tomemos

December 31, 2007

Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, General Me, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 2:29 pm

Two unconnected month-of-December items, so that my conscience can be clear going into the new year:

•Julie and I finally took our honeymoon, to Ensenada in Baja California, about three weeks ago. It wasn’t sub-tropical by any means—our shorts and bathing suits went unused, which we half-expected—but it was quite relaxing, with plenty of napping and strolling, with a pleasant day trip to Mexican wine country thrown in. It also featured a minor milestone: I fell off the meat wagon. For the first time since (roughly) May 1993, I knowingly ordered and ate meat.

I’ve never been one of those vegetarians who is appalled by the thought of eating meat unknowingly. When, at one Midnight Breakfast at Sarah Lawrence, I realized that the fake sausage I had been enjoying was actually real sausage, I didn’t freak out, nor was I bothered when I realized that “imitation crab” is made out of other fish, not out of gluten or something. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards broths, stocks, and sauces. But even with this permissiveness, my trip to Japan a couple of years ago felt extremely unsatisfying: while my family enjoyed every kind of fish dish, I was eating the same miso soup, salads, and edamame everywhere, and anything else I tried was most likely cooked in fish products anyway. Furthermore, my moral commitment to vegetarianism is wholly personal; I’m perfectly fine with others eating meat, so it felt strange holding myself to an absolute standard.

So, when I learned that our vacation destination was the Home of the Fish Taco, I realized that I was open to trying some. It was important that it be fish—I do believe that they feel less suffering and consciousness—and also that there be few interesting vegetarian options where we were traveling; even in Greece, I was able to enjoy local varieties of Greek salad, as well as various pita-based foods, whereas around Ensenada few restaurants had anything vegetarian other than quesadillas.

Over the course of the trip, I ate five fish tacos at two different restaurants, as well as a plate of seafood pasta. (I also ate steak tacos after all, but that was a misunderstanding: I ordered “tacos quesas,” and it ended up having steak, and the food took so long to arrive that I didn’t want to send it back.) How was it? It was fine. It felt somewhat odd knowing I was intentionally breaking an abstention, and I worried that I would have digestive problems (I didn’t), but it was basically anticlimactic; I was just eating food.

In the end, though, I think this experiment ended up strengthening my vegetarianism. The fish tacos tasted good; they didn’t make me feel like I had been missing out on something amazing for fifteen years. At one point during our trip, I had a vegetarian tostada, and that was as satisfying a meal as anything else I ate in Mexico. Taste is possibly the most transitory aesthetic experience: even if you eat a meal that you remember for the rest of your life—and I’ve had one or two—it can’t make you want to live a different way. My feelings on eating meat are unchanged: for me, it is a moral issue, but not a moral absolute.

Incidentally, in talking about this experience, I received a reminder that the personally significant is not always identical with the objectively significant. Talking to my sister about our trip, and trying to build suspense, I told her that there had been a “significant occurrence” on our honeymoon. She thought I was going to tell her that we had gotten pregnant.

•There’s a debate raging in the feminist and left-wing blogospheres these days, over a new book project, Yes Means Yes, a collection of essays about fighting rape culture through emphasis on women’s sexuality. The book was announced at Feministing and is co-edited by Jessica Valenti, controversial author of Full Frontal Feminism, which was (to my mind justly) accused of excluding middle-class, non-white, and international feminist issues, despite its claims of universality. (My two favorite responses were petitpoussin’s and Kugelmass’s.) Yes Means Yes is facing much the same criticism: it has been accused of being ahistorical, reductionist, and indifferent to working-class and third-world rape cultures, among other things. However, the book right now is just a call for submissions, and so there is no content to critique; furthermore, many people seem to be taking it as a given that the book is attempting to be the last word on rape, and that it could not be relevant to underprivileged women’s issues. Neither point seems fair to me.

