Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nerd Journal: DVD Junkie Joy

Ohhh, yes. I got home from school and the Amazon box was waiting for me. Nerd nirvana! The follow-up to yesterday's nutty post consists only of 2 words:


Yeah, I need some hot-rod red in my semester.

Schadenfreude Alert: Humorous Letter By Bank Customer

That witty Eric D. Snider has a hilarious open letter to his bank, Washington Mutual. Here's a piece of it:
Dear Washington Mutual,

. . . I'm writing to you because it seems that you are in desperate straits, and I want to point and laugh at your misfortune the way you have frequently pointed and laughed at mine. Like many banks, you have been struggling because of the recent problems on Wall Street, which I do not pretend to understand. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I do pretend to understand them. I nod my head and frown thoughtfully when I read news articles about the crisis, but secretly I'm thinking about Hot Pockets, and how I would like to eat some.

Now comes the news that you, Washington Mutual, have FAILED! In fact, you are the biggest bank failure in HISTORY! Panicked customers withdrew $16.7 billion in just 10 days, making you no longer solvent, and the federal government had to step in and seize you. Then JPMorgan Chase purchased your entire company for a scant $1.9 billion. If no buyer had been found and you'd collapsed entirely, you would have nearly depleted the FDIC's insurance funds. In short, you are a burden on society and an embarrassment to the banking community. You are the Kevin Federline of banks.

"The Kevin Federline of banks"! *Giggle*

Quirky Asia Files: Strangely Colorful Yet Uncomfortable Apartments in Tokyo, Japan

Do take a look! The apartments are actually designed to be uncomfortable (!) The link includes video of these outrageously colorful residences.

Taiwan: the US Arms Freeze Changes the Status Quo, Strengthens Beijing's Hand

The Heritage Foundation has a new piece on Taiwan and the US arms that are now in limbo.

Horrible-sounding excerpt:
President Bush’s failure to submit congressional notifications for the multibillion-dollar Taiwanese arms tranche raises the prospect that he is washing his hands of Taiwan’s security concerns. . . . As Taiwan engages Beijing directly with new initiatives across the Taiwan Strait, its leaders now lack the single most important asset they need to negotiate successfully with Beijing: a strong military defense.

This arms freeze violates the Taiwan Relations Act as far as I'm concerned, it's out of step with Reagan's Six Assurances to Taiwan, and it also changes the much-ballyhooed "status quo" that the US supposedly wants to keep. I'm disgusted.

Follow that up with this "OMG!" excerpt from the same article:
Senior Bush Administration officials, current and former, say privately it is a safe bet that Chinese President Hu will pocket President Bush’s Taiwan arms freeze and confront the next U.S. President to maintain the Bush “baseline.” The Chinese will threaten the next Administration with “serious consequences” if the U.S. “backslides” on the issue. If a President Obama or a President McCain fails to withstand China’s pressure on Taiwan, the rest of democratic Asia must prepare itself for a major blow to American leadership in the Pacific and accommodation of China as rule-maker.

What a total, unmitigated, disastrous mess.

RELATED POSTS here and here.

Financial Fun: Economic Mess as College Basketball Tournament

It's March Madness -- errr, I mean, September Madness! College basketball fans will definitely recognize this chart! (Click to enlarge.) Who's going to make the Final Four?

Film Culture Commentary: Yet Another List of 500 Greatest Films

The trouble with Empire's ranked list of 500 movies is that the choices and rankings are mostly silly. In all honesty, I can't take a list seriously if it ranks "Four Weddings and a Funeral" above "Ben-Hur." Are you kidding me???

Also, "Superman Returns" has NO BUSINESS being on any list of supposedly great movies, and the same goes for "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Empire's list is a mess, though the top 100 is slightly less embarrassing than the rest of it.

Nerdworld Soundtrack, Bailout/Financial Apocalypse Edition, Part 3: Alanis and/or Seal

Never let it be said that MM faced GLOBALFINANCIALDOOMSDAY!!!! without her usual sense of humor (admittedly, the humor now has taken on a distinct edge).

Add this to the Nerdworld Soundtrack, Financial Apocalypse edition: "Crazy." You can choose Seal's version or Alanis Morrisette's!

Previous tracks in my list of Music for Money Madness were:

Crank up the volume and start hoarding your pennies in the freezer. Also, feel free to suggest more appropriate tunes in Comments.

The Paulson Panic and the Failure of Politics (and Nerves)

Well, with the collapse of the Paulson plan in DC yesterday and the stock market free-fall of 700 points, apparently it's financial Armageddon according to breathless reporters/panic-mongers. Even the Financial Times has lost its cool; it organizes all its reports now under the label "Global Financial Crisis." Seriously. A little incendiary, don't you think?

Will everybody please calm down and work the problem? Running around screaming isn't going to help. Especially when the people doing the running and screaming are supposed to be the media-and-political elite. If the situation weren't so grim, this farcical "leadership" and "journalism" would provoke gales of heckling and hysterical laughter from an angry, weary, skeptical, and increasingly hostile citizenry. This current Congress has an approval rating in the teens. It's obvious why.

I think it's also time for MM Blog to take off its gloves and ladle some contempt and disgust on Congress. From the total failure of leadership by the disastrous Nancy Pelosi to the complete inability of the entire Washington club to find real solutions for real problems (including the problems that they've created themselves), the whole episode has been a catalog of cascading failures. Shame! As for the Paulson plan, there were plenty of things desperately wrong with it. (Among them: the failure even to explain it adequately.)

Take a look at this. Everybody in the political class gets a well-deserved tonguelashing--Democrats and Republicans alike. Blurb:
America has survived a feckless political class in the past, and it will again after this week. But Monday's crash and burn of the Paulson plan on Capitol Hill reveals a Washington elite that has earned every bit of the disdain that Americans have for it. This crowd can't even make sausage.

Oh, snap!

So, what to do, what to do? Should I turn hard-core survivalist? Maybe I should get off my laptop so I can go build a bunker, and fill it with bottled water, canned goods, ammunition, and appropriate movies. It's Armageddon! Funny, I always thought Armageddon would have more hellfire and brimstone than smelly mortgages and smellier leadership. *snort of derision*

UPDATE: Look at this takedown:
Above all, though, this is a failure of politics. Like with global warming, with health care, with the national debt, with immigration. It is further proof that we have a calcified political system incapable of responding to either long-term threats or short-term crises. The electoral and partisan incentives have made actual action too dangerous and rendered obstruction everyone's easy second choice.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nerd Journal Confessions of an Entertainment JUNKIE: "Supernatural" Addiction + "Iron Man" DVD Tomorrow!

When it comes to entertainment, it is my great vice and my great pleasure. I don't even bother denying it anymore. (Did I ever bother?) The Nerd Lords would be horrified and disgusted if they only knew. What I am doing, indulging in pop culture? I should be buried in research! Well, I *am* buried in research. But that doesn't mean that I can't multi-task.

The "Supernatural" addiction is in full evil flower now, and I devoured the season two box set in about 2 days. (It is indeed worlds better than season one.) Also, I'll have you know, Il Barista called me to report that La Parisienne cackled with sheer Schadenfreude when she read my blog-confession. She's a shameless, cheerfully energetic enabler of my vice in general and "Supernatural" in particular -- hey, what are friends for, right? All my resistance has completely crumbled. I'm not even trying to hold back now. In the current absence of any Joss Whedon shows, I guess "Supernatural" is filling the void. And I might as well have fun with it, right? "Buffy" or "Angel" at their best could run rings around silly "Supernatural," but "Buffy" and "Angel" aren't on the air anymore. And I just gotta get some vampire-killing and demon-hunting because -- quite frankly -- it's cathartic. (Plus, the music is fabulous.)

