Thursday, June 24, 2010

True Rules

I'm just finished reading The Happiness Project (and I'll elaborate on this later but, you guys, so good), and one of the topics the author address is what she calls "True rules"--statements of personal truth that you live by, even if you don't necessarily articulate them. (You could also call them rules of thumb or, if you wanted to be fancy, heuristics.) They may be helpful ("Whenever possible, choose vegetables") or unhelpful ("I'm in a hurry"); general ("My children are my most important priority") or specific ("Never eat hors d'oeuvres, and never eat anything at a children's party").

I think you know where I'm going with this--I decided to figure out some of my "true rules."

It never hurts to be polite.

Talk to children like they're people.

Most people are wrong about what the phrase "small town" means.

Don't shop any longer or any harder than absolutely necessary.

Don't think about money any longer or any harder than absolutely necessary.

If something won't get used, throw it away.

Ask questions.
Click here to read more . . .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


OK, friends, one last conference blog post. Sorry, but writing these is very cathartic for me.

When I found out last night that everybody left in the Big XII is staying in the Big XII, I felt incredibly relieved. And when I say "felt," I mean that I physically felt better--I had apparently been carrying around some tension for the several days that I was consumed by conference realignment.

I want to pause here and give credit to Big XII commission Dan Beebe, whom I've been making fun of for being a loser. While the Pac-10 was making up numbers--oh, I mean coming up with "projections"--for how much money the Pac-16 would bring in (and, as my dad put it, was ignoring how much of this supposed money would be burned up "flying the volleyball team to Corvallis on a Wednesday"), Dan Beebe went out and talked to the real TV networks involved in doling out money. He presented the schools involved with numbers that might actually be connected with reality, and I'm sure he negotiated to make sure those numbers were good. Well done, Dan Beebe. (Although some unknown amount of credit surely goes to unnamed major power players in Texas and perhaps Oklahoma, putting pressure on people behind the scenes.)

I've seen people complaining about this decision on the internet, mostly Aggie fans. Over the weekend, a lot of fan support for joining the SEC welled up, and those people are disappointed that we're A) just doing what t.u. wants to do after all and B) staying in an inferior conference. Both of those points are true, but both of those points are good things.

How dumb would the War Hymn sound if we stopped playing t.u.? It would hurt to lose that Thanksgiving game, and we all know it. It wouldn't have been worth staying with t.u. at all costs (say, joining the stupid Pac-16), but it's a great thing to do at a low cost. And is it a cost?

Being in the SEC might have improved Aggie football--maybe playing in the nation's best football conference would have proven to be a recruiting boon. But would it have offset how many more losses we would have had against beefed up competition? I doubt it. A&M would have lost a lot more games in the SEC, and we all know it. I hope to see the day when A&M re-becomes a contender for conference and national titles, but I believe that day has a better chance of happening sooner (and at all) in the Big XII, however many teams it has.

I do not agree that what happened somehow degraded A&M's "manhood." A&M leadership were never as bootlicky to t.u. as Oklahoma's (not to mention Tech and Oke State, or of course Baylor's sad desperation). They saw that the Pac-16 was not in their school's best interest and didn't play along. Staying in the Big XII was not knuckling under (like joining the Pac-16 would have been), and there's no shame in it. A&M is, if you haven't noticed, getting credit in the national media for averting the Pac-16. All the writers know that t.u. was the big dog in all of this (because, let's face it, they are), but tend to point out that A&M's refusal to go along blindly changed t.u.'s direction. A&M made the right decision, based on the right motivations.

I realize that not everything is magically fixed now, but I see quite a few things to get kind of excited about. Yes, this is not necessarily a permanent solution. Other conferences may still try (and even succeed) to pick off the remaining Big XII teams. Or maybe not--perhaps the brief flirtation with the idea of "superconferences" (which would be terrible) has been just that, and we'll all re-embrace the 12-team conference (it's the best number for a conference). Maybe the Big XII will expand? I would like to see that (remember that thing I just said, about 12 teams?). I like the conference championship game. The obvious target would be TCU; I just don't know who else might be good. Imagine, though, a Big XII conference where Oklahoma and Oke State are in the North Division--that solves some problems.

Well, that's what I think. What do you think?

Edited to add: Oh yeah, and the conference name thing is going to be ridiculous. It was bad enough when the Big Ten having twelve teams and the Big XII having ten teams seemed temporary . . .
Click here to read more . . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

More Conference Wackiness

Another long post, sorry. But now that I've gotten on board the conference expansion punditry bandwagon, I may as well keep going, right?

The thing that happened today: Nebraska "applied for membership" in the Big Ten and its "application" was "accepted." (From the Big Ten's website: "In order for an institution to be admitted to the Big Ten Conference, it must submit a written application, which must then be approved by at least 70 percent of the Big Ten COP/C. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents formally submitted an application to join the Big Ten Conference Friday afternoon. The Big Ten COP/C then met via conference call and approved Nebraska's application".) Clearly, everybody involved had already decided this was going to go down, but when your conference is 114 years old, I think we can forgive a little pretentious formality.