That said, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight … except where it spills over into unfounded incriminations of progressives generally. At an excellent post by tekanji at Shrub Blog—a post that correctly critiques aspects of book’s promotional material while recognizing the potential value of the project overall—I read a comment that seemed to cross the line between making supportable claims about the book, or about Western feminism in general, and unsupportable generalization and hyperbole (“the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count”). Breaking my usual policy, which is not to discuss politics online except at friends’ blogs, I responded, and a discussion followed, including what is probably the longest comment I’ve posted anywhere. The thread seems to have run its course, but you never know.

You can read the actual arguments at tekanji’s blog. I do want to say a word, though, about where my interest in this issue comes from: it comes from attending both high school and college with students who were 1) universally left-wing and 2) divided, to different degrees, into pretty stark contrasts of privileged and unprivileged, both financially and demographically. Consequently, identity politics has been central to my political understanding and discussion, for better and for worse. Some would expect this to be the point where the white, straight, middle-class man complains about how unfairly he was treated; actually, I found most of political discussions in my youth to be thoughtful and productive, and especially important for someone coming from natural positions of privilege. The exceptions have been cases where assumptions of exclusion and privilege preclude and eclipse fair consideration of content, and I think that’s what’s happening with Yes Means Yes. At Shrub Blog, one commenter accused progressive and feminist bloggers of paying “lip service” to working-class issues, which for me raised the question of what other kind of service can be paid on a blog; aside from organizing and fund-raising efforts, the internet is all talk. In fact, people seem to be criticizing Yes Means Yes precisely for its failure to make explicit mention of unprivileged women’s issues. Honestly, this is a fair point—if the book wants to be for everyone, it should make this clear— but the fact remains that the suggested topics are just that, suggested, and before the essays are compiled it is impossible to conclude whether or not the book is “exclusionary.” The frustrations with the state of feminism and the feminist and progressive blogospheres seem valid to me; the assumptions about this unpublished book do not, and run the risk of alienating potential supporters and allies.

Be safe tonight and this year, everyone.

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November 14, 2007

Every day I write the book

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 10:29 am

This is a good month for blogging every day; in fact, it’s the month for blogging every day. Friend and blogfriend Kindle (first blog I ever read, hand to God) is taking part, for the second straight year, and has so far discussed films, fashion, food, and ESL teaching.  In similar news, a guy I know has started a blog chronicling his 20-day quest (beginning Saturday) to watch 100 great films, run 100 miles, and grade 40 student papers.   So you want to put that in your RSS before you forget.  Finally, Sarah Lawrence friend Phaea Crede has a blog which, while not technically a NaBloPoMo participant, seems to update almost every day, and also each entry is titled “Today in…” which feels pleasantly like syndicated news.

I recommend all three blogs, both for their own merits (this is projected, in the case of Days of Industry) and for the feeling of plenty that comes from having a new entry to read each day. Me, I don’t have the material or the wherewithal to blog once a week, let alone once a day. However, in the spirit of the month, here is something quirky and trivial you can read about me:

I’ve learned to ride my bike without hands. I know that I’m a little old for this, but but the circumstances were never right before: there are too many hills in Berkeley, and I’ve always been a late bloomer in terms of not being a pussy (I couldn’t watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or The Neverending Story until I was in my teens, e.g.). Now, though, I find myself in Long Beach, home of flat, broad, one-way residential streets, and since I’m in my late twenties it can no longer be said that I have my whole life ahead of me. So I started riding no hands – tentatively at first, then confidently. Now I can do it for a block at a time, and I’m starting to learn how to turn.

The funny thing, though, is how addictive this method is; it’s started to feel like the most natural way to ride. Now, whenever I climb on the bike, my first instinct is to put my weight back, and for the first time in my life I want to own one of those upright cruisers rather than a bike that makes you lean forward. It’s too bad unicycles are so dorky, because that’d be the logical next step.

August 15, 2007

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me — tomemos @ 6:02 pm

I’m up in Berkeley to get married this weekend. That’s largely why I’ve been so quiet over the last month, that and the process of moving into our new apartment in Long Beach. The apartment is great, but there’s not much to say about it other than that you should all come visit. Long Beach is also great, and I imagine I’ll come back to what it has that Irvine doesn’t. And the wedding will hopefully—along with being married—be great, but it’s too early to tell.