I have to say, though, that I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that I've fallen from grace here or that I have to endure the teasing of my friends and Sibling. I guess a little humorous humiliation keeps me from becoming too snotty and self-righteous! But now I think back to the (recent) past when I made fun of people who liked "Supernatural," and I just want to cringe -- and then I'll rush off to watch "Tall Tales" again because that episode is simply hilarious. HEY, I DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM! I CAN STOP ANY TIME I WANT TO! OHMANPASSME ANOTHERDVD--NOW!!!

I'm now on the cusp of adding more fuel to the fire of my entertainment junkie-hood, because tomorrow is September 30: that long-awaited day when "Iron Man" comes out on DVD! YES! That 2-disc edition will finally be mine!

I'm doomed. Perhaps another way to look at this is to say that I'm in clover. I have a soft spot for smart, sassy, humorously quippy heroes who look darn good while firing weapons and cracking jokes, and I'll have no shortage right now.

Oh, don't worry about my nerd responsibilities. I just turned in a massive paper today (it was nerderiffic and 30 pages long -- not counting the bibliography), and I'm working on another two papers even while I'm teaching my hordes of undergraduates. I'm a diligent nerd most of the time. And it's nobody's business that I'm crafting my perfectly footnoted papers while watching DVDs about demon-hunting brothers or playboy genius industrialists who can fly. Why the heck not -- nearly all of my previous papers were written in the dead of night accompanied by DVDs of one type or another.

But lest anyone be mistaken: I am NOT a role model. I am a VERY BAD EXAMPLE of a nerd, so for your own sake, DO NOT DO AS I DO.

PS: Yes, La Parisienne and Kamikaze Editor, I used the word "devour" deliberately.

MM in the Kitchen: Honey Cake and Honey Lavender Cookies for Jewish New Year

Honey cake for a sweet new year ahead. Or honey lavender shortbread cookies? I'm dying to try these delicious-looking recipes, and I'm not even Jewish!

MM in the Kitchen: Hainanese Chicken Rice

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, yessssssssssssss. So simple, yet so good.

Nerdworld Soundtrack, Bailout/Financial Apocalypse Edition, Part 2: R.E.M.

The House rejects the bailout for a variety of reasons, and the stock market takes a nosedive.

So how am I going to follow this morning's "Don't Fear the Reaper"? How about the afternoon's R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)."

Nerdworld Soundtrack, Bailout/Financial Apocalypse Edition: Blue Oyster Cult

Do you remember what The Reagan once said? "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'"?

The Great Bailout Boondoggle of 2008 is in full swing and I have a nasty feeling about it, plus it's Monday at Nerdworld and I'm already up and working on a paper and going insane. I think it's time for another sarcastic, bitterly humorous addition to the Nerdworld Soundtrack.

This is as appropriate a song as I could find for all the predictions of doom and gloom, along with my short version of Paulson's position ("Give me all your money or we're all going to die!"). I give you . . . Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper."

Bailout: "Big Government Meets Corporate Welfare"

Read this editorial. It captures my thoughts pretty well, along with my disgust with the Washington crowd. Here's a piece of it:

Government promises all sorts of things, but its plans never work. There's no reason to think a federal government plan to "save" an incredibly complex financial system from collapse will work as planned any more than those Soviet five-year plans worked as predicted. No one's plan works as planned, whether the planner works in the private sector or the public sector. But in the private sector, private money is at risk, whereas government officials have coercive power and your money.

Well, it's that darn OPM addiction!

RELATED POST: "This isn't capitalism. This is a peculiar kind of corporatist socialism."

UPDATE: Fabulous cartoon!

Monday Therapy and Nerd Fun: Worst Name Ever for a University

Its sister campus is Idiot College.

By the way, I did actually look into this. The university is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina; here is the website! The name of the place is, I think, lost in translation.

Taiwan: Featured in Canadian Travel Report

Well, hey! It's always nice to see Taiwan in a travel report. The island isn't only a source of international headaches. It's also a beautiful place that's wonderful fun, and I do wish there were more reports about this non-political Taiwan. After all, this Taiwan is the reason why we fight. This is where people acually live. Get to know the place. I can't wait to go back and visit. (And eat, too.)

Little stories like this new travel piece (from Canada.com) will help a wider audience get acquainted with that little leaf-shaped island: "Wait for the magic to embrace you in vibrant Taiwan."

More info about Taiwan tourism here and here.

RELATED POST: The New York Times' recent Taipei food and restaurant guide.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why Starbucks Coffee Is Better . . .

It has no bats in it!

Ranking Courts and Judicial Systems in Asia

The China Law Blog has the link. Short version -- here are the 12 nations involved, ranked from best to worst. Look, of course, for Taiwan and China.
  1. Hong Kong
  2. Singapore
  3. Japan
  4. South Korea
  5. Taiwan
  6. Philippines
  7. Malaysia
  8. India
  9. Thailand
  10. China
  11. Vietnam
  12. Indonesia

Satire Alert (?): A Modest Proposal for Personal Bailouts

Is this really satire or a brilliant scheme that's too brilliant for the real world?

My friend Alessandra has a counter-proposal for the estimated $700 billion government bailout. She suggested instead that the government not bail out those big financial operations. Instead, it should take that $700 billion and divide it up among every American over the age of 18.

For the sake of argument, I'll only use the number of 300 million, which is the most recent number for the American population. Divide up $700 billion among 300 million. You do the math! 300 million personal financial bailouts.

What would you do with your share? I'd first pay off all my debts (school loan-debt is a curse), buy a few things (like a house -- forget a mortgage too, as I'll just slap down the full sum for it), invest and save most of the cash wisely, and cheerfully declare financial stability. I'd set up a charity so I can do some philanthropy, like set up scholarships for hard-working but poor students, create support programs for people trying to get off government welfare (but they have to be actively trying to achieve independence!), and give some money to local libraries. Then I'd throw a few things in a suitcase, grab all my friends, and disappear for a nice long holiday in Euroland and Asia. Then maybe I'll buy an island and use it as my headquarters for my evil plan to take over the world or hold it ransom for . . ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Ooops, sorry, too many movies!

Seriously, though: the Alessandra Bailout would enable millions of Americans to get out of debt and spend money like maniacs, therefore giving the economy a big boost. Also, the plan would place the onus for financial wisdom and future solvency squarely on the INDIVIDUAL. The government can, and should, say, "Here's your one-time bailout. That's all. After this, no more help."

Wouldn't the Alessandra Plan be kind of . . . awesome? Oh, and it would bypass the whole superstructure of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, etc. Instead of saving them, the Alessandra Bailout would save individuals. It'd even let all those fools who got bad mortgages the ability to pay off those things and own those houses that they shouldn't have gotten in the first place.

OK, so this little plan would never happen in real life. But if you think it's stupid, then you should tell me why the $700 billion government bailout to prop up rotten Wall Street operations is any better.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike, apparently!

UK Report: British Banks Want Government Bailout

So the financial fever has hit the Brits now too. Bailout-mania! Bailout-fest! Bailout-palooza! Why not? Heck, everybody's jumping on the bailout bandwagon. Is it the road to salvation or the lemming road over the cliff?

Taiwan: White House Opposes Bill to End Arms Freeze

Here's the follow-up to last week's post:

The administration of US President George W. Bush said it “strongly opposes” a bill approved by the US House of Representatives last week aimed at prodding the administration into ending its freeze on arms sales to Taiwan, saying the bill would impose unconstitutional requirements on the executive branch and harm the president’s foreign policy-making authority.

In letters to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman sent on Tuesday, the departments of state and justice criticized the bill’s provisions requiring the administration to give regular detailed briefings to Congress on its plans for arms sales to Taiwan and any discussions with Taiwan officials. The letters were sent the same day the House approved the bill by a voice vote without objections.

Meanwhile, prospects that the sales could get through the necessary congressional notification process this year appeared to die on Friday, which was to have been the final day of the two-year 110th Congress’ term, with congressional sources saying the administration had yet to begin the first steps in the process, which must precede the formal notification.

