Friday, January 30, 2009

Tears for Keith (And Hopefully Nadal)


I'm staying up again to watch tennis. I had a feeling Nadal would struggle against Verdasco so I stayed up, hoping to be rewarded. It paid off. The match isn't over, but it's 1-0 Verdasco and a 4-5 Nadal lead in the second set.

But that's not what's funny. Here's what's funny: a commercial came on advertising the basketball game this Sunday between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons, referring to the teams as "Eastern Titans."

That's funny. Detroit stopped being an "Eastern Titan" about two months ago. Just ask Keith. Wait, don't. He might cry.


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

FeDeReR Roxxors My Suxxors

After closing out the second set with Supreme Authority (and going up 2-0 against Roddick), Federer spent the break in between admiring the replays of himself on the Giant Screen in the arena. While Roddick tried to collect himself with internal (though very audible) admonitions and rebukes, Federer leaned back in his chair and smiled as scene after scene on the Giant Screen (really: it's probably about 20ish feet wide) showed his tennistic* prowess from the last set. He may have imbibed some water. I think, though, that replays of his own Insane Ability may have satiated any bodily desires he may have had.

*Probably not a real word.

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For the Love of the Game?

I'm staying up late to watch the Australian Open Semifinal Match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. Because of the time difference (I think it's 18 hours ahead, as in , tomorrow [er, well, tonight for them]) it's on at 1:30am. So here I am, school and everything, preparing for what's hopefully an epic tennis match.

Just to spite me, I bet God will make the match a straight set doozy...meaning my staying-up adventure will be for naught.

But that's not likely. Federer has regained his legendary form (The Velvet Sledgehammer!) and Andy Roddick is playing out of his mind with a serve that could, literally, kill someone. He's consistently serving at around 120mph or something - which means people could die and shit.

But Federer has consistently crushed Roddick. In fact, if not for Federer, Roddick might have four Grand Slams instead of one. He's been to four finals and lost three of them - all to Federer. He's lost nine single's titles to Federer. So, without Federer, Roddick might have had three more Grand Slams under his belt along with three ATP Masters Series Tournaments and six tournament wins.

Tough luck, I guess.

For juxtaposition's sake, here's what Federer has been doing for the past few years: out of a possible 20 Grand Slams over the last five years, Federer has been to the Finals in 16 of them and won 12. The four he lost were all at the hands of Rafael Nadal...meaning he might have gone 16/20 if not for that Spaniard. Crazy. He's got 13 Grand Slams, one less than Pete Sampras who holds the record, and he's still 27, which, while not young for tennis standards, is still a ripe age, especially when you're sicktastically good. Aghassi won a Grand Slam at age 33 (which is stupid old) and Sampras won one at 31. So he can keep it up, I think.

Federer won 13 Grand Slams in 39 attempts whereas Pete Sampras won 14 in 54 attempts. So, yeah, I'd say he's retardedly-good, as in, I'm-a-savant-and-I-play-piano-really-well-and-drool-at-the-mouth. Some people argue about whether he's faced as stiff of competition as Sampras, but whatever. I'm just gonna sit back and watch.

For the record, I don't care who wins. Roddick was always cool, even when I never really paid attention to tennis, and Federer is just unreal and beautiful, in that way that's difficult to look away from. Besides, I want him, badly, to break Sampras record, by, like, three or four slams. I think he can do it, considering his talent and his age.

Whatever, it's 1:35 and about to start.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Teachers that Don't Think

Three of my English teachers have administered mini-lectures on their anti-"inappropriate use of technology in my classroom" stances. It's been pretty blah. Here's what they say, more or less, about laptops specifically:

"If you use laptops to look at Facebook, Myspace, or whatever, other people can get distracted by that. They look over and see you on websites and what not and they get distracted."

So basically, looking at websites is distracting to other students because those other students will look at them over your shoulder. I gues that makes sense?

Well, as much as I'd like to dispute other students being distracted by someone engaging in non-note-taking activity on their laptops, let's grant that it's entirely, 100% true, all the time.

Students, then, are distracted and so you shouldn't be allowed to do anything on your laptops other than take notes. Well, in that case, typing shouldn't be allowed because in a classroom filled with, at first, only the teacher's voice, even one person typing can be loud as hell. So, right away, typing is out. That, or people have to type really softly. Try that sometimes, and keep in mind you have to keep up with a teacher who's not going to pause much.

But here's my favorite consequence of this anti-"inappropriate use of technology" stance: you can't let people with nervous ticks in the classroom. Yes, I just. Said. That. If other students are going to be distracted by Facebook on someone else's laptop, then anyone with a nervous tick is going to be just as much as a distraction. So there you go: teachers who adopt this stance for this reason have to put a disclaimer in the course catalogue: "No nervous ticks. Drop them or drop my class."

I may be a dick, but seriously, just sayin'.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curious Case and Some Curious Reactions, Which I Expect No One To Read

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I don't know who all has seen this movie among people I know, or what their reactions were, but I liked it. Broadly, it was tender, excellently crafted, and - most significantly - beautiful.

But a bunch of people disagreed. It was received favorably from most critics, but a number of them couldn't forgive what they saw as a "lack of passion" in the movie, specifically between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. I think they simply misread the parts and the people, but I'll leave that till later.

What prompted this post, really, though, was the awful review (both in terms of perspective and execution) offered by a fellow opinion columnist at the ASU State Press. His reasons for disliking the film consist in pointing out that it didn't make much money and that it doesn't "feel" as good as other top-winners at the Academy Awards - he mentions Titanic, The Godfather, and Ben-Hur approbative examples.

Well, first, box office gross is a notoriously misguided and stupid angle to take when critiquing a film (emphasis on 'stupid'): not only have a number of low-grossing films won awards/been nominated for awards (how about last year's No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood?) but the only way it reflects on a movie's quality is in the summation that "it wasn't interesting to the American public." And, for fuck's sake, when has that ever mattered? Geez. That's pretty much an affront to art everywhere, in any time.

And second, what can we draw from this idea that it didn't "feel" like other big winners? I'm not sure. I can understand a certain feeling that the films he mentions might elicit (though not Titanic; that movie was good, but it wasn't deserving of a bazillion awards [it had the fortune, though, of competing in a weak year for cinema - seriously, check the list: As Good as it Gets, Good Will Hunting, LA Confidential, and The Full Monty; solid films, but none of them quite legendary or unique]), but "feeling" is certainly a bad way of judging a film. Any film by David Lynch is guaranteed to draw ire for being nasty, strange, disturbing, but that doesn't mean the films are bad, just different than mainstream.

It seems we can easily dismiss this weak attempt as, well, something, though I couldn't say what. Perhaps it merits a response next week in my own column.

The top critics that have reviewed it have offered unfavorable sentiments that consistently point to a few things: 1) the acting chops of the cast; 2) the lack of "passion/chemistry" between Pitt and Blanchett; and 3) the film's familiarity and similarity to Forrest Gump (which was written by Eric Roth, who also wrote Curious Case).

1) We can first look towards the Academy, comprised of over a thousand members, people who act, direct, produce, write, and so on, who nominated multiple members of the cast for awards. They aren't always correct in determining winners, but they do a fine-excellent job, for the most part, in selecting nominees. Aside from the Academy, we can look to our own sense of the film's acting. Curious Case didn't include acting performances that we normally consider "great." That is, it wasn't like The Godfather where scenes were tense and crazy and wild and angry and passionate and just really all around front-of-your-seat wow. And it wasn't like No Country For Old Men where scenes were so weird and and full of intricately constructed dialogue that we were forced to concede "greatness" because of the sheer ability it takes to execute such scenes with the kind of precision and delicacy that Josh Brolin and crew provided.

Curious Case was different, though. It's power emanated not from Al Pacino scream-fests nor Javier Bardem creep-fests, but rather, from tender, tranquil scenes that required nuance beyond the capabilities of even your run-of-the-mill strong actors. Button's father had to engineer a performance that spoke to a man beset with copious amounts of guilt, the kind that eats away at you in a way that makes you want to melt, as opposed to blow up. Tilda Swinton, an affair of Pitt's, had to show a sort of stern and aloof tenderness that didn't require over-the-top acting, but a kind of reserved passion, an adulterer who didn't want to give too much away, even though she was loving and reveling in every minute. And Pitt himself was a paragon of reservation, but I'll get into that later with 2). Other parts merited large amounts of acclaim, but to save time (and fascination) I'll leave it to you to see the film and judge for yourself.

