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Rambling midweek post with no point at all

Warning:  Harry Potter spoiler alerts for everyone who hasn’t read The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince.

Over the weekend I saw two movies.  With Janet, Brokeback Mountain, which was every bit as good as I’d hoped and better (full review on request, time permitting), and, with Jamie, the Disney dog-hero film Eight Below, which was not nearly so bad as I’d feared.  (If you combine the two films, you get Eight Below Brokeback Mountain, a heartwarming and inspiring tale of gay malamutes and huskies fighting for survival in the Antarctic.) Two dogs die, by the way.  Just so you know.  Jamie, however, is now quite mature enough to handle narrative representations of death, having dealt with the death of Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and (just within the past month) the quite horrifying death of Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince.

As it happened, Jamie and I saw Eight Below after the cold front had swept through Pennsylvania; it may have been 59 degrees last Thursday (and it was—I wouldn’t lie about such a thing), but when we got out of the movie at 5 on Saturday, it was about 15 degrees, and the wind was brisk and bitter.  “Zip up your puffy jacket,” I told him.  “It’s like the Antarctic out here.”

“It’s not like the Antarctic,” replied Jamie, sensibly enough.

“No, that’s true,” I admitted.  “The Antarctic would be 50 below zero.  It’s not quite that cold in Pennsylvania.”

“Not fifty,” Jamie said.  “Zero.”

“No, fifty below zero,” I repeated, whereupon he said “not fifty, zero,” and this went on for a few rounds before I realized that Jamie wasn’t grasping the concept of temperatures below zero—or the concept of negative numbers in general.  And why should he, I wonder?  Let’s all switch to the Kelvin system now.  It makes no damn sense to have temperature scales that have a zero, then lots of numbers under zero, then an “absolute” zero, as if to say, “OK, we really mean zero this time.” Sure, it would be weird thinking of 300 degrees as a nice warm day (that would be 27 C or 80.6 F), but we’d get used to it.

I was reminded of an exchange I had with Nick when he was almost four, and we lived in wind-swept Illinois.  Our first winter in Champaign, Janet and I cautioned him as we were putting him to bed that it was going to be extremely cold the next day, with a high of five below zero.

Nick was aghast.  “There’s gonna be no world?”

And that memory led me, in turn, to think of a conversation I’d had with Jamie just before putting him to bed one night.  After wishing him sweet dreams, I asked whether he ever had any dreams in which he finds himself flying.

He was near sleep, but the question snapped him to attention.  He raised his head off the pillow, turned to me, and said, chidingly, “Michael!  That’s impossible!”

Which is true, of course.  But not so weird as five below zero.

Posted by on 02/22 at 04:41 PM
  1. Thanks for the movie reviews, Michael. We really liked “Brokeback Mountain” too. Usually I don’t see a movie based on a book or story I’ve read and loved (this is what I call “The Color Purple” rule), but “Brokeback” really captured the emotion of Proulx’s story. On cold, a physicist friend of mine told me one day that when it is one degree above zero, that’s one degree of heat. I haven’t been cold since, so long as it stays ever so slightly above zero. I don’t accept negative numbers therefore and admire Jamie’s wisdom on this.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  06:46 PM
  2. I’ve heard of old fashioned thermometers that could tell temperature in F or C. Must use European mercury or something.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  02/22  at  06:50 PM
  3. Ouch. Having been unable to avert my eyes in time from a spoiler warningless review of Half-Blood Prince last Fall, I was aware of the unfortunate demise of Dumbledore. But now to have found out about Sirius Black in this way will put a damper on Winter Break. The kids will ski and I will sit in the condo in the dark, blankly staring out the window at colorfully dressed boarders, cursing the unfairness of it all.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  07:30 PM
  4. Sorry about that, Brad!  I’ll put a spoiler alert on top of this post.  But it’s right that you should curse at the unfairness of it all, anyway.  Harry did.

