Archive for Almost Yogurt

The widest variety possible

It’s all in what you’re allowed to see:

Back in grad school, some guy sued our university, claiming that our department didn’t hire him because of his politics. The department members’ reactions were illuminating. While they of course all but admitted to not hiring the guy because he was a conservative,* the discussion quickly devolved into a bunch of leftoid moonbats reassuring other leftoid moonbats that there’s actually all kinds of political diversity in the department. And — this is the crucial point — by their lights, they were right. To any outside observer, this is a real knee-slapper, but inside the ivory tower the Marxist Feminists have real, longstanding beefs with the Feminist Marxists. The Judean People’s Front would, if given power, immediately execute all members of the Peoples Front of Judea, and academia works the same way.

About that footnote:

*the university settled out of court. Which was too bad — I for one was looking forward to forwarding the seventeen zillion daily listserv messages I was cc’d on to the prosecution. Obviously nobody briefed the dingbat grad students on things like “discovery” and “paper trails” and “plausible deniability.” There would’ve been some Trigglypuff meltdowns, believe me.

If you’re not familiar with Trigglypuff, start here. And then finish there. No sense being a damn fool about it.

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En masse

Early in the history of this site, I noted:

It is my lot in life to bear a fairly common name. Most neighborhoods can boast a Hill or two, and as Sam Goldwyn never said, every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Charles.

For a while, I linked to as many as I could, perhaps hoping I’d find one on Charles Hill Road in Orinda, California. But eventually this became more of a burden than an amusement, and I filed away the page.

Still, I wonder: how many of us 323,878,801 Americans are named Charles Hill? This is where How Many of Me came in. I have, they said, the 9th most common first name, and the 41st most common last name, from which they concluded there are 3,779 of us.

I note purely in passing that there are five Taylor Swifts, though I’m only aware of two personally.

(Via New Jersey 101.5.)

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Presumably on channel fifteen

Taylor Swift TV? It could happen. In fact, it’s going to happen:

On Monday AT&T revealed that fans of the 1989 singer will soon have a “new destination for unique and never-seen videos” with the debut of Taylor Swift Now. The new channel will play footage of live performances, music videos, behind-the-scenes videos, and more as part of the company’s DirecTV Now streaming service launch, which takes place Nov. 30.

Truth be told, I could watch her just trying on Keds for hours at a clip, but that’s insufficiently ambitious, for Swift anyway.

Taylor Swift Now will become available via DirecTV, DirecTV Now, and U-verse “later this year,” per AT&T.

Should we read that as “next month”?

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And yet they ask me

Morgan Freeberg has seen Quora, and he understands it slightly better than I do:

I think I’ve got a pretty good bead on the typical Quora respondent. In sum, these are young college-grads who feel like they’re in a class by themselves because they use the metric system. By which I mean, they want to become elitist snobs but they’re not entirely sure how yet, because they’re still prioritizing process over outcome. I can tell this by the questions as well as the answers. I see these questions scroll up like “how many monitors would a good programmer be using?” and, applying perhaps a bit more old-fashioned common sense than would be expected by the person posing the question, I come up with my own counter-question: How come you haven’t already figured it out for yourself? Try one, try two, try three, see what works…

It gets back to the plan that is scary because of what it leaves unplanned. How come everything’s got to be scripted?

I am often frustrated by the belief that if such-and-such works for A, it should therefore work for B through Z inclusive. Which, in turn, explains contemporary “diversity”: it looks exactly the same from any angle.

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Quote of the week

From a friend on Facebook (a species different from “a Facebook friend”) on the dustup when Mike Pence went to see Hamilton:

**Disclaimer: Stop reading now if you’re easily offended. Though ironically, you need to.

To see that not only was Pence booed entering, during, and exiting “Hamilton” on Broadway, but was seriously lectured to by the CAST, and the play PAUSED at certain lines because the audience had to vociferously boo him, is something I’ve personally had enough of.

I’ve personally now lost all respect for anyone who feels it’s a persons right to destroy an up to $1000 ticket performance for ALL present because you don’t agree with who attends the performance and I’ve lost all respect for anyone who agrees with this display. I cannot believe a Broadway cast actually LECTURED. I am literally stunned. And if you believe in this kind of “progressive” behavior then we truly will be seeing the start of a chaotic revolution the likes we have not seen for 240 years.

