Friday, September 29, 2006

Move Me To Tears

This blog will go dark for a while as I am on the move.

Three beefsteak men will arrive around 1 pm today to gently carry off all our worldly possessions to storage for one month before we move to Tears. (Tears is a city about five miles south of the City of Mirth)

Am I concerned about the moving men's savviness with shipping and handling?

Well, I've heard these guys are the best. Some close friends, who are even more nomadic than ourselves, recommended this company: The Gentlemen Movers and Entertainers Inc.

It's true: these moving men are strong and coordinated enough. They showed up last night to flex and ripple their muscles for me and my husband, gave us a sample of their brawn, each could lift my husband--a heavy-weight lawyer--in the palm of their hand.

And the moving company boasts that these men are not only able to lift the heavy boxes, but they can handle two to three heavy items at once and can juggle them while ascending or descending a flight of stairs. That will do us good as we will be moving into a fifth-floor walk-up.

While packing stuff, they put on a variety show. For instance, they do a thrilling knife throwing act while packing up the kitchen things. They've got a slick water show for the bathroom. And they can balance all furniture on their chins or foreheads.

So I'm really looking forward to the fun we'll have during our theaterical move.

But the wildest part of their moving act, so I've heard, goes like this: these guys don't pack clothing in boxes. Oh, no! Instead, they snap and whistle a smoothe jazz tune, and all the clothing fills with life and walks out--or floats, rather--on its own. No folding or stuffing or wasted cardboard and tape.

Imagine our clothing strolling to our new home as if well-dressed guests arriving at a party. My clothes and my husband's clothes, arm-in-arm, floating home.

Now, should I be concerned about how they will move the piano?

Hell no! It's a thumb piano, a West African Mbira, so I don't think I should get ruffled over it.

I've moved around about eight times over the past ten years. Need any advice on how to handle moving while keeping up your joie de vie--I'm the girl to talk to.

If you read this blog, please visit again in November. I'll return with stories about swinging over to visit my in-laws in Guangzhou, China (which is a city some ten thousand miles or more out of the way of the City of Mirth).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Speaking on Condition of Anonymity

Has the war in Iraq reduced the threat of terrorism? Or increased it?

Are we taking this question seriously?

Was the war in Iraq ever intended to reduce the threat of terrorism, really?

Remember. The war in Iraq started--this time around--because of false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Why act surprised when more intelligence about the situation in Iraq reveals the increasingly dubious nature of the current administration's policies and strategies in Iraq? Who needs to see the full NIE report, anyway? What would come of seeing a full intelligence report? We've eaten enough lies, and more people are killed.

I did not appreciate Congressman Joe Wilson's comments today on To the Point.

"We are winning the war in Iraq because at least the Jihadists are trying to attack and recruit those bad apples that staff the militia-run police forces."

And what, according to Joe Wilson, have these Jihadists been using as their recruiting tools? "The Pope's recent comments and Danish cartoons that Muslims find offensive."

Think again. If Joe Wilson's position ignores Iraq as a possible terrorist recruiting tool, what else is this man ignoring about Iraq?

U.S. border patrol ought to wave signs: "Welcome to the Theater of the Absurd! Bring me your tired, your poor, your muddle-headed masses."

The Bush administration creates a war on terror to fight a war on terror. Circular reasoning and lies are governing the U.S these days. Most of us are trapped: living, driving, spending, flying, eating, shitting, scratching, yawning, blogging, grinning while the Commander in Chief's Nightmare Circus rolls through town.

No one has tamed the circus lions. The lion taming profession went out of style during the dot com boom. Lion taming, a dead art like Environmentalism.

Ringmaster, what's the next act?

We're all sticking our collective head in the mouth of the king of beasts.


"Should we pull out of Iraq? Should we stay there?" Blah...blah! Why do people keep asking these questions?

I'm wondering why there hasn't been a fair and just impeachment trial. Mister Award-winning Investigative Reporter, your next assignment: find out why there hasn't been an impeachment trial.

