30 March 2005

Headline on msnbc.com: "Poll: Harvard Students Mostly Unhappy." (Actually, they're just talking about the class of 2002.)

28 March 2005

It's time for all loyal Deadly Mantis readers to write angry letters to HUDS demanding the prompt return of Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms to the hallowed dining halls of our alma mater.

27 March 2005

One of my recent obsessions: Huey Long, the renegade Senator from Louisiana who emerged as the greatest threat to Roosevelt in the 1930s before being assassinated. I'm reading the biography of Sen. Long by T. Harry Williams. It's gripping. This man was clearly the best politician I have ever read about (although I'd like to read more about Lyndon Johnson, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln before putting the question to rest).

Huey had his road to the White House mapped out when he was a teenager, and he almost got there according to plan. He trained as a travelling salesman for several years before running for office, which was just the perfect preparation. Huey's favorite book: The Count of Monte Cristo, about which he said: "I read it every year. The man in that book knew how to hate and until you learn how to hate you'll never get anywhere in this world." I sure hope not...

24 March 2005

I'm never sure what to make of the little "Designed by Apple in California" on every apple product. Are they trying to appeal to the buy American crowd? If so, why emphasize "California"? I'm sure they have some really good reason, I just don't know what it is. Appealing to Californian seccesionists?
Just got my own copy of Diane Arbus: Revelations, the best coffee table art book I've ever seen. Even if you aren't inclined to spring for a copy of your own, you should at least go to a bookstore and check out page 164, which features a contact sheet of unpublished photographs that reveal that this terrifying kid, incredibly enough, was actually a supremely cute and harmless little boy. For some reason, I find this moving.
I finally got to the apple store to replace my dead iPod. My delightfully flaming genius had two things to say about the iPod:

"[holds iPod up to his ear and listens to it try to spin] Awww... Baby's sick."

"Wouldn't it be great if "Just Crapped Out" were one of the options for reason for service?"
Tonight I experienced what can only be described as a scene from Alec's nightmares.

After an enjoyable dinner and conversation with a young woman, we head over to the Roxy to catch Wong Kar Wai's The Days of Being Wild. For some reason they seem to be running a little, late but eventually the trailers come on. As I settle in for the movie I hear my date say the fatal words:
How did we end up in Prozac Nation?
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, WKW was playing in the small theater next door at 9:45, and Prozac Nation was 10:00 in the main theater.

20 March 2005

I've recently discovered the work of David Shrigley, a Glasglow-based artist whose crude, paranoid, and very funny drawings nicely blur the lines between cartooning and fine art. Here's one of my favorites.

17 March 2005

A couple of new Harvard-bashing books, Harvard Rules and Privilege, are reviewed today in the New York Times. Of the two, I'll probably end up reading Harvard Rules, which sounds more fun: among other things, it "dwells on [Larry] Summers's table manners and often disheveled appearance." As for Privilege, the author may be well-intentioned, but I'm not sure that he has much to say to anyone who actually went to Harvard and thought about his or her experience there for more than, well, fifteen minutes. Here's a sample:
In Harvard Rules, Bradley describes the case of Joe Green, an undergraduate disillusioned by his experience as a student representative on the committee evaluating the Core Curriculum. "Green kept thinking about a question one of his professors had put to him: 'If you could either go here and get no diploma, or not go here and get the diploma, what would you do?'" Bradley writes. "It bothered Green that he couldn't easily answer the question."
Frankly, I'd rather go to Harvard and get the diploma. (Can I do that?) Given this hypothetical dilemma, however, I guess my response is this: even without a diploma, I'd hang out at Harvard forever, as long as they'd let me do it for free. Any thoughts from the audience?

15 March 2005

If you're in New York before the end of May, be sure to check out Diane Arbus: Revelations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a truly dazzling retrospective of one of the most interesting artists to work in any medium over the past few decades. The accompanying catalog is a stunner, too. Back in college, I was fascinated enough by Arbus to read her biography and spend most of a summer planning a screenplay, never finished, that would have based most of a character on the young Arbus. (A few of you may also remember "Maddy," a story of mine that once appeared in the Advocate. The title character was a thinly-disguised amalgam of Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, and a girl I used to date.) Anyway, her photos still pack quite an emotional charge, at least for me, and they're worth seeing in person, especially if you're curious about where Kubrick found those creepy twin girls for The Shining.
Great. Someone comes to visit, and they're greeted by a blizzard that shuts everything down. Santa Fe has over a foot of snow, and some of the Arizona Winter School people got stuck there last night (suckers). Luckily, our friend Dave was wise enough to avoid that mishap and not wreck my car.