2) And here we are. The claim that there was little or no passion/chemistry between Pitt/Blanchett seems to disregard both Button's character and a number of scenes in the movie. Button's character was a walking exposition in how to be reserved yet precise and assertive. Button, possibly because of his unique situation, constantly sat back and observed everything and everyone around him. So, a portrayal of such is going to give a non-detailed watcher the feeling of a lack of passion/chemistry. But Pitt's character was always observing. What made the film so great was the fact that Pitt's character grew emotionally and psychologically. By the end of it, he was the one giving advice as opposed to being the ever-ready listener. To miss this seems strange because it was pretty important to the overall story arc.

And there were many scenes full of chemistry. Every scene before the full-on "we're totally in love with each other" part towards the end was drenched in reservation on Pitt's part and the friendly, immature, self-consciousness of Blanchett. As it progresses, you see spats between the two, and a sort of defiance in Pitt as he tries to continually win her love and stay by her side. Eventually, they fall totally in love, to the point where they're so comfortable with one another that a mere look or a few words will say everything at once. So I can see critics mistaking this sort of peacefulness for a lack of chemistry, but it's still a mistake.

3) I'm not sure how this one detracts from the film's overall awesomeness, but I'll try. I think the claim is that because it seems similar to Forrest Gump it's somehow less cool and less unique (and thus less good?). Eric Roth did write both, and there are similarities in terms of plot and narrative structure, but there the similarities end. Where Forrest Gump concerned itself with intertwining one guy's life with the historical events of his time while exploring that guy's place in society, Curious Case explored everything and more without putting too much emphasis on historical context. Benjamin Button's life involved the complexities of race, prejudice, love, passion, struggles, and the overarching thought that life is dragging you someplace and though you have some control, you're largely at its whim. A big point in Curious Case was that we're put in situations we can't always control and it totally sucks balls to have to make any decision, much less the right/best one. But, as usual, we do the best we can.

So where the two films part is where they become unique. In fact, I think Curious Case explores much stronger ideas and themes than Forrest Gump and, partly because of it, is a better film. Eric Roth seems to have shed the somewhat superficial nature of his earlier film for the strong, yet strikingly placid, temperament of his latest.

I could say more, but this post is already long past the point of normal motivation to read. And I think I've proved my point, or at least drubbed the points of some other people. Of course, watching the film is the best way to decide for yourself. So, you know, find three hours and give it a go.

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Sports Related but Anyone Can Enjoy It! Yay!


I've been watching a healthy amount of tennis the last seven days, partly because I'm beginning to like tennis - a lot - and partly because the Australian Open (the first major of the tennis calendar) began seven days ago. In any case, other than getting better at recognizing all things tennis, the more complicated noodlings and what not, I'm admiring more and more the fans.

Tennis is unique among "Sports the American Public Cares About," which includes football, baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey and maybe a few others (that's the general order of popularity, too): it's an individual event, one in which, literally, the cream rises to the top. It's incredibly transparent, which is awesome and usually unheard of; the transparency, though, is mainly the result of 1) a lack of calls that require complicated officiating and 2) the ease at which competitors can review calls - any calls - they think went the wrong way. The fact that it's an individual sport and very transparent means the best people win the most often, an attribute that's highly attractive and addictive.

But here's what I like about the fans: they cheer, scream, hoot and holler whenever anything cool, awesome, incredible or inspiring happens, no matter who is the progenitor of such a moment. There are loyalties, to be sure, but even if you're in love with Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, you'll make some noise if Andy Murray does something incredible. In your other mainstream sports, this is not likely to happen. The only time a fan will fawn over a non-team-player's action is if it's really ridiculous, like when Nate Robinson blocks Yao Ming (Nate is 5'8" in heels and Yao Ming is 7'6" straight up) or when Kobe or whoever hits a stupid turn around jumper with two seconds left on the clock and three guys in his face. But if, say, Kobe makes a similar shot in the second quarter or something, the average non-Lakers fan will usually snarl in disgust (because they hate Kobe and whenever Kobe does something awesome, they get angry [because it's a constant reminder of their deep desire to cheer for awesome talent and their inability to do so when it's someone they hate/isn't on their team]).

Of course, part of this disparity between tennis and football/basketball/baseball/et al is the reality that one is a team sport with teams holding camp in a specific geographic location (and geographic loyalty has a certain hold over people's inclinations) and the other is an individual sport in which athletes represent various countries, rather than specific geographic locations. When multiple athletes originate from the same location (in this case a whole country) it's harder to have loyalties. You're all at once loyal to the location (the country) but you can't possibly be loyal to all it's members, because they interact and play eacher and so on. It's like rooting for the Clippers and the Lakers; they're both from Los Angeles and they play each other all the time, the same division and conference, and so it's difficult to be loyal to both. It's a lot easier to be loyal to, say, the Lakers of LA and the Knicks of New York because they play each other rarely, if at all. It's easier to keep loyalties intact if they never come into conflict.

Since tennis operates on a different fidelital (is that a word?) level, it's easier to hoot and holler for different players and it's a lot harder to hold loyalties to a specific player. It's also difficult to sustain loyalties because players get old and retire after a while. And, unlike a team sport, you can't stay loyal to a franchise as it keeps replenishing players and coaches and staff and whatever. When a guy retires from tennis, you have to pick another guy, or another couple of guys. I imagine most tennis fans do something like this: they naturally root for one country, usually the one they're from, and then they latch on to individual players, even players from outside the country of loyalty.

Even so, people don't stay stock still or snarl in disgust when the guy whooping the ass of the guy they root for makes a sick play on the baseline; they bang their head, of course, in empathetic anger and frustration, but only after first marveling at the sick play on the baseline. When you watch tennis, the crowd will respond almost uniformly to each player. There's usually a difference, but it's only noticeable to a small degree, or to a degree that's irrelevant/doesn't matter/who cares. In fact, this unform hooting and hollering makes most matches feel more intense than the first or second round boredom it normally would feel like. In Big Team Sports, regular season games sometimes feel lackluster, for whatever reason, and others feel like playoff games, with the crowd going crazy and especially if the two teams are close together, where the fans split 50/50 in terms of representation. When one side does something the place erupts; if the other responds, the place erupts. That's how tennis feels all the time. It's great.

Tonight, Roger Federer, best player in the world, one of the greatest to the play tennis, was getting his ass kicked by some 6'5" Czech youngster, and the crowd was responding by cheering the Czech youngster. But everytime Federer started to claw his way back, they let him know they still cared about him, and that he was still awesome. If you were looking to discriminate between loyalties, you'd be confused. It doesn't matter, though, because the crowd was responding to good tennis, not regional/ethnic/whatever loyalties. Of course, when Federer got his shit together and won three straight sets to complete an incredible comeback, the crowd let him know that they enjoyed every minute, every grueling, "will he or won't he?" moment. But people cheered just as much for the effort that the Czech guy put up in order to make the great match possible.

I think what it amounts to is this: in tennis, people are there to 1) watch their favorite players and 2) enjoy the hell out of the sport. If two players play well and give a good match, people are going to let them know. And when it's not too eventful, people still whoop and jump because of regional/ethnic/whatever loyalties. It's win-win-win.

And, just for kicks, I should mention that not all fans of Big Team Sports react this way. Keith and I, for instance, marvel at any awesome basketball play, even if it is the result of, say, some Spurs player we loathe (which would be all Spurs players, come to think of it). This indiscriminate cheering makes things interesting when attending games, because people start to think I'm either a) a moron or b) epileptic. At a recent Suns/Hawks game, for example, some girls in front of us thought we were from Atlanta because I screamed, Braveheart-like, whenever Zaza Pachulia so much as touched the ball. "Paaaacchhhhuuuulliiiiaaaa!" would ring out across the stadium and people started staring. Confusion erupted, though, because I would yell every time Steve Nash ran up the court and shot a stupid, "this-isn't-real" three pointer. So, you know, there are exceptions to those ridiculous people who paint their skin red and white and attend Nebraska Cornhuskers games wearing nothing but shorts and giant corn on the cobs arm guards.


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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kobe and Clutch and Why Jon Will Be Mad at Me




A recent Basketbawful (a sports blog) post took to task the idea that Kobe Bryant is "clutch"; two things were readily apparent: one, no one is really sure what "clutch" means, least of all the author of the relevant post, and two, the guest author was an admitted life-long Celtics fan. Take from that what you will.

