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Friday, February 12, 2010

ABF Friday:  Special Science Fiction Edition!

It’s so great to see that this guy has his very own blog.  Though he should update it more often if he wants to become a real A-lister.  I kept telling you that the giant enlightened insects were coming, but would you listen to me?  Noooooo.  Well, we’re all Multi-National United now.

Blogs are so 2005, though.  And in the spirit of aught-five, I’d like to say a couple of things about the first season of Battlestar Galactica.  The opening miniseries is very effective, and sheds new light (for me) on how much of the wingnut mentality depends on seeing apocalyptic threats everywhere, like that time when the inscrutable Cylon Soviet Mexican Islamists killed all but fifty thousand of us.  And this household hearts Starbuck.  Who wouldn’t?

But we have two complaints.  One, the setting in the distant past.  Yes, we understand that this will all be explained in the end, and the polytheistic humans and monotheistic Cylons will eventually be us, and the twelve colonies will become the twelve constellations, got it.  But didn’t any of the writers see that this would pose a spot of trouble along the way when it came to accessories and backgrounds?  Like, for instance, why is it that ancient humans had corded telephones and suits and neckties and stuff, and then lost them, and then got them back again?  Take the victory celebration after Baltar’s election as vice-president: are you telling me that ancient humans danced to swing music, then forgot it, then invented it again in the twentieth century? 

More important, the distant-past thing takes a lot of sand out of the bag, so to speak.  I mean, I don’t know about you, but for me, nine-tenths of the fun and interest in science fiction is the depiction of a more-or-less plausible future.  (See below for today’s Arbitrary game!) And I didn’t realize I felt this way until I started thinking for a while about the whole entire premise of BSG, so it’s not like I came to the series with a bad attitude.

Two, we hate the Number Six / Gaius Baltar plot.  Hate it hate it hate it.  And all its silly devices, too.

After we started season two last night, I asked Janet to remind me just why we were doing this anyway.  Weren’t we going to catch up on Deadwood or something instead?  She said that a friend and colleague told her that we absolutely had to see Battlestar Galactica first because, in the friend’s words, “it’s like The West Wing with sex.” When Janet told her that we’d never seen The West Wing, our friend did what all our academic friends do when we tell them we’ve never seen seen The West Wing: she fell out of her chair. 

Apparently we were supposed to watch The West Wing

Anyway, now that the enlightened insects are here and one of them has his own blog, which SF movie most plausibly depicts what the Earth will be like in the next few decades?

2001, except for the floating-fetus bit and, oh yeah, except for the whole “set-in-2001” bit.

Blade Runner, except for the flying cars.

Children of Men, except for the global-infertility epidemic.

I Am Legend 28 Days Later, except with extra zombies.

Independence Day, except that the First Lady survives the helicopter crash and becomes President of the Twelve Colonies.

Terminator series, except that after the terminator comes at us in a big truck carrying crude oil or liquid nitrogen or something, and we crush it in a drill press or maybe shoot it and shatter it into a million pieces, but then his metal forearm survives and provides scientists with the basis for creating a whole new kind of artificial intelligence, and then the liquid-metal terminator re-forms and we have to shoot it with one of those huge exploding bullets and make it fall backwards into a vat of molten steel, and then we send ourselves back into the past (that is, the present) to protect ourselves from the terminators who want to start a global thermonuclear war, but then it turns out that the war happens anyway, which is kind of complicated, because we thought we’d avoided it when we shot the liquid-metal terminator with the huge exploding bullet and he fell into the vat of molten steel, but then we win the war in the future and also there’s a sequel to the molten-vat part that’s also a prequel to the ... never mind, I meant to say “except for the part where the terminator becomes governor of California and turns the state into a barren, nightmarish landscape of twisted steel.” Because that’s from Demolition Man.

District 9, except for ... no, that one seems pretty much spot on.

Your suggestions?

Posted by Michael on 02/12 at 12:33 PM
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow snow snow snow snow

So when is Al Gore going to return that Nobel Prize for If You Don’t Recycle It Will Never Snow Again?

Just in from a round of “knock the icicles off the roof” and a brief snowball fight with Jamie.  The fight was brief because, well, let’s just say that you don’t want to get into a snowball fight with Jamie.  He has a strong arm and is accurate like a “laser.” I took one to the left eye and one to the right cheek before surrendering and going inside to eat cheese.

(Interpolated update:  a friend just sent this implicit commentary on the above grafs.)

OK, back to older news.  About those wimmen-hating Super Bowl ads:  it’s not as if very much time or money or thought went into them, after all.  Seriously, people, I warned you about the creeping Bradley Cooperization of American masculinity months and months ago, but did you listen to me?  Nooooooo.  And now you’ve all got The Hangover.