At least I can spend some more time working on my bracket today, because I can't go to work. Yes, I'm one of the 60% who think Louisville will knock off Washington.

14 March 2005

Saturday night I was at a party until 3am. Sunday morning I had to grade a midterm starting at 9am. Which mean that I was too exhausted to stay awake at 7pm last night, so I decided to take a nap. And I just woke up. It's 4am, now what do I do?

13 March 2005

bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.
Little does he know what he's getting in to when he tries driving my car. Heh heh.

12 March 2005

Hello from the Arizona Winter School, which is an annual program for graduate students in number theory that takes place neither in Arizona nor in Winter. This year it happens to be in Albuquerque, so I'm posting from the living room of Nat and Almea, who have a very cozy place very near campus and have even offered to lend me their car to explore the area (since public transit appears to be a concept foreign to New Mexicans). More later...Almea's cooked burritos and I'm told they're ready!

11 March 2005

The nice thing about 69 Love Songs is that everyone's play count will be significantly different, although "Papa Was a Rodeo" usually ends up there somewhere. With me, there were a few close calls, but one song has clearly taken the lead for good: "Sweet Lovin' Man." I'm not sure what that says about my listening habits.
Speaking of my play count, yesterday for the first time since I knew that iTunes kept track of play count, "No Children" by the Mountain Goats is not my most played song. it has been edged out by "Nothing Better" by the Postal Service.
Does anyone have a good source of information on why Santorum is evil? I'm trying to convince my mother that Casey vs. Santorum is a political cause she should be interested in, but I haven't bothered to keep track of all the stupid evil things Santorum has been up to. Anyone know a good source?
48 hours ago I finally got my hands on "69 Love Songs." It says something about my listening habits that "My Only Friend" has already hit 23 listens. (Other favorites: "Reno Dakota" (at 19), "Kiss Me Like You Mean it" (at 13), and "Papa was a Rodeo" (at 10)).
This is an old but interesting article from ARTNews that contends that Marcel Duchamp's famous "ready-made" art objects were actually crafted by hand, or at least reworked in considerable ways by Duchamp himself. The author, Rhonda Roland Shearer, came to this conclusion after an exhaustive search of early twentieth-century catalogs and antique stores failed to turn up any items identical to Duchamp's snow shovels and bottle racks:
Shearer came to many of her conclusions by trying to imagine if the objects Duchamp presented as manufactured items would actually function. She found that his snow shovel, titled In Advance of the Broken Arm, would break for lack of its patented triangular back supports, and that its square handle would hurt the user's hand. She concludes that Duchamp bought and altered it. She found that the birdcage in the "semi-readymade" Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy? at four and a half inches tall is too small for even the most diminutive parakeet. She contends that Duchamp cut the original cage in half.
This is the sort of hands-on, obsessive, obvious-in-retrospect idea that I can't help but admire. The article, which I'm blogging only because I stumbled across it just now, is undated, but it's evidently a few years old, because it was written before Shearer's husband, Stephen Jay Gould, passed away. I imagine that they must have been one of the great fun couples of recent years.
It appears that while the current President of the United States is advocating ill-conceived private accounts for small investors, a certain allegedly liberal ex-President is shilling for completely inappropriate hedge fund investments for medium-sized investors. The rich, thank goodness, can take care of themselves.

10 March 2005

Many thanks to Frank Rich in today's New York Times, who has brought my attention to what sounds like the funniest movie ever made: The Aristocrats, which hopefully will be released somewhere later this year. A longer review can be found here. Basically, it's a movie featuring one hundred comedians telling different versions of the same dirty joke, which goes something like this:
A couple goes into a talent agent's office. He says, what's your act? and they say, we go on stage and screw for three hours. And he says, what are you called? and they say, we're the Aristocrats.
The beginning and the end of the joke is always the same. The middle is an excuse for the comedian to toss in whatever scatological image he can imagine. Typical versions of the joke feature bestiality, incest, and sodomy. Every comedian has his or her own version, and the cast of the movie, which was shot cheaply on digital video, includes Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Louis Black, George Carlin, Gilbert Goffried (whose version of this joke is legendary), Eric Idle, Penn Jillette, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, and John Stewart. I'm not sure why the idea of The Aristocrats tickles me so much, but it does. I haven't even seen it yet, and I'm already cracking up here at my desk.