The accusation that Kobe is not "clutch" was supported by copious amounts of statistical data compiled by Those Great Men at 82games.com, a website devoted to the painstaking job of compiling all manner of NBA statistics. The stats were laid bare, conclusions were drawn, and cheers went up to the heavens. (This post, I suppose, will be better understood if one has read the Basketbawful post, which I assume many of you haven't; but I'm not worried because the people who would read this kind of post (the current one) all the way through are the people who have read the Basketbawful post.)

But let's ask some questions: how was the data compiled? 82games.com takes "clutch" to be any action taking place with five minutes left in the 4th quarter or overtime (which is five minutes long). The implication here, then, is that "clutch" is simply whatever statistical data one might amass in these narrow chronological constraints. That's a fair enough assessment, but it fails to take into account all sorts of things, like the effect a player has on his team and the defense (the way they space the floor, the way his teammates react and play, and the way plays are run and defended based on a certain player being on the floor) or the ways in which the player amasses statistics inside these narrow chronological constraints.

For instance, let's say Kobe Bryant is guarded man to man for most of the game with the occasional double team, but when the second half of the 4th quarter comes around, the defense begins pressuring him more by double teaming much more often and bringing weak-side help almost every possession he touches the ball. In that case, his shots are going to be much more difficult to both obtain and make, and his avenues for passing will deteriorate as the space around him closes in (the double/triple teams). Also, his ability to steal and/or block the ball may be mitigated if a team forces the ball away from him on defense so that other, weaker defenders are seeing most of the action. All of these things combined make one wonder if a greater statistical prowess inside these chronological constraints is really a measure of "clutch-ness."

Shot selection is itself the most obvious area where things are going to be different. In the final five minutes, Kobe will see the toughest and densest defensive structures teams have to offer and the types of shots he takes are much more difficult than the average basketball shot, or even the average Kobe shot. Most of the game he's doing things like running into the lane and taking jumpers, laying it in, dunking, pick and pops, rolling under screens, catch and shoots, and so on. In the final five minutes, though, he's dribbling the ball, observing the defense, and then he might run at the defender, create space and attempt a turn around fadeaway jumper (with the added pressure of this being a must-make bucket) or he might go at the defender and watch the defense collapse, forcing him into a situation where he has almost no avenue to shoot but an even smaller avenue to pass - so he's forced to rise up and attempt a shot, often with his left hand. And the fact that he makes these shots - at all - is incredible.

And that's another issue with the 82games.com statistics: it doesn't differentiate between Kobe taking these kinds of shots and Sasha Vujacic taking an open three-pointer made possible because Kobe drove into the lane and drew defenders. Statistically, relevant to field-goal percentages (which are apparently very important and meaningful), these shots are the same and thus have the same power. Well, if Kobe Bryant is making 48% of his crazy, awkward, absurd shots and Vujacic is making 60% of his open threes, which one is more clutch? Does it matter? Are they the same?

Kobe makes 77% of his "clutch" shots unassisted whereas Dirk Nowitzki makes 50% of his unassisted. Does this matter? Kobe's shots seem harder; is that more clutch? Is it more clutch to be able to take more assisted shots? But doesn't that mean your team is better able to rotate and get open shots? Do the statistics differentiate between clutch minutes played when a player is playing alongside four idiots and he has to take a lot of dumb shots (such as Kobe during the years 2005 to 2007ish)?

And speaking of dumb shots, what about late game situations where a team is down by a large amount (say 20) and so is indiscriminately taking 3's? Most of these are going to rim out or brick horribly, and yet they will count towards "clutch" statistics. Phil Jackson will not take his starters out until 60 seconds left in the game, unless his team is up/down by 20-30. If it's a 15 point game, Phil will keep Kobe and co. in the game until there's under a minute remaining. So shots in this situation, for the team that is down, are going to be haphazzard and rushed - and yet count the same as other "clutch" shots. And since Phil is more likely to keep his players in the game to be taking such indiscriminate shots, Kobe is going to be taking more useless shots that have a low percentage to begin with. And there's no way to make better shots in these situations: with time almost gone and the deficit so large, any team with any player is going to be rushing possessions and attempting poor shots. If you play with Phil, you'll be in this situation more often than if you play with, say, Greg Poppovich, who takes his starters out of 15 point games at the three minute mark every time.

So clearly there's a problem with identifying statisical prowess as the main component of "clutch-ness." But what else is there? I mentioned a certain aura a player brings to the court, perhaps bolstering his teammates or whatever, and maybe that's it, but honestly, it seems a very difficult attribute to ascertain. Statistics alone will not guarantee - or even hint - at a possible definition. These numbers, because of their neutral mode of compilation, cannot show or explain any more than we want them too. They are simply a measure of what was physically gained and lost, but not how, why, or when it was gained or lost, which is very important if you're going to draw the types of conclusions from them that people have attempted to do.

And Jon will be mad at me for this sort of argumenation, because he'll think I'm just deconstructing whatever hurts Kobe and/or the Lakers. Also, he'll feel I'm just deconstructing for the purpose of deconstruction (though I'm not sure what that means). A constant grievance laid against me is that I staunchly defend (somewhat irrationally) the Lakers and its members against any and all criticism. This if, of course, not true and I'd like to think I'm less biased than, say, Bill O'Reilly or your average social conservative. Obviously, though, it's hard to determine bias when someone is talking about something they love/appreciate/like a lot: how do we discern between me engaging in argumentative discussion because I see something wrong and between me engaging in argumentative discussion because I want to find something wrong? I guess we don't. We have to hope and trust (and watch and learn, too) in order to know if I'm arguing for altruistic reasons. Ideally, whatever ideas I present will be examined in their own light to see if they do, indeed, obtain (thus clearing me, perhaps, of bias?).

Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog, I suppose) is aware that I like to argue - even lost points that have no meaning/relevance. I'll argue anything, or discuss anything, just because life is interesting. When I argue about Lakers and Lakers paraphernalia, am I doing so because it's interesting and I find something wrong with the opposing view, or because I'm adament in my pursuit of making the Lakers et al. the greatest?

Your decision. But it seems likely to be the former, as opposed to latter, because I argue and discuss so often and about so many things. It seems more probable that I'm doing so because I like to argue/discuss than because I'm over-protective of the herd.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The End of the First Week (I'm going to get flak for this post)


Well, almost the end of the first week. In any case, I'm pretty much aware of how things are going to go and how they're not.

But no one cares about that. Let's talk about something else.

The syllabus: my discussion teacher for fiction writing (grad student) has an interesting one. The thing you notice right away is the abundant use of bold and italics throughout...which is unsettling to the eye and probably unnecessary. If you look out of for these sort of things, you're in the clear for nearly the first two pages until the bottom of the second page where you're greeted with "I will check attendance..." and so on. In that same paragraph she uses "*'s" (four of them around two words) to emphasize, as well. I can't imagine what reading her fiction is like.

Here's a good one: "Respect for your peers is not only appreciated, it is mandatory."


Four sentences later she italicizes an entire clause. This clause is surrounded by a number of sentences about sexual harassment, which is a strange paragraph to include in a syllabus, much less speak out loud with special emphasis (which she did). I'm hoping she had a past experience (probably not a good one), otherwise I'm seeing this as a little weird.

I guess, on second thought, I shouldn't be "hoping she had a past experience" because that means someone was sexually harassed, which, um, sucks.

Another awesome sentence: "Written, one 1/2 page (typed), constructive critiques of each of your peers' work on workshop days are a large part of your participation grade." If you had to guess, what guess would you guess as to what (exactly) I find displeasing (very) about that sentence (sentential-ly)?

Here, I'll emphasize everything I find odd/weird/interesting/bad: "Written, one 1/2 [sic] page (typed) [sic], constructive critiques of each of your peers' work on workshop days are a large part of your participation grade." It was difficult to point out mid-sentence, but she wants this constructive critique to be "written" and also "typed."

And one final treat: "(This outline is subject to change at my discretion as needed or desired.)


I suppose it's a little mean to critique her syllabus in this way, but honestly, I had a hard time doing anything else while she read every word *out* ^loud.^ Plus, she's a fiction grad student, so she, like, writes fiction - a lot.

