Thursday, November 15, 2007


From the Archives

(January 2005) A (no doubt tenured) professor reports in today’s Times that transcripts of the oral arguments of the US Supreme Court reveal the funniness quotient of the various judges.

Scalia is the funniest (pre-Roberts) judge, weighing in at a nine-month tally of seventy-seven laughing episodes in one gestational period. On average, that means the conservative unibrowed justice was good for 1.027 laughs per argument.

Breyer was the next funniest justice, weighing in at 45 laughs in the same nine-month period (which ain’t much, when you think about it). Ginsburg, on the other hand, produced only four such snorts in the same period.

(Let the feminist jokes begin, despite the fact that the white men are defining what’s funny.)

So Mud’s father asked me once, How many feminists it takes to screw in a lightbulb?

Oh I dunno, I replied.

Well, first of all, that’s NOT a funny question! And, second of all, that’s Ms. Feminist to you, asshole. And, as any enlightened man would know, the word “screw” is a misogynistic term. The very fact that you use it makes it clear that you hate all women, and....)

Well. Anyway, Ruth’s four pitiful ha’s top those of good ol’ Clarence Thomas, who has a downright pathetic humor quotient.

See, Clarence (who apparently only finds pubic hairs on Coke cans funny) rarely even speaks during oral arguments, so it’s no surprise that he failed to produce even a single bout of laughter in the same nine-month period (and yes my mind is calculating the accepted humor vs. minority status vs. discomfort with judicial white-boy fraternity quotient versus the generally accepted as agreed-upon humor, but let’s don’t forget that we are talking about a man who called a sister who works 60 hours/week picking crabmeat out of shells in the unair-conditioned Georgia heat a lazy American).

This man will no doubt vote to leave the minimum wage exactly where it is.

And speaking of cheap tricks, did you notice that the London Times ran an ambush article after reporters anonymously submitted two Booker award-winning novels from the 1970s to twenty publishers and agents? One of these novels was Naipaul’s In a Free State and the other was Stanley Middleton’s Free State.

The Times claims that this exercise “draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent" ... and yes, I do think that pressure to sell a set number of books in a set number of days can produce formulaic titles in much the same way as Hollywood can produce formulaic, predictable films by big-name directors.

But, as Publishers Lunch points out, we really should ask ourselves what would have happened if the reporters had done the same thing with some of the London Times’s op-ed essays submitted blindly to top newspapers.
And, while we’re at it, let’s remind ourselves that novels written three decades ago may no longer be particularly compelling to readers—especially if Naipaul wrote it.

(Oh Oh Oh. A bias. A clear and unadulterated bias that is clearly and freely noted here.)

So yeah. Naipaul won an award but, you know, it ain’t exactly compelling reading sometimes.

And I’ve worked in the publishing industry long enough to know that overworked publishers send unsolicited material or material delivered from a person rather than an agent to their slush pile. I also know that mentioning a big award or a major publisher in your cover letter can translate into a contract really quickly because none of the overworked publishing types want to be the one who let the good stuff slip by.

I’m not sure what any of this proves except that publishing is an overworked, underpaid field that no one should work in (and that the Times possesses way too much willingness to scoff at its own industry when, really, there are all kinds of new dictators that it could be studying for profiles in American criminal activity and such).

And while we’re on the topic of the nonessential (but oh so entertaining) publishing industry, why is James Frey running hog- wild? This opportunist now says that Talese et al. weren’t sure if they’d call his book fiction or memoir .. and this after she defended his sorry ass when his lies were revealed (at considerable professional sacrifice to her career and prestige).
Or maybe she was aware all along and encouraged him to sell it as fact.

The guy is still selling books right and left though, so let the controversy continue....

Now let me tell you about the funny thing that happened at work today in the vaguest kind of way that cann’t cause me to get fired.

Faculty, as a general rule, rule on college campuses and the most unorganized ones tend to demand and expect extreme assistance. So this truly unorganized faculty member instructed her secretary to drop everything and do a complicated last-minute task this morning. The secretary pointed out that she had other pressing (and scheduled) deadlines to meet and then the unorganized faculty member said (and I quote) “I don’t care. That' a direct order. Now do it.”

And this is when her prone-to-extremes and pushed-to-the-edge secretary basically lost her shit (and mine and yours too) and threw down the faculty member’s papers and followed her up and down the halls yelling that these unreal expectations are bullshit, just bullshit! and I don't have to account for your lack of planning and I don’t remember everything else, but she definitely included the phrase “you just go fuck yourself.”


So. Whee. Work was sure fun today!

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