Finally, I hear that much has happened lately in the world of talking-about-retards.  Apparently a vicious and incompetent White House chief of staff should resign (or just apologize repeatedly) for calling liberal Democrats “fucking retarded,” but a vicious and incoherent professional gasbag/ part-time drug addict can insist that it’s OK “to call retards ‘retards,’” because that’s “satire.” This is too hard for me to keep up with, so I figure I’ll just refer everyone to this ancient post in which I called for the banning of words I don’t like and therefore violated every principle for which the Founding Fathers fought and died suggested that you can call people “jackasses” (and many other insults!) instead.  Though I added an important caveat:

If you’re concerned about stigmatizing jackasses, however, on the grounds that you may be likening an innocent beast to a hideous human (or, conversely, figuratively dehumanizing one of your fellow men or women), you can always adopt the more politically correct term “jackass-American,” presuming, of course, that the jackass in question is -American.

So next time you’re fed up with someone and you want to call his or her intelligence or judgment into question, remember: you might be better off with insults that speak to the performance of intelligence or judgment rather than to capacity.  This isn’t just a matter of politeness; it’s also a matter of proper English usage.  Many, many morons and retards have very good judgment about some matters, whereas many, many ostensibly intelligent people make bafflingly, excruciatingly bad decisions.  Why?  Because some of them are knaves, and others gulls, and still others hoodlums and miscreants.  That’s why.

This goes for the Tea Party Patriots™ as well, of course!  Don’t hurl unseemly epithets at people who do the selective-outrage thing about the R-word and proceed to share the Tea Party Patriot™ stage with rabid-right birther Joseph Farah.  Remember, Jackass-Americans are an important part of our national heritage.  As for Rahm, well, perhaps a politically sensitive job like WH chief of staff just isn’t for him.  Washington, D.C. contains many fine establishments such as the Institute for Pissing On Liberals, the Center for Advanced Triangulation, and the Foundation for Squandering Democrats’ Political Capital; his talents might be better suited to one of those organizations.  Not to mention the National Association for the Advancement of Jackass-Americans.

Posted by Michael on 02/10 at 05:14 PM
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Monday, February 08, 2010

Mister Answer Man Answered

American Airspace regrets to announce that Mister Answer Man’s contract will not be renewed for 2010.  We appreciate his long and distinguished service to this blog and his once-formidable skills as a Super Bowl prognosticator.  We wish him well in his future endeavors, wherever they may take him.

American Airspace will continue to reach out to guest bloggers to provide predictions and commentary on major sports events.  For the Stanley Cup playoffs, we are currently in negotiations with Guy Lafleur and Theo Fleury.

Posted by Michael on 02/08 at 11:45 AM
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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mister Answer Man:  Special Nawlins Edition!

Hello again sports fans!  It’s time for another visit from Mister Answer Man.  You’ve got questions, he’s got answers—that’s why he’s called ... oh, hell, you know the drill by now.  To the mailbag:

Dear Mister Answer Man: I would open this letter by flattering your prodigious prognosticating skills, but I expect that you’re tired of hearing that sort of thing by now.  After all, six straight correct Super Bowl picks, some of them uncannily accurate—it’s routine to you, I’m sure, but it remains totally awesome to us mortals.  So I won’t bore you by telling you how much I admire you and want to be you.  Instead, I’m going to ask whether you think that maybe, just this once, you could reconsider your position on the fleur-de-lis.  Five years ago, you famously wrote,

my research shows that the fleur-de-lis, in and of itself, is the single most enervating thing you can put on a jersey.  The New Orleans Saints have great colors, but they’re wearing a Frenchy flowery thing on their heads, so it’s really no mystery why they spend January watching the playoffs on TV.  If they could just keep the jerseys, lose the “Saints” motif, and maybe rename themselves the Devils, they’d give themselves half a shot.

Well, it’s February, Mr. Answer Man, and the Saints are not huddled around the TV.  They are in the mother-loving Super Bowl at last.  They have twelve or fifteen different receivers who can score, and their running game isn’t bad either.  Don’t they finally have a chance at winning it all? —B. Hebert, Cut Off, Louisiana

Mister Answer Man replies: No.

