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Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

Via Eileen Joy and the outstanding number of medievalists I know on Facebook, I see that Thomas Meyer‘s translation of Beowulf is now available. For free. It possesses a striking cover:


And though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet—this translation, I mean, because I’ve obviously read Beowulf before—the excerpt from the publisher accords neatly with my recent obsession on the relation of form to content in film:

The eyes of Hygelac’s kin watched the wicked raider
execute his quick attack:
without delay,
snatching his first chance,
a sleeping warrior,
he tore him in two,
chomped muscle, sucked veins’
gushing blood,
gulped down his morsel, the dead man,
chunk by chunk,
hands, feet & all. &


never before had
sinherd feared anything so.

As the publisher notes, “the reader is confronted with the words themselves running together, as if in panic, in much the same way that the original passage seems in such a rush to tell the story of the battle that bodies become confused.” This is a readerly experimental mode, in which the formal experimentation is meant to assist the reader in understanding the content of the poem by replicating the experience being described. The fact that that it’s not easy to parse that second stanza is the point. (I’ve read it about twenty times now I still keep seeing the word “dreach,” if only because it sounds like a word that belongs in Beowulf.) Point being, there are far worse ways to spend your Saturday night than reading a poem in which “hot gore pour[s] upon whirlpools.”

Or with supporting an endeavor which, to quote Eileen,

Every book we make, we will give away for free in electronic form, because we believe in the richest possible artistic-intellectual para-university commons in which everyone has access to whatever they need and want, whenever they need and want it, and so that authors can have the widest possible readership. But we also believe in the printed book: as work of art, as a stylish object for one’s cabinet of curiosities, as a material comfort [or bracing cocktail] to hold in one’s hands, as something that takes up weight and space in the world and adds something of beauty to the thoughts, images, and narratives we hold in common.

Ryan Lawler is a terrible human being.

[ 66 ] August 24, 2012 |

I gather you know how I feel about the quality of American political journalism. But American technology journalism is even worse. Consider the case of Ryan Lawler, which is currently being secretly prosecuted by Ryan Lawler in the form of a post he better hope he never finds out he’s written. It concerns a party held last night in honor of what seems to be as laudable as something called “an app” can possibly be: a ride-sharing app called Lyft. What horror befell Lawler at this party?

There was beer and wine and a little bit of food. There was cake. Somebody drove a car with a pink moustache on the front into the middle of the office and some people hopped out and talked about their experiences with users. It was a joyous occasion, a time for everyone to relax and celebrate all the hard work they had been putting into it, to breathe a little, let loose … After the launch party concluded, I went to another event, and blissfully ignored all RSS feeds and emails. It was a good night. I got drunk. I danced a little. I went home and passed out.

The horror! Wait—the title of Lawler’s post is “Exclusive: Startup Launch Ruined By Careless Blogger.” Where’s the ruin?

Then, an hour later, someone posted about the event and the upcoming launch, and shit went sideways.

That person must’ve written something really horrible, right, if the “shit went sideways.” What did they write?

I didn’t realize the embargo was broken until about 12 hours later … I searched Google, found the offending post, and realized how late it was to follow up. It wasn’t like the thing had just been published. I would be following someone else’s story half a day later, and no one wants to do that.

They just wrote about Lyft before Lawler did. They weren’t supposed to mention it until next Tuesday but they did. Meaning that while Lawler “got drunk,” “danced a little,” and “went home and passed out,” some other journalist didn’t get drunk, danced very little, and went home and filed a story. And because that other journalist did, Lawler can’t write about Lyft now. He can’t. Even though

it’s become really popular among the TechCrunch staff. Alexia, Josh, Kim, and I are all users. We all love the service, love what these guys are doing.

He can’t write about it, because someone else announced the launch before he did. He loves the service, but someone else wrote about it before he did so now he can’t write about it. He

really wanted to support them and get the word out. Sometimes you’re ambivalent about a startup, and so it’s not a big deal to just let that one go. But this was a product and a team that I like. I want them to succeed.

So he really wanted to support a company he loves, one that wined-and-dined him a mere twelve hours earlier, but now he can’t because someone else wrote about them first. This service that he loves must be punished because of someone else’s mistake. The only reason Lawler even deigned to write about Lyft despite being beat to the story is because he wants our sympathy. He was supposed to break this story. His was supposed to be the bland press release that no one really ever bothers to read. But now that someone else has written about Lyft, the best he can do is write a post so overbrimming with misguided passive-aggression that no one should ever take him seriously again.

Note that none of this has anything to do with the quality of the journalism. Or the quality of the product for that matter. It’s all about the journalistic imperative to yell “FIRST!” on the Internet. And do you know what I think of people whose life’s goal is to yell “FIRST!” on the Internet? Especially when they claim to be journalists?