As for the wedding planning itself, it’s exhausting, of course, but it’s not (contrary to what I wrote back in May) as bad an experience as preparing for my exams was. It’s easily as much work, and a lot more running around—95% of my work for my exam was done within about five square miles—but it lacks the element of terror which was so essential to the exam experience. Plus, some of it is actually fun, like making the wedding playlist (the biggest mix CD I’ve ever made) and even, to some extent, making the seating chart (also like making a mix CD, but with friends and loved ones instead of songs). There’s still time for a debacle to develop, of course, but … actually, I can’t think of a good way to finish that sentence. It’s all going to be fine.

Before I get back to whatever it is I’m doing next—shopping for cartons of disposable cameras, or stuffing paper bags with party favors (no spoilers!)—a quick, irrelevant annoyance:

On the plane up from Orange County this morning, my seatmate gave me his copy of the Orange County Register. This is a bad newspaper, as those in the Southland know—not only for its right-wing political stance, but for crap like this, which I came across within two minutes of reading the paper:

We’re shocked, shocked to find they’re playing politics in Sacramento. Well, we’re not really shocked.

Oh my god, it still makes me so angry. Look, “shocked, shocked to find …” means that you’re not really shocked. That’s the reason you say “shocked” twice—it emphasizes the insincerity. So you don’t have to say, “we’re not really shocked.” It’s from Casablanca. GOD.

June 28, 2007

It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

Filed under: General Me — tomemos @ 5:48 pm

Sorry for the blogging delay—I’ve been recuperating from the exams (poor baby), and a little bit busy with a number of things. For instance, we’ve just found an apartment in Long Beach. I like my current place reasonably well, but Julie’s been living out of a suitcase, and while we could move into our own two-bedroom on campus, Irvine is basically a company town—if you’re not associated with the university, as Julie isn’t, there really isn’t anything to do.  Of course, I am associated with it, but when you’re ABD “associated” is a relative term.  So we found a nice roomy place, close to the beach, which we like a lot.  The carpet is ugly but we can work with that.

Our apartment hunt was a standard apartment hunt, with the standard apartment hunt jitters (what can we afford, is it big enough, do we make enough to apply, etc.). There was one specific jitter that came up, though, which I felt I should write about, cringe though I may, because it’s a pretty good example of the anxious non-problems that (reasonably) privileged and aware white people afflict themselves with:

We saw a Craigslist ad (no longer online, unfortunately) for a great apartment—beautiful, spacious, recently remodeled, affordable (two bedroom, $1200—$150 less than the next cheapest option)—in, as it happened, a working-class, mostly black neighborhood. The landlord addressed our presumed anxieties on this score by saying that there had been some problems with crime, but that the area was improving: “The city is moving them all north.” I suppose he might have meant “criminals,” but our feeling that he meant “black people” was reinforced when he appeared to snub a black mother and her daughter who came to see the place while we were there. (The uneasy feeling was also reinforced by the circumstances: most definitions of “gentrification” involve rebuilding run-down areas to rent to more upscale tenants.) Plus, we were a little unsure about renting in a place which, according to the landlord, suffered from crime. So rather than putting our fears to rest, he had given us two, somewhat paradoxical anxieties:

1. By moving into this apartment, would we be encouraging gentrification and discrimination? Would moving in make us bad people?

2. Is it possible that the neighborhood may be unsafe? Are we bad people for wondering?

We went back and forth (and back, and forth) about this: we looked at online message boards for Long Beach residents, many of whom said the area was unsafe (but maybe those people were racists?), and we walked around there one night and felt pretty safe (but maybe we were trying to feel that way?). Bottom line is, we spent an absurd amount of time trying to gather data about this place, and speaking at least for myself I can say that this had less to do with wanting to find the best possible apartment than it did with assuaging my guilt and anxiety about race. After all, we didn’t do this with the place that we ended up settling on—we didn’t even know what laundry facilities it had before we paid the deposit.

