Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Collection of the Worldwide Internet

The Friday Collection is back. At least for now. It's been since gone since August 29th, quite a while for what was supposed to be my steadiest recurring feature. Better throw in many more links to distract everyone.
If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?

America the Gift Shop is an installation project that reflects the current foreign policy in the fun-house mirror of American commerce.

My palette is the vernacular of retail. The more familiar it is, the better host it becomes for the idea. Once of the sugar coating of the ordinary dissolves, we are left with the hard and uncomfortable truth about where we've been as a nation.

We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience. What do we have to remind us of the events of the last eight years?
Awesome description of his vision. And the art itself is hilarious.

  • The YouTube interactive videogame is here. We have way better games than this nowadays, but it's a clever concept. You click on the specific place which loads the next video, moving you along to the next level. Clever.
  • This is a fantastic way to design a cover for a book: let someone else do it. In contest form. The results are fantastic.
  • Some interesting stats that give us some sort of idea of what technology the cool kids are using.


Recently on:
  • Wore my black/gray reversible fleece for first time this season. If you see me from now until ~May, there's a 28% chance you'll see it also.
  • After reading the touching DFW memories from his students over at, I emailed my favorite college professor. We had coffee.
  • Just saw Casablanca for the first time. It holds up spectacularly well (after 68 years) except for the music and the hats.

Dance Dance Evolution?

As part of my quest to experience, see, hear, visit, taste, and smell all the free things available in NYC, I went to observe Cham!, Ritual Dances of Bhutan. Free +1 to anyone who knew that Bhutan is a country, because I sure as hell didn't. But, yes, it's true: Bhutan is a country, a kingdom in fact, and here are some interesting sentences about it, courtesy of wikipedia:

The Kingdom of Bhutan (IPA: /buːˈtɑːn/) is a landlocked nation in South Asia. It is located amid the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains and is bordered to the south, east and west by India and to the north by China. Bhutan is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim. The Bhutanese call their country འབྲུག་ཡུལ་, Druk Yul (land of the thunder dragon).[1]

Bhutan is one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world.[2] Foreign influences and tourism are regulated by the government to preserve the nation's traditional culture, identity and the environment. Accordingly, in 2006 Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world.[3]...The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, and the population is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism being the second-largest religion....After centuries of direct monarchic rule, Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008....Bhutan is also the last remaining monarchy, constitutional or otherwise left in South Asia.

So the Rubin Museum, as part of a promotion they're running to alert people to the existence of their new The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan exhibit (and, maybe, like for me, to the existence of the museum as a whole), organized this event. The promotion involved, according to the brochure I was handed during the dance, flying 13 "monks of the monastic fortress of Trongsa [to] perform two common examples of cham," which is the "ancient ritual dance of Tantric Buddhism that has been preserved and performed in Bhutan for centuries," in public places around New York. Also: "The dances feature wrathful deities that destroy evil demons."

I witnessed the Cham titled Shanag Ngacham, or: Dance of the Black Hats with Drums, which turns out to be a pretty good title in terms of describing the contents of the dance, as you can see from the first video ever posted by the TheDailySnowman account on YouTube.

The dance I witnessed took place at the New York Public Library, located at 42nd and 5th. A fair crowd attended, maybe 150 to 200 people. A decent portion of the assembled masses knew what was going on and showed up on purpose; the rest seemed to just wander up the steps to the library courtyard, curious to see what was drawing such a crowd. It's pretty interesting that a museum is doing marketing through street performances, just instead of asking for quarters they were looking for visitors and attention.

I was trying pretty hard to figure out what the crowd was thinking and feeling. And by that I mean: I was trying pretty hard to figure out what I was thinking and feeling. I attended because I thought it'd be weird and cool and random to see monks do a demon subjugation dance in a public place in NYC, and we all know I was very available that weekday afternoon. But I was experiencing this weird mixture of appreciation for a bit of foreign, ancient, and fascinating ritual, along with this sense of Western superiority and hubris, as I was watching these guys do a dance to subjugate demons. And I wonder how honest this description, again from the brochure which I was handed, is: "Wrathful forms of deities personify tantric techniques of transforming greed, ignorance, pride, and other spiritual poisons--demons we all possess and that stand in the way of our reaching enlightenment." Is that what the monks would say? Or is this just the most blatant part of the inherent and inevitable Americanization of bringing monks from Bhutan to New York?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they're important to think about.