Of course, as I did say previously, this bill is really symbolic and had virtually no chance of actual success as a bill. But the point remains: it's a reminder, a jab, and a critique of the current stalling on arms to Taiwan, and I think it was necessary as a message.

In a "through-the-looking-glass" sort of twist, the KMT and Ma say they are resolved to acquire defensive arms from the US.

Is this a sign of the Apocalypse? I'm tempted to say yes! I mean, really, do the KMT and I actually -- for once -- declare that we actually want the same thing? OMG! But, as long as Taiwan gets its full complement of missiles, submarines, helicopters, etc. and gets them while they may still be of use, I can live with the weirdness.

Film and Language: The Art of the Accent

Dirty Harry has a nice post about the art of the accent. Language lovers, take a look! Here's a snippet:
The secret to affecting a credible on-screen accent is to perform it in such a way that the audience doesn’t notice . . . If during the performance the audience is thinking, “Great accent,” uhm, no it’s not, because obviously it’s taking you out of the story.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nerdworld Soundtrack: Song for a Tired and Savage Nerd

Maybe Congreve is right in his 1697 play The Mourning Bride when he said, "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast."

It's nearly lunchtime, I've been pounding away at my work since 6 AM, I feel as though I'm making no real progress even though I've burned through piles of work and sent a million business-related emails, and I am utterly exhausted and out of sorts. Plus I have a case of eyestrain like you wouldn't believe. My eyeballs are going to pop out of my head at any moment now. I want to take a sledgehammer and smash my laptop. I teach a class later too. I hope I don't shred any undergraduate who is intrepid enough to cross me when I'm in a mood like this one.

On the Nerdworld Soundtrack right now as a desperate attempt to prevent me from sinking into homicide (or computer-cide!): the lyrical, lovely strains of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." No "Poison" today -- I need to detox from research-mania.

Taiwan: New Resolution in US Congress to End Arms Freeze (Updated with a Rant)

Via Taipei Times and Michael Turton is the latest news. (Xie-xie, Congressman Tancredo and everyone else who was part of this!) The resolution is mainly symbolic, but still, it is something.

Previous posts about freezing arms to Taiwan here and here.

I'm too tired and busy to post extensively about Taiwan's defensive situation and its ramifications, so I leave it up to you to do your homework. You can *insert MM rant here.*

Here's probably the quote of the day as quoted in the Times piece: "Obviously, the White House does not understand the Taiwan Relations Act." -- Representative David Scott (D-GA).

I also leave you with this blurb via Turton's post:
The Formosan Association for Public Affairs applauds introduction of this resolution and urges Congress to act on it before adjournment. FAPA President Bob Yang, Ph.D. stated: "The US Administration's stalling on the arms sales to Taiwan is both bad strategy and a direct violation of the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances: delaying the arms sales is playing into China's hands, which wants the sales stopped altogether, so Taiwan has increasingly less leverage in its negotiations with China."

Yang adds: "To those who have worked hard and sacrificed to help make Taiwan a free and democratic country, the American hesitations to move forward with these sales are undermining US credibility as a proponent of democracy in East Asia."

Well, DUH! Besides, somewhere in Beijing, the CCP is smiling.

PS: A thought occurred to me. Perhaps it's unfair (even very unfair) for me to make this comparison, but I'm tired and angry and headachy and therefore feeling reckless. (Is this usually when I write the most interesting posts, I wonder? Or when I make my stupidest mistakes? Both?)

Let's talk about a tale of two arms freezes, shall we? After the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the EU slapped an arms embargo on China: no selling weapons to Beijing. I'll even opine that no matter what China-apologists say, these arms are mainly de facto offensive arms: who, seriously now, is going to be assaulting China militarily so that it needs mountains of strictly defensive arms? It hasn't even had any reason to uncork its current arsenal in any meaningful defensive way: if memory serves, the Chinese had been busy using its firepower on dissident students and, more recently, on Tibetans.

Now here's the other arms freeze. The Untied States, under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, has certain obligations to the defense of Taiwan. These have included sales of defensive armaments to Taiwan, and this isn't new. Hell, if one party in the cross-Strait situation needs actual and meaningful defenses, it's Taiwan. Which location has 1000+ missiles constantly aimed at it? By a nation that threatens violence? that has actually used violence on its own people in a spectacular fashion in 1989 and is still censoring and imprisoning dissidents even now? So here is the upshot: a fresh set of arms to Taiwan has been approved, but the actual transaction has been frozen. Critics are stating that this looks like wavering on the commitment to the TRA and Taiwan or, even worse, currying favor with Beijing. Meanwhile, we're all wasting time, and time is something Taiwan doesn't have as Beijing keeps spending more and more on its own military budget.

So look at the weird juxtaposition of two arms freezes: the EU's to China and the current de facto American one to Taiwan. One of these freezes makes sense. The other does NOT.

Note: please do not hassle me about previous internal Taiwanese political wrangling between KMT and DPP over the military budget. I *know.* I know and I've spent plenty of time slamming the internal dissension. This time, though, I'm slamming the US's wishy-washy stalling. It looks bad. It *IS* bad. It ultimately weakens the democratic elements involved and emboldens the autocrats. I don't buy the arguments that the stalling is prudent statecraft that somehow mollifies Beijing and/or defuses the tensions in the Taiwan Strait. (Hey, if you want me to buy that, are you going to throw the Golden Gate Bridge in too? Pfffft.)

OK. I guess this is now officially a Rant. I said I wasn't going to rant. I guess I lied. Maybe I should go into politics or diplomacy.

China: Censorship and Cultural Consequences

Here is a new piece on Chinese censorship by Boston University literature professor Ha Jin. See too what he says about self-censorship and the ultimately destructive nature of Beijing's policies. You've all seen (unless you are a deluded undergraduate leftist poseur) the physically harmful effects of China's autocratic sway. Killing the body is one thing, but killing the mind . . . The mental massacre continues unabated.

Here's a blurb:
Rigid censorship not only chokes artistic talent but also weakens the Chinese populace, who are forced to be less imaginative and less inventive. The crisis in education has been a hot topic in China for years. Why are so many Chinese students good at taking tests but poor at analytical thinking? Why are many Chinese college graduates less creative and innovative than college graduates in the West? Besides the commercialization of education, the absence of a free, tolerant environment has stunted the intellectual growth of students and teachers. People often ask how many great original thinkers and artists modern China has contributed to the world, and how many original products China has created on its own. Very few, considering that the country has 1.3 billion people. True, China is richer than before, but its wealth relies on duplicating and emulating foreign products. Such wealth is temporary and will dwindle away. Without its own original cultural and material products, a country can never stay rich and strong. In other words, the real wealth a country has is the talent of its people. In the case of China, the way to nurture that talent is to lift the yoke of censorship.

Satire Alert: Bush Says Congress Must Act Now to Save Foolish People From Their Own Bad Decisions

Scrappleface strikes again with a jab at the President's recent televised speech to the nation about the financial situation and proposed bailout. (It was a speech, BTW, that made me want to scream.) So, here is a piece of the Scrappleface satire:
The foundation of the U.S. economy could crumble, President George Bush said today, if Congress fails to approve a U.S. Treasury plan to take over foundering financial firms, a proposal which the president called “a much-needed 21st-century civil rights act for stupid people.”

“To sustain this shining city on a hill,” Mr. Bush said, “we need to rescue the ignorant, irresponsible folks — from Wall Street to Capitol Hill to Main Street — who got us to where we are today. We must guarantee that no American suffers the soft bigotry of being forced to live with the consequences of his bad decisions.”

The bailout mess has proved to be, among other things, a rich source of inspiration for satirists. Previous examples are here and here.