The question was settled when we visited the apartment downstairs from the one we were looking at and one of the women who live there (a young, mixed-race, gay couple, as it happens) said, in so many words, “Don’t move in.  It’s not very safe.  We’re moving out next month.” This is for the best, clearly, since we had tied our brains into knots trying to figure out how to feel about this other place. Lesson: white liberals are fucked up.

“White liberal” is another one of those terms, discussed in a previous entry, that drive me crazy except when they’re dead-on accurate (“politically correct” is another example). Obviously, as a white person who considers himself a liberal (or a progressive, but that’s an indigo/violet distinction), I was perplexed the first time I heard it used pejoratively, and I do genuinely believe that it is often used to discourage white people from contributing to racially progressive causes, or at least to remind them of their guilt and inadequacy as they contribute. Which, I mean, don’t cry for us or anything, but it’s just not that productive. The term is also sometimes used by white armchair radicals to denigrate those who actually get out and do something about racism and inequality, rather than sitting back and talking about how they don’t have the right to do anything about racism and inequality. So it’s something I usually resent being grouped into.

At the same time, what is a white liberal? It’s someone who feels their racism as guilt and anxiety and hopes that that makes them a better person than the hatred kind of racist. And when the chips are down, that’s me all over. What did I do when I got home from seeing the apartment, worried that moving in would make us complicit in gentrification? I sought advice from Randy Cohen, who writes “The Ethicist” at the New York Times. You couldn’t make that up.

On a more serious note, I’m glad that we didn’t end up taking part in the questionable circumstances surrounding the apartment, even if we took the coward’s way out; we shouldn’t have considered it as long as we did. (In our defense, a rent differential of $150 a month is nothing to sneeze at when you’re a grad student and a writer. And the hardwood floors!) It makes sense that this experience made me think about white liberalism, because gentrification essentially exists to serve white liberals—those who want to be close to the Diverse Urban Experience, but not too close. Gentrification is basically white people saying to a landlord, “Do my discrimination for me,” and the more tempting that is the more one should resist it.

June 9, 2007

All-but-Dissertation Tucker Dummychuck

Filed under: General Me, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 1:31 pm

(Before I forget: a lot of people were confounded by the title of my last entry, so I want to clear up this one: It’s #40 of John Hodgman’s 700 Hobo Names. The last title was from A Fish Called Wanda. Okay, on with the show.)

I was catching up with an old friend on the phone the other day, and, as often happens when I catch up with old friends, she asked me if I was about to finish my program. It’s a reasonable question—I’m finishing up my fourth year now, which is our standard “done with school” interval in this country—but I explained that, no, I wasn’t even close; I was about to take my qualifying exams, which would mean I was cleared to write the dissertation. That would take a couple years at least, and then I’d have the Ph.D.

“Well,” she said, “when you get your Ph.D., will you want people to start calling you ‘Doctor Tom’?”

“Maybe at first,” I said. “But eventually I’ll be more casual about it. People can call me ‘Doc Tom.'” Julie, overhearing this, had a stroke of pure inspiration and wrote in her notebook, “DocTom.com.” When we got off the phone, we checked; unfortunately, though, “doctom.com” is the website of a (now-deceased) doctor and advocate of self-care.

Maybe, once I get my Ph.D., I’ll check to see if that website is still being kept up, or maybe I’ll register “doc_tom.com,” though I think the pause of the underscore may break up the phonetic effect. (My suggestion that we look into “doctom.net” was met only with contempt.) Or maybe, most likely of all, I’ll let the idea float out of my head and do nothing at all. I’m actually only using this as a transparent segue to what I really want to talk about: I’m now one step closer to Doc Tom-dom (or DocTom.com-dom), as I’ve passed my qualifying examinations.