Dear Mister Answer Man: Seriously?  How can you be so brusque and dismissive?  Aren’t you aware that quarterback Drew Brees has a long history of playing in manly black-and-gold jerseys, all the way back to his time with the Boilermakers of Purdue?  Surely if anyone can offset the deadly fleur-de-lis with a sufficiently virile, masculine performance, Drew Brees can!  —J. Tiller, West Lafayette, Indiana

Mister Answer Man replies: You people just don’t get it, do you?  All right, I’m going to post that Québec Nordiques jersey again:

See?  See what I’m talking about?  Powder blue jerseys and rings of fleurs-de-lis.  And who’s wearing ‘em?  Adam Foote, Joe Sakic, and Peter Forsberg—three totally awesome players.  How many Cups did they win in Québec?  That’s right, none.  Indeed, the 1994-95 team also included Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci, Scott Young, Valeri Kamensky, and Wendel Clark.  That’s a scary good lineup.  And they didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs.  And at least they made the playoffs for a change!  Just look at Sakic’s career

With deadly fleur-de-lis (1988-95): 234 goals, 392 assists, 626 points—and only 12 playoff games (two six-game losses).

Without deadly fleur-de-lis (1996-2009): 391 goals, 624 assists, 1015 points, two Stanley Cups, 160 playoff games.

Clearly, Sakic was the same hall-of-fame player in Québec City that he was with the Colorado Avalanche.  He even had much of the same lineup playing alongside him.  So what accounts for his postseason success in Denver and total epic fail in Québec?

How many times do I have to say it?

Dear Mister Answer Man: But, but, but ... it’s not as if the Indianapolis Colts have very manly jerseys either.  I mean, actually, they’re kind of boring, don’t you think? —F. de Saussure, Geneva, Switzerland

Mister Answer Man replies: See here, Monsieur de Saussure, if that is your real name, it’s not a question of whether a jersey is manly “in itself.” It’s a relational thing—though I don’t expect you to understand this.  See, in my system, there are no “positive terms.” It all depends on a system of “difference,” where each jersey takes its place in a larger signifying system.  Thus, as I pointed out last year, even the red-and-yellow-wearing Kansas City Chiefs were able to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in 1970 because the Vikings (as advanced uniform science research has shown) wore the most beatable Super Bowl jerseys ever—just masculine enough to get there, but not nearly masculine enough to play competitively once they got there.  And in response to the question of how the beaujolais-and-prosecco-wearing 49ers could have won five Super Bowls, I replied,

If you’re asking whether I’m forgetting a dynasty that defeated (1) a team with stripy orange “tiger” helmets, (2) a team wearing aquamarine and orange, (3) see (1), (4) a team wearing orange (55-10!), and (5) a powder-blue team pretending to be a midnight-blue scary-lightning team, no, no I’m not.  Now, I don’t mean to belittle your epoch-defining victories in the NFC playoffs throughout the 90s, in which you handily defeated more mightily-attired teams with your “West Coast offense” and your frosty champagne helmets.  But seriously, your Super Bowl opponents might as well have been wearing bathrobes.  And in Super Bowl XXIV, they basically were.

The Colts’ uniform, which you consider boring, is what famed head coach and former cornerback Roland Barthes once called “jersey degree zero”: two colors, two shoulder stripes, no piping, no embellishments.  It is a jersey that emphasizes playmaking precision and error-free football.  The Saints’ jersey, by contrast, is out to have a good time: it’s exciting, dynamic, and bold ... and will induce two New Orleans fumbles all by itself.

Still, even those fumbles will not doom the Saints, because their color scheme is just so kickin’.  They will, in fact, have the lead at halftime, just as the Jets did; and in the second half, the hidden weaknesses of their secondary will gradually be revealed to them, just as the Jets’ were.  And then, painfully, in the fourth quarter the fleur-de-lis will work its baleful magic, and the Saints will wind up on the wrong end of a 34-23 score. 

Dear Mister Answer Man: I can’t believe you’re rooting for a Wonder Bread noncity like Indianapolis against the long-suffering French-and-funkified capital of the Black Atlantic.  What the hell is wrong with you?  Though I suppose that if I got to ask, I ain’t never gonna know. —L. Armstrong, Corona, Queens

Mister Answer Man replies: Mr. Armstrong, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good; oh Moloch, please don’t let me be misunderstood.  When kickoff time comes, I’m going to be sitting with a crawfish po’ boy and a frosty mug of Blackened Voodoo, screaming for the Aints to avenge 42 years of profound suckitude and all-around futility and bring a championship home to the ancient town of Marie Laveau, Professor Longhair, and Peyton Manning.  But you don’t mess around with wearing a fleur-de-lis in a contact sport.  You just don’t.

I wish I were Mister Hope-Against-Hope Man or Mister Cheerful-Delusion Man.  But I’m not. I am Mister Answer Man. And the Answer to this Super Bowl question is, I’m afraid, clear and unambiguous.  Enjoy anyway, everyone!