Friday Fun: Units of Measurement

Yes, really! Units of measurement can actually be fun!

The Sensible Units website asks you to supply any measurement. It then converts that amount into an equivalent amount of actual objects. Check it out!

(I typed in "1 kilogram." The program then told me that 1 kilogram = 18 tennis balls or 7 computer mice.)

50 Greatest Villains in Literature

It's time to practice your diabolical laughter, gentle reader, as you read a (completely subjective) list of literature's 50 greatest villains.

The choices and the rankings are debatable, of course! Choose your favorite -- a villain you love (or love to hate).

I think Richard III, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Cassius from Shakespeare all deserve a place of (dis)honor. I cannot believe that Claudius from "Hamlet" made the list and these other towering sinners did not. At least Iago is on the list at #4. Also, how about Sir Mordred (Malory's version? T.H. White's)?

On the distaff side of the list, where's the beautiful but evil Milady from Dumas' "The Three Musketeers"? Clytemnestra from Aeschylus or Euripides' Medea? The various versions of Morgan le Fay?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nerd Fun: Careers and Grammar

Entertainment Debate: TV Versus Movies, Part Deux

In the ongoing TV-vs.-movies debate, Christian Toto has now posted his defense of the cinema!

Nerd Journal: Falling Prey to "Supernatural"

True confessions time. I've laughed at La Parisienne and the Cinema-Mad Sibling for a while now for their watching "Supernatural." A long time ago, I'd watched the pilot, thought it was terrible, and never went back despite La Parisienne's protestations that the show improved over time. Ditto from the Sibling.

Within the last few weeks, the Sib, in a move of such brilliant and wicked cruelty that only a sibling could devise it, has decided to take his revenge.

This is what he did. He -- without my desire or request -- sent me the box set of season one of "Supernatural." He KNEW that when I work on my laptop, I like to have a DVD playing for noise. He KNEW I was looking for something new.

The "Supernatural" set arrived. You know what happened. Like Pandora opening her deadly box, I opened the set and stuck a DVD into my DVD player, thinking, "Meh. At least it's something I haven't seen, and I need some noise so I don't fall asleep while I'm typing footnotes."

I AM A IDIOT OF TRULY MORONIC MAGNIFICENCE. I got sucked into the show as if it were a black hole. Maybe I'm just in the right mood these days for the show's peculiar brand of completely silly entertainment, but I have to confess to an embarrassed interest. The pilot was still terrible, though, and lots of season one was too ("Bugs"?!), but I have to admit it: La Parisienne was right and the thing did improve over time. (Still, it's hard to see how it could NOT improve since it started out so badly! But anyway . . . )

Pandora's DVD Box Set

It's Thursday night, and "Supernatural" is on later. OK, Cine-Sib, La Parisienne, and Kamikaze Editor, you all win. I give up. OK. You can all go now to snicker and cackle. (But I am sure as hell NOT going to turn into a Jensen Ackles fangirl. I still have a little pride left!)

I can't believe I'm confessing to this. The strongest thing I've drunken today is bubbly aranciata -- it's just orange soda! Maybe the bubbles went to my brain. Then again, Nerdworld exhaustion and despair can make people do weird things. Plus, today I got a little package in my mailbox. It was from the Cine-Sib. I opened it, and out fell -- yes, you know it! -- season two of "Supernatural." The man is EVIL! I'm doomed. And yet now also determined to devise some kind of utterly unholy retaliation. I need some inspiration. Oh, yes. Ohhhhhh, yes.

Nerdworld Soundtrack: A Song For My Research Topic -- "Poison" by Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper's "Poison."

That is all that needs to be said, right? Research topics and I have a desperately dysfunctional love-hate-obsessive relationship. They can bring greatest joy and deepest despair -- and for me, the topic is usually some dead white guy. Currently I'm trying to write an abstract for an upcoming Nerdmoot, and as I told a friend, I'll beat my head against my desk until something useful falls out of it.

Golly, it's awful. Maybe I should really be listening to "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas.

This post is dedicated to Thalia, fellow lovely nerdette who understands the passion, despair, and dysfunction of it all.

Nerd Journal: Nerdworld as Photo: Enough Said

Out of my element, out of time, out of luck.

Rant of the Day: Targeting Gordon Brown


This rant against UK PM Gordon Brown is breathtaking in its sheer passionate (yet articulate) rage. It makes all my rants pale in comparison. Wow. (Slight language alert, BTW.)

Satire Alert: Bailout as Email Scam

Somebody over at the Volokh Conspiracy has a mordant sense of humor. I like!









Other "bailout boondoggle" satires here.

Bailout Backlash: "This isn't capitalism. It's a peculiar kind of corporatist socialism"

Read the whole thing. Here is a blurb to get started:
When you, Joe Citizen, spend frivolously and default on your loans, the bank takes your house. When the government spends your tax dollars frivolously, it simply cooks the books to cover its excesses. When the books are left in ashes, the government just takes more of your money, or it prints more money, leaving the money it hasn't already taken from you devalued. Over the last few weeks, we've learned that you now face the prospect of an additional indignity: When your neighbor's bank spends frivolously and defaults on its loans, the government's going to take your money then too, to keep the bank in business.

Many commenters have blamed all of this on capitalism. This isn't capitalism. It's a peculiar kind of corporatist socialism, where good risks and the resulting profits remain private, but bad risks and the resulting losses are passed on to taxpayers. There's nothing free-market about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Amusing Photo of the Day: Hey, Some Truth in Advertising!

From blogfriend Pursuit of Serenity comes this hilariously mis-translated menu from China. It's from --where else? -- Engrish.Com. Engrish is always good for a giggle!

Click the photo to enlarge it and then look in the upper right corner.

After all the scandals about tainted Chinese food products,
one restaurant decides that honesty is the best policy.

Entertainment Debate: TV Versus Movies

There's a fun and fascinating debate going on at What Would Toto Watch.

Part 1 kicked off the debate. Part 2 is a TV-phile's declaration of TV supremacy. Coming soon: part 3 will be Toto's defense of movies.

Aren't we rather comparing apples and oranges, though? A little bit?

Here's an idea to throw into the mix: what happens when movie stars try to do TV or when TV stars try to do movies? Sometimes the results are delightful, sometimes disastrous, sometimes dizzily goofy. Three examples, perhaps:
  • Delightful: Robert Downey Jr. is a cinema figure, but his turn as lawyer Larry Paul on the fourth season of TV's "Ally McBeal" was a consistently charming (and Golden Globe-winning) performance.
  • Disastrous: Katie Holmes made a name for herself as Joey Potter on TV's "Dawson's Creek," but her movie appearances haven't been impressive. Some have been flat awful. (*cough* "Batman Begins"! *cough*)
  • Dizzily goofy: William Shatner in anything on TV. "DENNY CRANE!"
Oh, and what about some cool twists on the movie-TV divide? TV's lamentably canceled series "Firefly" made the leap to the big screen as "Serenity." (And, IMHO, made the leap well.)

Demographics in the United States Military

You might be surprised by the results of this new study. It explodes several persistent and pernicious myths.

Related factoid: 3 out of the 4 candidates running for the country's top offices this year have a son currently serving in the military.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nerd + Kitchen Notes: Richard II's Recipes

A cookbook from the 14th century is going online, courtesy of the University of Manchester!

Quirky Euro Files: Bavarian Germans Upset at Cheap Chinese Lederhosen

I'm sorry, but I think I'm posting this just so I can say "Chinese Lederhosen."

Bonus quirkiness: the article refers to the mini-political kerfuffle in Munich now known as "Dirndl-Gate." Really.

What's German for "wardrobe malfunction"? I'm simply tickled by all this. (Golly, can you imagine me wearing a dirndl? Hilarious! Plus I'll put the Cinema-Mad Sibling into some lederhosen, hahaha.)

