Greg Poulos
A blog about Things, and also Stuff

Fun Fact Corner – Sleepwalking Harpooners

Did you know? Har­pooneers in the 19th cen­tury were noto­ri­ous for sleep-​harpooning.

It’s true!

There are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of recorded instances of a ship’s har­pooner acci­den­tally impal­ing his fel­low sailors under the sleep-​delusion that he was spear­ing a whale or some other sea beast.

This was a huge prob­lem on whal­ing ves­sels, as you might imag­ine. And even to this day no one really knows why it was so. One lead­ing the­o­rist of the day sug­gested that

as har­poon­ing is such a sin­gu­lar phys­i­cal act, requir­ing all man­ner of uncon­scious coor­di­na­tion, and because it is a prac­tice under­taken exclu­sively in cir­cum­stances of the great­est phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal duress, it must needs be that the ner­vous sys­tem of the slum­ber­ing har­pooneer invol­un­tar­ily and spon­ta­neously relives the whole phys­i­cal sequence of events in order to prac­tice for fur­ther har­poon­ing runs — or per­haps to expe­ri­ence pre­vi­ous runs again, in his instinc­tual attempt to ana­lyze what may be improved for future eventualities.

What­ever the case, the whole thing got to be so prob­lem­atic that many har­poon pro­duc­ers actu­ally began to sell “safety” har­poons. These were made out of rub­ber, and later on, foam. The idea was for har­pooneers to keep one of these safety har­poons in their sleep­ing quar­ters, so that if they were ever to expe­ri­ence a sleep-​harpooning fit, they would grab the harm­less rub­ber weapon rather than a lethal steel-​edged one.

As it turned out, the safety har­poon never gained much trac­tion amongst har­pooneers, as they found them­selves all too often grab­bing their safety har­poons rather than the real deal — an easy mis­take to make in the chaotic ship­board con­fu­sion pre­ced­ing a whal­ing run. But unex­pected, the gen­eral non-​harpooning pop­u­lace — and chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar — had great fun using the safety har­poons for play-​fighting.

One of the most suc­cess­ful safety har­poon com­pa­nies was the Nor­ton Edward Rodgers Foundry. Orig­i­nally, this com­pany oper­ated a black­smithy ori­ented at mak­ing prod­ucts for New Eng­land fish­er­man. Dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury, the com­pany tran­si­tioned into mak­ing safety har­poons exclu­sively. Even­tu­ally, it expanded into mak­ing toy weapons of all sorts.

The com­pany still exists today — albeit under a much more famil­iar name. That name? It was derived from the ini­tials of the orig­i­nal Nor­ton Edward Rodgers Foundry, of course: NERF.

The Truth

The truth is a funny object. It is long and flat and no one knows what it looks like on the inside. Turn it around in your fin­gers and you’ll see it shim­mer like bright hot beads or crys­tals in the sand. Sniff it and you’ll get a whiff of some­thing green and slimy, like a pick­led eye­ball. Lick it and it’ll be incred­i­bly salty, like— well, like a pick­led eye­ball, I guess. Most things in life are like pick­led eye­balls, I guess. The truth is no excep­tion, I guess.

Call Me Moby

I started read­ing Moby-​Dick, and I am going to (sort of) try and blog along as I read it. I have an “offi­cial” Tum­blr for the project, but I am going to repro­duce the first post of the project here for your read­ing pleasure.

We must, of course, begin at the beginning.

Her­man Melville’s mas­ter­piece, famous as it is, is prob­a­bly most famous for its open­ing line, one of the best-​known open­ing lines in all of Amer­i­can literature:

Call me Ish—

ETYMOLOGY.

Wait, what?

(Sup­plied by a Late Con­sump­tive Usher to a Gram­mar School)

Oh…

Kay?

sigh

I guess Mr. Melville is gonna dick us around a bit with some prefa­tory mate­r­ial. Fine. I’m game. What have you got?

