Thursday, June 29, 2006

Freaking, eh?

I just sent an e-mail to Jayson Stark, a columnist at He wrote this article, in which he used the phrase "Unbe-freaking-lievable." As anyone under-27 who went to college could tell you, that's just the plain wrong usage of the word. But Mr. Stark isn't under 27 (though I suspect he did go to college), so I'm not too surprised he came out with the wrong formation. For his edification, I sent him the "Freaking" rules. Here's what the e-mail said:

Dear Mr. Stark -

I want to begin by letting you know that I greatly appreciate your continued growth as a writer. Your willingness to use the word "freaking" as a modifier in your latest column is a perfect example this growth. ("Unbe-freaking-lievable" in response to the Cardinal's losing streak). Unfortunately, your editors failed to catch an improper modification.

There are, in fact, strict rules about the usage of words such as "freaking", particularly when they serve as modifiers. As a 25-year-old student and
blogger, I have become quite experienced in this usage, and actually underwent much of my formative education as these rules were "developing".

The first, and most essential rule, is that the modifying word "freaking" should always follow the first syllable. Examples include "ri-freaking-diculous," "in-freaking-credible," "fan-freaking-tastic," and "stu-freaking-pendous".

The one exception to this rule has two parts. First, when the second syllable ends in a vowel sound. This means strictly a vowel sound, completely devoid of the consonant sound. It doesn't matter if the consonant does double duty and starts off the next syllable as well - so long as there is any consonant sound at the end of the second syllable, "freaking" follows the first syllable. The second part of the exception is that there also must be at least four syllables in the word. In those cases only does the "freaking" follows the second syllable. Examples include "Abso-freaking-lutely" and "Posi-freaking-tively". You might expect to find your word "Unbe-freaking-lievable" here as well, but there is actually another rule, which trumps this exception.

That rule, trumping the exception, is that in all words with a prefix, freaking immediately follows the prefix. So "Un-freaking-believable" would have been the proper usage. Other examples include "im-freaking-possible", "Radio-freaking-active" and, somewhat appropriately "pre-freaking-fix."

Another important rule is that you should be absolutely conscious about which "freaking" you are intending to use. There are two uses of the word: "freaking" and "freakin'." The distinction between the two comes in their level of stress. If you wish for the modifier to draw the primary emphasis, it is appropriate to use the "freaking". This alerts the reader to the full pronunciation of the word "freaking" and thusly informs them that they should give the modifier the utmost attention. In speech it would sound significantly slower and more deliberate than its counterpart.

If instead you mean to stress the underlying word, and only want to add the modifier to further explicate the "freaking" nature of the fact, it is appropriate to use the "freakin' " variation. This alerts the reader that they should essentially cram the modifier into the middle of the word, mashing it in among the more important idea of the otherwise uninterrupted sentence. Another alternative is to use the word "frickin' ", but this should be limited in usage, and only utilized when you mean to express an aggressive or angry tone. It should also be noted that "fricking" is not even a word, and so should never be used, and under no circumstances should you use the word "friggin'." That's just stupid.

Finally, I would also recommend a couple of other words that you might find useful in similar situations in the future. These are all modified versions of words that help increase the emphasis of the underlying word, much like "un-freaking-believable":


I'd recommend using any and/or all of these words frequently. After all, the sooner they become wide-spread, the sooner Microsoft will have to improve its spell-freaking-check.

Matt Novak

She's super-freaky

Monday, June 26, 2006

Politifickle Thoughts

Well, there goes my fervent hope that Alito and Roberts were going to be all-around pro-life. I guess there's an off-chance that it was just their desire to leave this sort of thing up to the states... but now I'm fearful that they're going to be very permissive when states want to execute their own citizens. That bothers me.

I'm also a bit bummed - though not at all surprised - about the recent defeat of a new minimum wage. I never really looked at all the proposals or anything, but it sounded like an across the board raise of the minimum wage, from $5.15 (or whatever it is now) to something around $7.

So yeah, I think it would have been good to raise the minimum wage. It's just set way too low, and no one could really live on $5.15/hr. But here's my question: would a higher minimum wage receive more support if it wasn't an across-the-board hike? What if we had a tiered system? And not one based on the type of employment, but rather one based on the type of recipient.