Movie News: Timur Bekmambetov Reimagines "Moby Dick"


Obama and Taiwan: Just More Empty Campaign Rhetoric?

Hmmm, interesting. The editorial is clearly biased in Taiwan's favor, but this excerpt raises questions about Obama:
Commenting on Ma’s election, Senator Barack Obama stated that the U.S. should respond by “rebuilding a relationship of trust and support” with democratic Taiwan. “The U.S. should reopen blocked channels of communication with Taiwan officials” said Obama.

. . .
So months before Senator Obama stated that the U.S. “should reopen blocked channels of communications with Taiwan officials,” he had an opportunity to both co-sponsor and help push through his committee a resolution advocating for just such a re-opening of communication with Taiwan.

Actions speak louder than words. And Senator Obama’s failure to take action—even such symbolic action as a concurrent resolution-- to “reopen” blocked communication with democratic Taiwan makes his statement about “rebuilding a relationship of trust and support” with Taiwan seem like little more than campaign rhetoric.

The writer's talking about Senate Concurrent Resolution 48 (S.CON.RES.48), introduced by Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota in October 2007.

Nerd News: Berkeley Unleashes Legal Hell On Tree-Huggers

Schadenfreude Alert: I am absolutely GIDDY with wicked glee at this story! I am SO labeling this story with the "Awesomeness" tag. Seriously, look at the spectacle: leftist university unleashing a legal smackdown against whining enviro-fanatics. PASS THE POPCORN!

Besides, when do I ever go on record thinking Berkeley (aka "Berserkley") has done something awesome? This is a red letter day indeed.

Satire Alert: US Congress in Rehab for OPM Addiction

I couldn't help myself. Here is a new satire.

For a bailout satire written by a real satirist, check out Scrappleface's on Wall Street as the 51st state.

Kitchen Notes: Candy Salad

YUMMY! And totally bad for you!

From Bad to Worse: Dems Want $50 Billion More?

Is this latest obscenity possibly for real? What fresh hell is this? Geez, politicians stabbing common sense in the back and throwing away money with both hands while the shell-shocked taxpayer stands by, open-mouthed with horror.

Ed Morrissey is outraged, as any sensible person should be, really.

Anyway, all this is, frankly, a stupid way to "stimulate" the economy. A few (billion) fistfuls of dollars won't do a thing if underlying policies and practices are rotten -- and they are.

Dear Congress,

You are all a lot of reprehensible, reckless fools and should be thrown out of office at the earliest opportunity.

Sincerely yours,
MM, Outraged Taxpayer

Nerd Notes: More Economists Versus the Bailout

Check out expert opinion by economists Steven Landsburg (also an econ prof) and Gary Becker (also a Nobel Prize laureate).

Me? I'm no economist, but I really don't like the idea of government grabbing $700 billion (billion with a B!) of taxpayer money to distribute capriciously to whatever recipient it wants. It smacks of "crony capitalism" like you'd find in crooked, corrupt nations run by kleptocrats. That's not even real capitalism at all. Capitalism at its truest means that you personally get to keep and deal with both your successes and your failures. The crowning foolishness of massive bailouts is that it makes non-failures and ordinary taxpayers ultimately pay for the failures of big financial operations. What's to keep other big operations in future from making more (and even worse) stupid decisions? They don't have to face the consequences; they can just run crying to Big Government for help, and Big Government will shell out $700 billion in Other People's Money. This is going to create a toxic environment that almost guarantees future bailouts. Besides, this is going to broaden government meddling in the financial sector in a huge way. (Needless to say, I don't think this is a good idea!)

Also, how is this bailout plan NOT, basically, the nationalization of every bad mortgage in the country? I've heard someone call this plan "cash for trash," and that sounds horribly accurate.

By the way, blog friend Pursuit of Serenity cheerfully suggests that I ask for a government bailout too. Why not? Everybody's doing it! I'm too big/small/Asian/girly/awesome/silly/nerdy/whatever-adjective-you-want to fail! Here's even a handy bailout guide if you too want a government bailout to rescue you from your own mistakes!

RELATED POST: Other economics professors pile on.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nerd Journal: Nerdworld Soundtrack Pick of the Day -- Kansas

Do you remember a previous conversation about nerd-music? Anyway, we talk a lot about movies and a bit about TV here, so why not talk more about music?

Alessandra and I were talking a while ago about a "Nerdworld Soundtrack," so I'll throw open the conversation. I have an entire iTunes playlist of songs that are, in one way or another, reflections of the whole grad school-Nerdworld experience. Maybe I'll post one now and then to see what you think.

Today? Right now I'm listening to "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas. Call it "wayward daughter" and it's me on campus. Check out the lyrics, man. Yowzers! Emotion, confusion, exhaustion, masquerading, and the frustration of not having any wisdom? It's grad school!

(Dedicated to La Parisienne and the Kamikaze Editor since the tune has appeared on our guilty TV-viewing pleasure, "Supernatural.")

Monday Therapy: Clean Energy?

From TigerHawk comes this amusing (if rather Schadenfreude-ish) photo link to bring a smile to your Monday grind. Tee hee! How many carbon offsets do you think we should buy to counteract the windmill fire? Bonus giggle: this photo is certainly from Euroland.

Gaia weeps at incompetent human attempts
to save her through wind energy.

Public Service Announcement: Some Feminists Are Idiots

Here's your PSA of the day: if some self-proclaimed campus feminist makes a goofy gender-based argument, that doesn't mean that (a) she's right or (b) the argument has merit. In fact, she could be a total loon. Here's something interesting to read. It contains this utterly loopy quote by a feminist who, apparently, believes the tripe she's actually saying:
What we were taught as logic is simply what we were taught and thus not logical, but you have to question it before you can see it as ‘not logical’. My views can be perceived as not ‘logical’ because they are deviating from taught beliefs. Logic doesn’t mean it makes sense. It means it follows a certain line of thinking. It is the certain line of thinking women have attempted to confront.

Say WHAT? Is she really saying that "women aren't logical"? What kind of reductionist sexist garbage is this? And is logic somehow supposed to be gender-oppressive? Women are supposed to confront logic? Oppose logic? With what? Emotions? Good grief. Well, I guess I'm not really a woman then, since I insist on arguments actually making sense.

Nerd Notes: 2 Economics Professors on Government Bailouts

Here's what Luigi Zingales, econ prof at the University of Chicago has to say. Link via Hahvahd econ prof Greg Mankiw. My emphasis in italics.
The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S. economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the next fifty years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are socialized? Where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live in a system where people are held responsible for their decisions, where imprudent behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded? For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system.

All too true.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kitchen Notes and Taiwan: Food Heaven in Taipei

Finally, a little respect and acknowledgement! The New York Times has a new article focused on food in Taipei. That food is flat-out awesome, and I'll quote the American reporter too:
. . . food is one arena where Taipei — the world’s most underrated capital city, according to Monocle magazine — blows Beijing away. Its food incorporates more influences, spans street food to haute cuisine with greater aplomb and is out and out more delicious than that of its mainland counterpart.

Heck, YEAH! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Beijing! Anyway, gentle reader, do read the whole article and see why my Sibling and I eat ourselves into food comas every time we visit "the Old Country."

Oh, and be sure to check out the slideshow too.

RELATED POST: The Travel Channel show "Bizarre Foods" recently aired an episode all about Taiwanese food.

Geek Fun: The Lego Aircraft Carrier

This amazing project is enough to warrant the creation of a "Legos" blog tag. Check it out!

(Dignified Rant, this one's for you.)

Pigs Do Fly at The "New York Times": Acknowledging Progress in Iraq


Cautious optimism, but optimism all the same.

More from Instapundit.

MM in the Kitchen: Chewy Red Raspberry Squares

This recipe is currently baking in the oven and filling the apartment with a lovely fragrance. It's very comforting!

