I Resent Cheerleaders

There were several lessons to be learned from last night’s Harvard football game against Brown.  First up:  I resent cheerleaders.

After all, who told them they could lead our cheers?  We can do it ourselves, thank you very much.  After hearing the cheer, “M-O-V-E… Move… the ball!” closely followed by “T-A-K-E, Take that ball away!” we stopped paying attention, so the cheerleaders started copying us.  We would start a chant of “Defense!” and they would follow suit; we would speed up, they would fall behind.  Cheerleaders indeed.

Next lesson is for the football team: if you bore us, we will find ways of entertaining ourselves, as we showed with the endless squadron of paper airplanes cascading down over the fans’ heads onto the front rows, the band, and the field.  They hit their peak around half time when the football game was at its least engaging, then trailed off as the game picked up in intensity.

I think the turning point came when a high-flyer cruised over, headed toward the field.  Its flight was stable, its trajectory was good.  We started cheering it on, and it floated out and out, further and further onto the field.  Our cheering built, and we erupted in applause when it landed a good ten yards past the sideline.  Then I noticed that the Harvard defense had also, coincidentally, sacked the Brown quarterback.  Half of us were cheering for the paper airplane, the other half for the great play.  Oh well.  That’s Harvard sports.


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Footnotes Endangered

Ruh-oh.  In this op-ed, Columbia’s Mark Taylor promotes some dumb, dumb ideas about higher education (replace departments with “problem-focused programs”, about “Space”, “Time”, and “Life”?  Is he aiming to be cute? Does he also want us to craft our senior theses on Twitter?).  Sure, it’s great for universities to adapt to the times, and granted, there might be a few more graduate students than the world needs right now.  But I don’t think academia is in danger of becoming a social deadweight so soon — and I’ve been made to understand that Harvard, for example, still churns out a lot of relevant research.

Besides, what’s wrong with a dissertation about how Scotus used citations?  I think it sounds swell.


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Modern Superstition

Everyone knows about knocking on wood.  If you say things are looking good, you knock on wood to make sure you don’t reverse your expectations by voicing them aloud.  The explanation, as I’ve heard it, was that you were making noise so that the devil couldn’t hear what you just said and decide to spoil everything.

I knock on wood compulsively.  It makes me uncomfortable to say, “Oh it won’t rain tomorrow,” if I fail to knock on wood afterwards.  Part of me believes I must knock, or it will rain.

In a modern age of cause and effect, chaos theory, and science, such old superstitions seem a little bit silly.  However, they persist, and even though I would say I don’t seriously believe that knocking on wood keeps away the bad karma, I nevertheless feel compelled to do so.

Even more interesting is the evidence that superstitions continue to evolve.  Yes, new superstitions are being developed right under our noses!

You may not believe me, but I’m guessing you have heard of making a wish when you see the clock say 11:11.  You can’t wait for the clock to hit the time and then make the wish (that’s just cheating), but if you glance at the clock and it happens to be 11:11, then you’re supposed to make a wish before it changes.

Consider that this superstition can only be as old as digital clocks.  Why would anybody make a wish at 11:11 unless they saw it displayed on the digital screen?  The analogue version of 11:11 looks like any other time of day.

This means that despite our growing scientific sophistication, and even as a direct result of our blossoming use of electronics and gadgets, we continue to develop new superstitions.

I should have concentrated in Folklore and Mythology.


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…Or, Why I Hate Subjunctive History

I hate subjunctive history.

It’s absurd; it’s misleading; it’s epistemologically vicious, and it’s stupid.  I say trash it, get rid of it, pay a dubious-looking voodoo artist in New Orleans an inordinate sum to push pins through its glassy, grammatical eyes.  Anything to make it stop.

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Say it aint so, Mr. Strunk!


One Mr. Geoffrey K. Pollum, an Edinburgh linguistics dude, just came down pretty hard on my bible.  This article has convinced me that neither Strunk nor White were good at grammar, but Mr. Pollum’s passage criticizing White’s stylistic advice just sounds petty.

Fortunately I’ve never really believed in grammar anyway, and I’ve only ever read Strunk & White for the advice on style.  Grammar is to English what the rulebook is to the game of soccer – entirely beside the point when the goal is scored.


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I just had to share…

…my new favorite website. 

Sometimes poignant…


…sometimes hilarious…


… and always insightful…


 … Indexed has become a seemingly endless source of happy procrastination for me.  The funny graphs scribbled on index cards are generally brilliant, fairly hilarious, and the site itself has received many awards (including webby nominations, and being named one of Time’s top 25 blogs), so you don’t have to take my word for it (especially as I seem to be far behind the curve on this one).


Check out the archives — not only are they extensive (at least extensive enough that after several weeks of stolen moments browsing through them, I’m still discovering new sketches), but they go back several years – which at times can be historically insightful — or just bring back hilarious memories…


But as always, beware of comment sections (which become visible when trolling the archive by date): while most comments are mundane hero-worship “you’re awesome” type dealios, occasionally the quips are vaguely controversial, and attract the ire of internet crazies and the rational people who must shut them down (as perhaps best described by another of my favorite sites, xkcd.com, in this cartoon).

Oh, and Happy Easter!


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Can’t Say It Better Myself

Playlist for the evening: John Mayer’s Continuum.  

Specifically, this track: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.

Too painfully apt at this particular moment.



p.s. More to come tomorrow, I promise.

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The 4:00 AM Birds


As the Spring semester grinds inexorably by, I see rare hours of the clock on a more consistent, more intimate basis.  Last year as a freshman, I often wrote papers in Lamont library, and any truly late-night battle with the Lamonster resulted in a small but meaningful ritual: conversing with the 4:00 AM birds.

The reading rooms in Lamont are overheated, and the air is dead.  Noise  Continue reading

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Sometimes A Lemon…

… is all we need to withdraw from numbness. For those with time, I offer a short, delicate tale — in decent translation — from Kajii Motojiro, a tuberculosis-stricken predecessor to the modern angst-ridden hipster. This work has inspired generations of Japanese students to leave lemons in department stores, and to extricate themselves from over-intellectualized absurdism.


From Francisco de Zurbaran, “Still Life with Lemons, Orange, and a Rose” (1633), in the Norton Simon Museum.

Soundtrack: “Disengaged”, Grouper. Or, like, Schoenberg.


P.S.  The Zurbaran is now on show on this side of the nation, at the Frick Museum in New York, until May 10.

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…Or, “It was so much harder than I ever imagined.”

Because sometimes men are confronted with things that simply and inescapably reduce them to what evolution has designed them for: a lusty, hopeful, lecherously awkward adolescent looking to spread his genes.

Case in point: Jessica Biel.

Ahh manhood.  Sometimes being a guy is just fun.


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