Protesting peacefully is MOST assuredly a right. I have been about as tolerant of opposing viewpoints as I can possibly be throughout this entire fiasco. But I think what’s going on now is a wonderful representation of how not getting your own way is defining our culture. This has been the most outrageous, most self-serving display of hypocrisy of those who claim to be “tolerant and accepting of all views.”

And I will STOP hiding in the shadows for fear of expressing an opinion different from The New Culture.

Note: NOT a political endorsement. It’s an endorsement for social civility.

Civility, alas, cannot exist without a certain amount of humility, and there is a shortage of humility at every point of the social compass.

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Investing a little green

The outgoing First Lady wants her vegetable garden to be preserved:

The first lady has already taken steps to preserve her fruitful green space, purchasing a stone plaque for it with the inscription, “WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN GARDEN established in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama with the hope of growing a healthier nation for our children.”

But she’s not stopping there — wielding the power she has over the president to ensure the Kitchen Garden is a permanent part of the White House.

“She is pressing him to pass an executive order to maintain the garden after they leave the White House,” a source told The Post.

Surely there must be some way to do this that doesn’t involve executive orders, especially with The Donald supposedly looking for executive orders to undo. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if President Trump ordered this himself; whatever the motivations of FLOTUS, this garden qualifies as some sort of historical display, and I see no good reason to tear it down.

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An unrecycled sentiment

I admit to not getting this at first:

Infiniti is famous, of course, for inscrutable advertising. Go back a couple of decades:

Then again, Brubeck speaks to us all. I had to get an explanation of that tree thing from Matt Polsky:

Eager to cash in on the warm fuzziness of the seasonal aesthetic, Infiniti has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 35,000 new trees on behalf of drivers, and came up with a corresponding television commercial and digital campaign.

Oh. Okay.

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Not just for kids

Not that anyone of a certain age needs such a thing, but here’s a perfectly good justification of Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase:

I like a lot of these “kid’s books” because of the clear moral arc: there is good and there is evil (or perhaps, in milder books, “bad,” rather than true evil) and good wins over evil in the end because good is persistent and honest and has kind people to help it. (Simon, the goose-boy, helps Bonnie and Sylvia; there are one or two girls at the orphan’s asylum who risk severe punishment to help them, partly because Bonnie has been so kind to the other girls … and yes, there’s also that idea of “you get back what you put out into the world” — that if you are a kind and good person it eventually comes back to you). Real life isn’t so clear cut, and that’s one of the great tragedies (for me at least) of adulthood: that you can be kind and good and still not prosper, and it can look like people who break every rule in the book get ahead, and the reason I keep coming back to these “children’s chapter books” is because they give me hope that what I see as an adult is wrong, and that there WILL be a reward to being a decent person (beyond merely being able to live more comfortably with your conscience) and more importantly, the bad people thwarting those who would do good (or even who would just live their lives unmolested) will wind up paying for it in the end.

“Evil will always triumph,” said Dark Helmet, “because good is dumb.” Of course, he said this to Lone Starr, and Dark Helmet is Lone Starr’s “father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate,” or some such business.

I persist in believing that what goes around does indeed come around, though I am forced to admit that it’s not very satisfying unless you actually get to watch the revolution in progress.

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Movement out of sync

In a dark room in central Texas in early 1970, I learned two things: that I greatly admired the seemingly random movements that were being presented in those days as modern dance, and that I would never, ever be able to participate. (Yes, they brought me up on stage; no, I wasn’t any good.)

My regard for dancers has remained undiminished after all these years, and may perhaps grow as I become increasingly immobile myself. Disonante, choreographed by Ana Elena Brito, seems to speak to me specifically: every movement seems to be planned, yet many of them go utterly wrong.

Venezuelan dancer Vanessa Vargas, on her own, has recently completed Becoming invisible, of which she says:

My project stands on the notions of rootlessness and exile, which I present as the by-products of migration, not only as an internal journey, but also as a social phenomenon. My aesthetic proposal, which stands in the crossroads of dance, performance and visual art, pretends to break down the mainly urban considerations of cartography and topography on stage.

