Archive for February, 2012

Anarchist Wheat Thins

Those of you who watched Colbert’s recent piece on Wheat Thins will appreciate what I displayed in my classroom today.

Deviant SynCast Episode #50

That’s right, people! After a hiatus of five years, my podcast is back on the air. Unlike in the past, there’s no multimedia or music. This is just me talking for 30 minutes. Fortunately, I’ve got lots of stuff to talk about, from Syria to (Public) Enemy Books and Foxconn and lots of other stuff.

I’m working to get it onto iTunes, but for now just download it manually and stick it on your ‘pod. And send me questions or comments!

Deviant SynCast Episode #50: Syria and Sleeplessness

In Other News

Hey, look — Patton Oswalt’s doing a column over at Spin. How odd.

Colvin and Timor

You probably heard that hardcore badass journalist Marie Colvin died recently while covering the siege of Homs in Syria.

Colvin lost her left eye to an RPG in 2001 while covering the Sri Lankan Civil War.

But here’s the bit I only learned about today. I’ll quote a press release from the office of East Timor’s Prime Minister:

“Marie Colvin holds a special place in the hearts of the Timorese people. In 1999 she was one of three journalists, all women, who refused to leave a UN compound holding 1,500 Timorese women and children after it came under attack by militias. All of their lives were in grave danger. Her reporting in through newsprint and global television helped to avert a tragic massacre and after four tense days the group were evacuated to safety. This act of courage and solidarity has never been forgotten.”

Whenever someone starts telling me about how beautiful Megan Fox or Kristin Stewart is, I laugh and say: No. Marie Colvin is beautiful.


Hail ants!

Today I’m listening to: Wiley!

Downton Files: Coconut Shy

According to The Wik:

A coconut shy (or coconut shie) is a traditional game, originally known as “The love grove alley”, frequently found as a sidestall at funfairs and fêtes. The game consists of throwing wooden balls at a row of coconuts balanced on posts.

Typically a player buys three balls and wins each coconut successfully dislodged. In some cases other prizes may be won instead of the coconuts.

The word “shy” in this context is a colloquial English term, meaning ‘to throw’ or toss. The origins of the game are unclear, although the term is first listed in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1903.

Why I Dislike Jane Austen

When a student asked recently, I mentioned that I find Jane Austen’s writing style to be insipid. My conversational partner asked what this word means and I had trouble defining it. So I looked it up in Merriam-Webster:

  1. lacking taste or savor : tasteless <insipid food>
  2. lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate, or challenge : dull, flat <insipid prose>

The mention of “insipid prose” in the second entry is particularly fitting. I suppose we can’t say that Austen does not challenge the 21st-century reader in the US, but it is precisely the opposite sort of challenge that good writing ought to provide.

As Ludwig Wittgenstein made clear, language carries inherent difficulties due to the abstract nature of each word. Thus we readers are instantly confounded upon our very first encounters with a story’s opening sentences. Obviously authors have poetic license — in fact, must employ creative diction — to vivify a psychologically realistic narration. If Ms. Austen achieves this goal, the banality of her prose is a mere reflection of the banality of the world it depicts.

To wit: On a regular basis, Austen’s characters will speak of a relation visiting a particular house on a regular basis. Rather than communicate this directly, however, the author will write — in a way which adds nothing substantive to our conceptual imagination — in a manner which is deliberately obtuse. “It was not uncommon for our dear Uncle Henry to stay away from Poshcrustyshire Manor for a period of no more than two days at a time.” Consequently we readers finds ourselves spending valuable moments untangling this confounding web of double-negatives to arrive at a simple point of chronology: “Uncle Henry visited the house every two days.” Perhaps Ms. Austen’s contemporaries had nothing better to do with their time, but I most certainly do.

(I recognize that this may be an inevitable consequence of changing fashions among literary epochs; will it be said in fifty years that my own writing is tedious and cumbersome, because I insist on spelling out words like “you” and “are”, which could easily be replaced by single letters?)

If all of these stylistic headaches operated in the service of an intriguing, important, or engrossing plot — or to narrate the lives of intriguing characters — I would be inclined to complain a great deal less. Balzac’s magnum opus La Cousine Bette, after all, can hardly be accused of having a simplified narrative style. The difference here is that Balzac is ruthlessly efficient with his language, and creates characters cut from the pure stuff of relevant existence.

And perhaps we have now reached the heart of my distaste for Austen’s work: she is writing almost exclusively about the British upper-class. The supposedly dramatic twists and turns of the Bennet family are no doubt thrilling for girls and boys and women and men of similar situation and orientation. But for those of us who have to work full-time in order to make a living; for those of us who are immersed in the global struggles for post-colonial democracy; for those of us who seek to deconstruct and abolish patriarchal hierarchies; for those of us who devote free time to writing letters on behalf of political prisoners being tortured by autocratic regimes; for those of us who seek to resolve unjust power dynamics of economy, government, and society; indeed, for those of us who must wrestle with the minute vagaries of familial embarrassment alongside all of the aforementioned stressors and aggravations. For us, the lives of the Bennet sisters appear simplistic, mediocre, and — above all — insipid.


Check out this excellent attack ad made by FlackCheck, against Abe Lincoln:

Today I’m listening to: Lowkey!