I think they’re terrible human beings.

“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”

[ 53 ] August 24, 2012 |

Newsflash to Governor Romney: You’re white and your name doesn’t sound “foreign.” Meaning Racist-Americans won’t be trying to preemptively undermine the legitimacy of your potential victory. But thanks for pandering to them! I’m sure appealing to Racist-Americans won’t have any effect on your “popularity” amongst all other Hyphenated-Americans.

[SL]: Good points about Romney’s ironic post-birtherism. Also, as Adam tweeted, laughing at birthers (Obama) and laughing with birthers (Mittens) are not, in fact, the same thing.


[ 48 ] August 23, 2012 |

This article from The Hill is making the conservative rounds and I’m not sure what to make of it. The author, Mike Lillis, opens by claiming that the Obama team is “[b]ucking protocol” because

Presidential candidates have traditionally kept a low profile during their opponent’s nominating celebration, but Democrats are throwing those rules out the window in an attempt to spoil Mitt Romney’s coronation as the GOP nominee.

This must be more of that Chicago-style politicking conservatives can’t stop complaining about. But let’s ask the experts:

“Traditionally, there was a kind of courtesy extended to the party having the convention—the [other] party would basically stay out of the public eye,” said Ross Baker, political scientist at Rutgers University.

And what’s the Obama team planning that’s so ungentlemanly?

Even first lady Michelle Obama is in on the act, scheduling an appearance on the “David Letterman Show” smack in the middle of Romney’s nominating bash.

Just out of curiosity, what was John McCain doing on 25 August 2008, the first night of the Democratic National Convention? According to “What’s on Today,” which you can find on page 7 in Section E of the New York Times on 25 August 2008:

11:35 P.M. (NBC) THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO Senator John McCain and the super swimmer Dara Torres are guests. Juliana Hatfield performs.

I’m not sure how Michelle’s decision to go on the less popular late-night show bucks protocol, but whatever. Because you know what John McCain did on 26 August 2008, the second day of the Democratic National Convention? According to “Calling in the Big Guns,” which you can find on page 18 of Section A of the New York Times on 26 August 2008, he didn’t do much of anything. But what was that about “Big Guns”?

Republicans on Tuesday stepped up their incursion into Democratic territory in Denver, with two party stars, Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani, crossing enemy lines to get inside the convention hall for rounds of cable television interviews.

It was a jarring image for Democrats: The two former Republican presidential candidates—one of them, Mr. Romney, right, a potential running mate for Senator John McCain—happily chatting on television with the elaborate Democratic Party stage at their backs.

I’m sure Mitt Romney literally showing up and running the circuit at the Democratic National Convention doesn’t qualify as “[b]ucking protocol.” I’m not sure why it doesn’t, but it must not, given that Obama’s decision to do something on the second day of this year’s Republican National Convention represents such a grave break from tradition. But just so we’re clear about this tradition, we should look at how McCain went to great lengths not to upstage Obama on the fourth and final day of the Democratic National Convention. According to “McCain Has Made His Pick and Is Set to Tell on Friday,” which can be found on the 24th page of Section A of the New York Times on 28 August 2008:

Senator John McCain has decided on his running mate, two Republican strategists in contact with Mr. McCain’s campaign said Wednesday. He is expected to reveal his choice at 11 a.m. Friday at a rally at a basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio.

Announcing that you’ve decided on your running mate on the last day of the Democratic National Convention is in no way, shape or form a violation of the established decorum because. I don’t know why. It’s just because.

So when Charles C. W. Cooke claims that Obama’s “[p]laying a little dirty,” remind him of John McCain’s schedule between the 25th and 28th of August 2008:

  1. Hid from the electorate by appearing on the highest rated late-night talk show.
  2. Secreted a prospective VP candidate—who just so happens to be this year’s Republican nominee—into the Democratic National Convention and had him “happily [chat] on television with the elaborate Democratic Party stage at his back.”
  3. Whispered to everyone that he’d be announcing his running mate the next day.

Because that is how you “stay out of the public eye” when the other party’s hosting its convention.

Who’s defrauding the University of California, now?

[ 133 ] August 23, 2012 |

SEK’s insurance provider outsourced its “dependent eligibility verification process” to a company called Secova whose homepage redirects to a shifty search engine that’s already looking for “xanax bars.” Or it redirects to an ebay store selling Unique Jewelry from Paula. [DO NOT CLICK ON THOSE LINKS UNLESS YOU LIKE TROJANS AND YOU DON’T LIKE TROJANS.] The point being that it redirects … and that his insurance company required him to send this company his last two years of tax returns to prove that he’s married to his wife. Had SEK known about the fraudulent redirects before speaking to this representative this conversation would’ve gone much differently. Not that he finds any of this surprising mind you. Now that they’re not returning his calls, SEK will provide them with some free publicity.

