Monday, December 10, 2007

A Tribute

This kinda happened by accident, but I noticed that that in two out of three papers for my 19th C. European Intellectual History class I have managed to incorporate some variation of the locution which doubles as the title of the greatest television program this side of 1998 : Arrested Development.

(Those crazy German Romantics really like writing about the development of man and also things which arrest that development. See, it's easy!)

Here are the two examples:

  • Each believes that a deeper societal concern at once dehumanizes man and arrests his development.
  • Novalis may concede that the reliance on clergymen arrests the mental development of the ordinary man, but that seems to be a concession readily granted...
I think this is a fitting tribute to a fantastic TV show. If we all work together--all three people who have read this blog more than once--and make sure that we utilize some variation of the phrase "Arrested Development" in every paper, blog post, email, google-chat, etc. we can simultaneously confuse our professors/email recipients but also, and more importantly, memorialize a show which deserves our respect.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Background: The holy sabbath begins at 4:15 PM, which means that even after the large three-course meal (the Jew's weekly Thanksgiving), dinner is over by 6:30 PM. After a long week, there is only one recourse: lying down on the couch--under a blanket--with a book (this particular week's choice: William Gibson's Pattern Recognition). Which means that I am fast asleep by 7:00 PM. On the couch. Most weeks I manage to wake up after half of an hour, maybe forty minutes. Last week, I slept--on the couch--until 10:00 PM.

Now, I'm faced with the Crux: I want desperately to sleep normal human hours at night. A three-hour nap starting at 7:00 PM does not bode well for sleeping normal human hours at night. I figure if I can get myself into bed within three minutes (never has a number been more arbitrarily decided) I should be able to prepare myself for night-sleep without fully awakening. To accomplish this task--suit pants to keep unwrinkled, bathroom to use, teeth to brush--within the self-allotted 180 seconds, I need to summon an intense level of concentration.

Play-by-Play: Concentrating intently, I manage to do all those things within three minutes, and climb into bed at 10:03 PM. Where I proceed to lie sleepless for the next 35 minutes.

Conclusion: Giving up hope for normal human hours of sleep tonight, I go downstairs, back on the same couch, under the same blanket, reading the same book. I continue doing this for more than four hours, until almost 3:00 AM. Good times.

Moral: The intense concentration needed to get ready for bed before your body/mind can fully awake seems to, unfortunately, constitute the very awakeness which I so hoped to avoid.

Another Moral: Don't fall asleep on the couch Friday nights if you hope to enjoy sleeping normal human hours that night.

Last Moral: Sigh.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Procession of Simulacra

I've been thinking a bit about how the line dividing the real and the unreal is eroding. I guess reading Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" will do that to a guy.

An important excerpt:
Such would be the successive phases of the image:
  • it is the reflection of a profound reality;
  • it masks and denatures a profound reality;
  • it masks the absence of a profound reality;
  • it has not relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum

Baudrillard believes that we're in that fourth stage, where things are meant to evoke a past or a present that never, in fact, existed.

The point, in my mind, is that it's not so clear that there is such a thing as fiction/fantasy anymore, because it's all, in a sense, real.

I really like Don DeLillo's White Noise, especially the part about the SIMUVAC (short for "simulated evacuation") technicians dealing with a real life evacuation treat the unexpected event as practice for their simulations: "Are you saying you saw a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation?" (The answer to this question is: Yes. Yes, they did see that chance.)

A few other, non-literary, examples are in order. Here's one. Here's another. Both are posts from, which seems to have developed an interest in the last coupla days in products that started out as fictional but soon became "real." Adam Lisagor, guest editor of for the week, calls this phenomenon defictionalization, which has a nice ring to it.

Here's another one, about the dilemma facing fantasy sports owners who are torn between rooting for their fake team or their real team.

The desert of the real itself.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm Back

I'm going to give this blogging thing another shot, partially because my rooming mate, Ariel, asked me to, and partially because I've been mired in this type of semester-long writer's block, and feel like just getting out there and writing without really thinking too much might serve me well.

So here's to writing without thinking: the reason the Interwebs exist.

If I was forced to provide a second reason why the Interwebs exist I would go with this: the popularization of fake/new holidays. Here's only a partial list, every item of which I came up with without so much as googling "fake holidays."

