Sunday, August 27, 2006

Squid and the Whale

I think I have found new favorite movie dudes, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. They just pick up on certain realities that only exists in a particular few pockets, pockets I frequently find myself visiting. First "The Life Aquatic" and now this.

Squid and the Whale hit me in a way that few movies do (and obviously passed right over/beside/below Roger Ebert who is at a complete loss to understand this one. Yes sir, too much Dickens can be a bad thing, and no, there is no happy ending to this one.) The main character, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) bears an uncannily striking resemblance to one of my People who I hold in the Highest Esteem (there are between five and seven--my mom and dad make two) and as an added plus Anna Paquin stars as the star student cum teachers pet. Aside from that, though, this movie was a line that fell tangent to my space. Everyone occupies a certain space, your job, your schools, your parents, your jokes, your books, etc. Most movies don't strike that, they run parallel in some way, but never really intersect. I loved Citizen Kane, but the movie in no way exposes or encroaches upon my space. This movie did. Noah Baumbach interprets a Jewish intelligentsia without pity or remorse, and I could not help but blanch.

Maybe minor Dickens is good too.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Holy Land Ho!

I hope to be ba'aretz from Aug 28th-Sept 4th. If you read this and you are in Israel, give me a call. 0528-835-וגח. (That's supposed to be read from left to right)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thoughts on Rhetoric and S.L. Jackson

ADVISORY: This post contains language and/or content which may be objectionable to some readers. I do not intend or wish to offend anyone, but rather to spark inquiry on a fairly silly subject.

Samuel L. Jackson has started some sort of religion and I want to sign up. The Muthufunkin' Church of the Muthufukin' Immaculate Mother, or whatever he would call it*, His Church already has tens of thousands of devotees, eagerly anticipating the reverend's next rhetorical miracle.

No, Jackson has not turned water into wine, but he has transformed a B movie, into a muthufuckin' B movie! and that might be an equal or greater feat. He has a charisma and confidence which rings of religious power. He seems to have divine inspiration of cultural needs, and then proceeds to precipitate trends with his inspired rhetoric.

Like most religious movements however, there are far more devotees than worshipers. I was convinced that this movie would shut down all other movies at the box office last weekend. With its fervent blogo-roots it would shame previous ticket sales. It came in at #2 behind Will Farrell. It grossed only $15 million, not that hot for the media hype of the Rev. S.L.J. In truth, I, like a hypocritical sinner have not seen the movie, I am waiting for later, for a better time. It just goes to show that hype and buzz often fall short.

On to the second part of my post: what does muthufuck mean? It is a very peculiar word as it rarely appears in the basic form (although the OED does find evidence for it as early as 1964), rather in the form muthufucka (which can also be used as an adjective, as in, "He's one bad muthafucka.") or in its adjectival form muthufuckin'. [see Note #2] While the word was initially two separate words, mother and fuck, it quickly progressed to become a compound word and then to a single term. It would be quite difficult to fully unpack the subtleties of the word fuck in this short blog entry, suffice it to say that the term conveys very broad range of meaning. Much the same way the word monster is related to demonstrate, muthufuck is only loosely related to mother or fuck. Fuck, conventionally though to be the most crass single word that one can utter is then intensified by the antecedent mother; not only does one lack shame of coitus, but one would be willing to fall pray to incest as well. It is, in my opinion, an example of tacking on an intensifier to an absolute, like saying the very best, which although common is in some respect nonsense (not that language needs to make sense). In this muthafucka way conveys a sense of absurd intensity, particularly when out of place. It is thus used so casually (e.g. "I'm going to kick your muthufuckin' ass.") because the quality of the term almost stipulates that it cannot assume significance or meaning.

When S.L.J. used the fateful phrase, Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Plane, he was unleashing the raw religious power of his machismo and rhetoric on an object far too feeble to receive this force. The asymmetry, the very same absurdity of the intensified absolute, is what makes this movie so great. Recognize, however, that SoaP is no longer a movie directed by so-and-so and produced by so-and-so. That movie has been destroyed by S.L.J.'s awesome zeal. Rather, a new thing as been created, Muthafunckin' Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Plane, which is qualitatively distinct from its progenitor.

