Thursday, August 2, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me.)

"Without it the heart would become reckless and hasty just as a clock's crown wheel would quickly spin out of control without the blocking and releasing of the verge-and-foliot escapement."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me.)

But younger selves refuse to follow older wisdom.

A Pizza Rat For All Time

This is a fascinating document for a few reasons:

1.)  The signature line!

2.)  It reveals that the pizza-franchise-mascot-voicing game is a cruel mistress, as Duncan "Former Voice of Chuck E. Cheese, Forever Child of God Through Christ Jesus" Brannan recently learned.

3.)  The document itself is posted on the Showbiz Pizza website ("Where Everyone Can Be A Kid"), and, despite its having been originally distributed as a Facebook post, it now has a cover sheet asserting Showbiz Pizza's vague sort of copyright authority over it.  Duncan Brannan's Facebook message to his "fans" is now meant "for educational use only"?

4.)  It made me just realize how odd it is that a pizza parlor that, y'know, serves food to people who eat it would think it's a good idea to have a gigantic "joke-telling, sometimes off-color New Jersey rat" as a titular omnipresent mascot--just skateboarding around giving kids X-Treme! cases of bubonic plague.

Monday, June 11, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me.) [N.B.:  My iPad was closest to me, so I picked the first book in my iBooks library (in this case Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner) and "flipped" to a random page. I think this decision was still in keeping with the spirit of this little game I like to play.]

Besides the insomnia, which this time lasted, save for a few nights of long and total and dreamless sleep, for a couple of weeks, I experienced two other notable side effects:  first, my jaw was constantly and involuntarily clenched; second, I had what the internet told me was sexual anhedonia, lovely phrase.

Intra-/Inter-Dimensional Galavanting at the 2012 Tony Awards

Last night, Heather and I watched the Tony Awards on television.  It's a good awards show--swift and interesting.  And I don't typically know most of the people and/or productions involved, so it's a learning experience.  Things were going swimmingly in last night's broadcast.  Then this happened:
Harvey Fierstein came on stage and, "for the first time ever," threw the broadcast to a live performance of a scene from Hairspray performed on a Royal Carribean cruise ship floating on the high seas at, according to a caption in the upper corner of my television screen, "20 53.4°N 074 33.2°W,"  which for all I know means it was docked in a port in New York or something.

It was gimmicky and all that, but non-offensive, and really a pretty good performance.  Heather and I half-watched it with half-enjoyment.

Then I thought about it for a second.  Here's what actually happened:

Heather and I watched, through our television screen, as the immediate Tony Awards audience watched Harvey Fierstein direct their (and our) attention to another screen which showed a different cruise ship audience watching a performance of a musical on a different stage, and at one point in that musical fake cameras are rolled out to film a fake television show (akin, I suppose, to American Bandstand) hosted by a fake Dick Clark-like figure, AND that fake show is "viewed" on stage by two young women on their fake television.

So, for those of you keeping track at home:  Heather and I were sitting in our apartment watching and commenting on the Tony Awards as we watched the Tony Awards audience in New York watch a screen showing another audience watching a musical performance wherein a fake television show was being "filmed," and all of the audiences watched as two characters in this musical pretended to watch this fake television show on their fake television and comment on it.

Whew!  How many meta-layers became laminated at that moment?  More than a few.  I don't know what it might mean.  I mostly just find it interesting that Heather and I found it so incredibly easy to follow the action.  So much movement between so many different realities and dimensions, and we traversed them so effortlessly!  We are good, experienced little travelers.

The opening and closing numbers were also pretty brilliantly, and much more self-consciously, meta.  Look:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Moustache Grave: Yeats + 7

The Oulipo is a small group of writers devoted to constrained writing.  Oulipo is short for  Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which means something like "workshop of potential literature."  Its members have included Italo Calvino and Georges Perec.  I first read about it recently in a Believer article.  They come up with cool, complex constraints under which to write, often based on mathematical formulas.  They also come up with cool, not-so-complex, but still very productive text-generation techniques.  I stumbled across a few here, and I thought I'd try one out.  It's called the n+7 technique.  According to, 
The N+7 procedure, invented by Jean Lescure of Oulipo, involves replacing each noun in a text with the seventh one following it in a dictionary.
The link just above will take you to a n+7 generator into which you can insert a text, and it will produce 15 new texts using the n+7 procedure.  N+1 replaces each noun with the first one following it in a dictionary, n+2 replaces each with the second preceding noun, and so on.

