Just Say No... to Hotsaucing

This is one of the more bizarre Wikipedia entries I've come across:

"Hotsaucing is the act of disciplining a child by putting hot sauce on his or her tongue. Those who use it say it is effective and much more humane than using corporal punishment. Arguably, however there is risk of burning the child's tongue and consequently the technique is a form of corporal punishment. As such European Union law rules it out as a legal approach in the EU.

"The practice probably gained most of its notoriety from a 2000 book, Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline, by Lisa Whelchel. Whelchel is most famous for having played Blair Warner on the 1980s TV sitcom The Facts of Life."

If the hot sauce in question was Green Tabasco, I don't know if I would ever behave again, and let the EU be damned.

Because it may lead to negative associations with hot sauce -- or, in a worst case scenario, really strange food fetishes -- I am taking a stand against "hotsaucing."

I may be able to get behind the practice of "magic lasso-ing," as found in the imaginarty publication Oh Bondage, Up Yours: Super Ideas for Superheroine Disciple, by Lynda Carter, most famous for having played Wonder Woman on the 1970s TV spectacle Wonder Woman.


Over Under Sideways Two!

Google search results for:

"thinking outside the box": 1,160,000
"thinking inside the box": 133, 000
"thinking without regard to the box at all": 0


The zero sum Google search is a good Friday afternoon quest, but presents an interesting epistemological problem. That is, by pointing out that an internet search for a specific phrase bears no results, aren't I in fact creating a result? That is, as soon as this is posted and as soon as Google discovers it, won't the results for "thinking without regard to the box at all" change from zero to one?

As with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, does the act of suggesting an idea does not exist thereby cause the idea to exist?

You, townblog reader, ARE NOW FREAKING OUT.

Drink a lot of water, think good thoughts, and maintain a peaceful vibe. If you've got some Allman Brothers records, you can go ahead and put 'em on. You should start coming down in about 8 hours.

Pocketful of Kryptonite

Concerning this new Superman movie I've been hearing about...

That is all.


I Often Dream of Trains

Last night I had a very vivid dream in which I was watching the Today show's coverage of a fatal bus accident outside of Atlanta. Both John Edwards and Tony Blair died in the crash, and Matt Lauer interviewed a tearful Elizabeth Edwards, who had now lost both her son and her husband. It was hard to watch, and I felt real disappointment that I wouldn't be able to vote for Edwards in the next presidential election and that he had real potential that would now go untapped.

I also felt bad for Blair. In a way, I see Blair as one of those well-constructed film anti-heroes, someone who once struggled to be good but ultimately succumbed to greed and temptation. So, when I learned that he'd died in the bus crash, I regretted that he would not have the opportunity to win out in the end. Which makes me think now that he can still be a hero -- Tony Blair could (and should) blow the whistle on all the nefarious Iraq-related schemes. Stand up off of that lap, Tony!

I'm not sure why Edwards and Blair were on the same bus, or why they were going to Atlanta, but when I woke up, I was glad to see that the Today show hadn't even started yet, and that when they did there was no mention of any bus crash.

Spielberg: Loving the Alien

While thinking about Steven Spielberg's anti-intellectual themes, I've come accross some interesting cultural artifacts. I'm still searching for an old George Will essay I've heard about, in which he discusses the anti-science themes in E.T. Then there's the Amazon.com review for Spielberg's 1997 anti-slavery movie Amistad, Dave McCoy points out a link between that movie and Spielberg's earlier work:
Spielberg actually takes the underlying premise of his childhood fantasy, E.T. and repackages it for slavery. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the West African rebellion, is presented much like the adorable alien: lost, lacking a common language, and trying to find his way home. McConaughey is a grown-up Elliot who tries communicating complicated ideas such as geography by drawing pictures in the sand or language by having Cinque mimic his facial expressions. Such stuff was effective for a sci-fi fantasy about the communication barriers between a boy and a lost alien; here, it seems like a naive view of real, complex history.