The pale Usher — thread­bare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dust­ing his old lex­i­cons and gram­mars, with a queer hand­ker­chief, mock­ingly embell­ished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old gram­mars; it some­how mildly reminded him of his mortality.

This is book is crazy! This book is already crazy. Melville is crack­ing open the autho­r­ial first per­son so that he can per­son­ally tell us about a name­less exis­ten­tial­ist school­mas­ter who has a thing for dust­ing and mar­itime ety­mol­ogy. Sure! Why not.

At the risk of stat­ing the obvi­ous, I gen­uinely pity any teacher who has to teach this book to a class full of high school stu­dents. Not only does it have the word “Dick” in the title, but it also man­ages to hit the words “queer” and “gay” in sen­tence #2 of the pref­ace.

And but so the ety­molo­gies we get from Melville here are pretty cool. We kick things off with a nice ref­er­ence to Richard Hak­luyt, who was basi­cally 16th cen­tury England’s ver­sion of Don Draper, except instead of slide pro­jec­tors he adver­tised the New World.1 Then there’s a quote from trusty old Webster’s, fol­lowed by one from the perhaps-​less-​trusty but equally-​as-​old Richardson’s.

This piqued my curios­ity, so I looked up Charles Richard­son on Wikipedia: he was an Eng­lish philol­o­gist and lex­i­cog­ra­pher of the 19th cen­tury. Then I imme­di­ately closed the page, because I real­ized I was on the verge of falling into the enor­mous rat-​hole that is the his­tory of Eng­lish lex­i­cog­ra­phy. While poten­tially inter­est­ing, this diver­sion would be basi­cally coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to my pri­mary aim: read­ing Moby-​Dick.

Suf­fice it to say, a very great many peo­ple have felt (and con­tinue to feel) very strongly about what makes a word a word in Eng­lish, and how exactly to list those words in the dic­tio­nary. If you want more infor­ma­tion on the topic, I’d highly rec­om­mend The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch.

On the topic of whales and old dic­tio­nar­ies, how­ever, I’d like to point out a really cool resource I came upon recently: an online search­able ver­sion of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dic­tio­nary, includ­ing both the 1828 and 1913 editions.

You may ask why any­one would want to bother with a cou­ple of weird, old, out­dated dic­tio­nar­ies. Well! Where you say “weird”, I say “classy”. Where you say “old”, I say “super classy”. Instead of “out­dated”, I say “classy-​as-​balls”.2 If you’ve made it this far into my essay con­cern­ing the “ETYMOLOGY” sec­tion of Moby-​Dick, you’re prob­a­bly some­one who things weird, old, out­dated things are actu­ally pretty cool.

But here’s some proof. The def­i­n­i­tion of “whale”, accord­ing to the New Oxford Amer­i­can Dic­tio­nary that’s built into OS X:

whale 1 |(h)wāl| — a very large marine mam­mal with a stream­lined hair­less body, a hor­i­zon­tal tail fin, and a blow­hole on top of the head for breathing.

Fine. But now let’s check out Webster’s circa 1828:

WHALE, n. [G., to stir, agi­tate or rove.] The gen­eral name of an order of ani­mals inhab­it­ing the ocean, arranged in zool­ogy under the name of Cete or Cetacea, and belong­ing to the class Mam­malia in the Lin­nean sys­tem. The com­mon whale is of the genus Bal­aena. It is the largest ani­mal of which we have any account, and prob­a­bly the largest in the world. It is some­times ninety feet in length in the north­ern seas, and in the tor­rid zone much larger. The whale fur­nishes us with oil, whale­bone, &c. [See Cachalot.]

Holy moley! It’s like a lit­tle ency­clo­pe­dia entry!

Instead of the stream­lined, hair­less prose of the NOAD, you get some honest-​to-​god per­son­al­ity. It’s like you’re talk­ing to a fusty old aca­d­e­mi­cian. He hedges (“of which we have any account”), spec­u­lates ( “prob­a­bly the largest in the world”), even throws in a bit of poetic lan­guage (“tor­rid zone”). There are also great sprin­kles of old-​tyme life (“The whale fur­nishes us with oil, whale­bone”). And he uses “&c.” instead of “etc.”, which is totally outdated.