I had some leftover blueberries that I sprinkled on the raspberry preserves before I put on the crumb topping and shoved the whole pan into the oven. Yummy! Now I'm pretty sure that this recipe isn't technically "good for you" since it has all that butter and sugar, but I'm going to rationalize it to myself by saying that the oats are healthy . . . ish.

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with a glass of milk for the Kinder and a cup of good coffee for the grownups. Good as a snack or breakfast or brunch.

Italy: Requiem for Alitalia?

Last stop for Alitalia?

Love it or loathe it, Alitalia is an Italian icon. Silvio is now looking at the prospect of having to liquidate it. Oh, my.

Yes, I've flown Alitalia. The experience? Hmm. Watch this hilarious little cartoon and wait for the scene with Alitalia! Italians are all about drama, and airlines are no exception.

Movie News: Preview + Trailer of "Australia"

Check out Baz Luhrmann's latest project, an epic film about the Land Down Under, starring actual Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Here's the official website, and it has a nice trailer. The flick looks good! The stars look pretty good too, and each will (the moviemakers hope) appeal to the demographic each one is supposed to appeal to. Kidman has her usual delicate porcelain-skinned "I'll spontaneously combust if I step into the sunlight" look, and Jackman is all sorts of rugged manly-man for the ladies to say "G'day" to. I'm also hoping for -- nay, flat-out expecting and demanding --some stunning cinematography of the gorgeous Australian landscape.

The film also looks like Oscar bait, in the same way that "The Soloist" looks like it, but that's just the way things are for the holiday movie season! "Australia" opens on November 26 in the US.

PS: On the movie's website, it asks the visitor to "Choose Your Country." Taiwan is one of the choices. How long, do you think, before Beijing notices and badgers the moviemakers into changing the website? Hmmmmm?

Taiwan: Slammed Again By the UN

Another year, another rejection by the United Nations, with the bonus of a cold shoulder from the EU. (Thanks for nothing, Brussels. Hey, are you guys still trying to sell arms to China? Just asking.)

This time, though, the UN rejected not a full bid for membership as a state, but Taiwan's lesser bid to join some international agencies. Look at this:
Taiwan this month launched a bid to join the 16 U.N. Specialized Agencies rather than seeking full membership to the global body. The move was seen as an olive branch to Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory.

However, the U.N. General Committee on Wednesday decided not to put Taiwan's proposal on the agenda of the U.N. plenary session.

*Snort of derision*

Well, if the new, more conciliatory Taiwan bid can't even get a hearing, then I fail to see how the "olive branch" is yielding anything useful. Pffffffffft! Frankly, I don't see that Ma's little policy of "let's all play nicely together" is yielding anything other than more ways for Taiwan to be rejected and marginalized. I suppose folks hoped that the new "Ma Taiwan" would find more sympathy on the international scene, but of course that hasn't happened. Apparently the only people who are surprised are the Ma cheerleaders. The cynical Taiwan democrats and their supporters (like your humble blog hostess) can only scowl, growl, and howl as Taiwan dances closer to the abyss.

The official US statement on the matter supports observer status for Taiwan in the WHO. I guess it's better than nothing.

The "report" from that Beijing propaganda mill, the People's Daily, is predictably biased and florid (it uses the term "Taiwan compatriots"!). It also includes this little gem of a quote from China's UN ambassador: "People on both sides of the Taiwan Straits share the same blood and destiny." (UGH!) DESTINY?

Note to Palin-Bashing Leftist Female Critics: Please Stop Embarrassing Yourselves

S.E. Cupp says everything that I want to say:
I have a message for the self-styled guardians of womanhood who have decided that Sarah Palin is public enemy No. 1 - please stop talking. You're embarrassing yourselves and women all over the country.

You are making otherwise thoughtful, careful, intelligent, tolerant and modern American women of every political bent look and sound ridiculous. As a woman myself, I'm begging you to stop. Put the pen down, close out the blog, push the E! microphone away. Your trash-talking is disturbing and humiliating. In fact, it's setting back the true cause of feminism - the advancement of women - far more than your imagined nemesis.

. . .
Sarah Palin is of course fair game for critics - as a politician. Feel free to say what you will about her record and her positions. Feel free to arduously and passionately disagree with her. But to smear her as an embarrassment to women (nearly half the population) is, well, an embarrassment to women.

. . . Apparently, women like Sarah Palin don't have to worry about being slandered by men. Women are doing it for themselves.

Amen, sister. Can we please move past the stupid idea of "gender traitor"?

Film Culture Commentary: Are Bond Girls Sexist Eye Candy or Progressive Feminist Icons?

Well, the question depends on the actual Bond Girl in question, doesn't it?

(Still, it's hard NOT to laugh at some of the Bond Girls' names. There is one that's really unforgettable. You know who! A certain Miss Galore, perhaps, whose name was hilariously spoofed in "Austin Powers"?)

Here's my pick for a Bond Girl who wasn't just window dressing or eye candy: Michelle Yeoh as Chinese agent Wai Lin in 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies."

Public Service Announcement: 50 Free Music Downloads

Free music via the Torygraph -- I mean, the Telegraph!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nerd Notes: Desk + Treadmill = Healthy Nerd?

This would be so absolutely awesome if I could manage to (a) get a nice treadmill, and (b) get a suitable desk. Working on the computer can really be a dull and stationary business . . . I'm basically a barnacle. Link via blogging law prof Ann Althouse.

Oh, hey! If I had my own desk-treadmill set-up in my apartment, it'd be pretty sweet! I could measure each paper by how miles I walked while writing it! That's be so much fun, but this won't happen any time soon. Treadmills are expensive!

Of course, this whole treadmill-desk idea would be the human version of a . . . HAMSTER WHEEL. Hmmm.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, this entire idea seems pretty natural. I like to read while walking slowly on a treadmill: it's not heart-racing exercise, but it's not supposed to be exercise as much as it's something a bit more active than sitting and reading for hours. (Besides, it's harder for me to fall asleep if I'm walking.) And the idea of working and treadmilling at the same time reminds me of a scene straight out of that TV-movie "Dinotopia." Didn't that nerdy little dinosaur Zippo do that in the library?

Nerd Notes and Fun: 25 Top Exam Blunders

Here's some entertainment from UK test papers. My favorites from the list all come from geography:
Question: The race of people known as Malays come from which country?
Answer: Malaria

Question: What artificial waterway runs between the Mediterranean and Red Seas?
Answer: The Sewage Canal

Question: Name one famous Greek landmark.
Answer: The Apocalypse


Food Art: Scream For Ice Cream

Do you remember the old schoolyard rhyme "You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream"? Now, do you remember Norwegian artist Edvard Munch? Put the two together, and you get this glorious mashup.

No more ice cream? Oh, NOOOOOOOOOO!

Nerd News: More Politically Correct Linguistic Lunacy on UK Campuses

Oh, how the eyes roll at this latest news!

New Poll Suggests Racism Among White Democrats Can Harm Obama

What's this? Oh, live by identity politics in your party, die by identity politics in your party.

I'm also rather savagely amused at this apparent blue-on-blue race-baiting implosion. The chickens have come home to roost.

Geek News + Food Joy: The Table That's Also a Computerized Menu

Hungry and geeky Sibling, this one's for you!

There is a restaurant in London that has computerized tables; you can use the actual table to place orders from the menu. Cool!

Pop Culture Fun: The Art of Great TV Show Opening Credits

Check this out! I'm a big fan of "The Simpsons" opening credits.

