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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spacing out

Through no fault of my own, I watched some television recently and learned some things.  Last night, for example, watching Saturday Night Live with Janet for the first time in years, I learned that Justin Timberlake is (a) reasonably talented, (b) not particularly attractive, and (c), a decent comic-sketch actor and a really, really good sport.  So that’s something.

A couple of days ago, while taking a break from student papers and show trials and Weblog Award weirdnesses, I caught the last forty minutes of Aliens on channel 33,573.  I hadn’t seen it since its release in 1986, and you know, it’s a pretty good SF-meets-action flick after all.  Easily the best item in the franchise.  I remember reading an essay a few years later about how the film gives you SF/action’s first ass-kicking female lead but does so, via a curious kind of compensatory logic, in a film that’s all about the icky-and-terrifying qualities of eggs and organs and pregnancy and reproduction.  But mostly I was reminded of Sigourney Weaver’s hilarious turn as Gwen DeMarco in Galaxy Quest (one of our fave movies in this house), where she’s frantically crawling through the ship’s vents with Tim Allen, yelling, “vents!  why is it always vents?” The line is funny on its own, since the crawling-through-vents motif is common to any number of films, but I’d forgotten that a good portion of the closing sequences of Aliens involves crawling through the vents.  So that was a nice little intertextual moment, and another point for Galaxy Quest, one of the smartest-and-funnest movies of recent years.

And then at the very end of Aliens, I came upon something odd.  Ripley and Newt escape, Ripley puts them both into hibernation, the screen goes dark, the credits roll, and what do we hear but Aram Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite” (Adagio).

That’s right, Aram Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite.” Are you kidding me?  What film or SF geek wouldn’t know that the “Gayane Ballet Suite” was used in the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey?  What is this, soundtrack homage?  Or just plain laziness?

For those of you who aren’t obsessed by such things, the “Gayane Ballet Suite” sequence in 2001 occurs just after the monolith on the moon has let out that piercing shriek.  Humans are standing around the monolith, about to take a group picture with the thing, when suddenly there’s a horrible electronic wail that brings them all to their knees.  Why?  We don’t know.  Maybe the monolith doesn’t like being photographed!  No, not really.  It turns out, as I’m sure you remember, that the thing was designed to send a signal back to its designers when it was struck by sunlight.  The idea is that if the grunting hominids of four million BCE ever got it together and discovered the big magnetic thing the Extraterrestrial Intelligences left on the moon, said hominids, or their descendents (that’s us!), would become eligible for membership in the Galactic Club of Giant Floating Fetuses.  Anyway, next thing we know, there’s an utterly bizarre spacecraft floating through the void, a kind of elongated spine with a big antenna in the middle and an eerie knob on one end, with a kind of black visor and three round ports, looking like a Face that is No Face.  The title reads “Jupiter Mission, 18 Months Later,” and there is no explanation of why there is a Jupiter Mission.  Indeed, in the version screened in the premiere, there weren’t even any titles.  Kubrick, being Kubrick, didn’t want to explain anything at all.  He stripped out the entire film’s voiceover at the last minute (a very good move—think Blade Runner in reverse), but the result was so completely confusing that he put a couple of titles in there (“The Dawn of Man,” etc.) as a concession to our limited intelligence.  (The movie is still confusing, but that’s quite deliberate, of course, and if you ask me nicely I’ll post whole sections of my essay about 2001 and superpower paranoia from Public Access.) Anyway, as this bizarre ship glides across the screen from left to right, and an astronaut in t-shirt and shorts runs around the centrifuge in the eerie “head” of the ship, we hear this achingly sad and beautiful music that seems to suggest loneliness and loss and profound longing.  It is, for me, one of the most unheimlich moments in science fiction, and pretty amazing in any genre.  The choice of the “Gayane Ballet Suite” is a masterstroke.  Kubrick, being Kubrick, commissioned a score and then (again at the last minute) scrapped it, replacing it with some of his favorite tunes.  So you get the hair-raising “Requiem” of Gyorgi Ligeti whenever we hominids gather round the monolith, and Ligeti’s ethereal “Lux Aeterna” when the Americans are taking the moon shuttle over to the monolith site, and of course the Strauss everyone knows.  But think of the tonal difference between waltzing to the moon on the strains of “The Blue Danube” (where space flight seems grand and joyous and kind of jolly) and drifting mournfully to Jupiter in a creepy skeletal ship to the plaintive, haunting strains of the “Gayane Ballet Suite.” That’s all the tonal difference in the world, folks. 

