its iPod.

"Girl on the Train" by Chris Mills

Because it's only 53 seconds long, but it's still great, and I know you can all use more efficiency in your lives.


Archive of the Day

From High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. (Reproduced here mostly for the benefit of a particular friend, based on a very small part of a long conversation earlier tonight.)
Some of my favorite songs: "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" by Neil Young; "Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me" by The Smiths; "Call Me" by Aretha Franklin; "I Don't Want to Talk About It" by anybody. And then there's "Love Hurts" and "When Love Breaks Down" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and "The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" and "She's Gone" and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" and ... some of these songs I have listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen or nineteen or twenty-one. How can that not leave you bruised somewhere? How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong? What came first -- the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands -- literally thousands -- of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives.

"Conflict cannot survive without your participation."

The above quote is from Wayne Dyer, a new-age flake who probably uses it to speak badly of conflict. I'm using it to speak well of participation:

It's never too late to visit the post about favorite albums and add your own list to the comments. Several people -- I call them My Loyal Servants -- have already done so. Others have expressed concern about the endeavor. They ask things like: Is my taste too dated? Is it too contemporary? Does the fact that my list is composed of only Anne Murray compilations disqualify me? A resounding "No" to all of these queries. If your opinions need pummeling, my finely trained army of readers and I will take care of that. It doesn't mean you should keep yourself from taking part. It just means you should be prepared to be corrected; but that really holds true for life in general, so you might as well practice here.

A Promise

No more about Crash. There have been complaints. (This promise doesn't extend to the comments section, where, if people -- including myself -- want to run wild, I can't really do anything about it. The comments section is an unregulated zone, the closest modern humankind has come to recreating the state of nature.) ((Actually, I'm perfectly capable of deleting whatever comments I want, at any time. Deal with it.))

Monday, March 06, 2006

R.I.P., Kirby

Some long, real shadows were cast on his reputation after he retired, but he was clearly a complicated person with a lot of good in him and this is very sad.

Crash (Reprise)

I hate to beat a dead Best Picture choice, but the response to the Oscars has been such that I feel a need to clarify my stance.

Crash sucked.

No, no, not that much clarification. Let's zoom back a bit...

Matt Zoller Seitz was a writer for the Dallas Observer when I lived down that way, and he's now writing film criticism for New York Press and making his own films. He is also, as anyone with a shred of dignity is, blogging. I bring it up because he has strong feelings about Crash, which he vents at considerable length here. I want to draw particular attention to one part of this post, where he writes:
"We're all racist," the movie proclaims, "except when we're not."
Exactly. The movie wants to say everything about racism -- it certainly wants to make everything about racism -- and thus ends up, cliche of cliches, saying nothing about it.

That's my problem with the movie's intentions (they're absurd). My problem with its method is that it meticulously engineers neat situational reversals for every one of its seemingly thousands of characters. Do you think Matt Dillon's character is a racist asshole? Don't worry, he loves his ailing father. Plus, he'll save a black person from a fiery car wreck. Think Ryan Phillippe's character is too naive and idealistic? Don't worry, he'll be held up at gunpoint by a crazed black man. Think black men who wave guns are all nihilistic thugs? Nope, this one, played by Terrence Howard, is a model of success by any of society's standards. (SPOILER ALERT: OK, I didn't want to do this, because it covers the end of the movie, but I have to. If you haven't seen it, make your way to the end of the parentheses in an orderly fashion. Phillippe's character also wrongfully kills a character played by Larenz Tate, thinking that he's pulling a gun when he's actually reaching for a religious token. This is the apotheosis of the movie's perverted vision for us, causing one deeply decent character to off another simply to convince us that there's a little bloodthirsty racist in all of us.) On and on it goes. If you've seen it, you know this procession also features an Iranian, a Latino, the rapper Ludacris, a tony white couple, and Tony Danza.

Dezmond, who performs nightly in ASWOBA's Comments Lounge, argues that these neatly tied packages are necessary to reflect the movie's themes. I've argued to him in the past that an inveterately racist cop saving a black woman from a fire is no different, in terms of character-building, than the hooker with the heart of gold, the oldest trick in the book (terrible, terrible pun intended). Those building blocks are trite enough, but when they're utilized for Every Character Without Mercy, they become even more Utterly Predictable, and where's the Artistry in that?