  • Festivus--of Seinfeld fame, now the proud inspiration for this website.
  • Talk Like a Pirate Day--celebrated on September 19th, this holiday holds special significance for Pastafarians, probably history's greatest religion based on worshiping a complex carbohydrate.
  • Repeal Day--this holiday symbolizes all that is right about blogger/mainstream media cooperation. (This post from the great represents all that is wrong about that relationship.) Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender/blogger (would there be any career choice more disheartening to a Jewish parent?) from Eugene, Oregon, decided that December 5th, marking the anniversary of the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, thereby ending prohibition allowing people to drink once more. Dewar's picked up on this idea and ran with it, relentlessly advertising the concept started by one lonely blogger. Morgenthaler, all too happy to see his idea take off, did not get ticked off that someone stole his idea. The person with the big brain came up with a good idea, and the people with the big bucks paid to advertise it. There are now nine facebook groups/events celebrating the day. Seems like a success to me.
Stay wet, San Diego.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


It took months of emailing, but I finally learned the answer to the question that has been gnawing away at me like that unfortunate tapeworm incident last year: For how long is a new thing considered to be new?

This is the email I sent to the nice folks at Pringles:
I noticed that some of your delicious Pringles Select products, such as the Sun Dried Tomato flavored chips, are labeled as "NEW". I wonder, however, how long these chips will bear such a distinction. Practically every chip is newer than the Orignal chips which debuted in October 1968. How long is a given product considered to be "NEW"?

Thank You.
Nothing so extraordinary about this question; it follows the same archetype I used for all my emails of this genre.

The answer, however, is something special:

Thanks for contacting Pringles.

Generally speaking, a product (or new version or size or attribute) is considered "new" for approximately six months. Pringles Select began shipping to stores across the nation in December 2006.

Stop by anytime.

Pringles Team

P.S. Introducing Pringles Minis! Get that same great Pringles taste in a new bite-sized crisp. Look for Pringles Minis at a store near you!

Six months. Six months. Was that so hard, Pepperidge Farm Web Team?

Pringles has the best customer service department ever.

Ruth, from the Pringles Team, is a saint. Not only did she answer my direct question, but she also taught me something about Pringles Select chips.

I especially love the P.S. message which is so obviously automatically appended to every email Saint Ruth sends out.

Also, while I totally appreciate her invitation to "Stop by anytime," I can't hide my confusion. I should stop by the website? Is that a legitimate collocation? The Pringles factory? Ruth's apartment?

Ruth, if you're reading this, continue your benevolent streak of answering life's unanswerable questions.

[This, in all likelihood, will be the last update of this blog for the summer. Fear not, Snowmen! We'll be back in the autumn with more stuff.]

Monday, May 7, 2007

More Elephants

I mentioned in the comments section to my last post about elephants ("When I See An Elephant Walk At A Moderate Pace...." I would include here a link but you just need to scroll down about two seconds.) that one of the mini-linklets mentioned in that post deserves its own post. That post is now here. Here is the link again: here.

It is a link to a Google Answers question and answer sparring session. Some guy from India asks this question:
I live in the south Indian city of Madras (Chennai). I want to buy an
elephant. Where can I get one? How much will it cost to maintain? Can
I commute to work on it?

This is a serious question by a serious guy and he catches flack for it by Internet jokesters. The whole thing is really too good not to read. If anyone reading this doubts the greatness of the Internet, just keep this in mind: an exchange like this--bringing together serious Indian elephant-buyers and guys who sit on Google all day and make fun of serious Indian elephant-buyers--would not be possible.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Little Re-Examination Never Hurt Anyone

As I was sitting in a boring stats class (is there any other kind?) I started examining the pile of stapled papers on my desk because this seemed to be way more interesting than whatever was going on in the front of the room. I started thinking: what is the best way to staple papers? I normally staple at a perfectly horizontal angle because this seemed to be the neatest on the page. I realized, though, that the aesthetic value of a horizontal staple might not be the most important consideration. What about, for example, ease of page-turning? Is there a better way to staple papers? I ask and the Internet answers. I found this website which asked the same exact question and actually put in the time to test the different staple angles. He (or possibly: They) conclude that a 67.5 angle is the chosen one:
A slight twist on the classic 45 degrees fixing. This has a little more flair as it starts to adhere to some of the Golden Mean rules. My personal preference and the one I think Da Vinci would have gone for (and he may have done - if only the Vatican would allow us to see the books.).
Since I'm already on the topic of rethinking things that no one ever thinks about, I'll point out this website which is put together by a guy named Ian who is the self-proclaimed world expert on shoelaces. (Esquire did a piece on him, which is how I found his website.) He invented a new way to tie shoelaces, which he calls Ian's Knot. Also, he outlines 32 ways to lace your shoes. I chose a simple yet elegant Over-Under lacing method for my new pair of shoes. I think they look quite snazzy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Snape, Snape, Severus Snape

After long deliberations and much philosophizing, I think I agree with the youtube commenter who calls this video the "the greatest thing ever."

