Friday, December 19, 2008

Ars Amatoria

I have a soft spot for Nerve's "Dating Advice From..." column, especially when it's advice from nerds. This week it's "classics majors." Why not "classicists"? Apparently, actual classicists date no one.

Anyways, it's filled with bad Mel Brooks-style jokes -- "Is that a scroll under your toga or are you just happy to see me?" could only be salvaged if it were made extra-nerdy ("Senator, is that a hardwood scroll under your tunica laticlavia, or is this symposium turning into an orgy?").

But some of them are actually pretty good, especially from the people who seem to remember their reading. Bekah, 27, looks to Ovid: "Although some of his moves are a little creepy, at least he has suggestions on what to do while watching gladiators. Hint: pretend her skirt is dirty, bend down to pick it up, then take a peak at her goods. If she doesn't slap you, you're in." And my favorite is Alex, 22:

What has being a Classics major taught you about dating?
Probably that some people are meant to be together. There's a story in the Theogony about it. Pretty touching, romantic stuff. Oh, and that women are evil and to be careful of their tricks.
Yes, I've always felt that The Odyssey was more of a how-to than anything else. That's why whenever I go anywhere where I might be tempted to do something I shouldn't, I bring binding rope, wax for my ears, and a crew of stout sailors to bind me to the mast of our ship. It's cut my nacho consumption by at least one third.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Cup Runneth Over

Some of these links have been cocooned in my RSS reader for over a month, waiting for their posts to spring forth, like infant alien monsters from John Hurt's chest.

  • Al Filreis, "whence the snark?"-  Eight years of an awful presidency has generated the super-skepticism - the hypersatirical state of public political (and to some significant extent cultural) commentary - and that, in the most general way, makes sense. Harding and Coolidge certainly created, or at least contributed to, Roaring Twenties ironic hilarity, flapperistic farce. But this era of snark happened to coincide with the emergence of the web, the proliferation of voices, the radical democratization of the commentariat, 1000 blogs blooming, social networking in which your "Friends" are your ready audience for daily expressions of your "status," podcasts made in the breakfast room recorded on a Radio Shack microphone plugged into a $600 computer. Bush + web 2.0 = snark.
  • Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, "Group Think" - The boom in online research may actually have a "narrowing" effect on scholarship. James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, analyzed a database of 34 million articles in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and determined that as more journal issues came online, new papers referenced a relatively smaller pool of articles, which tended to be more recent, at the expense of older and more obscure work. Overall, Evans says, published research has expanded, due to a proliferation of journals, authors, and conferences. But the paper, which appeared in July in the journal Science, concludes that the Internet's influence is to tighten consensus, posing the risk that good ideas may be ignored and lost - the opposite of the Internet's promise.
  • Ken Johnson's (unbelievably belated) obituary of Fluxus artist George Brecht: In the mid-1950s, following the lead of Jackson Pollock, Mr. Brecht produced paintings using chance operations and materials like bed sheets, ink and marbles. In 1958-59, he attended a class in experimental music composition taught by John Cage at what was then the New School for Social Research in New York. Soon he was producing compositions even more radical than those of Mr. Cage. In the early 1960s, Mr. Brecht taught in what was then the unusually progressive art department of Rutgers University, along with Mr. Hendricks, Allan Kaprow (who became known as an inventor of the “happening”) and Robert Watts, who also became a Fluxus artist. Mr. Brecht’s first solo exhibition, “Toward Events: An Arrangement,” was at Reuben Gallery in New York in 1959. During the next five years, he participated in many group exhibitions and performances in New York. His work “Repository” (1961), a wall cabinet containing a pocket watch, a thermometer, rubber balls, toothbrushes and other objects, was included in “The Art of Assemblage,” the famous 1961 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and the museum later bought it. Nine years later, Mr. Brecht was included in “Information,” another landmark show at the Modern.
  • Tim Blanning, "Facing the Music": For composers, too, copyright protection is very much a creation of modern times. Until deep into the 19th century, piracy of the most flagrant kind was the norm. As soon as a score was published, it was liable to be copied right across Europe without any kind of payment to its creator. Moreover, unscrupulous publishers often borrowed the identity of prestigious composers to add allure to slow-selling catalogue items. In Paris, in 1789, the Bohemian composer Adalbert Gyrowetz went to a concert to hear a symphony advertised as being by Haydn - and found himself having to sit through one of his own com positions. Two years earlier, one of the more respectable publishing houses, Breitkopf & Härtel of Leipzig, advertised for sale 96 symphonies by Haydn, even though at that time he had written fewer than 80. If modern copyright protection had been in place in Germany in the middle of the 19th century, Richard Wagner would have been a rich man. As his biographer Ernest Newman pointed out, it was the system that made him a beggar - and then condemned him for being a debtor.
  • Neal Pollack, "What If LeBron James and Wolverine Joined the New York Knicks": After LeBron's November visit to Madison Square Garden, the New York tabloids responded predictably, with headlines like "LeBron Likes What Knicks Are Doing" and "LeBron James' Pal Claims Knicks Are Favorites." It's like New Yorkers are waiting for LeBron to invite them to homecoming. The rest of the basketball punditocracy, meanwhile, has become so obsessed with next-decade scenarios that it's like this NBA season doesn't exist. Hear's Bill Simmons, the voice of today's fan: "The NBA's off-court subplots, in many ways, have become just as fun as anything happening on the court. Because of the Internet, sports radio, team blogs, better information guys and everything else, the whole trade/draft/free-agent market has practically evolved into its own sport to follow. ... The Summer of 2010 (it sounds like a blockbuster movie) ties everything we love about that goofy underbelly into one neat package." In other words, basketball-land has become a real-life Marvel Comics "What If" book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brief Encounter