    And black dog, C is no help.  Zero is the freezing point of water?  What kind of sense does that make?  Kelvin, I say, Kelvin or nothing.  Likewise, Chris, while that one degree of heat may be consoling, what do you do when there’s five degrees of unheat?  Doesn’t your physicist friend invite Nick’s question all the more urgently?

    Posted by Michael  on  02/22  at  07:59 PM
  5. I remember sitting in a hotel restaurant in Tokyo with my parents and my 10-years-younger sister, trying to explain that it was possible to divide small numbers by larger numbers without the collapse of all mathematics.  I did not succeed; it took her professional math teachers to persuade her of the theory’s legitimacy a few years later.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  02/22  at  08:21 PM
  6. I love flying in my dreams!

    Today, my 5-year-old son said we had to run home because the house was a plane that was going to take off in 10 seconds. I told him I’d just had a dream this morning that I was about to miss a plane—and would you believe he said he had dreamed about missing a plane, too? For real. He dreamed that Mommy and Daddy made the flight, but he was left behind.

    You should get one of those number lines with zero in the middle and the negative and positive integers going off in their respective directions. Non-Kelvin temperature scales still make no sense, but maybe Jamie could visualize what 50 below zero is…

    Posted by Orange  on  02/22  at  08:29 PM
  7. The whatever-fantastic-number below stuff is funny. Michael, as for Nick, we still remember his habit of calling everything a “truck.”

    I’m not sure why things should disappear at such temperatures. At the age of four, however, I am told I had a similar excusrion of logic. We arrived at a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, after a long trip by plane and train. They had model cars, or course, at the registration desk--under glass. I wailed that I didn’t want to sleep in a toy store!!

    And thus began my saga of living as the son of an employee of Henry Ford, Jr., in the motown city.

    I personally have bookmarked the weather for a Siberian city, built entirely on permafrost, which is the regional capital of a Russian Republic.


    Yakutsk, capital of Russia’s Alaska! Indeed some of the finest people on earth live there, or I like them.

    The Sakha Republic is the coldest place on earth outside of Antarctica. Japanese tourists actually like going there for the extreme experience.

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  02/22  at  08:58 PM
  8. Since this is a random thread, I wanted to encourage everyone to help make Michael ”The Worst Professor in America.” I’ve done my part to bump him up, but I can’t do it alone.  And remember folks:

    Vote Early, Vote Often.

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  02/22  at  10:10 PM
  9. I could do a whole post on extreme experiences the Japanese seek, but I’ll spare you.

    Before I turned the ripe old age of 37, I never owned a winter coat. I bought one when I moved to Tokyo.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/22  at  10:31 PM
  10. I dunno, I just looked at the rankings, and with only 23 votes to Chomsky’s 153 and Eve Sedgewick’s 155, Michael has some catching up to do. And how do you figure that Bettina Aptheker and Cathleen Cleaver only rate one vote apiece, and Leonard Jeffries only 6?

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  10:38 PM
  11. Lorna Sage also had troubles with minus numbers.  Do you think Jamie visualizes counting by imagining objects?

    Posted by Sean  on  02/22  at  10:51 PM
  12. Personally, I think that someone (who? I donno who) is attempting to queer the results of that scientifically objectivly empiracaradical poll. As if someone who absolutely positively thought the world of EKS couldn’t stand the thought of Chomsky at the top of the list ... I’m just saying.


    Posted by  on  02/22  at  10:54 PM
  13. I love your Jamie stories.  He seems like such a practical young man.

    As for the worst prof survey, it’s highly unfair.  I’ve never taken a class from any of those folks so how am I supposed to decide who is the worst?  If it would make you happy, Michael, I would vote for you so you can maybe get an ENTIRE crappy Horowitz book written about you but I’m not so sure that’s a good idea because God will reward me by having some loon assign the book to me and then I’ll feel the need to read everything you’ve ever written or said publicly so I can refute DH again and I will end up both saddened by the fact that he gets published and made small by the fact that I will never be as brilliant as you though it is entirely possible that I will win some kind of sick award for the longest run-on sentence ever posted here and yes, it was on purpose.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  10:58 PM
  14. I dunno, I just looked at the rankings, and with only 23 votes to Chomsky’s 153 and Eve Sedgewick’s 155, Michael has some catching up to do.