The text I've experimented with is W.B. Yeats's little poem, "Memory," which I like a whole lot.  Here it is as Yeats wrote it (n+0):
One had a lovely face, 
And two or three had charm, 
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.
 And here it is at n+1:
One had a lovely facet, 
And two or three had charmer, 
But charmer and facet were in vain 
Because the mountaineer grasshopper 
Cannot but keep the formality  
Where the mountaineer harelip has lain.
Not great.  Not really even very good.  Here's n+2:
One had a lovely facial, 
And two or three had chart, 
But chart and facial were in vain 
Because the mountainside grassland 
Cannot but keep the format  
Where the mountainside harem has lain.
This one is a little better.  It turned kind of sexual, which is interesting.  Let's skip to n+7, where I think things start to get really cool:
One had a lovely faction,  
And two or three had chasm,  
But chasm and faction were in vain  
Because the moustache grave 
Cannot but keep the forte  
Where the moustache harmonic has lain.
What a great opening couple of lines!  And "moustache grave" and "moustache harmonic"?!  Priceless.  N+9 gets a little industrial:
One had a lovely factory,  
And two or three had chateau,  
But chateau and factory were in vain  
Because the mouthful gravel  
Cannot but keep the fortnight  
Where the mouthful harmony has lain. 
Some uglier words pop up in n+13:
One had a lovely fag,  
And two or three had chatterer,  
But chatterer and fag were in vain  
Because the mover gravy  
Cannot but keep the forum  
Where the mover harpoon has lain.
And reassert themselves in n+14:
One had a lovely faggot,  
And two or three had chauffeur,  
But chauffeur and faggot were in vain  
Because the movie graze  
Cannot but keep the fossil  
Where the movie harpsichord has lain.
And, finally, n+15 brings it all home:
One had a lovely failing,  
And two or three had cheap,  
But cheap and failing were in vain  
Because the moviegoer grease  
Cannot but keep the foul  
Where the moviegoer harpy has lain. 
I like the first three lines of this last one, but, besides the original (n+0), I would say n+7 is my favorite.  What a fun way to mess with text, make stuff, waste time, whatever.  All literature is "potential literature," and it's fun to explore those potentials.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me) 

Having seen Johannsen's elaborate argument about the control of language and rhetoric and in preparation for seeing the rhetorical work of genes in other contexts, I am tempted to find in Morgan's statement a claim about the importance of rhetorical and figurative work in the service of the production of scientific knowledge.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me)

This crypt is described as a psychic "fortress" and "monument," a fortress as monument where a secret commemorating a catastrophic inaugural event is buried.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre

"Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" is one of my favorite stories.  I read it in One Story, which is an awesome journal that publishes, y'know, one story per issue, and each issue comes out every three weeks.  It must feel really good to get a story in One Story--of everybody in the world, you're the only one who made it into that issue.

So it's a really consistently great publication, and Seth Fried's "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" is my favorite thing I've read in it.  Apparently Mr. Fried has a collection of stories out, and "Frost Mountain" is in it.  I will be needing to get that.  The "Overview" of the book in the above-linked online book retailer's page for Fried's The Great Frustration mentions Steven Millhauser and George Saunders in the first sentence, which I think are two apt comparisons, and which I think explain why I like Fried's story so much.  I would probably also include Kevin Brockmeier and Shirley Jackson in the mix.  [KIND-OF-BUT-NOT-REALLY-SPOILER ALERT WHERE I PRETTY MUCH COVER THE WHOLE PLOT OF THE STORY BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER ALL THAT MUCH BECAUSE IT'S NOT REALLY A PLOT-DRIVEN STORY ANYWAY] "Frost Mountain" is a little perfect piece of magical realism (I'm almost certain about that, anyway, though it's been suggested once or twice that I'm not exactly perfectly clear about what is and isn't magical realism (but, again, I'm pretty sure "Frost Mountain" is in fact a model of magical realism (like, 90% sure))).  It's about a town in which all the residents attend a yearly picnic--the Frost Mountain Picnic, in fact--where terrible shit is inflicted on them by a sort of governmental entity, and many of them are killed--like some kind of massacre. Some kind of picnic massacre, even. . . .

