Saturday, June 26, 2004

NYT says: For Liars and Loafers, Cellphones Offer an Alibi

In an almost-too-good-to-be-true tale, the Times reports that For Liars and Loafers, Cellphones Offer an Alibi. I hate cellphones but I can't say I think stories like this will make anyone give theirs up. There's a big cop-out in the story, too. As these cellphone users blithely enlist strangers to help them lie to their nearest and dearest, they also claim the moral high ground. Consider this passage, about the founder of one web-based service for liars in need of helpers: "These days, Ms. Logan spends much of her time overseeing the e-mail traffic and watching her club grow. It now has 3,400 members, with hundreds of new members signing up each week. One member recently used the club to fool his wife so he could stay at a sports bar to watch the N.B.A. finals. Another member � the wife of a soldier stationed in Iraq � sent out a message asking for help to conjure up an excuse after becoming pregnant by another man. But in that case, many responders urged the woman to tell her husband the truth, according to club members."

Convenient attack of patriotism!

BTW, as the title of my book Hypocrisy and the Politics of Politeness may suggest, I am extremely interested in what happens when you make a serious case for hypocrisy (or its more attractive affiliates, manners, politeness, self-control and so on). But this is not it!

Friday, June 25, 2004

Gene mutation makes tot super strong

A fuller version of the superbaby story at Less entrancing headline; better details. And a picture!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

A Very Muscular Baby Offers Hope Against Diseases

When this truly demented NYT headline caught my attention, I thought, "Surely the story won't live up to the billing?" But indeed it is truly as hilarious and bizarre as it sounds: The New York Times > Science > A Very Muscular Baby Offers Hope Against Diseases. I still have never thought of Gina Kolata the same way since I read a story (possibly in the Health section of the Times--can't be bothered to look it up) in which she revealed she and her ENTIRE FAMILY go and do marathon spinning classes together.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Strindberg's Miss Julie

Last night I saw an excellent production of Strindberg's Miss Julie at the Cherry Lane Theatre. I'd only read the play before, not seen it; it is much sexier and much funnier than I'd thought. I was especially impressed with Michael Aronov, who was ridiculously good as Jean. My only quibble: why did they bother with the whole contemporary-Middle-East setting?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Smoking cigarettes

I wholly endorse Inigo Thomas's Slate diary entry about smoking, particularly this paragraph, which echoes something my narrator says in Heredity:

You know that when you do give up smoking, you'll think about cigarettes for the rest of your life: There's no such thing as an ex-smoker, just a smoker not smoking (which for a smoker may be the hardest, simplest idea to comprehend). A couple of years ago, in a nonsmoking phase, a friend of mine commended me on breaking the habit. "I haven't stopped smoking," I replied indignantly. "I'm a smoker not smoking: That's all."

(That's him speaking, not my narrator.)

I am a smoker not smoking. I am also a smoker not smoking who has smoked six (yes, that's three x two) cigarettes in the last month after not smoking a single cigarette since August, when I realized not only that my chronic bronchitis had become mortifyingly embarrassing but that while I didn't care if I ended up a sixty-five-year-old with lung cancer, I would have an awful lot of explaining to do as an upper-middle-class thirty-some-year-old toting around an oxygen tank for my emphysema. The first two cigarettes I smoked in early May under quite peculiar circumstances that involved me drinking beer and baking 100 luridly iced cupcakes at 1am at home alone in my apartment after a former beau (then and now an out-of-towner) left his pack of cigarettes behind when he went out on the town for the night with another old friend. He was staying with me in theory but still hadn't gotten home when I left at noon the next day (to go and get ready for the cupcake-related party). Both the cigarettes and the visit were quite enjoyable. As was the party. The cupcakes in particular were a great hit.

I am in a frivolous mood today because at around 3:15 this afternoon I printed out the final final draft of the last chapter of my novel. Then I fedexed it to my agent. So all is well.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Smurfs in French

I have just read a truly excellent essay by Luc Sante in the latest issue of The Threepenny Review, French Without Tears. The whole thing is well worth reading, but anyone who lived through 70s and 80s TV in the US will find the following passage (about one of the stories in the Belgian comics Sante read as he grew up in America) especially fascinating:

"The most internationally famous characters in Spirou were Les Schtroumpfs, known in the English-speaking world as the Smurfs, small blue elfin creatures who lived in a toadstool village. In their English-language animated appearances they could be cloyingly cute, but in French they were spared this fate by their language, marked by an incessant use of the (invented) word schtroumpf, employed as noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and interjection. Every reader, no matter how young, understood this usage without a gloss, because it parodied the French conversational trope of substituting catch-alls such as truc, chose, and machin for words that cannot immediately be called to mind, in any grammatical position. What schtroumpf highlighted was the ability of such dummy words to suggest words prohibited from writing or speech, regardless of the fact that the actual words schtroumpf was substituting for were always clear from context. Truc or chose became neutral from exposure, but schtroumpf subliminally spoke to the unconscious; its surface strangeness could make it mean things that the child's mind does not yet know but can imagine with tantalizing vagueness."

Maud Newton interviews Stephen Elliott

Maud Newton's interesting interview with Stephen Elliott reminds me that I must buy a copy of Happy Baby. The interview is full of interesting observations, but I single out for attention the closing lines, which really could be my motto:

"I do know that there aren't many good reasons for writing a novel except that you really want to. It's a very lonely pursuit, but when the urge hits it's strangely difficult to deny it, especially if you're childless, single, and lack material ambition."

Tenure and the Ivy League

An informative and (to me) highly relevant article on internal promotions at Ivy League universities has just appeared in the Chronicle: Hello ... I Must Be Going.

There's much I could say about this, but my main comment is that I more-or-less agree with the guy who says it's silly to feel abused when you get great leave, relatively light teaching load and so on. I think the load is heavier at Columbia than at Princeton, where the quoted assistant professor taught; also, the article doesn't mention salaries at all, and I think they're an important part of the equation.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Helen Back and the Str8 Razors

So I took off and spent the weekend in Philadelphia. It would have been even better if I'd finished my novel before I left, but while I printed out the final-final version of chapters 1-12 on Friday afternoon, Chapter 13 still needs some work. But I steeled myself to leave it behind and went for an idyllic rock-n-roll weekend in Philadelphia. Drove down from NY with my brother, who is now an honorary Texan after a long Texas visit in May (one of many innovations he's adopted is keeping a cooler of beers in his pick-up; he brought back the MGD tall-boys with the state of Texas on them and also Lone Star beers, both a great hit in Philadelphia). Block party yesterday afternoon in the Northern Liberties, quite lovely. Late-nite show (1am) at Pontiac's on South Street, Helen Back and the Str8 Razors, the band my brother a.k.a. Jon Doe's been playing in for several years now. See their website: Helen Back and the Str8 Razors. And they played again this afernoon at the Philly Pride festival, where there was (rightly) much griping about the fact that Sandra Bernhardt was paid $7,000 plus limo/hotel/etc. to play. Anyway, last night's show was great, this afternoon very good too but the show's not so much geared to playing outside. I got roped into selling merchandise and felt very smug when I could actually hand over $100 for t-shirts and CDs. Also got an intense sunburn.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Dinner vs. play

Last night I saw a play that I think now tops my list of "worst things ever seen," a production of Shakespeare's Richard III that reached new heights of senseless-verse-recitation-by-actors-sounding-like-they-didn't-understand-a-word-of-it plus campy and distracting staging of the we're-dressed-like-punk-rockers-and-snorting-coke-because-we-really-think-Shakespeare-is-stupid-but-want-the-cultural-cachet. I won't give further details because the performers should be ashamed enough of themselves as it is. We left at the intermission, but that meant we'd already suffered through two hours of the damn thing. It really beggars description. I can't even imagine what audience members previously unacquainted with the play must have thought was going on.

However, beforehand we'd had a really excellent dinner at Mad 28, which I recommend highly. Also, the air-conditioning at the theater was on full blast. So it could have been much worse.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Dionysus filius dei at La Mama

Just got back from the (revival) production of DIONYSUS at La Mama. It is truly superb. Go and see it while you can. That Ellen Stewart is a complete genius! Amazing music as well as dance/staging/etc.

Benefits for same-sex domestic partners: ongoing battle

Just read a depressing article in the Chronicle: Pitt's Bitter Battle Over Benefits. Despite extensive protests and lawsuits, Pitt still doesn't provide health insurance for domestic partners. It seems to me that universities are particularly obligated to provide same-sex domestic partner benefits, even when it means making tough decisions about funding. What kind of a message does it send to students when the educational institution they're enrolled in ignores the arguments of faculty and staff because of concerns about the state legislature?!?