Any­way, the resource is there if you want it.

Back to Melville. Since I’ve gone on long enough already, I’ll let the ety­molo­gies be; you can pon­der them your­self. Instead, I’ll just fin­ish up by mak­ing two com­ments on the het­erogloss of “whale” we get at the end of this mini-​preface:

  1. Fiji” is spelled as “Fegee”, which is delightful.
  2. I bet Mr. Melville thought he was pretty honk­ing impres­sive by break­ing out Erro­man­goan on us. But GUESS WHAT, Her­man — there are FOUR LANGUAGES in the Erro­man­goan fam­ily. So which one didja mean? Huh? Sie? Or the mori­bund Ura? Huh? Maybe it was one of the extinct ones (Utaha or Sorung) (which maybe weren’t quite so extinct when this book was written)?

Huh? HUH??

NOT SO CLEVER NOW, ARE YOU, HERMAN?!?

Sorry about that. I prob­a­bly shouldn’t antag­o­nize our pal Her­man here quite so much. There’s a lot of book to go.

Any­way, next post, we’ll actu­ally be able to begin the novel proper! Huz­zah huzzah—

Wait, what’s that?

Extracts”?

Ah, crud.

  1. Fine — not actu­ally like Don Draper at all.
  2. a cou­ple of classy, super classy, classy-​as-​balls dic­tio­nar­ies”

Five Year Update

Dear all,

It’s great to hear about everyone’s lives since grad­u­a­tion! I guess now it’s my turn to give an update. Unfor­tu­nately, I’m not nearly quite so inter­est­ing as all you are. I’m not off doing field work in South Asia (sounds amaz­ing, Francesca!), or work­ing on a cure for can­cer (your research is way over my head, Ari, but please men­tion me in your Nobel speech when you win). But I’m chug­ging along, mak­ing do as I can.

As many of you know, I came out to San Fran­cisco right after grad­u­a­tion, to work at a lit­tle startup out here. You may have heard of it: we’re called ToneB­uildr, and we make online music soft­ware. You go to the site, make music, share it with friends. Pretty cool stuff. I’ve learned a ton since I’ve come out here. Over the years, I’ve worked my way up from a new­bie engi­neer to head of the fron­tend prod­uct. I’m pretty proud of every­thing we’ve worked on, and we’ve built a really amaz­ing team!

Of course, there’s more to life than work (con­trary to pop­u­lar belief! ;). My main hobby in that depart­ment has been try­ing to climb to the moon on a lad­der. I’ve been periph­er­ally inter­ested in climb­ing to the moon on a lad­der for a long time, but I really picked up inter­est in it just these past two or three years. Hon­estly, it’s actu­ally kind of over­taken my life — in the best way pos­si­ble! I’ve met the coolest peo­ple doing it, and learned a ton in the process.

Like, there’s a TON to know about lad­ders. Climb­ing to the moon on a lad­der might not be rocket sci­ence, but — well, Max, you prob­a­bly deal with this stuff every now and again over at JPL, right? It not nearly so easy as it sounds. Stuff like how to best join lad­der rungs to the rails, how to get the most ten­sile strength for your buck, or the best color of paint to use. Really com­plex stuff. It keeps my brain going, though, which I love, espe­cially when I’m feel­ing fried from star­ing at a com­puter screen all day.

And try­ing to climb to the moon on a lad­der has def­i­nitely been keep­ing me in shape, too. I’ve been train­ing every day for the climb up to the moon. I still have a few kinks to work out in the lad­der, but I fig­ure you can’t really start train­ing too soon: the moon’s quite a climb, after all! Just like Kacey’s been build­ing up to her ultra­ma­rathon with those crazy-​sounding runs, I def­i­nitely don’t want to be faced with the big 240,000 mile climb to the moon with­out hav­ing pre­pared a bit. It’s a bit hard to find places to train, but after a lot of cajol­ing, I’ve man­aged to get the SFFD to help me out.