SEK: What’s with you not wanting to acknowledge that I’m married to my wife?

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: Did you know your wife has a different last name than you?

SEK: Yes. She kept her maiden name.

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: That’s odd. Hold on (audibly typing) “kept … maiden … name.” What’s wrong with yours ha ha ha?

SEK: (resisting the urge to say “Mine’s too Jewish”) Nothing.

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: I see. And who told her to keep it ha ha ha?

SEK: ?

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: It just seems strange. Woman marries a man, keeps her own name. Like it’s not a real marriage ha ha ha.

SEK: (resisting the urge to say “After 13 years, someone’s finally busted us, congratulations, sir!”) ??

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: We’re going to have to investigate this. I’m not saying it looks suspicious, but if we can’t verify you’re married, she’ll lose her coverage on September 11th.

SEK: (resisting the urge to say, well, something about 9/11 and Obama and the ACA) ???

SECOVA REPRESENTATIVE: We’ll be in touch once we’ve sorted your relationship out. You could’ve made this easy if you just made her change her name, you know ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.

He is Boss

[ 84 ] August 22, 2012 |

What do the ladies want? Men want wide-hipped young sluts, while ladies want old men like me—that’s why the ladies love men my age even though I can’t stand the sight of them. That celebrity couple disgusts me—it disgusts me like it would another man my age seeing a woman our age wet and naked. Old women look old, and it’s cruel to make me look at them. There’s this one rich old bird who looks hot, but at her age she sags in all the wrong the places as any drunken frat boy knows and they wouldn’t bone her for all her money.

It’s a good thing Mitt Romney’s not a drunken frat boy.

You know why Mitt Romney’s awesome? Check out his stats: he has so much money he gives it away and when he touches things he rules them. He has kids. They’re boys. All of them. Science says that means he’s awesome. So does money. Rich people are mostly men. See that picture? No daughters. Barely any granddaughters either. When he goes to church he goes to church. He gets all up in that house.

Obama? All daughters. Mister Rogers was a pussy.

Science says Romney should have all the lady-votes. Even Obama’s bitch should vote for him. I’m not saying he’s a polygamist, but he could be if he wanted to. Like this rich guy who had 61 children and they were all boys. He can’t have a harem, but if he could bitches would be lining up to join it. He’s in charge. Because now that we don’t hunt it’s all about the money and Mitt has more. He’s more President than the last eight Presidents. If he paid taxes, he’d pay more a year than Obama’s worth. If he didn’t tap ass so expertly he’d have more money than the only wealthy black guy I can think of who’s a rapper.

It’s time for Romney to drop trou’ and show us his moneybags.

Some hippies think calling him “R-MONEY” is funny. The only wealthy black guy I can think of uses lowercase letters but R-MONEY’s capitalized. He drops can do what black rappers do only bigger. Rappers have money, but R-MONEY’s money has money and it lives in money. He has so much money it’s heavy.

Romney’s always saying that he loves money, and that we should love money, but the haters will hate. He celebrates people with money and how they got it. He even loves the little money so much he once didn’t give in a fight to protect it. He could’ve sued that guy and took his money but the point is he was on an airplane he didn’t own because he cares about the little money. He could buy his own airplanes and still have more money than an actress and a Senator. And the Senator can’t even remember how many houses he owns.

I suppose he’s frontin’ and good on him. Humility is next to godliness which is next to money. But he needs to stop frontin’ and start ballin’ like the player he is. He should show us his money. He should show us how awesome it is having his money. People will be like “I don’t hate you or your money! I love your money!” They sit on there couches without nearly the amount of his money and watch someone who only acts like he has money curb-stomping poor people. They don’t hate that guy with the 17 Italian cars because he has 39 other ones and they’re green. Lots of children of men like Romney don’t turn into R-MONEY. That Senator has more houses than he can remember but is his daughter going to turn into R-MONEY?

Romney should find out what happened to some other rich guy but not tell anyone about it because he voted for Obama. But he spent his money so hard nobody can even find him anymore. When someone asked that rich guy about his money he said he’d had it since the Puritans. Romney should follow his lead and talk about the rich history of his money all the time.