Posted by Michael on 02/04 at 05:20 AM
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Employee of the day

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor annoying helicopter father with digital camera stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.

Posted by Michael on 02/03 at 06:52 AM
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Life writing

My review of Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas appeared in yesterday’s NYT Book Review, and offers solid proof that the 650-word review is not my strongest genre.  Because of my unfortunate habit of summarizing and even quoting from the books I review (as Jerry Graff asked me, “how come you do that instead of just offering your own account of American higher education and then mentioning the author’s name in your review’s final sentence”?), I had to devote 642 of my words to Menand’s argument, leaving only eight for myself.  See if you can figure out which eight!  Hint:  they’re not consecutive.

Shorter me: what’s a shorter?

So I may have a bit more to say about Menand’s book here or at CT (or at both places!) in the next few days—specifically, about his proposals to shorten the average time-to-degree in the humanities.  Yes, I know he’s been shopping these around for a while, and I know that Marc Bousquet remains (almost) as skeptical as ever.  But I’ve changed my mind on the subject over the past 15 years, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll try to explain why.

In the meantime, more Jamie news!  He began his second stint at the LifeLink apartment yesterday, and he’s staying for a full week.  This time he has two roommates (as well as the apartment coach), friends from Special Olympics basketball and golf.  (However, moving in on Sunday afternoon and doing the meal planning and shopping for the week on Sunday evening, Jamie had to miss his 6-7:30 Special Olympics swimming practice.) And we have a very empty house.  I think I’ll stop by his place of work tomorrow and check in on him.

The other day, I was going through his school backpack and came upon his Health folder.  For the most part it’s the standard high school fare, stuff about making healthy choices and having self-esteem, and so on.  But one page caught my attention: under the heading “Autobiography,” students were asked what they would write about themselves and how they would title their work.  Here’s Jamie’s response:

Lifes We Know It

My parents say that all the time.  I am a child in my lifelyhood.  I am to be going up kid.  I like to play Uno.  And I also like animals a lot in my life.  And I like my cd rum game a lot of times.  I am be adult.

Jamie Berube

My first thought upon reading this was, “that’s so sweet—he opens by talking about the fact that there already is a book about him, written when he was a child (in his lifelyhood).” My second thought was a memory of when he first started taking French in seventh grade, and his teacher, who had never had a student with Down syndrome, informed us that he probably shouldn’t be taking the class, since he wasn’t capable of producing proper sentences in French.  “He isn’t capable of producing proper sentences in English, either,” we replied.  “But he understands far more than he can say.” (Or, in developmentese, his receptive language skills are much stronger than his expressive language skills.) Seventh grade didn’t go so well, partly because Jamie’s para that year was kind of depressed and didn’t like helping him with French, but his high school teacher and his para have been amazing.  He still has trouble writing sentences in French, but his grasp of tenses is getting stronger, and his vocabulary is expanding steadily: I can tell him, “tu dois ranger ta chambre avant de sortir,” and he gets it (not that he proceeds to clean his room right away—he is a teenager, after all), and the other day I couldn’t remember the French for coat, and Jamie said, “manteau.”

Anyway, as you can tell, Jamie has a habit of dropping words from his written sentences, so that “I am going to be an adult” becomes “I am be adult.” The first three sentences, as I read them, are about Life As We Know It: “my parents say that all the time” means that he is well acquainted with the fact that there is a book about him and that many people have “met” him through the book, and the next two sentences are Jamie’s version of my explanation, “the book is about when you were a kid just growing up.” As for Uno: that’s a weird one!  Of all the things he could have mentioned ... well, he did play some Uno in the LifeLink apartment last month, and more recently he hung out with one of his afterschool companions playing Uno in a local coffeehouse/bookstore.  So I suppose it’s fresh in memory, even if it isn’t really one of the salient features of his life.  His love for animals and his facility with Harry Potter CD-ROM games, sure, but Uno?  Go figure.

When I asked him about his autobiography, Jamie seemed pleased with his work but (of course) did not want to discuss it in front of Janet, so I simply asked him if he could write things like this to help me with the yet-to-be-written book about how he grew up and became an adult.  I’ve asked him this question a couple of times in recent years, and Jamie says he’s ready and willing.  But we’re going to wait until after he graduates from high school, at least.  “You know what will happen when you graduate,” I say.  “What?” Jamie always asks.  “I will cry,” I say.  “Michael,” he replies, with mild-to-moderate exasperation.

I hope Jamie has a great week.

Posted by Michael on 02/01 at 10:45 AM
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