They basically went fine. They caused me a lot of stress in the days leading up to them, of course; I’m used to the stress of having to do a lot of reading in a short span of time, but I honestly don’t know if I’ve felt fear like that since I took the GRE in Literature. (On the first question of that test, I completely forgot who Icarus was for about 75 seconds.) The fear was similar in both cases, since the goal of both tests was to prove my basic competence in my chosen field, but the stakes are obviously higher on the quals, not least because it is possible (though rare) to not only fail but also to be told, in essence, to abandon your academic career. As I got closer and closer to finishing my preparation, I entered an odd bipolar state where I alternated between feeling serene and confident about the exam, and feeling sick with anxiety, waking up at six in the morning gasping, etc.

The way it works in our department is, you have two days of written exams at four hours each, and then, if you pass those, you take a two-hour oral exam the following week. Initially, I was more nervous about the written section than about the oral section, because I talk a good game but feared putting something down on paper, where people could ponder my stupidity at their leisure. After I passed the writtens, though (they never actually told me that I passed, only that I should assume I passed), I became more scared of the orals, because on the writtens I could write about whatever books I wanted, whereas during the orals my examiners could ask me about the books they wanted me to talk about. Both of them were basically fine once I started, though; the salutary effect of these exams is to make you ask yourself, “Can I actually do this?” and then remind you, “Oh, right, I can.”

It helped that a few of my department friends (like this one and this one) were taking their exam around the same time, since we could sweat together and celebrate together. (Everybody passed.) In fact, as I talked with past exam-takers, looked through previous years of exam questions, and so forth, I got the feeling of being part of a long history of exam-takers. This feeling was reinforced by taking the writtens in the same office that a number of other people had taken theirs: their answers were saved on the computer and everything, just as mine are now. When I first went into the office, the department secretary gave me a Post-It note with her phone number on it, so I could call her during the exam if I needed to. When I reached the desk, I saw about six other identical Post-Its, from previous examinees, and was reminded of the scene in Silence of the Lambs, when Catherine Martin finds the fingernail in the wall of her prison and realizes … someone’s been here before. (On my last day I drew a “Kilroy was here” on one of them.)

On the second day of my writtens, Korean Campus Ministries was selling Korean barbecue for $5 down at street level. I know, because there were like six different people yelling “Korean barbecue!! Five dollars!!” right under the window of my exam. I fantasized about harming them.

Since I wrote my writtens on a computer with internet access and no supervision, I had to sign a paper saying that I wouldn’t use online material in preparing my exam. This led to some moral uncertainty when I wasn’t sure about the adjective form of “aporia.” I thought “aporic”; Word didn’t like it, but then it doesn’t like “aporia,” either. I wanted to look it up on Dictionary.com, but I signed a paper swearing that I wouldn’t use online material in my exam, so maybe that would be against the rules. (NB: Turns out it’s “aporetic.” Oh well.)

Enough memories; it’s over, and it feels great that it’s over. I’m free to read whatever I want again, to return about thirty books to the library, and to not jump when I see one of my committee members in the halls. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation to write. (He does not move.)

May 9, 2007

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me, Literati and Cognoscenti, Romance — tomemos @ 11:49 pm

I will now list similarities between getting married and taking my qualifying exams, until I run out of similarities or it becomes my birthday. Take it away, Don Pardo:

  • Both are about to occur in my life. (Exams: three weeks; wedding: three months.)
  • Both seem like huge impossibly huge projects from a distance, but as you start to hunker down and get things done, you realize that they’re surprisingly do-able.
  • However, as you get within a few weeks, you realize that, actually, they are impossibly huge projects, after all. (wedding: projected)
  • Both involve a great deal of research. (Exams: research into twentieth-century literature and narrative theory; wedding: research into wedding services, Jewish matrimonial traditions, and mailing addresses.)
  • Both are fun to plan and envision in the abstract.
  • Both require a large investment of money and time. (The exams are 90% time/10% money, where the wedding is about 75% money/25% time. Before you feel bad for me, though, I should guiltily admit that it’s someone else’s money in this case.)
  • Both feature long periods of idleness alternating with bursts of intense activity. (In the case of the exam, that’s due to simple procrastination rather than anything logistical.)
  • Most people want to put them both off for as long as possible, but you’re not getting any younger.
  • Despite this initial urge towards delay, once you start the process you become determined not to let anything derail or forestall the event.
  • Both involve answering difficult questions while under observation.
  • If successful, both result in jubilant celebration; if unsuccessful, depression and weeping.
  • Both of them require satisfying the arcane and sometimes incompatible preferences of a number of different people.
  • Those who haven’t gone through them have a vague idea that there’s a lot involved, but little sense of the scope.
  • Both of them are a brief gateway to a larger world (exams: the dissertation; wedding: a lifetime together), and thus seem merely symbolic in retrospect; however, in advance they seem sky-obstructing.