What if we said "$5.15 is the minimum wage for all persons under 18" and "$7 for all persons 18 and older". I mean, we don't really need to be paying every pimply-faced teenage burger-flipper $7 an hour. That's not the class of persons a minimum wage is really designed to help. The reason we want a higher minimum wage is to ensure that persons who are working to support their families are actually able to get by. You can't support a family on $5.15 an hour. It'd be tough to do it on $7, but a heck of a lot more realistic.

So maybe we should set up who gets a higher wage based on a factor like age. I mean, we determine all sorts of social privileges on that basis, so why not wage requirements? You can't drive until you're 16, or collect Social Security until you're 65, so how about setting our wages based on that same factor? It seems to make some real sense, and frankly I think it'll help garner even more support for a higher minimum wage. It would keep the overall cost of a higher minimum wage down, but still achieve the same results proponents want to see. Has this sort of thing been proposed in the past? Anyone know? Thoughts?

There are those
Spend the night under bridges

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wanna Know What I Like?

Philosophy. I think it's pretty darn good for figuring stuff out. Whether we're talking human nature generally or the way a person should act in a given situation. Anyone think there's any chance clinical philosophy could work? Would people pay to talk to a philosopher to help them figure out their life?

When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Would you rather be a washed up 80's hair-rocker or a washed up late-90's boy band member?

We'll get wild wild wild

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The March of Progress!

Ok, we all know I don't buy into the "march of progress" idea. But that doesn't mean I reject the idea that we should be fighting the battle against discrimination. It's still going on, there's still plenty of important areas where people are arbitrarily treated unjustly, and we should certainly continue to fight discrimination. In my mind there are two major areas of discrimination that need to be addressed, that are so pervasive that they affect all areas of a person's life.

The first of these is discrimination because of disability. Our country has come a little ways in the fight against disability discrimination, and the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped us level the playing field somewhat. But it really seems to me that persons with disabilities are deserving of more - providing elevators in metro stops and schools is one thing, but we need to do more to help increase access to jobs, equal pay opportunities, and even a role in the public eye. That's one of the two fights, but let's set it aside, because it's easily the more obvious, and generally people are aware that handicapped persons are discriminated against. Before I go on though, let me just say: we need to do more about disability discrimination.

Ok, with that said, I want to talk about what I see as the most pressing front, (but maybe the least obvious) in the battle against discrimination: appearance-based discrimination.

Yeah, I'm saying it. Ugly people are discriminated against. Fat people are discriminated against. Short people are discriminated against. And that's wrong.

It might sound a little silly, but really, it's true, and statistics bear it out. Short/fat/ugly people make less on the dollar than others, are less likely to get a job or promotion, are less likely to get dates, to get elected, win movie roles, etc. (See for example this site dealing with height discrimination or this one on weight discrimination). And the stats are really shocking - basically some of these classes of people are entirely shut out of positions of power (yeah, ok, there's fat CEO's, but not so many short ones...). Anyways, there's been plenty written about all of these various discriminations, but it seems to me they can all be grouped under "appearance discrimination."

So, I'm just throwing this out there to get people talking about it. I don't have any big solutions or proposals, but I think we need to start mulling it over. We've got a problem because this discrimination is real but basically ignored.

It's really easy to joke about this sort of thing, and I have in the past. I should also say that I don't think appearance discrimination is nearly so pervasive or harmful as race and gender discrimination were. But I do think there's something there, a real problem that should be addressed. We have a lot of people in our world who suffer because of their appearance, and there's usually nothing they can do about it. That's just wrong. We need to eliminate that unjust discrimination. Especially because this discrimination affects life's most major events. Unattractive people simply do not have the same opportunities in life - in work, in school, in relationships - that other people get. And that's a problem.

Short people are just the same as you and I

Monday, June 12, 2006

Do NOT Go In There!

Recently Laura and I had been having some problems with our toilet; basically it was, from time to time, emanating the awful smell of sewage. So we put up with it for a few days, to see if it got better, and then we scrubbed the bathroom thoroughly, to see if it got better, and then, well, it didn't get better. So I put in a work order at our apartment building's front desk. The exchange went a little something like this:

Me: "I need to put in a work order."
Concierge: "No problem. What apartment number?"
Me: "723"
Concierge: "And what's the problem?"
Me: "Well, you're going to laugh, but... my bathroom stinks."

