September 2003 Archives

home field advantage

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I'm afraid that my weblog is going to become somewhat single-minded for a while. I spent three and a half hours tonight watching the Cubs win their first road playoff game since 1945. If Kerry Wood's performance was any indication, it looks as though there may be more firsts on the way.

I know that for most people, baseball is a dreadfully boring sport to watch, but I was living and dying with every pitch tonight. The difference between baseball and more motion-oriented sports is the proliferation of moments--in the playoffs, every pitch is a decision, every play is a moment that can win or lose a game. There's a lot of tension in baseball, especially if you're rooting for a particular team. And for the first time in a long time, I've got a team to root for.

So yeah, that'll be my ass planted squarely in front of the television tomorrow night hoping the Cubs can take another from Atlanta in their park.


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When I log into my MT to post an entry, it gives me the stats on how many entries I've posted, and how many comments there are. So I log into today, to find that there's a new comment posted.

It's for an Aug. 21 entry, titled with an acronym, "WMZG," for "Where's my Zen Garden?" Anyhow, here's the comment, which is well buried by now:

Thanks WMZQ for a great concert season, TOBY WAS MY FAVORITE, when will information on the MEGA tickets be announced for 2004, just a little anxious. Thanks again Posted by: Charlotte at September 29, 2003 02:28 PM

Yeah. Toby was my favorite, too, but what good is it going to do WMZQ, presumably a radio station somewhere, to have a link from my site? And how exactly would someone find my site after putting those call letters into a search engine? Most bizarre. Charlotte provides her email address, although I'm guessing it's one of those empty moving target addresses.

Still, anyone who wants to share moving anecdotes about the total awesomeness of Toby should drop her a line.

Cubs win, 'stros lose!

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It's not been a bonnie week for ye old blog, I'm afraid. Sorry about that.

I'm forced to spend my time this afternoon getting intermittent baseball results online, since college football (and the Breakfast Club on WGN) clearly rules Saturdays. If the Cubs win tonight,

  • it'll be their first division title in almost 15 years
  • it'll be their first ever NL Central title
  • it'll be one of only 4 cases where a team with 95 losses one year came back to earn a playoff berth the following year

Color me with fingers crossed. I'll have more to say tonight...

Edward Said passes away

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I found out tonight that Edward Said passed away after a battle with leukemia. Recent reports describe Said as a leading US-based advocate for Palestine, but it seems to me that this only begins to describe a man who was easily one of most important public intellectuals of his generation.

From the VOA News report of Said's passing:

He wrote more than a dozen books on topics ranging from politics to literature, music and Freud. His 1978 work Orientalism focused on the way the West historically "came to terms" with the so-called "Muslim Orient.” The book helped launch a new academic field of post-colonial studies.

Mr. Ibish says that in his writing and lectures, Edward Said worked vigorously to foster understanding between Arab and American societies.

“Said, although he was completely fluent in both Western and Arab cultures, often said he never felt fully at home in either of them,” he said. “And so, from this de-centered perspective, he tried, I think, as much as he could, to provide a bridge between increasingly alienated Arab and American societies to explain the one to the other.”

And from the Guardian:

Salman Rushdie once said of Said that he "reads the world as closely as he reads books".

The Irish critic Seamus Deane described him as: "That rare figure: a truly public intellectual who has a powerful influence within the academy and also a potent public presence. He's a very brilliant reader, of both texts and political situations."

Become a word

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From the Ineradicable Stain that is Shelley Jackson's website:

Writer Shelley Jackson invites participants in a new work entitled "Skin." Each participant must agree to have one word of the story tattooed upon his or her body. The text will be published nowhere else, and the author will not permit it to be summarized, quoted, described, set to music, or adapted for film, theater, television or any other medium. The full text will be known only to participants, who may, but need not choose to establish communication with one another. In the event that insufficiant participants come forward to complete the first and only edition of the story, the incomplete version will be considered definitive. If no participants come forward, this call itself is the work.

I'm actually thinking about this, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it's 1:30 am.

cgb vs. cinema

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Don't read any further, if you have any desire to see the movie Matchstick Men. Really, I mean it.

I originally thought to try and keep any possible spoilers from this entry, but the problem with even mentioning spoilers is that this tells you from the start that there is something to spoil. And there is. Matchstick Men starts out with all the fixings of a character study, the character in this case being Nicolas Cage as Roy, an obsessive-compulsive, neurosis-laden con man.Unlike most of the trailers, which seemed themselves to obsess about Cage's verbal and physical tics, the movie (and thus Cage) does a decent job of carrying the character off.

