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Monday, October 31, 2005

And now a word from our sponsor

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Posted by Michael on 10/31 at 03:59 PM
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The Attack on Halloween

Fox News celebrity and political commentator Bill O’Reilly lashed out today at Christian conservatives’ “attack on Halloween,” ascribing it to “a bunch of religious fanatics who don’t understand what America is all about.”

“For crying out loud,” O’Reilly said to one caller on his nationally-syndicated radio program, The Radio Factor, “Americans have always loved Halloween.  Many of the Founding Fathers called it their favorite holiday.  Benjamin Franklin himself frequently conversed with legions of the undead on All Hallow’s Eve, and every year Thomas Jefferson couldn’t wait to dress up as a vampire and burn pentangles into the lawn at Monticello.  It’s a historical fact.”

O’Reilly was particularly incensed at a recent decision of the state supreme court of Mississippi, holding that the establishment clause of the First Amendment prevents schools and courthouses from displaying Wiccan artifacts and statements of principles.  “The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” O’Reilly thundered at one caller who had called to support the Mississippi court’s decision.  “Wicca is a perfectly peaceful, natural belief system that should be promoted in every public square in the United States.  That’s the kind of America we need to see today, and no activist judge should stand in our way.”

In Paducah, Kentucky, where a display of flesh-eating zombies was recently removed from the front lawn of the Municipal Building, citizens rallied in support of paganism, demon worship, and equal rights for residents of the spirit world.  “What’s wrong with a simple celebration of the one night on which flesh-eating zombies can freely roam the earth?” asked Paducah city commissioner Robert “Bud” Novak.  “Flesh-eating zombies are central to our way of life; they’re the basis of our country’s founding documents.  We as Americans are endowed with inalienable rights by flesh-eating zombies, and we think it’s only right to honor those zombies here at the Municipal Building.”

O’Reilly applauded the citizens of Paducah for standing up to what he called “the Christian reign of terror in America.” “If these people had their way,” O’Reilly said, “they’d banish every form of pagan worship from the land, and they’d ban half the books and movies our kids have grown to love.  It’s time to stand up to these bullies, and stand up for witches, ghouls, and undead-Americans everywhere.  And I say to any flesh-eating zombies who might be listening to the Factor this evening: Bill O’Reilly is looking out for you.”

Posted by Michael on 10/31 at 02:29 PM
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Saturday, October 29, 2005

All the President’s Men Again


JAMES CAAN as I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby


LOUISE LASSER as Judith Miller
PAUL GIAMATTI as Matt Cooper
MATTHEW BRODERICK as Patrick Fitzgerald
ALBERT FINNEY as Joseph Wilson
RANDY QUAID as Tim Russert
DON S. DAVIS as Dick Cheney
LORNE GREENE as Robert Novak


LISA KUDROW as Valerie Plame

Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 07:33 PM
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Friday, October 28, 2005

Postcards from Buster

So you’re wondering—at least four of you—just what it is I’m doing that’s so important as to prevent me from blogging about Harriet Miers and Fitzmas.  Well, I’ll tell you.

As a member of the Modern Language Association’s Executive Council and as a nonvoting member of the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee (2002-05), I attend a four-day meeting every year in late October, one goal of which is to plan for the meeting of the Delegate Assembly at the MLA Convention in late December.  Thanks to our painstaking efforts in this October meeting, the elected delegates to the December convention (roughly 300 of the 10,000 attendees) will be fully apprised of the difference between MLA motions and MLA resolutions, MLA moving violations and MLA parking violations, and (most important) MLA defensive holding penalties and MLA pass-interference penalties.

But here’s the really important stuff:  on Wednesday I realized that my right shoe had developed a tear in the vamp and would need to be repaired.  So I brought it to the cobbler at the southernmost subway entrance to Grand Central at 41st and Park, who informed me that he could fix it within 48 hours by replacing and restitching both soles for the price of $60.  While my shoes were in the shop, I spent my spare time tooling around New York in sneakers at a reasonably healthy clip, which reminded me about the days when I worked after school as a foot messenger.  How long ago was I a foot messenger?  So long ago that there were foot messengers in New York.  Almost thirty years ago, folks.  This would be long before the development of things like “e” “mail” and “facsimile” “machines.” And I learned, back in those days, that if you walk against the flow of traffic and the sequence of the traffic lights on Manhattan’s north-south avenues (in other words, south on Madison, north on Fifth, south on Sixth, etc.) at the rate of 45 seconds per block (or 4 mph, since there are 20 east-west streets per mile), you will hit one intersection just as the light turns green, the next just before the light turns red, the next just as the light turns green, and so on to infinity or until you hit a body of water. 