The one thing about this that surprised me is that Nebraska will be moving on this relatively quickly, with "competition to begin in all sports for the 2011-2012 school year." (In contrast, Colorado is expected [as of now] to start competing with the Pac-whatevernumber in 2012.) They might incur some financial penalties for bailing with so little notice, if there remains a Big XII to which to pay penalties. On the bright side, that means there'll just be one really awkward year of Zombie 12 competition. I think we're all relieved about that.

The other item of note from that press release: no hint of an impending conference name-change. Are we really going to have to keep up with this farce of a conference called the Big Ten having a number of members becoming increasingly distant from ten? Not that I have any good suggestions. They can't be the Big Twelve because that's copyrighted and, apparently, cursed.

The other Thing That Happened today was that Boise State moved from the Western Athletic Conference (AKA the Boise State and the Boisettes Conference, AKA the I Guess We All Have to Pay for Flights to Hawaii, Huh? Conference) to the Mountain West Conference, which is a move I find quietly intriguing. As I mentioned in the comments yesterday, I cherish a small hope that perhaps the MWC can make the jump from middling to major conference--they've at least got the best chance of any of the middling conferences to do so. If they're going to, wooing Boise State is a good step (although it will subject MWC fans to watching games played on that awful, awful field).

But enough about things that happened. Let's turn our attention to rumors and speculation!

First of all, it's looking less and less likely that the Big Ten is going to issue an invite to Missouri anytime in the foreseeable future. This is hilarious. They were the ones who've been threatening the rest of the Big XII with leaving for the Big Ten, but I guess they forgot that they were, at best, the Big Ten's third choice. I think their outspoken snittiness at least contributed to the destabilization of the Big XII, so this is enjoyable comeuppance. It's even worse than getting passed over for that bowl game, isn't it, Mizzou?

Second of all, there are some rumors floating around out there that the proposed rat king of a conference, the Pac-16, may not be a sure thing. Yesterday there was outlier talk that perhaps t.u. and A&M would go to the Big Ten while Oklahoma would go to the SEC while Oklahoma State would still end up going to the Pac-10 (for some reason). This scenario would depend (among other things) on t.u. and A&M being able to ditch Texas Tech, since Tech would not meet the Big Ten's academic standards.

Topic to which I will return later: yes, the Big Ten genuinely has academic standards. It's more usual (I believe) to associate the Pac-10 with scholarly snootiness, but they don't have the surprisingly high standards of the Big Ten.

More interesting and more credible rumors have been flying today about the possibility of A&M breaking away from t.u. and doing its own thing--specifically, joining the SEC. Rumblings about this have been reported on Sports Illustrated's site, ESPN, and elsewhere. I just don't know how credible these reports are or, if they are credible, if the sources are just bluffing. I know Gene Stallings told some people that staying with t.u. is not a sure thing, but has anybody else said so? It's true that no A&M sources have seemed as outspoken about wanting to stay with texas as people from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have, but is that just because A&M doesn't want to look as sycophantic as the Okies? Also, would the Texas legislature allow this to happen? (Is the Texas legislature in session right now? I assume not, since it usually isn't.)

A part of me is kind of hoping for the SEC move to happen. I am not excited about the Pac-16. I'm really not. I don't see how a 16-team conference will even work (the WAC tried it and it failed abysmally). Also, SEC football is the best football but, I realize, that's a double-edged sword. I think it would be fun to be an SEC fan, but I can't pretend than A&M would have an easy time winning there. It would be really, really hard, and A&M has had a hard enough time in recent years that it's tough to be optimistic about our chances in a better conference. Maybe the Pac-16 deal will be for the best, meaning of course "the best" out of a bunch of lousy options.


So, I made the mistake a few times today of reading comments after some articles. What these made clear to me (besides the eternal lesson of "don't read comments") was that the average sports fan/internet commenter knows jack about Texas A&M. A recurring opinion was, in a nutshell, screw A&M, they'd be a better academic fit in the SEC anyway because they suck as a school. This is stupid.

I know that most of the people who read this blog are sympathetic to Texas A&M anyway, but I want to arm you with some facts in case you get into discussions/arguments with other people.

Fact: Texas A&M consistently ranks in the top 25 in US News and World Report's public university rankings; it is 22 this year, 61st overall, and is considered a Tier 1 university. These rankings aren't the last and only word on the quality of academic institutions, but they are widely respected and useful. So:

In the Big 12 as it existed on Monday (that is, with 12 schools), A&M was the second-highest ranked university, trailing only texas. Colorado was the third-highest, at 77.

If A&M were dropped into the Big Ten as it existed on Monday, they would be a little below middle of the pack, tying at 7th with Purdue and Minnesota (behind Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, and Ohio State. texas would tie at 5th with Penn State; despite its fairly solid academic profile, Colorado would be [and Nebraska will be] dead last in the conference).

If A&M were dropped into the Pac-10 as it existed on Monday, they would come in a trifle higher, at sixth (behind Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, and Washington; because of a wide gap in the middle of the Pac-10, texas would also be/will be? sixth and Colorado is sixth).

If A&M were to join the SEC tomorrow, they would actually drop from their Big XII spot, coming in 4th behind Vanderbilt, Florida, and Georgia. Academically, the SEC is weaker overall, but pretty strong at the top.