So I'm at the Wawa to use the ATM, and on the way out a guy asks me for change.

I say "no, sorry," and walk past.

As I'm a few yards down the street, he says, "You know that redheads are going extinct."

I say, "yeah, that's what I hear."

Then, as I'm almost to the subway to catch the trolley, he yells, "nice to meet you!"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Monochrome Charm of the Inner Ring

Best line in a movie review this year (at least for me) is from Stephanie Zacharek's review of Clint Eastwood's Gran Turino:

Even for a movie set in the Detroit suburbs, "Gran Torino" has too much of a drab, listless look.
Oh, man; I rolled on the floor at that one.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Gran Turino was shot (and quite possibly set) in Highland Park.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Wire In German

Man, talk about being right up the middle of this blog's plate: on translating The Wire into German. Kottke already nabbed the best excerpt, so I won't reprint here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

University Tuition and Economic Sanity

This Wall Street Journal op-ed railing against high tuition costs at American universities is hilarious. Let me count the ways:

  1. The author, Eric Gibson, thinks problem #1 is that university presidents' compensation is "in the stratosphere." Now there's a lot to be said about this -- the corporatization of the university, the move towards a "strong executive" model, and comparative priorities. But it's awfully hard to take seriously if you're not going to advance any kind of broader criticism of executive compensation. Universities are huge concerns, employing thousands of people (and managing thousands more), and it's hard to imagine any other economic body as complicated by involvement in as many different kinds of business. Still, if you compare what university presidents make to CEOs of comparably sized companies, their pay is pretty modest.

  2. Gibson also thinks students today have it too good: "I've been wide-eyed on some of my visits, struck by the extent to which being a student today resembles living at Versailles, where Louis XIV's every whim was so thoroughly accommodated that there was even a Superintendent of the King's Furniture. One college tour guide proudly informed us that upon arrival every freshman is issued a brand-new laptop. Even if the students already have one? Why, yes, the guide replied." And: "Facilities like libraries and gyms are open around the clock. Computer services are available at all hours, too. One college we visited must keep its tech support team doped up on amphetamines. Accidentally dump a cup of coffee into your laptop? No problem! They'll have it back to you in full working order in a day -- something no private-sector IT department could afford to offer." So the problem with higher education is that all this money spent by parents and students actually translates into tangible benefits and services.

  3. Gibson portrays parents and students as helpless victims of these universities' desires to provide these goodies: "Private higher education has it better than an actual welfare state. Politicians are answerable to the electorate. In theory their efforts to take a larger slice of your paycheck can be thwarted at the polls. Not private higher education. There's nothing to put a brake on their fiscal expansiveness. Colleges have something close to a monopoly; they can charge what they like because they have a captive audience."
Let me tell ya, Mr Gibson -- not every college is like Versailles. I'm willing to bet your local regional public university would be more than happy to have your son or daughter, who can commute from home, or share a dive apartment with three of their friends, getting by on mac and cheese. There are eighteen and nineteen year olds doing it every day.

What frustrates me most about the upper middle class today is the false constriction of choice, especially with respect to education. They're "forced" to buy a huge house in a posh suburb that they can't really afford to get access to the local elite school district. Then "forced" to spend thousands of dollars to get their kids into an elite college, where they're "forced" to spend even more money to put their kids up like kings.

It's always someone else's problem, someone else's greed, someone else whose behavior is ridiculous.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A New Sexy Document, Every Day

I think I'm in love: the blog Milestone Documents offers a new primary document from American history every day, plus analysis. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine! Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress! The Gettysburg Address! Yum, yum, yum.

Via Cliopatria's Blogroll, where Short Schrift is filed under "Historians Who Write About Many Things." I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Slow Century

  1. I find it very hard to explain my strong attachment to the band Pavement. 
  2. I'm not sure that the Slow Century documentary explains it any better. 
  3. But it is available to stream now for free at Pitchfork TV.
  4. So if you feel at all like I do, or if you're wondering why anyone would, you should watch it.
  5. That is all.