08 March 2005

So, Nat, what's up with Webber? Why are things going so badly for him in Philly?

06 March 2005

My sense of accidental timing yesterday was uncanny. Not only did I happen to visit the Berkshire Hathaway site (and read the biography of its founder) on the very day that their latest annual report was released, I also happened to wander into the Stellan Holm gallery in Chelsea on the day that this exhibit was closing. You know, it's surprising how visitor traffic in an art gallery seems to increase when a show like Pam: American Icon is visible from the street. Unfortunately, they were out of the free postcards. (Warning: not safe for work.)
Except for lunch with Haiwen and a brief detour through a bunch of Chelsea art galleries, yesterday was Buffett Day, as I read through the 2004 annual report of Berkshire Hathaway and Roger Lowenstein's brilliant Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, which probably ranks among the four or five best business books I've read. (I was planning on reading Lowenstein's book anyway, and was more than halfway through before I realized that Berkshire's latest annual report had just been released that day, which has to be some sort of meaningful coincidence.) Anyway, Buffett strikes me as an ideal book for readers who are interested in learning what investing is all about, even if Lowenstein is a bit too harsh on index funds. (Even Buffett maintains that a diversified index fund is the best way for most people to invest.) Lowenstein's book is also notable for the theory that Buffett's success has been driven by his obsessive fear of death:
Still again, when a shareholder asked what his goal was, now that he had become the richest man in the country, Buffett spit out, "To become the oldest one."
I love that story. The most interesting Buffett news of recent weeks, however, is that Eliot Spitzer has supoenaed Buffett (or his company, anyway) in an investigation of whether one of Berkshire's subsidiaries used exotic insurance products to disguise debt for another firm. Obviously, as a tiny Berkshire shareholder, I hope that the investigation doesn't turn up any wrongdoing. Still, the prospect of a courtroom exchange betweeen Spitzer and Buffett, who belong on any list of the four or five smartest, most ambitious guys in the country, is rather enticing. If Buffett and Spitzer both show up, this could be the most interesting courtroom encounter since, say, Inherit the Wind.

04 March 2005

Apparently the British film censor has asked Emir Kusturica, an award-winning Sarajevo-born director, to cut a two-second shot from his latest movie, Life is a Miracle, which shows a cat attacking a dead pigeon. Kusturica refuses to make the cut, and his interview in the Guardian contains the funniest quote I've seen in a long time:
"I am not cutting my film for this jerk. Was he brought up by pigeons or something?...I just don't get it. The pigeon was already dead, we found it in the road. And no other censor has objected. What is the problem with you English? You killed millions of Indians and Africans, and yet you go nuts about the circumstances of the death of a single Serbian pigeon. I am touched you hold the lives of Serbian birds so dear, but you are crazy. I will never understand how your minds work."
Needless to say, the whole article is worth a read.

03 March 2005

One last Oscar note:

Some of you may be wondering why Jorge Drexler sang a few verses from "Al Otro Lado del Rio" when accepting his Oscar for Best Original Song. It turns out that this sweet little moment was actually a deliciously subtle act of revenge. Drexler, a Uruguayan pop star who wrote the song's music and lyrics and performs it in The Motorcycle Diaries, would have been the obvious choice to sing it during the Oscar telecast, but was snubbed in favor of Antonio Banderas, over the protests of everyone involved. (According to the show's producers, Drexler didn't have enough starpower to rate a spot on the show.) Luckily, Drexler won, which means that the Academy and the entire world were treated to the most beautiful and melodious fuck you in the history of television.

Slate has some of the details, but the best coverage is on the front page of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. The whole story was huge news in Uruguay, which apparently is a nation just starving for attention:
"We got excited when they mentioned the word 'Uruguay' on The Simpsons," says Daniel Drexler, Jorge's brother, "even though they pronounced it 'you are gay' and made a joke out of it."
Oh, and on Tuesday, Uruguay also became the first Latin American country to inaugurate a Socialist president. In most of the country, that story appeared on page two.