Nerd Journal: Rant = "I Hate Everything" + The Semester's First Use of My "Gallic Shrug"

Oh, Saturday morning! It's been a BRUTAL week at Nerdworld (yes, a "Munch Scream" kind of week), so I'm now collapsed on the couch and contemplating what to do today while hanging on to a big cup of the Elixir of Life (more commonly known as "coffee"). Laundry needs doing, apartment needs cleaning, research needs footnoting . . . Oh, whatever. I just don't care. As a friend and fellow nerd-captive and I were saying a few days ago, by the time we drag ourselves home at the end of every campus day, we have no energy left. The only thing we seem capable of doing is sitting on the sofa in a glassy-eyed nerd-catatonic state and then maybe turning on the TV or CD player for some noise, all the while thinking, "I HATE EVERYTHING." Mind you, it's not that I hate anything in particular. It's that, surrounded by stuff that I need to do, there's SO MUCH STUFF that I don't even know where to start, the whole mess is really frustrating, and I'll just sit there and scowl at it. Unfocused rage is so unproductive, isn't it? What's worse, it's unsatisfactory. I can't even enjoy it, and that's pretty pathetic!

Still, all the emotional pressure cooker of teaching and learning has produced something truly horrifying to witness: an exhaustion that no longer cares about pretending to care. This finally happened in one of the classes that I teach. I handed back some quizzes, and one undergrad stampeded up to me after class. The kid wanted to dispute a question that I marked wrong. I looked at the answer, and it was clearly wrong. I told him that I wasn't going to change the grade and that the answer was still wrong. He proceeded to argue aggressively, and then I deployed my ultimate weapon: the Gallic Shrug. (Need a reminder of what this is?)

Actually, I was so annoyed at the situation that I actually employed the overkill tactic of combining the Gallic Shrug with a Moue and Head Tilt. (Hm, sounds like a "World of Warcraft"-like move, doesn't it?) There's no kill like overkill, frankly, and nothing makes a point like overkill. Well, Confucius say, do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from the forehead of your friend . . . but I wasn't seeing this. The student was being aggressive and even said a rude word to me to describe the unchanging grade. Disrespectful little . . . ! I was NOT going to let that go! I was seeing someone who needed to be put in his place, and I was seeing that his type of peevish, "I-deserve-a-better-mark, I can browbeat the teacher" behavior needed to be nipped in the bud right at semester's start. Besides, in my classroom, I am AUTOCRAT. You can dispute and debate as long as you are courteous and polite, but as soon as you are rude or disrespectful, I will administer a world-class BEATDOWN on you. Call me an old-school fossil, but I still believe in that old classroom hierarchy. I don't believe in the fancy new idea that somehow students are contributors of actual information in any substantive sense. I'm the teacher because I *know more than they do.* Students then discuss material and all that, but the fact remains that in the classroom, I am the authority both in terms of mastering information and leading the group. I am not their friend or peer or companion or parent-substitute or nanny or counselor or therapist. I am their INSTRUCTOR. And in the end, the almighty power of the gradebook lies in my grasping, blood-stained hands. Don't like it? Don't like my approach? Don't like me personally? Feel like I'm a despot who's oppressing you? Join another class. *Gallic Shrug + Moue + Head Tilt*

So there went the Gallic Shrug earlier this week, and it's so devastating that even the most stubborn, argumentative undergrad is forced to acknowledge defeat. The student, still angry, grabbed his quiz and slunk away. I hadn't thought that I would have to use the Gallic Shrug so early in the semester, but oh, well. There it was, and I have to say -- at the risk of sounding egotistical myself -- that I have great shoulder action for this! The other great thing about the Gallic Shrug (with variations) is that it's totally non-verbal. It's actually rather . . . subtle. The physical gesture is quite small in reality, but it conveys so much. It's like a precision-guided weapon in terms of gestures.

You know, what today's spoiled, selfish undergraduates do not understand is that the exhausted, frustrated instructors are not their servants. It is not our -- or my -- job to coddle them or inflate their already-overblown sense of self-importance or soothe all their little boo-boos or whatever. We're here to teach. We're trying to do a job and do it well while working under sometimes-ludicrous limitations of our own. We have a mountain of our own work to do besides teach, and it's not fun. I think I've told you before that to be a nerd peon instructor is often to face disdain and belittlement from two directions at once: on one side, some Nerd Lords who make us cringe and on the other side, some undergrad students who treat us like their servants. Neither side seems to respect us very much -- if at all, in some circumstances. Personally, I have been lucky with Nerd Lords; I have no problem with mine -- they're great people. Some of my friends, though, aren't so fortunate.

And what I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BEAR is the phenomenon of students who think they can ARGUE an answer from being wrong into being right if the answer is clearly wrong from the beginning. Do they really think that they can launch into an assault of words and I'll simply cave in and give them points that they did not earn? Nobody "bewordles" me. I've been through years of the Dantean hell known as graduate education, and only supremely self-involved undergrads could possibly be arrogant, egotistical, and/or naive enough to think that they can browbeat me into submission. If Nerd Lords haven't managed to break my will after all this time, then no undergrad can. And that's the simple truth.

I won't uncork the "gender issue," though sometimes I wonder if some of these undergrad guys think that I'm easier to manipulate because I'm a girl. If they do, then they are in for a really rude awakening. I *will* smack you down if I have to, and I'm not afraid to do it either. Nice skirts and lip gloss aside, I am a relentless fighter (you have to be if you want to survive in Nerdworld), and I take garbage from NO STUDENT. Besides, the "I-don't-care" Moue is probably at its most devastating when deployed by a woman anyway.

Oh, and believe it or not, but I actually don't like doing this stuff. I prefer a happy-go-lucky, freewheeling classroom where students are comfortable and engage in good conversation about the academic material. Most of the time, this is the case. But every once in a while, there is a thorn among all those little roses, and then . . . This reminds of a recent comment from a friend who had cheerfully paid tribute to Nerdworld campus culture by telling me,"Eat a few freshmen for me!" Call me Nerdzilla.

OK, now I have to go grocery shopping.

Political Humor of the Day: The Joys of Spin and Semantics

From Eric D. Snider comes this delightful look at the power of word choice:

Your candidate lacks experience.
My candidate is refreshingly free from the stain of politics.

Your candidate has been part of the Washington system for too long.
My candidate is blessed by years of political know-how.

Your candidate is a reckless loose cannon.
My candidate is a maverick.

Your candidate is cranky and stubborn.
My candidate is tenacious.

Your candidate makes brash, controversial remarks.
My candidate speaks his mind, no matter what.

Your candidate has a checkered past.
My candidate has a colorful past.

There's a lot more in the list (and the contrasts become more and more extreme -- one made me laugh out loud), so do go read the whole thing. After a while, though, you realize that "your candidate" and "my candidate" are THE SAME PERSON!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Fun Video: "V For Vendetta" in Everyday English

"V For Vendetta" was an interesting film in some respects, but there were times when I was incredibly frustrated with V's constant yapping. Sure, he (Hugo Weaving) used plenty of big, intellectual-sounding words, but in the end, it was like a big river of high-sounding BS that used a lot of twisty words to complicate, obfuscate, and flat-out mess up things on purpose. The Sibling and I often call this sort of thing "diarrhea of the mouth." In other words, this is what a graduate-level seminar often sounds like.

Anyway, apparently I wasn't the only film fan who thought V was just too wordy. V is for "Verbose"! Here is an amusing video translation of V's language into common, everyday, comprehensible, simple English. Oh, language warning: this contains some naughty words.

Nerd Notes: Book Fight! 10 Books Not Worth Reading?

This list is, as far as I can see, deliberately created to provoke. Consider me provoked!

Comments: Joyce's Ulysses is indeed a bore, but I love my Tolkien, Homer, and Austen!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nerd Journal: A Little Cinematical Self-Indulgence

Life at Nerdworld right now is about as much fun as taking a bath in boiling oil: no matter where you turn, you're gonna get burned. I guess I should be happy that I'm only drowning in WORK.

Still, I'm so totally and completely irate and out-of-sorts that I can't help myself. I need some escapism! Some distraction! Metaphorically speaking, it's really only shooting a water pistol at a forest fire, but ANYTHING will help!