I love YouTube

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

When I See An Elephant Walk At A Moderate Pace...

I went last night to the middle of the town, right near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, in order to look at some elephants. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus marches their elephants through midtown at around midnight once a year, every year, to transport these animals into the Garden in preparation for the circus. Seeing the elephants was kinda cool: even if I expected them to have more than ten. I was expecting at least two dozen, maybe even more. But I guess elephants are expensive. (This guy from India wants to know where to buy one. I applaud his creativity. Maybe the most worthwhile link I will ever post on this blog.)

The more cool part was hanging out in Midtown with other NYers who were very worked up about the elephants. Someone even started an elephant cheer that went like this: "El-e-phants! El-e-phants! El-e-phants!" I've never heard the word "elephant" so often in my life.

Sample Conversation:
Guy: Elephant, elephant elephant elephants elephant elephant?
Other Guy: Elephant? Elephant elephants, baby elephants elephants; Dumbo elephants elephant, Babar elephants elephant.

Another Sample Conversation:
Lady: I want to see the f-ing elephants!

Yet another sample conversation, this time taking the form of helpful advice offered by Etan:
Etan: Never get between a mother elephant and her young. You gotta trust me on this.

It is a special feeling to be united with other NYers, all galvanized by the truly worthy cause of: elephants.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How Orignal Am I?

I'm concerned that I don't think creatively enough. I like finding out about other people's good ideas and then telling all my friends about them. This is why the Internet is so helpful for me: it's chock full of good ideas (and, also, bad ideas; but I can usually recognize them for the bad ideas that they are and choose not tell my friends about them) ripe for the plucking.

Here is an idea which, I believe, is entirely my own: I want to start collecting Nerd T-Shirts. I'm very proud of this idea, because it is wholly my own. I'm not talking about T-Shirts that nerds wear; rather, I want the shirt itself to be nerdy. Here are two examples that I've seen actual people wear:
  1. A friend of mine wore a T-Shirt, the front of which was emblazoned with the Rosetta Stone. Here's the link.
  2. A camper of mine wore a T-Shirt advertising the Library of Congress. I couldn't find a picture of it online, but this alternative will serve our purposes: It was like this, but nerdier. I think his version had flying books.
This is one of my most original ideas. Be nice to it.

Pepperidge Farm Web Team: Not So Helpful

As part of my ongoing effort to determine how long important snack companies consider their products worthy of the description "NEW" in their advertisements, I sent this email to Pepperidge Farm on February 21:
I noticed that some new Pepperidge Farm products are labeled as "NEW," such as the decadent Marbella Chocolate Toffee cookies.. For how long does a product continue to bear the distinction of "NEW"? Pretty much every product is newer than Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers, which debuted in 1962, after Margaret Rudkin discovered the snack cracker on a trip to Switzerland and returned to America with the recipe.. When does a product cease being "NEW"?

They sent me a nice email reassuring me that they read each email and will strive to reply within three business days. On March 23 (a bit longer than three business days) I received an email that contained this message "Re: Ref #: 003402818A" in the subject line. Their entirely unhelpful reply consisted of this:
M/M Avi, we received your message and appreciate your taking the
time to contact Pepperidge Farm.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide you with the information you
requested. Any information available to the public can be found on our

Thank you for visiting the Pepperidge Farm website.

Pepperidge Farm Web Team

Gee, thanks, Pepperidge Farm Web Team.

The search continues.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

From The Way Too Much Information Dept.

The tubular lighting bulb which normally illuminates our bathroom is, tragically, dead.

It has yet to be replaced despite our repeated entreaties (OK, fine: it was only one entreaty) to YU Housing. This hasn't caused much discomfort during daylight hours (thankfully, an hour later due to DST), but it has led to some interesting lifestyle compromises during those hours when the sun don't shine.

I've recently told several people that I need to conclude the phone talk/g-chat session because I need to shower before it gets dark. This is not some type of bizarro Ramadan: I just wanted to shower with the benefit of light.

We've been forced to resort to all bathroom work by flashlight. Luckily, I purchased, a few years back, one of those Bluetoothesque, hands-free, coal-miner-style, flashlights. It's a wonderfully underrated experience to read The New Yorker by flashlight in the bathroom. More interesting, however, is the act of showering in the dark. It is, simultaneously, the most relaxing thing I have ever done and the most stressful thing I have ever done. I think that the stress will dissipate once I get used to the fact that I can't see how much shampoo I am using. I find myself showering unnecessarily just for the thrill.