Which brings me to the rela­tion­ships! Man, those fire depart­ment guys are the best. When I told them that I was try­ing to climb to the moon on a lad­der, their eyes lit up and they seemed super psy­ched to help me out. One of the other guys, Tony, is train­ing to climb to the moon on a lad­der with me; we keep jok­ing how once my ladder’s ready, he’ll race me up to the top. Which is ridicu­lous, because how can two peo­ple race on one lad­der? Tony really cracks me up.

And try­ing to climb to the moon on a lad­der has been amaz­ing in one other way: it’s how I met Amanda! We met at TechShop while I was work­ing on Moon­Lad­der Mark VII™ (that’s what I’m call­ing the lad­ders that I’m build­ing to climb to the moon on; I’m on Mark XIV™ now). The rest is his­tory! We’ve been together for eight months now, and things are going super well. We’re prob­a­bly going to move in together once her lease is up in a cou­ple of months. By that time I’m pretty sure I’ll fin­ish my lad­der to the moon, and will be get­ting ready for the big climb.

Any­way, I’ve ram­bled on for way too long. As you can tell, once you get me going on how I’m going to climb to the moon on a big freakin’ lad­der, it’s kind of tough to get me to stop. But hey, if Jamie can go on for pages about teach­ing under­priv­i­leged school­child­ren in rural Louisiana, I feel like I’m allowed to go on for a bit about how I’m going to climb on a lad­der of my own con­struc­tion to the moon. (Just kid­ding, Jamie! It’s super amaz­ing to hear what you’re doing.)

It’s been so great to hear from all of you! I can’t wait to see you all at the reunion this weekend!

Best,
Greg

Some Thoughts, and a Metaphor with No Purpose

My depres­sion kicked into gear about a year ago — to the extent that it makes any sense to say this sort of thing “kicks into gear”. Which it doesn’t. Make sense, that is.

So I’ve been want­ing to do a sort of sta­tus update on it for a while now, but haven’t been able to for­mu­late any sin­gle coher­ent idea I want to com­mu­ni­cate. I’ve felt oblig­ated to come up with such a for­mu­la­tion, because I am a writer and an edi­tor, and my job is to pull dis­parate thoughts into a mean­ing­ful whole, to puz­zle pieces of a jig­saw together so that it’ll match the pic­ture on the box. But that’s not happening.

I think I need to let go of the hope that I’ll be able to inte­grate these expe­ri­ences into any kind of use­ful narrative.

One small thing that I’ve found odd about my expe­ri­ence is that no one ever sat me down in a room and told me, “Greg, you have depres­sion! I am diag­nos­ing you with depres­sion.” Rather, my psy­chi­a­trist just said she thought med­ica­tion would be use­ful for me, and gave me a pre­scrip­tion.1

Anti­de­pres­sants are super great. I don’t mean to be flip­pant about this. But I have not really wanted to kill myself since I started tak­ing bupro­pion, which is a marked improve­ment from how things were before. I started tak­ing the med­ica­tion around Decem­ber of last year, which means I’m push­ing half a year now. So far, so good.

I can still feel dips every now and again. They’re milder than before. I know what they would have felt like a year ago, before med­ica­tion — and it’s a lit­tle eerie, like being under local anes­the­sia and feel­ing the pres­sure of an incision.

The metaphor is not quite a right one, how­ever, because anes­the­sia implies numb­ness. Here, depres­sion is the numb con­di­tion, and med­ica­tion has pro­vided me access to a wider range of emo­tion, not a nar­rower one.

I feel lucky. I found a med­ica­tion that works pretty well, with no dis­cernible side effects, and I found it pretty quickly. Because of this, I feel like I’ve cheated some­how. Like I have just enough depres­sion to be sort of spe­cial, but free of any truly sub­stan­tive hardship.