To be honest, I figured out about five-eighths of that watching her dance but before reading her description, which suggests that whatever rarefied mental space it takes to come up with an abstraction that can be made concrete in a mere ten minutes, it’s a space I probably have been to without even realizing it.

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Aw, heck, why not?

I mean, he chose the persona:

And apparently it wasn’t entirely parental pressure, either:

The Backstory: Our 5 yo daughter had no costume. We said: How about HRC? Daughter: Nope. Son: Well someone’s gotta be Hillary! @HFA #Proud

(Via Tim Blair, who says this is a contender for Saddest Thing of All Time.)

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Dinner without Drac

“Cool Ghoul” John Zacherle died Thursday at the age of 98:

Wearing ghoulish garb, Zacherle hosted horror movies on Philadelphia and New York television beginning in 1957. He likewise hosted the fondly recalled Newark-based dance show “Disc-O-Teen” in the late ’60s, and was a WNEW-FM disc jockey. From 1990 until 2015, Zacherle met fans old and new at the Chiller Theatre convention held in various New Jersey towns, chiefly Secaucus and Parsippany.

I refuse to believe that his death on 10/27 had anything to do with his having been a DJ on WNEW-FM, which historically was at 102.7.

Away from Jersey, Zacherle was probably best known for “Dinner with Drac,” ghastly limericks fit into a rock-and-roll background, a #6 pop hit in 1958:

Zacherle’s niece Bonnie, you may want to know, was the original designer of the My Little Pony line. Call it Generation 1.

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Deck chairs unmoved

This seems to sum up matters entirely too well:

The establishment is like a giant ocean liner charging ahead. It couldn’t make a drastic course change if it wanted to. It has too much mass and too much momentum, so they spend their time and energy arguing about chickenshit, swilling cocktails and snorting coke. They might go on for a long time, but if they hit an iceberg, it’s the people in steerage who are going to drown.

Which is no big deal to them, since they don’t know any of us low-priority passengers.

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Twice as decadent

A Web site that endures for twenty years is something unusual, inasmuch as the Web has been in common use for only about twenty-three. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been on here for two decades. Then again, Warner Bros. has kept the 1996 site for Space Jam alive all these years, and no one was entirely sure why.

Maybe this is the reason:

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now. Space Jam is returning to theaters for TWO WHOLE DAYS in honor of the film’s upcoming twentieth anniversary, brought to you by Fathom Events and Warner Brothers. You’re going to want to click that link right away to find out your nearest location and buy tickets before they sell out, because NOBODY doesn’t love Space Jam.

It gets better, slightly:

To compound on the nostalgia factor, the nationwide screenings will also be accompanied by even more Looney Tunes merriment: a rare big-screen presentation of the cartoon short, “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat,” prior to the feature film.

If this sounds unbelievably vintage, you should know that “I Tawt…” is a mere child of five years, with Sylvester and Tweety dialogue scissored out of Mel Blanc’s 1950 single. (Granny, however, was voiced by the always-fresh June Foray, a mere 94 years old in 2011.)

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Several tongues

In retrospect, it seems so simple:

My wife is a teacher of English as a New Language (ENL). It has also been called English as a Second Language (ESL), but the NEW designation is more accurate because, for some of these students, English is their third or fourth language.

Of course.

And now I look at my less-than-polyglot self and curse, quietly; I took three different “foreign” languages in secondary school, and my fluency in any of them is arguable at best. Admittedly, this was nearly half a century ago, but I suspect I should have retained more than I actually have. Middle-school kid learning English as your third language? My hat’s definitely off to you.

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Ex-ex libris

Richard Mize, Real Estate Editor of The Oklahoman, explained in the Saturday print edition why he’s not a candidate for one of those tiny houses, and the operative word is “books”:

People say I should start with my books. Crazy people. I just laugh. They can’t be serious. If they are, they’re leisure readers, not consumers of books like me. I mean, when I’m reading seriously you can hear me. I’m serious.

