Want an AA to Go With That MA?

MaunualLet’s play with acronyms!

I went to a SLAC school, which depending on who you ask is either a Selective Liberal Arts College (an official organization), a Small Liberal Arts College (a general description), or a prophetic homonym.

That was six years ago; in a stunning display of the math/science skills you get with that kind of education, I will be attending my five-year reunion this year. (It’s a “cluster” thing. Don’t ask.)

The schedule is about what you would expect of such things: 5ks and bike rides and something called a “golf scramble,” which sounds a lot like what we did when Security came after us for streaking past the president’s donor golf brunch thing back in my sophomore year.

One recurring event every morning of the reunion caught my eye, however:


There’s one of those every day. Much respect to my AA peeps — it is an important thing for some people — but I can’t help but wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience that, when planning reunions, the committee sits down and thinks “Have we provided enough support for our alcoholic alumni this weekend? Let’s make sure we’ve got a meeting for them every morning.”

Okay, I take that back. I don’t have to wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience at all.

My Life Since the Last Photodump, Part 1: California

You know what I’m great at? Taking pictures with my iPhone.

(Not, like, I take great pictures. Just that I’m great at pulling it out and snapping a photo whenever there’s something cool going on in my life. Which there almost always is, because my life is very cool; hence, lots of pictures.)

You know what I’m terrible at? Doing anything with those pictures.

They just sit on my iPhone, amusing me whenever I flip back through them but otherwise not doing a whole lot. God knows I never get them onto Facebook — I think the last major trip or event that I successfully turned into a Facebook “album” (or whatever they’re called) was a Milwaukee museum trip in 2010 or 2011.

By the time I remember to put photos up on Facebook it seems kinda stupid, because it’s not a “Hey, here’s a cool thing I’m doing right now!” update so much as a “Oh, yeah, I did this cool thing a year ago” update, which reduces the “you should give a shit” factor considerably (and it wasn’t all that high to begin with).

So guess what that means? This week you get to suffer through the photodump!

It’s cool, though. I’m mostly picking out the ones that are either funny, beautiful, or weird and interesting, and subjecting you to an absolute minimum of my goofy face. Without further ado:

Part 1: California, Summer 2013

I suspect I cleaned my phone’s memory out for this trip, since it’s where the pile of old photos starts. It was awesome. I went with one of my girlfriends at the time, who realized that the easiest way to secure me as a +1 for a wedding was to offer an excuse for camping. It worked.


Gas, however, was more expensive than I’ve ever seen it:


I suppose those prices are going to look awfully dated in another year or two. Ah well.

Most of it was what you’d think of as the default Yosemite experience: beautiful waterfalls, towering cliffs, and massive crowds on all the day-hike trails.


I think one of my favorite photos from the whole trip is this one, of crystalized sap on a live tree’s rockfall damage:


We were there for a wedding, which is why you get the slightly odd combination of me in a tie and Half Dome in the background:


The wedding couple were big backpackers. Best “Just Married” sign ever:


We took a few days to hike much less populated trails in the Sierra National Forest, where we found wild raspberries:


(We also found a lot of raspberry-seed-filled bear poop, which encouraged us to eat quickly and then get the hell out of the raspberry thicket before someone else came along for a snack.)

And on the way out we had just enough time before our flight for me to nip out and dip my feet in the Pacific Ocean. Good to check that one off the list!


So that was California. Ready to suffer through some more outdated pictures? Stick around, because that’s the plan for this week!

Insert obligatory joke about word count and pictures being worth a thousand here, yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill.

Baboon Fart Story: Amazon Will Sell Anything, Until It Won’t

How much is a book worth?

What about an e-book?

What about the word “fart” printed 100,000 times in a row, with a baboon on the cover?

These are some of the core questions at the heart of the modern self-publishing business, or at least they have been since February 16, 2014, when indie publishing success Chuck Wendig commented in a blog post that:

I can literally write the word “fart” 100,000 times and slap a cover of baboon urinating into his own mouth, then upload that cool motherfucker right to Amazon. Nobody would stop me. Whereas, at the Kept Gates, a dozen editors and agents would slap my Baboon Fart Story to the ground like an errant badminton birdie.

The internet being the internet, someone immediately decided to test his theory.

baboon-fart-story-ebook-phronkUnder the pseudonym “Phronk,” another author uploaded the book Chuck Wendig had described to Amazon, adding sales copy that informed shoppers “This book is the word ‘fart’ written 100,000 times. You are literally about to buy the word ‘fart,’ written over and over. There is a picture of a baboon drinking piss on the cover.”

Artistic genius at work, no?

Well, no. Or at least, not in Amazon’s opinion. They pulled the book after less than 24 hours (during which time it had already climbed into the Top 10 rankings for the ‘History & Criticism’ subcategory it was published under — not a lot of lit-crit activity on Amazon, apparently). And as of Amazon’s latest e-mail to Phronk, they say it ain’t coming back. “Baboon Fart Story” is done.

So much for the “no gatekeepers” theory.

President Obama’s Latest Initiative Named for Brotherly Love; Murder

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Cain_slaying_AbelIt’s time for another of those heartwarming Christian “did you guys even read the book?” moments!