I'll give her the benefit of the doubt; she's nervous, even though (as per her word) she's taught four or five classes. Here's why I think she's nervous (italics added by me, this time): "There are no excused absences, but in the case of emergencies, that's obviously not the case." This came after talking for a few minutes about how there were no "*excused*" absences, under any circumstances, whatsoever. She was implicating, through certain words and what not, that even illnesses wouldn't be excused, and I'm sure she actually said the words "if you're sick..." But then she ends with that beautiful sentence and cleared everything up.

Another reason I think she's nervous: She has high self-esteem, she's very comfortable with who she is and what she's about - which is great. The problem, though, is that people who are comfortable with their lives and who they are as people sometimes realize that others look at this in an odd way. People who are this sure tend to stand out as a different and no one likes to stand out; 'cause that's weird and people stare. So she's aware of this and therefore a little uncomfortable in front of the class, which is ironic. She's uncomfortable because she's comfortable.

The textbook for my American Lit class is called "The Norton Anthology - American Literature: Shorter Seventh Edition." Most of that's true, but not the last three words, specifically shorter. Seriously. The book (tome, really) is 2800 pages long, thick, dense, weighs five pounds, and reminds me vaguely of Jason Alexander. I'm certain that if dropped on my cat, it (the cat) would no longer be a cat, but would look much like the cat from Boondock Saints - which, after receiving the business end of an accidentally discharged pistol, resembled puddy and mush, thick soup sprayed across the wall.

It's the kind of book that, if dropped on a table from a 12 inch height, would thunder ominously, like the beginning of a small quake or the beginning of a Michael Bay movie.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

I saw a guy on the news today start to say "Rosa Parks": he got through "Rosa" and had opened his mouth to say "Parks" but he was unable to finish - a cameraman jumped from off-screen to tackle him out of his chair. Another cameraman deftly slipped into his chair and finished the telecast. It appears they were prepared for an accident: the cameraman who finished the telecast was already wearing a jacket (though you could see his greesy black techy shirt underneath; give him a break, he's trying).


And that, my friends, is what you get for trying to talk about someone other than MLK on his own fuckin' day. You can talk about Obama, but the second you spend more words talking about him than MLK, game over. Seriously, don't test this. The universe has a way of kicking ass.

In other news, school starts tomorrow. My books for Tuesday classes weigh 9 pounds. I only have two classes. And they weigh nine pounds. If I bring my laptop and a spiral notebook or two, combined with the backpack and various pens and other accessories, we're looking at maybe eighteen pounds, sixteen minimum. On Mondays, though, it's worse, because I have two big books and a night class with another big book, along with laptops, pens, etc. I'm gonna need back supports for my already creeky physicality to get through the spring, I think.

Also, Kelly and I have a class together, MWF. Now, we're split on where to sit. I like to sit in the back, or at least on the side, because I have a psychological thing about seeing as much of the room and students as possible. It's weird. I don't get it, but it is what it is. Kelly, though, prefers the middle, and she's okay with the front row (sic). We'll have to draw straws or rock-paper-scissors this shit.

Oh and that picture, which is a white girl from Texas dressing up as Aunt Jemima, is implicated in the following event: the girl pictured and a group of her friends decided a few years ago to celebrate MLK Day by dressing up in stereotypically black ways (I guess they also meant "as well-known black people" too; pause for a moment and consider what you would dress as). The president of her university's NAACP chapter found out and saw the photos, quickly notifying local authorities who were quick to rain down bombs and corrosive acid in order to fight the onslaught of funny costumes.

The girl and her friends (a few of whom are black) said they started the tradition as a way of celebrating their black friends (who apparently loved the idea and joined in on the fun themselves). The public, of course, was outraged. But hey, if there were some black people in on the ground floor and they thought it was funny and liked it, then I don't see a problem. In any case, if I were to go, I would dress up as Uncle Jemima, for those of you who've seen the relevant SNL skit.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prose Ailment (Or Virus Or Disease Or Something)

My writing has been suffering lately, and not in terms of content and volume, but in terms of style. It's lacking that quality that used to make it sparkle. See? I just said "used to make it sparkle." That, if anything, is an indication that something is wrong.

What I mean is that my writing has become turgid; simple; unrealized garbage. My writing used to speak both in what it said and how it was said and now it seems to perform only the former. Gone are the days, it seems, when I would write in a way that would inform my topic, or inform something, anything. My prose is now simple, straight, direct, and lackluster. It's nearing obscurity and normality. Examples are abundant in the majority of my last 10 or so posts.

I don't think I'm the only sufferer of this disease - "inferior writing." I think it's a common disease (or virus or whatever; I'm no linguist, I won't attempt to identify it's biology) among writers in my generation (or, in my case, people who aspire to be writers). Lots of what I read has that quality where it could have been written by anybody, by some random person. I've no way of telling who authored most things I read, today, and that's bothersome.

Perhaps the reason things got this way is this: in an age of ever-increasing information volume-flux and the abundance of mediums through which to communicate and transfer this information, people are demanding, possibly subconsciously, writing that is more direct, straight, and narrow, writing that doesn't dance around a point for the sake of dancing, writing that doesn't speak in awkward sentences in order to further the point of the piece. People who read blogs and other mediums want prose that is easy to understand, easy to ready, and that gets to the point without meandering through the woods first, even if there's an intellectual and artistic purpose behind such meandering - for instance, the way I'm meandering and repeating myself in this paragraph in order to emphasize the antithesis of what I'm identifying.

People have no time for art, anymore, especially in writing. Writing is perhaps the most difficult art to consume appropriately, because it takes the most time. Or at least that's the pathology. People feel they can look at a painting, a drawing, a sculpture, whatever and get whatever there is to get in a relatively short amount of time, and then move on to the next victim piece. And the same can't be said for writing, which requires applied reading, thinking, and re-reading in order to comprehend whatever the hell is being said. It's much faster to look twice and three times at a piece of marble than it is to re-read Moby Dick. So folks don't have time, they say, to do "art writing" - which to their mind is anything not related to the media and the news.

For this reason, blogs, to attract attention and a healthily dispersed demographic, tend towards journalistic writing as opposed to artistic writing, which causes a decrease in the volume of good writing out there. And hence the explanation to my current prose woes.

As you've no doubt discovered, I've regained some of my prowess in this very blog post, but it all seems unnatural, a little off, somehow, to be writing fluidly and artistically after indulging in garbage newspaper script, a practice that came much too easily for me to be at all comfortable about the future.

The information influx, Total Noise to David Foster Wallace, is having a profound effect on everything, and we - I - keep discovering new consequents to its antecedents.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

And School Begins

If it wasn't clear from the title, school starts, next Tuesday.

We have Monday off in order to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., but if you so much as think about Rosa Parks or the Black Panthers, prepare for a beatdown. This is about MLK, bitches, not "other people who had a significant hand in the Civil Rights movement and deserve as much credit." Besides, MLK beat his wife and slept around - I never saw Rosa smoochin' other dudes. If she did, maybe we'd have Rosa Parks Day. So next time you think about joining up for an historic cause, make sure you sleep around and hit some women so we can designate a whole day to remembering you.

...

The beginning of a new semester is another one of those times where you sit back and reflect on all the cool things you planned on doing over the break and never did. Like after summer. Like after spring break. Like after that week of school you took off in order to road trip (but instead spent smoking pot and watching Dragonball Z). And, the most awesome-est, like on New Year's Eve when you remember all of last year's resolutions, a psychological shock that forces you into heavy drinking and the fondling of strangers.

So here I am at the onset of another semester and I'm remembering all those things I said I was going to do, and didn't:

- Have lunch/hang out with multiple friends from high school I haven't seen in a while (Mitch Gamso and Erin Reily come to mind)

- Go camping in the Superstitions, or at all (Philippi and I had the crazy idea to spend a few days freezing our asses off; unfortunately, we were unable to rally enough local support.)

- Get a job (Ha! Come again?)

- Read a lot (Well, okay, I read a lot more than anyone else I know and a lot more than even dedicated readers do, but I was thinking something along the lines of 6 hours a day; I ended up averaging about 3 to 3.5, so I guess it wasn't that bad. [Production definitely suffered on weekends, though, which is why my average was less than 4; if you take weekends out, it would probably jump to 4.5-5 - go me.])