This principle still holds true today.  Just fyi, for those of you who are walking around Manhattan in a hurry—at least four of you.  Walk against the lights, 45 seconds per block.

You’re welcome.

Now, all the time I was walking briskly up and down the north-south avenues as a foot messenger twenty-eight years ago, my high school classmate Patrick Fitzgerald was preparing to embark on the college career that would prepare him for the law school that would prepare him for the Department of Justice job in which he would eventually prepare the indictment of one I. Lewis Libby on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, making false statements, and engaging in consensual extramarital oral sex (damn!  we didn’t get him for the really important stuff!).  And because I’ve been spending all my days in meetings whose purpose it is to keep track of how my professional literature-and-language organization keeps track of its scholarly enterprises and its members’ working conditions, my understanding of national news is necessarily fragmentary and incomplete.

So perhaps you all can tell me what it means that three people have named Karl Rove as Kid A?  Is everything in its right place?  Or should I wait for the next punch?

Posted by Michael on 10/28 at 09:33 PM
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Thursday, October 27, 2005


This sports-lovin’ blog would like to take a few minutes away from its day-long academic-committee meetings to congratulate the White Stockings of Chicago on their epochal and possibly apocalypse-inducing victory in the World Series.  (I am typing these words in midtown Manhattan, where the value of the area of real estate Juan Uribe covered in making those final two putouts is over ten trillion dollars.) Hearty cheers to the White Sox and their dozens—nay, hundreds—of loyal fans.  You truly deserved this one.

And now we can finally get around to inducting Shoeless Joe into the Hall of Fame.

Posted by Michael on 10/27 at 07:47 AM
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Family values

The other night I was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Jamie just as he was dropping off to sleep.  Inveterate readers of this blog know of Jamie’s fascination with Harry Potter and his knowledge of the first five books in the series, but I don’t think I’ve ever described precisely how Jamie listens to these books as I read them to him.  He climbs into bed around a quarter of ten (being a teenager and all), and even though he’s capable of falling asleep the minute his head hits the pillow, he is so eager to hear the evening’s Harry Potter installment that he keeps one eye open and fights for consciousness as long as he can.

So we reached the second Pensieve scene, in which the young Dumbledore visits eleven-year-old Tom Riddle in the orphanage in order to inform him that he is a wizard and extend him an invitation to Hogwarts.  It’s a dramatic encounter; Jamie raised his head off the pillow and gasped at Tom’s initial reaction to Dumbledore’s invitation (which those of you who have read the book surely remember, and those of you who haven’t should go and see for yourself), and stayed awake for another couple of pages.  But before we got to that point, I read the following passage:

The orphans, Harry saw, were all wearing the same kind of grayish tunic.  They looked reasonably well-cared for, but there was no denying that this was a grim place in which to grow up.

I decided to say a few words about the orphanage, and about Harry’s moment of sympathy for the boy who grows up to become Voldemort.  “Did Harry have a happy childhood when he was growing up?” I asked.  Jamie shook his head no.  “He had the Dursleys,” he said.  I pointed out that Harry and Voldemort are similar in that they grow up without parents, and that the kids in the orphanages are there because they have no parents either.  And I mentioned that Jamie might remember the orphanage in the movie Like Mike, which just happens to be in Jamie’s video collection.

“Or Free Willy,” Jamie suggested.  “Yes, that’s right,” I said with some surprise.  “Free Willy is also about a kid who is growing up without parents, and who has stepparents, and he has trouble getting used to his new home.”

“Or Rookie of the Year,” Jamie said.  “Not exactly,” I replied.  “In Rookie of the Year Henry has his mother, but his mother’s boyfriend is a creep, and we don’t know where his father went before he was born.”

Mrs. Doubtfire,” Jamie offered.  “Nope, that’s about parents who are divorced and live in different houses,” I said, “but still, in Mrs. Doubtfire the father misses his kids and wants to see them, so dresses up as a nanny.”

“What about Babe?” Jamie asked.

“Oh yes, that’s a very good example,” I told him.  “Babe has no parents, and that’s why he is so happy when Fly agrees to be like his mother.”

“And Rex is like his father,” Jamie added.  “And Ferdinand the duck is like his brother.”

Why, yes, I thought—Ferdinand is like his brother.  Hey!  Wait a second!  Who knew that Jamie was thinking, all this time, about the family configurations in these movies?  And who knew that Jamie knew that so many unhappy families, human and pig, are alike?

If I have a spare moment later this week (in the middle of my four-day meeting), I’ll try to get to around to explaining why I’ve bothered to post this update on Jamie’s reading habits.  In the meantime, suffice it to say that he continues to surprise me.

Posted by Michael on 10/25 at 07:58 PM
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