The Daily Show vs. The Future Democrats of the United States of America

Sister of ASWOBA sent me a link to this piece in The Boston Globe, written by Michael Kalin, a recent graduate of Harvard. The headline's a red herring -- he doesn't think Jon Stewart isn't funny; he just thinks his brand of humor is dangerous because its "self-conscious aloofness pervades the liberal punditry," and "a bright leader who may have become the Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson of today instead perceives politics as a supply of sophisticated entertainment, rather than a powerful source of social change." In other words, the Daily Show is destroying the future of the Democratic Party.

Never mind all those who have destroyed the present of the Democratic Party, and who got started on that task way before Stewart was skewering the news. And ignore the fact that Stewart has made "sophisticated entertainment" not out of the exploits of old-school leaders like TR and Woody, but out of the wreckage of political trust that dates back, at the very-very least, to LBJ and Nixon. The Globe column makes it sound like Stewart created our nationwide sneer at politicians out of whole cloth.

Kalin is essentially trying to predict how future leaders watching the Daily Show right now will one day reflect its influence, but that's nearly impossible. For all he knows, an incredibly bright student is both laughing at Stewart's shtick and using it as motivation to turn things around. Laughing in outrage isn't necessarily a cul de sac; it could lead somewhere. Didn't Lenny Bruce perform to people who laughed and then went out and did stuff (or tried to)? Stewart is more cool and detached in the way he dissects things, but that tone is much less a molder of our generation's attitude than a reflection of poses that we had already rehearsed to perfection.

Kalin concludes: "Jon Stewart undermines any remaining earnestness that liberals in America might still possess." But is that a bad thing? I don't think pure earnestness has been winning politicians like Al Gore many points. And anyone remember "John Kerry...reporting for duty"? Pretty earnest. And equally useless.

(Ed. note: All of the above is only a response to Kalin's argumentation. I'm not endorsing the politics of snarky Democrats, earnest Republicans, or -- dear lord, no -- Lenny Bruce. Not here and now, anyway. I've made a promise to myself: No actual campaigning for anyone, even on the blog, until at least 2007.)

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The Weekend's Best News

Perhaps I was too distracted by my Oscar blog (which one reader has already charitably noted seems like the first or even second step in a nervous breakdown), but I was remiss in not celebrating the big Tar Heels win with you. The defending champs are 21-6 now, and with a strong ACC tourney could be as high as a 2 seed at the big dance, in my humble opinion. Meanwhile, Duke has lost two in a row. Very, very good times.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar P.S.

Just got a phone call from a friend who was at an Oscar-viewing party, and I found it entertaining enough to recreate here, with her permission:

Her: Did you watch the Oscars?
Me: Yeah, I blogged them.
Her: What do you mean, while you watched them?
Me: Yes.
Her: What is it with you and this blogging thing? I mean, I guess we don't even have to talk about (the Oscars) now. I can just read your blog. You've accomplished your goal -- eliminating interaction with real human beings. (Ed. note: This is clearly not my goal.)
Me: (laughing)
Her: Anyway, what do you make of this Crash business? (Ed. note: I had seen it with her in the theater last year.)
Me: Well, you know that I enjoyed it in some ways, but I just thought it was stupidly structured.
Her: Yeah, I mean, wasn't it just a sanctimonious... I mean, it's like (the Academy) brought it down to the multi-culti stuff vs. the gay stuff, and went with the multi-culti stuff. That's so '80s of them.

Oscar Blog

8:00 -- I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude at this moment to whoever invented the blog. I can't believe I get to annoy all of you as if you were sitting in my living room with me. (OK, I live in New York, so that's a bit flowery: as if you were sitting in my room other than my bedroom with me.)

Not sure quite how this will work, but it should be fun. My opening thought is that, if there's any moral justice in the universe, when we collectively turn in for the night across the planet, no one stares at their ceiling with a hotter-burning sense of self-hatred than Billy Bush.

Let's do this.

8:10 -- Is Keira Knightley there with Jack Nicholson? If so, I'm going to spend the rest of the night trying to determine if that's disgusting or impressive. Or both.

8:14 -- Stewart's scoring, in my book, at least. His joke about L.A. being an "atheistic pleasuredome" was great, and this gay cowboy montage is killing.