Anyway, what I’m saying is that the sequence is deservedly famous, and you should go watch it now.  And as I crawled off to bed at 1 a.m. that night, having just heard a thinner rendition of the “Gayane Ballet Suite” over the credits for Aliens (where it just doesn’t have the same emotional impact, let me tell you), I wondered just what in the world James Cameron was thinking.  Fortunately, thanks to the Internets, I found this illuminating item on the Internets Movie Database:

In an interview, composer James Horner felt that James Cameron had given him so little time to write a musical score for the film, he was forced to cannibalize previous scores he had done as well as adapt a rendition of “Gayane Ballet Suite” for the main and end titles.

So that explains that.  Still, even if you were working to score a science fiction film on an impossible deadline, raiding the “Gayane Ballet Suite” has to be one of your worst possible options.  It’s a little like scoring a Vietnam movie and deciding, “hey, maybe something by the Doors would work here.”

Posted by Michael on 12/17 at 10:39 AM
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Friday, December 15, 2006

You know, I had a feeling about that word

“In What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts, Bérubé comes off as spunky, likable. . . .”

Posted by Michael on 12/15 at 09:45 PM
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Final lap

[This post has been edited time and again.—MB]

And the score is:

SpunkyHomeSchool 5437 4599
This Humble Blog 5404 5139

I think the stakes are clear.  And why is SpunkyHomeSchool, a defunct blog, matching us stride for stride?  Because, friends, a “meme” has gone around the Internets.  It can be found on dozens of Christian blogs and websites, and it looks something like this:

This has really and truly come down to a battle of Christian ideals versus Secular ideals, Godly values versus Godless values. As reported on the ever-fantastic blog The Rebelution, “Michael Bérubé recently commented… ‘The important thing is that...I crush the homeschoolers.’ ”

Well, of course that quote was taken drastically out of context.  What I actually said, of course, was

the important thing is that IvyGate and I crush the homeschoolers.

Things have apparently gotten so bad that some Spunky-friendly sites won’t even mention IvyGate, which one of them refers to as “an Ivy League College gossip and s*x blog.” (I hope someone will explain that to me in comments.  I don’t see what IvyGate has to do with sox.)

But with regard to the big picture, of course, they’re right:  this is basically a battle between Good and Evil.  And I implore you, dear readers, not to let Good win!

To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist.  If then his providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labor must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil;
Which ofttimes may succeed, so as perhaps
Shall grieve him, if I fail not, and disturb
His inmost counsels from their destined aim.

And what if we be down a few votes right now?  Remember, th’ascent is easy then!

I thank you, and Secular Ideals® thanks you.


Updated update about those illegal votes tagged by Wizbang (967 for Spunky, 480 for me, 58 for IvyGate):  you know, I was kinda having fun with this Weblog Awards thing until now.  But you know what would be really cool if all three blogs were disqualified or chastised or publicly shamed or something for having overeager and unprincipled supporters?  That would put A Shrewdness of Apes in first place, and she’s not a Christian homeschooler or an Ivy League gossip-and-s*x maniac or a smug annoying liberal elitist college professor.  She’s “an anonymous American public high school teacher, guitar goddess, black belt, softball jockette, working mom, exhausted wife, dutiful daughter, bibliophile, autodidact, and terrible housekeeper.” Really!  She says so herself!  And her fine blog is actually about education! So get out there and vote for A Shrewdness of Apes, everyone!

Posted by Michael on 12/15 at 12:26 PM
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What’s going on around here?