This is where we get to the spoil, though, because it's ultimately not a character movie. I wondered early on about how the movie would eventually shake out, and about halfway through, the movie tips you off that it is in fact more plot-driven. Unfortunately, I don't think I was supposed to realize it until much later, and so I watched the second half of the movie knowing how it would play out (with the possible exception of the "one year later..." scene at the very end). There are hints, and once the movie hits its tipping point, everything falls together very quickly and obviously, and it's difficult to maintain any sort of suspension of disbelief. If you see it, you'll probably know exactly what scene I'm talking about.

Unlike The Life of David Gale, another big-name director, trick-plot movie, Matchstick Men is carried off pretty well, for all that the movie became predictable part way through. Scott is a talented director, and Cage, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Lohman (who plays Cage's daughter) manage to overcome the fact that the plot falls apart around them. There was something a little creepy about an actor in her early 20's playing a 14-year old, but then that's also explained by the plot.

So, when the focus is on the characters, it's a pretty good movie. But that movie ends about halfway through, and leads to an offering I'd probably sneak in at matinee...

Who owns alphabetic order?

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Here's a lovely story. There's a hotel in NYC that has laid itself out according to the Dewey Decimal System, with each floor a different category, and then each room on that floor a special topic within the category. And then each room is supplied with a range of books in that special topic. The Library Hotel overlooks the NYPL, so it's not a completely random thing.

Problem is, apparently, a "nonprofit" organization, the Online Computer Library Center, owns the rights to the DDS, and has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit. It seems that every library wishing to use the DDS must pay the OCLC something like $500 a year. Which goes some distance to explaining why every university library I've even been in uses Library of Congress to organize their holdings. Anyhow, in the 3 years since the Library Hotel opened, they've neglected their "duty" to pay a license fee for their floorplan, and therefore the OCLC believes that it is entitled to triple the hotel's profits.


"I would term it straight-out trademark infringement," said Joseph R. Dreitler, a trademark lawyer with the Columbus office of Jones Day, which represents the Online center. "A person who came to their Web site and looked at the way (the hotel) is promoted and marketed would think they were passing themselves off as connected with the owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system."

Oh, yes. And when I went to the Luxor in Las Vegas last summer, I went because the way the casino is promoted and marketed led me to believe that they were passing themselves off as connected with Egypt. By the way, Egypt, if you need someone to represent you in your upcoming trademark infringement suit against the Luxor, let's talk.

It's abhorrent that a classification system developed in 1873 shouldn't be public domain, especially when you consider that it's used (probably) exclusively in local libraries. I understand and acknowledge that it takes work to classify new releases, but still. The OCLC claims to cater to more than 45,000 libraries. If all of those libraries are renting out the DDS, they've got more than 20 million dollars a year coming in, not for the work they actually do (which I assume they also charge for), but to rent out the right for local libraries to do the work themselves in a fashion that the OCLC owns the right to.

I have more to say, but I need to contact my lawyer. I don't want both all my readers to come to my Web site and look at the way (the weblog) is promoted and marketed and think I was passing myselves off as connected with the owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Yellow hat tip

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Call it a harmonic convergence. I'm at school on Friday (a rarity), having just concluded a successful dissertation prospectus hearing, and I've spent the last hour just browsing around. Came across an entry on Adrian Miles's blog that happened to coincide with some thinking I've been doing lately.

I'm on several dissertation committees this year, and I've been thinking on and off about the experience of writing one. Despite my field's avowed commitment to the importance of discourse communities and collaboration in the writing process, we don't always extend those beliefs to our practices, particularly when we talk about graduate education (as opposed to the first-year composition classroom). Our graduate students receive the benefit of the doubt in terms of their writing, and they are encouraged (more and more) to aspire to publication, wherein they write something on their own, and receive criticism only as a result of blind, anonymous peer review.

But then, we also ask them to write dissertations, where they work intensely with a group of five readers, who will not always agree among themselves, and whose role in the process is almost always more intensive and ongoing than it would be were they simply anonymous blind reviewers. In other words, at the end of 3-5 years of writing for us, we turn around and demand of our students that they write with us. And let's not even get into the issues of the micropolitics of committees, which can scar candidates and colleagues alike for a long time.