Lastly, here's a link to my Picassa web album, where you can see the pictures I took and read the witty comments I wrote. Now with bonus Chuck Klosterman photos and witty comments! (Note: The witty comments are about Chuck Klosterman--loosely--and not by him, which may rightfully lead you to question the wittiness of the comments in question.)

Cham! and Klosterman 9/16/08 10:06 PM

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grammar Usage Guy

I've been trying to act civilized lately. Doing laundry, ironing clothing, preparing food in the oven, etc. I kept trying to describe these new skills with a word that started with domestic-, but both of the obvious options sounded funny. Was I being domestic? That sorta makes me sound like a cheap beer. But if I am being domesticated, that seems like I'm a pig sweeping the house.

So, to clarify, here're the definitions of both of these words, according to

1.of or pertaining to the home, the household, household affairs, or the family: domestic pleasures.
2.devoted to home life or household affairs.
3.tame; domesticated.
4.of or pertaining to one's own or a particular country as apart from other countries: domestic trade.
5.indigenous to or produced or made within one's own country; not foreign; native: domestic goods.

While, on the other hand, here is what we find for "domesticated."

–verb (used with object) convert (animals, plants, etc.) to domestic uses; tame. tame (an animal), esp. by generations of breeding, to live in close association with human beings as a pet or work animal and usually creating a dependency so that the animal loses its ability to live in the wild. adapt (a plant) so as to be cultivated by and beneficial to human beings. accustom to household life or affairs. take (something foreign, unfamiliar, etc.) for one's own use or purposes; adopt. make more ordinary, familiar, acceptable, or the like: to domesticate radical ideas.

Domestic it is.

Story Time

I've been touting StorySlams for a while now. And with good reason, I believe: they are just about the best way to spend an evening, and the entrance fee is only 4.09416 Euros ($6 US). People all the time be asking me: Where did you hear about this fascinating event? (Also frequently asked: How come you don't dance no more?) And I invariably inform these inquisitive minds that The Moth--the organization that organizes StorySlams and other, more expensive storytelling events--ran a series of great ads in The NYer about 18 months ago, which told the beginning of some amazing stories, before ending abrubtly and telling readers to go finish the rest of the story on their website.

The story which that got me reading, which got me to visit the website, which got me to attend about 4-5 StorySlams in the past 17 months, was about some kid who describes his first day as a Yankees batboy. It's a tremendous story, available for a long time only by purchasing Compact Discs through the organization's website. But, I'm happy to report, this story has recently been posted as a podcast on the iTunes store. I would link directly to that page, but I have no idea how to go about doing that. But simply search for The Moth, and find the relevant podcast. Many of the stories are quite good, but the one I'm most strenously recommending is dated 9/15/08 and is told by Matthew McGough. Enjoy.


Recently on:
  • I like my bed at least 50% more, now that I changed the direction on some of the supporting wheels, keeping it mostly in one place.
  • Ain't no party like a publishing party.
  • Jeter's speech closing Yankee Stadium may have been this generation's Luckiest Man speech. Athletes should give more speeches. (Not really)
And, just for fun, this is kinda awesome and creative.

Jennifer Banash has created microblogs on Twitter for three of the characters in [her Young Adult novel], Madison, Casey, and Drew. The characters make reference to the real world—"read the interview with the director of American Teen in the Times this morning"—as well as their own exploits.

I also just heard last night, at a publishing party, that the author of the upcoming book Captain Freedom, G. Xavier Robillard, has created a network of in-character blogs for personalities from his book, including one written by Captain Freedom himself, and one which is a general site for his nemeses, The International Society of Supervillians.

I like this trend, and thank Stephen Colbert for introducing it to us. Stephen Colbert: is there anything he can't do?

Facebook Piracy

Did you ever think to yourself the following statement which immediately follows this upcoming mark of questioning? "Facebook is great and all, but it could really use a strong dose of Pirate-styled language to really separate itself from all those other social-networking sites."

I know I never thought that. But, nonetheless, I'm pretty happy that the language setting on Facebook can be changed to English-Pirate. Just scroll down to the bottom of any page, and click on the blue-fonted word that probably says English. Such clicking with open up a menu of sorts, and, upon such prompting, search and click on the one called English Pirate.