I mean, heck, I never even got sat down in a room and told I was bro­ken! So clearly I must be cheating.

Nor­mally I’d leave the self-​deprecation there — but in this case that would be irre­spon­si­ble. The impulse to say, “Oh, no, it’s not really a big deal, I can han­dle it, my prob­lems really aren’t so bad,” is a seduc­tive, nox­ious one. It’s the same impulse that kept me feel­ing trapped for long enough that I got to the point I did. Which, though far far shy of where it could have even­tu­ally gone, was still too far, unnec­es­sar­ily far.

When I was in my depres­sion, I was con­vinced I wasn’t worth help­ing. And any time I got out of it for a spell, this became proof I could han­dle things just fine. In my expe­ri­ence, the space between depres­sion and dis­missal is very narrow.

I used to post sto­ries to this blog on occa­sion. A few months ago I removed sev­eral sto­ries from the archive, rea­son­ing that I might even­tu­ally want to sub­mit one to a mag­a­zine or con­test. (A lot of places don’t accept mate­r­ial that’s been pub­lished else­where, even if it’s just on a per­sonal blog.)

But here’s a fun fact: as I was tak­ing down posts, I also took down the one post where I men­tioned hav­ing depression!

The fun­ness of this fact may be lost on you if you never read the post, or don’t remem­ber it very well. Its main the­sis (which I was admit­tedly kind of oblique about) was that the social stigma around men­tal ill­ness is pretty fucked up, espe­cially given that these con­di­tions by their very nature make it dif­fi­cult for suf­fer­ers to go out and get help. These con­di­tions love fes­ter­ing in the dark, so why con­spire to keep the lights off?

So: the post in which I dis­closed my depres­sion, and in which I also argued for the impor­tance of more open dis­cus­sion of men­tal ill­ness, is the post I deleted.

I hope you can now see why it is such a fun fact that I took down that post.

Isn’t the fact fun? Aren’t you hav­ing so much fun???

Imag­ine a big pool. And to get into the pool, you have to dive in at the deep end.

Every­one is forced to go into the pool.

Most peo­ple can swim. For these folks, the pool is a lot of fun! They get to swim around, do under­wa­ter som­er­saults, chat up their friends, and just gen­er­ally have a ball.

A few peo­ple can’t swim. Not through any fault of their own, of course. They just never learned how. But the fact of the mat­ter is they’re in this pool and they can’t swim.

Now, none of the swim­mers really wants to come out and say it, but let’s be hon­est: The non-​swimmers? Kind of a drag. These peo­ple just can’t let go and have fun. They’re stuck put­ter­ing around the shal­low end; or clutch­ing at the edge of the pool; or fak­ing it as best they can, kick­ing fran­ti­cally, ter­ri­fied that their ten­u­ous buoy­ancy will give way at any moment.

Of course, the shal­low end is for lame-​os. Clutch­ing the edge of the pool is even worse. And — ugh! — let’s not even men­tion those cheaters who are wear­ing float­ies. They’re never going to learn to swim prop­erly with those stu­pid things on. At least the peo­ple who are fak­ing it are try­ing. Besides, swim­ming really isn’t that hard. You just kind of, like, kick your legs and move your arms. It’s actu­ally second-​nature. You just need to let your­self learn.

So the swim­mers keep swim­ming. And the non-​swimmers do what they can to get by. And occa­sion­ally some­one will go under, and every­one will look and shake their heads and com­ment briefly on what a tragedy it all is. Cer­tainly we can all agree on that. Cer­tainly it’s a down­right shame.

And then it’s back to swimming.

  1. I mean, there was more to it than that. I talked to her about all sorts of stuff. What I am try­ing to say in this foot­note is that I feel like my psy­chi­a­trist knows what she is doing, is a respon­si­ble pro­fes­sional, &c.

From the Mouth of the Whale

I recently fin­ished read­ing From the Mouth of the Whale by the monony­mous Ice­landic writer Sjón. It first caught my eye while vis­it­ing Ice­land last year, but I only just recently got around to read­ing it.

