Monthly Archives: January 2003

A guide to my blogs I

I have so many blogs in my blog rolls that even I don’t know what’s there. I can’t blame you for feeling overwhelmed and scared at the idea of wading through them. Actually, I’m a little overwhelmed by them sometimes, which is how I came up with the idea of going through them and figuring out why I like them and nudging you in that direction too. Or deleting them off my blogroll, whatever.

So forthwith, I give you a tour of my blogs. It will take a few days to get through all of them.

Web Logs

This is the catchall blogroll, the one where I put blogrolls that don’t go in one of my other categories.

Boing Boing: Eclectic collection of links, primarily high-tech oriented. Also, everyone links to Boing Boing, and I hate to be left out

Bookslut: If I’m going to claim to be a “writer,” I should at least have one site primarily devoted to writing, no? Writing, writers, books, book reviews, snarky remarks about pseudo-intellectuals. Also: the term “bookslut.” What’s not to love?

Ceejbot Ceej’s weblog. What, I have to explain this?

Copyfight A blog dedicated to intellectual property issues. Happens to be an interest of mine at the moment.

Gawker A weblog devoted to Manhattan. Its self-description: “a live review of city news, and by news we mean, among other things, urban dating rituals, no-ropes social climbing, Cond� Nastiness, downwardly-mobile i-bankers, real estate porn — the serious stuff.” This is completely accurate.

Language Hat A blog devoted to language! Finally, my degree in Linguistics comes in handy. Actually, no, it doesn’t—most of the time I haven’t the foggiest what language hat is talking about, but this is one of those occasions where I like that feeling, because I might learn something.

Late Night Thoughts… A truly smart, excellent journal, filled with great writing. Lefty, with a highly personal slant.

Long story; short pier Excellent writing. Highly political and personal. Has thoughtful analyses like this.

Paper Bent A new addition, still being analyzed. To the good: writer, mother, good sense of humor, like me interested in homeschooling. To the bad: refers to self as “Household vice-president,” husband as “Household president.” Leaves me squicky feeling.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden A blog about random stuff, along with a lot of political stuff. More personal than a political blog, which is why it’s here instead of my list of leftie blogs. Plus: a great list of links.

Pepys Diary The required reading of the blog world. I should check it more frequently than I do. Probably that “should” feeling is what’s keeping me from doing it.

Peter David Writer, talks about shows I like. What’s not to love?

Political State Report A multi-poster blog keeping track of political developments around the nation. Not a daily check for me, but somewhere neat to check to see whazzup.

Rebecca’s pocket Definitely eclectic collection of links. The sort of blog I expect most blogs to be, only better.

Riba Rambles Rambling and ambling around, picking up links here and there, making personal comments on them. I’m not deeply in love with this blog, but I’m keeping it for a while.

Soapboxgirls Found this one by hitting a random button. It’s pretty much what it claims to be, “women’s passions and politics,” without being aggressive or in-your-face like so many political blogs.

Surfin’ Safari Dave Hyatt’s blog devoted to his work on Safari. My hubby works on Safari. Do the math.

The Flick Filosopher MaryAnn Johanson does it with style. “It” being watching movies and style being text like this: “Are there three more terrifying words in the English language than “Jerry Bruckheimer Presents”? (I know, you’re thinking, “What about ‘A Michael Bay Film’”? But that’s four words.)” She evidently sees all movies and has a witty word or two (or hundred) to say about them.

the talking dog Okay, for one thing, the font size is too small. And that dog pic: man, that’s aggressive. But it’s odd and funny and has lots of links.

While putting this list together I cleaned up my list of blogs (shortened it a bit) and figured out what I like about these. I know I have to split this up even further, I just can’t figure out how. So for right now the first list of blogs is the “random assortment list” and that’s how it’s going to stay.

I (heart) the Guardian

This isn’t a political journal—basically, when it comes to screeds about politics you can find about fifty blogs in my list o’blogs over there that can do it much, much better than I can (and I’m not talking about the ones listed under “The Right”).

But I draw your attention now to an editorial in The Guardian newspaper, a reaction to the recent State of the Union:

We know, of course, that the pomp of the state of the union address barely hides another reality: an economically divided, unequal and uncertain country, with a substantial anti-war movement of its own, and whose citizens remain sceptical about their president’s wider strategies. Despite warm words about helping the poor with a system of “mentors”, and a big chunk of money to fund research into hydrogen cars to help the environment, his old conservatism shone through, with calls for an end to abortion. When he spoke of bringing forward his massive tax cuts, it was notable that only half of Congress rose to applaud: stone-faced Democrats sat that one out.

and this:

For Bush, the world community at the UN is interesting; but not very interesting; and certainly not essential.

He is the only person in the world who can afford to think this way. He has the muscle that no one else comes near to possessing. His menaces and his stare are easily mocked, but they are also impressively scary. I would not have liked to have been an Iraqi general watching that speech. We caricature today’s America as a flabby, divided and sentimental empire, led by an idiot; but it is also, at moments, the warlike republic of old, with a self-certainty no other country has known for generations. Today the UN is the flag and theory of the world order: but America, like its Coke, is the real thing.

