Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in Bend

So it's 11 o'clock at night, and I'm in the men's room at the D&D, the day before Christmas Eve. A gentleman with a big, gray moustache sidles up to the urinal next to me, and starts chatting. This is something that I have noticed about Oregonians, or something that I used to take for granted - they're always willing to tell you about themselves, on the airplane, at the bookstore, in line at Target, in the men's room at the bar.

"I've been drinkin' at the D&D for forty years," he sighed, "And now I'm here drinkin' with my son."

"Hm." I said.

"Alot's changed in this town, over those forty years. But not this place. Been the same since as long as I can remember."

It was going to be one of those conversations. Drunk. Nostalgic. Flashing our Old Bend credentials. Fine.

"Yeah, I know," I said, "I was born in Bend, and this bar has been here for as long as I can remember."

"You were born here?"

"Yeah, my mom used to own Knickers, just around the corner from here."

"Knickers? I loved Knickers! I used to take my kids there all the time! They would sit and play with those train sets for hours!"

He smiled, and flushed the urinal. Then while he was washing his hands, he said, really to himself, "And now I'm here at the D&D, drinking with one of them." I like to think that he left the bathroom in a better mood than how he entered it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice

I guess we're not going to be seeing the lunar eclipse tonight... it has been snowing all day today, turning to a frozen rain in the afternoon, and then back into snow again after the sun went down, creating a nice cake-like layer on the pavement of snow, ice, snow. Nonetheless, there is something pretty cool about an astronomical event that* occurs only once every five hundred years, and something a bit ominous about a full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice. Perhaps it is one more reason why the Mayans predicted certain cataclysmic changes for about this time.

Friday was my last day of work before the winter break. The kids are always asking me about what I think about 2012, "Isn't it true that the world is going to end?" "Aren't we all going to die?" and so on. They always look so disappointed when I tell them, no, the world will not end in 2012, don't listen to what the television says. I can be so boring sometimes. But I guess that it's just a bit of human nature to secretly hope that you get to live to see the End Times. It might give existence meaning, who knows?

Also, kids fucking love vampires. I found a notebook lying on the muddy ground by the bus stop a few weeks ago. It had two pages of long division followed by several pages of vampires:

This vampire makes me think of Trent Reznor, circa 1989.

This one has a beard. Because it must have been cold that day.

I think that kids - people - are fascinated by 2012 for the same reason that they are fascinated by vampires. Supernatural, thrilling, mysterious. Give you some insight into Death - What Lies Beyond - Etc. Also, both may give you the opportunity to prove how heroic you can be, a la Left Behind or Dead Rising or Dawn of the Dead or Twilight.

*Initially wrote, "astronomical event hat." If anyone has any last minute Christmas shopping to do, I would like one of those.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Often, My Job Is Weird

So I'm sitting in English class, sitting at a desk and helping a student with her work, when D- comes up from behind me, carefully inspects the top of my head, and then gleefully pronounces, "So, Mr. Wright is finally going gray!"

It's not the fact that I'm going gray that concerns me, or that D- noticed, but the odd interjection of "finally" into his pronouncement. Why finally? I know that being 26 is ancient to a 13-year old, but surely he knows at what age most folks go gray? And he's only known me for 2 years - has he been waiting this whole time for me to start show signs of aging? Of weakness? Of the daily grind of working in a middle school?

Or has he been working on a hex to cause me to age prematurely so that he won't have to stay after school with me and serve his detentions?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday New York Times

Lots of good and hilarious stuff in the NY Times today. Via Sociological Images, is this map showing the 1860 census of slaves in the South:

Cool, n'est-ce pas? You can even see how the heavy-slave populated counties continue today as the South's democratic voting "black belt". Follow this link to the map of this year's U.S. House of representatives and you'll see what I mean. But also follow the link to Sociological Images, because they have an excellent blog post about this.

The other interesting article in the Times today is this one, entitled "In Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews and Blacks." First off, didn't we know already about Nixon's racism and anti-semitism? Well, yes, of course, But apparently he also had rather low opinions of Irish and Italians. Oh, yes, and he was cra-azy:

“The Jews have certain traits,” [Nixon] said. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”

Nixon continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off.

A moment later, Nixon returned to Jews: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

Whaddaya mean the Irish can't drink??? Of course they can! But I may have the quote: "What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean." framed and put over my doorway.

Of course, the real chilling quote comes not from Nixon but from that Jew, Kissinger:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Wow. That is some cold-blooded Realpolitik right there. Not, I think, incorrect, but very revealing, and also it ought to put a lot of neo-conservative foreign policy thinking in a new light.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sometimes, My Job Is Awesome

I am currently working in a 6th grade drama class, aiding an autistic, semi-verbal student named M-. Today, we were designing posters for our play that we will be putting on later this year, School Daze, by Lindsay Price. The parameters for our project were simple: include the title and author, the time and place where we will be putting on the play, use color, and make your poster somehow relevant to the play. (i.e., illustrate a scene or a major theme from the play, etc.) It seemed pretty straight forward, right?

Like a doofus, I went ahead with making my own poster, an ingenious illustration of a cartoon middle schooler stuffed into a locker with all of his school accoutrements. However, after about twenty minutes, I looked over my shoulder, and saw what M- had been busy at:

A beautiful, 11x18 work of art depicting what I believe to be several vampires attacking and slaughtering what looked like Santa's elves.

In color.

I think he ought to get at least partial credit.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Where I Have Been: Barberton, Ohio. population: 27,899.

What I Have Been Doing: Eating turkey, visiting future in-laws, watching football.

What I Have Been Reading: The White Album, by Joan Didion
Homo Sacer, by Giorgio Agamben

What I Have Been Watching: Moonstruck, A Christmas Story, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

How I Have Been Feeling: Fatigued, content

What I Have Been Thinking: Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window could be an excellent model for how to engage certain cognitively impaired students, especially those with certain autistic-type symptoms.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Feel Like I'm in an Eliot Poem

It's November, cold and rainy, for the first time really. I am blogging while I watch college football, and Robyn is listening to a book-on-tape (or book-on-mp3, whatever) while she works on her homework. Coraline is perched on the back of the futon behind me, and Marlowe is asleep on a blanket. All-in-all, kind of a quiet fall day.

The trees are more or less completely bare now. This week, the weather has been mostly sunny and in the 70's, uncanny for the middle of November, but today it is cold and gray and muted. A good day for self-reflection, I suppose, and the strange thing is that even Facebook seems to be in a state of melancholy today. From coast-to-coast, my Facebook Friends all seem kind of sad today. Coincidence, or do you think that there really is something in the air, something about the Earth slowly dying, that is making everyone just a little more thoughtful today?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Day Postcard

Things are good. The weather here has been beautiful this past week, although generally I have been too sick to be able to take advantage of it. A nasty cold has been going around the middle school where I work, and it finally caught up to me, laying me down from about Wednesday through Sunday. But I feel better now.

Columbus Day has been one of my favorite holidays for awhile now, and so that made me feel a little awkward this weekend when several of my friends were circulating this video about "Reconsidering Columbus Day." At first I was put off, but then I began to think about why I have such strong feelings for this holiday, and I realized that it had nothing to do with Christopher Columbus or patriotism or history or whatever. I just like it because the weather is usually nice, and I think that it is ideally situated between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, and I have good memories about sneaking off to New York City by myself during "Fall Break" when I was in college. So I guess that I'd be down with changing this holiday's name, or changing it's emphasis towards Native American history, just as long as I still get the second Monday in October off.

Addendum: I'm going to start putting most of my sports-related posts here. If I think that something I write is particularly clever or interesting, I'll post it on this blog. But I found myself just making one inane sports list after another, and felt like they needed their own space.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

College Football Saturday!