Adrian's entry is about his attempt to develop a culture of criticism among his students, something that occurs in English studies (in this country) only for those who pursue an MFA in creative writing. To this end, he adapts/adopts Edward de Bono's hat exercise, giving students concrete and specifically defined roles (which they will rotate) as they participate in the critique of each others' work. Obviously, the ultimate end of this kind of exercise is to enable them to adopt each role with respect to their own work, but I can imagine that it also frees them up to develop their abilities in each role, without falling into the kinds of interpersonal micropolitics that can clog up any attempt at group critique (i.e., hate the hat, not the player).

I would also add that, particularly in a doctoral program, part of our responsibility is in helping our students learn how to wear the blue hat, the one that facilitates and manages the critique or discussion. Graduate school is where they have a finite amount of time to make the transition from student/teacher to teacher/student. Each of us somehow manages to develop an internal blue hat, one that will help negotiate all the roles we have to take with respect to critiquing each others' and our own work, managing the classroom, etc., but I have to think that we could do a better job helping our students (and each other) with that development.

And I'm in a discipline where graduates typically have at least 5-7 years of classroom experience before they ever apply for a position. I shudder to think what it must be like in less teaching-intensive disciplines.

The Internet Movie Database may be my single most favorite occasional site on the web. I don't visit regularly, but it's got so damn much information on movies, celebs, etc., that I rarely have a question that it can't answer.

So anyhow, when you look up an actor, it shows not only all the projects that person has been involved with, but it also shows his or her future projects. Since you can also search by year, I tried searching for 2005 movies, and to my surprise, learned that there are already 87 movies sufficiently developed to merit notice on the IMDB. With that in mind, I decided to rate the ten most overhyped movies that will appear two summers from now.

My rationale? These movies will never be better than they are right now. Since they're all still in pre-development, each actually still has the potential to live up to the overwhelming hype they will receive. Next year, the trailers will tantalize us, raise our expectations, and then, in the summer of 2005, we'll be treated to the same parade of dreck we see every summer. So, with that in mind...

10. XXX 2
(because one anti-hero movie that ends in an extended smoking advisory isn't enough)

9. Mission Impossible 3
(Umm...plot imperceivable?)

8. Batman 5
(It can't get much worse, can it?)

7. Elektra (aka Daredevil 2: More Eye Candy)
(I predict an Alias renaissance after this movie, from fans desperate to see JG in a show with some modicum of smart)

6. Jurassic Park IV
(Yawnosaurus rex)

5. Superman 341
(I've got an idea: if we take all the fractions of pennies left over when financial transactions are rounded down, and dump them into our own private savings account, maybe we can buy this script and destroy it.)

4. The Lecter Variations
(Yes, it's a Hannibal Lecter prequel, following our favorite cannibal as a teenager. What's next? A series on the WB? )

3. Indiana Jones 4
(What? Another dinosaur movie?)

2. Harry Potter and the Whatever of Something
(Watch Harry and his pals attempt to close the astounding talent gap between themselves and their "supporting cast")

1. Star Wars: Episode III
(Never before in the history of cinema will so much money be spent to produce a story whose every detail we already know, and Lucas will not let a single person over the age of 3 forget for a second that every single plot element foreshadows fiveshadows eightshadows the events of Episodes 4-6. God, it makes me tired already just to think about it.)

Honorable mentions go to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (only because it's not a sequel), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (directed by Tim Burton), and King Kong (directed by Peter Jackson).

Dishonorable mention: Team America, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The synopsis? "Marionette superheroes fight to end terrorism and put tired celebrities out of their misery." Subscribe to the Dish Network, surf every single channel, and find the channel least likely to ever be watched by anyone. They could run a commercial for Team America at 4:30 a.m. on that channel, and I suspect that this movie will have been overhyped.

If only marionette superheroes would fight to end our misery. 2005, here we come.

A Study in Contrasts

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I didn't have a lot of time to browse today, but let me suggest for your perusal a pair of Flash sites. The first of these, while certainly not a case where Flash is required, is nevertheless clever, well-conceived, and I didn't mind the extra wait over dialup.

Contrast 404 with what Zeldman describes as the Citizen Kane of Flash intros about histology. This seizure-inducing slice of multimedia is car-wreck bad--it becomes fascinating through its sheer craptacularity.