I haven’t read anything similar on the pages of American papers. In the political blogs, yes, but not by leading opinion makers.

For Tony Blair it’s very different. Britain has not yet been attacked in the same way; indeed many people here believe attacking Iraq makes terrorism at home more likely, not less. The anti-war chorus is growing ever louder, both outside and inside the Commons, where the prime minister’s insistence yesterday that British troops would only be committed to war by “our government, our House of Commons, our country” was met with roars of disbelief.

I would love to have a country where the reported leader was made to face some opposition instead of getting softballs lobbed at him. Where he couldn’t hide behind the weaselly non-answers of his Press Secretary. Where pundits could ask hard questions without being asked why they hate America so much.

Can you imagine our Congress reacting with roars of disbelief, rather than scripted applause?

Didn’t think so.

Questions, we get questions

Sally asks in the Comments section in “Poetry illiterate”: “Here’s a ? for your journal — in whose presence have you sensed that special immortal genius for personality?”

This is a good question. One I would like to answer, I just haven’t the time to do it right now.. Feel free to post in the Comments section if you have such stories.

Actually, if anyone else has any questions for me you’d like me to answer, feel free to post them. (Let’s keep it rated PG.)

The $50 Hamburger

Yes. Civilization is now at an end. Why do you ask?

If there weren’t two crisp twenties under the bun, I couldn’t imagine what would make this worth it. But if you live long enough in a city where a first-grader’s birthday party can cost $3,000, you must remain sanguine in the face of absurdity.

I had started on a Saturday night with a $41 burger. By Sunday night, two miles on the treadmill later, I was at another restaurant uptown, face to face with a $50, 4-inch-tall tower of beef and bun, 2 inches higher than my black French pumps. This was not the launch of my Atkins diet. Rather, I had resigned myself to covering a competition between restaurateurs over who could reinvent the great American hamburger and charge the most for it.

Even though the bubble has burst and the country is facing an international crisis, New York City is fully engaged in a war over turning a low-rent food into something ineluctable.

This all heated up shortly after New Year’s.

For the first time, one of the oldest steakhouses in New York added a hamburger to its menu. Located in the meatpacking district since 1868, the Old Homestead offered 20 ounces of beer-fed Kobe beef on a bun for $41.

A few days later at DB Bistro Moderne, a top-rated French chef with a yen for publicity raised the stakes. Daniel Boulud began shaving $350-per-pound black truffles onto his regular DB Burger, raising the price from $29 to $50. This offering was good only for the four short months of the truffle season.

There’s a wonderful bit later on in the article about how

“Everyone has $41,” Sherry said. “Or everyone can raise $41.” After all, he bragged, he sold 200 burgers the first day, 140 of them takeout orders from the nearby financial district. So much for the bear market.

Man. Now that’s disposable income.

Experts at getting A’s

According to a story in today’s LA Times (sadly, registration required):

Today’s college freshmen got more A’s than ever in high school while studying a record low number of hours in their senior year, according to a national survey by UCLA. But they may not be any smarter than those of past generations.

Instead, frenzied competition for college admission has inflated grades and trained students to become experts at winning A’s, say the survey’s director and college students and officials in Southern California.

“Students are more savvy about what it takes to get an A,” said Linda J. Saxon, the UCLA education professor who directed this year’s American Freshman Survey, which has been tracking students’ opinions and habits for 37 years.

In the classes she teaches, students now “focus more of their energies studying what it takes to get a grade.” They might be able to study less if they focus on that as the outcome, rather than on learning, which would take more time, she said.

Well, is anyone surprised? Christ, everything is so high stakes today, of course you need an A in everything you do. Competition for grades is killing any desire on the part of children to learn, as has been so well described by Alfie Kohn in Punished By Rewards, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. If you’ve ever wondered what’s wrong with incentives like grades, Kohn will explain it for you.

One change Kohn recommends to our system of grading is changing to a system where you get an A or an incomplete. You’ve either done the work, or you haven’t.

Of course, a great many people would howl bloody murder if their kid can’t have a much better GPA than the next kid. The current grading system enforces the notion that some children must be left behind. As the article in the Times goes on to say:

At one prestigious Los Angeles prep school, which he asked not to be identified, Poch said he had found every student in an English class earned either an A or an A-minus.

Well, you know, maybe everyone in the class did the work to get an A, you know? Should we have a system where some kids are forced to fail?

Poetry illiterate

Because I haven’t learned my lesson well enough, I started in on another 800-page book, Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford. It’s a biography of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was a giant figure in the Jazz Age and is much less well known today. It’s well-written¹, but I think I’m going to have stop reading it. For one thing, it’s difficult to write about charismatic figures, because the flame that drew admirers like moths doesn’t come through on the page. I can’t figure out why all these men (and women) are circling Millay, desperately in love with her, while she doesn’t return their feelings and is always on to her next conquest.