Last year, during Weblog Awards Week, I switched templates and blog formats and even prose styles with Sadly, No! in order to . . . well, I forget why we did it, exactly, but it was convoluted and in-jokey and involved all kinds of wacky hijinx that demonstrated once again the amazing frictionlessness and vertiginousness of the Internets.  But I couldn’t do that again this year—it would be too obvious!  Also, I’m not in Sadly, No!s category this time around.  They’re in some kind of “humor” competition that involves one smart and principled conservative blogger, Jon Swift, along with a bunch of wankers—but the category doesn’t even include The Poor Man Institute, so, I mean, come on already.  You call that “humor”?

Besides, my student papers came in on December 5; I spoke at The Tank (and journeyed to Lands Unknown on December 6; and I’ve been grading papers and preparing exams and doing sundry other end-of-semester things ever since.  So I knew there was no way I’d be able to do any serious posting this week, and it seemed like bad manners to go on hiatus when I’m supposed to be some kind of educamacationalist blog.

So Oaktown Girl and spyder and Bill Benzon and Peter Ramus and Chris Clarke (yes, even Chris Clarke—he has confessed his crimes and has been readmitted to the fold) stepped in, first with the Ted Haggard Cage Match and then with the Chris Clarke Show Trial.  Dozens of regulars and irregulars chimed in with brilliant comments.  And on my side, papers got graded and exams got prepared and even one long-overdue essay got written.  (No, not that one.  Another one.)

Now, I know that some of you found all of this kinda convoluted and weird and maybe even offputting.  “I don’t get all these in-jokes,” you said.  “What, is Bérubé assuming we’ve read every single last one of his comment threads for the past three months?”

To you I say this:  you know, in-jokes get lonely too.  I thought it was really nice of Oaktown Girl and Associates to convene this forum so that a massive bunch of in-jokes in the progressive blogosphere could get together and have a year-end reunion.  “The in-jokes they’re using to run this show trial could power the entire town of Elko, Nevada,” Clarke wrote.  “It’s just wasteful.” Wasteful to whom, might I ask?  Those in-jokes were just floating around unharnessed until this week.  And Elko didn’t mind the rolling blackouts, anyway.  We told ‘em it was all Enron’s doing.

And was it all too convoluted? Compared to what? Goodness gracious, people, two years ago a mysterious blogger known only as Tristero mock-accused me of inventing a batshit insane essay by David Gelernter and creating a parody of the Weekly Standard website, and in response, I mock-confessed to the forgery, and the whole exchange was festooned with Borges and Nabokov allusions and hyperlinks that went nowhere and lots of sly Pynchonian puns.  Now, that was convoluted.  This here Show Trial and Cage Match was sincerity itself by comparison.

But what you didn’t know is that, quite apart from the end-of-semester crush, I’ve been in no shape to blog this week.  Every keystroke is an agony.  OK, not an agony, exactly, but a bit of a pain.

Here’s why.  Last Saturday morning, I showed up to my regularly scheduled Nittany Hockey League game.  I was tired and distracted and not at all in the mood for hockey.  Worst of all, I hadn’t worked out all week—and thanks to my insane schedule since mid-October, I’m barely in any kind of game shape anyway.  How distracted was I?  I forgot to pack nice thick skate sox in my bag, and therefore had to play in my thin black dress sox, and I didn’t notice that the attachment doodads on my garter belt had disappeared, rendering the garter belt next to useless.  “Just let me get through this one,” I thought, “and get back to paper-gradin’ and overdue-essay writin’.”

So you can guess what happened next, right?  Ten minutes into the game, I came deep down the left wing alone, cut hard toward the middle, and, just as I was crossing the goalmouth, shot five-hole to give us a 2-1 lead.  One shift later I flipped in a rebound to make the score 3-2.  A few minutes after that I came down the right side this time, and, instead of repeating the move from goal number one, cut across the goalmouth, waited for the goalie to commit, and then tucked a little backhand in the far side from a sharp angle.

“Yikes,” Janet said when I told her this tale later that day.  “That goalie must’ve hated your guts.”