I'm done.

Note #1: The orthographic disunity is as a result of the dynamic properties of the term in question.

* I "deleted" the above phrase because I think it may be too offensive. That being said, I feel it is also instructive to my point about the terms use and definition. You cannot have a fucking virgin (yes, immaculate conception and virgin birth are distinct, I recognize that), although everyone will know what you are talking about. One could never have a Church of the Muthufunkin' anything, because the term is self-destructive, it would instantly obliterate the movement it sought to create.

Note #2: The OED has four basic entries for the word Fuck; fuck v (1503), fuck n (1680), fucker n (1598), fucking adj., adv., & int. (1948). According to the hoaried tomb the word can mean a great number of things including: one who copulates, one who blunders, the act of copulation, various other casual, intensive, etc., uses. (e.g. How in the fuck should I know?), as an intensifier, to mess around, a person (often a woman), as an affirmation (e.g. WALTER: That rug really tied the room together, did it not? DUDE: Fuckin' A. DONNY: And this guy peed on it.) --among other things. As evidenced by this expansive set of meanings, this monosyllabic item must obviously be very linguistically potent.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Maybe if Chicago moves up another eights spots I might actually invest some confidence in the rankings. Seriously though, Duke, Penn, Dartmouth(!), how the hell do they get to be among the elite? Have you ever heard of Dartmouth University Press? How about a Duke School of Thought? Has Penn ever founded a discipline? It is just silly to impute meaning to a system that is unable to measure the significant characteristics of an educational institution. While one could attempt to argue which faculty is finest, the UofC also does a damn fine job of undergraduate education, a fact completely overlooked by any of the USNews indicators.

As an addendum to this rant, I spoke with Dean B____ a little over a year ago about the rankings. I asked him whether or not the university cared about its low ranking to which he responded that they didn't care, although angry alumni calling up the school complaining did make it harder to not-care. I guess the angry alums won out.

Thanks to WWPD by way of CS for the heads up.

For more fun with numbers look here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Damned if you do, more damned it you don't

I just want to remind people that criminal acts plotted on a large scale (such as terrorism) have a severe effect, even if those alleged criminals are apprehended. Just because Scotland Yard arrested those suspected of plotting a mass criminal action, doesn't mean that, in some significant respect, they have not already been successful. Yes, tens of planes did not fall from the sky killing untold numbers of innocents. People, however, are still very shaken up and (possibly more importantly) airtravel has been severely slowed, costing untold millions in productivity (not to mention the threat of no carry-on luggage crippling business travel and the airlines over the long term). There are always costs to pay, it is just a matter of which ones. Obviously better to save lives and slow air travel then lose lives and slow air travel, but this cannot be considered a total victory for "us" (as defined by whoever "they" were targeting).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Now there's hope for all of us

Jr. Ginsbu is engaged to Cheryl Turk and A1's roommate woes will finally abate.
I expect a mucho grande tasteful wedding.

Ugly People U

Sorry it took me so long to link to this story.
If you let in only the brilliant, then you produced bookworms and bench scientists: you ended up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago (an institution Harvard officials looked upon and shuddered).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

You're All Idiots

I have not being having much luck of late. Most recently, my favorite senator has gone down in the Democratic primary. Now, after being overwhelmed by a barrage of anti-Joe propaganda, I am just in a generally surly mood.

Congratulations, Democrats, you have won! Finally, after trying to formulate intelligent positions on a plethora of complex issues you have come to understand the value of partisanship. It didn't have to take this long, but even the brightest students take time to shine. So you are now resolute, just one issue (this eliminates the bothersome issue of having congresspeople only voting with your party a paltry 90% of the time. So where is the room for healthy debate, btw???). Easy to remember for all those over taxed-payers out there. One and only one: oppose the President.

Don't worry Mr. Lamont, even though you have no political experience save filling potholes (re: Sunday's "Meet the Press") your job will be a sinch, only one position to take. We are not interested in seeing legislation go through a bipartisan House and Senate (currently controlled by the GOP, as it happens). We just want to sulk.