- Not spend a ridiculous amount of time watching, reading, and talking basketball with Keith, Jon, and, sadly, myself. (I watched a game a day, two on half the days. And I think Keith would prefer I didn't call him randomly to talk about some statistic I just read about and not continue the conversation further.)

Well, that's a solid number of promises I didn't keep. I'm awesome.

What promises did I keep? Well, I almost kept the promise about reading and I hung out with two people I hadn't seen in a while, but about which I had no promises. So, you know, I did something.

And what does the new semester bring? Lots of reading. I got my books in today, which I ordered off of Amazon.com under face value (eat that ASU bookstore!), and they each weigh as much as my fat cat. Thankfully, I have three classes on MTW and two on TTH so I'm not committing myself to carrying an exorbitant weight of books all the time. Oh wait, I have a labtop. Dammit, I'm screwed.

And in other news, I'm seeing Paul Blart: Mall Cop tomorrow with a crew of people. If I didn't text you, it means I don't have your phone number, but you're invited anyways! Call me. Despite all the flack I've been receiving about how bad the movie looks, I'm still convinced it's going to be funny. Kevin James has a good track record of being funny, though his only cinematic input has been that gay-but-not-really fireman one with Adam Sandler, which I heard wasn't too bad. But the previews let it be known that it was entirely a Sandler production, including the writing, so here's to a movie that's all James, all the time. Let's see if he delivers.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is Excellent

There's a great passage in a David Foster Wallace essay I'm reading: it's brilliant, funny, and truthful. The context is a discussion he's started about how contemporary fiction writers ((he wrote the essay in 1990) should respond to the reality that irony, once the sole reservation of the postmodern artist, is now squarely and completely in the hands of television. The explication of that sentence is rather long, and difficult - the essay is 60 pages and the book is 9x6, which means on regular 8x10 paper it would be somewhere in the vicinity of 46 pages - but it's only necessary to know that it's about writers reacting to the reaction to society. Got it? Cool. Here's what he said:

"One obvious option is for the fiction writer to become reactionary, fundamentalist. Declare contemporary television evil and contemporary culture evil and turn one's back on the whole spandexed mess and invoke instead good old pre-1960s Hugh Beaumontish virtues and literal readings of the Testaments and be pro-Life, anti-Fluoride, antediluvian. The problem with this is that Americans who've opted for this tack seem to have one eybrow straight across their forehead and knuckles that drag on the ground and really tall hair and in general just seem like an excellent crowd to transcend. . . most of us will take nihilism over neanderthalism."

What a lively way of calling Christian Conservatives neanderthals. And the essay, up to this point (I'm about 45 pages into it), has been extremely reserved and descriptive (i.e. non-prescriptive). So this interjection and actual prescription comes as 1) a surprise and 2) an instance of what appears to be a necessary truth.

Oh, and I guess this means I've started reading David Foster Wallace, after writing that post (my second or third, four hundred years ago) about his virtual nonexistence among my generation before his suicide (which catapulted him into the stratosphere of Rock Gods who've died [Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, etc.] because, even at 46, he looked and talked like a Rock God - and committed suicide, all existentially and stuff). I've read a dozen of his essays, some short stories, and a speech or two - I haven't gotten to the novels, yet - and my only report is that he has, thus far, the most brilliant mind I've come across in a long, long while. Explanation is unnecessary - this guy is the shit.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pride and Prejudice at 2 in the Morning

So I watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice; this is at least the 8th viewing. I know, I know, it slips me closer and closer towards either homosexual or, at least, viably effeminate. But I can't help it: the damn thing is beautiful, if not brilliant, and seeing as how its origins lay within the loins of one of the great novels man (or in this case, woman) has produced, I can hardly be disparaged for enjoying such craftmanship.


I find myself whiling away the afternoon hours, and occasionally those interstices that make up the pre-dawn, considering the merits of the two accepted cinematic versions of Austen's classic. There are, of course, other nonacceptable (as opposed to unacceptable) cinematic versions of the book, but they're uneventful. Laurence Olivier was involved in a 1940 production, but it's memorable only because Aldous Huxley, of Brave New World fame, had a hand in the screenplay. A serial version for the BBC station appeared in 1980, but it involved no one of any fame and thus garnered little attention, even if it was a tolerable adaptation. Other televisual serials appeared, and often, in 1938, '52, '58, '67, and the best one, that of '95. This version, slotted for television in six 55-minute installments, used Colin Firth as the stoical Mr. Darcy, which thrust him (Firth, that is, not Darcy) into the greater spotlight, pushing him towards the precipece of global (or at least Western) celebrity. It's also memorable because it 1) was decently directed, which can't be said of the others, 2) adapted the story and book excellently, and 3) had the fortune of containing good actors and actresses, which, aside from Olivier's brief appearance, can't be said of the others, or at least as generously. Then, of course, there's the 2005 version with Keira Knightly appearing as the rebellious Elizabeth Bennett. It is these last two that plague my thoughts.

Whenever a story is reproduced several times, at least twice, audiences are compelled to determine which version is best, or better. The same proclivity arises with Austen's novel, but I've as yet been unable to choose between the 1995 serial and the 2005 film. After much consternation and deliberation, I think I've decided they're both admirable and deserve equal attention, but for different reasons.


The most significant difference between the two is the way in which each applies itself to the audience. The 2005 version, being only a third the size of the 1995 serial in length, scores direct hits with specific scenes, and powerful acting, as well as beautiful cinematography. The scenes in which the camera is constantly flowing from room to room, person to person, while lines of dialogue float amid and around your 1st person perspective are absolutely astonishing in their ability to transcend normal filmmaking, normal exposition. The estates obtained for filming are breathtaking and as period relevant as you can probably get without traveling to the early 19th century. It's power also lies in its ability to deliver the story in a short amount of time (comparatively), and the superb acting by Donald Sutherland and Keira Knightly. The adaption, too, is key, because it gives you the most potent material possible while keeping the story intact. Every scene is memorable and desirable, and the entire effect is cohesive and strong.


The 1995 serial, however, applies itself in a strikingly different manner. It's power doesn't rest in the ephemeral imagery of Joe's Wright's 2005 version, nor is it found in most scenes or the actors themselves. No, the power of the 1995 serial is sublime, like that of a wave coming into shore. When you sit and wait for the tide to come in, rhythmically as it is wont to do, you first feel the water rushing underneath you, and then rising and rising and rising until the water gains a sufficient amount of volume and velocity to move you, body and everything, further inland. At first you're surrounded by water, and by the end of it you're smothered, submerged. That's the power of the 1995 serial: every scene, every line of dialogue, every shot of the countryside, every event, every installment is a gallon of water, added to the wave as it begins to coalesce around you, gaining that volume and velocity necessary to move you, except this time you're moved pyschologically. It swarms over you, almost in opposition to the powers of Wright's adaptation, in as distinct a manner as possible, and yet it educes the same feelings, the same results, the same admiration.

I could go on: the way Mrs. Knightly represents Elizabeth Bennett is sligtly different than Jennifer Ehle's version, but each involves aspects that remain true to Austen's design. They both emphasize a different part of Elizabeth's nature, and neither encompasses the whole, nor should they. And the same can be said for Mr. Bennett, the father, and the ways in which Donald Sutherland and Benjamin Whitrow apply themselves to his creation: each involves characterizations that are true and perfect, and yet the individual emphasis in specific areas works marvelously for their individual adaptations.

There are other things, as well, but enough. I'm liable to grow a vagina if I continue much longer.

The point remains, though, that above all the various adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 serial and Joe Wright's 2005 film remain together, yet alone, as the supreme vessels for Austen's magnificent literature.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Yeah, The Movie Just Finished and It's 5 am

Yeah, yeah, I'm a loser. I didn't watch the movie this Christmas and it was eating at me. Reading wasn't working, neither was writing, and I couldn't sleep. So Love Actually it was. And Pride and Prejudice is in the player waiting on me to finish this post.


Billy Mack rocks. I like the first time he's playing with the ladies pictured above and the drummer has her legs spread...it's rather seductive - and blazingly hot.

The weird English dude is on some British television show. It's on right after a show featuring another guy from this movie, the dude who's a stand in for the porno people. He works in a hardware store, just so you know.


Ah, Hugh Grant. What can I say. I've seen this movie, Notting Hill (my favorite), Nine Months, Music and Lyrics, Sense and Sensibility, Two Weeks Notice, and others I can't remember off the top of my head. I suck balls, I get it. No need to remind me over and over (Keith, Jon, Biggie, Brian...)This guy is easily the most admirable. Also, I really like this picture, which seems to be a test shot, because it's definitely not a shot from the film.