Well, yes, he did.  He began slashing me in the crease and uttering imprecations of all kinds, and though I probably shouldn’t admit this, those imprecations really hurt.  Anyway, with the score now 5-4 I came in alone on a breakaway, having stripped their defenseman of the puck at the point, and because I’d already used Move One and Move Two on goals one and three, simply shot high glove side over his left arm for goal four.  And what do you think this goalie did?  Fully extending his right leg (for those of you keeping score at home, that would be the limb furthest from the shot, a limb whose extension was not at all necessary to stop the puck), he neatly sent me flying through the air to the left side of the net and into the boards.

The right-shoulder crash into the boards didn’t do any damage, but let me tell you, that ice is hard and unforgiving.  I got up unable to extend my left shoulder, with which I’d hit the ice when I was all done with flying through the air.

Just for good measure, though, I put yet another rebound off the far post and in with five minutes left to make the score 7-5.  We added another late goal as well.  Heh heh heh.

I haven’t had a five-goal game in three years—since a wild 6-6 tie on December 13, 2003.  And it was only my third since moving to Pennsylvania.  But just as I injured my hip in a game in October in such a way as to make it very difficult to get in and out of cars, I injured my shoulder in such a way as to make it very difficult to close car doors from the driver’s seat—or raise my arm above my head, or put on a jacket, or blog.  All this week, I’ve been typing hurt, people.  So I owe an extra special thanks to Oaktown Girl and Associates for stepping up in my time of need.

Besides, people have been complaining for months that my blog is graphics-poor.  “What I like about your blog,” said one reader, “is the endless columns of scrolling text, followed by more endless columns of scrolling text.” So my thanks to peter ramus and Bill Benzon and company for fixing that!

And last but not least, thanks to everyone who’s voted for me in the Educatic Blog race.  Today’s the last day for voting, so please stop by and help PZ and the Giant Squid defeat the Bad Half-Naked Astronomers from Planet Xycron, too!  Right now that wonderfully diverting race is 7418-7382 in favor of the shirtless ones, and the drama is only gonna get better as the day wears on.

Posted by Michael on 12/15 at 08:57 AM
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Chris Clarke Confesses

The Chris Clarke Show Trial has reached a foregone—and therefore successful—conclusion!  The defendant’s statement, as rewritten by the Minister of Justice and the Party Leader, follows:

I, Chris Clarke, born of woman in a small town in New York State, near a lake smote into the earth by a Pleistocene glacier, do of my own free will confess to and repent my crimes against the WAAGNFNP. As the Guilty One, I stand convicted of, and shall be sentenced appropriately for, Treason, Conspiracy, and any other High Crimes and Misdemeanors that the Prosecution may think of in the near or far Future.  With this Statement, I also accede to the Profecution’s irregular and idiosyncratic practices regarding Spelling and the Capitalization of certain Nouns.

I have attempted to undermine the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party in an attempt to carry out—insolently, and with reckless disregard of the consequences—crimes against the Giant Nuclear Fireball.  My actions have failed to honor and respect the Party, the many parties to the Prosecution, Our Glorious Leader Himself, and our own loving, caring, nurturing, bootilicious and all-around wonderful Minister of Justice, Oaktown Girl.

I have dared to suggest, in several comment threads and clever blog posts scattered throughout the length and breadth of the Internets, that I should not have to suffer from this trial and tribulation; I have encouraged my rag-tag defense team to attempt to exonerate me in a genuine, bona fide, internationally sanctioned Show Trial, even though I was duly apprised that a Show Trial under the administration of the WAAGNFNP Minister of Justice, as guided by the Wisdom of Lord Astaroth, is a necessary and good thing; and I have availed myself of intrigue, disguise, and suggestive stiffing (of a cabbie and a postal worker) in order to escape from detention in the Re-education Center so that I could relax, instead, in the WAAGNFNP’s Relaxation Center, even though I was aware that the Relaxation Center, with its Deep Tissue Massages, Eucalyptus Steam Wraps, Sea Salt Body Scrubs, and Gentleman’s Manicures, was the exclusive preserve of Inner Party members of the WAAGNFNP. 