And this time we go all the way to the top, with President Obama’s newly-announced “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. This seems to be a public-private partnership program meant to help young minority men find employment and stay out of prison, though what it consists of beyond encouraging businesses and community groups to do some outreach isn’t exactly clear yet.

But that’s beside the point, really. The point is that they just named an effort to reduce criminal convictions after the first murderer’s defense statement:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

(For those that haven’t read the book, God doesn’t buy it. Cain goes down for murder.)

This gets even weirder when you think about “My Brother’s Keeper” being a minority outreach program specifically, given that a number of prominent American Protestant denominations interpreted black skin as “the curse of Cain” and used it as a justification for both slavery and segregation well into the 20th century.

I honestly can’t tell if this is a case of no one quite remembering where the phrase came from and just liking the classical sound of it, or if this is President Obama being incredibly tongue-in-cheek, safe in the knowledge that most of America won’t get the joke.

But probably the former, what with him being a secret Muslim usurper and all that.

A Very Generation Y Valentine’s Day

Trader-Joe-logoWhat do you do when you’re a twenty-something in a major metro trying to class your dinner table up a little?

You go to Trader Joe’s, of course, where the same four basic cheeses are mixed, coated, and sprayed with every flavor and color imaginable to give them a thin veneer of exoticism. I’m honestly surprised they haven’t cut the middleman and started selling a “Toscano with Class” platter for dinner parties.

So when my girlfriend said that what she wanted for Valentine’s Day was a quiet evening in with a nice light snack and no outside interruptions, I did the twenty-something thing and went to TJ’s to put together a fancy-looking cheese board.

So did she.

Two completely independent and unconsulted shopping trips later, there we were, unwrapping two different kinds of brie, two different Toscanos, two different bleu cheeses, and (this was the kicker for me) two different helpings of pomegranate seeds, one packaged and one from an actual pomegranate. Apparently we both thought they’d make a sexy little accent piece on the cheese board.

About the only difference in our shopping trips, in fact, apart from some minor variations in the cheeses, was that she picked up a loaf of bread and I picked up some prosciutto. Some gender stereotypes for you right there.

Neither of us is really a Trader Joe’s shopping kind of yuppie in our day to day lives. But hey — sometimes you gotta spice Valentine’s Day up with a little roleplay, know what I mean?

And then make fancy mac and cheese for dinner for like a week straight.

Appalachia Was Kind of Weird This Week

appalachia-childrenOkay, let’s be fair — Appalachia is always pretty weird.

But for whatever reason, it was all kinds of headline-making weird this week:

  • West Virginia continues to lead the nation in the “Near-Future Dystopian Science Fiction is Here” category. A few weeks ago we had a toxic chemical spill from a company named Freedom Industries; now it’s a coal ash slurry spill from Patriot Coal. You can’t make this shit up. Or you can, but they’ll call you a tired hack recycling the same old Orwellian tropes.
  • Remember Rand Paul’s little plagiarism problem a while back? It’s starting to look like something bordering on the pathological, since he and his totally-no-homo-bro buddy Ken Cuccinelli just filed a complaint in their high-profile lawsuit against the NSA — in their names — that’s lifted almost word-for-word from an earlier draft produced by lawyer Bruce Fein, whose name does not appear on the complaint. The whole lot of ‘em have apparently been tearing each other apart behind the scenes in e-mails, which are now in The Washington Post and therefore not behind the scenes at all. Godspeed, Senator!
  • And also in the Bluegrass State, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just got called out by The Louisville Courier-Journal for mocking President Obama’s support of biofuel research (in a speech on the Senate floor, no less), while he was soliciting federal grants for biofuel research funding in his home state. Oh, and taking campaign checks from the company whose grant applications he was endorsing. Because algae-derived fuel is “a pipe dream,” as the Senator said, unless of course that pipe is pumping money. To private companies. Who then write checks to Mitch McConnell. That kind of pipe’s okay.

So the week in short: Appalachia is the new dystopia. Come for the sinkholes; stay for the corruption!

The Strange Priorities of Google Maps

Quick — which of these would you least expect to see on a large-scale, low-detail map of the Upper Midwest?

A. Chicago

B. Des Moines

C. Columbus

D. The Turtle-Flambeau Patterned Bog State Natural Area

The answer, obviously, is Columbus, because we said “Upper Midwest” and Ohio just isn’t the Midwest, no matter what the Census Bureau says.

But no, joking aside, major cities are the sort of thing you expect to remain on a map even at a large, zoomed-out scale. State natural areas, no matter how scenic, are rather less expected, which kinda makes you wonder what algorithms generated this Google Maps display:


I’m not saying I don’t love me some patterned bogs, I’m just saying there might be more important things to show in that region, at that level of detail, like say the city of Rhinelander or at least one of the state parks.

But no — Google apparently loves it some state natural areas. Minnesota’s Blanket Flower Prairie SNA got a nod too (upper left, near the navigational arrows).

And this is why there’s a booming market for “unweighted” search engines, as Google’s try harder and harder to figure out exactly what you want and the order you want it in…


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