Neither of these sites demonstrates the need to learn Flash (this was a question a while back on JFTB), although the latter one suggests that we should require certain people to unlearn it. If only it could have been accomplished before histology knowledge entered my cerebral cortex. If only...

Wait 'til next year month

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From 1967-1971, a five-year span, the Chicago Cubs had winning seasons for each of the five. Since 1971, a 32-year span, they've only had five more winning seasons. That's five, total. So you'll excuse me for celebrating a little today. The Cubs swept the Mets, beating them today 2-0 behind a Kerry Wood complete game, and ensuring their 6th winning season since '71, and their second in the past 3 seasons.

They still trail the Astros by a game, and the wild card leader by a couple more than that, but with ten games to go, they're well positioned to overtake Houston. And with strong pitching from the top 4 in their rotation, I wouldn't bet against them, even if I weren't a lifetime fan.

I don't care if Sammy wins the HR race, I don't care if Prior wins the Cy Young, I don't care if Wood leads the league in K's, and I don't care if they break the NL record for team strikeouts again this year. I want playoffs. But even if the Cubs don't make it this year, I'm happy to have a baseball team to root for in September.


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Cool site alert. Apparently this was a Yahoo! pick a couple of days ago, but I came across it on It's called Wordblog, formerly Scrabblog, and is a nice way for dedicated Scrabblers to spend a couple of minutes. Here's the scoop:

Every day, I'll be updating the site with a new set of 7 tiles. Make the highest scoring words you can and post them in the comments....There will be a section of board provided for you that your word must fit onto. There will also be a tile already on the board which cannot be moved, so make sure you take that into account when constructing your words.

The tiles are generated randomly, so there are occasional sets like ROEETAI. Still, you'll notice that I've added it to the right side already...

Micropayments revisited

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This came across Metafilter a couple of days ago: both Clay Shirky and Scott McCloud have weighed in on BitPass, a new micropayment venture.

McCloud's essay is a reply to Shirky's dismissal of BitPass, and of micropayments in general, and I find myself torn between a couple of writers whose ideas and opinions I respect quite a bit. Shirky is as smart as they come when it comes to current and future developments online; McCloud's Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics are two of the most important books on rhetoric/design that barely anyone in my field reads.

Problem is, even as we talk about "free" content, we all know that it's not. It costs me to post daily to good old Blog here, and McCloud is representing people who give far more of their lives over to their work:

The artists among us are relegated to noble failures and lovable martyrs—giving away their art for nothing ‘til the rent is due and they have to go back to flipping burgers. I know far too many of these people to accept Shirky's placid scenario. They're tired, they're frustrated, and they're quitting in droves.

One of Shirky's arguments is that there is a "mental transaction cost" that will tip people away from micropayment-based content (Szabo), but it seems to me that there's an analogous cost on the parts of providers, one that's already begun to sap the Web of many of the things that made it interesting. Call it a mental production cost, "the energy required to decide whether something is worth [doing] or not." There's a minimal cost for a single individual posting to a weblog for 20-30 minutes a day, but I don't know that I'd be willing to be much more involved than that for free. I've got other costs to meet (see, e.g., tenure).

And yet, I'm very compelled by Shirky's arguments about the economics of content. I don't know that I'd agree that free content is growing in both amount and quality. (amount, yes.) Too many tech critics have focused on demonstrating how different the Internet is, instead of closely examining the effects it had/has/will-have on a more broadly defined media ecology. According to Shirky, "The internet adds no new possibilities" when it comes to these economics. The concern that McCloud hints at, one that isn't quite addressed by Shirky, is that while "Free content is thus what biologists call an evolutionarily stable strategy" from the perspective of consumers, I don't know that it's an especially smart one from the perspective of growing quality.

Will quality float to the top? Do we deserve it for free? I'll let you know once I've made up my mind, and/or opened up my PayPal account...


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Blog reminded me that I haven't yet mentioned here the scale by which I evaluate movies. Back in the old days of my homepage, I used to keep a running list of the 6-7 most recent movies I'd seen, along with the following rating system, from best to worst:

See it twice
Full price
Rental (or PPV)
Network TV

Not especially original--I'm sure that there are plenty of people who use the same scale--but I've been rating movies thusly for about 15 years, so it's comfy. There are sometimes years that go by without a single "2x" rating, and it's exceedingly rare for me to actually go see a movie that falls into the bottom 2 categories. In the past couple of years, I've taken to occasionally adding genres to the ratings. An action matinee, for example, is a movie that's worth matinee price if you're an action movie fan (like me), but probably less if you're not.