He’s always had money—his Dad was CEO and America—but he gave it Dad’s money away and started a school so people remembered Dad’s money. Why? Because he already had his money by the time Dad kicked. His Dad was a boss. So is Romney. Men want to be under him. He will curb-stomp poor people. His sons will curb-stomp poor people. Obama was never a boss until the democratic process made him one and only because when Americans travel to Europe they act like assholes. Obama made his little money in politics and by writing about himself. He’d be nothing without a foul-mouthed Jew.

Elections aren’t about issues. They’re not about our money. They’re about his money and what it took to get it: leadership. Romney rules and we don’t. Some former someone once had some uppity bitch try to teach him to be like Romney and she failed:

“Show us your big dick” she said. “A man is top dog” she said. Then she said “Everyone thinks you’re a pussy so prove you can man-up.” But she also said the opposite about another guy when she didn’t like him.

But she was right the first time—only a man with a dick that makes sons and grandsons who rape people is a man. Some lady told us that we need a lot of people and Romney made a lot of people and they’re men. A magazine called Romney a pussy, but look at the size of his money. Look at what his dick made. Look at his wife back when she was attractive and look at him smirking about the ass she lost to time. Why should he worry about people knowing about his money? I bet he doesn’t. He’s done everything right and should own it. And by own it I mean flash mad plastic and put it on a jet or something.

[This is a concept-for-concept translation of Kevin Williamson’s glorious cover story in the new National Review. All leaps in logic and offensive ideas are the sole property of Kevin Williamson or the National Review or whatever I don’t know their arrangement. Point is don’t blame me. I’m just a lowly translator.]

Obama’s “Dan Quayle moment”

[ 70 ] August 22, 2012 |

Surprise! It never happened. But I’m not opposed to conservatives claiming it did, if only because it makes my life even easier than it already was. Here’s the allegedly damning image:

Conservatives look at this and salivate: “The President misspelled ‘Ohio’! That’s worse than misspelling ‘potato’ because ‘potato’ ain’t a state!” At the second link above—which I can’t recommend clicking on, because that’s what you have me for—the comments are largely anticipatory about how the mainstream media will spin this. One person heads off the excuse that the image has been reversed because in an image taken moments later, Obama’s watch is still on his left arm. Another cracks wise about how Arabic is written from right-to-left and what we all know about Obama’s real religious affiliation. But not a single one of them points out the blindingly obvious fact that the people in the picture are facing the camera. Which means that their left is the photographer’s right. So from their perspective they’re spelling “O-H-I-O,” which as many of you know is the proper spelling of “Ohio.”

Not that there isn’t a legitimate complaint to be made: I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with a Leader of the Free World not knowing how to spell out words via a human chain. What if that 3 a.m. phone call is from the Village People in 1978?

An entire generation might be left wandering dark streets and darker alleys in a vain search for the ACMY.

I wish I believed in a quantity theory of stupidity.

[ 23 ] August 22, 2012 |

Because if I did there’s a chance that it’d eventually run out. But no. Colonel Mustard’s newest endeavor‘s gone live, and it’s about damn time? Because the Internet’s really been lacking for a place where college students can settle grudges against their professors behind the veil of anonymity?

No and no.

As a preview of the thoroughly unpredictable content to come, the person (or persons) named “College Insurrection” has (or have) already pre-posted about how universities discriminate against rapists and conservatives and how kids these days really love Paul Ryan despite the fact that he wants to steal their Pell Grants. How long before the walruses arrive?

Everything I do, I do it for you.

[ 36 ] August 22, 2012 |

As is often the case at the beginning of the school year, even secondhand and samizdat copies of textbooks become difficult to acquire. But if someone can score me a copy of the apparently very august Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, I promise I’ll make it worth everyone’s while.

Realism and bad manners in Breaking Bad

[ 36 ] August 21, 2012 |

In the previous post, I wrote:

[W]hy do people insist that Breaking Bad is a realistic portrayal of the perils of the methamphetamine trade? Because of scenes like what I’ll call “The Story of Jesse and the Beans.”

I suggested that the answer is the power of conventions: if you shoot a family sitting down to dinner, the audience will peg the frame as being realistic because they’ve seen so many television families sit down to dinner. And there’s something to that. Quite a bit actually: film conventions normalize human relations. Consider the last frame from the previous post:

Breaking bad00021

Even if you’ve never seen the show, you know exactly what this is: a family sitting down to dinner. How do you know it’s a family? Because there’s a husband on the right and a wife on the left and a son in the middle? How do you know that’s a son? Because he’s smaller than the father and the mother. (Even if Aaron Paul were taller than Bryan Cranston or Anna Gunn, the director, Colin Bucksey, could make him appear smaller by staging the scene as he does here and simply placing Paul further away from the camera.) How do we know it’s dinner? Because they’re at the dinner table. But they eat breakfast at the dinner table too, which is why Bucksey doesn’t backlight the window and instead employs the light above the table to illuminate the scene. I know they could be eating before dawn, but the mother has a wine glass in her hand and people don’t conventionally drink wine with breakfast.