Not because I read aloud, but because I argue with books — as I’m scribbling in the margins, taking issue with this point or that one, underlining parts I like and writing uncharitable remarks over parts I don’t, and running to get other books by other authors and scholars to bolster my own points.

I don’t read books. I consume them. Not even fiction gets a break. You either get that or you don’t. And there’s no way what I do with books can be done with digital “books.” They say there are comparable ways to read digital books. I hear them. That’s like saying watching football on TV is the same as being at a game.

So, books are out as candidates for possessions I could do without in order to fit my life into a tiny house. I literally own enough books to fill a tiny house.

Until they figure out a way to get my bed, my recliner, the couch, stove, side-by-side, a couple of TVs, my desk and the ratty Route 66-themed futon in the Room of Man in the cloud, I’ll be staying in my regular old not-that-tiny house, thanks.

I figure, if you think you can fit your life into the cloud, I’m going to assume you’re Rainbow Dash. (Hint: you very likely aren’t.)

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Slap some mud on the wall

First, this, because it showed up in the tweetstream last night:

Rock fans of a certain age will recognize this as the source of the chorus to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” Wikipedia picks this up, but also lists:

“Putin khuilo!” (a Russian/Ukrainian football chant, as assumed by Artemy Troitsky, inspired by “Speedy Gonzales” chorus)

Typically, this phrase translates as “Putin is a dickhead”:

The slogan was originated in Ukraine in 2014 having grown from a football chant first performed by FC Metalist Kharkiv ultras in March 2014 on the onset of the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. The phrase has become very widespread throughout Ukraine among supporters of the Ukrainian government and more generally those who do not like Russia or Vladimir Putin in both Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking areas of Ukraine.

It’s also the name of a star.

To make this come full circle, here’s a mariachi version of “Putin khulio”:

Doesn’t sound that much like Pat Boone (or like Robin Ward, who sang that part on Boone’s record).

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Starting with a tee

Most of America’s problems can be solved, says Severian, by mandatory Little League:

Jack wants to be a ballplayer, but he’s got no arm and can’t hit a curve. He’s got no natural aptitude for it, and if he doesn’t figure that out on his own — some kids have a preternatural ability to endure public humiliation — his coach will eventually take him aside and explain it to him. Coach will kindly but firmly point Jack to the Model UN club. Coaches are good at that kind of thing; they get lots of practice.

Jill doesn’t want to be an engineer, but after 50 years of feminism, her mommy is convinced Jill should be one. So Jill struggles in math class. She’s got no natural aptitude for it … but wait, that can’t be right! There’s no such thing as “natural aptitude” for academics! If Jill’s no good at calculus, doesn’t get fired up by solving quadratics, and never wanted to build bridges in the first place, it’s Patriarchy keeping her down. No teacher will ever take Jill aside and explain to her that it’s ok not to be so great at math, that calculus is the mental equivalent of being able to hit a curve — it weeds out most of us — because it’s the end of that teacher’s world if she does. So she doesn’t, and … well, you know the rest.

I herewith admit that I don’t get fired up by solving quadratics. I did, however, learn to do it, because math.

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Lyft and separate

Says the guy at Lyft: “By 2025, private car ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities.”

James Lileks demurs: “That’s 9 years away. Let me just put down a marker here and say no.”

And there are perfectly understandable reasons to say no. Says the guy at Lyft:

Cities of the future must be built around people, not vehicles. They should be defined by communities and connections, not pavement and parking spots. They need common spaces where culture can thrive — and where new ideas can be shared in the very places where cars previously stood parked and empty.

Not happening, says Lileks:

Now, I’m all in favor of replacing surface parking lots downtown with housing and offices, providing they build ramps to accommodate the cars driven by private citizens. In nine years I am not going to Lyft or Uber to work, or to shopping in the evening or weekends. I will drive because I like to. The suburbs are not going to do away with the parking lots outside of malls and big-box stores, and build big apartment buildings where Culture Can Thrive. If everyone sells their cars and the streets no longer have parked cars, no one is going to drag a chair into the street and SHARE NEW IDEAS where cars “previously stood parked and empty.” There are no new ideas that are going unshared because there’s a parking lot on the edge of downtown.