And they keep going back each year for various totally-recognizable-yet-totally-nonsensical reasons, and almost nobody seems happy about it, and that's kind of it.

Clever conceit, yeah.  But, the details, though.  The details are everything, and they pull together in just the right kind of wrong way.  I was just thinking about "Frost Mountain" today, and it kind of aimlessly occurred to me to type it into Google.  I came across this collage by a mixed-media/collage artist named Brandi Strickland:

Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre

It's titled "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre, and, as you can see a bit more clearly in the close up photos included on Ms. Strickland's page for the work itself, she gets the details down.  I told her in a comment I left on her website that if I saw this collage without knowing anything about it I would've thought, "Hey!  That looks like "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre!"

Because it really does.

There's more on the collage here.  Apparently, it was featured in One Story's Literary Debutante Ball sometime around late 2010, and then it was auctioned off online.  I should do more aimless Googling, I think.

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me)

To gain room for manoeuvre, actors court and even create ambiguity.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

18th Century Dog Censuses of Questionable Validity

Dance by Iowa Indians
Are you entertained?

This week's selection from the Library of America's "Story of the Week" collection is George Catlin's mid-19th century account of accompanying some Iowa Natives (as in Native Americans from the Iowa tribe) around Paris to, among other things, meet the King and talk about how many effing dogs there are in his capitol city.  The Iowan medicine man, whom Catlin refers to as "Doctor," and the warrior, "Jim," are flummoxed by the sight of so many women walking around the city with dogs.  The Doctor more so:
The Doctor seemed puzzled about the custom of the women leading so many dogs, and although he did not in any direct way censure them for doing it, it seemed to perplex him, and he would sit and smile and talk about it for hours together. He and Jim had at first supposed, after they found that the ladies were not blind, that they cooked and ate them, but they were soon corrected in this notion, and always after remained at a loss to know what they could do with them.
Later, during a carriage ride through the city, the two men decided to keep a detailed account of how many women with dogs they saw:
They had been absent near an hour, and driving through many of the principal streets of the city, and their list stood thus:
Women leading one little dog . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .432
Women leading two little dogs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . .71
Women leading three little dogs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .5
Women with big dogs following (no string) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .80
Women carrying little dogs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . .20
Women with little dogs in carriages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .31
The poor fellows insisted on it that the above was a correct account, and Jim, in his droll way (but I have no doubt quite honestly), said that “it was not a very good day either.”
What's not to get?
I love the ambiguity of Jim's droll declaration that "it was not a very good day either."  He might be suggesting that it was boring to have to count dogs while being carted around Parisian city streets, but he's most likely suggesting that those numbers don't even accurately reflecting the sheer number of dogs they see on a regular basis.

Either way, it's a lot of ladies with dogs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me)

Nannie suddenly realized that the old man was making signs at her, and understood that she was to lift the infant up in the air as though he were a specimen, or something to be auctioned.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cloud Contest!

 Some man-made clouds I've come across lately:

In Michael Chabon's short story "A Model World," from his collection of the same title, a student plagiarizes a pretty much unknown piece of scholarship on cloud formation over the Antarctic. When he suspects his professor might suspect his attempted deception, things get tense, and that tension is likely amplified by the grass they're passing between each other:
"As he inhaled, the professor raised his eyebrows, and lowered them as he blew out.  He and Levine passed the pipe in near-silence for several minutes.  The room filled with miniature cumulonimbus clouds."
And the last line of the story (in a way that doesn't give anything away):
". . . the human race is now only a few years away, by most reckonings, from total dominion over the clouds."
Lastly, a poem by Dean Young, titled "Frottage":

