Big Fish Little Fish Swimming in the Water

An Open Letter to the Discovery Channel

Dear Discovery Channel:

I'm writing to you as a TV network that has some expertise in predatory sea mammals, as evidenced in the periodic "Shark Week" programming block you feature over the cable. I'm glad America has a "Shark Week," and every time I see an add for this or that year's upcoming "Shark Week," I make a mental note to add it to my Tivo list, until ultimately finding other things to do with my time. Recently, however, I've been stalked by certain shark-related questions that only you can answer. Let me cut to the chase.

1. Was Julianne Moore taught to speak like a human, or did she have enough early imprinting experiences with humans that she began to mimic our species on her own?

2. I have noted some non-shark and perhaps even human-like features in Julianne Moore. In certain still photographs, one can almost make out red hair. Is this a feature of her particular species, or some Shark X-Men style mutation? Or just a weird Halloween fright wig? (Also, in certain movie scenes, it is clear that Ms. Moore is towing two or more float tanks, presumably harpooned into her torso by Robert Shaw.)

3. Relatedly, is the trait for invisible skin shared by all of her breed or is it, again, the X-Men thing? It seems like having a shark with completely see-through skin would be a boon to ichthyology, which really makes me wonder why scientists would teach her to walk and talk and wear strangely patterned blouses. That's why I'm leaning towards the mutation theory, despite its chilling repercussions for the future of shark-mankind.

4. Did Julianne Moore's excess teeth, even among sharks, make it easier or harder to teach her to speak in human languages?

5. In the movie Short Cuts, Ms. Moore is seen topless from the waist down and two things are noticeable right away. First, she has pubic hair -- I'm guessing that's a merkin? Second, the curled tail fins on which she walks. Did you steal this style of imitative human walk from the makers of the cartoon "Jabberjaw," or they from Julianne?

In recent episodes of the otherwise decent show "30 Rock," Julianne Moore has employed a stunningly overwrought attempt at a Boston accent. It's seriously, distractingly awful. It makes Sean Penn's Mystic River accent sound subtle and nuanced. It makes Tom Hanks' Catch Me If You Can accent seem slightly less like a car horn. Excuse me, "CAHR HAHRN." It makes Cliff Claven sound like Sidney freakin' Poitier. I spent several years in Boston and, other than Jay Fisher, nobody even talks like that.

It is the accent that makes me ask the questions above, Discovery Channel, for if Ms. Moore's lack of understanding and connection with those of us who are legitimately human is due to the poor tutelage of scientists, I think we need to assess the kind of ethics training and mentoring we are providing our biologists. On the other hand, if Ms. Moore's development from toothsome sea-wolf to predatory near-human is one guided only by evolution and the innate competitive drive of sharks, then I am going to pack a bunker full of canned goods and start conserving shotgun shells, Cormac McCarthy style. Because if there are more Moores out there, Discovery Channel, then the real and oncoming Shark Week is going to make The Road look like a family vacation.

Best Regards,


P.S. If Ms. Moore is indeed a product of science, please convince them to influence her to do more movies like Children of Men, in which she is shot in the face. Thanks in advance.
(Related: An Interview with the JAWS Shark, Feb. 2008)


A Lot Of MCs Like To Use The Word Dramatical

Logicomix, a graphic novel that comes from a group of folks in Greece, constitutes the origin story of the great superhero known to modern readers as Bertrand Russell.

Russell's origin story is a blatant rip-off of the Batman story. While still a small child, Russell's parents are killed by stoicism and Victorian prudence, causing Russell to take up the mantel of logic to combat the evils of warrantless argument and unproven math problems. And just like Batman, Russell takes a pacifist view towards the first world war and falls in love with a co-worker's wife.

In all seriousness, Logicomix is a neat little book that -- through the combined use of pictures and text, a genre known to many as "comics" -- offers up not just the life story of Bertrand Russell (who lived a much more interesting and action-packed life than one might expect) but also an examination of the link between philosophers/mathematicians and madness, all as part of a kind of history of western philosophic thought in the years circa 1880-1950. With a glossary and illustrated examples of some pretty high-concept ideas, it would make for an interesting text for a high school or college-level philosophy course. Except that there's sex and murder in it, too.


Asterios Polyp is a graphic novel by David Mazzucchelli, who had previously illustrated Daredevil and Batman comics written by Frank Miller, as well as an excellent comics adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass. And while there are plenty of graphic novels out there that are really just fatter comic books, this work -- perhaps second to Chris Ware -- works much the way good novels do.

The title character, a former academic architect of Greek descent, is explored in his present, in which he is somewhat driftless and full of loss, and the past that explains how he got that way. Certain sections we explore alongside Asterios, while the flashback sequences -- as such -- are narrated by a twin brother, dead at birth but continuing to lead a kind of shadowed life alongside him. The intertwining of these two timelines and the two Asterios (present and past) is meticulously constructed, such that elements echo back and forth through the story. A common item -- a wristwatch or an army knife -- might first seem to be a detail meant to add texture to an illustration, but later may be revealed as an important hinge to the story. This all adds up to a level of emotional and psychological depth that few would expect from comics work (even though, okay?, such things are pretty common to the form).