Magical thinking, informed by Lyft’s need to keep the vulture capitalists happy, and reinforced by nonsense like this:

Technology has redefined entire industries around a simple reality: you no longer need to own a product to enjoy its benefits. With Netflix and streaming services, DVD ownership became obsolete. Spotify has made it unnecessary to own CDs and MP3s.

Yeah, right, says Lileks:

Until you don’t have a connection or the service goes away or the studio removes the movie.

Or, to use another example, you are inexplicably blacklisted from using the Lyft fleet for reasons they do not explain, and cannot be appealed.

Yeah, it costs me more than two grand a year to keep a motor vehicle for my own use. But that’s the point: it’s for my own use. And I resent the idea that I need to throw in my lot with the Social Arbiters for the sake of some nebulous “civic” good that mostly benefits corporations with connections.

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If it seems to fit, you must submit

Amanda has completed an item from her short-term — there’s also a long-term — bucket list:

This one was kinda scary. Last night I submitted a piece of writing to a poetry journal and I’m like, freaked. In no way, shape, or form do I believe that this piece of writing will be published. It’s not that good. But I did it because I want to start submitting more writing on a frequent basis, and the only way to do that is, well, to do it. But it does feel kind of raw to give out pieces of work to people and ask for their blessings on it. It’s like saying, “Hey! Here is a piece of my most vulnerable self! Tell me if it’s worth anything or if it’s stupid and I should never try this again!” So there’s that. I’m trying to learn how to be okay with putting my writing out there even though it feels like I’m opening up myself in a frightfully open way. This blog is helping with that some.

This is the sort of thing one has to applaud. I have always suspected that all the poets who got published on the first try this century could fit into a single elevator. I can’t possibly pass myself off as a poet, but I do know something about putting writing out there, having done it for pretty much half my life. (I was doing online stuff 11 years before I put this place online, and that was more than 20 years ago.) And even if it does occasionally feel kind of raw, it’s something you have to do now and then.

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Among the meteor myths

This seemingly goofy Russian film came out in March:

I say “seemingly” because I have no command of the Russian language. It’s pretty broad physical comedy, though; various family members, affected by a meteorite that crashed through the house, seem to exhibit a variety of weird superpowers — so long as they’re in proximity to one another. Unfortunately, they decide to put those powers to, um, work.

I sat through most of its 95 minutes, and it wasn’t terrible, exactly, but my expectations were admittedly not very high. The semi-invisible girl, however, was kind of cute, and a sequel has already been announced.

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I’ve seen this road before

Chevrolet’s Find New Roads site evaluates you, or at least me (and Doc Searls), on perceived positivity, as calculated from recent social-media statuses. Out of a possible 200 points, I scored a whopping 71; the average, they say, is about 114.

The Social Personality Summary is pretty much spot on:

You are skeptical, somewhat inconsiderate and unconventional.

You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. You are reserved: you are a private person and don’t let many people in. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them.

Experiences that give a sense of discovery hold some appeal to you.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

This was followed by the suggestion of a New Road: take up a musical instrument. Color me, um, skeptical.

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Was it worth it?

The first nine years don’t count: The Price Is Right, once a humdrum Bill Cullen-hosted game show on NBC (and briefly on ABC), died a horrible death in 1965 and did not return until 1972, when Bob Barker, borrowed from Truth or Consequences, headed up a whole new version, which begins its 45th season this week.

Yahoo! has a brief history of the post-’72 show, including a few statistics like this:

The first prizing game ever played was Any Number, which is still played today. It was played for a Chevrolet Vega worth $2,746, which became the first car ever given away.

And Any Number has hardly changed at all:

Cars, of course, have gotten much more expensive since 1972, though this is more a function of inflation than anything else; $2,746 then is $15,809 today.

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Quote of the week

Many of the horrible things that happened to this country in recent years started at the nonexistent 704 Hauser Street in Queens:

For those too young to remember, or too old to remember, Rob Reiner is famous for having played the character “Meathead” on the popular 70’s TV show All In The Family. The show was supposed to mock traditional Americans, particularly blue collar Americans, but the public received it mostly as a celebration of normal people at a time when normals were under assault from liberals, hippies and various other degenerates. Rob Reiner’s character came to represent what had gone wrong with the country.