Doing this will open up a whole new parrot-infested world of Facebook. Instead of an Inbox, you have a Bottle O' Messages. And instead of Friends, you can have Me Hearties. Because everyone knows that inboxes and friends are so 2005.

I think this is a fitting tribute to the recently passed Talk Like a Pirate Day. But, more importantly, it may be considered an acceptable form of service by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the universe's most benevolent flying carbohydrate deity. And remember: Stop global warming; become a pirate.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mirror Marketing

Eugène Atget, the French photographer who lived from 1857-1927, is probably most famous for his series of photographs examining the Le Bon Marche department store of Paris. Atget’s photo-set features an array of consumer goods all seen through the looking glass of the store windows. These pictures, taken just as department stores emerged as centers of both consumerism and entertainment, focus on the onlooker’s point of view. The window pane functions in two ways as it both displays the goods located inside the store, and, also, duplicates the reflection of the shoppers standing outside. These shoppers see the reflection of their own faces on the store mannequins, as the mirror effect of the glass portrays the consumer as already possessing the goods on display. The impression of already owning a particular possession may appear to be just a typical ploy of advertisers, yet the effect is significant. Instead of a consumer imagining why he would need this particular good, he must justify to himself why this possession he already owns—at least, in his own mind—is superfluous.

Here's a good example of one such photograph.

One of the nice things about the subject of these photographs, i.e., the marketing of goods through slightly reflective mirrors, is the subtlety of the project. It seems, to the casual onlooker, that these department store goods aren't even being advertised: they're on display, sure, but nothing more. The really serious instigation of product-desire all takes places in the brain of the potential consumer.

It's this subtlety which, I'm sad to say, is lacking in Best Buy's newest ad campaign. Their latest tag-line, which I just noticed today even though it apparently has been around for a while, is simply this: "You, Happier."

This dude named Sam Van Eman, who, judging from the name of his blog has something to do with advertising, doesn't seem all too thrilled with the implications of You, Happier coming from purveyors of stuff.

I am happier when I get a new laptop or scanner. Shoot, I'm happier when I get a fresh ink cartridge. Not happiest and maybe/maybe not happy, but I'm definitely happier.

Happier is good. So is buying stuff that we need and even an occasional item we don't need. Most of these make us happier, but happier must not control us. Here's a serious reason why.

In Waiting for God, Simone Weil wrote, "The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry."

The ways we hunger and satisfy our hunger for happier are deeply spiritual matters, which is why Weil's comment is a theological one. When Jesus said to deny ourselves he wasn't calling us to be ascetics, but to be people who recognize the spiritual danger in satisfying our hunger.

Best Buy? Fine, but we could all do a little better at going hungry once in a while.
I'm equally annoyed by the tag-line, but for different reasons. Advertising has always been about selling happiness through products. That was true in Atget's time and it's true now. The interesting part, though, is how marketing manages to accomplish that without being overly imposing. It's a creative process. Best Buy just removed all creativity from the equation.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

FOX teaches us that Reality TV and midgets do, indeed, mix

Congratulations are in order to FOX's new hit show (Note: I sincerely hope that this show is not really a hit) Hole in the Wall. They have set the Reality TV record by resorting to midget usage a mere 11 days after its debut. This record might be more unbreakable than DiMaggio's.

If you didn't expect this, you probably don't know me very well

I'm going to try to not be pushy with the DFW stuff. I can't imagine anyone else would be interested in reading through the dozens upon dozens of responses to his suicide that are being collected on The Howling Fantods. I just wanted to explain to everyone how I've been spending this week of unemployment.

Two links which I recommend:
  • Kottke's first stab at a post, mostly because you should be reading Kottke anyway, but also because his judiciously chosen excerpts and links is a great (and manageable) way to learn more about Wallace.
  • The seriously beautiful thing going on now at McSweeney's. They set up a forum for rememberences by almost anyone. It's fantastic to see non-professional writers, people who had maybe brief encounters with DFW, remember the man. Not surprisingly, many of these letters are written by his former students; it sounds, from all accounts, that he was a better teacher than he was a writer. A must read for anyone who teaches.
Image via the DFW Motivational Poster Competition over The Howling Fantods.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Entertainment Creation