    Yes, but they’re all mine.  If two or three of y’all chip in, we can have in Chomsky territory in no time.

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  02/22  at  11:05 PM
  15. OK. I pushed Michael to 100, but you folks are gonna have to do the rest. I gotta get back to Eve for a while.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:13 PM
  16. Slightly OT....

    What the heck is goin’ on with your Blogads, Michael? 

    Tycoons have paid big bucks to generate leftist ideas.  Now they want to see results.

    This little two sentence conspiracy theory is bizarre enough (especially on this blog), but add to it the headline GREENING OF THE LEFT (is this a Crichtonian conspiracy theory?) and the image of a male-model type, with an apparent fixation on Australia, hugging a globe....truly weird!

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:15 PM
  17. Hey, who wants the weather in Yakutsk when you can get the weather in Antarctica? Yes, it’s summertime down in the southern hemisphere, so the current temperatures range from about 50 below zero (clearly, Michael thoroughly researches even pointless posts) to a balmy 40 above.

    Posted by Orange  on  02/22  at  11:17 PM
  18. Click on the link and read the goddamn story, Ben. wink

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/22  at  11:17 PM
  19. Alright, because I needed a break from figuring out ways to get high schoolers excited about issues of monstrosity in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I helped boost Michael into second place. Hopefully Chomsky doesn’t have a blog with legions of dedicated (and perhaps bored) readers.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:28 PM
  20. Fair enough, Rox....I still think it’s a bizarre ad.

    (FWIW, the article itself irritatingly uses “liberal” and “leftist” interchangeably.)

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:28 PM
  21. Reba, you’re entirely right.  That’s exactly what would happen except for the “brilliant as you” part because if you read everything I’ve written or said publicly you’d find out that some of those things are pretty mediocre or only fair-to-middling and there were other times when I was just too pissed off to be rhetorically effective though I won’t say which ones or which times because I think that would be a mistake at this particular historical juncture, which is to say that as I write this, I am now the second-worst professor in America (thanks to Scott Eric Kaufman’s timely intervention), lagging only behind Eve herself, and the opportunities here are truly limitless because (after all) this is a FrontPage production and therefore exceptionally shoddy in design, viz., they have no means of blocking multiple votes from the same IP address (and they spell Berkeley “Berkelyl” all three times it appears), and so please, please vote early and often as Scott suggests, not that I want to influence this scientifically objectivly empiracaradical poll or that I want to write an even longer run-on sentence to vie for a sick blog award or anything.

    Tendencies.  That sounds like a really cool book title.  I think I’ll borrow it.

    Posted by Michael  on  02/22  at  11:29 PM
  22. I should add that sometimes we go to war with the art we have. Not the art we would like.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/22  at  11:32 PM
  23. Alright, because I needed a break from figuring out ways to get high schoolers excited about issues of monstrosity in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I helped boost Michael into second place. Hopefully Chomsky doesn’t have a blog with legions of dedicated (and perhaps bored) readers.

    Yeah, but the really curious thing is that Sedgwick doesn’t have a blog, and yet she totally pwns me right now.  But if it’s OK with you, Paul, I should let our readers know that you were in fact a student of mine at the U of Illinois in the spring of 1996 (English 351, American literature from 1914 to the present), and you know very well how very terrible I am.  You have a critical inside track on this.  Please feel free to disseminate damaging information about me.  If you like, you can mention the fact that the course opened with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes and followed it with Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, thereby inducing narrative whiplash in over two dozen unsuspecting readers.

    Posted by Michael  on  02/22  at  11:37 PM
  24. If I had a boyfriend, and I’m not saying I do, I would say that he’s Jewish, and he saw this poll, and though he’s not an academic, he hated to see a Stanley with such low numbers and so he pushed a Stanley, who he doesn’t know, up into the top 5 range. Sigh. Science is such hard work.