It's a gray and rainy morning in Urbana, IL, and I am sitting in the sun room in my underwear while Robyn is making french toast in the kitchen. Soon, I'll be leaving to take Coraline to the vet for her shots, while Robyn readies the house for her BIG DANCE PARTY tonight. If you're anywhere around central Illinois tonight, stop on by for some totally geek chic dancing.

I went out by myself last night, toting along a book about Schopenhauer, sporting my Oregon sweatshirt. Champaign has been invaded this weekend by hordes of scarlet-wearing Ohio State fans. Illinois plays the Buckeyes today (in about two hours, at this point) and I'm definitely not expecting an upset. But it was fun last night chatting with some of Buckeye fans at the Blind Pig about football and the BCS and the Rose Bowl, and how freaking good the Ducks are this year. I think that it's a sign of the times that, on a day when Florida plays Alabama and Oklahoma plays Texas, ESPN's College Gameday is in Eugene, Ore. (Although I guess there's a big caveat to that because Florida-Alabama is on CBS.)

Also, on a weird sidenote: I got a cheeseburger last night, and my waiter was all, "Oh, Oregon! I love the Ducks!" For a while, I was suspecting that he just said that whenever he had a customer who wears any team's gear - "Oh, Mississippi Valley State! I love the Delta Devils!" - but then it turned out that he has family in Eugene. So we chatted about Bachelor for awhile. (But I did give him a good tip.... maybe he just does extensive research and concocts elaborate storylines about his fake lives in every possible region of the country. In which case, I think he would deserve a good tip.)

Also also: We're getting cat #2!

Though he be wee, he is fierce.

We'll be picking him up from the Hugh-mane Society next week, after he gets neutered and receives a clean bill of health. Any thoughts for names? His institutional name is something lame, like Tiger or Garfield or something. We're thinking "Lucius," because he's tough and has red hair, and might have a bit of a Gallic look to him.

The likeness is uncanny.

Also, and this is completely unrelated to anything, but I like to think of Micheal Strahan as being the bizarro version of Peyton Manning. I feel like he has all these product endorsements, but their all slightly odd, like Dick's Sporting Goods, and Dr. Pepper.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

5 Thoughts on a Thursday

1) I missed my bus for work this morning. I walked out of the door just in time to see that 6:35 bus go by. Then I walked over to the university campus to catch the next bus that was going to the middle school at which I work. It took me exactly 16 minutes to walk there, and that bus leaves at 7:08. So, here's the question: Is it worth it to get to sleep in an extra 17 minutes if that means that I have to walk 16 minutes to catch my bus? Or should I wake up early in order to avoid taking that walk?

2) I voted for my union for the first time today! I'm excited about getting involved with my union; I am decidedly pro-union. Of course, that's kind of a moot point here because I am not actually knowledgeable about any of the pertinent issues that we're faced with right now. So I just voted for the guy who came up to me and said, "Hey Joel, vote for me!" And I did. After all, isn't that just the essence of politics?

3) I had the craziest dream last week. I was taking all of my middle school students on a field trip, but our bus got lost in the forest and crashed. We then got picked up by this guy, who then took us to his lodge in the woods and tried to poison us all. We managed to get away, and then ended up wandering the woods until we met another guy who had a campfire and let us sleep there. All of the students fell asleep, and just he and I were awake. He then turned into an eagle and, um, went "into" me, let's say he possessed me, and said that, "They dwell within us." I'm usually not very big on the meaning of dreams ... one of my favorite Wittgenstein anecdotes is about how queer he thought it was that Freud identified sexual desires as such a primal cause for our dreams, and yet Freud never actually discusses sex dreams, which are incredibly common... but this one seemed kind of important. I'm chalking it up to the copious amounts of Plato that I've been reading lately, but, nonetheless, I would feel amiss - and I would feel like I were risking the wrath of the gods - if I didn't pass on that "They dwell within us."

4) I just finished reading Revolutionary Road, the book that the movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio is based on. It's really good, and I think that it ought to replace The Catcher in the Rye in our public school curriculum.

5) Saw Built to Spill last week during the Pygmalion Festival. They were old and it was awesome.

Monday, September 13, 2010

All Good Things

From the desk of Robyn:

Remember when I used to write things here? Well, I don't! And I've had just about enough of Joel making me look lazy with all his treatises on sporting events.*

So, I've started another venue:

 If you like hearing about media archives, dance parties and apartment ghosts, stop on by.

*Just kidding, dear. When you're writing football posts it means you aren't shouting at me about Ducks, Beavers, and Oklahoma. Keep it up!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Leaves are Beginning to Change

I am very content right now, sitting and watching baseball at the end of a very pleasant and warm autumn day. Our friends K and D drove us to the Meijer grocery store at the outskirts of Urbana this morning, and we were able to buy all those heavy things - like cat litter and potatoes and five-pound bags of basmati rice - that are a trouble to purchase and then tote home either by bus or by bicycle. We also got the fixings for sausage and spinach lasagna, which is now baking in the oven, while we wait for the new episode of Mad Men to come on.

After we were finished grocery shopping, we returned to our apartment on Green Street for a lunch of turkey sandwiches and a siesta. Then the four of us drove over to the University of Illinois Arboretum, which K described a little bit like, "a golf course without any of the holes or anything." Which is quite accurate, although that doesn't mean that it's not also incredibly lovely. We saw what looked like an impromptu wedding, complete with a groom in a black t-shirt and blue jeans; a swarm of dragonflies and swallows were feasting on the gnats and mosquitos, looking a little like the battle of Midway; visited the Japan house* and its tea gardens; and saw not only the mating habits of undergrads, but also those of dragonflies**, yellow jackets, and a couple of turtles swimming around in a pond. All in all, it was a very enjoyable and a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.

There are lots of other things to share, although now only very briefly. Work is challenging yet rewarding; last week I taught a student how the universe works, and he called me a symbol. I didn't breathe during the Ducks game on Saturday until the second quarter; I still have some serious concerns about their defense, and now because they throttled a really mediocre Tennessee team, everyone suddenly has them at the top of their ballots. Also, I'm re-reading Plato's "Phaedo" right now. Philosophy is the study of death, and a philosopher is someone who is constantly rehearsing dying. Huh. Of course, this seems to me to perfectly coincide with the article in this week's New Yorker by Roland Barthes, "Notes on mourning." "Never again, never again! And yet there's a contradiction; 'never again' isn't eternal, since you yourself will die one day. 'Never again' is the expression of an immortal."

* Huh, I wonder if that explains the bizarre Midway reference.
** I feel like every time I see two or more dragonflies, they're always having sex.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pardon me, but Are You Ready for Some Football?

It's a lovely, blustery Fall day, and Robyn and I have been taking it easy; sleeping in, eating breakfast burritos, watching Mad Men on iTunes because Comcast is "a bunch of stupid jerks from the jerk-a-tron," sayeth Robyn. We've been having a lovely Labor Day weekend. We went dancing at the fancy* discotheque on Friday. On Saturday we had our math friends over to our new apartment for the first time ever for playing the train game and eating jello cake. And last night we had library friends over for an epic Mad Men Fail (see above quote) and the viewing of Kicking and Screaming, which I had never seen before.**

Oh! And the raccoon! There was an adolescent raccoon in a tree in our backyard last night. Everyone got all excited, and tried to get closer to it. I told them to give it space, and maybe pick up a large stick or rock with which to hit it in case it decided to come at us like a spider monkey. They don't know what it's like to wake up in the middle of the night to find two raccoons rummaging through your laundry room.

But now it is Monday afternoon, and I am waiting for the Boise State - Virginia Tech game to start. Go Broncos. I watched the Oregon St.-TCU game, and, while I was disappointed in the loss, I was glad to see that the Beavers were competitive against a top-10 team on the road. Robyn has suggested that the game would have been more interesting if there had been actual beavers and horned frogs playing football. And, I guess, that you can't really say anything bad about Oregon's 72-0 drubbing of New Mexico, but the Lobos have been and continue to be just an epically bad team. I'll be on the UofO band wagon if the Ducks can dominate like that next week at Tennessee.