I will always celebrate Thursday, September 5th as TV Day. (Note: Not really; I barely remembered the date as I'm typing this, and we're just barely a week past that day. But that seemed like a dramatic opening.) A more accurate title might be Waiting in Line Day, but that just isn't as sexy as the first option. In any case, on that innocent-seeming day, just after summer officially ended, I attended tapings of both The Rachael Ray Show and The Colbert Report. I've already written (and, consequently, re-posted) about my experiences visiting The Martha Stewart Show. Much of the general TV-related sentiments that I there expressed apply also to these programs, sentiments which focused both on the sterility and obvious constructedness of the TV studio environment and on the confusing and self-contradictory nature of, basically, taking orders about expressing your entertainment/approval with/of an event, the job of which is usually defined as eliciting—without outside influence—entertainment and approval.

I would like to think now about a slightly different aspect of TV, namely, the audience aspect.

It’s no secret that people are seriously affected by their surroundings. There were, I’m almost certain, some basically good folks who just were following orders. Or consider, for example, that Stanford Prison Experiment, which is described as follows on the experiment’s official site by Philip G. Zimbardo, the dude who ran the study: “Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.”

Probably less interesting to psychologists is the effect of putting normal people in situations which are inherently good, or, maybe more accurately, situations in which it is easy to do good. Luckily, I’m not a psychologist. And I thought it was interesting how people acted while officially part of The Rachael Ray Show audience.

Take, for example, the line outside the TRRS studio which began forming at 10:15 AM, on a really hot and sunny early September morning. This line stretched probably half of a city block, and the relevant sidewalk was occasionally bisected by parking garage ramps and other store entrances. This is pretty common-sense and in the case of the car-ramps possibly an issue of self-preservation (and definitely my least compelling example), but I was impressed that everyone in line—without formal instruction—was self-conscious and considerate enough to arrange herself in a way which did not interfere with these other businesses. More compelling, though, were some other things which went on inside the studio. Like most daytime television programs, TRRS distributes baked goods and water bottles to audience members sequestered in the warehouse-like waiting area. My compatriots and I had just completed our complimentary bran muffins, when an extremely sweet middle-aged lady, wearing her brightest shirt1, walked by and offered to collect our trash for us, since she was on her way to the refuse receptacles anyway.

What accounts for this culture of politeness? I think it’s best that we acknowledge right here at the beginning that audience members of daytime TV shows are somewhat of a self-selecting crowd. I would have to think that there is a strong correlation between interest in craft-making and overall politeness. But I think it goes far beyond that. For one, I was always extremely self-conscious of my actions while in the studio. This tone is set fairly strongly by sentences such as this, again courtesy of the confirmation emails: “We have the right to deny anyone who does not follow guidelines. Thank you.” As someone who aspires to be a professional guy-who-works-with-words, I’m struck by the perfect balance of this sentence: they won’t tolerate any slipups, but they will enforce these “guidelines” in the most polite way possible (“Thank you”). Additionally, I was terrified of the headsets. Twice during the multiple-hour waiting period I left my seat to use the restroom (once to wash my friends hands; the bran muffins are surprisingly sticky), located in a little hallway just off the main studio. The three staff members (all headsetted) stationed in this hallway all noticeably came to attention when I approached. Ostensibly, they readied themselves to assist me in any way they could, but, also, they needed to maintain control of the audience. They probably weren’t talking about me on their headsets (“White male, leaving the holding area, appears to be heading towards the restroom.” “Roger.”), but at the time it seemed like they were.

This overarching control of the proceedings manifests itself in weird ways. I was just about to exit the restroom for the second time, when a skinny, headsetted employee named Peter2 entered the room and told me that I couldn’t leave just yet, because they were moving something in the hallway. RC, the Warm Up Guy, had mentioned earlier that we were having a surprise guest, and that he was sworn to secrecy about his/her identity, and I assumed that they were transporting the guest through the hallway into the studio, which is why I was stuck in the restroom with Peter, who, again, was a seriously nice guy. The guest turned out to be Natalie Coughlin (pronounced Cog-lin, according to the teleprompter; RC never once pronounced her name correctly), the Olympic swimmer who won six medals in Beijing. I’m not sure, though, why the producers made certain that the audience was kept in the dark regarding the identity of the surprise guest. Maybe they forgot that the studio audience would do whatever RC asked us to do. If they wanted us to feign surprise, we would have done that.