How goofy and horrible is life. Just

look into the faces of the lovers
as they near their drastic destinations,
the horses lathered and fagged. Just
look at them handling the vase
priced beyond the rational beneath
the sign stating the store’s breakage
policy, and what is the rational but
a thing we must always break? I am not
the only one composed of fractious murmurs.
From the point of view of the clouds,
it is all inevitable and dispersed—
they vanish over the lands to reconstitute
over the seas, themselves again
but no longer themselves, what they wanted
they no longer want, daylight fidgets
across the frothy waves. Most days
you can’t even rub a piece of charcoal
across paper laid on some rough wood
without a lion appearing, a fish’s umbrella
skeleton. Once we believed it told us
something of ourselves. Once we even believed
in the diagnostic power of ants. Upon
the eyelids of the touched and suffering,
they’d exchange their secretive packets
like notes folded smaller than chemicals.
They told us nearly nothing, which
may have been enough now that we know
so much more. From the point of view
of the ant, the entire planet is a dream
quivering beneath an eyelid, and who’s to say
the planet isn’t. From the point of view
of the sufferer, it seems everything will
be taken from us except the sensation
of being crawled over. I believe everything
will be taken from us. Then given back
when it’s no longer what we want. We
are clouds, and terrible things happen
in clouds. The wolf’s mouth is full
of strawberries, the morning’s a phantom
hum of glories, morning glories.

We / are clouds, and terrible things happen / in clouds.

It was close, but Dean Young wins the cloud contest.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest!

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me)

Although specific contact between the two men is undocumented, Vesalius was undoubtedly familiar with Serlio's treatise on architecture.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

First Sentence I Can Find New Yorker Caption Contest

. . . (wherein I caption the New Yorker Caption Contest cartoon with whatever sentence I first see in whatever book is nearest to me)

He described his clerkship as "interesting work--not as much in the courtroom as I'd like at this point but--right now it's more important to me to work with people I like and to have a job."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wheel! Of! Fortune!

I'm a fan.

I call it "The Wheel" in a half-ironic sort of way when I ask, "Hey, Heather. Is The Wheel on?"  It's a lot like how I half-ironically call the TV shows Heather and I enjoy (The Daily Show, Mad Men, King of the Hill) "our stories" in a doofy southern accent that is supposed to suggest some kind of middle-to-low-brow addiction to soap operas, or something.  It sounds kind of dick-ish, I know, but it's probably just a way of acknowledging the fact that I really enjoy this despicably low medium of entertainment in a way that keeps me somehow "above" it.  I enjoy it a lot.  It's not really a question when I ask if The Wheel or one of our stories is coming on.  It is me knowing that one of our stories is in fact coming on, and we should turn on the tube or change the channel to not miss it.

And lately I'm fascinated by The Wheel.  So I was intrigued by Willa Paskin's article, titled, "Wheel of Fortune's Fantasy."  After noting how weirdly frozen in time the general aesthetic of the show--with regard to both the staging and the look and behavior of the two iconic hosts--seems to be, and after she observes that, during the Pat Sajak-contestants banter segment of each show, "Sajak rarely asks the contestants what they would like to do with the money if they win," Paskin lays out some groundwork for her upcoming argument:
"This undercurrent — that money and what it can do for you is only minimally interesting — is accentuated when the titular, analog wheel, in all its click-click-clicking glory, finally comes into play. At this stage of the game, three things become clear. First, it is extremely easy to win money on “Wheel of Fortune.” Second, it is extremely easy to lose money on “Wheel of Fortune.” Third, losing money of “Wheel of Fortune” seems to be a fairly pleasant activity."
I like Paskin's "click-click-clicking glory" description of the wheel.  I just suggested to Heather this morning that someone should make a cellphone ringtone that is the boop-boop-boop sound of the wheel from The Price is Right.  And I think she's right that The Wheel does tend to downplay the fact that some contestants are winning and losing life-changing amounts of money.