The point is, Texas A&M would, academically speaking, easily qualify for any conference out there. (OK, not the Ivy League, but you know what I mean.)

Another Fact: Texas A&M is a member of the American Association of Universities.

The AAU is an important organization of research universities. It only has 63 members, and membership in it is a pretty cut-and-dried signal of academic prestige. One of the ways you can tell that the Big Ten doesn't mess around academically is that every single member of the Big Ten is also in the AAU. Seven old Big XII schools are in it (t.u. and A&M, plus everybody in the North but K-State), seven Pac-10 schools are in it, and only two SEC schools (Vandy and Florida) are in it. This is just another way in which A&M would not only fail to detract from a conference's academic pedigree, but in most cases enhance it.

In conclusion, if anybody tries to tell you that A&M is a stupid school, you will know (if you didn't already) that that person is only showcasing his or her own ignorance.

I'll put the US News and World Report scores I compiled after the break.

The magazine ranks the top half of American colleges, then puts the bottom half unranked into their third and fourth tiers (so, if you divide colleges into quarters, third tier schools are in the second-lowest of those quarters. And no, there's no second tier for some reason).

Old Big 12:
1. t.u.: 47th
2. A&M: 61st
3. Colorado: 77th
4. Baylor: 80th
5. Iowa State: 88th
6. Nebraska: 96th
Kansas: 96th
8. OU: 102nd
Mizzou: 102nd
10. Tech, Oke State, and K-State: third tier

Old Big Ten
1. Northwestern: 12th
2. Michigan: 27th
3. Wisconsin: 39th
Illinois: 39th
5. Penn State: 47th
6. Ohio State: 53rd
7. Purdue: 61st
Minnesota: 61st
9. Iowa: 71st
Indiana: 71st
Michigan State: 71st
(so in the New Big Ten, Nebraska will be #12)

Old Pac-10
1. Stanford: 4th
2. Cal-Berkeley: 21st
3. UCLA: 24th
4. USC: 26th
5. Washington: 42nd
(and here's that gap where Colorado will go, and where t.u. and A&M might go)
6. Arizona: 102nd (where it would tie with OU)
7. Washington State: 106th
8. Oregon: 115th
9. Arizona State: 121st
10. Oregon State: third tier

1. Vanderbilt: 17th
2. Florida: 47th
3. Georgia: 58th
4. Auburn: 88th
5. 'Bama: 96th
6. Tennessee: 106th
7. South Carolina: 110th
8. Arkansas: 128th
LSU: 128th
Kentucky: 128th
11: Mississippi State and Ole Miss: third tier (insert obvious Mississippi joke here)
Click here to read more . . .

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conference Suicide

This is a long one, because I've got a lot to say. Buckle up. Oh, and it's only current through 1:30 Central, so keep that in mind.

There have been rumors and rumblings about schools possibly leaving the Big XII for months. I haven't commented about them on the blog before because it's very upsetting to me (this is also why I rarely write about politics). It's upsetting for two reasons: first, I'm very attached to the Big XII. I think it's a very good conference and am going to miss it when it's gone. The second reason is that's all just stupid.

For those of you who haven't been following the story, here's what's up: months ago, the Big Ten (which is comprised of eleven schools, natch) announced that they wanted to expand. This makes perfect sense. Now, athletic conferences affect many sports, but we're just going to focus on football, because, as the thing from whence the money comes, that's what's driving all of these actions. The Big Ten, with its eleven members, can't have divisions or a conference championship. You need 12 to do that. It is also a quirk of the Big Ten football schedule that it wraps up the weekend before Thanksgiving, meaning that it stops getting attention well before the other conferences, who keep playing. (This was also a big deal for the 2006 championship, when much was made of Ohio State's five weeks off from playing compared to Florida's three. It was theorized that all that time away took off tOSU's edge and, indeed, they performed much worse that you would have thought based on how they played during the season.) If the Big Ten had a conference championship, it would extend their pre-bowl season.

The question has always been, who would the Big Ten recruit? The answer seems to be Nebraska. This makes sense for the Big Ten, because it would widen their "TV footprint" (although only by the area of Nebraska, which contains no important TV markets), and of course Nebraska has its impressive football cache and broad fanbase.

Does it makes sense for Nebraska? I suppose it does. Their style of football (some would call it “smashmouth,” others would call it “boring”) fits with Big Ten style. And it makes sense geographically/culturally, I suppose, although not necessarily more sense than the Big XII makes. The real question is why Nebraska would want to leave the Big XII. Is it the different football sensibility (Nebraska having no truck with all that passing nonsense everybody else wants to do)? Is it the disparity between the North and South divisions (which, even though the weak North is good for Nebraska’s win-loss total, makes Nebraska’s schedule look weaker than it needs to be)? Or is it, depressingly, just the money?

The Big XII doesn’t pay out as many millions as the Big Ten as things stand now, mostly (as I understand it) because of the Big Ten Network. The conference owns it, so they get all the profit from the not-inconsiderable number of games they broadcast. This is the weird thing to me: as a resident of Big Ten country, it seems to me that most people around here who actually like watching football games hate the Big Ten Network. It’s expensive to get (being way up on the cable tiers), meaning that Big Ten Network games are games that you have to go to sports bar to watch or that you just miss. Given, I haven’t heard as many complaints about it recently as I did when it first launched, so either the situation has improved or people have gotten used to it. Still, it puzzles me when fans of other conferences talk about how they should get their own network too. It makes sense if you’re making money off of it, but not necessarily if you just want to watch some football.

