October 31, 2006

Straight Outta Camptown

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 1:10 am

An open letter to Billmon:


Hey, I wasn’t going to comment on the minstrel thing (though I was bothered by it), but your arrogant response to your critics has drawn me out. You’ve discovered the favorite defense of those who cause offense by being insensitive: say that your critics are being insincere and (wait for it!) politically correct. You give no evidence that those on the left who were offended (every one of them, apparently) are insincere, and you are very cavalier in suggesting that those who complain are not “willing to fight for social justice or even lift a finger.” Well, people can walk and chew gum at the same time, and taking offense at the use of a racially charged image to comment on a resolutely minor news item is a sign of sincerity, not the opposite. To make things worse, your ridiculous, self-serving discussion of your own ideology and all the people who love to throw stones at you only makes you sound like the guy in college who won’t stop talking about how he’s figured it all out. Please stop preening and get back to what you do well.



October 25, 2006

Find us a dream that don’t ask no questions

Filed under: Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 10:41 pm

Memo to graduate students: do not identify yourself as a “nerd” because you are a graduate student. Do not be self-deprecating about the specialized knowledge you’ve worked hard to attain, unless you genuinely don’t think it’s useful, in which case learn or do something else. Most of all, when your graduate student friends talk about their chosen specialty—literature, say—outside of class, do not scold them for being nerdy, talking shop, not having fun, or anything along those lines. They aren’t in this graduate program to make lots of money, they’re there because they love the discipline. And you’re not being paid enough to afford not to love the discipline.

Julie and I went to a reading in Iowa by a novelist who is also a Comparative Literature Ph.D. The reading was middling (good concept, cutesy execution), but what struck me about it was that people were hung up on the fact that she was (brace yourself) both a creative artist and a stuffy scholar! To her credit, she rejected the strict dichotomy between the two, pointing out that both a creative work and a scholarly one require research, planning, work, revision…but at the same time, she unwittingly added to this misconception by referring to herself as a nerd, and her knowledge of Yiddish literature as nerdy, four times. Probably this was just self-deprecation born of nerves. Nevertheless, I noted it because, in grad school, you run into a surprising amount of that kind of thing: people feel like they need to apologize for knowing what they have taken years, and god knows how much debt, to learn, and that they can and should make people feel like eggheads and pedants for sharing their discoveries and opinions with others. Given that one doesn’t end up in grad school by accident, I can only assume that this is an internalization of the old playground equation of intelligence with weakness, reclusiveness, and general scorn. The worst thing scholars could do is to tacitly acknowledge that America’s ever-popular contempt for intellectuals is probably correct, and that they aren’t really entitled to all this money and status they get. (This, by the way, is further proof that George Bush, with his proud and aggressive anti-intellectualism, represents literally everything that is bad about America.)

Mind you, I don’t mind being called a nerd for my many nerdy interests. Heck, I am a nerd: I played roleplaying games from grades 10-16; I have nine of the thirteen Series of Unfortunate Events books and a bookshelf filled with comics; I know who Shigeru Miyamoto and Hayao Miyazaki are. These are my hobbies, they’re nerdy, so there’s nothing pejorative about calling me a nerd, any more than it’s pejorative to call my roommate—officially one of the NFL’s three biggest fans—a jock. But Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal are not jocks, and Harold Bloom is not a nerd. And I am, but not because I’m going to be a Philosophiæ Doctor.

As a postscript to this, I just five minutes ago got a call which I get periodically: it was the Orange County Firefighters, raising money for a charity event they’re throwing. As I often do with calls like this, I begged off by saying that, while I support the cause, I’m a graduate student, with little disposable income. Except this time, as soon as the words “I’m a graduate student” were out of my mouth, the woman on the other end said, with real feeling, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Yeah, well, them’s the breaks, right? Don’t shed any tears for me; we all have our cross to bear.

October 1, 2006

Teach your children well

Filed under: Funny Stuff, IMs — tomemos @ 1:30 am

A conversation between Tom and Julie, 9/30/06:

T: Oh, by the way, the Jesus Camp in the film is called “Kids On Fire.” Seriously.
J: Ewwww!!!
T: Yeah. I don’t know whether liberals are smarter than conservatives, but we would never send our kids to a camp about being on fire.
J: Unless it was a stuntman camp. And in that case, no eight-year-olds.
T: We have time to discuss this later, but I don’t really want my kids going to stuntman camp. No member of my family has ever been a stuntman, and I don’t want to start now.
J: See, this is why you’re killing your family line. You’re living in the past.
J: You have to modernize!
T: First of all, I think it’s a little early to say I’m killing my family line—I’m getting married, aren’t I? Second of all, is the future really in stunt work? Third, do you think the way to ensure my line is to encourage my kids to get jobs leaping out of buildings?
J: Hells yeah!
J: Who do you want to carry on your name – a STUNTMAN or some stupid boring futz?
T: …um, I think you just called me, and all my male ancestors, “some stupid boring futz.”
J: You said it, not me.
T: Julie, you’re marrying me, so it’s important to understand: my family is weak-willed and unambitious.
J: Whereas the Glassmans are a proud and noble line. I can trace stuntmen in my family going back to the thirteenth century.
T: I’d like it if your family crest was a guy with a parachute and a black eye.
J: Actually it’s a guy on fire.
T: Is he running around and screaming, or standing there stoically?
J: He’s pretending to run around and scream. But he’s a stuntman so it’s not real. It’s hard to describe. You really have to see the crest to get the subtleties.
T: Well, I look forward to after the wedding, when I am allowed to see the crest in the ancestral Glassman home. And lit on fire.
J: Oh, that’ll happen during the ceremony.
J: You better be ready.
T: …like, without me knowing it?
T: I mean, I guess when you’re lit on fire, you know it.
J: You know now!
T: Right, but I don’t know exactly when.
J: I’ll nudge you or something.
T:Start saying under your breath, “fire fire fire”
T: “look alive”
J: Perfect. I’ll do that.
T: Do they sell asbestos tuxedos?
J: Well, someone should find out, shouldn’t he?

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