But here's where she goes, I think, a bit too far:
"Staying calm when losing $10,000 of game show money you just made is very sensible, and it must soften the blow that everyone who plays on “Wheel” walks away with at least $1,000, and usually much more than that. But humans’ ability to count their chickens before they hatch is so common that there’s a cliché to describe it, and on shows like “Jeopardy,” “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” or even “The Price is Right,” there is some wincing when a contestant loses a bundle. Watching “Wheel” you would think we were a nation of good losers."
First of all, it's The Wheel, thankyouverymuch.  But, more importantly, I could just as easily say that The Wheel is exceptional in that its host tends not to tease financial sob stories and/or plans out of the contestants (which I'm actually not really sure is entirely accurate, anyway (I'm sure Pat Sajak at least occasionally asks questions about what the contestants might do with their winnings)).  In other game shows--like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Minute to Win It or the one with Howie Mandel and the briefcases--the tendency to focus too much on the home-lives of the contestants takes time away from the game at hand.  At the furthest end of this spectrum we might find a program like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which, while not a game show, does focus on the financial problems of the families whose houses are being renovated (or just demolished and replaced).  But after the house is built, the college tuitions are handled, and the new cars are doled out, the question that doesn't get asked is:  How are you going to pay to keep up with all this stuff?

I would rather the contestants remain mysteries to me.  I understand that their appearances on these shows will be monumental moments in their lives whether they win or lose.  I think most people watching at home probably understand that.  So let's keep the action in the moment.  Let's not draw out this huge biographical narrative and situate this moment just so to hammer home its significance.  I think the broadly sketched caricatures of these contestants we viewers can create by looking at them and hearing them tell what they think is an important anecdote in the chit-chat-with-Pat segment of the show is enough.

Near the end of her article, Paskin writes:
"If there is something a little dark in “Wheel’s” casualness about money — a TV-ready version of the slot-machine players, lottery-ticket buyers and real-estate flippers amongst us — “Wheel” is also about comfort. Here is a universe in which playing with cash is a harmless game, not a world-economy destabilizing one. Here is a set where the ‘80s never ended, women barely age, and people are healthy, happy and well-mannered. Here is a place where no one really needs the money, the most anachronistic thing of all."
She's getting at something here when she writes (in that appositive that is somehow not doing its syntactic job) about "the slot-machine players."  I am certain that this is the target audience for the show.  The seizure-inducing sparkliness of everything, the strange scenic (often tropical) footage that plays on the big screen behind the contestants, the fast-paced wheel-spinning, the ups-and-downs in the contestants' totals that represent monetary winnings--it's all suggestive of slot-machine gambling.  Like any other thing on TV, The Wheel is marketed toward a demographic.  So, when Paskin writes that "[w]atching “Wheel” you would think we were a nation of good losers," that's only true if you're only watching The Wheel.  And the same would be true of any TV show.  Watching Cheers you would think we were a nation of high-functioning alcoholics.  Watching Breaking Bad you would think we were a nation of meth-dealers/meth-heads/meth-head-sympathizers.

All of this points to a problem I have.  I understand that we shouldn't look at these cultural artifacts (er, TV shows) as mirrors that reflect the values of the societies that created them.  That ignores the fact that these shows are carefully tailored for and marketed to a segment of the population.  To some extent they work to assemble what we think of as society.  So I don't like arguments that suggest that, I dunno, Super Bowl ads reveal our deepest desires and hang-ups.  That doesn't seem right.  It gives television too much credit/agency while giving people too little credit/agency.  So my problem is with the credit/agency ratio.  I don't know what it is/what it should be.

One last thing.  Paskin's argument that contestants don't seem to get upset when they lose money shows that she didn't see this episode:

The clip doesn't show that after the commercial break the contestant who pronounced "picturesque" wrong had clearly been crying, and Pat Sajak does what he can to console her.  Do I need to know anything about this woman's financial standing to understand how this moment will live in her memory?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Moneyball v. Moneyball

I've been meaning to write something about Moneyball the book v. Moneyball the movie, but every time I start to do so I realize that I'm going to be doing more (non-work/school-related) writing than I really have time for.  So I've got a few intros to a few Moneyball v. Moneyball essays saved on my computer that aren't ever going to realize their full brilliance.