My theory is that it’s a combination of the money, a desire to join kindred football spirits (who will be more prestigious to defeat than Iowa State yet easier to beat than texas), and a lack of rivalry glue within the Big XII. Whereas texas and Texas A&M don’t go conference-hopping without each other, Nebraska doesn’t have anybody like than in the Big XII. Admittedly, I’m not a huge expert on the mentality of the Nebraska fan, but I don’t feel like they really have anybody fun to hate. KU and K-State are, in the historical view, terrible at football; Nebraska may have a little more going on with Missouri or Colorado, but it’s nothing ESPN announcers gush about, you know? (Also, nobody cares about Iowa State besides maybe Iowa fans for one week a year.) Nebraska’s greatest Big Eight rival was Oklahoma and because of the Big XII’s rigid scheduling, they only play twice every four years (not even every other year; two on and two off). Perhaps this was a mistake. Take the SEC for instance—when it was split into divisions, provision was made for historic rivals to keep playing every year. Tennessee is in the East and Alabama in the West, but since the Tennessee-Alabama game is a big deal, it happens every single year. If Nebraska were playing Oklahoma every year, would it be harder to leave?

There has also been talk of Missouri bolting for the Big Ten (in case they wanted to be the Big T(hirte)en, I guess?) but I’m less sure what’s going on there. That is, I’m sure it’s because Mizzou has their collective panties in a wad over being passed over in Big XII’s bowl bids last year, losing out on a sweeter bowl to the inferior Iowa State. Attention, Missouri: it’s because your fans are terrible and don’t travel well. Get on that. Anyway, what I’m unsure about is whether the Big Ten really wants them. I don't think they do. If they get Nebraska, they’ll call it a day.

OK, stage three: I once read an article that described the Big XII as a conference with two 800-lb gorillas, Nebraska in the north and texas in the south. Without Nebraska, the conference becomes unattractive to texas. That blow to the conference’s prestige makes it not good enough for what is, objectively, one of the nation’s finest athletic programs. But where to go? And here’s where it starts getting, in my opinion, kind of stupid.

With the Big Ten’s talk of expansion and the increasing likelihood that the Big XII will become a carcass for the picking-apart, the Pac-10 has gotten in on the "fun." It's already poached Colorado. That's not super-important; the Big XII could survive without Colorado, replacing with, I dunno, somebody. Colorado isn't a deal-breaker. Its leaving is a symptom of Big XII death, not a cause.

But the Pac-10 isn't done! Oh no. Why stop at Pac-11 or Pac-12 when you could be The Pac-16, Conference Supreme!? Why add a bunch of teams from Texas and Oklahoma to the Pacific Athletic Conference? WHY NOT.

Basically, the Pac-10's supervillain plan is to poach not just Colorado, but also texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. Then the old Big XII teams would be put into an eastern division with Arizona and Arizona State, while those Pac-10 teams that have any relation at all to the Pacific Ocean would be in the western division. This is baffling to me. Oklahoma State and Oregon State in the same conference? I just . . . it's . . . what? Sure, this conference (or "super conference" as ESPN's Mark May put it) would make a lot of cash--but then, they'll spend a lot of cash on travel expenses--but it just doesn't make the sense that the Big XII (or the existing Pac-10) does.

One interesting facet of this: Baylor. Baylor was lobbying to be in the new Pac-10 group instead of Colorado, but now of course, that ain't happ'nin'. And why would it? The Pac-10 wouldn't want to touch Baylor with a ten-foot pole. (Or, as it would need to be, a 2,100-mile-long pole.) Baylor shouldn't be in a major conference, and it's hard to see, in the likely event that the Big XII goes extinct, how it will be. The wild card is that Baylor alumni have political pull within the state of Texas, and they're using that leverage with the other Texas schools to try to stay together in a group. That's how they (and Texas Tech) got into the Big XII in the first place. I doubt if it will enough this time, though.

I wish the Big XII would just stay together (well, at this point, "stay together" with the remaining 11 members and some replacement for Colorado), but I think it won't. I shouldn't be this worried about it, because A&M is going to be fine. Even if we didn't have the understanding with texas, we've been flirting with the SEC for years, apparently (and Sports Illustrated has a very, very interesting article about the possibility), and that would be a pretty soft landing (although we'd be soft targets for SEC teams as the program stands now). But I don't wanna be a Pac-10 fan. And I was never a big K-State or KU fan, but I have a little affection in that direction, and I have no idea what would happen to them (or Iowa State or probably Missouri, but I don't care about those guys). Geographically and historically, I just don't know either who they'd join or what they could cobble together. Nothing springs to mind at all.