That’s that. Eleven minutes left; I yield the rest of my time.

March 24, 2007

Not how we say cricket

Filed under: Game of Base, General Me, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 4:58 pm

(Edited March 25, 12:05 p.m.: SI link given, minor fixes made; 1:22 p.m.: link to previous sports post given)

Spring having sprung, I’ve been looking for a way to write about baseball again. Thanks to Shashi Tharoor, and the New York Times Letter Editor, I now have an excuse.

Tharoor is a departing UN under-secretary, and he decided to advance his mission of international goodwill by publishing an Op-Ed in the New York Times that essentially calls Americans stupid suburban drones because we don’t enjoy cricket. Here are some salient highlights:

“Ever since the development of baseball, the ubiquitous and simplified version of the sport, Americans have been lost to the more demanding challenges — and pleasures — of cricket. Because baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus — the basic moves may be similar, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward than the latter, and requires a much shorter attention span. And so baseball has captured the American imagination in a way that leaves no room for its adult cousin.”

“…nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld.”

“Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game.”

And finally, his even-handed, diplomatic conclusion:

“So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.”

Okay.

First of all, even if I accept at face value the claim that a sport that doesn’t feature the split-fingered fastball, the squeeze play, and double play depth is more complex than the one that does, WHO CARES? This cult of complexity drives me crazy–Hold ‘Em is a better poker game than Stud, because more complex; postmodern writing is smarter than New Critical writing, because more difficult, etc. Obviously as an academic I understand the value of complexity as a means to an end, but the valorization of complexity for its own sake is, ironically enough, simplistic. The sort of complexity that requires a match to go on for 30 hours before a winner is chosen does not necessarily serve the goal of a sport, which is to entertain and excite. Why not 130 hours?

Second, there are certain phrases that I usually hate, but which sometimes are the only way to refer to something. “Politically correct” is one example. “America-bashing” is another, and this piece is the poster child for America-bashing. Tharoor does not give any evidence that he knows anything about baseball (hey, Tharoor, NAME FIVE BASEBALL TEAMS), let alone enough to compare its merits with those of his favorite sport. Instead, he just figures that it’s American, ergo stupid; cricket is not American, ergo smart. Does it occur to him that baseball has been popular here for almost 150 years? Were we a “homogenized McWorld” before McDonalds existed?

That’s but an excerpt of my full rant. But when writing to the New York Times, one has to be pithier:

To the Editor:

If, as it seems, Shashi Tharoor’s goal was to make me feel stupid for preferring baseball to cricket, he would have been better served had he not included the following: “Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers.”

(As some of you may know, this is the second letter I’ve had published in the New York Times. The first one is located here. A comment calling that letter “simplistic in the extreme” and “BS” is here.)

With two published opinions about sports (remember this?), I believe I am officially a sports pundit (does sports have pundits?), and so here’s another opinion. Fire Joe Morgan has already noted Ozzie Guillen’s descent into small-ball madness, but this item from Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview cries out for further mockery:

Forget that only two teams in the majors outscored the White Sox last season. Or that no club was more productive than Chicago with runners in scoring position. … Manager Ozzie Guillen arrived at training camp still peeved over his team’s offensive performance last season. “We were s—, pathetic,” Guillen growled early in spring training. “We hit too many home runs. Our situational hitting was horrible. This year we’re going back to small ball.”