And, as everyone knows, Jurassic Park = (Jaws + Landshark) x dinosaurs


Speilberg: The Dreyfus Affair

In my last post, I stumbled clumsily around some ideas about an increasing anti-intellectualism in American culture. Today, I'd like continue that attempt, this time looking specifically at one of the more rabid anti-intellectuals at work in the culture: Steven Spielberg.

Of course that's overstatement. There's nothing rabid about Steven Spielberg. I should have said he's one of the tamer, kitty kat-snuffling, tummy-rubbing, starry-eyed anti-intellectuals at work in the culture. He's the cutest widdle diwector since Leni Reifenstahl or D.W. Griffith. (Okay, that's overstatement, too.)

Today, let's consider Spielberg's early films like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you haven't seen Jaws, or if you need a refresher, here it is in 30 seconds, as re-enacted by bunnies. If you haven't seen Close Encounters, boil a dozen potatoes, then drain, mash, and build a volcano out of them.

In these movies, Spielberg employs a stand-in for himself, a "character double," in the form of Richard Dreyfus as the sniveling do-gooder liberal and know-it-all. In both films, Dreyfus is hysterically interested in something other people aren't (sharks, mountain craters), and part of what he has to do in both movies is to confince people that he is not crazy. But do audiences really identify or care about Dreyfus/Spielberg in either movie? I would doubt it, as even their fellow characters don't much care about them.

Yes, Jaws is a great movie, very well made and terrific with popcorn. But Dreyfus (and let's keep in mind that Dreyfus here = Spielberg) is not a sympathetic character. We do not -- and aren't meant to -- like him, as we are meant to like family man/police chief Roy Schieder or the salty and pirate-like Robert Shaw. The good people of Amity don't take to Dreyfus, who's a scientist and seems to have something to prove, to "get his name in the National Geographic." Dreyfus doesn't relate to them either. When the mayor asks him what kind of shark they're dealing with, Dreyfus tells them: "Carcaradon carcharias," suggesting that Dreyfus doesn't quite get that we layfolk don't care nothin' for them complycated science names.

To Shaw the pirate, Dreyfus' sissyness is plain. He tells Dreyfus: "You've got city boy hands, Hooper. You been countin' money all your life." (True story: my friend Jessica used to get migrane headaches whenever she heard Richard Dreyfus' voice. She had to change the channel quickly whenever and wherever he appeared.) Shaw, as Quint, is someone you can't help but like. He's been places, he's got actual scars, he's had adventures.

In Close Encounters, the Dreyfus/Spielberg character is even less likeable/empathetic. Here, Dreyfus speaks entirelly in frantic, upper registers. Somehow, he's talking through his nose. He builds giant lumps of things as an effort to "understand" or "investigate." He tries to teach his children fractions by smashing model trains together. He is unhinged, alien arrivals or no. And, as a man and a father, he's presented as such an impotent force that he can't even convince his kids to watch Pinnochio.

Neither movie is as anti-intellect or anti-science as Spielberg movies would become, but they both point to some lasting motifs (or memes) in his work. As a chief example, in both movies the intellectual/scientist is presented as a buffoon, someone who misunderstands and does not fit within the "real world" of fishermen, families, and masculine traits. As with Jeremy Davies' translator character in Saving Private Ryan, the Dreyfus of Jaws survives the movie where others do not, but these intellectuals -- to a greater or lesser extent -- survive at the expense of the more worldly and "heroic" characters.

Similarly, the Close Encounters Dreyfus is literally (and I don't use that word lightly) "alienated" from his family by his own scientific curiousity. At the movie's end, Dreyfus leaves his family and his planet behind to essentially become an alien, a brainy creature who can communicate through musical tones, lights, and fancy technology. Kinda like Spielberg.

In these early films, Spielberg is in a sense illustrating himself, and doing so in a way that is largely self-immolating. In some sense, Spielberg is sending himself away or -- as we'll see in looking at his alien/dinosaur/robot movies -- extinguishing that intellect for the sake of innocence and wonder, two things that have difficulty sharing time with science and critical thinking. After all, as the Billy Bragg song goes, Scholarship is the Enemy of Romance.