All of which is a long way of saying that the elements in the frame demand it be read as an image of a nuclear family sitting down to dinner. This shot is effective because its formal conventions militate toward the nuclear family interpretation, whereas our knowledge about the content of this situation requires we draw the exact opposite conclusion. The tension between form and content creates an awkwardness analogous to the awkwardness each of the three characters in the scene currently feels. That’s not a husband on the right nor is it a wife on the left: that’s a terrorist on the right and that’s his hostage on the left. That son isn’t their son, though it could be said that the father adopted him—except that this surrogate son is only at this dinner table because he stopped by to break up with his fake father. And the mother only knows this soon-to-be-emancipated not-son as the father’s former drug dealer. At this precise moment in time these people couldn’t be more unrelated, but if I show you that frame your brain will insist that it’s a nuclear family sitting down to dinner.

Director Bucksey takes advantage of this. As I noted in the previous post, the sense of isolation experienced by each of these characters is typically reinforced by sequencing their conversations as a series of shots and reverse shots. The camera tells you that even though these people are in the middle of a conversation, there’s something (literally the camera) preventing them from sharing the same filmic space. Even when they share the same diegetic space they’re still not together, and because we know that they seem more alone than they otherwise would. Given the circumstances outlined above, you’d assume that Bucksey would film this scene in a similar manner: establish that they’re at the dinner table with an establishing shot and then hammer home their isolation with a series of reverses. But no. The irony is strong and painful:

Read more…

The post I should’ve written about The Hunger Games

[ 4 ] August 21, 2012 |

It reads like I actually did:

On screen, when two characters or objects exist in relationship to each other, an imaginary axis between them constitutes the 180º line or line of action. In order to maintain geographic continuity and consistent screen direction in film, it is standard practice for the camera to stay one side of this line or axis.

For example, recall the scene where Katniss gives the Mockingjay pin to Prim. The whistle of the Capitol’s train startles the Everdeen women from their preparations. Katniss sits down across from Prim and, along with the reassurance that “as long as you have it, nothing bad will happen to you,” Katniss hands it over and wraps her sister’s fingers around the pin.

Standard film practice would have the line of action drawn between the sisters; Katniss on screen right facing Prim on screen left. When the pin is handed over, the pin would be passed from Katniss’s hand emerging from screen right handing it over to screen left. Yet, in the film during this moment, the camera jumps the line. Viewers see Katniss’s hand emerge from screen left while passing the pin to Prim’s open hand on screen right. This jump reverses screen direction during the gifting of the pin and the proffering of comfort.

[Director Gary] Ross is aware of that the film must allow audiences an understanding of the filmic space, or geography, in which the characters exist. Yet, Ross and his editing team are interested in selectively breaking the rules that provide clarity between the relationships and actions of the characters. By crossing the axis of action, the film formally disorients viewers during moments of significance. Specifically, it would appear that Ross crosses the 180-line whenever Katniss has a poignant moment with someone she cares about.

I initially thought the axis-jumping signified Ross’s commitment to the Michael Bay School of Editing Is Hard I Don’t Wanna, but Robert Chang’s analysis is damn compelling. My only problem with the article is that I wish I’d written it first.

Concerning John Nolte’s scrotums

[ 64 ] August 21, 2012 |

I post a link to this sketch from Mr. Show a little too often, but only because it’s so regularly germane:

More and more, I read conservatives and find myself taking umbrage at their anatomical logic. Case in point, John Nolte’s review of The Hunger Games:

In Panem, the left’s idea of “equality” has finally been achieved. There’s “them” and then there’s “us.”  “They” are our know-betters, our elite overlords, living in wealthy decadence and devoted only to pleasure. We, on the other hand, are all equally poor, desperate, and starving.

This class system is also known as socialism.

He doesn’t know what words mean, does he? The “class system” in which a wealthy elite toy with the proletariat for fun and profit is “also known as socialism”? A “class system” predicated on state-mandated income inequality is “also known as socialism”? I’m not saying the film isn’t open to interpretation: liberals see in it an indictment of the 1 percent while conservatives see liberal elites with their big government and pet press-corp ruling from the Capitol. I get that.

But what I can’t understand is how a self-professed conservative can look at a “class system” in which the wealth is so mightily sequestered that the images of District 12 could come straight from the pages of The Pornography of the IWW and declare the system depicted to be socialist. That’s one hank of unbraided hair that’ll never be untangled.

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