And for another, I’m poetry-illiterate. I honestly don’t understand why Millay’s poetry is considered so noteworthy. This is not to say I think it’s not—I mean, I don’t know why. I read Millay’s poetry, as reprinted in this biography, and I don’t get it. I’m quite sure I can’t tell the difference between the greatest poet in the English language and the worst hack.

I’ve always been poetry-illiterate. I’ve never written poetry, I’ve never read poetry for fun, I’ve never taken taken poetry classes (which is hilarious, given the number of creative writing classes I’ve taken in my life). Periodically someone will shove a poem under my nose and say, “Read this.” Often I find the poem nice and sometimes even intriguing. But I am not stirred to seek out more. Which is odd, given that I love writing in all its many forms.

This is a confession of fear of poetry. You know: poetry is too hard to understand, let alone create, or it requires too great a purely artistic streak. And this is the hardest to actually say aloud, I harbor deep plebian suspicions that poetry is too rarefied and academic. It’s the ultimate expression of the doubts I got as I was growing up: Yes, dear, but writing isn’t a real career. I mean, writers are famous for starving, and poet just seems to scream “extremely starving artist.” Which is nonsense—there does not need to be a connection between “artistic discipline” and “money-making career,” though it’s always nice if there can be. The two concerns really are orthogonal.

I’ve often wondered my lack of poetry chops has affected my writing at all. That is, would I have a better, or at least more distinct, writing style were I a poet? Or if I allowed myself to think of myself as a poet?

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¹Well, except for one thing: the author refers to her subject at different times as “Edna,” “Vincent,” and “Millay,” and there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to which name she uses when. It’s very discombobulating.

The October Horse: the review

I was at the bookstore doing some Christmas shopping when I happened upon The October Horse, the latest and last entry in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. I hadn’t known it was out and was completely thrilled. I bought it immediately and told Darin it was his Christmas gift to me.

(He said, “I thought the iBook was.” I told him to hush.)
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Where the pumpquins are

Yesterday in the car Sophia was narrating our drive, as she so often does, and she said, “That car is like my car!” And indeed, another Honda Odyssey was tooling along slightly ahead of us on the freeway. Sophia, car enthusiast.

For those of you keeping track of my car purchases, shortly before Simon was born we traded in this car:

Mercedes ML320.jpg

for this car:

honda-odyssey-2001.jpg

And I am so happy we did. I love my minivan. I am such a suburban soccer mom. I was so amazingly happy to get rid of my SUV. They’re expensive to operate to begin with, and if you so much as look at a Mercedes the wrong way it costs you $1000. And it was small, so our family would barely fit in it—forget having a friend or two along with. A while back—a few months? a couple of years? time is not my strong suit these days—I read a tongue-in-cheek essay about the differences between SUV owners and minivan owners, and one of the differences is SUV owners want to keep their families insular from the world in their SUVs, whereas minivan owners want to bring the whole damn team along with in their van. And that about sums up why we wanted a minivan instead of an SUV.

Now we want to get rid of our gigantic sedan and get a Prius instead. It’s small, and not a good family car, but excellent for one person or one person and one child to run errands and, given how much our second car gets used, a hell of a lot cheaper to own and operate. Anybody out there need a dark blue 1996 Mercedes E320?

Anyhow, we were driving and Sophia was chattering on, describing everything she saw, when she said the following:

That’s where the pumpquins i–are.

Even a week ago she would have said “is” instead of “are,” but yesterday she switched mid-sentence. I don’t know how common this is during this stage, but I was astounded.

She still says “pumpquins,” though. Of course, I think this is insanely charming, along with “efelants” and “evelator.” I was sad when she stopped saying “dado,” which was her word for strawberry (and we have no idea where it came from). She says “strawberries” quite clearly now, especially when she wants them for breakfast or in her lunch.

I know: I should be happy when she speaks standard English. But little kid English is fun while it lasts.

Adaptation: the review

The subject of Adaptation came up in the comments section of my post about Catch Me If You Can, so without further ado—well, actually a week of ado, but who’s counting?—here are my deathless thoughts on Adaptation.

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Darin and I have not been having an easy time of it, movie-wise, since Sophia was born. It’s been a combination of not having enough time, having different priorities, and living through one of the suckiest periods in American cinema.

What’s been strange is that a lot of the movies we’ve seen have been critically acclaimed and we’ve still hated them. In the middle of Amélie Darin turned to me and said, “Do you think we’re just out of the habit of watching movies?” And he asked at almost the exact moment I was thinking, “Holy crap, this is the biggest movie in French history?” (Call me wacky, but I don’t enjoy movies that find stalkers “fun.” And the prologue, which explained how Amélie got to be the way she was, was so deeply unpleasant for me I was simply predisposed to dislike the rest of the movie.)

Every review we’d heard about Adaptation had been so overwhelmingly positive. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson on believing reviews after Mulholland Drive (Hated it! And yes, I understood it just fine—I still thought it was pretentious artistic crap), Amélie, Sexy Beast, AI: Artificial Intelligence (I want the 18 hours of my life that movie sucked away back), or Donnie Darko (well, actually, Darin saw that one without me, but I’ll take his word for it).

You’d think we’d learn our lesson, but you’d be so wrong.
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