Today's small consolation: the Movie Blog's top 10 Robert Downey Jr. performances. This is the Year of the Downey. I'm annoyed, though, since the list is missing Downey's turn in "Wonder Boys" -- even though the same list includes that reeking bit of film-trash, "U.S. Marshals." Come on, people. Puh-leez. "U.S. Marshals"? "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," though, was witty, quirky fun.

PS: You know what would be just as good? A list of top 10 Christian Bale performances. Oh, yes.

UPDATE: Better list here? I had forgotten all about "Weird Science."

Nerd Notes: Russia's Queen of Chess

Meet Russia's newest chess world champion, 23-year-old grandmaster (and fashion model) Alexandra Kosteniuk.

I have a feeling, though, that the news article may be an excuse to display glamorous photos of her with chess pieces as decoration . . .


Political Humor of the Day: the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator

Those Palins have some pretty unusual names -- Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, Trig . . . If Sarah Palin were your mom, what would she name you? Find out with the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator!

(It said that my Palin name would be Ladel Torque Palin.)

Quirky Asia Files: Pimp My Rickshaw

Can't . . . stop . . . laughing . . .

Kitchen Notes: Miso!

Delicious. A good bowl of miso is a beautiful thing. Yummy seaweed! I'm serious!

Quirky Asia Files: Horribly Cute Chinese Mascots

My eyes, my EYES!

And I thought Hello Kitty was bad.

(Link from blogfriend Pursuit of Serenity.)

Taiwan: Pandas and Politics -- Plus, What's In A Name?

Here's a piece about the imminent arrival of two pandas from mainland China. The adorable little furballs are named Tuantuan and Yuanyuan. Still, here's food for thought:

At Taipei Zoo, home to the Formosan flying fox and a large collection of rare bugs, staff are experiencing more than the usual levels of job-related stress.

“It’s definitely a big moment, not only for us but for Taiwan and the world,” Eric Tsao, a research scientist, said. “For us it’s like hosting the Olympics.”

Mr Tsao has good reason to feel the heat. Within weeks, his zoo is expecting the arrival of Tuantuan and Yuan-yuan, two pandas offered to Taiwan as a goodwill gesture by Beijing. The decision to accept the animals – whose names, when put together, mean “reunion” – was taken as a further sign of warming relations between mainland China and the island.

The pandas' names mean WHAT?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nerd Journal: Everybody's Out to Get Me -- and Give Me More Work!

My thoughts exactly.

Kitchen Notes: a Mini-Kitchen on Wheels

Cute and fun and functional!

Latest Loony Taiwan "Analysis": Georgia=Taiwan, Saakashvili=Chen

Michael Turton disassembles this latest morass, thus saving me from doing so. Like so many other "analyses," it presents former President Chen as a dangerous troublemaker, etc. etc. That old chestnut. The latest wrinkle here is comparing Chen to Georgia's President Saakashvili -- a comparison that's not just inaccurate, but basically false and misleading.

Anyway, the article goes on to speak about current Taiwan President Ma (in favorable terms, natch!). Unfortunately for these Ma cheerleaders, Turton isn't buying it (and neither am I). Michael's comment:
. . . political change here has not enhanced stability in the Taiwan Strait . . . instead it has introduced new instabilities and uncertainties by giving China the upper hand and sacrificing the interests of US allies Japan and Taiwan, as well as introducing the new and ominously opaque uncertainty: how far is Ma willing to go? But as we all know, the greatness of a realpolitik decision is measured by the number of friends it betrays . . .
You should take a look at the actual article that has Turton in such a temper. You know, part of me is really sick and tired of reading and trying to refute/rebut the constant stream of bad "analyses" of Taiwan. But another part of me thinks, "Well, I ought to try, because otherwise I'm basically letting people get away with spouting these stupid 'analyses' and spreading misconceptions." Bleagh.

Film Culture Commentary: Global Financial Apocalypse and the Movies

Well, news from the financial world lately has been grim and gloomy. I'm not ready to shriek, "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!" but plenty of other people seem ready, willing, and even eager to do so. Hang onto your wallets, kids, and start hoarding that ramen!

I did just find this amusing perspective, though. What can cinema tell us about global financial apocalypse? What "advice" can various films give? (Tongue-in-cheek alert, of course. I mean, come on, the post uses the actual word "apocalypse.")

I suppose we can add something from TV-land and look at "Dark Angel." Get a bicycle?

Nerd Analysis: A Law Professor Discusses Religion and Politics

I couldn't have said it better myself. Take a look.

Geek Fun: Anti-Theft Sandwich Bags

Do people ever steal your lunch from the office refrigerator? If so, then this could be your defensive weapon of choice. Link xie-xie to the Cine-Sib, who takes his office lunches very seriously indeed.

"Iron Man" DVD Review!

This review of the upcoming DVD is promising. I really want to see all the extra goodies in the DVD release. If it's a 2-disc edition, I want mountains and mountains of special features and deleted scenes and commentaries and just everything.

Oh, I can't wait for the DVD to come in the mail. Soon. Very sooooooooooon.

(Yes, Nerdworld is horrid right now, and I need something fun to look forward to!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Political Humor of the Day: The Total Reductionist Campaign of Hate '08!

It's the Total Reductionist Campaign of 2008!

I'd laughed about the possibility a while back, and now some enterprising wits have created a video with the same idea (link via Reason). So, whom do you hate? Enjoy!

Media Morass Threatens Both Presidential Campaigns

Even the New York Times has noticed that the utterly chaotic media has made a shambles of the election cycle. Read the whole thing. Here's a blurb:
. . . one of the most frustrating challenges that Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama are facing going into the final weeks of this campaign: the ways in which the proliferation of communications channels, the fracturing of mass media and the relentless political competition to own each news cycle are combining to reorder the way voters follow campaigns and decide how to vote. It has reached a point where senior campaign aides say they are no longer sure what works, as they stumble through what has become a daily campaign fog, struggling to figure out what voters are paying attention to and, not incidentally, what they are even believing.
Add too, of course, the phenomenon of extremist-political blogs that produce smears, outright lies, and vicious attacks.

Quirky Euro Files: The Vegetarian Driver and the Trucks Full of Pigs

Oh, dear!

Also, the tale has the best headline of the day: "Vegetarian Driver Suffers Pig Nightmare on Motorway."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Best Pie Chart Ever!

Via the Serious Eats blog. This is awesome -- a pie chart graph that I can actually understand!

Am I the only person also thinking of Pac-Man?

Movie News: Speculating About "Green Lantern" Casting

Which actor might be a good film version of Green Lantern? The Movie Blog has the link to some of the fans' speculation. One name getting some buzz? David Boreanaz of "Angel" and "Bones" fame. Interesting pick! Other names being bantered about: Josh Duhamel, Nathan Fillion, Ben Browder . . Wow, not one but two of La Parisienne's favorite bits of sci-fi eye-candy!

As for the entire casting question . . . Now for the amusing spectator sport of watching rabid, partisan fanboys tear each other to shreds in comments-sections all over the blogosphere. My favorite stupid meme in the arguments about casting: "ONLY So-and-So can play (Whatever Character Here)!! NOBODY ELSE can possibly do it EVAH!!!" This is silly, and it places unnecessary limitations on a project. Besides, actors you never thought could pull off a role can sometimes surprise you in delightful ways.

Kitchen Notes: In Praise of Ramen

From blogfriend Pursuit of Serenity comes this nice link to a little cultural history of ramen. Can you imagine a world without ramen? (Would you even want to?)

Monday Therapy: Fun With Office Supplies = Sticky Note Mania

Here is some delightfully creative chaos from Eepybird. Who knew Post-It Notes could be such fun? Enjoy!

EepyBird's Sticky Note experiment from Eepybird on Vimeo.