As in Logicomix, concepts of architecture, sculpture, music, and dance are wound into the story itself, in ways that allows this text to both teach you and expect you to be familiar with the concepts it explores.

My library didn't totally get that Asterios Polyps' dust jacket is smaller than the book itself, but your bookstore or library may differ.


Rollergirl, Don't Worry

Mom and Grandma Cathy take Caleb out on the ice.

Sam's first trip around the rink.

Sam gets his rink legs.

On his own, though not so happily.

Feeling gravity's pull.

Sweet rewards.


I'll Be Your Mirror

Which shave gets YOU closer?

Shaving face.

Sam gives a present to Asia.

Asia discovers the crudeness of boys.
"Do you like see-food?"

Playing the hockey game send by Great Uncle Todd.

They'll be the greatest brothers in hockey since the Hansons.

I tell you again, Ladies Love Cool Sam.

Olin, Caleb, and Sam in the butterfly room at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Sam's favorite place on earth.

Three coins in a fountain.


I Know I'm Unloveable, You Don't Have To Tell Me

I haven't written about books in a while, because I have decided not to discuss (here) books that I haven't finished reading, and I've been abandoning books lately. But here are some thoughts on two books I read over the holidays:

Jonathan Lethem is on the verge of becoming an actual disappointment artist. I skipped his last novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, despite it having a title borrowed from a pretty awesome Roky Erikson song, because it was a book about a band and books about fictional rock musicians are never good. Chronic City, a book I'd really been looking forward to since reading a excerpt masquerading as a short story in the New Yorker last year (and, really, enough with that, New Yorker), is also -- I'm terribly sad to say -- not good.

Generally, I'm an easy reader. I like almost everything. so long as it is free of vampires or hypocritical internal ethics and icky perspectives on transracial adoption. I really loved, and continue to love, Lethem's Fortress of Solitude. For all its messiness, it captures something about friendship, about urban life, about being a teenager, about the sound a pink Spalding ball made when it twokked off the front stoop, about alienation, about "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," about the ways in which pop culture both fires and limits the imagination. I'm not sure, at this vantage point, what Chronic City captures. There's a chapter in which four characters wait for photos to load on eBay through a dial-up connection.

As Janet Burroway said, only trouble is interesting. Chronic City's central character, Chase Insteadman, is an attractive and well-funded former child actor who attends swanky Manhattan parties. Not much trouble, there. A sub-plot involving Chase's astronaut girlfriend, does present some trouble -- there are Chinese mines separating her from earth, she's running out of oxygen, and is diagnosed with cancer -- but this whole matter is pretty well erased by Lethem by the novel's end. Other troubles -- some of them kind of neatly magical, including a gray fog that has encased lower Manhattan and a giant tiger that is destroying buildings along Second Avenue -- are dealt with in similar fashion. In fact, almost at every turn, Lethem lowers the stakes for the narrative, including a pretty winkingly metafictional suggestion that, hey, none of this real anyway.

Kind of sad.


Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind kind of rescued me from post-Chronic City malaise; I picked it up almost immediately after finishing the last sentence in Lethem. Smith is wicked smart, as the Bostonians say, but the essays are mostly accessible. There's one on Italian opera that I had to skip, and another one on Nabokov vis a vis Roland Barthe that I had just enough grad school theory courses to absorb. She also managed to sell me on E.M. Forester, whom I was previously sure I was never going to read.

She also draws a pretty fantastic connection between Eliza Doolittle and Barack Obama, and reviews the summer movies of 2006. A short essay on the 2006 Oscars falls short for me -- Smith attempts to write her piece without naming any celebrities, but this seems to reinforce the unearned exclusivity and privilege enjoyed by celebrities rather than subvert it. That is, Smith seems more star-smitten in her attempt to work around the sort of gossip magazine fascination we have with stars, as if her press pass into Fight Club has convinced her not to talk about Fight Club.

An essay on "realism" in the novel serves as an late, measured response to James Wood's charge of "hysterical realism" in reviewing Smith's novel White Teeth. (For the early, measured response see here.)

The last part of the book consists of a 40+ page close reading of David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," and the resulting essay is probably the best elegy for Wallace I've seen. Smith's explications of DFW's stories demonstrate his humanity and brilliance, while not ignoring how at-times-insufferable DFW's work can be.


If Every Day Were Like Christmas

Sam and Caleb in the sweaters that Grandma Cathy made for them.

Opening a present from Uncle Tim.

Sam hugs his Batman book.

Aunt Karina gets a Snuggie!

Sam and Aunt Kathleen take a break.

Sam opening a gift at Grandma Glenda's house.

Caleb in a hooded Thomas the Tank Engine bath towel. Almost as good as a Snuggie.

Sam tries out his Batman shaving kit.

Daddy gets a shave.

Sam discovers the Batcave.

Caleb offers to trade his Thomas backpack for some of Grandpa Gary's rye.

Caleb shows off Grandma Glenda's Santa cake, as well as a full retinue of trains and train accessories.

Resisting bedtime.