No time to search the world around

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Movie Review: A Prairie Home Companion

When Garrison Keillor and Robert Altman get together, you can anticipate enjoying the final product. With Keillor's script and Altman's directing, A Prairie Home Companion makes good on that anticipation.

I've never really listened to Keillor's radio show, though being from Minnesota I'm familiar with his subject material. I've never seen too many of Altman's films, though coming from a family where people tend to talk over each other, I'm familiar with his style. And though I've had only limited exposure to both, it was obvious even to me that the two were a perfect compliment; Keillor writes (with some hyperbole) about real people doing real things, and Altman somehow gets his actors to perfectly recreate reality. The fact that the characters talked over each other, that things didn't flow seamlessly, that lines were dropped or muffled - all of it fit so perfectly. A great movie transports the viewer into the story. Watching this movie was like being transported into a reality.

There are some amazing performances. Altman assembled a perfect - and decorated - cast. It actually feels like Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin, playing the Johnson sisters, grew up in the same Wisconsin household. Streep has perfected the Minnesotan accent; if you pay attention it's there, but you wouldn't normally notice it. Simply brilliant. Garrison Keillor is flawless as, well, himself. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly provide a marvelous touch as singing cowboys. Kevin Kline plays Guy Noir, a Sam Spade-type gumshoe, with a dash of inspector Clouseau thrown in for good measure. Tommy Lee Jones plays the cold-hearted Texan businessman, a stark contrast to the Minnesota warmth provided by the rest of the cast. Lindsay Lohan actually shows some acting chops, and through it all floats Virginia Madsen, a perfectly radiant angel.

Altman weaves all of these terrific performances together into a wonderful harmony, as if they were all a different section of an orchestra. Never too much of one actor, but always just enough. With Altman's style I can see how it might turn into a painful cacophony, but this time at least he hits the mark, and the actors sing beautifully together. Both figuratively and literally - there's some very wonderful music throughout the film.

Keillor's script is also right on the mark. Its funny, its touching, and its remarkably philosophical. The story centers on the final show of the long-running radio show, before the Texas corporation shuts it down and builds a parking lot. Naturally this provides the perfect opportunity for reflection on the nature of life, death, family, and more. It isn't in Keillor's nature - or in his script - to sit an ponder. There's always the next song, the next fake commercial, the next story to tell. And that's where the philosophical punch comes in: who has time for reflection when they're so busy living? The irony, of course, is that as these two men - Keillor and Altman - grow older, they're both well aware of their own mortality. This is a film that comes to grips with mortality, that stares it in the face, and says "until it's here, I'm going to keep on living." And that, my friends, is a beautiful conclusion.

This is an amazing movie, and I absolutely recommend it to everyone. There is so much warmth and joy wrapped up in this film, it was almost as if I was surrounded by old friends. Everything about it was just so real. I honestly felt like I was back at home. But, just like any trip home, it was over much too soon.

Final Grade: A+

May you never forget those sweet hours

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Is There Amateurgress?

I watched a very interesting interview on tonight's Daily Show. Jon Stewart and Bill Bennett sat around and "discussed" same-sex marriage (SSM). Now, this post isn't about the actual SSM debate, but I do want to talk about something Jon Stewart kept bringing up: that, like the abolishment of slavery, women suffrage, and the civil rights movement, allowing SSM is simply another step in the march of progress.

I'm fascinated by this "march of progress" argument. But before I can say more about that, we need a little exegesis, because the "march of progress" argument is really just the conclusion of an argument, and not the actual argument itself.

So let's deconstruct the conclusion, to get to the actual reasoning behind the "march of progress" statement: throughout history various classes of people have been treated unequally based on arbitrary characteristics. Treating people differently on the basis of arbitrary characteristics is bad/wrong. Therefore, as these occurrences have been eliminated/reduced, our society has progressed towards a better/more correct way of life.

Now that was really simple. Which I guess makes it even more strange that this deconstruction is so rarely performed in actual dialogue. It truly makes me wonder how many people realize what it is they're saying/hearing when they present/hear the "march of progress" idea. It's a scary thought that people might be running around making arguments without understanding what is really being said/heard.