So, anyway, that's my rating system. There'll likely be a quiz on it next week, so be sure to commit it to memory.

Update: We'll be going with a color coding here, with the green light meaning go, and the yellow light barely visible. When I add genres to the ratings, I'll italicize.

Happy Birthday, Blog

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It was one month ago today
That I started blogging every day

Anyways, to celebrate Blog's one month birthday, Blog and I went to go see Once Upon a Time in Mexico, aka Desperado 2, aka El Mariachi 3. Or, as I like to think of it, the Saga of the Third Arm. You'll have to see it to understand that last one, I'm afraid.

Blog was more interested in seeing Cabin Fever ("Catch it!"), but we got to the theatre about 10 minutes late for CF, and 5 minutes early for OUTM, so our decision was made for us by the fact that I showered before we left. Not a great choice, as it turns out.

OUTM is one of those movies that helps demonstrate the fact that more money doesn't necessarily make for a better movie. Rodriguez made El Mariachi for something like $7000; I suspect that OUTM budgeted more than this for Antonio Banderas's hair stylist. There were a lot of characters, most of whom die, sometimes for reasons that actually make sense in the plot. Salma Hayek receives this year's Golden Cameo award--I think every scene she appeared in already appears in the trailers, and yet she was 2nd billing behind Banderas. Every once in a while, there appears to be the makings of a plot, but then a gunfight breaks out. Don't get me wrong: both Blog and I like a good action scene, but we also prefer that characters exit the fight with the same number of arms they started it with. I don't mean guns; I mean literal shoulder-to-wrist arms. Except for that, Johnny Depp's character was not utterly unwatchable. Willem Dafoe, however, was. So was Mickey Rourke.

It wasn't a completely horrible movie, but it was disappointing--I was hoping for better. I felt like matinee price was a little steep for what I eventually got from it. If you liked the first two, OUTM was maybe worth a matinee. Blog rates it a rental, though, and I find it tough to disagree.

On top of all that, they were out of Junior Mints. Blog was not pleased.

Pulling for Microsoft?

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Imagine the shock of visiting Zeldman, and finding the following:

We find ourselves in the unaccustomed position of rooting for Microsoft.
Okay, it's not so shocking if you read the page or two of prose that precedes it. And in fact, I can't help but agree. The Microsoft anti-trust suit was big news a few years back--there's been comparatively little coverage over the past month of what may prove to be an even more far-reaching case. Eolas Technologies won a $500+ million lawsuit against the Big M last month, and opened the door for similar suits against most of the major internet software providers.

Eolas claims to own the patent for, as best as I can tell, the technique behind the use of plug-ins. Every .pdf file, every Flash or Shockwave movie, every Quicktime video is accessible to us because of plug-ins. Doesn't matter how the different companies implement it--they use the same technique of accessing data from an external file and displaying it seamlessly within a browser. And it's that "technique" for which Eolas claims to own the patent.

It's not as though there aren't ways to work around this. Apparently, MS has already been exploring rewriting IE so that it launches external players for all these formats, making all the content inline, etc. The implication of these workarounds, however, is widespread chaos on the web. According to Zeldman, "If the patent ruling stands, it will hurt web users, site owners and designers, and software companies (possibly ruining some of those companies) and will chill web development in untold ways."

We're so used to rooting against the Evil Empire that some of the coverage seems more interested in setting the stage for a Movie of the Week than in trying to understand what this will mean for the web over the long-term:

The story of how a big-boned, brainy kid from Chicago grew up to take on one of the world's largest corporations - ending up a controversial and potentially wealthy figure - is the tale of a self-taught computer whiz who combined his artistic skills and a passion for science in novel ways.

Isn't that just lovely? Somehow, the idea that accessibility, usability, and the basic functionality of the web may be crippled for the next 5 years is less important than the fact that "Looking out from his life-size self-portrait is an inquisitive person with an unwavering gaze - someone who never gives up." Oh yeah, they also forgot to mention that our big-boned, brainy kid (who never gives up) can now sue anyone and everyone who ever accessed a plug-in, under current patent laws. How novel.