If Bush were on trial, perhaps his more civilized conduct would set a good example for Saddam Hussein in how to conduct oneself politely in a court of law. Imagine. It'd be a kind of Finishing School for both of them. I've heard a lot of good stuff comes out of circus people attending Finishing School.

Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

A writer fell asleep, dreamt she was a volcano.

But instead of hot lava,

what flowed what leaked from her?

Calligrapher's ink.

Enough ink to cover entire cities.

Heroes and Enemies took up fast-flowing fountain pens.

And everyone engaged in an ancient War on Writing, a battle to stir spontaneity.


Disaster spawns autobiography.

If you are a red monster, you are welcome to write your autobiography in verse.

Me. I am blue violet. I tried to write my autobiography in the form of a musical comedy.

But Fred Eb died September 11, 2004. He was the lyricist of the famous "New York, New York" sung exquisitely by Liza Minnelli.

I always felt a bit unnerved that Mister Eb died exactly three years after... (Means nothing, perhaps, but isn't it...hmm?)

I was left weeping at the edge of a crater.

So I keep this blog now.

For solace.

Some of us like to wonder what it means to blog and what motivates us to create posts and share comments.

But you ever wonder what the immortals of myth might be saying about the blogosphere?


"Hey, that tickles."

As if these blog posts are feathers brushing under their feet.

Bloggers make the vacationing gods laugh.

(I had intended to write a conventional book review here, but this didn't turn out to be a book review. I guess you won't find the kind of book review here that follows John Updike's rules. You might find a writer playing with books, making love to books, bathing with books.)

But the main idea, if it were a book review, would be to try to convince anyone who reads this:

Please do read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, along with her newest Decreation.

I wonder if anyone else thinks it would be refreshing to see more novels written in verse.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reading Anne Carson

Exhibit in the gallery of my mind:


Solitude breathes society.
Compact urban Brontë in my wallet
between the C note and the theater tickets.

Alight at High Winds bus stop. Turn Prairie Corner. Cross Eros Street to Great Lake Avenue.

Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, and Sappho meet me at the Chicago Diner for vegetarian greasy spoon in the punk rock piercing booth.

I've been doing some sleepwalking and sleepreading to prepare for this inter-review, of sorts.

Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God is an astonishing collection of poetry and prose. "The Glass Essay," written in verse, tells the story of a woman recovering from the end of an affair. She visits her mother who lives on an empty moor. She reads Emily Brontë, her favorite.

Sitting with my legs crossed in this windy diner, where autumn dribbles like soup spilling off the spoon, I read Carson's poems through clenched teeth. I throw my fists in all directions until they slam up against bottles of chili sauce, ketchup, and maple syrup. These leather knuckles punch through glass. I'm angry, too. And this place is a mess. But don't ask why. The only question allowed here is "Smoking or Non?" And even that question, soon, will have archaic charm, what with all the smoke banning going on nowadays.

If I ever attempt to write narrative verse, I'd use Carson's "The Glass Essay" as a model. Her play with form does everything from guiding meditation to telling a deceptively simple story. Both activities reveal a soul coming to terms with its nakedness.

"And nudes have a difficult sexual destiny."

This sentence makes me think back to what was going through my mind when I wrote my novel Mint Fan Alley. Nude suggests the integrity of art and yet through burlesque smoke and mirrors, the audience gets a brutal confrontation with the sublime: vulgar, tender and cruel; beastly and beautiful.

Beastly naked. "Oh, it's only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead." Said Buck Mulligan.

Stirs the soul. I am dead naked. Where art thou, buck?

Yes. I realize it is true: This difficult sexual destiny involves slamming up against the bars of a prison, grabbing around the stained, iron rods and grinning through them.

Carson's words leave ash over my skin, as if her words have erupted something dark and hot over my entire body. I'd like to eat every page of her Glass, Irony and God, that was published by New Directions in 1992 with an introduction by Guy Davenport. I could chew it to bits, including the introduction.

Sometimes, in Carson's poems, "April light is filling the moor with gold milk." And I am reminded that the narrator is with her mother, after losing a lover, and her mother suggests she turn on the lamp when day fades to evening. Read under light. What comfort!