Is it sad that I identify with Jamie so much? (And that I was absolutely in love with Aurelia the first time I saw this movie?) Maybe it's the writing. Maybe it's his passive interpersonal relationships. Maybe it's his love of Portuguese women and his desire to learn their language in order to better love them. Personally, I like to think it's his fear of eels when they jump into the lake. I can definitely see myself screaming about eels swimming around my ankles.

In any case, this movie is incredibly good and if you don't love it, then you're smelly, like a big, smelly, tuna fish that's out of water (and thus more pungent).

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Christian Politics and Social Conservatism

It never ceases to amaze me how adeptly Christian Conservatives are able to internally reconcile their Bible with their voting practices.

Try this one out: the supreme anti-Darwinists are Social Darwinists in practice. Makes sense, right?

They consistently practice and encourage economic institutions and policies that browbeat the poor into situations where they are left to scrape through life on their own, and then come right back and argue that evolution and survival of the fittest is all a load of crap. Christian Conservatives are, without a doubt, one of history's great group of ironists.

Matthew must not have been their favorite chapter. In 25, Jesus reprimands those who failed to see him in the poor and downtrodden, who failed to give him food and clothing because he was dressed as a beggar: "I was hungry, and ye fed me not." He says later "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels." Fire and brimstone, the favorite imagery of pastors, cast back upon them.

Or Luke 18:22: a ruler asks Jesus how he might come to know heaven and God, and Jesus responds: "Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor." This notion seems a far cry from megachurches, inequality, and laissez-faire economics.

So how is it that the original anti-Darwinists came to sustain such dangerous Social Darwinism? Well, it was through a combination of ignorance, evil, and an utter lack of dedication to their book. I suppose it's nothing new, though, considering history.

Think, though, for a moment about the lack of credibility the Christian right maintains because of this. Or, at least the lack of credibility they should maintain. Sadly, even fewer non-Christians know the words that Jesus said, and that's impressive considering the number of Christians who are vastly ignorant of their own creed. How does this world, this nation, this community of peoples allow such absurdity to sustain itself? Here is a group of people hellbent (literally) on defying egalitarian principles and their own book, and yet they proclaim to be the children of God, the ones who preach and spread his gospel. Again, the great ironists of history are here before us, in our own backyard, peddling their contradictions and heresies.

It's this kind of bullshit that infuriates me to the point of non-lucidity. My friends are familiar with this stage, when I slip into a passionate state of anger during which I'm unable to do much of anything we might call rational. But sometimes irrational behavior (violence?) is necessary to overcome irrational and despotic institutions like the Christian right.

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Personalities and Stuff (Not Sports Related, if you were wondering)

Do we change? Yeah, probably.

It's easy for me to start out with something lame (and moronic) like "Do we change?" but hey, it's trite for a reason: it works to introduce the subject (and also to lame-enize the author).

I was hanging out with Philippi, Keith, Jon, and Elizabeth today and I was thinking about how people act and how they operate in given situations. My mind was focusing on changes over the years. Philippi and Jon drew most of the attention because I've known them much longer than the other two (though I'm confident I could write the thesis to Keith's psychology).

Philippi does certain things in certain contexts with regularity, a consistency you don't normally see. I don't want to editorialize as to whether this consistency is good or bad - I don't much care - but I do want to say that not only is he consistent from situation to situation, he's consistent over the months and years. I could give specific examples, but be satisfied with first-hand evidence from a guy who watches shit like this on an all-too-regular basis. Besides, offering specific examples may or may not offend Philippi; that wouldn't be cool. I only offend people to make them and others laugh, not to hurt them (unless I'm mad or whatever; then I can be a bitch: a group of my friends took an informal vote a while back and it was unanimously determined, much too quickly for me to feel at all comfortable about it, that I was the most able to rip someone apart using words. Apparently I've a gifted a tongue for doling out verbal lacerations and psychological beatdowns.).

Jon is also rather consistent, but only after he made a particular change years ago. This one I'll talk about because a) I don't think it will offend him (it is, to my mind, a positive change) and b) I don't much care (love ya bro). Jon used to be rather shy (alright, really shy). He was insecure about his weight and used to get in a trouble a lot with teachers and other kids and stuff. Nothing severe, but he would talk back a lot, and he was very hurt when insults were thrown his way. In fact, and this is awesome, he once told a rather verbally abusive P.E. teacher in the sixth grade to "fuck off." Beautiful. That was good for a solid two days of suspension, I think (our Dad was excited pissed).

This continued into high school where he played in the marching band (for all four years). Now, band, especially high school marching band, is a place where people can develop their psyches without being embarrassed. People can become lesbians, escape the jock life, and embrace the geek life, all within the confines of marching band and without fear. Everyone is screwed up, no one feels comfortable about who they are, and so change is easy and natural (and expected).

This is the turning point for Jon. He's musically talented and so he didn't feel insecure about playing his, or any, instruments. Also, he was free from the fat jokes that murdered his previous adolescence. This allowed Jon to develop and nurture one of his singular, and powerful, talents: charisma, filthy, absurd, ridiculously powerful charisma. Jon can become friends with anyone, anywhere, anytime. People trust him much quicker than they would trust, say, me. I come off as technical, potentially pretentious, and reserved, whereas people see Jon as fun-loving, crazy, slightly unpredictable (but in a good, I'm-in-love-with-James-Dean-way), and extremely affable. People like him, immediately. People have to make up their mind about me. I have to work harder to gain the affections and trust of others, and it's usually a subserviant trust, one in which they respect me for ability and then begin to trust me. My friendships take years to develop; Jon's incubate overnight.

So here's Jon, large and in charge, no longer insecure about being overweight (or anything, really), and he's got this ability to transcend all cliks and be seen as affable and likeable by everyone. The change from Freshman to Sophomore year is, literally, shocking. The photos prove it, too: the Freshman picture, Jon is bald, wearing a basketball jersey, wearing a slightly demure, unsure smile; in the Sophomore picture, he's wearing a totally out of style Hawaiin dress shirt, and he's adorned with both crazy wild man hair (both head and facial) and a carrraaazzy Jon-smile for which he will be eternally known. Jon, in other words, finally came into his own, and lucky for him it was at the beginning of high school.

So Jon made this change and he's clearly different because of it. Philippi is mostly the same, and that's fine, too (his changes, I think [and I could be wrong], were really about adapting his current abilities to new situations, whereas Jon developed new abilities). He's as well off as Jon is in life, he just took a different route. And this is what I find interesting: that people come into their own lives at different times, in different ways. It makes sense intuitively but it's fascinating to see it "in action." Two people who've developed over the years in different ways, right next to me.

Of course, I'm not really sure what I've done to change, if at all. I think my own significant change, if there has been one, was a recognition that natural talent wasn't going to get me to the places I wanted to go, a rationalization that came to fruition a few years ago, six months or so after high school. It's funny what community college can do to you, as long as you don't let it crush your soul.

I think I'm still the same guy when dealing with relationships, but I think the external effects are different because I've changed atmospheres. In high school, it was easy to make friends; there were a lot of people looking for someone who was stronger than they were (I don't mean that condescendingly), and I attracted some. Weaker personalities are drawn to stronger ones. Sadly, these sorts of relationships don't last very long, because they're predicated on very little intimate material. The ones that have lasted (the count is low) are due to many long hours spent trying to figure them out. Real work had to be put in to sustain some of them; others were left to die a slow death.

Outside of high school, most people have usually found a stronger personality, or are more sure of themselves and are thus not in the market for one. The demand, then, is smaller, hence my inability to gain traction in new people's lives (there are exceptions, of course: Peter and Brian spring to mind). And so the pool of people I've come to know as "friends" has shrunk from its huge high school and immediate post-high school number to a much smaller one.

Is this bad? Eh, I don't know. While there's a certain pride and power you get from being able to summon eight people, minimum, on any weekend night, and some weekday nights, to go for dinner and a movie (and fifteen, minimum, for planned parties), it eventually becomes a strain trying to sustain every relationship to a point that's satisfactory to both parties. Friends have been "let go," so to speak, meaning we haven't spoken in sometime, if for no other reason than that we each got busy. It's sad to think that I may have wittled down my friend list in the same manner one would pick baseball teams at the park; it's a sad reality that I cannot sustain twenty relationships at a level of intimacy past acquintance. Maybe others can, but I find it perplexing, difficult, and frustrating. "If there's little pleasure involved, then why am I doing it?" is the usual rationalization.