But that's okay.  I'm off the hook thanks to Christopher Heron's great video essay on the movie, "Moneyball and Ways of Seeing," which was initially published in a pretty cool looking video magazine called The Seventh Art and which I found at one of my favorite movie/TV blogs Press Play.  Heron focuses on the movie, and makes a really strong argument that the movie wants to (and makes it quite clear that it wants to) present a new way of seeing and appreciating baseball, but it falls short of its goal by resorting to romantic baseball-movie cliches.

This was my big problem with the movie, too.  Mixed messages.  The book succeeds at presenting a new way of appreciating baseball because it works hard to establish and promote this new baseball-weltanschauung by delving deep into its epistemological foundations: namely, Bill James' sabermetrics.  This passage from David Grabiner's The Sabermetrics Manifesto (thank you Wikipedia) pretty well sums up the sabermetric baseball reality:
Bill James defined sabermetrics as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball." Thus, sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as "which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team's offense?" or "How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?" It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as "Who is your favorite player?" or "That was a great game."
My interest in subjectivity and objectivity as terms of art is well-documented elsewhere in this blog, so I'll leave those quibbles alone to address the more important, foundational issue implicit in a sabermetrics baseball epistemology:  The answers to the questions sabermetricians ask require an understanding of the networks of actors that comprise clubs, teams, and institutions (such as MLB and the NCAA).  Put simply, ballplayers, general managers, owners, scouts, and anyone else who ostensibly serves a designated purpose on a team or for a club matter very little as individuals to the sabermetrician.

Take David Freese's walk-off home run in that AMAZING game six last October.  That home run matters little by itself.  It's just another center field home run.  But put in context, with the whole game culminating in this one at bat--with the whole season culminating in this one at bat!--the home run is imbued with significance.  The romantic in me wants to call Freese a hero.  But the truth is that "heroism" is an oversimplification and is a less interesting way of understanding the vast networks that went into the Cardinals winning game six and the World Series.

Obviously Moneyball the movie can't go into all that without expanding to Godfather-like proportions.  That's understandable.  And I don't want to claim that a movie adapted from a book needs to be a one-to-one sort of adaptation.  But what irked me about the movie is that it clearly wants to advance this sabermetric epistemology but frequently falls back on the romantic tropes that oversimplify things.  Brad Pitt's Billy Beane is a hero, working, with Jonah Hill's Peter Brand (also a hero), against an establishment that refuses to see things their way.  The Billy Beane and Peter Brand of the Moneyball book work with people to align them with their goals and interests.  A lot.  And that is so much more interesting than a couple isolated geniuses setting out on their own, armed only with their kooky theories, looking to shake things up.

At one point in the movie, Brad Pitt's Billy Beane says, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball."  This line doesn't show up in the book.  Is this just the writers letting themselves off the hook because it's hard to make a baseball movie that's not romantic about baseball?  Maybe they only realized it when they tried.  Maybe that's why the movie took so long to make.  I would imagine that it is hard.  But I don't think it's impossible.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spinuzzi on Symmetry (and elevators and hipsters and police horses)

In a couple recent blog posts (here's one; here's the other), Clay Spinuzzi clears up an issue that's been nagging me ever since I was first introduced to Actor-Network Theory (via Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social).  My nagging issue was with the ANT concept of radical symmetry, which posits that human and non-humans act with an equal degree of intentionality to create and maintain networks.  Soon after reading Latour, I was introduced to Bonnie Nardi and Victor Kaptelinin's Activity Theory argument (in Acting With Technology) that while non-human actants are capable of radically shaping activity, it is only human actors who can act with intention.

Duh, I thought.

Spinuzzi explicates this "Duh" moment succinctly (and in the second person, no less):
Symmetry seems ridiculous to you. What's the point of pretending that genes, stars, and rat kidneys are actors in the sense that people are? Why apply the same language to both? Maybe this is one of those "critical theory" moves you've heard people talking about. To you, it seems more like attention-seeking. Latour likes to say that symmetrical language is not metaphorical but that he isn't engaging in anthropomorphism either. Obviously he's trying to have it both ways.
Yeah.  That sounds like me alright.