(By the way, I haven't seen these movies in some time, so if I'm recalling detail incorrectly, please make an effort to set me straight.)


Over Under Sideways Through

Google lists 334,000 websites that use the term "over analyzing" (or "overanalyzing").

Meanwhile, only 997 websites use the term "under analyzing" (or "underanalyzing" -- on this one, Google asked if I meant "internalizing." Umm, sorta?).


So there's plenty more people who feel we (or they, or you) are thinking too much than there are people who feel we aren't thinking enough.

In fact, since "under analyzing" also brings up phrases like "read pages 17-23 under 'Analyzing,'" there are even fewer instances of underanalysis than the numbers above indicate. Even a smarty-pants Seattle-type term for under-thinking like "insufficient analysis" appears via Google only 39,100 times, about 9 times less often than over-/overanalyzing. (And likewise, "Too much analysis" appears 41,700 times.)

This avoidance of analysis seems to me to be exactly matched to the times we live in. Fundamentalists -- those who feel that words don't require interpretation -- are on the rise, distinctions and explanations are political suicide, and our president feels that the "jury is still out" on science.

Of course, analysis and thoughtfulness are internal processes and we live in an era where the image is everything. As almost any screenwriter can tell you, you can't see thinking. It is command and action we want! Decisiveness, antagonism, the bold move -- these are things we can see.


We're Number 46!

But we'll always be Number 1 in our hearts...

According to, um, bizjournals.com, there are only 45 American cities smarter than Milwaukee, WI.

Of 53 cities rated, it turns out we are totally smarter than: St. Louis, El Paso, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detriot, Cleveland, and Miami.

I'm convinced our rankings would have been much higher if we hadn't been so totally hung-over on the day of the test. Math is HARD, ya'll!

Here's your "Smart Cities" leaderboard, as well as explanations for why they outperfomed us:
  • Seattle, WA (1). Coffee; overachievers.
  • San Francisco, CA (2). Bunch of book-readers.
  • Austin, TX (3). Results skewed by Willie Nelson, known supergenius.
  • Colorado Springs, CO (4). Seated next to Seattle, kept "dropping pencil." Total cheaters.
  • Minneapolis, MN (5). Took a Kaplan prep course; parents are loaded.

A final message for the 45 cities that think they're so damn smart: We are first in binge drinking, and no one can take that away from us.

Or, at least, we can't think of a way anyone could take that away from us. Please don't take that away from us. It's all we have.

The Year There Wasn't a Fitzmas

In the ongoing Townblog plan to save you both money and time, I present the image at left.

Gaze upon it for as long as necessary.

You no longer need to see the movies Snakes on a Plane or Ghost Rider.

Per viewer, Townblog is saving you an average of $17.00 in US currency and three and a half hours of your valuable time. You're welcome.

As an added bonus, you can imagine that the fellow with the flaming skull is Karl Rove and that the snakes represent justice. Because imagining, it seems, is as close as we'll get.


I Plead the First

Recent Amendments:

28th Amendment:
Marriage may only occur between a man and a woman.

29th Amendment:
Pursuant to the 28th Amendment (see attached), "man" shall be defined as a "human male" and "woman" shall be defined as a "human female." There's really no loophole, people, so just cut it out. Really, enough.

30th Amendment:
Transgendered human males and females may marry someone of their opposite gender but only after surgery and hormone treatment. Although such marriages are permitted, it shall be reflected in the law that the current administration finds it very icky.

31st Amendment:
The words "biologic and physiologic sex" shall replace the word "gender" in the 31st Amendment, as it has been pointed out to lawmakers that "gender" refers to sexual identification and not actual biology.

32nd Amendment:
If a human male and a female are married, and one of them changes their biological sex -- whether by surgery or other means -- so that the marriage now exists between two people of the same (if not naturally so) biological sex, well, then, that marriage is immediately annulled. Nice try, though.

33rd Amendment:
It is permissible to say of a person that he or she is "married to their work," but it is not permissible for a person to actually marry their work. As we feel we made clear in the 28th Amendment, marriage may only occur between a man and a woman.