If you spit out your coffee at the sentence “We hit too many home runs,” give yourself ten points! Hitting home runs is the best thing one can ever do offensively. There is no better offensive result to an at-bat than a home run. “We hit too many home runs” can never, ever, make literal sense. Now, I understand what Guillen is trying to say – as when he says “our situational hitting was horrible,” he means that the team didn’t get enough hits with runners in scoring position. However, as the reporter instructs us (probably ironically) to “forget,” the White Sox were the most productive team with RISP last season. In other words, what the hell are you talking about, Ozzie Guillen?

Also, in the same SI issue, the following praise for Royals 3B prospect Alex Gordon:

“He’s a total stud, a five-tool guy,” says one AL West scout. “And he’s a gamer. I saw him last year, and he dived headfirst into first base to try to beat the throw. In Double A ball!”

Well, diving into first, as opposed to just running through the bag, 1) slows you down, making it harder to beat the throw, and 2) exposes you to injury. So what this scout is saying is, “He already has a bad habit, and I want to encourage him in it.” How long will players keep doing this thing that everyone knows is a bad idea? Probably at least as long as they keep getting meaningless compliments for it.

February 8, 2007

What do I look like, someone who’s not lazy?

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me, Science and Technology — tomemos @ 2:27 am

When I was in Oxford for my year abroad, I had a persistent problem with oversleeping. I’ve never been a morning person, and in Oxford this problem was compounded by two factors. First, I had to write a paper for each of my two tutorials every week, so I had invariably been up late writing the night before. Second, tutorials in the British university system are one-on-one meetings between student and professor, so if you oversleep, the class doesn’t go on without you; there’s just a professor sitting in their office, looking at the clock. Faced with this humiliating consequence, and in fact experiencing it quite a few times, I tried everything—short of, you know, planning my week so I could write the paper and still get a good night’s sleep. Drinking coffee just before getting into bed, booby-trapping my alarm clock with a tower of empty aluminum cans…it all ended the same way, with furious pedalling mixed with panicked swearing.

One night, finally lying down at 4 a.m. or so, I was kept awake, or half-awake, by the certain knowledge that in five hours my alarm clock was going to go off and that I wasn’t even going to dream about it. “If only there was some way to keep my alarm clock from turning off until I was out of bed,” I thought. “Maybe if my bed contained a scale, one that was hooked up to my alarm clock. Then, the alarm clock wouldn’t be silenced until it detected that my body weight had left the bed!” I drifted into sleep, not realizing until much later that I had just proposed, if only to myself, a $15,000 device to help me get up in the morning. I was probably late for my tutorial the next morning.

I tell that story to get a laugh, but part of me has always thought it was a neat idea, one that served a real need in an over-the-top way. And tonight I’m feeling vindicated, because while science hasn’t yet gotten around to the AlarmScale (suggestions of better names welcome), it has finally realized that an alarm clock should make you get out of bed:

If a screeching buzzer is not enough to get you moving in the morning, consider Clocky.

This alarm clock doesn’t just make noise, it breaks the snooze-button habit: after the first snooze period, Clocky rolls off the nightstand and runs away.

Clocky generated Internet buzz in 2005 when it was just a conceptual design project by Gauri Nanda, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is now an actual product, available for $50 at www.nandahome.com.

The clock can survive a two-foot drop and the alarm beeps randomly, ensuring that its frantic squalling won’t be easily forgotten. It comes in white, light blue and light green.

Now, I’ve improved considerably since my time in Oxford, certainly beyond the point that I could justify owning a $50 ambulatory alarm clock (though if anyone’s looking for a kooky birthday present…). Nonetheless, Clocky here goes to show that there is always money to be made catering to the lazy. After all, there are entire companies that have become hugely successful simply by manufacturing extremely comfortable chairs, some of which can give you massages. It’s about time someone used technology to address one of laziness’s more prominent downsides.