I even found it amusing that this absent lover's name was Law (as I am now contemplating and preparing to go to law school, dealing with the strange personal conflict that this endeavor involves for me.)

But then sometimes, in Carson's poems, there is "[a] solid black pane of moor life caught in its own night attitudes." I am grinning through the bars of bardic prison. Prison schoolroom. I've learned from Carson's Decreation: Sappho knew the question is not "Why don't you love me?" The question is "What is it that love dares the self to do?"

"Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty." So ends the first part of the three part opera. I know what she means. Those lines are giving me strength, and I'll dare Law.

Anne Carson's work impresses a reader with its genre-mixing. She swirls essay, criticism, poetry, opera, and narrative--ink ensemble spills out the paper orchestra pit. No, no. It's not a pit. Carson is applying pressure under earth. Ink volcano. Read her, and you'll spill.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Furtive Reading & Writing


In 1959, Susan Sontag wrote--in her diary: "The ugliness of New York. But I do like it here. In NY sensuality completely turns into sexuality - no objects for the senses to respond to, no beautiful river, houses, people. Awful smells of the street, and dirt ... Nothing except eating, if that, and the frenzy of the bed." (If you like to play the voyeur, check out The Guardian's recent exposure of this great thinker's diary!)

Nothing changes much.

My husband will travel to NYC to look for an apartment. We've been away from the city for one year, living in Chicago. We're moving back to Brooklyn--a place where Paul Auter's funny men go to die.

I was reminded of what I miss most about New York when I spoke to a broker named Allen at Brooklyn Properties. It was the end of a busy Wednesday, and when I asked how he was doing, he said, "Oh, lousy; I guess; it's been a long day."

I said, "Sir, you haven't even talked to ME yet!"

Allen laughed; his laugh echoed: hardy, edgy, soulful music.

Sure, New York's ugly, but people have a good sense of humor about it. Sorry Sontag was too distracted by sex in the city to appreciate wit in the city!

It takes a little time away to see it clearly, but sex is not the funkiest dimension of New York City.

Haven't you heard: someone is writing a new series for HBO called "Wit in the City" about two Brooklyn brokers who frequent a grimy diner and scheme ways to rope all those Paul Austerian heroes into crazy real estate deals? It's airing sometime in 2007, but don't take my word for it. Ask that gossip monger who is right now passed out in the gutter.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Sara Gran's Opinion About Writers' Hopes and Brooklyn Settings" & "On the Dangers of Literary Provincialism"

I was impressed with Sara Gran’s writing in her article entitled ”Call It Brooklyn” in today’s Times' “The City” section, but I cannot say that I was convinced by her argument.

Although Gran's tone is not entirely polemical--she is mostly just expressing her concerns as a native Brooklynite--I am currently embarking on a serious study in formal logic, so I took the liberty of dissecting Gran's article as if it were a formal argument. Below is a portrait of what Gran's thoughts look like under close scrutiny.


Gran concludes that Brooklyn is the worst place on earth for a writer.


1. Brooklyn is populated--perhaps glutted--by writers deemed highly successful, who have achieved National Book Critics Circle Awards and National Book Awards, which leaves a young writer in the realm of pipe dreamer if she thinks she can measure up or even if she thinks, by moving to Brooklyn, she can rub noses with these literary untouchables.

2. A young writer, fresh out of an M.F.A. program, who is headed to Brooklyn is full of too much optimisim, perhaps misguided by rumors started by The Believer that "Brooklyn is some kind of heaven on earth for writers." Dealing with Brooklyn's level of compeition from esteemed writers is no walk in the park. A young writer faces certian disenchantment.


1. The publishing industry and book award circles have little or no enthusiasm for fresh Brooklyn-related topics or settings portrayed by unknown writers.

2. The M.F.A. graduate is not headed to Brooklyn for any other reasons than his literary ambitions.

3. A particular geographical location's surplus of esteemed writers produces ennui and humiliation that could have a negative influence on a young writer's craft.