8:18 -- As I suspected, Bad Movie Club is going to be way more productive than me tonight, and Jason is doing what he said he would -- listing movies in which you can see presenters and nominees naked. He's a national treasure, he is.

8:19 -- Best Supporting Actor. Jake Gyllenhaal has to win this award. Anything else would be absurd. Drumroll... Clooney. Good lord. This could be a long night. Although, it sounds like they've started the music to boot him off the stage before he's even started his acceptance speech. So that's pretty good.

8:22 -- Clooney's been gracious and funny. Now he's turning political. Pass the Maalox.

8:26 -- Personally, I like when hosts beat a dead horse all night (I even liked Letterman's Oprah-Uma deal), and if Stewart's is going to be how Clooney gets laid more than he does, I'm all for that.

8:29 -- Hey, didn't they used to start the show with Supporting Actress rather than Actor? What's going on? And is this a gain or a setback for feminism? Discuss.

8:31 -- Ben Stiller's shtick as a presenter is almost a perfect microcosm of his last 20 movies: Funny for 30 seconds, then incredibly painful. (Oh, the award he presented is some technical thing that King Kong wins. A few stone-faced middle-aged nerds take the stage to accept.)

8:34 -- In accepting the award for Wallace & Grommit for Best Animated Feature, Nick Park gives a shout-out to Helena Bonham Carter, who was a voice in the movie. He just defeated her husband, Tim Burton, in the category. (Burton was up for Corpse Bride.) I think this might set up the first brawl at the Governors' Ball later tonight, if either of them seemed capable of throwing a punch.

8:37 -- Does it strike anyone else as odd that Dolly Parton is singing the song nominated from a movie about a woman who becomes a man, accompanied on stage only by her national-monument breasts? Also, the song seems to be composed of pleas to God and Jesus, punctuated by several series of "ooo wee ooo"s.

8:46 -- Celebrated playwright Martin McDonagh wins for a short-form film. There's an article about him in this week's New Yorker, but it's not available online. So I can't be as usefully interactive as I'd like.

8:50 -- Really, they're starting the background music as soon as winners get on stage. Ignoring the Tom Hanks joke about it earlier, I'm curious to see how they'll mark the moment when people should wrap it up. I'm hoping the quiet orchestration gives way to an auditorium-rattling "Back in Black."

8:51 -- Jennifer Aniston comes out to present for Best Costumes. That's the kind of demotion you get when you make lame movies based on something sacred like The Graduate. I used to love her so.

OK, fine. I still do.

8:52 -- Oy, this costumes woman can't speak. Where's the AC/DC, people?!

8:56 -- They're showing a montage of famous people, and actors who have played them on screen. It's not fair to just spring Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man" moment on me like that. A guy's got to be prepared.

9:00 -- The latest Star Wars movie (The Revenge of Indifference, or something) is up for a make-up award. This movie can't be honored in any way, can it? Drumroll... no, thank God. Chronicles of Narnia wins it.

9:03 -- Stewart makes fun of Russell Crowe. Then he acknowledges it will get him "pummeled later tonight," so I don't have to.

9:04 -- Wow. In introducing Rachel McAdams, Stewart makes a subtle joke about her recent refusal to appear on Vanity Fair's cover in the nude. Media nerds (aka, Gawker fans) must be excited. McAdams is beautiful, but boy, off screen she seems to have the charisma of bowling shoes.

9:06 -- Ah, Best Supporting Actress, my first strong opinion. Oh, wait, my second. Amy Adams, please. Though Michelle Williams was really great in Brokeback. Drumroll... (Wait, Frances McDormand looks nervous, as if she has a chance to win for North Country. That's cute. Oh, and Rachel Weisz is obsession-worthy.) Ok, drumroll... Rachel wins. She was good, she was. But still. See Junebug, if you haven't. Adams is great in it.

9:09 -- I'm not retracting my "obsession-worthy" comment about Weisz even though she just described someone as "brimming over with humanity." That's saying something.

9:14 -- I was about to make a crude joke about Lauren Bacall, but now she's having trouble (a lot of it, it seems) reading her lines, so I'll abstain. I've also hit the mute button, because it's too painful to hear. I'm listening to "Homeward" by The Sundays instead.

9:19 -- This series of fake attack ads by Best Actress campaigns is awesome. A touch of the Daily Show during the Oscars -- thank you, Mr. Stewart.