Four of the five residents in my apartment are veterans of Camp Moshava and, therefore, shmutzes (one even is a veteran of some foreign army, although I forget which). As far as I can tell, the Moshava veterans have been better off than the fifth man: if nothing else, camp has taught us to be comfortable with our various bathroom functions even while blind.

The Mr. Show Show

I got into something called "Mr. Show" on youtube. I first heard about the show because of David Cross, who also played Tobias F√ľnke, the world's first analrapist (combination analyst and therapist), on "Arrested Development." "Mr. Show" is veritably absurd: here is Dave Egger's take on it from the New Yorker archives:
I did talk to David Cross for this article, because I think that “Mr. Show,” which was on HBO, is sort of the closest thing we’ve ever had in America to Python. It was a sketch show, and they would do a lot of the same things that Python would. They did filmed clips and skits in front of a live audience. They also weren’t afraid to end a sketch whenever it needed to be ended, as opposed to waiting for some gag to close it out. The thing is, no one knows how to end a sketch well; you see “S.N.L.” struggle with it, when the solution is to just quit and move on. Cross said that he remembered being really young and seeing the Pythons do a sketch, and then talk about the sketch in the middle of the skit, and then continue the sketch, you know, and then end the sketch without an ending. All of these things completely exploded the form. Cross is on “Arrested Development” now, which is really the only American show today that’s in touch with a true sense of absurdity, I think—outside of “The Swan,” maybe. That’s Cross’s joke, by the way.

I'm including here two skits:

Mt. Everest


The Audition

I don't know if this embedding thing will work, but it's well worth the time. The Mt. Everest sketch is all the funnier after realizing that they filmed this in front of a live audience, which meant that they had to sit and wait for the crew to pick up shelves of thimbles between every scene.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Told a Lie

You know how sometimes when you say something you don't really pay attention to what you're saying, so that you have no idea what it is that is coming out of your mouth, even as you are saying the aforementioned thing? This happened to me a few days ago. I was talking to a rabbi. Here is a transcript of the discussion as best as I can remember it:

Rabbi: Are you coming to the Yeshiva dinner on Tuesday?
Me: I hope so.
Rabbi: I hope I can a chance to speak to you.
(I wonder why he isn't yelling at me for not going to the dinner.)
(I realize that he isn't yelling at me for not going to the dinner because I told him that I was going to the dinner.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Martha! Martha! Martha!

In the most recent episode of the YU Commentator an article of mine was published. The article is split pretty evenly between describing the experience of visiting the taping of The Martha Stewart Show and between an irresponsible feminist analysis of Martha. Here's the director's cut of that article, in a convenient, easy-to-read bullet-point format:
  • It was really hard condensing the several-hour-long experience into a somewhat focused article. Normally, when I'm writing a paper, let's say, I have an easier time leaving things out, perhaps because I feel little to no ownership over, for example, The Waste Land. I experienced all of the show, and wanted to, at least, mention all of the relevant parts, but I couldn't figure out a way to incorporate certain details without resorting to a bullet-point list at the end. Thank God for blogs.
  • A-Rod is huge. He doesn't look like it when he's standing next to other pro athletes. I was sitting on the floor of the studio, about twenty feet away from him, and, from up close, he is remarkably big.
  • I skipped shiur to watch the show. (Some things I just couldn't mention in a YU paper.)
  • I applied for more tickets. If I miss shiur on a Thursday or Friday morning during the week of April 16 this might be why.
  • They edited one of my lines. This was my original sentence: "And now, a mostly unfounded and completely irresponsible feminist analysis of Martha Stewart." I was greeted with this sentence upon opening the paper: "And now I will try a somewhat feminist analysis of Martha Stewart." I was more amused than anything else, but it was a weird feeling seeing something you wrote changed around without being consulted.
  • After the A-Rod interview, some skinny guy with a neat sweater and glasses showed us how to arrange roses nicely. They did this in the special flower shop all the way on one edge of the stage. After A-Rod, no one was really excited for flower guy. I think even Martha was bored.
  • The concept of the show is interesting: Martha doesn't do much. She participates in everything, but it's really a guest driven show. It's get slightly uncomfortable when one of the guests outshines her, as was the case of A-Rod, who was the bigger star. At one point, Joey the WUG was even forced to remind the audience that "Martha is the one hosting the show."
[UPDATE: Gila N. Feinblum got the tickets for the show and accompanied me to see it. Sorry for the omission.]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

How Best to Cheapen a Gesture

The Rockies of Colorado now symbolize, for better or for worse, the trust I place in my own decisions and the realization that things are sometimes fun/valuable/good/worthwhile even if the corresponding fun/value/goodness/worth are apparent only to me.