Sara Gran is an experienced writer who knows a thing or two about the difficulty of getting published and selling books. She uses her expansive knowledge of Brooklyn's literary history as evidence that emerging writers might want to reconsider Brooklyn as a setting that is way overcooked. At first, her discussion seems to be heading in the direction of urging writers to avoid Brooklyn as a setting and a topic because every stone in the borough has been overturned. She positions herself as an experienced writer giving advice to the less experienced, as if to warn that publishing industry trends may not be heading in the direction of embracing yet another beast who calls himself a Brooklyn writer.


But then Gran does not provide any concrete example of how geographical location that has been overpopulated by writers has any direct correlation to the demise of a writer. Even the example she provides serves to undermine her point. Gran urges aspiring Brooklynites to rent the movie "The Squid and the Whale" in which a character, based on Jonathan Baumbach, ends up ignored by ciritcs, divorced, and living on "the other side of Prospect Park." Gran goes on to explain that this supposedly failed writer, after all the humiliation, still felt he was smarter than eveyone else. In other words--though he has an inflated ego--he still clings to his sense of dignity: at least he can hold his own, and might be wise to feel accomplished that he has written at all.

Flaws in Reasoning:

The tone of Gran's article suggests that writers with big names and book sales can enjoy a kind of literary dominion over this particular geographical location: Brooklyn, New York--as if these literary giants are imperialist wordsmiths whose writings have erected walls and marked borders, and as if literary accomplishment somehow embelishes writers with sovereingty over neighborhoods, thereby leaving them "off-limits" to others.

Gran writes, "Brooklyn is mine, and I am not inclined to share it." And poses as the native defender of territory. Careful.. Isn't this similar to sentiments triggering current hostilities and strife in war-torn regions of today's world?

What is also disturbing about Gran's attitude is the degree to which it assumes that when a geogrphical setting meets with literary rendering, the setting is somehow confined to the three dimensions of physical, geographical location--a street corner, a city block, or an avenue. But do such confines really exist in the literary, creative mind?

Though I appreciate her work, Gran's article encourages me to write this critique precisely because I feel that it reveals bad habits that some writers could fall into: sometimes, in an effort to express an opinion, writers favor sass, tone, and attitude over the importance of logical reasoning. I know; I have been trying to work my way out of this trap.

To what extent should a strong fiction writer be skilled at formulating convincing arguments? To the extent that she wishes to earn the trust and confidence of her readers, a writer should focus less on self-motivated, insular, and ego-driven, provicial material, attitude, and posturing. A writer is not someone who is called upon to exploit the “cool” and "hip" features of a legendary setting for purposes of impressing a publishing industry or an established litrerary cirlce. A sincere writer will be able to seek out the singular qualities of a subject or setting and will be able to arrange all the telling details in ways that allow a reader to gain insight into a time, a place, and a particular writer's mind. But, even more, a writer provides a great story. An Alice Munro story written with a Vancouver setting or a New York setting would still be an Alice Munro story. So a writer who has got any sand should be able to write a good story no matter what the setting, without concern about who has written in that setting before.

I refuse to buy into the cynicism that many writers, published or unpublished, express about the glutted publishing industry. I have three words for people who try to tell me it's hopeless: I don’t care.

I write for writing’s sake. I hope to please a reader. Of course, acclaim is welcome but not necessary.

Paul Auster’s Brooklyn is not Sara Gran’s Brooklyn. Jonathem Letham does not have imperial reign over the topic of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys. They're merely parts of the tradition. Ms. Gran, if you wish to write about something someone else has already written about, go right ahead. Sure, it is difficult to be the living part of a tradition, but it is possible to engage in a dialogue with other living writers through fiction. And it can be an awfully rewarding mind exercise. If the publishing industry and high brow circles aren't eating it up, screw them! In your writing efforts--failures or successes--you have grown and improved your craft.

Brooklyn is only one borough that is connected to a larger city that is still connected to an entire country and the world. My point is that there is never an exhaustion of interesting topics to explore, think about, and write about while one inhabits a Brooklyn home. And by despairing over the overcooked quality of a certain scene, we are perhaps not paying due respect to our predecessors: Harrison, Auster, Lethem, Styron, Miller, etc. have planted seeds, lit torches, helped successors receive an illuminated and eloquent perspecitve of history, and have given us the gift of getting to know their minds through their well-crafted prose. We continue from where they leave off because our writing minds extend way beyond the confines of geography, one street corner or a block, or a certain neighborhood turns over and inspires generations of minds.