There is one more possible reason I can think of why TRRS is the realm of the polite. Somehow, daytime TV has this pre-ironic vibe. RC at one point proclaimed that “This show is the most fun on TV.” He was wrong, and everyone knew it. But the waiting audience members ate it up, unironically and everything. For most of the audience, it didn’t matter what type of crap appeared in front of us (and by extension, on the screens for home viewers); it was important that we were on TV and part of TV. Our limited participation in a formulaic, uninteresting show was ultimately meaningless3, but the show kept hammering home the point—explicitly and otherwise—that we were participating in TV. It’s like everyone turns into Kenneth Parcells as soon as the cameras are turned on. What is it about TV that does this to people? I think despite our intimacy with the set (we literally arrange our houses in a manner which optimizes the TV viewing experience), the proceedings inside the box seem foreign and untouchable. The implicit divide separating consumers of TV and producers of TV was always uncrossable. This barrier seems all the more intimidating with the advent of certain media (internet, obviously; but, also, with self-publishing options becoming more and more prevalent, perhaps books) which are so easily accessible. To be able to participate in TV is to bridge this gap, and to be creators of entertainment.

1. My absolute favorite part of attending tapings of television shows is getting to see the brightest objects in the wardrobes of a diverse collection of, generally, women who are available during the day. The confirmation email for these shows inevitably includes a line explaining that bright colors look best on camera. TRRS email specifically endorsed “solid, jewel-toned colors. (deep blues, reds, greens, etc).”

2. Peter is this extremely nice guy, from Wayne, NJ, who majored in communications and always wanted to be involved with TV. He started at the Food Network, knew someone who was involved with TRRS and subsequently made the jump. He had no obvious interest in food or whatever else Rachael Ray does that makes her famous. We spoke mostly about the DMV located in Wayne.

3. It should be noted that The Colbert Report took a vastly different approach. Whereas TRRS pitched itself as important because it was on TV, TCR thought of itself as the most important thing on TV. And I think it’s no coincidence that irony and cool were very much present in the evening showing of TCR. Unlike TRRS, they could get away with it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I am in here

From his NYT obituary:
David Foster Wallace, whose darkly ironic novels, essays and short stories garnered him a large following and made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, was found dead in his California home on Friday, after apparently committing suicide, the authorities said.
Anyone who has read this blog or talked to me for any moderately extended period of time knows how much I respected, admired, and enjoyed what Wallace wrote. (And, it should be noted, I just had a really hard time putting that series of verbs towards the end of the last sentence in the past tense.)

I never met DFW, never had any individual contact with him. I thought for a while about adding a line here about how some writers are so talented that each reader feels as if he is being addressed directly, but then I thought that this would sound cheesy, even though I did really feel this way about DFW; I took it out, though, because it misses the point just about as badly as the point has ever been missed. As much as I would like to pretend otherwise, my relationship with writers are never about the writer: I read books for what are ultimately selfish reasons. And my sadness at this suicide falls into this selfish category of sadness also.

I first learned of DFW from the brief book reviews The NYer runs each week, which--this particular issue--was describing his latest book, Consider the Lobster. I decided to pass on the brand-new, hardcover book of a writer I'd never read before, but I bought A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, one of his earlier books which was out in paperback, and, fortunately, cheap enough for me to take a shot on. I knew as I finished that first collection of essays and arguments that I wanted to read everything else that he had written. The more I read of his works, the more I got a sense of the high regard he was held in by almost everyone. But I was most excited because I realized that I had finally found someone to serve as my author. I have loved reading for a really long time, and have appreciated the works of a diverse collection of writers, but DFW was the first one whom I adopted as my all-time favorite. He is the one who was the subject of my first author search when I got the complete The NYer archives. I took special pride in finding him mentioned in P. Geyh's introduction to The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Literature. He was the great author of my generation, whom I discovered in my youth, and who was to help guide me along the next ~30 years of my life.