    To quote Larry Summers, Math is hard.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:41 PM
  25. I’ve never visited FrontPageMag before. I feel slightly ill. What’s with the conservative T-Shirts on buxom young women? Through superior firepower peace???? Oh and Michael, there’s even one about Ted Kennedy. And I thought you were kidding.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:42 PM
  26. I have noticed that having voted for the estimable Michael, if you just hit update on the rankings page the tally advances by one.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:44 PM
  27. As best I can determine, that poll is designed to make ballot box stuffing as easy as possible.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:45 PM
  28. Oh, and yeah, Eve doesn’t have a blog, but you have a reader who thinks of himself as a theorist and who is queer ... and how has ADD. Or ADHD. Or something.

    I have a Ritalin prescription.

    Anyways, I also now have Carpal Tunnel or whatever. I’m gonna go back to that other repetitive motion that we academics do, mental masturbation.

    Posted by  on  02/22  at  11:45 PM
  29. Clare, you thought I was kidding?  You doubted me?

    But thanks for visiting the FrontPage website.  Don’t worry about the cookies, or the deluge of email you’ll be receiving from David Horowitz in the next few weeks (only kidding!—I hope).  There are no lasting effects, once the queasy feeling wears off. . . .

    You know, it’s pretty clear that Scott has derailed this thread completely, and no one (sorry, Sean, but thanks for the tres cool Lorna Sage link) is talking about temperatures or negative numbers any more.  So I’ll tell you what.  I’ll hoist this here conversation up onto a brand new post.

    Posted by Michael  on  02/22  at  11:49 PM
  30. What? My Antarctica linkage goes unhailed? [Sigh.]

    Back to voting…

    Posted by Orange  on  02/22  at  11:56 PM
  31. There’s something terribly wrong with that professors list.  Only 1 professor from SUNY-Binghamton?  What, haven’t they heard of Immanuel Wallerstein?  The entire dept. of sociology?  Comp Lit?  Art History, for that matter?  Haven’t they heard about the students who periodically take over the administration building?  Perhaps they figure Binghamton’s a lost cause.

    And Fred Jameson has only 1 vote?

    And why are there so many Eve Sedgwick h8rs?

    Posted by  on  02/23  at  12:15 AM
  32. This is Orwell’s Amerikkka. H8 is Luv baybee.

    And all you all back off and leave Eve at the top!

    Posted by  on  02/23  at  12:25 AM
  33. Well, you’re the front-runner now.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/23  at  12:27 AM
  34. OK. I’m sad now.

    Eve, I voted for you.

    Posted by  on  02/23  at  12:28 AM
  35. I have very tired fingers...but Michael’s now the worst professor in America.  I now officially un-derail this thread.  Consider it back on the tracks!  (If Horotwitz figures out I rigged his game, I fear more nasty emails.  Also, Chomsky was way in the lead a couple of hours ago.  Someone must really unironically hate Eve.)

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  02/23  at  12:31 AM
  36. No, I unironically adore Eve. I just wanted her to be first and all of that.

    I can’t compete with an entire blog of Michael h8ters/luvers. Am gonna go back and push Warner before Chompski and then go to bed.

    The work of the wicked is never done.

    Posted by  on  02/23  at  12:37 AM
  37. It’s a fact: Sedgwick hired some script kiddies to make her look dangeresque.

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  02/23  at  12:38 AM
  38. Anyways, to avoid confusion I think you should just switch to the Australian celcius system where anything under 10 degrees is simply referred to as, “brass monkeys,” as in, “It’s brass monkeys out there!”

    Posted by Ronald Brak  on  02/23  at  12:43 AM
  39. Don’t be dissing EKS. She’ll cut you.

    But not really. Air kisses.

    Posted by  on  02/23  at  12:43 AM
  40. Mmmm, that’s some fun votin’. 4 for Michael (pulled ahead of Eve!), 1 for Ward (saw “Good Night and Good Luck” “with” Ward Churchill, meaning he was in the same theater—hoping this admission will get me discovered on the network), and 1 for Mr. Schell. A great man, a great schololol.

    Posted by dswift  on  02/23  at  01:09 AM





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