9:21 -- I'm with Jason at the Bad Movie Club, who earlier tonight suggested that theaters show these decorated short films (documentary and fiction) before features, in place of mind-numbing commercials. But it's WAY too good an idea to take hold in that industry.

9:23 -- Charlize Theron just asked, "What is truth? What is fiction? What is memoir?" and pronounced memoir, "mem-wah." She sounded like the priest from The Princess Bride. She's introducing Best Documentary. Grizzly Man was robbed out of a nomination. Penguins has to win, right? It does. The crew takes the stage holding stuffed penguins, and then tries to make a serious statement about preserving Antarctica. Choose one, guys.

9:26 -- J. Lo's description of Crash before its nominated song is performed perfectly capsulizes what was facile and annoying about the movie. Good job, J. Lo.

And this song. Eek. Between this and Parton's number, the category isn't wowing me. It's being sung by a woman who looks familiar. I need to do some quick research...

Ah, it's actress Kathleen York, but she sings under the name Bird York. I'm not kidding. Here's an excerpt from an online interview with her:
Music can be a less linear expression than film, though, depending on the part. The stranger the character or role, the better, and the more I find that I can get very creative expressing what I see as the "human condition." I have found that a lot of directors, and especially TV producers, want non-threatening versions of people, especially the female characters. I personally think that everyone is crazy, in one way or another (I actually have a new song called "Everybody's Crazy")...Anyway, I love any form of communication. I could be making a mosaic out of salt and pepper and paper napkin pieces on a restaurant table, and it could compete with the feeling of expressing a character or writing a piece of music. I don't see any separation in the forms of communication. It's all my heart hurling itself through the third dimension.
Kathleen "Bird" York, ladies and gentlemen.

9:35 -- I think Keanu Reeves is going to look really creepy as an old man. Just a passing thought.

9:40 -- We're in full self-congratulation mode now, with a weepy montage of scenes from "message movies" -- To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pianist, Born on the Fourth of July, and numerous others. It builds to a liberal-orgiastic crescendo!! And it also includes, much to my delight, a clip from The Day After Tomorrow, a popcorn-fueled cheesefest that involved the glacier ice caps melting and flooding New York City in the span of about 20 minutes. I wish they would include -- and Jason knows what I'm about to say -- a clip from Volcano, a movie in which Tommy Lee Jones and others stop the flow of volcanic lava through downtown L.A. by knocking down skyscrapers and leaving their wreckage in its path. By far the best asinine plot twist I've ever seen from Hollywood.

Awesome. Stewart caps the montage with: "And none of those issues was ever a problem again." I'm giving him an A so far, especially given the nature of the task.

9:48 -- Salma Hayek just seems to get hotter and hotter, and less and less proficient in English. It's a remarkable trajectory to witness.

9:51 -- Best Score, and John Williams is up for two of them. I'm just saying. But really, I think Brokeback deserves this. And it gets it.

10:03 -- It's past 10 o'clock, and we're only up to "Sound Mixing"? I need to work in the morning, people.

10:04 -- Jessica Alba just pronounced "memoir" the same way Theron did. What the hell is going on? Can someone please make an announcement to the crowd that the R at the end is not silent?

10:08 -- Quick note to my mother, if she's reading this: Mom, don't visit Jason's site. Please.

10:08 -- It's almost impossible to tell if Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are: a) performing a complicated written comedy bit, or b) coked up to their eyeballs.

10:10 -- They're honoring Robert Altman. I haven't seen it in years, but I remember thinking The Player was one of the most over-rated movies I've ever seen. I've liked some of the rest of his stuff, though I Netflix-ed McCabe and Mrs. Miller recently, and thought it was a snoozefest. I write these criticisms as everyone at the Oscars gives him a standing O. The power of the blog!

10:22 -- Thousands of bloggers worldwide just simultaneously discovered that there's nothing to add about the performance of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" on the Oscars.

10:30 -- Jennifer Garner nearly trips on her way to the mic. Does it make her less adorable? No. No, it does not.

10:31 -- King Kong wins for Sound Editing, and I think we're almost done with all but the major awards. One hopes. One desperately, desperately hopes.

10:32 -- Clooney's introducing the "In Memoriam" montage. This is always good. Mr. Miyagi...I'm welling up already. They end with Richard Pryor. Nice.