I’m wondering if Sara Gran is willing to allow "outsiders" to embrace Brooklyn for what it is: though there might very well be lots of competition, talent, publishing industry muscle, and intimidation concentrated there, Brooklyn teems with all shades of lives, every one of them embodying an epic narrative. Brooklyn is more than its physical location. Brooklyn is its people, its moment-to-moment transformations that are profound in their shiftiness and provocation.

Gran referenced Paul Auster’s movie “Smoke.” Remember the scene in which Auggie Wren is showing his photography to Paul Benjamin? Wren took a photograph of the same corner of Brooklyn at the same time every day, filled entire volumes with that same shot. Paul Benjamin is baffled at first. Why? Auggie Wren explains that it's never the same corner twice. Never. That is a beautiful way to invite and celebrate artistic variability. The spirit of Auster's work does not tell other writers to stay out.

I have lived in Chicago for the past year. Not one day has passed when I did not feel to urge to take photos like Auggie did, only I would want to take them of the corner of Broadway and Melrose street in Chicago (if I were a photographer). I would get a similarly amazing and varied results. The scene would be different, but the idea is similar. And the exercise could only be regarded as tired and boring in the eyes of the beholder. A character like Paul Benjamin was able to see that Auggie's project amounted to one man's celebration of a city's day-to-day motion, a living representation of our collective unconscious.

So what if Brooklyn is an intimidating literary Mecca these days? What puny writer or reader wouldn't want to get lost in those overflowing shelves of "local authors?" Personally, that is my fantasy; to be thoroughly surrounded, anonymous yet animated, and compelled to contribute to the pile, a prospect that seems both exhausting and elating. Call that pile slush, if you will; I see a hub full of intellectual good fortune. So what if I haven't time to read it all or my own work goes unread? It's been pure joy and privilege to read and write.

I live in Chicago now, but my husband and I will be moving back to New York City after being away from it for one year. We've lived on the lower East Side, the Upper West side, and Hell's Kitchen. 2003-2004, I did a reverse commute to Brooklyn Heights to teach English composition at a local vocational school before I experienced teacher burn-out and just decided to write full time. Now we live in Chicago's Boystown, another vibrant neighborhood.

But our time here is coming to an end, and now we are discussing moving to Brooklyn. So Gran's article was particularly timely for me, and to read that she is unwilling to share Brooklyn just might have broken my heart--if she had provided stronger reasons for why I shouldn't move there. I may move there yet, and if I do, I will continue to write and take up my station as a no-name, struggling writer, equipped with a healthy sense of dignity and a reined-in ego (I don't even have an M.F.A.).

I wish writers, though they face a monolith when dealing with the publishing industry, would stick together and stay strong about the edifying and gratifying aspects of the creative process. We who do not work in the publishing industry, need not worry as much about its glut. We respect agents, editors, and publishers for the tough work they do. We have our work cut out for us.

Perhaps one could argue that I am too optimistic, but not so: I am a free-thinking individual who refuses to embrace the cynicism of our times. And if I find there is too much cynicism among all writers and residents of Brooklyn, well, where does one go from there? Yoknapatawpha County? Will my husband find legal work in Yoknapatawpha County? Do they have good law schools there as I am considering that profession myself?

At last, I hope that writers will trade inflated egos for a sense of humilty-with-backbone; we, too, can stand up, shake our tiny fists, and say "Shame on you!" to a publishing industry that convinces many good writers, like Sara Gran, that they are somehow a day late and a dollar short. It's unnfortunate Sara Gran feels short changed in her own hometown just because her name and book sales are not as beefy as those of the next Brooklyn bloke. I stand firm that all hope is not lost because I am a gypsy soul who thoroughly believes that Brooklyn does not belong to Paul Auster any more than Chicago belongs to Saul Below, rest his soul. Young, rejected writers out there! You know who you are. Chin up! The world is your oyster!