Update (2/8/07, 10:30 p.m.):  Just in case this post isn’t self-deprecating enough already, Julie assures me that she told me about Clocky months ago, when it first came out.  Clearly my alertness has not improved as much as I’d like to think.

December 25, 2006

Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!

Filed under: Film and Video, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 1:48 pm

Some notes on Christmas ’06:

 *We watched It’s a Wonderful Life last night.  I hadn’t seen it in years (except for the 30-second bunnies version), so I remembered hardly any of the essential details. It’s a good movie, despite some strange editing errors, and the ending is genuinely moving. However, there was a hilariously dated part near the end (spoiler warning, I guess). George Bailey is wandering around Pottersville, discovering one alternate-reality horror after another – his brother is dead, the downtown is a center of sin and misery, the place is called Pottersville – all because he’s never been born. Then, finally, he comes upon the final straw, the awful revelation that sends him racing back to the bridge to beg for his life back: his wife is unmarried at 35! And she’s a librarian! And she wears glasses!

I mean, when George asks Clarence “where’s my wife? Where’s Mary?” and Clarence doesn’t want to tell him, I sort of assumed that she was a prostitute or a burlesque dancer or something. But no, she’s just an old maid with her hair in a bun. And why would George’s absence make her wear glasses, anyway? Maybe it’s related to being a librarian, because reading is super-bad for women’s vision.

*I’ve come full circle from the Christmas ideal, where people give you things you like so you can save your money for things you need. The problem is that the adults in my life have no connection to things I like; it feels weird to ask my parents for albums they’ve never heard of, let alone the video games that they thought I was going to outgrow eventually. So the best Christmas presents I get these days are practical gifts – clothes, reference books – that let me save my money for toys. That culminated in my best present so far this year: a new set of hubcaps for my car, whose wheels have been naked (and gradually rusting) for as long as I’ve owned it. I was outside putting them on, hearing the neighborhood kids yell their favorite presents to each other: “I got the new iPod!” “I got an XBox 360!” Meanwhile there I was, hammering on my Christmas present, making an old car new.

*Finally, James Brown died. I was stunned; I had no idea he was 73, and even then he’s been such an icon for my entire life that it’s impossible to imagine him dead. Down here in Yorba Linda, I found out online; he died too late for the newspaper, and it occurred to me that my parents (who don’t get online very often) wouldn’t have heard. I planned to tell them during my “Merry Christmas” call, but I couldn’t do it. You can’t interrupt a gift-giving session with news like that.

August 30, 2006

Out with the old, in with the nucleus

Filed under: General Me — tomemos @ 12:29 am

Welcome to my shinier, lovelier, workier blog! Unlike my swan song at Raptor, which reflected the irritating circumstances of my departure, my views of the future are nothing but rosy. Importing my past entries was a breeze, I have a Recent Comments thing (love those), and I’ll look into the song tracker so you can always know when I’m going through a Elton John phase or whatever. I’ve only had two problems since moving here. The first was when I imported the old entries and comments—somehow (perhaps because the MT Blacklist has no power here) over 200 spam comments were added to old entries, pretending to be from you, my friends and confidants. I think I managed to delete them all without banning anybody, but let me know if you have any trouble commenting. (Your early comments may need to be approved by me, and approved they shall. Be. Approved.)

The second problem has to do with the one thing you can’t do at WordPress: put formatting in the blog titles. So my entry on Amazon’s Slim Jim offer, which on MT was titled “The Internet is for Porn Beef,” appeared here as “The Internet is for Porn Beef.” That lost a lot of the humor I intended—everyone knows the internet is for porn beef—so I changed it to “The Internet is for Porn/Beef.” If that’s unsatisfactory, you can always go back to Raptor and go wistfully through the archives. No, I will not give that link.

Thanks for joining me as I christen the new Tomemos!

Update: Man, it took me like no seconds to add an even better recent track listing, using RSS. As you can see, it’s all rap songs right now. No surprise there; I just finished GTA: San Andreas.

Coming soon I’ll be adding the rest of the links to other blogs and such. And writing a real entry.

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