What I find so interesting though are two things. First, the opponents of SSM (well, the more reasonable, non-bigoted ones anyways) try to respond with an argument that sexual orientation is non-arbitrary with regard to marriage. Unfortunately, if the deconstruction of the argument hasn't happened, then the two sides end up talking past each other. One side is presenting the "march of progress" conclusion as their argument. The other side is trying to address a premise of that conclusion, but is unable to do so because that premise has been left behind in presenting the original argument. Complicating the matter even further, in addressing an undisclosed premise, it appears to the SSM supporter that the SSM opponent is being non-responsive. The two sides go back and forth, and no real dialogue happens. That pretty much summarizes The Daily Show interview, which was simultaneously fascinating and frustrating, given the nature of the problem.

The second thing which fascinates me about this argument is the very notion of progress itself. Or maybe more accurately, the idea that there is a "march of progress". Before I go any further, let's be absolutely clear: I'm not saying that SSM isn't progress. I'm certainly not saying that eliminating arbitrary inequalities isn't progress; I absolutely think that eliminating unjust discrimination is progress (I use "unjust" because I think there are times when discrimination can be just - like in affirmative action plans). Anyways, I just want to be clear that I'm not taking a position against SSM here. I'm just trying to explore this interesting concept, "the march of progress".

I guess what strikes me as so fascinating is the idea the "march of progress" argument implies two things: 1. A certain eventuality and 2. That the eventuality is necessarily good.

First, the certain eventuality. A "march of progress" conjures up connotations of inevitability. The idea that we are marching towards something implies a steady progress towards a destination, that wave after wave will continue to push towards that point, that eventually we will reach that end. There is no question of "if" in a march of progress, only a question of "when?" But is this really the case? Is progress itself (no matter what the destination - SSM, flying cars, cloning, a faster mile run) inevitable? Or can this march be halted? (I'm not saying we want to halt it). Can we choose not to progress? And even more important, can we choose where we progress to?

2. That the eventuality is necessarily good. What is so fascinating about this is that we all know well that "progress" can be devastating. Just think Hiroshima. And yet, arguably that ended the war, saved lives, led to a deeper understanding of our physical world, etc. So how do we delineate a step forward from a step backward? And yet, without seeing the end result, people argue for "progress". The truth is, we can't know progress until we're seeing it as historians. And even then, it's pretty subjective.

But there is something even more chilling: human experience tells us that everything which rises falls. Our history books are full of progress come crashing down. To hold that there is a "march of progress" is to ignore history, to believe that we can escape the gravity of existence. A field grows verdant and wild, it depletes the soil, a fire burns it to the ground and the soil is replenished, and a new field can grow. The cycle we see in life, in biology, in physics, it is also true of society.

And this is why I am fascinated by the "march of progress" argument; because there is no linear growth, only the recurring cycle. To argue that something is part of the "march of progress" is to ignore human history. We call change progress, but is that change part of the upswing or part of the down?

Are we the field? Or are we the fire? How can we know?

There's more to see than can ever be seen

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Soda vs. Pop

In the different regions of our great nation the beverage genre known as "soda pop" goes by different monikers. There's the coasts, which generally call it "soda" and there's the Midwest, which generally calls it "pop". And then there's those folks in the south who just call it all "coke." Freaks.

Anyways, I was doing some thinking about the fact that this beverage has these different names, and asking myself "Why? Why, Lord, why must it have these different names?" And then I thought about which name was best.

For starters, "coke" is right out. That's just dumb. "Soda" and "pop" both make some sense, being derived from the name "soda pop" and all.

But which of those two makes most sense?

Well, first off, there's the fact that these names are both abbreviations of the larger actual God-given name of "soda pop". Clearly then the superior abbreviation is the superior name. What makes for a good abbreviation? Ease and brevity, both written and spoken. "Soda" is 4 letters, and contains 2 syllables. "Pop" is 3 letters, and just 1 syllable.

Obviously, "pop" is the superior abbreviation, and therefore the superior short-form of "soda pop".

But even more essentially, there's something very, very wrong about using the word "soda" as a noun when it is clearly and adjective. "Soda pop" is, like "soda crackers" or "soda water", a thing which is made with form of carbonation. The thing itself is the pop (or the crackers or the water) and "soda" is just a modifier, describing the thing itself.