Meathead was a loudmouth know-it-all boomer, who enjoyed lecturing his father-in-law about the terribleness of America and the men that had made the country. The irony was that Meathead lived off the people he ridiculed. Archie, the patriarch, worked and paid the bills while his daughter and son-in-law lived in his house. It was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the country. The parasites were determined to kill the host, but in the mean time they were perfectly willing to enjoy the fruits the host had accumulated.

Years ago, the great Paul Gottfried remarked that the country had long been taken over by the Meathead generation and their ethics. The Archie Bunkers were all gone. By that he meant traditional working and middle class America had been lost and the country was now run by fashionable liberals, who occupied the first ruling elite in history to be actively working to destroy the foundation on which it rests. Look around the culture and all the high ground is occupied by degenerate boomers, who carry on as if it is still 1968.

There is, as there almost always is, an upside:

That means if you are a young alt-right trouble maker, you only have another decade or so to put up with degenerates like Rob Reiner. This realization may be at the heart of the hysteria we see in the ruling class. Rasping geezers like Hillary Clinton look around and see their time is just about done. They also see that what is forming up behind them is a giant cultural eraser, ready to rub out any trace of what her cohort leaves behind. Her “Basket of Deplorables” are young dudes and dudettes in hazmat suits, ready for cleanup.

I will, however, insist that Reiner’s magnum opus, This Is Spinal Tap, be preserved for posterity. Nobody, with the possible exception of Paul Ehrlich, is wrong all the time.

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Serious girl power

Hilde Lysiak writes in the September Orange Street News:

On July 28th, I met Malala Yousafzai. It was amazing getting to meet her! She used to live in a place where people thought girls can’t be educated. But she stood up to the government and got her education, anyway. One day, when she was on the way home from school, she was shot. After that, she moved to the U.K. and has not been able to go back to her home in Pakistan since.

“Without knowledge,” says Hilde, “people can’t be free.” After noting that some people objected to a newspaper run by a nine-year-old girl, she’s putting her money where her mouth is:

[T]his month, I am donating all the advertising money I collect to the Malala Fund which “works to secure girls’ rights to a minimum of 12 years of quality education, particularly in the Global South.”

This isn’t a huge sum — given her rate card, I figure it’s in the low- to mid-three figures — but I always take Hilde Lysiak seriously.

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The unexpected leading lady

Just a bit of historical perspective:

Charley’s Aunt is a farce in three acts written by Brandon Thomas. It broke all historic records for plays of any kind, with an original London run of 1,466 performances.

The play was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds in February 1892. It was produced by former D’Oyly Carte Opera Company actor W. S. Penley, a friend of Thomas, who appeared in the principal role of Lord Fancourt Babberley, an undergraduate whose friends Jack and Charley persuade him to impersonate the latter’s aunt. The piece was a success, and it then opened in London at the Royalty Theatre on 21 December 1892 and quickly transferred to the larger Globe Theatre on 30 January 1893 to complete its record-breaking run.

The play was a success on Broadway in 1893, where it had another long run. It also toured internationally and has been revived continually and adapted for films and musicals.

In 1941, 20th Century-Fox saw fit to film a version of Charley’s Aunt with Jack Benny:

Charley's Aunt poster

I wonder if Fox was a bit unsure about this picture early on; they were pushing it as the lead film in a package. They also put out this film short:

They needn’t have worried. It was a fair-sized hit.

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Season’s change

What we can expect, starting this week:

By this evening the retailers will be in full holiday season mode, shilling Halloween. Before the candy corn is even stale the first Christmas advertising will crop up. Ready or not, here it comes. Clothing stores have been stocked with sweaters and coats for a month. Worse, shoppers will soon be wearing them. No more tight tank tops and short shorts. On the bright side the shapely ladies will be wearing tight jeans and boots.

Given the usual progress of these things, I expect all the Valentine’s Day crap to show up a few days after Thanksgiving.