In the meantime, former Duck and all-around stud Dennis Dixon has been named the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Dixon will be in for Ben Roethlisberger, who, you may have heard, was "involved in an incident that led to allegations of sexual assault." Ha! How's that for journalistic legalese, eh? In other words, earlier this year, Roethlisberger went to a couple of bars in Georgia, where he met a 20-year old sophomore girl, who, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, followed Roethlisberger into the back room of the bar, and then came quickly came back:

The young woman, who by all accounts was extremely drunk, told her friends, “We need to go. We need to go.” She told them she had just had sex with Roethlisberger. They asked if it was consensual. “No,” she said.

Lubatti said her friend said she was sitting on a bar stool in the hall when Roethlisberger exposed himself to her. She said she told him, “No, we can’t do this. No, this isn’t right.” She said she tried to leave but walked into the bathroom, where Roethlisberger followed.

That's rape. But when the girl's friends called the police to report it, Sgt. Jerry Blash arrived on the scene, promptly took a picture with Roethlisberger, advised the girl's friends that, “You can file a statement but this man has a lot of money and good attorneys," and said, "We have a problem, this drunken [expletive], drunk off her ass, is accusing Ben of rape." So, long story short, Blash's gross misconduct prevented anyone from being able to put together case against Roethlisberger, and all subsequent charges of sexual assault have been dropped.

But wait, there's more! In April, the NFL suspended Roethlisberger for six whole games for "violating the league's personal conduct policy." But on Saturday, the league reduced that suspension from six games to four for "good conduct."

So here is where we get to the meat of the subject. Remember Jeremiah Masoli, and how he got suspended for a year for theft, and then kicked off the team entirely after he got pulled over with pot in his car? I still believe that Chip Kelly and the University of Oregon did the right thing in reprimanding Masoli as they did, but we should still recognize that this chain of events has a high probability of ruining whatever (probably slim) chances that Masoli had of playing in the NFL and making a career of being a football player. Now consider Roethlisberger. Yes, he has been suspended for the league for four weeks, without pay. Yes, his popularity with fans has taken a hit, yet not one of any catastrophic or potentially reversible magnitude. And yes, he has lost his captainship of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And yet, barring some unlikely sequence of unforeseen events***, odds are that after a month Roethlisberger will be able to return to the starting QB job at the most prestigious franchise in the NFL.

"But wait a minute!" you say; I'm overlooking one important fact. "This is America," you say, "and in America, you're innocent until proven guilty! The EPD had a case against Masoli, and he had to enter into a plea bargain in order to avoid jail time. But no one was able to build a case against Roethlisberger. All charges were dropped!"

And I would think that you would have a valid point, if it were not for this stubborn fact: In the United States, an estimated 61% of all rapes and sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
On the face of it, it may seem like the amoral message of the Roethlisberger saga is that, with enough money and fame and Super Bowl rings, you can get away with the one thing morally worse than murder. But I think that the real message is something more banal and insidious: That our society generally accepts that rape is a lesser crime than burglary and marijuana use, that a poor 21-year old ought to be held to higher standards than a wealthy 28-year old, and that a laptop is worth more than an adult woman.

* Sorta fancy. It's not that fancy. It's fancy by Central Illinois standards.
** Remind me to share with you my thoughts on Noah Baumbach some day, when we both have the time. A lot of people whose opinions I hold in high esteem really like him, but he gets under my skin in a real visceral way.
*** Unforeseen events such as, Dixon going 4-0?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Dead Yet

I exist!

I went back to work, and now spend my days chasing children all over a badly underfunded public middle school.

Robyn is back at library school, and is telling me all about the excellence of annotated bibliographies and targeted database searches.

I went to the dentist.

We moved to a new, big apartment in Urbana. Coraline is extremely happy to have nice big hallways to race up and down at one in the morning.

Jane Austen won our Literary "March" Madness! Next up: Philosophy Bowl?

It's raining outside, but I don't believe it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

1 Philosophy Major (Who Is Not A Philosophy Professor)

What with all these football players seemingly going about our country raping and pillaging the countryside, I thought it might be a good idea to highlight a player or two who seem to be upright citizens. Last week, Austin Murphy wrote about why "College Football Blows Away the NFL." In this article, Murphy mentions former Ohio State tight end Anthony Gonzales. Murphy writes:

Gonzalez, now an Indianapolis Colt, was a philosophy major with a 4.0 GPA nearly every academic quarter. I remember his admonition when I confessed that I'd never read Plato: "You've got to read The Republic."

I saw Gonzo a few months later at the NFL's annual scouting combine, so named, I suspect, because it combines elements of a beauty pageant, a cattle auction and hard-core interrogation sessions. Like all other prospective draftees, he was dressed in an NFL-issued gray sweatshirt, on which was stamped his league-assigned four-character code. We chatted while he was shuttling between physical and psychological tests. He was bemused, I recall, by some of the Bizarro World questions posed to him by the grim-faced NFL personnel "experts." "Whatever you do," I advised him, "don't mention Plato."

Gonzalez was a three year letterman with Ohio State, and he played for the team that beat Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, and for the team that lost to Florida in the BCS game the next year. More importantly, he was an Academic All-American and a Rhodes Scholar candidate.

Look at that bald, shiny head, all covered in brains.

Unfortunately, Gonzalez suffered a knee injury in 2009, and is beginning the 2010 season with the Colts on the injured list. Also unfortunate is that he left Ohio State after his junior year. Maybe now he'll have the time to go back to school and graduate, maybe write that thesis paper, Meno at the Combine: Can Virtue be Practiced?

Peyton Manning Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning talks to Tiger Woods as Peyton's caddy and teamate Anthony Gonzalez looks on during the Pro-Am for the Quail Hollow Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club on April 29, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Peyton Manning;Tiger Woods;Anthony Gonzalez

Or he could write about what a dick Peyton Manning is.

Another football playing philosopher is former Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield. Canfield was drafted this year in the seventh round by the New Orleans Saints. I don't want to praise Canfield too much - less I be accused of a pro-Beaver bias - but I'll be rooting for him to succeed in the NFL. Of course, Canfield won't have the privilege of playing with real life superhero and linebacker Scott Fujita, who was traded to the Browns over the offseason. Fujita may not have been a philosophy major, but he was a poli-sci major at Cal, where he was a walk on safety, an Academic All-Pac 10, and got his Master's in Education. He's also the winner of the Teamster's Human Rights Award.

He's also really cute with kids:

And can fly:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire Deepak Chopra!

Today on the Huffingpost, noted crazy person and charlatan Deepak Chopra has an essay pronouncing the Good News that he, finally, has found the soul. In eight pages of questionable science, bad logic, and pseudo-philosophy, Chopra and his co-author Stuart Hameroff re-package the rather worn belief that questions of metaphysics and spirituality can be solved through a rather gross misapplication of quantum physics. The whole article is really a waste of time - five of my hours, to be precise - but is interesting in its masquerading of religious beliefs as scientific theories. It actually wouldn't be worth anyone's time if it were not for the fact that ascription to this kind of tripe is widespread, and, in my opinion, a symptom of our country's greater dissatisfaction with our medical industry. As more and more Americans are let down by "conventional" medicine, more and more of them will turn to this form of New Age-ism as providing easy answers to difficult questions.

Here are a few of the most egregious claims Chopra makes, with commentary. The complete essay is here.

All Apologies.

Can Science Explain the Soul?

(Joel: Stop right there. No. The answer is no, right? Because science, by definition, must have nothing to do with matters of the soul, right?)

Redefined by the new field of quantum biology, the soul could be the link that connects individuals to the universe, a dynamic connection that could explain how consciousness came about, and why the cosmos itself seems to mirror our own intelligence and creativity.