I sometimes think it's strange to analyze interpersonal relationships with as much detachment as I do. This a probably the reason I was not able to sustain those twenty relationships.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

As the Rod Turns...Andrew will like this post

Well, if anything else, I have to admire Rod Blagojevich: he's an incredible politician. If I was totally ignorant of those tapes the FBI or whoever had, I would think he was a beautiful person with a mind for good things for the people of Illinois. He's smart. He has a photographic memory. The latter allows him to prepare a ten minute speech and memorize it in less time than it would take to present. That's awesome.

The Illinois State Legislature - the House specifically - impeached him today. So Rod comes out swinging in a press conference. He framed the impeachment proceedings from the House as being the product of antagonism against his policies and bills, which, of course, he talked about and lauded as great stuff for the little people who reelected him. And that last part, the reelection, he emphasized in order to grace himself more fully as a martyr of the people. God, this guy is good.

He talked about healthcare, mostly, and he had a number of regular citizens, most of them diseased, old, or both, standing/sitting next to him to emphasize the point. I have to say, the points he made about healthcare (he also emphasized his involvement with a bill that granted citizens better access to medication across the Canadian border, which has been replicated in other states since its inception in Illinois) were pretty astute, and, as I said before, in a vacuum, they would be great advancements.

By framing his impeachment as an "us vs. them" situation, with the "good ole' boys" from Springfield (who are probably white) standing against the People (who will be seen as black) and their standard-bearer, the star-crossed governor, he has managed to turn the event away from FBI tapes and senate seats, which is an accomplishment, seriously. Of course, he's only turned the event in the minds of Illinois citizens. Politicians, commentators, and analysts haven't changed a bit, but if he gets the hearts and minds of the Illinois citizenry, he's won himself a ticket out of impeachment.

The penultimate paragraph in his speech implored the very House that impeached him to hurry up and approve a bill the Senate passed two months ago that would, in Rod's words, keep Illinois families in their homes. He spoke about this for a minute, but it didn't matter, the damage was already done: he'd just called out, legitimately, the people who are caught up in lynching him - AND they're alone in their embarrassment because the Senate already passed the bill! The people of Illinois are waiting for the House to hurry up and help them. This all plays perfectly into the anti-House fervor he's hoping to whip up among the people of Illinois. This is beautiful stuff, and we should all step back and admire it...and then sink our teeth into morality and truth and what not. But just sit back for a minute and admire a situation that is being handled better than even Clinton could have managed. This guy is great. I'm supposed to hate him, but I can't get enough - he's so quick!

The ultimate paragraph, and possibly my favorite, was a quotation from Tennyson - about the fourth or fifth British poet he's cited in speeches defending his credibility in the past few weeks. The passage talked about living life and not yielding to the external (and implicitly evil) pressure from others. In other words, it was a beautiful passage that illustrated perfectly the situation he's trying to describe. And each of his British quotations have been as illustrative. And this guy knows he's ridiculous! Honestly, I'm starting to admire this guy a lot more than I should. But I can't help it: genius is inspiring and beautiful, even if it's implemented for less than benevolent purposes.

Even if this guy is impeached, we need to find something for him to do, because he's incredibly sharp, flexible, fox-like, and smart. It would be a waste of human talent to not have him operate as a CIA analyst or something. This guy's too good to go to jail.

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Thoughts

I've been writing a lot recently. Not sure what any of it's about, or why I suddenly have the inspiration to put pen to paper and produce something other than blog posts, but whatever. I won't fight it. This shit doesn't come often.

It is random, though. I found myself writing a lengthy character sketch that started out as a description of a poker table. And I don't know why I started out describing a poker table. Later, I started writing a short narrative about a particular experience and now that's turned into a real story, or at least the beginnings of one. Where does it come from?

The uneasy part about it all is the inability to discern whether or not any of this is, um, good. And I'm not even talking about if people are going to read things I write, like mainstream people and what not. I'm talking about good from the standpoint of literary fiction, of writing for writing's sake. How do you tell? Unless it's eerily similar to something someone has already done, how do you tell if it's good or not?

It seems especially difficult if you're like me and you have a distinctive tone and feel and style to your fiction writing, one that's easily identifiable from among the many. You can pick up twenty random books and it's probable that all of them will be written in the same manner: action, dialogue, plot, "normal" sentences and style. Varieties exist, but the rule of thumb that you should write how you speak, or how others speak will still apply. So most books you pick up have the same drawl to them, the same lilt, the same speech patterns. I don't write that way. I'm different, difficult, perhaps. Will this be accepted? Probably not.

Go Lakers, or something.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Israel Kills Palestinian Civilians: No One Cares

Alright, so it's not entirely fair to say "no one cares," but a few calls from UN highups about them being naughty and some big bold letters on the front of newspapers isn't really "caring." When George Bush (or Barack Obama, in time) finally tells Israel to

SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT

then I'll be satisfied that "someone cares."

Honestly, when Israeli civilians bite the bucket, it's called "Civilian Deaths," and when Palestinian civilians meet their maker, it's "Casualties of War." That's some ugly discrimination, people.

When people find out that I'm antagonistic towards Israeli foreign policy, I'm labeled an anti-Semite. So for all those keeping score, disliking aggressive, non-egalitarian policy is apparently equivalent to anti-Sematism. So, you know, Ghandi and MLK were anti-Semites, and so was Jesus, apparently. That whole "love thy neighbor" thing didn't count for the Jews, I guess.

Seriously, though, people need to be aware that Israel deserves as much flak for the shitmess that is the Middle East as Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Hamas, and blah blah blah. It's not right that Hamas fires rockets into Israel every day, but it's also not right that Israel keeps supply trucks from entering Gaza, disallowing civilians there the right to eat, drink water, and, you know, basically live. And they've been doing this for months and months; this isn't something new they've started along with the ground offensive. They've been indirectly killing Palestinians for a while, now.

So fuck the Israeli Government for enacting these obviously immoral policies, and fuck the Israeli people for implicitly (and explicitly, in some cases) supporting it. And fuck all the people who think it's a good thing.

We have to fight for the right to live, the right to be free, and the right to be safe, and that counts for Jews, Muslims, Israelis, and Palestinians - all of them. If you're going to pick sides, err on the side of life, not Israeli or Palestinian bullshit.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I'm posting a lot right now. Why?

Various sports sites (nba.com, espn.com, and si.com) like to have little previews written up for each game played on a given day. I enjoy reading the basketball previews because there's always something funny, like just now, when I read the preview for the Los Angeles Lakers/New Orleans Hornets game tonight (it's on NBATV at 8:30, if anyone wants to watch; you all loooooove sports). The preview had about 27 sentences (I say "about" because they had some quotes from players and coaches, and I tried to average out their length) and 7 of them talked about the New Orleans Hornets. SEVEN. That's it. Just SEVEN. And it was the final 7 sentences, too. The first 20 talked about the Lakers and their battle with the Celtics for the top seed in the league, as well as a revisit of the NBA Finals last year where the Lakers got crushed. The best part is that the 7 sentences the Hornets got said, in short, "Hornets lost their last game, won the game before that, and lost both games to the Lakers earlier this year by wide margins." So, you know, no one cares about the Hornets, I guess.

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Let the 111th Congress Begin!

Every newspaper had an article about the opening of the new Congress today, which is fine. Aside from the drama concerning the Senate appointee from Illinois to fill Obama's old seat (the Democrats won't seat him; they say he's not cool enough) and former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman deciding he won his senate race when the vote recount said otherwise (Al Franken beat him by 225 votes), a bunch of nominal figures presided over the opening ceremony, and the New York Times captured it perfectly on the front page:


Doesn't this sum up American politics for the last 250 years? Four old white men, smiling vaguely, wearing similar suits? Certainly the trend is changing with all kinds of "exotic foreigners" being elected to office, least of all the presidency (the Founding Fathers would shit themselves if they heard), but these four guys are trying to hang on until the end. Dick Cheney is on the left and Joe Bieden is in the middle, but the other two guys look like carbon copies of the people standing to their right. The dude on the far right looks like Joe Bieden's older brother and the other one looks like Dick Cheney with more hair. All four seem like they were attempting the "Ben Franklin" look at some point in their lives. Weird.