But the "you" whose mind Spinuzzi reads here eventually warms to the notion of symmetry through thinking about how many Segway-riding tourists, horses, cops, hipsters, and pieces of stereo equipment could fit on an elevator.  Similarly, in the second blog post, Spinuzzi conducts a thought experiment about dropping humans and non-humans from the University of Texas tower to test Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment.  Ultimately, Spinuzzi argues that the differences between humans and non-humans need not be emphasized when it comes to replicating Galileo's experiment; dropping a 155 lb weight from a clock tower is the same as dropping a 155 lb person (except, of course, that one is legally defined as littering and the other is murder).  And the differences don't really matter when it comes to filling an elevator to its maximum capacity; 2000 lbs of stereo equipment = 2000 lbs of Segway-riding tourists = 2000 lbs of horses = 2000 lbs of hipsters.  Radical symmetry is a methodological move (as the titles of Spinuzzi's posts suggest) that depends on your methodological aims.

I wholly recommend taking a look at these two posts.  Even if you're not particularly into ANT, they're just fun, sharp, clever little explanations of a cool concept.  If you're not into ANT, maybe this will spark your interest.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sam Hsieh 24/7/365

In 1980, Sam Hsieh said he was going to do it:

Then he did it:

With only a handful of hiccups:

An artist's work is ne'er done.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Miss Delphine

All roads lately have been leading to Joseph Cornell.  Reading from Charles Simic's collection of ekphrastic poetry about Cornell, Dime-Store Alchemy, I came across this a poem-/essay-type-thing titled "Miss Delphine."  According to Simic, the titular woman (full name Delphine Binger) apparently "collected goose, turkey, and chicken wishbones so she could boil them and polish them and then decorate them with charms and ribbons.  She sent them to presidents, movie stars, famous politicians in the same way Cornell sent gifts of scraps of paper and odd objects to ballerinas he loved" (6).

I had to know more about this Miss Delphine.  So I looked around.

From the June 1939 Popular Science

Also this:
The Bone Collector
From the May 24th 1954 LIFE Magazine.  The original caption reads, "Old bones from spinster's collection form a wishbone web.

Will wonders never cease?

I also discovered the little cut-and-pasted movies of Mr. Cornell today, too.  Here's a good one called By Night With Torch and Spear:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Readings and Interpretations IV


All the previous “Readings and Interpretations” have focused primarily on the readings from class or readings tangentially related to class.  This week, though, I think it’s time I get started writing about the research project I’m currently working on.  A problem is, though, that this is a collaborative project I’m doing with a couple other doctoral students and some professors, and I don’t think I should write so publically about our ongoing research.  So I think I’ll keep the details vague about our project in this week’s post, and I’ll probably finish this journal in a different format that would allow me to go into greater detail about the specifics of the project.
I’m excited about the project because it deals with writing in the hard sciences, which is a topic I’m very interested in.  It’s a subject that can be examined from a lot of different perspectives, and we (the other researchers and I) are keeping our options open at the moment.  We’re not limiting our scope to only the rhetorical, genre, or pedagogical activities involved in science writing, but we’re reading the extant literature that looks at these activities in the sciences.  So we’re well aware that all of these activities are important, and we’re keeping them in mind as sorts of secondary studies that we might attempt after we’ve gathered our data and finished our primary study.  In other words, there’s a lot that can and will be done with the data we’re going to gather and analyze.
The group met this morning to work out a plan for the next month, and one of my questions was if, before we start gathering data, we should set some categories of things to look for.  I’m new to this kind of study, so I was glad to learn that I wasn’t the only one wondering about this.  But we decided that we’ll approach it as more of a grounded study in which we formulate hypotheses as we move from data to codes to concept to categories to theory.  Of course we all have hypotheses working in our heads, and we all expressed one or two just in casual conversation during our meeting, but I think it’s best that we keep these hypotheses out of our early stages of research to keep ourselves from somehow leading or shaping our data to fit our preconceptions about it as we collect it.  This decision to take a grounded theory approach has us questioning our assumptions from the outset, and this questioning has already proven useful.  I’ve noticed that I have a lot of preconceptions about a type of writing that, I have also noticed, I actually know little about.  I’ve caught myself making generalizations about how scientists think about writing that I simply have no right to make.
It’s invigorating to work with a motivated group of people.  Every research project I’ve ever done was completely solo—me and books and articles and a Microsoft Word document.  I didn’t really think of myself as a particularly good collaborator, and I didn’t really think I would like collaborating.  But I was wrong about that.  I’ve come to the realization lately that a lot of aspects of my writing/researching process that I thought I was certain about are not as set in stone as I believed.  I had a way of doing things, and I thought that deviating from that way in the slightest would throw everything into disarray.  I am a much more adaptable, flexible scholar than I ever thought.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Readings and Interpretations III