(Wait, I need to hypothesize the existence of the soul in order to explain my connection to the universe? Damn! That's why I haven't been able to move or touch things or communicate with other people! And maybe the cosmos mirrors your intelligence and creativity. If it mirrored mine, there would be way more Dino-Riders.)

Unable to fathom a rational explanation for out-of-body and/or after-death consciousness, modern science ignores such reports. (Boo! Modern Science! Boo!) Short-sighted skeptics reinforce the assumption that they are either subjective folly, hallucinations, or outside the scope of scientific proof.

(They are hallucinations. If by "hallucination" you mean "the perception of objects with no physical reality usually caused by a disorder of the nervous system." Also: Boo! Skeptical scientists and their need for "proof"! Boo!)

The central weakness here is that modern science can't explain normal, in-the-brain consciousness. (Really? It can't? Despite detailed understanding of neuronal firings and synaptic transmissions mediating non-conscious, 'auto-pilot' perception and behaviors, there is no accounting for conscious awareness, free will or 'qualia' (QUALIA!) -- the essence of experienced perceptions, like the redness, texture and fragrance of a rose. Philosopher David Chalmers refers to this as the 'hard problem' -- explaining qualia and the subjective nature of feelings, awareness, and phenomenal experience, -- our 'inner life'.

(Yes, this is the Cartesian challenge, the foundation of Modern Western Philosophy. And here is a list of great thinkers who have provided non-magic based solutions to this problem: Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, William James, J.L. Austin, G.E. Moore, Richard Rorty, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)

It seems there's an edge, or boundary between two phases of reality -- the quantum and classical worlds, and that consciousness may have something to do with that edge, also known as 'quantum state reduction', or 'collapse of the quantum wave function.'

(A red flag immediately goes up at "two phases of reality... quantum and classical." This is playing with language, not putting forward scientific statements. Everyone knows that physics operates differently when dealing with very small objects (atoms) or very large objects (stars). But this does not lead to the claim of there existing "two phases of reality." It is an entirely unnecessary jump that violates scientific method and, if we make it, it makes us believe that there must be a soul, or something to solve this problem of the duality of mind and body. It's probably in the pineal gland.)

What is the universe composed of? (Facts, not things.) If we were to shrink in size, smaller and smaller, we would see that atoms are mostly empty, as is the space between them. If we shrink smaller and smaller, (Heelllllpppp meeeeeee.....) 25 orders of magnitude smaller than atoms, we would eventually come to Planck scale geometry, laden with information and patterns around the Planck length of 10 to the minus 33rd power centimeters. Descriptions of Planck scale geometry include quantum gravity, spin networks, twistor theory and string theory. Which of these is correct remains unknown.

(Oh, really? Because they're all impossible to test? And therefore not scientifically valid?)

But we do know that Planck scale information is down there. And despite the vast difference in scale, it can influence our world, as spacetime is organized like a hologram, or fractal, with information repeating nonlocally and at different scales. (We can't describe it, we don't know anything about it, but we know it must exist, and it can influence our "world." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the monad.)

Penrose and Hameroff (This essay's co-author.) published several papers on Orch OR in the mid 1990s, prompting near-immediate skeptical rebuke from many directions, having offended computer/artificial intelligence proponents, neuroscientists, philosophers and physicists alike.

(From which we must "conclude" that there is a massive conspiracy to keep the truth hidden from the masses, right Mulder?)

Clinical studies of patients who survive cardiac arrest have revealed consistent reports of so-called near death experiences (NDEs), white light, being in a tunnel, serene calm, life review and in some cases out-of-body experiences (BOOBs). Many people report similar phenomena unrelated to cardiac arrest, e.g. associated with meditation, psychological trauma, drugs, or straightforward life events.

(All of these are interesting events that can be explained through non-"quantum" science. In fact, if you want to explain psychological trauma, it is much, much more useful to the patient to deal with this on a real, social, human level. Telling him that his trauma is due to his personal connection to quantum reality through infinitely small particles in his brain not only violates Occam's Razor, but is also unethical and dangerous.)

Conventional science rejects the possibility of an afterlife.

Could consciousness exist outside the body after death?
(I don't know. Do green ideas sleep furiously?)

When the blood stops flowing and metabolic energy can no longer drive microtubule quantum coherence, (It's like I'm in an episode of Star-Trek...) quantum information relating to the subject's conscious experience and memory isn't necessarily lost or destroyed, but may dissipate to the universe at large, remaining entangled as a unified soul-like entity grounded in Planck scale geometry. (Woah slow down there, chief... is it "The Soul" or merely "a soul-like entity"? Get your pseudo-terminology straight, man.) If the body is resuscitated, the quantum information can return, and the subject may report an NDE or BOOB experience. If the body is not resuscitated and the patient dies, the entangled quantum information constituting the subject's consciousness and memory may persist in spacetime geometry, perhaps entering an embryo in the context of reincarnation. (Perhaps. Or maybe it just goes to that never-ending party in the sky.)

Science attempts to explore the ocean of consciousness from the outside. That is, the universe is taken to be 'out there', divorced from subjective experience and therefore measurable without personal bias. But if the brain is connected to the universe at the quantum level, the distinction between subjective and objective experience, between 'in here' and 'out there' no longer holds. The spacetime geometry configuration of the observed world is reproduced in the brain. Again, the Beatles said it well: 'Your inside is out, and your outside is in. Your outside is in, and your inside is out.'

(Yup, that's right. The only cited source in this entire spiel is The White Album. He even fails to mention that that Beatles quote is from "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey." Oh, the irony. )

We two authors (SH and DC) differ slightly with regard to the ocean of consciousness, and the subject/object split.

(LOL. "No, you can balance an infinite number of angels on the head of a pin!" "You fool! Everyone knows that the divine mathematics dictates that the number must be equal to infinity plus one!" )

These proposals are testable, and falsifiable. (No they're not.) We welcome critical analysis. (Here ya go.)


Monday, August 9, 2010

LMM: Final! Austen vs. Faulkner

After 62 death matches and six months of voting, we're finally down to the grand championship: Jane Austen versus William Faulkner! It was obvious from early on that Ms. Austen would be a juggernaut of literary prowess, but I must admit that I have consistently underestimated Faulkner's appeal. But he has defeated Henry James, Herman Melville, and Virginia Woolf, so maybe there's more to this Mississippi Mauler than meets the eye.

Also, if you please, let me know who was left off of this list? What great writers, or just your favorite, was cruelly excluded?

Austen v. Faulkner

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Joel's Daring College Football Picks: BCS!

Now for the only games that matter, followed by the only game that actually matters:

1) Rose Bowl - #9 Oregon State (10-2) vs #6 Utah (12-0)
The Rose Bowl could be in a tough situation this year. They have agreed that, if either the Pac-10 or Big Ten champion goes to the BCS game, they will replace it with a team from a non-AQ conference. (i.e., Boise State, Utah, TCU, or BYU.) I imagine that this is because the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls got tired of being forced to select these small market teams.
I'm surprised that the Beavers are not getting more press as possible Pac-10 champs. Like I said, they get Cal, USC, and Oregon all at home, and are good enough to win all three of those games. The problem, though, is that they also play Boise State and TCU in non-conference games, so if they do win the Pac-10, the Rose Bowl may be faced with a rematch that not very many people would want to see. They can't pick USC. They would probably settle for Oregon vs Boise State, but that means that the Ducks need to win the Pac-10.
I'm bailing them out by saying that Utah will win the Mountain West, defeating Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, TCU, and BYU.

2) Fiesta Bowl: #5 Texas (12-1) vs #4 Boise State (12-0)
Boise State was ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll on Friday. So, logic would dictate that, if they win all of their games, and only one team ranked higher than them also wins all of its games, then those two teams would meet for the national championship, right? WRONG! I don't know much, but I know that the voters will always pick a one-loss SEC champ ahead of an undefeated Boise State in the polls.
But don't worry Boise State fans. The Broncos go on to beat Texas 58-3, and finish third in the national polls. Texas finishes sixth.