Here, in the good ole U. S. of A., reality television apparently encompasses any amount of dreck, as long as the majority of people on it aren't professional actors. I've never watched Survivor, Fear Factor, Joe Millionaire, the Bachelor/ette/ina/ama, American Idol, Cupid, Blind Date--this is not my reality.

But here's some reality programming I can get on board with: CBC's Kenny vs. Spenny. It's a show about two longtime friends, and every episode they have a contest to see who's better. There's nothing more involved in it than that, as far as I can see. Unfortunately, I've never actually seen the show--hundreds of channels on my digital cable, a 3-hour drive from Canada, and nothing to show for it.

I don't care if it's real or not, there are probably only 2 or 3 shows I wouldn't gladly trade to Canada for the right to air this one. Here are some of the competitions that Kenny and Spenny have had:

  • Who is the best fashion designer?
  • Who can stand up the longest?
  • Who can sit on a cow the longest?
  • Who do kids like most?
  • Who makes the most convincing woman?
  • Who will use their arms first?

I'm afraid I laughed out loud at some of these. And they don't have to eat insects, get judged by Paula Abdul, or allow FOX to pimp them.

The website for the show is a little too precious -- it looks like the CBC knows how funny this is, and doesn't trust their audience enough to let the show speak for itself. The theme song sucks, too. But I don't care. Give me Kenny & Spenny.

new description

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I should mention, in the interest of fairness, that the new description above ("Phatic communication...") did not originate with me. It emerged from a 5-way email conversation earlier today, and originated with my friend Dave, who used it to describe something else entirely.

Of course, it doesn't make it any less true. Thanks, Dave...

mnf omg

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So I have Monday Night Football on in the background tonight as I'm puttering around my apartment. I'm not a diehard or anything, but I participate in a weekly football pool (of the old-school, non-suicide variety), and more often than not, the results of the Monday night game will have a bearing on the weekly winner. Anyhow, I'm half-listening, when all of a sudden, Madden and Michaels start talking about the Tampa Bay center, John Wade, and his sweaty ass.

I kid you not. Apparently Brad Johnson, the Bucs quarterback, is, in Michaels' words, "a fastidious person." He changes his socks and shoes at half-time, you see. And the fact that his center sweats quite a bit causes him some dismay, I guess. In addition to several tight camera shots of the butt in question, we have one shot that starts on John Wade's ass, and pans back to include Johnson keeping warm on the sidelines. Sweet mother of pearl. All while Michaels explains that Johnson is thinking of wearing the gloves he would normally reserve for inclement weather. And if that's not enough, the five-minute story on the center's sweaty ass is capped by a visit to sideline reporter Lisa Guerrero, who happily informs us that she will "keep an eye on the situation down here." Uhhhh...the situation?! Wade's a big guy, he's running around, it's fairly warm, so he's sweating.

If there's any doubt in anyone's mind why MNF has been on a slow decline towards oblivion, this should remove it. Michaels is white bread, but I can't stand Madden. Any contribution he had to make to football is long gone, and he's gotten into the really horrible habit of saying obvious things three times rather than anything insightful once. You know how they say that truly great players make their teammates better? Madden is the one announcer who makes the people around him worse.

Lost in translation

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Here's a fun site, courtesy of MetaFilter. Carl Tashian wrote a perl script that will run any text through Babelfish several times, using a different language each time. It's not unlike the old game telephone, where your final result bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original message. For your reading pleasure, I offer the first couple of sentences from Moby Dick:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

And then, translated in Babelfish from English to French to English to German to English to Italian to English to Portugese to English to Spanish to English? Behold Herman Melville:

_ if Ishmael call alcohol, to determine year he to have little -- never like for long time accurately -- or moneies inside in my GAC and me to have not to think zero, that, me to be certain in interest series, what me approximated mountain range and watery part world guards. The fact is a direction that milza of the hunting and must register the circulation. All mark to the dark degree this lucky increase of the Entdeckungselbst in the opening; all the marks that are a humidity, bruineux November in my heart; all the marks, that one that supports lucky person had discovered it, that involuntary the forms and the totality hardwired obtain to a rupture before the campings of the Sarges, of each burial I; and special all the marks that my side advanced of apanhou of the hypos, if of me, to that it demands, of who of a rule of the moral base extremely, due to me the end metodicamente to prevent the company intentionally and with the head of the pregos with the distant absentees with fixed people with a point in the way -- then, later calculation of him great hour to arrive not thus in the sea that I can.