I don't blame the Big Ten for wanting to expand. I don't blame Nebraska for wanting to go. I don't blame texas and the Texettes for wanting to go if Nebraska goes. I guess I don't blame the Pac-10 for wanting to take over the world. So whom do I blame for all of this? That's easy. Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is a perfect fit for the Big Ten. There's no reason for Notre Dame to be independent except that it gives them more flexibility in their schedule to play terrible teams and inflate their win total. They bring in a little more money with their independent television contract than the Big Ten currently pays out to its member schools, but the Big Ten's total and Notre Dame's share would increase with Notre Dame in the mix. If Notre Dame would have just done the obvious thing and join a conference already, no dominoes would have had to fall anywhere. The Big Ten would get better and everybody else could have stayed the same. But no. Notre Dame is killing the Big XII, which gives me just one more reason to hate them.

If you'd like to follow along with the drama, I'd recommend the ESPN Big XII blogger's page.
Click here to read more . . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Still More Books and Books: the Funny, Light, and Popular

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
I lost count of how many people told me I needed to read The Help. "It's so good!" I heard, over and over and over. It's extremely popular at my library, so by the time I got on the hold list for it, I was 997th in line. Luckily, one of my co-workers had jumped on it much earlier, and let me read her copy once she was done with it. As it turns out, all those people who told me it's great were entirely correct. It's about black maids in the 60s and their complicated relationships with the white women and children they work for and again, it's super good. Go read it (if you can get your hands on it, that is.)

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter
Aaaand at the other end of the spectrum, there's this book about a cat. See, there was this library in Iowa in the 80s and times were bad, but the librarian found this cat who was really friendly and everyone in town really loved him and zzzzzzzzzzzzz. I read up to a little less than halfway through (it is, somehow, a 277-page book) and then gave up, so I can't tell you how he "touched the world." He sounds like a perfectly good cat, but . . . he was just a cat.

Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie, by Mark St. Amant
Speaking of writing a whole book about something there isn't all that much to say about, there's this one about some random dude's fantasy football season. I actually finished this one, despite the fact that the dude has a writing style that is both repetitive and derivative of Bill Simmons' (and since the guy is, like Simmons, from Boston, I refuse to believe that's a coincidence). It gave me some food for thought on what I'll try to do with my fantasy football team this upcoming season, though, and I guess that's good enough.

Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn
This was a MacKenzie recommendation, and I liked it. I know this is lazy, but now I'm going to copy-and-paste the review I wrote on Goodreads: This book is good enough that I want to read the next one in the series, but not good enough that I want to read the next one immediately. On the con side, Raybourn revisits a lot of Sherlock Holmesian cliches in her Nicholas Brisbane (but then, how can you write a male Victorian detective without ripping off Sherlock Holmes?) and I knew who the murderer was from, like, the scene where the-person-who-would-ultimately-revealed-as-the-murderer was introduced. Oh, and I didn't find the romantic stuff at all convincing. On the pro side, it's brisk, funny, and likable. Pretty good, I say.

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family, by Dan Savage
As you know, I like Dan Savage, and as you also know, I am very pro-gay marriage. It is therefore unsurprising that I really enjoyed this book, which mixed the autobiographical tale of how Dan and his partner Terry decided whether to get married (one of the big factors: pressure to get married by Dan's mom) with Dan's cogent, common-sense arguments in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. It's very good (although I probably liked The Kid better).

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
I saw the movie based on this book--in the theater, no less. I liked it, and I like Neil Gaiman (mostly because he co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett), so I plucked Stardust off the shelf at work on a whim. The first half is really good, better than the movie (because, as novels do, it gets to explain and explore more than a 90-minute film). But then the second half gets kind of weird--not weird in an obvious way (because it was already weird, what with witches and ships flying through clouds, an alternate reality, etc.) but in a structural way. The pace, instead of accelerating as it does in almost any other book, slows down--there are a few sequences of "and then a few weeks passed." (Now, here are some vague spoilers, so stop reading if you don't want the broad strokes of how the book ends.) And then there's no climax. It's a book with a hero, a damsel in distress, and a very evil villain, but the hero and villain never face off! The villain is just like, "I guess I failed. Welp, whaddaya gonna do?" And then the very end is sort of sad. The second half is, therefore, inferior to the movie (and shows why the screenwriter pretty much made up new stuff for the second half of the film). Now: I know some people would like this sort of convention-defying structure, but it didn't fly with me. Why am I going to all the work of reading the darn thing if there's no payoff? But then, on the other hand, I read it in like three hours, so "all the work" is overstating it by quite a bit.

In conclusion, I don't disrecommend it.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, June 7, 2010

Still More Books and Books: the Serious, Classy, and Classic

I've gone so long since the last books and books entry that putting all the books I've read into one would make it really long. That's why I'm semi-arbitrarily splitting them into serious/classy/classic vs. funny/light/popular. (I know some of these are popular, but hey, some of the next batch are serious.) Part 2 will go up tomorrow.

Little Women
, by Louisa May Alcott

It's true, I had never read Little Women before. I knew the general outlines of what happens, though, since I am an adult human. There were a couple of surprises, though. First, I was taken aback that the book is incredibly preachy and moralizing and yet still enjoyable. Second, I had no idea how long the book was. It is so long, you guys. Sweet merciful heavens. For the most part, I did enjoy it, except that I couldn't stand Meg's stupid babies. They're so annoying. There's one chapter that announced up front that it was going to tell all about Meg's stupid babies, and I was like, "I'm out" and skipped to the next one. Other than that, though, it was good.