3) Orange Bowl: #10 Miami (10-3) vs #13 Cincinnati (10-2)
Yes! Dolphins versus Bengals in t.... wait, what?

I think that the ACC is wide open this year, with three or four teams each having a decent chance of winning it. The Hurricanes have scheduled a tough non-conference schedule, with games at Ohio State and Pittsburgh, but the conference will be decided on Nov. 20, when they play Virginia Tech in Miami. The Big East will be decided two weeks later, on the last day of the season, when the Bearcats host the Panthers.

4) Sugar Bowl: #3 Alabama (11-1) vs #7 Penn State (10-2)
Despite not having any conference champions in their game, the Sugar Bowl will be the big ratings winner of the BCS. They will benefit from the Rose Bowl's clause requiring it to select a non-AQ team, and snatch up JoePa and the Nittany Lions. Then, in a slightly controversial move, they will pick the Alabama Crimson Tide over the Florida Gators, even though Florida played (and lost) in the SEC championship game, whereas Alabama didn't get to play at all.

5) BCS Championship: #1 Ohio State (12-0) vs #2 LSU (12-1)
It seems like everyone and their grandma are picking the Buckeyes to get to the championship game, and I admit, it does seem like the stars are in their favor. They get an early home game against Miami that will boost their favorability with the voters. They also get Penn State at home. The two toughest challenges for the Buckeyes will be games at Wisconsin and at Iowa.

Picking LSU is more of a wildcard pick - they are #16 in the coaches preseason poll. Their key game will be on Nov. 6 versus Alabama. Alabama won the last time they went to Baton Rouge, in 2008, but I'll bet on the home team this year.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Joel's Daring College Bowl Picks

There are 35 bowl games scheduled for the 2010-2011 college football season, which means that 70 out of 120 of FBS schools will qualify for a bowl game. I'm not sure how this is going to work, since, in order to qualify for a bowl game, a team must have won at least 6 games, or, roughly, 50 percent of their games. So if there's a reasonable way for more than half of the teams to win at least half of their games, well, then the NCAA is better at math than I am.

A few of the new bowl games this season include the "Pinstripe Bowl", played at Yankee Stadium... :P.... the "Dallas Football Classic," which will be played at the old Cotton Bowl, even though the Cotton Bowl game will now be played at the brand new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX, and, my favorite, the "Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl" in San Francisco. I'm wondering how long it will be before we just shorten that down to the "Hunger Bowl." So the absurdity continues.

Here are my predictions for all 35 bowl games, from BCS Championship to the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl:

1) New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State (6-6) vs Idaho (9-4)
I like this game because it would pit the Aztecs against the Vandals. On a related note, shouldn't Michigan State always beat USC?

2) Humanitarian Bowl: Miami (OH) (6-6) vs Hawaii (8-5)

3) New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina (8-4) vs North Texas (8-4)
Nobody ever seems to notice that neither East Carolina nor North Texas are real places.

4) St. Petersburg Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs UAB (6-6)

5) Las Vegas Bowl: #17 TCU (10-2) vs Stanford (8-4)
The first bowl game that matters. Lots of people are picking TCU to bust the BCS again this year. But even if they beat Oregon State in their opener, they still have to play at Utah in November. I think they'll lose both of those games.

6) Poinsettia Bowl: #19 BYU (10-2) vs Navy (7-5)
The Poinsettia Bowl is obligated to select Navy this year, if they qualify. I think they will. Brigham Young will just be happy to playing somewhere other than Las Vegas for the first time since 2004.

7) Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa (7-5) vs Nevada (6-7)

8) Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl: Purdue (6-6) vs Ohio (8-4)

9) Independence Bowl: Boston College (6-6) vs Wyoming (6-6)
We're really scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

10) Champs Sports Bowl: Clemson (8-5) vs Michigan State (7-5)
The ACC is in a tough spot, because most of its good teams are in the Coastal Division. So it's very possible that a team like Clemson could make it all the way to the ACC championship game; if they win, they go to the Orange Bowl, but if they lose, they fall all the way to the Champs Sports Bowl.

11) Insight Bowl: #24 Northwestern (9-3) vs #20 Oklahoma State (10-2)
The first match-up between two top 25 teams. The Big Ten is scheduled to send seven teams to non-BCS bowl games this year. That means that eight or nine of the eleven Big Ten teams have spots reserved for them in bowl games. I do not think that it is mathematically possible for eight out of 11 teams to finish at .500 or better. But what do I know.

12) EagleBank Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs SMU (8-4)

13) Texas Bowl: Ball State (8-4) vs #23 Texas Tech (9-3)
This is supposed to be a Big Ten vs. Big 12 match-up. I'm subbing in Ball State because I've heard of them.

14) Alamo Bowl: Missouri (8-4) vs Arizona (7-5)
The Tigers and the Wildcats. The two most ubiquitous names in all of college sports.

15) Armed Forces Bowl: UTEP (8-4) vs Air Force (8-4)

16) Pinstripe Bowl: Texas A&M (7-5) vs USF (7-5)
The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 30th. New York City has been working hard to get football to come to the city - the 2014 Super Bowl will be at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ. It's a good idea in theory, but this will be a cold game, especially with a team from the Houston-area playing a team from Tampa.

17) Music City Bowl: Maryland (8-4) vs Mississippi St. (6-6)

18) Holiday Bowl: #18 Oregon (9-3) vs #15 Nebraska (10-3)
Although this match-up may have been better last year, when we could have seen Ndamukong Suh chase Jeremiah Masoli all over the field, I still like the idea of the Pac-10's top offense taking on the Big 12's top defense.

19) Meineke Car Care Bowl: Florida State (7-5) vs West Virginia (8-4)
This is the first New Year's Eve day bowl. Some smaller bowl will benefit from having two big name programs that will both under-perform; it might as well be the Car Care Bowl.

20) Sun Bowl: #12 Virginia Tech (10-2) vs California (8-4)

21) Liberty Bowl: Houston (8-4) vs Arkansas (7-5)

22) Chick-fil-A Bowl: #21 Georgia Tech (9-3) vs #25 Auburn (8-4)
This game was once the Peach Bowl. Then it was the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Now it's just the Chick-fil-A Bowl. What gives?

23) Dallas Football Classic: Kansas (8-4) vs Temple (8-4)
This will be the first game played on New Year's Day, 2011. A few questions: Why not just call it the Dallas Bowl? Can the first ever of something really be a "classic"? And how confident are you in its success when you're only going to air it on ESPNU?

24) Outback Bowl: Iowa (8-4) vs Ole Miss (7-5)
Masoli gets the last laugh after all when all of his old teammates and coaches are at home in Eugene watching him start for Ole Miss on New Year's Day.

25) Capital One Bowl: #16 Wisconsin (10-2) vs #8 Florida (11-2)
The Capital One Bowl used to the Citrus Bowl, but this name change doesn't bother me as much as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Maybe it's because this game consistently has excellent match-ups. Or maybe because their mascots aren't a group of eco-terrorist cattle.

26) Gator Bowl: Michigan (7-5) vs Tennessee (6-6)
The Gator Bowl is the third New Year's match-up between the Big Ten and the SEC. At least one of these games will include mediocre or sub-par teams. But don't doubt for a second that any one of these bowls would jump at the chance to feature a crappy Tennessee take on a so-so Michigan.

27) GMAC Bowl: Kent State (6-6) vs Troy (8-4)
Most redundant name in college football? The Troy Trojans.

28) Cotton Bowl: #11 Oklahoma (10-2) vs #14 Georgia (10-2)
Why is the Cotton Bowl being played on January 7? Why is it not being played in the Cotton Bowl? Why is it the only game being aired on Fox? Ah, the mysterious universe that is college football.