But seriously, how awesomely absurd. This is the picture the Times ran. Is that a sign? Do they want a peaceful return to the Good Old Boys Club? Maybe. And maybe they didn't think that some stupid kid from Arizona would take this perspective on their picture.

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Take that, Photographer Philippi!


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Monday, January 5, 2009

Anger Management

Let us first, before anything else, enjoy my post title. It's relevant to the topic AND it's also the name of a recent movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Eh? Genius. Every blogger must do this, by the way. It's in the rules that blogger.com makes us follow. We have to come up with blog post titles that are witty and relevant, or they kill us. That's why so many people do it, just in case you thought it was because every blogger sucks balls.

I get angry over the most stupidest retardedest awfulest things ever. When I'm doing poorly at something, I'm pissed. If my brain just can't wrap itself around a video game, for instance, I'll go absolutely bananas. And I'm not even sure what the hell that means. If I can't make something work for me, can't get something to "click," then I'm furious, and I sound like a little baby, though I look like a big, fat one.

It's really bad; just ask anyone who knows me. Keith probably knows this better than anyone, other than Jon, of couruse, who has the advantage of being my brother (and thus was present for all of my prepubescent tantrums over Pokemon and Metal Gear Solid). For some reason, though, I'm more likely to bust up in front of Keith than anyone else. I think it's because he, unlike everyone else, puts up with my shit long enough for me to come to my senses. Good man, that Keith.

During these situations, I occasionally gather enough self-discipline to shut up and think, calm myself, and try to sort through things. More often than not, serene contemplation yields excellent results and I return to the activity in question and dominate. Like when I'm just sucking balls at NBA Live 09 (basketball video game, if you're a noob): I'm yelling and whining and bitching and stinking shit up pretty bad(ly). But when I calm down, get a drink, turn the game off, and bring myself back to non-stratosperic levels of anger, I'm able to turn the game back on and win some games.

Or when I played Disney Think Fast Trivia (don't ask) the other day on my Wii, and Philippi and I were tied after two rounds: the third round consisted of picking the Hercules muse that was different out of a lineup, and it was competitive: whoever got it right first got the points. Well, I might as well have taken a dump in my pants; that might have been more effective. I was applying myself to the game in the wrong way and Philippi was getting EVERYTHING. I thought the hair was going to be a factor that changed during successive rounds and so I kept looking at the hair right away, even after four straight answers that consisted in determining who was wearing the glasses. I kept thinking I was going to be right that I messed it all up and gave Philippi four trillion points. I was pissed, of course. But then I settled down, concentrated, and went on to rape Philippi rather savagely in the next two rounds to win the game by a mile. He's still limping.

So when I turn into an asshole playing a game, I just have to calm down and, in the words of that black guy whose hand got bitten off by an alligator (crocodile? What's down there in the bayou?) in Happy Gilmore, "go to my happy place." My happy place, sadly, doesn't consist of that hot chick from the movie in sweet sweet lingerie, nor does it involve a little person, with the appropriate cowboy attire, riding a toy horse. It does, however, as in the movie, contain Shooter McGavin wearing a kiss mask while making out with my grandmother.

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that I'm a little bitch. I whine a lot. I get angry if I'm losing. And I blame everything and everyone (usually Fillman) but myself. But beware the moment when I shut up and my eyes glaze over: I'm about to whoop some ass.

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No Sleep (I'm sure that's the name of some death metal song)

I'm listening to the sound of rain falling in some jungle somewhere, or maybe it's just someone's back porch. Who cares. In any case, it's what I use to *attempt* to fall asleep; and if my emphatic "*'s" weren't a big enough clue, "attempt" is the key word.

I have trouble sleeping. I think most people do. I used to think most people just said they had trouble sleeping, but I'm starting to think that was just another instance of me being a stupid douchebag, a phase in my life I'm trying to move past. But I do have trouble sleeping. I suffer from hyposomnia, like all new parents and coke addicts. This isn't insomnia, by the way, where there's no sleep. Hyposomnia is "little sleep." Thanks to my knowledge of Greek prefixes, you just got a lesson in linguistics, bitches.

But yeah, I can't sleep, hyposomnia, whatever. And it's all my brain's fault, that jerk. Here's an analogous situation to my brain when I try to sleep: you know that scene in some movie/cartoon where there's a hallway with doors on each side, and people run in and out of the doors, back and forth, very fast, one group chasing another, with weird, campy music playing, and people come in and out of doors at random, sometimes with their friends, sometimes with their pursuers and when they notice it they share a laugh and keep running? Yeah, that's my fuckin' brain - all the damn time.

When I was younger and playing guitar/piano/throat six hours a day, music would be zipping in and out of my head all night. A melody here, chord change there, some dream about being a rockstar in the middle, and it sucked. It made sleep a pain, a chore, so I would just not to do it. Why take out the garbage when you could just sit around and play some more Halo, right? That's how I approached it.

Well, that's not true. That's how I eventually approached it. I initially tried finding ways to fall asleep. I figured I just needed to relax my mind, focus it more, and things would become calm, placid, like a lake without ripples on the surface. I had some mild training in meditation, so I would give it a try each night. Well, my brain did focus, but it only made me more aware of everything - sounds, thoughts, Jesus, and so on. I researched it in a book or something and found out that meditation actually makes sleep harder, because you're not really relaxing your brain in the sense that it wants to sleep, but rather, you're relaxing it as preparation, for something: war, sex, World of Warcraft all-nighters - stuff like that. So that shit didn't work.

So then I tried counting sheep, and that would always end up being absurd. I would start out imagining a line of sheep individually leaping over some fence in a grass field, and I would count. Well, naturally, my brain sub-subconciously developed a rhythm and I began to count within the context of this meter I'd created. And now here's where it gets absurd: whenever I'm "thinking rhythmically" like this (it happens a lot), my brain will quickly start to screw shit up. Seriously, it starts making things difficult and I can't stop it. In this case, it began making the sheep jump at odd intervals, so that they were no longer in rhythm. And then if I somehow wrestled my mind into making things normal, the fence would start getting higher, which would again affect the rhythm. And if I started counting faster, the sheep would start taking longer to show up in the "pre-jump" area. No shit, this is my brain, people. It's ridiculous.

So, yeah, I quit that sheep jumping stuff. I then tried counting, just straight numbers. Going up from 1 in whole number order got boring, and didn't do anything but piss me off (at some point 401, 402, 403, and 404 gets annoying, not tiring). So then I started counting back from large numbers by three, as in: 100, 97, 94, 91, 88, 85, 82, 79... This never made me fall asleep, and so I would start at larger and larger numbers, or I would continue into negative integers once I hit zero, or I would start at a negative integer and go up. I tried a number of things (awful/unintentional pun), and nothing worked. So I dropped that as well.

And that's when I started listening to falling rain. I'd previously tried jungle music, nature sounds, birds chirping, but it was all stupid, and it kept my brain awake as it tried to simultaneously predict what sounds were coming next and attempt to force a rhythm to the sounds of nature, which wasn't very successful. It's hard to sleep when your brain is pulling itself in multiple directions without your input.

But falling rain did it, for a while. Something about the consistency of rain was soothing. This particular track had a good rain storm that had thunder strikes dotting it like pimples on a fat kid, and so if my brain were to get too comfortable inside the rhythm of the rain, thunder would blow up the whole thing and force me out of it. So it worked, for the most part. I would close my eyes and imagine myself sitting on some porch in Missouri watching the rain...and I would drift asleep.

I think now, though, I need a new track, because it's not working anymore. I say a new track, and not a new method, because I think my brain has figured this one out, its rhythms, its thunder hits, its changes in rain dynamic intensity, and so it's remembering everything as it happens, locking into the rhythm, and keeping me awake. Hence the blog post at 1:16am after a long day of little sleep, which followed three straight days of long nights of little sleep. Hence my pounding headache. Hence - oh whatever.

Sleep sucks, it always has, and I'm just gonna read until I pass out. That always does the trick, though my pass out time always varies. Sigh. At least it consistently hits the endzone (unlike my Dallas Cowboys - OH!!!!).

Oh and sorry Philippi: no pictures for you. Oh yeah, and I got that job at the ASU State Press. So here's to someone actually desiring that I write for them. Wow. Take that one, world.

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