Wow. Talk about a lucky increase of the Entdeckungselbst...

Are you ready?

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I'm beginning to think that the best thing about the start of the NFL season--and I mean the real start, not the Mediocrity Bowl between the Jets and Skins--is that now, at least all the sportscasters will stop salivating about the start of the NFL season. The only thing about the upcoming season that was worse was listening to said 'casters complain about the fans' complicity in all the preseason games, and this after they themselves had spent the last two months working the fans up into a frenzy over football.

If you're a football fan, you'd have to have spent today under a rock to have missed the hot new thing this year for spectators: the "suicide pool." You get a group together, and each person picks one team a week to win, and you can't pick the same team twice in the season. Last person standing wins. Three observations:

First, I'm not sure how picking winners each week equates to suicide. Given the point of the thing, it would be just as meaningful to pick one team that would lose. And that would make more sense.

Second, our buddies on the ESPN NFL pre-game show--which began at about 2:00 pm last Tuesday, I think--inaugurated their own suicide pool with only 2 of the 5 of them actually winning. Two picked the Dolphins, and one picked the Patriots. To be fair, it was Rush Limbaugh (!!!) who picked the Pats. I'd like to be able to say that Rush knows nothing about football, but that would require me to watch him, and I haven't managed that quite yet.

Third, it was downright bizarre to see them doing something that didn't carry its corresponding page on the games site. It would be stunningly easy to put a suicide pool on-line, and given all the announcers who have been talking about them, I was pretty surprised that this wasn't part of a marketing push. Then again, if you're an enterprising marketer, how quick would you be to sponsor something with the word suicide in it?

As for me, I'm still watching baseball. And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that the Cubs, a 10-2 winner today, outscored the Bears, a 49-7 loser.


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"Are bloggers journalists? Will they soon replace newspapers?

The best answer to those two questions is: those are two really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already."

This from Matt Welch, in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review. Welch's essay is a reflection on blogs written in the aftermath of the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference, where he learns (from the horses' mouths, as it were) that there's really no such thing as an *alternative* newsweekly.

Although he does dismiss such questions as dumb, the one thing that Welch doesn't do is to question whether or not it's worthwhile for weblog(ger)s to take up the mantle of alternativity. He tries to put to rest the idea that weblogs are an alternative journalism, but seems to hope/think/assume that they'll continue to provide an alternative to journalism. I'm ambivalent about this idea, frankly, because I think that the attempt to define any medium as alternative is the quickest way to doom it to (a) co-option and/or (b) exhaustion. The first part of his story, about a collection of faux-alternative, white Boomer hippies and GenX slackers getting together to celebrate the "dull pieties of official progressivism" should be more instructive here than I think it is.

But then, maybe I'll make that point in about ten years, after I've covered the annual Association of Alternative Webloggies conference. And I'll cross my fingers in the meantime.

A little gif(t)

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Had a surprise waiting for me in the mail this week: Virtual Publics: Policy and Community in an Electronic Age, edited by my friend and one-time member of my dissertation committee, Beth Kolko. And yes, I only mention it because chapter 10 is a little essay called "Where do you want to learn tomorrow? The paradox of the virtual university," authored by myself.

Every academic, I suspect, has stories of that one essay that was written only to have publication held up by the process, and "Paradox" is that essay for me. In this case, there's a little bonus irony to the fact that it's a book that specifically surveys technology and makes some attempt to be current. And it would have been, back in the year 2000. I'm sure that there's more to the story than this, but it appears that Columbia UP has been sitting on it for three years now, and I'm sure that this will have an effect on the quality/currency of the work that we did as contributors. In my case, writing an essay on distance education that doesn't make mention of course management systems like Blackboard and WebCT seems inadvisable at best, even though they were only just emerging as legitimate options when I wrote the chapter.

But then again, it's not really all bad. Any essay that cites Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, a 19th-century French historian, can't exactly lay an absolute claim to the cutting edge, now, can it? The point of the chapter is really more philosophical than technical, I suppose. Had I been told 3 or 4 years ago that only now would people be reading the essay for the first time, it wouldn't have made a whole lot of difference. Yes, I know that I'm assuming that people will read it. Still, it makes me wonder how/if our scholarship would improve if everything we published had to endure a 3 to 4-year lag. There aren't too many essays that I've written that would suffer terribly for that. And yes, I know that this speculation is taking place in the land of daily updated, spontaneously gratifying weblogs.