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
This was the last Austen book I hadn't read. I have mixed feelings about it--the funny parts were, I thought, funnier than in other Austen books, but it was also largely pointless. I also hated the guy the heroine ends up with; he wasn't any less repugnant than the villains. Overall, I think liked it better than Persuasion and Mansfield Park, but I'm sure I liked it less than Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe
Neal taught his own class about British history last semester, and I decided to read both the novels he assigned to his chilluns. This was the first one I tackled--an important work about disillusionment in post-war Britain. It's the kind of book you're glad you read, to get the perspective and because it's a well-respected piece of literature. It wasn't particularly fun to read (although it has its humorous moments).

Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker
Neal also assigned the first book of the Regeneration Trilogy, which is about World War I. I liked these better than Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, although again, it's not the kind of book I'd want to take to the beach, or on an airplane. These are, as Neal described them, very "literate" books. They're smart books that make you feel smart for reading them. The characters are interesting, and there's a nice mix of obviously sympathetic characters and ostensibly unsympathetic ones that gradually win you over. Also, they remind you that WWI was really horrible and stupid. And that's an important lesson.

Zeitoun, by David Eggers
This is the true account of one New Orleans family's experiences immediately before and after Hurricane Katrina. The wife left with the children while the husband stayed to look after their properties--at first, he was in a position to help the other people who stayed, but then he got arrested and imprisoned without so much as the chance to make a phone call. (It did not help that he is of Middle Eastern descent.) It's a story that shows how human nature can be both surprisingly generous/selfless and shockingly petty and cruel in times of hardship. I'm not sure whether I liked it as a book or not. There were parts that were tedious, but I certainly wasn't going to put it down until I found out what happened to the Zeitouns in the end.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
If you read The Kite Runner and liked it even a little, you should read this one too. If you haven't read The Kite Runner, read this anyway. The main thing I liked about The Kite Runner was that it taught me things about life in Afghanistan. A Thousand Splendid Suns is still educational in this way, although definitely less so, but it's more enjoyable as a novel. That's mostly because the protagonists of this one are likeable. It is well worth the read.
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tea Birthday

For my birthday (over a month ago), my sister got me a really cool present: lots and lots of tea.

About a week before my birthday, I got an email informing me she had gotten me a $25 Twinings online gift certificate. $25! That's a lot of tea!

For the sake of posterity, I shall now record what I ordered:
2 boxes of delicious, delicious Lemon Twist
2 boxes of family favorite (Neal and I both drink it) Prince of Wales
1 box of Blackcurrant Breeze (since it was new to me, I'll report: Kind of weird. It sort of tastes like somebody dropped a bunch of tart fruit-flavored candy in the tea. It's not bad, but I don't think it will earn a permanent place on my tea roster, either.)
1 box of Pure White tea (also new: I had been curious about this one for awhile, but didn't spring for it until I got a gift certificate because it's almost a dollar more expensive [that is, almost 30% more expensive] than the other teas. I think I'll keep buying it, though, because I really like it. Or I think I really like it? Maybe I'm just fooled into thinking it's great because it costs more? For the record, it's khaki-colored instead of white--until you add milk, and then it is pretty darn white.)
1 box of decaffeinated Lady Grey (another experiment: I think this stuff is great. [For decaf.] It tastes almost exactly like Lady Grey; it doesn't have the weird tinge to it that decaf English Breakfast [which tastes disconcertingly yeasty] or decaf Earl Grey [the store brand that I buy--for some reason, I strongly dislike Twinings' Earl Grey] have. And I like Lady Grey better to begin with than the Rooibos, so this one has taken the top spot among decaffeinated teas. Good job, decaf Lady Grey!)
1 box of regular Lady Grey, for old times' sake.

A few days later, my tea arrived--but oh, what's this? Two boxes from Twinings on my doorstep?

It turns out that not only did my sister give me the present of shopping for tea, she also bought me more tea.

I received this, the Twinings Tea Trolley, which both came with more boxes of tea and, once I dumped the packets out of their boxes, gave me a place to store much of the ridiculous amount of tea I now possessed. Score! My cabinet shelf o' tea is a much better place for it.

Now, as a post-script: sometimes I forget to comment back to comments people leave. So I'm going to respond to months-old comments on old tea entries right here, right now.

I did finally try some Chai tea. The problem is that it tastes like the holiday season, so it's weird in the springtime. I think I'll really dig it once late October rolls around, though.

Also, Hannah, your under-brewing suggestion about fruit tea made a huge difference. My instinct had been to steep as long as possible to intensify the flavor, but once you pointed it out, I realized that that washed out the fruitiness. Now I set a timer when I'm steeping fruit tea, just to make sure I don't wander off and forget it.

MacKenzie: how did brewing your own tea go? Have you started on "mommy teas" yet?
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Friends: Season Nine

In general:
This season is so lazy. The acting, the plots, the dialogue: lazy, lazy, lazy. Even the clip show is lazy for a clip show. For the most part, characters just go through the motions of plots, and the jokes are weak and predictable. There's an occasional funny line or a flash of impressive continuity (Joey's favorite beach activity is digging a hole, Joey's "Southern" accent is actually Jamaican), but that just makes all the nonsensical stuff even more frustrating by comparison.