10:42 -- Jon Stewart is awesome.

10:43 -- I take it back about getting to serious awards. We're on Film Editing. Crash seems like a lock here, to me. (Weak) drumroll... Yep. Crash. Hmm, might this thing actually win Best Picture? So far, no real Brokeback momentum. More on my feelings about this movie (Crash) later.

10:46 -- Wow. Best Actor. Snuck up on me, as much as something can sneak up on me over the course of three hours. Hoffman was so, so good in Capote, but I've talked myself into rooting for Ledger. I'm sure in vain. Drumroll... Hoffman. Predictable, and he was great. I can't complain. Too bad for Ledger, though, who would have won in another year, I think. (No one really talked about Joaquin Phoenix in this category, but he was phenomenal.)

10:52 -- Going to commercial, they just announced that John Travolta and Jamie Foxx are "standing by" to appear. That would normally be my cue to "run for the hills," but I can't miss the big awards. How many entertainers have outworn their welcome faster than Foxx? Have you seen his music video? Egad. I knew I was conflicted about getting cable for a reason.

10:57 -- Cinematography absolutely has to go to Brokeback. Nope. Memoirs of a Geisha. I have a bad feeling about Brokeback's chances for the big prize. Maybe a big surprise win by Capote?

The cinematographer winner just thanked his son, Axl. Must be a big G n' R fan.

10:59 -- Best Actress, presented by Mr. Foxx. It's easy to make fun of Keira Knightley, but I've heard she's actually really good in P&P. (Don't get mad, LFW.) Plus, she's flat-out gorgeous. I don't like Felicity Huffman, even though she was on the great, short-lived TV show, Sports Night. I think Reese wins this one, deservingly. Drumroll... She does.

She's very pretty, but that is the weirdest dent in the middle of her forehead. OK, that's an unfair thing to focus on at this moment. I'll focus instead on her bizarre insistence in her speech that June Carter was "a real woman" -- is this a dig at Felicity Huffman's character?

She profusely thanks Joaquin, which is nice. Then she thanks her husband, the B-team player in the marriage, Ryan Phillippe.

Oh, God. Now she's really prattling on about "trying to matter." Reese, you were great in the movie, now get off the stage.

11:08 -- While we're at commercial, just a thought about Crash. I'm not too worried that it will win Best Picture, because Matt Dillon didn't win (and if it wasn't going to be Gyllenhaal, it might as well have been Dillon). I'm actually starting to think it might be Capote. Anyway, the problem I had with Crash -- which I've probably written about before on this site --

(Interjection, sorry -- almost no one annoys me more, off screen, than Dustin Hoffman. What an insufferable jackass.)

-- my problem with Crash is not that it's a self-satisfied, pious piece of racial manipulation (though it is, at times), because I actually enjoyed watching it. But in the end, it's hard to swallow the ridiculously contrived coincidences that the filmmaker, Paul Haggis, relies on to push that piety. The performances were great, and the cinematography was impressive, but the total result was just too silly too often.

11:13 -- Brokeback wins Best Adapted Screenplay. If it hadn't won that, it would not only have been denied Best Picture, its nomination might have been rescinded.

11:16 -- Crash wins for Best Original Screenplay Full of Contrivances. There's still real drama building here for Best Picture. I suppose Best Director might tip the Academy's hand. That's up next.

11:22 -- Best Director. Drumroll... Ang Lee. Whew. That's a good sign. The guy's a genius, despite how he butchered my favorite comic book with The Hulk.

11:24 -- OK, they're bringing out the big guns for Best Picture -- Jack Nicholson. Drumroll... Oh, dear. Crash. I think that will look quite silly 10 years from now. But that's so often true of the Oscars, which somehow suck me into caring every year, despite their inherent absurdity. Oh, well -- Crash wasn't a terrible movie, but it was a deeply flawed and overly ambitious one, and I suppose there are worse things. Plus, now Dezmond can smugly crow in the comments section. Congrats, Dezmond -- you've been vindicated by the same group of people who honored Titanic.

I think that's a wrap. Stewart -- who, along with his Daily Show colleagues, was great -- will come back and say goodnight. He should do this every year, without doubt. Me, I'm not sure. I hope there were a few enjoyable nuggets for you. See you again tomorrow with regular blogging -- less real-time, but just as inconsequential.

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