DFW was never one to conform to expectations.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Yellowed Snowman: How I Became Part of a Live Studio Audience

Yellowed Snowman is a new feature here at TDS, in which I take older, previously published works, and post them here on this here web-log. These pieces, just like yellow snow, don't have the pristine, blinding cleanliness of a newly fallen backyard of snow before all those foot-tracks show up, but they're still good. You probably shouldn't eat either one, though. This is the only published work in my name which is remotely interesting, so this might be the last of the Yellowed Snowman. But I think it's relevant for TV Week, and also might serve as good preparation for tomorrow's post, the crown jewel of TV Week.


Note: This article appeared in a slightly different form in the YU Commentator.

How I Became Part of a Live Studio Audience

A friend of mine recently, using the Internet, logged on to The Martha Stewart Show’s website, clicked on the link titled “Click here to go to the Ticket Reservation Form,” and entered some of the standard information one normally is required to submit when starting an Amazon account. A few weeks later, she received a confirmation email inviting her to attend the February 6th taping of The Martha Stewart Show, which included instructional paragraphs labeled “What to wear,” “Check In” and “Getting Here.” On February 6th I met my friend at the “A” Train, and we traveled down to 27th Street to what looked like an abandoned warehouse. We exchanged the confirmation email for colorful entrance tickets and took seats amongst dozens of middle-aged women wearing violently bright colors, and more dozens of pre-pubescent boys wearing Yankees’ shirts. I think I was the youngest person in the room whose shirt made no mention of a New York baseball team. That is how I became part of a live studio audience.

I would have been startled by the cleanliness of the waiting area and the professionalism of the staff, if not for the fact that I completely expected it. In fact, I would have been surprised if the walls were not perfectly white and the metal detector operator was not the nicest I’ve ever met. The place oozed perkiness. We were soon introduced to Joey the Warm-Up Guy, who would have made the world’s greatest camp counselor. I’m not sure if he meant to warm-up our voices or our excitement level, but he accomplished both. He also gave me my first clue that participating as an audience member during the taping of a television show in no way mirrors the experience of watching TV at home. The couch-critic responds to the show based on his own judgments. He laughs only if he finds a line funny. We laughed when Joey the Warm-Up Guy told us to laugh. In addition, we were taught which hand signals represented the following appropriate responses: moderate applause; loud applause; standing ovation; “oooh”; “mmm.” Before moving on to the next waiting area Joey the WUG told us that it would be OK if we didn’t remember all the hand motions: he reassuringly instructed us to “Just play along and you won’t get hurt.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking.

In the days leading up to the taping I began to wonder about Martha’s public reputation. Has her image recovered from the insider trading allegations, the conviction on four counts, and the five-month prison term? My assumption, even before the show, was that she had recovered. I compared her situation to that of athletes who, for various reasons, had need for an image rehabilitation. In the embarrassingly incomprehensive list which I reeled off the top of my head without even one wikipedia consultation, I think I spotted a distinction between two classes of athletes. As opposed to athletes whose problems stemmed from some on-the-court behavior, those whose problems occurred away from their sport seem to have had an easier time of recuperation. Consider, as just one example, Ray Lewis. He, famously, was implicated in a murder charge in January 2000, and has been re-embraced by his home-town fans. Lying on the opposite side of the spectrum are those whose public sins somehow relate to the game they play, whether it be someone like Ron Artest, whose participation in, and escalation of, a fight occurred on the court of play, or people like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, who all, allegedly, cheated at their sport through steroid use. Most interesting, however, is a specimen best exemplified by Alex Rodriguez. His exquisite public image has done nothing to save him from the ire of New York fans. Rodriguez’s sin? A drop in on-the-field offensive production which rendered him merely one of the best active players at his position, thereby dropping him from his lofty status of one of the best of all time. This hastily constructed distinction, then, bodes well for Martha. She can commit as many felonies as she pleases and her reputation will suffer less damage than if, heaven forefend, she loses even a modicum of adroitness in her chosen fields of cooking and craft-making.

Of course, there could be any number of reasons why Rodriguez is reviled and Martha is forgiven. Another one I came up with is this: Rodriguez’s public stage is Yankee Stadium, home of the unreasonable expectation and the $8 beer. Even before learning firsthand the makeup and viewing situation of Martha’s audience, I knew that, at the very least, they would have a hard time getting their hands on beer.

