Monthly Archives: December 2007

Come and play, everything’s A-OK, although there are some liability issues we need to discuss

This morning CJ, Nana and I watched the first DVD of the Sesame Street: Old School box set my parents got us. The first episode is from 1969, well before I started watching, and it’s a bit startling to see the characters in their embryonic form — orange Oscar the Grouch, omnivorous Cookie Monster, Big Bird with a much smaller, pointier head. Also startling are the short films showing kids playing unsupervised in what appear to be abandoned construction sites — I think you wouldn’t see this on a contemporary educational program, right? There’s lots of authentically funny material here, much more so than on modern kid-TV. The vaudeville duo of Buddy and Jim trying to hang a picture is particularly great — why didn’t these guys become permanent characters? Highly recommended for anyone with a toddler in the house.

Also of note is the extra DVD footage in which an official of CTW explains the psychological principles behind the show, and in particular how the animated interludes mimic the method of TV commercials.

Oh, here’s Buddy and Jim hanging the picture. Thanks, YouTube!

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There are hotdogs and there are hotdogs

I don’t think chili dogs are that great. If you’re going to have a hot dog which pours something thick, hot and sticky down your arm, wouldn’t it obviously be better to have a hot dog with baked beans on it?

Apparently I am not the first person to think of this.

I tried to find a picture, but couldn’t. I did, however, find a guy called Jeff Loo who took pictures of most of the meals he ate between June and December 2006. On November 1 of that year, he assaulted all that is good and decent by preparing a hot dog with mustard, ketchup, mayo, and kimchi:

In fairness to Jeff, should he read this, lots of the other stuff he ate in 2006 looks delicious.

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Tell it to Haverchuck

Oh, one more web find — if you’re a Harper’s subscriber, you can read Meredith Broussard‘s new article Everyone’s Gone Nuts: The Exaggerated Threat of Food Allergies online now.

And now, Haverchuck:

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I was going to go to Trader Joe’s with CJ this morning, but the weather service is saying that no one should be driving right now unless it’s absolutely necessary. Going outside on foot is not recommended and the official word is that even looking out the window would probably be slightly imprudent.

So I thought it would be a good time to link to a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to blog but don’t actually have that much to say about.

  • A former student of mine at Princeton, Ellie Kemper, is now a comedian. She wrote a very funny piece for McSweeney’s about elite college grads and their domestic employees.
  • Via Languagehat, a 1918 pledge from the American Speech Committee:
    • I love the United States of America. I love my country’s flag. I love my country’s language. I promise:
      1. That I will not dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllable of words.
      2. That I will say a good American “yes” and “no” in place of an Indian grunt “um-hum” and “nup-um” or a foreign “ya” or “yeh” and “nope.”
      3. That I will do my best to improve American speech by avoiding loud, rough tones, by enunciating distinctly, and by speaking pleasantly, clearly and sincerely.
      4. That I will learn to articulate correctly as many words as possible during the year.

The music outside is frightful

Ever since the time I spent eight hours of Christmas Day fogged in at the Kansas City airport, I’ve found the season of canned Christmas music hard to take. But thanks to 105.5 Triple M for brightening today’s drive back from daycare with KT Tunstall’s new recording of the eternally lovable “Mele Kalikimaka.” “You got Hawaiian kitsch in my canned Christmas music!” “No, you got canned Christmas music in my Hawaiian kitsch!” It’s delicious.

You can listen to the most famous rendition of this song, by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, at, naturally.

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The Plot Against America

Talking about the alternate-history Orioles reminded me that I should say something about The Plot Against America, the Philip Roth novel about a beleaguered Jewish family in Newark during the Second World War — a war which the United States is sitting out, because fascist-friendly Charles Lindbergh unseated FDR in 1940 on a bipartisan isolationist platform.

The tough thing about alternate history is that you have to spend a certain amount of time explaining what’s alternate about it. Roth never figures out how to do this gracefully, and the book ends up with a lot of this stuff:

At press conferences, Roosevelt no longer bothered to make a derisive quip when questioned by newsmen about the unorthodox Lindbergh campaign, but simply moved on to discuss Churchill’s fear of an imminent German invasion of Britain or to announce that he would be asking Congress to fund the first American peacetime draft or to remind Hitler that the United States would not tolerate any interference with the transatlantic aid our merchant vessels were supplying to the British war effort. It was clear from the start that the president’s campaign was to consist of remaining in the White House, where, in contrast to what Secretary Ickes labeled Lindbergh’s “carnival antics,” he planned to address the hazards of the international situation with all the authority at his command, working around the clock if necessary.

This is slack stuff coming from a master like Roth. The quotation from Ickes seems particularly wedged in and strange. One naturally thinks of The Man in the High Castle, which presents a much more radically different America (one occupied by Germany and Japan) but without a lot of talk — the reader experiences occupation the way the characters do, as a largely unremarked feature of everyday life.

This is still a Philip Roth book, so most of it concerns not Roosevelt but a little kid named Philip Roth and his unarticulated battles with his family and the Jewish people, and all that stuff is just fine. There’s nothing to match the really searing parts of American Pastoral — the potential is there when the protagonist’s older brother tilts towards Lindbergh after an invigorating summer among the Gentiles in Kentucky, but Roth pulls back from this instead of heightening the contradictions.

What I thought was most charming about the book requires revealing the end, so I’ll put it after the break.

Continue reading

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See, for me this would have been a tough call

I got caught in a rare traffic jam today on University Avenue. Similarly trapped, over on my right, was a Subaru Legacy with a couple of anti-war bumper stickers and one that said “I’D RATHER BE READING BUKOWSKI.”

Update: Aha — a little research reveals that the bumper sticker comes from the excellent Avol’s Books.

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In which I am pedantic about people’s Christmas cards

Isn’t XOXO a strange salutation? Under what circumstances would you kiss someone, then hug them, then kiss them, then hug them again? Just not feasible. My suggestion: OXX.

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Recipe for fun revealed!

Overheard in Espresso Royale.  One young woman is showing a map of Paris to another:

OK, this is the Jewish district and this is the gay district… Here they sort of merge.  So that’s fun.


Things I don’t know, winter storm watch edition

I somehow haven’t mentioned the very salient fact that 20 inches of snow has fallen in Madison in the last two weeks. The streets are clear by now, but there’s 3-4 feet of snowbank plowed up on every curb. Today I saw a little Bobcat transferring loads of snow into a dumptruck. Question: where is the dumptruck taking the snow? Do you dump snow at the garbage dump? In the lake?

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