Cynics. Kiss off!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rated xoxoxo: A Storyteller Considers M.P.A.A. Movie Ratings

I am living a double life. Striving to maintain my goals as a fiction writer (at least 500 words per day) while also preparing to go to law school. This struggle urges me to find ways to balance my writing life with my continuing education.

Lately, I've been studying strategies for scoring high on the Law School Admissions Test, and Kaplan recommends dissecting editorial and Op-ed writing to improve the chances of scoring higher on the "Logical Reasoning" section of the exam.

Below shows how I dissected an editorial written in today's New York Times, entitled Rated R, for Obscure Reasons

This editorial couches its argument in the context of a discussion of a new documentary entitled, This Film is Not Yet Rated. The Times editorial expressed its confidence in this film and agrees with the attitude expressed in the film: the movie industry ought to review and upgrade its rating system.

This argument proceeds by first extolling the informative quality of director Kirby Dick's documentary and then illustrating that it is persuaded--by evidence provided in the film--that the movie industry's rating system is not fair nor open.

Here's the editorial's conclusion:

“It is questionable whether the movie industry should be in the business of rating movies at all. It might make more sense to simply make information about content available, and let parents make their own assessments.

If there are going to be movie ratings, they should be done through a fair and open process. After the revelations of 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated,' the burden is now on the M.P.A.A. to give its ratings system a serious upgrade.”

Here are the argument's premises:

The rating system is operated by industry leaders and groups who keep the identities of the raters anonymous out of self-interest. Producers feel motivated to curtail the content of the movies to ensure that their movies receive a rating that is commercially viable.

Now, please give a warm welcome to the argument's assumptions:

Parents own assessments of movie content will ensure a fairer and more open process for rating movies, as will freeing the process from being conducted by anonymous groups and industry leaders.

And please give a round of applause for the argument's weaknesses:

This argument does not provide enough evidence for what it suggests is a clandestine nature of the movie rating system. The editorial’s argument does not take into consideration what the M.P.A.A.’s Rating Board deems its integrity: A group of 8-13 members who “have the capacity to put themselves into the role of most American parents.” According to the M.P.A.A., Rating Board members must have “a shared parenthood experience.” The president of M.P.A.A. stands by his principle of not involving himself in the Board’s decisions, which suggests his laissez-faire approach on the side of the industry. Finally, the editorial fails to address the reasons why the Board regards its anonymity as important: the Board wants to keep the rating system free from unfair persuasion by the industry, producers, or other groups.

Please consider how this argument might be strengthened:

If the editor offered examples of parents who feel betrayed by the industry’s anonymity, such examples would strengthen the editorial's argument.

What can we infer from this argument?

From the editorial’s argument, we can infer that this opinion has lower regard for industry leaders and values more the integrity of individual parents when it comes to making decisions about the appropriateness of movie content for their children.

What might be a criticism of the editorial's argument:

The editorial’s reasoning assumes these industry leaders are out-of-touch with these individual parents, and assumes that these two groups are alienated in their motivations and interests.

So that's what my mind was juggling with today in my endeavor to study for the LSAT. Now, here's a flash fiction piece, a short short story inspired by the exercise above:

Wendy’s thin brows furrowed and her fine jaw clenched beneath her rosy cheeks. She turned her brown eyes away from her father who sat across from her at the breakfast table. Alvin Grey had made his final decision: No. His twelve-year-old daughter was not allowed to see the movie Repetition. Are you kidding? My daughter see an independent film that bears no rating! I won’t hear of it!

Alvin always suspected those low-budget films, disguising themselves as “art,” were really nothing more than left-wing lunatics indulging their soft porn fetishes.

Unrated “films” are unsuitable for my daughter!

“Wendy, you’ll come home after school, and we’ll talk about your college applications.”

“But Father!” Wendy protested after swallowing a bite of waffle, “I’m not going to college yet for six more years.”

“Well, Princess. How do you suppose Daddy became In-house Counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America? Do you think I wasted my childhood watching movies that contain gratuitous sex and violence?”