We talked in class on Wednesday about Egon Guba’s use(s) of the term objectivity in his contribution to his own edited book The Paradigm Dialog.  Guba talks about it in the Kantian sense, as in opposition to subjectivity.  A more interesting way to think of objectivity is as a driving force behind choices made in the research and representation processes and really most of the choices of scientific researchers going back, as Michell does in his article (“The Quantitative Imperative: Positivism, Naïve Realism, and the Place of Quantitative Mehods in Psychology), to the get-go.  Guba writes that “postpositivists counsel a modified objectivity, hewing to objectivity as a “regulatory ideal” but recognizing that it cannot be achieved in any absolute sense” (21).  And I think considering objectivity as a “regulatory ideal” is a really good way to think about it, and I think that’s how scientific researchers have thought about it for a very long time—well before the ascendance of those known as the postpositivists.  Contrary to what Guba seems to be suggesting here, though, I don’t think many serious people have made the claim that they have “achieved” it (whatever that means).

Objectivity is a fascinating concept—especially when it’s traced historically.  I’ve read up on it quite a bit lately in Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s work (exemplified in their co-authored book Objectivity and their article “The Image of Objectivity”), and just last night I came across Daston’s introductory essay to Biographies of Scientific Objects, wherein she writes:  “In contrast to quotidian objects, scientific objects are elusive and hard-won.  Historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science do not confuse quotidian objects with scientific objects.  They have however been locked in a debate between realism and constructionism that implicitly draws upon the obduracy of quotidian objects” (2).  She goes on to say that, according to a strictly realist point of view, scientific objects are “discoveries, unexplored territory waiting to be mapped,” and from a purely constructivist view they are “eminently historical, but not real”—they are inventions (2-3).  Daston proposes an “applied metaphysics” approach to science that “posits that scientific objects can be simultaneously real and historical,” and that works to “blur the distinction between invention and discovery” (3).

It occurred to me during our class discussion that objectivity, as a “regulatory ideal,” is the force that has determined what objects are worth classifying as scientific objects at least as long as it (the term “objectivity”) has been a part of the scientific lexicon.  Objectivity is the desire to show the importance of objects to people who might not recognize such importance in them.  It is the desire to emphasize one or more particularities of an already-deemed-scientific object that is felt to have been under-emphasized.  The “objective world,” in this sense, is understood as the interesting world.  It is not achieved, but examined.

This all was (and kind of still is) pretty hazy in my mind, so I went back to Daston’s book to see if I could get some clarity.  I found the following argument, which I think gets at what I’m trying to get at, in Hans-Jorg Rheinberger’s contribution “Cytoplasmic Particles: The Trajectory of a Scientific Object”: “If the process of gaining experimental knowledge is to be understood as a discourse that has shaped the modern sciences, and whose special relation to the real remains an issue, then it is worth trying to understand its ‘objectivity’ in terms of the peculiar ‘objecticity’ it confers on its objects.”  In other words, considering scientific objectivity as being about scientists trying to identify a reality that exists independently from their subjective experiences through careful experimentation is only partially correct.  It is more about these scientists placing an object under the (metaphorical or not) microscope so that it might later be placed under another microscope again.  Objectivity, in this sense, is about arguing that this is worth considering as an object of scientific inquiry.  In this sense, it is a “regulatory ideal,” but not really in the way Guba thinks it is.