34th Amendment:
While we can't believe we actually have to append this to our Nation's constitution, the term "marriage" can be used symbolically and/or metaphorically, but such symbolic or metaphoric marriages will not be recognized as such in cases of Federal law.

35th Amendment:
Because the first amendment seems to allow it, citizens may claim to be married to someone even when they are not, irrespective of the sex or gender of the claimants involved. However, these "marriages" are linguistic and/or textual claims only, and will not be recognized by Federal law.

36th Amendment:
The first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby goddamn repealed.


Actual honest non-ironic article of inquiry: Is there any evidence that an American citizen has actually burned an American flag in the last five to ten years? Does any video footage exist? Has anyone heard from a friend or neighbor about a flag being burned?


On Wisconsin!

What makes borrowed characters ripe for revisiting or recasting is their child-like states in their original appearances, as their exploits and goals in the original can inform or problematize their character and actions in the later incarnation. An adult Tiny Tim can tell us what its like to outgrow one's frailties, for example, or whether a middle aged Cratchit still feels we should be God-blessed, everyone. The voice of one of Scarlett O'Hara's slaves, meanwhile, can...

We interrupt this Literary Recycling Week post with late-breaking news out of Wisconsin. Townblog Newscopter 3000 hovers above the state's Department of Public Instruction, which -- we're being told now -- "leads the nation in frustrating the purposes of the federal education law called No Child Left Behind." We take you now live to the scene with Townblog Action Reporter Jayskool Ceeminus. Jayskool?

Brian, the building behind me is darkened now, but only hours ago, there was daylight. Daylight, and frustration. Frustration on the part of the federal education law called No Child Left Behind, relentlessly and brutally taunted -- perhaps even undermined -- by Wisconsin's Department of Public instruction.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Dispatch indicates, a Washington Think Tank believes that the State of Wisconsin has adjusted how it defines its own success in order to subvert No Child Left Behind laws.

In short, our Department of Education is a bully and a name caller and probably wants to leave children behind. Brian?

Jay, you say that Wisconsin is "frustrating the purposes" of No Child Left Behind, but neither you nor the Journal Sentinel Post Enquirer indicates what those purposes are.

Well, the purpose is certainly not to leave children behind.

What is the purpose, then?

The purpose of No Child Left Behind is to drive all affluent students into private schools and all poor-performers out of school altogether, so what's left over can ultimately be privatized to independent contractors. Of course, private schools aren't required to follow the law. Secondarily, No Child Left Behind requires that schools provide names and addresses of its students to military recruiters upon request.

So shouldn't subversion of this system be encouraged?

Well, by requiring the states to set their own standards for success, subversion or "gaming" of the system is built into the structure of the program. It's kind of like Talmudic Law -- to find the loophole is to honor the principle. But public outrage, like the kind that might be generated by this independent think tank or The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Star Bulletin Digest, will eventually undo such techniques.

So a system has been set in place that forces schools to lower standards in order to meet mandated levels of success, and those schools can then be ostraciszed for those same lower standards, thus ensuring that all public schools will ultimately fail. Isn't that kind of entrapment?

That Karl Rove is one evil genius, innit he?

Right. Wasn't he supposed to be indicted by now?

I'm sorry, Brian. I'm having trouble hearing you. Reporting live from a place where nothing really happened earlier today, I'm Jayskool Ceeminus, Townblog Action News.

And for all of us here in the Great Society, I say to you: it sure was fun while it lasted. Brian Townblog, former Milwaukee Public School student.




Today's entry for Literary Rycycling Week has been cancelled due to weltschmerz.

When did the National Spelling Bee become so nihilistic and German? I mean, "ursprache"?

Get the jump on next year's Schnell-ing bee by learning to spell these words:
  • Kindergarten
  • Autobahn
  • Daschund
  • Poltergeist
  • Schadenfreude
  • Zarathustra
  • Gesundheit
  • Bildungsroman
  • Doppelganger
  • Luftwaffe
  • Kulturkampf
  • Lumpenproletariat
  • Gemeinschaftsfremde

Good luck, over-parented blonde girls of the future!