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Quivering behind the lectern

Jenny Boylan describes the “sheer terror” of teaching for the first time:

I came to teaching relatively late in life, and I was nearly 30 before I first faced a room full of students. I was so frightened that first day at Colby College, back in 1988: Would my students like me? What if they found out I was a total fraud? I rehearsed my opening lecture again and again before classes began, a lecture that wasn’t much more than, “Here is the syllabus.”

By time I faced the students, of course, I was over-prepared, and the hour passed by in seconds. It took me another month to loosen up, and longer than that to learn the lesson that in retrospect should have been obvious from the beginning — that having a sense of humor, which had been such an obstacle for me as a student, turned out to be an asset for a teacher. It was with a sense of wonder that I realized — somewhere in October — that I was a good teacher, that I’d finally found, after nearly ten years in the workforce, a job I had a talent for. It was almost — but not quite — enough for me to forget the weeks and weeks of sheer terror that had afflicted me in August.

I have learned in recent years that Dr. Boylan’s command of pop-cultural ephemera is on par with, and possibly superior to, mine, and I’m pretty darn good at it.

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Fear is in control

I think I might be among the poster children for this phenomenon:

Some of us are becoming hyper-aware of every moment of fear or disappointment or grief or sadness to a debilitating degree.

Years ago I went on a road trip with some friends travelling from concert to concert around Ontario. Just before leaving, the driver of the wreck we were travelling in was cautioned to make sure it didn’t overheat. Just that one word of warning from a random bystander sent us to the side of the road every couple of hours to open the hood and stare inside. The temperature gage never got anywhere close to the danger zone, but every time it moved, we had to pull over. Sometimes too much attention can be as bad as not enough.

This sounds like me. I am aware of where the temperature gauge is supposed to sit, and when it doesn’t sit there, I immediately start budgeting for a cooling-system repair.

After thousands of years of stoically forging ahead despite flashes of anxiety, in just 70 years we’ve shifted to a point in which every fluctuation in mood might be fodder for medical help. Instead of ignoring nervousness or sadness, we fixate on them, allowing them room to blossom, like a scab that won’t heal because we can’t leave it alone. Sometimes hyperawareness of anxiety can make it much worse until it becomes paralyzing and pleasurable events become mired in painful feelings of stress. Can something actually be enjoyable if we’re barrelling through a sea of tumults, trembling with a heartbeat that is curiously inaudible to others in order to just get through it all? Does it really make sense to feel the fear and do it anyway when the dread of doing it might override the pleasure of having it done?

I am definitely being hindered in the so-called “healing process” by this: even trivial stuff scares me.

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Sort of soft-boiled

This year’s winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is William “Barry” Brockett of Tallahassee, for this bit of noirishness:

Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.

Honestly, I preferred, or maybe just disliked less, this Crime/Detective winner:

She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids.

Courtesy of Charles Caldwell, Leesville, Louisiana.

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And surly to rise

Turns out that Grumpy Cat was right all along:

The truth is, pondering the worst has some clear advantages. Cranks may be superior negotiators, more discerning decision-makers and cut their risk of having a heart attack. Cynics can expect more stable marriages, higher earnings and longer lives — though, of course, they’ll anticipate the opposite.

Good moods on the other hand come with substantial risks — sapping your drive, dimming attention to detail and making you simultaneously gullible and selfish. Positivity is also known to encourage binge drinking, overeating and unsafe sex.

At the centre of it all is the notion our feelings are adaptive: anger, sadness and pessimism aren’t divine cruelty or sheer random bad luck — they evolved to serve useful functions and help us thrive.

And no, you should not suppress these things for the sake of camaraderie or whatever:

[I]n 2010 a team of scientists decided to take a look. They surveyed a group of 644 patients with coronary artery disease to determine their levels of anger, suppressed anger and tendency to experience distress, and followed them for between five and ten years to see what happened next.

Over the course of the study, 20% experienced a major cardiac event and 9% percent died. Initially it looked like both anger and suppressed anger increased the likelihood of having a heart attack. But after controlling for other factors, the researchers realised anger had no impact — while suppressing it increased the chances of having a heart attack by nearly three-fold.

I suspect this is why I am not a cardiac patient after all these years of surliness.

(Via Scott Kiekbusch.)

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