You can imagine my response, in light of the previous two paragraphs, when I heard that Alex Rodriguez would, in fact, be the guest star on Martha’s show on the day of my visit. Actually, my first thought was something along the lines of: I wish someone funny was coming. But my very next thought was: Maybe this will serve as a good opportunity to contrast the two. My conclusion: In the highly controlled environment of The Martha Stewart Show, even Rodriguez is treated as the king of New York. When Joey the WUG tells you to greet a guest with a combination loud applause/standing ovation, you can be sure that’s what the guest will receive.
And now, a mostly unfounded and completely irresponsible feminist analysis of Martha Stewart. Simone de Beauvoir, the famous twentieth century feminist thinker, authored a groundbreaking work entitled The Second Sex. Influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre’s conceptions of existentialism, Beauvoir noticed that women, in most cases, are caged in immanent lives, unable to reach transcendence:
For a great many women the roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question. If man fails to discover that secret essence of femininity, it is simply because it does not exist. Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world, and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness.

In short, Beauvoir argues that a woman who is restrained to household labors is precluded from reaching the desirable state of transcendence, in which a person is able to, well, transcend the sticky muck of life. This is true for two reasons: First, the products of home-based chores are, for the most part, fleeting and repetitive. A cooked meal lasts, even after the invention of leftovers, a week, maybe two. Laundry has to be done repeatedly to be effective. Sweeping and vacuuming are useful activities, but only until the dust and dirt return to the house. Second, housework, is, by its nature, private. The work normally assigned to women, then, falls short of reaching transcendence, because it fails to make a difference in the world.

What, then, to make of Martha, the champion of household chores? It would be easy to label her as a traitor to feminism. After all, she seems to celebrate immanence, precluding the thousands of women who read, buy and watch her magazines, products and show from ever affecting the world.

After visiting her show, I propose a different understanding of what Martha has wrought. To describe Martha as the world’s greatest chef/craft-maker is roughly akin to thinking of Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, as a really terrific barista. It might be true, but it hardly tells the full story. Martha, more than anything else, is a tremendous businesswoman. I first realized this point when, during a commercial break, Joey the WUG reminded the audience to purchase Martha products at K-Mart, Lowe’s and Macy’s. Sure, her show featured a segment instructing the audience in the art of rose-arrangment, but that was merely a three-minute fragment of a business employing hundreds of people whose stock is traded on the NYSE. More striking, however, was a throwaway comment Martha offered during her chat with Rodriguez. Martha mentioned that she gets great seats at Yankee Stadium because they belong to her banker, Jane Hiller. Then, turning to Rodriguez, she said: “Your banker too, from Bank of America.” The symbolism here is easily apparent: Martha Stewart shares the same banker with the highest-paid player in baseball. Apparently, cooking can lead to the same material rewards as supreme athletic ability. Even Beauvoir would be proud.

Monday, September 8, 2008

This Was Shown on TV

I'm really happy that football is happening again this year.

Some other dudes who, I would say, are quite pleased about this developing development, are the guys at Kissing Suzy Kolber, the worldwide internet's best NFL-themed humor blog.

Anyone see the Colts-Bears Sunday night game last night? We must count our blessings that we are fortunate enough to be living through the NeckBeard era in Chicago. But also, we must count our curses that we live in an era which allows stadia to be named things like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. Nothing says forward-thinking, and cutting-edge technology quite like fossil fuels.

This is a quintessentially Indianapolis football stadium, accommodating the special needs of its constituency. From the FAQ section of the website:
Where can I park my RV?

The Indiana State Fairgrounds Campsites, 1202 East 38th Street, Indianapolis, is approximately 6 miles from the facility and open year-round. Amenities include paved pads, water and sewer hook-ups, 30-amp service, pay phones, picnic shelter, and playground. It is fully accessible to those with special needs. Call 317.927.7510 for more information.
Lake Haven Retreat, 1951 West Edgewood Avenue, Indianapolis, approximately 7 miles from the facility, is a full service campground with daily, weekly, and monthly rates. Sitting on 20 acres, the retreat has a lake stocked for fishing, restroom, shower, and laundry facilities, wireless and high-speed internet connections. Call 317.807.2267 or visit for more information.

The most disturbing thing about the new playing area, though, is the weird dirt. LOS has a retractable roof, which means that the field of play does not include a draining system, which means that the grass is some type of synthetic surface. I couldn't find any information on the LOS website about what system they use, but I did notice that these miniature mushroom clouds kept popping up during the game, pretty much wherever the players stepped.