“Father, please. This movie is a compassionate portrayal of aspiring actors who struggle to overcome abusive habits in order to fulfill their yearning for genuine human connection.”

“Well said, Wendy. But you haven’t convinced me of the merits of such a 'film.' (And Wendy's father was actually that kind of Dad who makes quotes in the air with his fingers around words that he feels are sensitive) Save your urge to pontificate for that impressive college essay that you should start drafting, today!”

Wendy’s father kissed her forehead and started to head off to work.

“Father, will you come see me perform the Lead in our school ballet?” Wendy, once again, asked at the wrong time.

“No can do, Princess. Daddy is on trial; working all weekend.”

Silently, Wendy called him all the bad names she could think of, barring Islamofascist.

Wendy had it in mind to leap into the courtroom in her lioness costume. She had to get it through her father’s thick skull, somehow: she wasn’t going to college; she aspired to dance for the New York City ballet.

"Mom, can I have some money to see a movie?" Wendy asked when all was clear.

"Go ahead. There's plenty in my purse."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Logic Games and the term "Islamofascism"

I was taking a break from doing logic game drills in preparation for the Law School Admissions Test. I turned on NPR and then I was inspired to write my own hypothetical LSAT logic game after listening to today’s airing of World View with Jerome McDonell followed by the President’s speech from the White House. McDonnell interviewed a variety of people about what they think of the administration’s new use of the term “Islamofascism.” In the following program, President Bush announced his vision for the trying the Guantánamo detainees; meanwhile, I had logic games on the brain. See if you can play this one.

Here’s the game:

Military Police categorize eight different kinds of inmates in a high security prison: Detainee, Terrorist, Islamofascist, Combatant, Mastermind, Communist, Nazi, and Anarchist. The prison is built in such a way that one cellblock of four cells is on the floor above another cellblock of four cells. Only one prisoner is confined to one cell. All prisoners are assigned to three different kinds of cells: Hell Cages, Stench Vaults, or Black Holes, according to the following stipulations:

1. The Detainee cannot be in a cell next to the Anarchist.
2. If the Islamofascist is in a Hell Cage, then the Communist must be in a Black Hole.
3. There are no Hell Cages on the first floor of the prison.
4. If the Terrorist is in a Stench Vault, then the Communist must also be in a Stench Vault.
5. No prisoner who was captured and detained was an innocent bystander.
6. If a prisoner has been interrogated and has experienced torture, humiliation, or both, he will be confined to a Black Hole.
7. No prisoners who stand trial will be confined in Hell Cages.


If the Islamofascist is in a cell between the Communist and the Anarchist, then which of the prisoners is confined to a Stench Vault?

a. Mastermind and Nazi
b. Combatant and Terrorist
c. Combatant, Nazi, and Mastermind
d. Terrorist and Communist
e. Detainee


If you figure out the answer, please let me know.

Really, if the President had any real vision, he would encourage the Gitmo MP interrogators to threaten those prisoners like this: "Talk! Or we'll administer the LSAT!" (Law School Admissions Torture)

Good luck to all who embark on this fabulous exam this fall. Yes! You can do it! 180! May I recommend that before the exam you eat 180 organic blueberries. Blueberries are supposed to be good for the brain, so I've heard...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to Outsmart Chinese Officials

Wu Kong’s hands gripped the steering wheel; his palms burned; his knuckles whitened. This was Hollywood-movie excitement! If it could, his foot would depress the accelerator straight through the floor for added dramatic effect.

“Hang on!” He hollered, almost elated, to his passengers—a reporter and photographer for the New World Times.

The mysterious sedan followed them in hot pursuit on this desolate, rural village road until they ripped a sharp turn onto the exit and made a clean getaway onto a new, major highway that had been paved and paid for by The State.

But just after losing the sedan, the driver was forced to quickly decelerate to avoid slamming into a village man who was carrying an obscenely long bamboo pole over his shoulder. The man was climbing over the median strip and had to slowly turn his torso until the pole swung parallel to the highway so the car could drive past. Apparently, the villager hadn't been expecting cars this way, let alone the charge of a random speed demon. Wu Kong whooped as he accelerated again, and the photographer snapped a shot out the back window, capturing the villager's astonishment and his pole acrobatics on film.