One little silver lining is that Chandler is (to some degree) back. Sure, his snarky comments may have lame, implausible set-ups, but he gets to make those comments on topics other than his own patheticness. So that's . . . something.

Little things that drive me crazy:
The material they gave Elliot Gould in the season opener (farting, accidentally spying on his own daughter having sex, being too enthusiastic about her sex life when he finds out they're trying to have a baby, and just lots of stupid lines) was just awful.

An example of lazy writing: Joey's girlfriend Charlie overhears Rachel telling Phoebe that she's jealous because she has a crush on Joey. Charlie later tells Rachel that she overheard, but she thinks it was Phoebe saying that she had a thing for Joey. But why would Charlie think that? There are context clues in the conversation Charlie overheard about who was who--Rachel even addresses Phoebe by name at one point. The writers could have taken the hints out or, even better, put in something misleading that would plausibly cause Charlie's confusion. They just didn't bother.

Another: Phoebe is gushing about how attracted she is to David. Monica, disbelievingly, says, "The scientist guy? Really?" Phoebe responds, "Chandler? Really?" That was a little amusing--the first time they used it (verbatim), in Season Seven (in "The One with All the Cheesecakes").

"The One with Rachel's Other Sister" is bogged down by the cartoonish, entirely unbelievable hatefulness of Christina Applegate's Amy, and it doesn't have anything else going for it either.

One plotline in "The One with Rachel's Phone Number" involves Mike and Ross hanging out and discovering they have nothing to talk about. Attention, all writers of anything ever: watching people being awkwardly bored is awkward and boring.

Joey's nervousness about getting a big, romantic storyline on Days of Our Lives is nonsense. Joey's been an actor for almost 20 years and he's never played "in love" before? Please.

The gag where Joey doesn't know what air quotes mean is dumb. First of all, everybody knows what they mean. Second of all, because of point #1, Joey has of course used air quotes in previous episodes.

I loathe the character Gavin. It's written badly and acted execrably. I'll admit, I haven't seen enough things Dermot Mulroney is in to know if he's a complete and utter no-talent hack, or if he merely put no effort into this one role.

Big things that drive me crazy:
None of the Ross and Rachel "romantic" stuff that happens this season makes sense. Ross totally drops his plans to try to date again because Rachel, in a moment of panic that she immediately regretted, said yes to Joey's (non-) proposal? Why? They both freak out when Rachel gives out her phone number to some random dude? Why? Ross is infuriated when Rachel kisses her co-worker? And then gets "revenge" by pretending to be dating some loser woman? Why? Phoebe keeps insisting (in "The One with the Blind Dates") that Rachel and Ross should be together because they're "so good together"? Good gravy, Phoebe, WHY?

Mike really loves Phoebe, but, not to over-use the question . . . why? All we really see of Mike is that he's a nice guy. I wish there was something weird and interesting about him that showed us he's a good match for Phoebe.

Even worse is the Phoebe-Mike-David love triangle introduced in the second half of the season. Before this season, David had only appeared twice, but his first episode in particular was really memorable and good. Over the course of the series, Phoebe dates a lot of guys, but rarely seriously--she loved David, and he was for her The One That Got Away. It was therefore a good decision to bring him back in the ninth season to provide contrast with Phoebe's new great love, Mike. The show creates a lot of believable conflict/drama with Phoebe's feelings for Mike conflicting with her feelings for David, and then it just poops all over it in the season finale. David, being pathetic and lame, decided to propose to Phoebe too soon and Phoebe, being weird and dumb, decides she'll accept even though she loves Mike more than David (but doesn't the fact that Phoebe and David both want to rush into a bad decision show their compatibility? I think so). Then when Mike shows up at the last minute to declare his love, Phoebe declares her love back and Monica and Chandler celebrate that they've gotten back together and everyone will be happy again forever. Except oh, wait! David's standing right there as all of this goes down. So thanks, show, for bringing back a beloved character just to thoroughly humiliate him for no apparent reason.

Little thing that I don't know how to feel about:
When Ross gets all hyped up on maple candy, Schwimmer's acting is not entirely different from an Emo Phillips impression.

Little things I love:

Joey wondering what "Ross" is short for. You know, Rossell? Rosstopher?

The "It's [NOT] a Boy!" banner they hang up for Rachel. (The store was all out of "It's a Girl!")

I agree with Ross: "Baby Got Back" does promote healthy body image.

Big thing I love:
One thing that Friends did well over and over is break-ups. (OK, aside from the Phoebe and David one I just complained about.) Monica and Richard broke up because she wanted to have kids, and he didn't. Her perspective made sense; his perspective made sense; it was an irreconcilable difference. Ross and Rachel became increasingly frustrated with each other because her career changed the dynamics of the relationship--he got ever-more annoyed because of jealousy of her co-worker and jealousy of time spent away from him; she got annoyed by his annoyance. The relationship became more and more fraught until it ruptured. Chandler breaks up with Janice (well, one of the times Chandler breaks up with Janice) because she still has feelings for the father of her child, and Chandler--because he loves her--wants her family to stay together if there's a chance it will work.