Anyone understand what's going on here?

And check out those mad MS Paint skills. The Captain, indeed, was here.

How has Reality TV changed Presidential Politics?

It's changed it like this, says Ken Jennings, the most successful Jeopardy! player ever.

We’re in the second presidential campaign of the reality show era, and it’s only taken a few years for professional politicians and their strategists to have absorbed the lessons of American Idol producers and Survivor contestants. If you’re going to outwit/outplay/outpoll, you need storylines. You need gimmicks. You need heroes and villains and twists.

Previous election campaigns have had their minor scandals and October surprises, but hoo boy! nothing like this. Right from the season premiere, you’ve got the two most promising candidates scrapping in the same half of the bracket, tussling over every Immunity Challenge of a primary. And tacitly making alliances based on race and gender, like it’s Survivor: Cook Islands all over again.

Pick up the remote. Over on FOX, Sarah Palin is the surprise week 10 game-changer: “Contestants, we’re shaking up the rules!” Cut to shocked-looking faces in the firelight. And the scandalous bombshells, straight out of a Real World hot tub! The narcissistic guy cheated on his terminally ill wife! The Evangelical super-mom’s daughter got knocked up by her mulleted boyfriend! Actually, neither of those seem all that surprising in hindsight, but you get the idea.

I can’t stress enough how dangerous this is. Once you’ve gone here, you can’t go back. People are going to assume, from now on, that this is how you win campaigns. After all this craziness, voters are going to be disappointed if 2012 is an off-year, a Jordin Sparks snoozefest, and turnout will be low. We can’t have that. But look out, because reality shows didn’t get more tasteful as time went on. They got trashier and added midgets.

Whoever wins the election, I just hope they’re sworn in with “the most dramatic Rose Garden ceremony…ever!

And, from the newly versatile Rick Chandler, finally unshackled by Leitch's departure, at Deadspin:

Although Barack Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday was impressive in many ways, I can't help but feel that political conventions officially jumped the shark when the Democrats booked Invesco Field for the final day of their big party. It can only get larger and sloppier from here. What's McCain going to do now; give his speech while dangling on a bungee cord from the Metrodome ceiling? How long before we start getting conventions with guys doing this? Listen; large outdoor stadiums were meant for football, soccer rioting and Celine Dion concerts, not politics. Please stop this trend now.

Chandler doesn't mention Reality TV by name, but you can tell that's what he meant.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.

My sincerest apologies for the light slate of posting over the last few days; when you're unemployed there are no vacations.

I've been watching a whole lot of TV lately (with a whole lot more coming on that, probably tomorrow), so don't be surprised if this turns into a mini-TV marathon week at The Daily Snowman.

Anyone notice that after the football cornucopia that was the FOX Network today, a new game show debuted? It's called Hole in the Wall, and, awesomely, Google is still (relatively) blissfully unaware that FOX is broadcasting this thing; the first mention of anything Rupert Murdoch owns is only the 15th highest ranked result after a simple "hole in the wall" search. The top result? A link to this video:

FOX: Now accepting programming ideas from youtube.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Unwarranted Analysis of an Inconsequential YouTube Video

This video's been making the rounds lately, so it seems warranted to take a closer look.

Fernando Perez, an outfielder with the Durham Bulls, the one time basis of Kevin Costner's best baseball movie, and now the AAA affiliate of the first place Tampa Rays, is the dude seen here who runs past the catcher, plays it cool, pretending that he already has touched the dish, the touching of which awards a run to your team. The overly excited minor league announcer declares that Perez faked out the catcher, but I'm not buying it. The catcher doesn't look fooled; he still goes after the runner. Perez just looks faster than the catcher. It's a nice football move, but fooling it ain't. Still, props to the dude for making baseball a little more athletic.

YouTube is a surprisingly fertile ground for instances of catcher outmaneuvering. Check out this 3rd Baseman of my almost hometown Montclair State baseball club.

There's still hope, of course, for those baseballers not blessed with, y'know, running or jumping abilities, by utilizing a method best exemplified by Pete Rose, here seen running over Ray Fosse, a move which sent the catcher to the hospital. Oh yeah, he did this in the All-Star Game. An exhibition.

Oh, that Pete Rose. Always sliding into Aunt Lindsay's second base.