Though I have to say that the Eucalyptus Steam Wraps and the Sea Salt Body Scrubs were kinda nice.

Sorry!  Sorry!  So sorry.  Where was I?

Oh yes.  I have aided and abetted the illegal flow of information and ponies regarding the Party’s innermost secrets, often deploying rumors, gossip, suggestive innuendo, crafty graphic novels, and other devious strategems that empowered the enemies of our Party and induced them to see the GNF as something to fear—rather than something to praise and welcome with ecstasy and joy and exuberant graffiti.

I have committed crimes against the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party in an attempt to foment the revolutionary ideas of “hope” and “peace” among “all peoples” for the purpose of encouraging resistance to the coming of the Giant Nuclear Fireball, knowing that such resistance is futile.  In so attempting to subvert and undermine the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party, I have chosen to offer only biting wit in my defense, rather than rally all peoples to the GNF, as a loyal member of the Party must do, and in so doing I:

-- Posted photos, images, verse satires, and long, long dilations and divagations about my adoration of, and affection towards, all species, particularly those who thrive in the greater Sonoran desert, but also pretty much all species all over the planet, imposing on others my own sense of curiosity and interrelationships with these species, rather than supporting the Party and the GNF, who with Gojira, aspire to vaporize all in one mighty Global Nuclear Fireball;

-- Posted textual compositions of 5000, 8000, 10000 and nigh-uncountable numbers of words, celebrating and honoring the Earth and all of her millions of species and habitats and interdependencies, inciting others to care about them, thereby encouraging the deviationist sense that these are “amazing” and “special” and “worthy of our solicitous attention,” thereby denigrating the GNF in thought and deed; and finally, and perhaps most odiously, I have

-- Allowed others to refer to me as Hottie McNaturepants, posting compelling portraits of myself and my four-legged companions, living and extinct, in order to increase empathy for and sympathy with my cause; and I have thereby attempted to diminish, and distract others from, the sublime wonder of Gojira, the ginormous floating head of Our Leader, the majesty of 3Tops, the sizzling nippleless hotness of Astaroth, and the Loving Bootlicious Vengeance of the Minister of Justice.

I am also guilty of all this stuff, too.  Just in case you were wondering.

I humbly ask for forgiveness.  I sincerely regret and repent all my crimes. And I ask to be welcomed back into the loving fold of the WAAGNFNP.

But if I am to be consigned to a life of reading Althouse, then I ask you to try Amanda Marcotte in my stead.


Update from the General Secretary and President for (Thankfully Brief) Life:  We have audio!  The Minister of Justice’s Approved Version is here, and the Guilty One’s original unedited remarks are here.  Apparently there are some discrepancies between the two versions, but I’ll leave this for others to determine.  History, we don’t know—we’ll all be dead.  Thanks to the GNF, of course.

Posted by Michael on 12/15 at 01:05 AM
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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hear ye hear ye hear ye


The Guilty One Defendant, Chris Clarke, has been found guilty on all charges!  Let his Show Trial now move into the sentencing phase! 

The following comment section should be reserved exclusively for sentences to be handed down to Mr. Clarke.  Proposed sentences may include all manner of punctuation, vilification, and expostulation.  They should not exceed one hundred words.  Sentences that end with prepositions shall be harshly dealt with.

And thank you all for helping to make this Show Trial one of the funnest, happiest, singing-and-dancingest Show Trials since the spectacular Zinoviev-Kamenev Follies of ‘36!

Weblog Awards update, 3:40 pm:  I don’t want to be alarmist or anything, but Spunky just picked up forty votes in the last thirty seconds.  Onward secularist soldiers!  3:50 pm:  And now another hundred in the past ten minutes.  They lead by thirty and at this rate they will bury us, folks.  We must station a WAAGNFNP member at every computer on every campus now.

Posted by Michael on 12/14 at 12:43 PM
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