29) Bowl: #22 Pittsburgh (9-3) vs South Carolina (6-6)
Ah, that revered rivalry between the Bowl and the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl continues....

30) Kraft Cheese Fight Hunger Bowl: Washington (7-5) vs Fresno State (7-5)
I appreciate Kraft trying to send a good message with the name of their new bowl game, but how long will it be until we shorten this to "Hunger Bowl"? I keep wanting to call it the "Hungry Bowl." Makes me want some f-ing mac n cheese right now. I think that the Huskies are being overrated in the preseason, but not so overrated that they won't beat Fresno State in the Hungry Bowl.

Next up.... BCS Games!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

My (Un-asked-for) Opinions Regarding Cormac McCarthy

So the other night Robyn and I (and our roommates) watched the movie The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen, based upon the novel by Cormac McCarthy. I really, really disliked it, even though I also thought that Viggo was good, and the little boy was good, too, but the movie as a whole left me shaken and depressed, and not in that good way. (Like the feeling that I got after seeing Das wei├če Band. That movie was amazing.)

My morose fascination with McCarthy began after seeing No Country for Old Men, which immediately became one of my favorite movies of all time.* Soon after viewing the movie, I went out and bought the book, and was shocked by what happened next. I hated it. It was dry, bland, violent, humorless, and had much stronger racist and anti-immigrant tones than the movie. I disliked it so much that I'm pretty sure that I gave it away, which is something that I never do with my books. In other words, I discovered that everything that I liked about the movie No Country for Old Men - the wit, the absurdity, the beautiful landscapes - had been put there by the Coen brothers. It felt to me as if they took a book completely lacking in self awareness and made it realize what was actually important in it and then showed it to the rest of us.**

And then along comes The Road. I haven't read the book, although after seeing the movie I went online and read the first chapter. I still think I will try to check it out of the library sooner than later. But based on my literary experience with No Country for Old Men, this film seemed much more "faithful" to McCarthy's overall world view; a hopeless, colorless, dying world populated almost entirely by men without names who are all simply standing in for some part of the human soul. As Robyn pointed out while we were watching the movie, "It would be the worst thing ever to be stuck in a Cormac McCarthy novel."

On the other hand, maybe I'm just missing something here. After all, The Road did win the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, and I pretty much trust those guys to know their literature.*** I've also had a few conversations with people whose literary judgment I trust and admire, who have said that they love McCarthy. I went looking for reviews of The Road, and found the NY Times glowing review by William Kennedy. It really helped cement some of my thoughts and opinions regarding McCarthy's writing. I'm going to try to restrict my criticism here to what I take to be McCarthy's primary themes in the book No Country for Old Men and The Road, and assuming that the movie was faithful to the book, which everyone says it was.

Kennedy writes, "The overarching theme in McCarthy’s work has been the face-off of good and evil with evil invariably triumphant through the bloodiest possible slaughter." Bingo. That was one of my biggest problems with No Country for Old Men. Not the evil triumphant part; I like evil triumphant. There would be no Orwell or Kafka without it. But the means by which evil triumphs in McCarthy's world leaves so much to be desired; it triumphs through bloodshed, through relentless, meaningless slaughter and violence. Look, now let me be absolutely clear****:I'm not opposed to violence, either. Violence - horrific violence - is a very real part of our world. As we speak, people are boiling to death in Moscow. But the way that McCarthy mystifies violence, the way that he makes it into something that, by its very nature, cannot be understood or resisted, I find to be particularly annoying.

Evil or violence in a text without meaning adds nothing to that text. In No Country for Old Men, Chigurh is without ethnicity, age, face, class, motivation, etc. He is merely a force of evil - which is the point. But to that my response is: so what? If I am being presented with a picture of violence that I find to be useless and unrealistic, what interest do I have in reading more about it? In an excellent negative review of The Road on, Levi Asher observes:

The first thing the reader detects is that this will be a thoroughly humorless book, a book of punishing, guilt-ridden unpleasantness, a book that must be aiming to be "good for us", because it's sure not aiming to be fun. That's the moral outlook Cormac McCarthy always offers -- a stern "church lady" tone warning of stark choices between evil and redemption.
Right. In the way that McCarthy presents evil - what I call "apolitical evil," because it is an evil that transcends meaning and identity - the only expectable response from the reader is this kind of Opus Dei flagellation. We have always already sinned, and now it is too late, the Reaper cometh, and all we can do is bemoan our cruel fates. And I think this kind of conception of evil - the kind that warns us against action - is cowardly.

The second major problem that I have with McCarthy is with his prose. In his review, Kennedy says:

But on the basis of “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” it does seem that he has put aside the linguistic excesses and the philosophizing for which he has been both venerated and mocked — those Faulknerian convolutions, the Melvillean sermonizing — and opted for terse dialogue and spartan narrative, a style he inherited from another of his ancestors, Hemingway, and long ago made his own.
I must tread carefully here because three of my favorite things in the world are linguistic excesses, philosophizing, and Melvillean sermonizing. And maybe this is something that does, in the end, just come down to taste. But what Kennedy calls "terse dialogue and spartan narrative" I call a lack of concern for his world that he has created. I keep thinking about Henry James, and how probably the most common criticism that I have heard of him regards his "artifice", his tendency to go on and on, describing every last minute detail in a scene, the slow pace with which is narrative proceeds as he rambles down shadowed hallways of thought and aside; his questionable use of semi-colons. But let me put it this way: The opposite of gilded is not authentic.

Finally, I call shenanigans on McCarthy being the inheritor of Hemingway. Yes, they both have "terse" prose and, yes, they have both become known as "tough guys." But Hemingway is a creator of worlds in a way that I have not seen from McCarthy. First, Hemingway's novels are populated by human beings. Not Men. Sure, maybe the most admirable quality in a woman is that of being like a man (Pilar from For Whom the Bell Tolls) and the worst quality in a man is being like a woman (Robert "The Jewish Guy" Cohn in The Sun Also Rises). But there is a certain sad empathy, a humanism, at work in Hemingway's work that I have found sadly lacking in McCarthy's.

Hemingway's novels are warm, real, oh-so-colorful, and most importantly, they have something at stake. There is nothing at stake in No Country for Old Men - in a way, everything has become predetermined, evil is ascendant, nothing to but sit and wait for the apocalypse. There is plenty of evil in Hemingway, an evil that is actually ascendant in the rise of European fascism, but it is a tangible and human evil, one that has roots within ourselves, it is the evil of banality. At the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan narrates: "The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it." I don't think Cormac McCarthy would agree with this statement. Even if The Man (Adam) carries within him The Fire in The Road, it is not the same idea of The Fate of The World being decided and decidable through human actions. All Man can do is tuck His burning Fire away from The World, the cruel, cruel world.

*One of my favorite things to do when I'm home alone is to get real drunk, stay up real late, and pop in No Country for Old Men while eating refried beans straight outta the can.

** Case in point: The movie would have been ten times worse if Javier Bardem were not sporting that ridiculous haircut. Seriously - the movie actually hinges on his pageboy do.

*** Although I realized that two of my favorite books, The Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, won the Pulitzer in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Maybe I'm just a pre-9/11 kind of guy? Also: Hooray, immigrant literature!

**** Said in his best Obama voice.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Best Quote Evah

"As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale's head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunderheads overboard, and then you will float light and right."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Episode Where I Try, And Fail, To Pee

From the Desk of: Joel*

With Summer winding down, I figured that it was about time for me to clear my slate (is that a mixed metaphor?) and prepare for the return of routine in the Fall. I'm going to start volunteering as a writing tutor at the Danville Correctional Center in September, and on Friday I went down there with the other new volunteers for drug testing.