After ten minutes on the highway, Wu Kong was pulled over by police and answered three-hours of questions, while the photographer and reporter, who spoke only a little Chinese, waited patiently and snoozed all afternoon on one another's shoulders in the rental car's back seat.

Later, the driver explained the problem to his passengers, although the seasoned nesmen had expected as much. Chinese officials were concerned that Wu Kong was driving journalists to the outskirt villages. They suspected these journalists were sticking their noses into Chinese Internal Affairs, sniffing out the details of the most recent paper mill spill. The journalists would have been caught and punished if it weren't for Wu Kong's charms and bribes.

While he drove into the city, Wu Kong suggested a new approach to the foreign journalists, "So what should you do if you are a writer who wants to get the inside story on paper mill spills that sink Chinese villages? You should disguise yourself as toxic sludge! That's what. I tell you: Eat Beijing duck, vomit all over yourself, and don a mask made of tar and shit-smeared feathers. Because Chinese officials ignore toxic sludge. They spend all their energy trying to tighten their grip around the necks of the foreign journalists. I tell you: if you disguise yourself as a stinking, festering, slimy, goopy environmental disaster, you are more likely to sneak below the Central Government’s official radar than if you try to sneak around pretending to be sleepy tourists. That's how you'll get the story. Go toxic!"

"In closing," Wu Kong said as he pulled to the curb of the International Hotel to let off his passengers, "I quote your good, ol’ Eddie Murrow, 'Good night, and good luck!'"

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wining and Dining the Alums

Frank McQuill smoothed the blue napkin over his lap. After ironing out every bump and wrinkle under his palms, his hands re-emerged to animate his speech.

“Invest! Build assets! Choose a worthy philanthropy!”

His long, manicured hands pirouetted around the word “philanthropy” and gave him away; if his fingers could speak, they’d say: ‘See Frank! He is a seasoned ballet dancer, an eccentric, a sensible man, poised, a grandfather. Trust him!’

Frank had invited Allen Young and his wife Rita to a restaurant in Chicago’s Greek town. Frank had just taken up the post of V.P. of External Affairs at the liberal arts college Allen and Rita attended a decade ago—they were loyal givers of a small donation, but Frank sensed they smelled of wealthy potential. The three had drunk enough dirty martinis to speak candidly. Frank, however, did not share the story of his desperate days when he lived on what he made from the wallets he snatched on subways and buses. Instead, to humanize his task of “making The Ask,” he told the story of the Minnesota farm he had recently sold. He and his wife had raised sheep for the slaughter. Once, a lamb rested his head on Frank’s shoulder as he was driving it to the slaughterhouse. “After that I turned the truck around, and we never killed another animal.”

When the waiter came around to take their orders, Frank ordered the Korinthian Special, tender lamb chops boiled to perfection.

“You know,” Frank said while chewing with cheer and gusto (no worries, the lamb did not die in vain), “the college’s performance outranks its endowment!” Allen and Rita listened, nodded, feasted, smiled.

Rita, who was unemployed and trying her hand at writing a novel, was enjoying the effects of the dirty martini and felt an urge to rest her head on Frank’s shoulder. She’d whisper ‘Baa baa!’ into his ear, then ‘Opa!’ Then she’d get up and ask him if he’d dance with her because now she was thinking of her favorite scene from the movie “Cabaret,” the scene in which Liza Minelli and Joel Grey do that “Money Makes the World Go Round” number.

The dinner ended with Frank picking up the tab. Rita promised him—as if he had asked for her hand and she were delivering her answer—that she would quit her scribbling and start a more serious pursuit of law, business, or medical school so she could give generously some day. That satisfied Frank and Allen, who was burned out being a lawyer and the solo breadwinner.

Years later, Rita sat on a city bus, her hair matting, her teeth rotting, her clothes stinking. Her hand was inching closer to the man next to her who resembled her ex-husband.