Season Nine has another realistic breakup, that of Phoebe and Mike. Phoebe realizes, because she's so happy with Mike, that she wants a traditional relationship, one that will lead to marriage and kids and driving a sensible car. But it turns out that Mike, who got burned bad by his first marriage (we never learn which of his possessions his ex-wife defecated on . . . but still) won't consider getting married again. Phoebe's already opened Pandora's wedding box, though, and decides that if Mike won't marry her, she needs to be with somebody else who will. Again: this is a believable situation that you could easily imagine happening to one of your real-life friends, so it resonates pretty well when it happens to one of the Friends.


  • Joey: "You don't have a TV? What's all your furniture pointed at?"
  • Chandler, to Monica: "You know how competitive you get, and while I say it's cute, others disagree and I'm lying!"
  • Chandler, upon being ignored: "Should I use my invisibility to fight crime, or for evil?"
  • Phoebe, in her Katherine Hepburn voice: "Here's something rich--thirteen bathrooms in this place; I threw up in the coat closet!"
  • Ross: "If she's never had a serious relationship, do you think I'd go around broadcasting it, like some kind of . . . unstoppable moron?"
  • Chandler: "You're smiling." Joey: "No I'm not." Chandler: "Yes, you are. I can tell by the way your mouth is."

Let's talk about Rachel:
Rachel is the hardest Friend to characterize in a nutshell. You know how when there's a group of four girls/women, they dole out who's the Carrie, Miranda, etc.? Well, when you try to do the same with the Friends characters in a group of three, it tends to go (in my experience), "Well, I'm obviously a Monica, and you're clearly a Phoebe and I guess that makes you, [third person], the Rachel. You, um, date guys sometimes."

Because what is there to say about Rachel? You assume she's sort of, for lack of a better term, boy-crazy, but it's not like she dates any more than Monica (when Monica's single, of course), and she dates less than Phoebe. She seems like sort of a daddy's girl, except when her terrifying daddy actually shows up. She starts out spoiled, but she grows out of that. She's sort of shallow, but on the other hand she dated Ross, a nerd who, as Homer Simpson pointed out, "is handsome in an ugly sort of way." She likes to shop, but . . . well yeah, she definitely likes to shop.

Two big things happen with Rachel this season, both of which reflect her malleability as a character. First, she becomes a mom. That makes sense as a character progression; parenthood is a very common aspect of continuing to grow up. The problem is that show can't decide what kind of mom she is. In "The One with Phoebe's Birthday Dinner" she, if you will, pitches a spaz about leaving Emma with Ross's mom for the evening, believing something terrible will happen if she, Rachel, isn't with Emma at every moment. In "The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work," she cuts her maternity leave short, before she and Ross have made arrangements for Emma's care, because she imagines that her job is threatened. Now, I know moms get more relaxed the older their babies get, but the second thing is her just plain old being a bad mom.

Rachel's other big storyline is her crush on Joey. This plot pales in comparison to Season Eight's Joey-falls-in-love-with-Rachel arc. For one thing, it's not nearly as sympathetic because, as Rachel tells anyone who will listen, her thing for Joey is just physical. As a corollary, the situation doesn't reveal anything new about Rachel. When Joey fell for her, it showed us a new side of his character. It wasn't inconsistent with who we already knew Joey to be, but it did give him new depth. Rachel wanting Joey just shows old self-centered, jealous, shallow Rachel. (They really did go to the jealousy well with her a lot.) Not terribly interesting. The only way it does affect her character is that the writers dumbed her down to make her seem to fit better with Joey. (During Ross's keynote speech, Rachel laughs at "homo" while Joey laughs at "erectus." Boom! Now I'm convinced they're perfect for each other!)

And you know what's weird? I don't even dislike Rachel (except maybe when she ditches her baby to engage in stilted "sexual tension" banter with that puke Gavin). I like her fine. It's just . . . I can't really tell you why.

(For those keeping track at home, we've now "talked about" Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Janice, Ross & Rachel, and Chandler & Monica. I'm excited about this feature in the Season Ten write-up. [As a hint, it's not Joey & Chandler. That got cut in favor of Chandler & Monica.)

Top three episodes (by default):
"The One with Ross's Inappropriate Song"
or: "The One Where Phoebe Meets Mike's Parents" or: "The One with Richard's Sex Tape"

"The One with the Blind Dates"
or: "The One Where Monica and Chandler Babysit Emma"

"The One with the Soap Opera Party"
or: "The One Where Chandler Goes to a One-Woman Play"
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Wow, May was a terrible, terrible blogging month for me (tied with December 2008 for worst-ever!). So I'm going to try to do better this month. For my first recuperation post, let's take care of some business. There are things you need to know.

1. CraKenzie had their baby, CraKenzie, jr! (Lucy.)

Look at that sweetie muffin!

2. My friend Nancy started a blog about making fancy cocktails (now appearing in the blog-links sidebar). I haven't tried any yet, because they've all involved fancy tools that I do not possess. (Then again, I don't even own a blender, so there you go.)

3. Maybe I don't have a #3? But here are some entries I plan to hit you with real soon: Friends Season 9, a books & books, some sort of beta of the princess quiz, a tea report, and an account of a Madison adventure we had. Let's see if these plans come to fruition!
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