While I was waiting for my turn, I reflected that I have spent a lot of my time in one of three great institutions of our society: public schools, hospitals, and prisons. Therefore, I have had to pee in a cup in front of strangers many times. I wasn't nervous or anxious at all, and so when it came my turn, I jumped up, and followed "Tom," the hulking drug counselor, down the hall and into the tiny, un-air conditioned prison bathroom, plastic cup in hand.

But then the worst thing happened. Nothing. Tom and I stood there for what must have been ten minutes - it's a cliche, but it felt like hours - while I tried, and failed, to pee. I honestly was not nervous at first; I think that I couldn't pee because I had slept in and not had time for coffee or breakfast before we left. But as the seconds ticked by, and the tiny room became hotter and I started my unfortunate habit of sweating like a starving mule from Idaho, I became increasingly anxious. Finally, Tom suggested that we go back to the conference room, so that the other volunteers could have a turn, and I could drink a cup of water. (I was allowed 8 oz. every 30 minutes.)

So I sat and sipped my styrofoam cup full of water while two other guys went to the bathroom and returned, triumphant with test tubes filled with yellowish-clear liquid in hand. After a few minutes, I told Tom that I thought I was ready now, thank you very much, and he escorted me back to the prison bathroom.** And the same thing happened. I couldn't pee. I tried all sorts of tricks; swaying from side to side, sitting down, working the abs and then the butt muscles, etc. But nothing happened. Another ten minutes passed. Finally, Tom again suggested that we go back to the waiting room, where maybe I could drink another cup of water, or something.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, except to say that everyone at Danville was really nice about the fact that I couldn't pee, and that they told me that it happens to people all the time, and that I was glad how patient everyone was while we sat in the conference room, everyone having by this time gone except for me, and we all sat and watched me sip water from a styrofoam cup and chatted about Brett Favre. After about another twenty minutes, I told Tom that I was ready to try again, and that, indeed, the third time was the charm, and I was able to fill the cup up just barely above the little 30 cc line that denoted the minimum necessary sample of urine. Then we went to the next room, where all of the volunteers were fingerprinted and photographed, and we had official ID's made for the next time we visited.***

I'll be going back to Danville once or twice a week this fall, helping inmates who are working towards their B.A.'s with their writing, and tutoring them when they need additional help, etc. Now that dreaded piss test is out of the way, and I'm one step closer to getting back into the structure and routine of the school year.

* Sometimes readers on Facebook get confused about who's writing. I don't want you to think that this happened to Robyn.

**The bathroom that we were using was in the sick ward wing of the prison, and was available both to staff and to inmates visiting the ward for one reason or another.

*** We were told to bring proof of a TB test with us, but no one asked us for those papers. But just in case you were wondering, I don't have TB, and I have a card in my wallet that proves it.

The Best Things On The Internet

One of the other reasons why reasons why I decided to complete the "Literary March Madness" that we started in, um, March... :$.... was this video, that hopefully y'all have seen already one place or another, that Robyn showed me a little while back:

I saw this and I was all like, "OMG! This is exactly what I would do with my life if I had unlimited resources and if the constraints of space and time were of no matter!" But I can't, so the next best thing is creating imaginary competitions where famous writers fight each other to the death for my amusement.

That's the best thing on the internet right now. The second best thing is this:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Kevin Kline
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

How much would you pay to see a traveling, two-man, impromptu show starring Kevin Kline and Stephen Colbert? One million dollars, that's how much. (Also, I just found out that Kevin Kline got a Tony nomination for playing Falstaff. So he's probably thought about that one alot.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Black Sox and Jail Blazers

The 25 Most Hated Teams of All Time

This list is awesome. Included on it are the 1919 Chicago White Sox (a la Shoeless Joe Jackson) and the 2001 Portland Trail Blazers. It's fun to root for teams that everybody else hates. Although I think I'm rooting for the Miami Uber-Heat next season, especially if they meet the Lakers in the Finals.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Home is where the Wild Things are

Q: Are our household troubles over?

A: No. There is a squirrel trapped in the fireplace. An extremely angry squirrel.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

L'enfer, ces chats

Things that are now or recently have been broken in our household:

1) The lamp in the living room.
2) Our coffee maker. (There is another one in the house.)
3) The AC. I am hot and I am sticky.
4) The shower. This one is fixed now, but there was no showering for several days. We were all very hot and sticky. And smelly.
5) My laptop computer. Covered in gin.
6) The screen to the front door. This is fixed now, but before it was fixed, there were bugs. Bugs everywhere.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Convoluted Answer to a Simple Question (About Football)

Cab said...

could you explain the whole 'who's in the pack 10' and what's this other league thing with colorado and some other guys hunting for a home?

Short answer: Colorado goes from the Big-12 to the Pac-10 in 2012. Utah goes from the Mountain West to the Pac-10 in 2011.

Long answer: Gladly, although it's complicated....

Of all the major conferences the Pac-10 is by far the least profitable. The SEC, the Big-12, and the Big Ten all have far more lucrative television deals (or, in the case of the Big Ten, simply own their own TV network) and all of them collect more revenue and have higher attendance than the Pac-10. There are a myriad of reasons for this: Football culture is more intense and insane in the South and Midwest than on the West Coast, the Pacific Time Zone is too late for primetime TV, the Pac-10 has only one "flagship" school in USC, so doesn't benefit from an annual game like Ohio St.-Michigan, Texas-Oklahoma, or Florida-Georgia. But perhaps the biggest - and most controversial reason - is that the Pac-10 suffers because it only has ten teams.

This is important for two reasons. One is the obvious fact that if you have more teams, you get to play more games, and have more chances to sell tickets/TV ads. (This is true even if you play the same amount of games as before - 10 X 9/2 = 45 in conference games, but 12 X 9/2 = 54!) The second, weirder reason, is that a conference with 12 or more teams is allowed to have a Conference Championship game. Now, most people think that having a Championship Game is a Good Thing: it's a chance at the end of the season, before the bowls, to squeeze in one more game between your two best/ most popular teams and to take in more revenue. Also, and this is very important, it's one more chance to showcase your best team(s) on national TV and make an argument for the BCS championship. The last two seasons, the BCS game has been between the winner of the SEC Championship game and the winner of the Big-12 Championship game. Those teams always get an extra, 13th game against a very good, usually nationally ranked, opponent. Obviously, this seems unfair to someone who doesn't get that chance. (USC thought that that was so unfair that they've gone ahead and scheduled 13 games this year. Too bad their banned from playing in Bowl Games....)

What people forget, however, is that the other conference to have an annual championship game is the ACC, and every year it loses money on it. This year, that game was between Clemson and Georgia Tech, and even though the winner gets an automatic invitation to the Orange Bowl, the ACC still can't fill up those seats. So just having that extra game doesn't guarantee more money. Another issue that the Pac-10 has to face is scheduling. No other conference has the same perfect rivalry pairings that the Pac-10 has. (Oregon/Oregon St., USC/UCLA, Cal/Stanford, etc.) Adding a championship game would threaten those rivalry games. For example, last season, the Civil War game was between the #1 and #2 teams in the Pac-10. But if we had a Championship Game that year, and if the Beavers had won that game, then they would have had to play the Ducks again in a week or two in Glendale, or Pasadena, or Seattle. Most commentators agree that that would be a Bad Thing, financially speaking.

Nevertheless, both the Pac-10 and the Big Ten* decided that they needed to expand to at least 12 teams in order to stay competitive in terms of revenue and BCS Championships. The irony here is that they both planned to do this by stealing teams away from the Big-12. Are you still with me? Because this is where things get really crazy.

The Big-12 has always been something of a Frankenstein's Monster of a conference. It was formed in 1994 by combining the Big Eight - which had always been dominated by Nebraska - with four schools from Texas fleeing the bankrupt and corrupt Southwest Conference.** Over the past decade, the Big-12 increasingly became dominated by the University of Texas, which is the largest, richest school with the biggest fanbase and recruiting base. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry came to replace the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry, and Nebraska was increasingly getting shut-out of big money bowl games. So Nebraska jumped at the opportunity to join the Big Ten when it came calling, thus giving the Big Ten their 12th team, and the ability to have a Conference Championship Game.