Thanks for reminding me.

'Tis the season

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I don't spend much time here discussing specifically academic issues, and that's definitely by design. But I thought I'd point both all my readers to a recent piece in the Career Network section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed: The 5 'Virtues' of Successful Graduate Students by Thomas Benton. Benton's an interesting read--perhaps I'm drawn to his accounts of our profession because he's also an assistant professor, even though he's in English, and I'm in a stand-alone Writing Program. A persistent theme in his work is the oft-heroic effort required to find stable work as an academic and the correspondingly unheroic rewards that wait for us when we do.

Anyhow, several of our graduate students here at Syracuse are going on the market this fall, and so I've kept an eye peeled for advice pieces. Benton's five virtues are discipline, networking ability, mental health, flexibility, and patience, and it's been interesting to me to contemplate exactly how many of them I believe I've taken advantage of. For example, I'd really quibble over the idea that writing for 20 hours a week is a realistic estimate of the discipline necessary, but then, the market is a lot tighter for literature students than it is for rhetoric and composition. On the other hand, as a single, non-property-owning male without real geographical preferences, I probably top out when it comes to flexibility.

I guess my overall contention would be that we tend to overgeneralize about the job market, in part to make our successes sound more heroic than they actually may be. I don't know what the market is like for historians, political scientists, creative writers, or philosophers, and so I'd be hesitant to make sweeping claims on behalf of the humanities, as Benton does. His advice is nevertheless sound. At the same time, though, there are a lot of concrete steps that graduate students can take, in addition to the virtues he discusses. And if I had to overgeneralize about the humanities, it would be to say that we've been astoundingly slow to provide support for graduate students in a depressed job market...

Digital wrongs management

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From the Department of What the Meaning of the Word "is" is:

In a brief entry about "digital rights management," Steven Shaviro shares the following gem from the "Terms of Use Agreement" of

“All downloaded music, images, video, artwork, text, software and other copyrightable materials (“Content”) are sublicensed to End Users and not sold, notwithstanding use of the terms “sell,” “purchase,” “order,” or “buy” on the Site or this Agreement…End User may only download, transfer, copy and use the Digital Downloads as stated in the particular song, partial album or album’s Metadata Information, which is hereby incorporated by reference. No other downloads, transfers, copies or uses of Digital Downloads are permitted.

Back in the old days, before acronyms, I think we called this lying. But then, I guess that isn't quite as catchy. Of course, you might remember as the download service that put out national television ads that clearly ripped off Apple's iTunes Store commercials. Here's the Slate article about's rip-off unacknowledged sublicensing of Apple's commercials (not to mention service).

Lest this entire entry seem negative, there's a nice set of resources courtesy of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which includes some smart remarks about the problems with DRM. Those problems include some fundamental conflicts with the concept of "fair use," which is crucial for those of us in education.

Passionate about language?

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Oxford University Press has announced the second edition of its one-stop Oxford Dictionary of English, the "foremost single-volume authority on the English language." Don't get me wrong here. I know that language changes, and in fact, I get a chuckle out of those who despair that this is somehow cause for alarm. And yet,

The world of TV has given us BADA BING (courtesy of the US TV show The Sopranos), LOVELY JUBBLY (from Only Fools and Horses), REALITY TV, and MUPPET (meaning an incompetent or foolish person), while entertainment is now full of BOY and GIRL BANDS, BOOTYLICIOUS POPSTRELS, and TURNTABLISTS who are DA BOMB. It's enough to make you want to JUMP THE SHARK!

In science and technology, the fast-moving field of Genetics has given us some colourful new terms: it's a world of PATHOGENICITY ISLANDS, SHOTGUN CLONING, PHARMING, and TERMINATOR GENES. Meanwhile, the Web has become a place of HACKTIVISTS, SHOVELWARE, and people who EGOSURF.

Umm, yeah. Okay. They posted a nearly 70-page pdf file with all of the new additions, some of which seem quite obvious to me (bike as slang for bicycle or motorcycle), and many, many more that seem like an attempt to attract attention from the news (not to mention language curmudgeons around the globe).

Oh, yeah. Blog is in there, right where it belongs, among "bitch-slap," "blamestorming," and "blonde moment."



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