So it makes no freaking sense to use the word "soda" as the short form of "soda pop" because "soda" can modify lots of different things, where as "pop" is the actual thing itself. We don't call a "birthday cake" a "birthday" for short; we call it a "cake" because "birthday" can modify all sorts of nouns, like "party" or "card".

So, obviously, "pop" is the best - and ultimately the only sensible - short form of the phrase "soda pop."

Now I'd appreciate it if all you jerks calling it "soda" would just knock it the heck off.

Huckleberry, cherry or lime

Friday, June 02, 2006

Phickle Thoughts About Music

First off, British Hit Singles and Albums has released the results of a "100 Greatest Albums of All Time" poll. Any and everyone (but mostly British folk) were encouraged to submit their lists of the 10 greatest albums. I'm a bit surprised that Oasis took the top spot, over the Beatles, but not horribly shocked. Overall, it's a pretty solid list, though a bit Brit-heavy. For example, Michael Jackson's Thriller got bumped all the way down to 35, but Radiohead has 2 in the top 10. Frankly, I'd put Thriller up against almost anything. Definitely top-10 material.

Also there are some glaring omissions (Billy Joel for example, is nowhere to be seen, despite the awesomeness of The Stranger; none of the latest stuff from U2), and a few strange ones included (Come on Over by Shania Twain (which I do actually own, so I know it doesn't belong) at 64; Spice by The Spice Girls at 89). There's also some very strange positioning; Bruce Springsteen doesn't show up until 84, after Coldplay makes 3 appearances. Jagged Little Pill, an absolute classic and extremely influential album only makes #93, but the debut album of The Arctic Monkeys (a fun and talented, but ultimately untested, group) which was just released this year pulled in at #86. So certainly some strangeness going on.

I just have to wonder what such a list would look like if the poll were centered here in the U.S. I'd be willing to bet Garth Brooks would have appeared somewhere on there...


It occurred to me tonight that many of my younger siblings might never know the music I grew up with. If I recall correctly, not too long ago Maria made a reference on this blog to Buddy Holly. Someone else responded with "And you're Mary Tyler Moore," a great 90's Weezer reference. Maria, did you get that? Will my younger siblings know all that great music that came out in the late 90's? That'd be so very sad if they didn't. In order to avoid this very sad outcome, all of my younger siblings should continuously attempt to mine my vast reserves of music knowledge.


I recently purchased a couple of new albums. One came out this past Tuesday. The band is Quietdrive (you might know them from their MySpace fame). Their sound is a bit eclectic. It's not pop, but some of it has a pop feel. It's kind of late 90's alt-rock, with a dash of emo. The album, released by Epic Records, is When All That's Left is You. The reason I picked it up is because it just so happens that I know 2 of the band members from college. Or at least I know them vicariously. On such a small campus, everyone knows everyone else, and if they don't, there's sure to be no more than 1 degree of separation. So I could say that I played pickup football with Matt Kirby (guitar) and I know him from that. Or I could say that they played my friends' wedding since the groom hung out with Kevin Truckenmiller (lead vocals). There's tons of other connections too. So even though I didn't know them well, I feel that thanks to good old SJU, I can say I know them.

As for the music, it's pretty good. Not amazing, but for a debut it's not bad. I think a lot of the "problems" with the album come from the fact that it's a bit over-produced, with the guitars pushed to the background for the vocals, which may have been remixed one too many times. But there are some great tracks, and it's worth checking out the album. Odds are good this is a band that'll have a hit or two before they fade away. There are a few radio-ready tracks, including "Rise From the Ashes" (My favorite of theirs), "Take a Drink", and a cover of "Time After Time". You might not buy their album, but you should at least pop into their MySpace page and listen to a song or two.


The other album I got recently came to me free from LexisNexis, as a reward for using them periodically throughout law school. It's Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.

This album is a must have. It's simply awesome. I'd read a handful of reviews, all of which praised the album profusely, but none of which really captured how amazing it actually is. Then I got it, popped it into the player, and wow. I was astounded. If you want an album for a top-100 list, this is it. Sure, I could criticize it if I wanted to - people are right, her lyrics are a bit obscure and overly-poetic, and maybe she loses a bit of that exciting improvisational flair in her perfectionist approach - but the fact is, Fox Confessor is about as close as a perfectionist ever gets to achieving their goal.

Go buy this album.

I just don't think I can say it any clearer.

Do you see the sins you're making?
Because I've made them all before