Of course, this meant that the Big-12 was down to 11 teams, and could not hold a championship game! At this point, UTexas held all of the cards. They knew that the Pac-10's new commissioner, Larry Scott, was bent on expansion. So, in order to hold the Big-12 hostage, they made it very public that they were interested in joining the Pac-10, forming a Pac-16 Super Conference that would be made up of the existing Pac-10 plus: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and then either Colorado or Baylor.*** This, suffice to say would be the end of the Big-12. This is also where you get the "homeless" schools, i.e., the leftovers of the Big-12: Kansas, Kansas St., Missouri, and Iowa St. Now, these schools don't carry a whole lot of football clout, but Kansas is one of the premier men's basketball programs in the country. If they were to be "homeless", we would see a new political fight between say, the Big Ten and the Big East over who would get Kansas. But a school that nobody wanted - Iowa St. - could be doomed. They could be bumped out of a top conference, join something like the Mid-American Conference, and stand to lose millions of dollars in revenue. (In the end, it's all about the Benjamins.)

In order to prevent this from happening, the Big-12 gave in to Texas' demands: A bigger cut of conference revenue the next time they renegotiate, a promise to expand back to 12 teams ASAP****, and permission to form their own, Texas only TV network. In return, Texas agreed to stay in the Big-12 and continue to financially support the other schools in the conference. Balance was restored to the Universe. But where did this leave the Pac-10?

Well, still looking to expand to 12 teams. Before Texas decided to stay put, Colorado made a move to leave the Big-12 and join the Pac-10. Probably, Colorado was worried that they would be left "homeless" along with Kansas and Iowa St., and they wanted to get that last musical chair before Baylor could. Also, they have a geographic and historical relationship with the Pac-10. (The last time they went to a BCS game was 2002, where they got crushed by the Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl.) Finally, I think that they were tired of being at the bottom of the Big-12, and figured that they would be more competitive if they switched conferences. Colorado will play their first game as a Pac Ten team in 2012.

OK, so now the Pac-10 had 11 teams, but that was still one too few teams for a conference championship. Fortunately, there's one school that has been itching to join the Pac-10 for years: Utah. The Utes are the original BCS busters, winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2005, and then whooping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. (In fact, Utah has won 9 consecutive bowl games.) If Utah joined the Pac-10, they could qualify for the Pac-10's automatic BCS-bid, the Rose Bowl, and, more importantly, a National Championship. Also, they're rather confident that they can compete for that automatic bid: They have won seven of their last 10 games against Pac-10 teams. Utah will join the Pac-10 in 2011.

So there's the answer: Colorado and Utah join the Pac-10, and Nebraska joins the Big Ten, meaning that the Rose Bowl could be Utah vs. Nebraska in a few years. Also, it means that the Big-12 has ten teams, while the Pac-10 and the Big Ten both will have twelve teams, which I think is hilarious. Will the Big-12 become the Big-10 and the Big Ten the Big-12? Or will we have a Big Twelve with 10 teams and a Big Ten with 12?

But, wait, there's more! First of all, that last question is a moot point. Like I said in the notes - you do read the notes, don't you? - the Big Ten is a brand name, not a description. They could have fifty teams, they would still be the Big Ten. It's imperative, meanwhile, that the Big-12 expand back up to 12 teams in the next year or two. Like I said in the notes, they should have plenty of eager teams to pick from. But this raises the interesting question of conference "culture."

There were lots of schools to pick from for the Pac-10 in order to find a 12th school. I would have preferred Boise State to Utah, but the Broncos had just agreed to leave the WAC for the MWC. Another obvious choice for Pac-10 expansion was Brigham Young. Now, there are lots of good reasons to pick Utah over BYU: they're a large, public university, they have a successful football program, they meet the Pac-10's academic standards. However, there is also the lingering question of BYU's Mormon affiliation. In the Salt Lake Tribune, Gordon Monson wrote:

The Utes are a better fit. They’re the kind of research institution that the Pac-10 prefers. Some say they are more “liberal” in their approach to academics, and that’s true, too. Their way of doing business is more in line with what Pac-10 schools do. As for athletics, football in particular, Utah’s accomplishment in winning two BCS bowls since 2005 is remarkable.

BYU, conversely, is conservative and is owned not only by a church, but a church that supported Proposition 8, that won’t allow its teams to play on Sunday, and that keeps a watchful eye on the academic pursuits of its professors. While it’s a stellar institution that’s extremely difficult for students to get into, it’s more limited in graduate-level research. It’s a terrific university, but a different one — unlike any in the Pac-10.

Maybe we could have eased some cultural tensions in the West if we had an annual Berkeley-Provo showdown, but in the end, Utah was the better choice for the Pac-10. But I believe that the Big 12 would not have the same reservations about BYU as the Pac-10 did. My bet is that, in two years, we'll hear an announcement that BYU and TCU have joined the newly (re)formed Big 12.

The other interesting question is that of scheduling and divisions in the new Pac-12. Part of the rationale behind allowing conferences with 12 teams to have a championship game is because it is too inconvenient for everyone in the conference to play everyone else every year. So, instead, they're divided into two divisions. Each team plays the five others in their division plus either three or four from the other division, and the winners of each division play one another in the annual championship game. In determining divisions, conferences need to consider geography, rivalries, and competitiveness. In the Pac-12, I think the most obvious, and likely divisions would be a North (Wash., WSU, Ore., OSU, Utah, Colorado) and a South (Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Ariz., ASU). For the most part, the North would be controlled by Oregon, OSU, and Utah, while the South would be controlled by USC, with Cal and Arizona challenging every once in a while. The problem with this alignment is that most of the major population (i.e., TV viewing) centers are in the South. This problem could be eased by going North (Wash., WSU, Ore., OSU, Cal, Stanford - Seattle/San Francisco/Oakland) versus South (Utah, Colorado, USC, UCLA, Ariz., ASU - L.A./Phoenix). It's kind of a moot point because Colorado is going to have to travel a long ways no matter which division they're in.

The monkey wrench in this whole situation, though, is recruiting. Every coach and AD in the Pac-12 will demand at least one trip to southern California a year for recruiting purposes. So anyone in the South division would have an inherent recruiting advantage over the North division. One proposed solution to this would be to create "Zipper" divisions: Division A: Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Stanford, UCLA. Division B: WSU, OSU, ASU, Colorado, Cal, USC - with each team guaranteed to play its natural rival at the end of the season. This makes it more likely for schools from Washington and Oregon to get an annual trip to Los Angeles, but there's no guarantee. Because USC will have to play a road game at some point.*****

* The reason that the Big Ten is not the Big-10 is because they have 11 teams. Philosophically speaking, "Big Ten" is a name, not a descriptor like "Pac-10" is.

** This is why the Cotton Bowl is not one of the BCS bowls. It was the home bowl of SWC, and when that conference dissolved, the Cotton Bowl largely lost its clout.

*** This is where the politicians get involved. The financial solvency of Texas Tech and Texas A&M are dependent upon their relationship with Austin. So the Texas state legislature was prepared to take legal steps to prevent those schools from competing in different conferences than U-Texas. This, in turn, put the Pac-10 in a tough situation, because the Pac-10 has higher academic standards (OMG! It's like we're actually talking about colleges here!) for its member schools than the Big-12. (I'm lookin' at you, Stanford.) Neither Tech nor A&M would meet these standards. But it looked like the Pac-10 would be prepared to lower those standards if it meant that Texas could join the conference. Phew.

**** I think that there are a lot of schools who would want to join the Big-12: Brigham Young, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, Houston. (One of these things is not like the other....) But Stewart Mandel disagrees.

**** I get most of my opinions from Stewart Mandel of