I just purchased a Rockies hat on the internet so that I can be reminded of all that they symbolize whenever I wear it.

Question: does the fact that I'm sharing this information with you and the whole internet somehow cheapen the message which the hat is supposed to represent?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What Do I Like, Again?

I've been wondering about a lot of things lately. Chief among them is this: why do I do things?

Allow me to explain.

This summer I have the opportunity to return to Camp Moshava and spend my summer hanging out with nine-year olds. The same opportunity, offered one year ago, elicited considerably more excitement than the current one. I think this may be true for two reasons: 1) There is always some excitement which accompanies a new project, and I was armed with the added motivation of proving myself worthy/capable of the job. 2) Although some of my friends were conspicuously absent from camp, most of my co-workers ranked in the upper-echelon of my friends.

This year neither reason applies. I already--at least in my own mind--proven that I can handle the job. And most of my day-to-day friends will not be joining me. Where, then, does that leave me? Am I really excited for camp because I love camp? Have I always gone for the friends, and camp was important because it served as a conduit to friends? Do I really do anything for myself, or am I mostly concerned with what my friends think? (I told you I've been wondering about a lot of things lately.)

About a week ago, in my daily Internet wanderings, I came across a piece written by Mark T.R. Donohue for Deadspin is running their annual preview of the baseball season and invited Donohue to write about the Colorado Rockies. Here is the link to the entire piece for those Rockies enthusiasts. I'll include here only the parts relevant to my point.

The lesson of the 90's was that in the absence of a clearly defined bogeyman our culture tends to immediately begin eating itself from the inside. We're not grown up enough for world peace, apparently. I'm old enough now to have absorbed this lesson, but the psychological damage from having grown up in the Bush I/Clinton "now that nothing stands against us, watch us either remain motionless or possibly even slide slightly backwards" age persists. After an adolescence spent watching umpteen "Next Generation" holodeck episodes, viewing movies where at the end it turns out the villain ... is the hero! (like Fight Club and Usual Suspects), and goggling in disbelief at sports theater of the absurd like Pete Rose's fall from grace, the Olympic sprinter steroid scandals, and Michael Jordan's career as a Birmingham Baron, I have come to the unshakable conclusion that nothing is what it appears it to be. Since none of the information I'm being presented is the whole truth, and I can only form opinions based on the facts I've been given, this extends to myself. I'm an unreliable source. I don't know if I believe the things I believe or whether I'm just pretending. I don't genuinely know if I really like the music I like or whether I just want to be perceived as the kind of cerebral uptown intellectual type who has biographies of John Cage and Ornette Coleman displayed prominently on his bookshelf as a matter of course. I've been losing sleep lately over the notion that my fondness for Barack Obama is founded on his race and not his politics. Given the choice, I'd much rather be a little younger, and live in fear of terrorists, or a little older and fear the H-bomb. But I was born when I was and I have to live with the fact that my worst enemy is my own brain.
This is the logical conclusion of my musings on camp: how much do I really enjoy the things that I enjoy because they make me happy? You can consider such examples as The Martha Stewart Show, polka music, origami, The New Yorker, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or anything. I have, and I haven't been able to come up with a straight answer.

Donuhue goes on to list the multitude of reasons why it makes no sense to root for this team. (Again, only interesting for people who like baseball.) But he concludes with this paragraph:

So why do I carry on with this team with no history and no chance of imminent relevance? What keeps me going to Rockies-Diamondbacks games at Coors with announced attendance of 15,000 and actual seat coverage of half that? Well, it ought to be obvious. My love for the Rockies is the one thing in my life about which I'm sure. It's pure. I have absolutely nothing to gain from it. It's not making me friends or influencing people. It's not making me happy in any lasting way, since whenever Colorado does manage to edge its way into a tie for third or creep within three or four games of the .500 mark, a 2-9 road trip through San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego must be right around the corner.

Camp might be my Colorado Rockies.

This will be my test to see if I actually like something for me. I'm hoping it goes well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

If a Blog Exists But No One Knows About It...

I probably shouldn't be drawing attention to this, but the bottommost post on this blog was posted about four months ago. It's not my fault. It was during finals, and I had a lot of free time on my hands, and I was bored. Also, I kinda wanted to see if I knew how to use one of these things. Apparently, I can. (Even if I can't yet figure out how to embed youtube videos onto the page itself. Someday I will.) I view those two lonely posts as a test run. One is already obsolete because the videos have been removed from youtube for some type of copyright infringement.
But this is a fresh start.
I'm even going to tell people about it this time around.