Unfortunately, you also forget that 54% of the country doesn't agree with you. So in our wonderful world of majority elections, you are only going to get 46% of the national vote. Which is great, unless you actually want to make sure that women get proper reproductive care in the entire country, and not just in your cushy Greenwich McMansions. Or maybe you democrats will remember that there is a proponderance of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere, leading to mass climate destabilazion. You could wait until Thy Kingdom Come and you control the House, Senate and Presidency and then fix Global Warming, or you could do what Joe has done for 18 years and work with people from the other side of the aisle and try and fix the problem. Gathering up your marbles and going home won't help stop the environmental, educational, health care or any other of the problems which you seem to whine about so continuously.

So circulate a memo to the Democrats: don't back Bush. Don't go to tea with Roy Blunt, don't eat scones with Mitt Romney, don't even snort pixy stix with your Republican great-uncle Herb. So long as you stand by the sidelines and cry, you can have a clear conscience and equally vapid agenda.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Penn & Inklings

What: To discuss things that appear to bore the vast majority of fine people that grace this planet. This time it will be the essay, "On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt

When: 8/12

Where: Blarney Stone

Why: Because I miss The Pub.

Iranian Context

One of the UB Med Students was over for lunch this past shabbes. As I am not so fluent in Med School jargon, I was grilling her on Iran and popular sentiment there. She mentioned that every morning at the beginning of school all the students would chant, "Death to America. Death to Israel." (much like I used to say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." without really knowing what those words meant). "My parents," she said, "told me to keep quiet when they said death to Israel."

Being Jewish, I can't imagine that she went to a particularly extreme school growing up. The notion that this was the climate 20 years ago in moderate Iran is perfectly terrifying.

Morning Edition and Diapered Goats

This story is truly worth a listen. Bizarre is the closest word that our sparse language has to capture the strangeness. Ionesco, eat your heart out.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Despair without Hope

Tisha B'Av has become one of the most meaningful days in the Jewish cycle for me, but only after much struggle and thought. Coming from a tradition of optimists I fought with this day as it commemorates all that is vile and base in the world. I have, over time, learned to accept the day and cherish it, though it runs completely against my nature. As this is a rant, I am too tired to actually put together sources for everything that might follow, they do, however, exist.

There is a midrash that in every generation that the Beit Hamikdash (Jewish Temple in Jerusalem) is not rebuilt, it is as if it has been destroyed. While this can come across as banal, it cannot be interpreted simply. Is this somehow a compulsion to rebuild the temple? Does anyone actually believe that were we to place brick on top of brick in successive fashion that we would somehow complete this process or rebuilding the temple? The loss of the temple is about inevitability and corruption. We cannot rebuild so we are forces to gaze upon the destructive fires which razed that building some 2500 years ago, and again 600 years later.

The message of Neviim (prophets) is along these same lines. It is true that the sins of the people caused the destruction, but politically the state was also doomed. Yoshiahu could not have allied with Egypt, lest Babaloyia beset Judah with hostilities, and thus he was forced to fight, and die in Meggido. No state can exist indefinitely without succumbing to natural pressures. The world in which the first and second temple existed, as in the world today, was unstable and enthropic and ultimately leads to chaos.

Has there ever been a generation worthy of sanctity, one which has not been guilty, metaphysically causing the destruction? Only 40 days after the revelation at Sinai the Jews turned to false gods and the destruction in Europe was perpetrated against the holiest and greatest of our nation. There seems to be little correlation between the works of man, and the rewards from heaven.

Tisha B'Av is an acknowledgement of the corruption of the world, without any comfort of hope (though you may find particular exceptions). Unlike Yom Kippur, there is no theme of repentance or cheshbon nefesh on this day. We concentrate on our suffering without any possibility of redemption. There is only desolation. Chazal took one day on the calendar to focus on the depravity which history delivers, bounding this focus by 25 hours. Were we to stop drinking in light of these sickening truths (as the Gemara suggests) these enthropic forces would indeed prove immediately victorious.

Hashiveinu eilecha venashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem. Only when we can return to kedem (closely associated with Eden in Jewish mythology) will we be able to return to a time of stability.