It’s good, you guys! My one-​line review is:

This book is the sum of its parts — which is great, because all its parts are really good.

The book is set in Ice­land in the 1600s and revolves around a man named Jónas Pál­ma­son, a poly­mathic poet/​physician/​natural philoso­pher who has been ban­ished from his home by greedy and jeal­ous men. The style of the novel’s telling draws heav­ily from mytho­log­i­cal tra­di­tion, and many of Jónas’s anec­dotes feel like they could have come straight out of an Ice­landic epic1 or ancient Greek myth2 His world is bru­tal and cruel, but also full of humor and sub­lime wonder.

I’m not exactly sure what all of it adds up to, but it was a ter­rific read nonethe­less. If the book sounds like some­thing you’d be inter­ested in, I’d cer­tainly rec­om­mend it.

In truth, how­ever, the real rea­son I’m mak­ing this post is to share with you a pas­sage I found par­tic­u­larly amusing.

But before I could pur­sue this thought any fur­ther, and before Láfi had fin­ished his wail­ing, the ghost launched its attack. The parson’s dead son sprang onto the crag, squat­ted on the edge, and loosed the back flap of its breeches. Before we could dodge, it released a tor­rent of almost every imag­in­able kind of human filth: the excre­ment of men and live­stock, human feces and horse manure, lamp drop­pings, rot­ten eggs and ani­mal bones, mag­goty bird skins, the squit­ters of babes and fish guts, dead men’s rags, and all kinds of other muck. Under this del­uge we scram­bled to our feet, fling­ing out our arms to ward off the seem­ingly end­less dia­bol­i­cal flood that con­tin­ued for a good while even after we had fled onto the moor.

Ha ha! Poop!

  1. I have never read an Ice­landic epic.
  2. I have read sev­eral Greek myths.

Sportball”

There seems to be a fair amount of con­fu­sion on the inter­net sur­round­ing the upcom­ing “sport­ball con­test” on Sun­day. This con­fu­sion extends to igno­rance of some the game’s basic ter­mi­nol­ogy, as well as — extra­or­di­nar­ily enough — uncer­tainty over the very name of the sport involved. Although I’m hardly an expert myself, I thought I’d offer a short primer on the absolute basics.

Did you know?

Sport­ball” is not really a word.

It’s true! The con­fu­sion may arise from the fact that “sport” is a word, and the names of many sports end in the mor­pheme “-ball”. How­ever, if you wish to refer to sports in gen­eral, there is a very good word for it already: “sports”! And if you wish to refer to a par­tic­u­lar sport, you can use its actual name!1

Foot­ball

For exam­ple, “foot­ball” is the name of the sport that is the sub­ject of increased inter­est at present. When you hear ref­er­ences to the “Super Bowl”, it’s all about foot­ball! Foot­ball is the most pop­u­lar sport in the United States.

SOME TERMINOLOGY:

  • Teams gen­er­ally acquire “points” (not goals) by scor­ing “touchdowns”.
  • Some exam­ples of posi­tions in foot­ball. OFFENSIVE: quar­ter­back, full­back, half­back, third­back, halfa­gain­back, front­back. DEFENSIVE: cor­ner­back, line­backer, plane­backer, n-​spacebacker, kick­start­backer. SPECIAL TEAMS: kicker, holder, gun­ner, jam­mer, slam­mer, grab­ber, caster, healer, bard
  • The game is played with an oblong object known as a “foot­ball”. (ADVANCED TERMINOLOGY: the foot­ball is col­lo­qui­ally known as a “pigskin”.)
  • Exam­ple teams: Seat­tle Sea­hawks, Den­ver Bron­cos2

FUN FACT: Out­side of the United States, the term “foot­ball” actu­ally refers to the game that Amer­i­cans call “soc­cer”! Most other coun­tries refer to Amer­i­can foot­ball as “grid­iron”, “rugby”, “field hockey”, or, in Canada, “curling”.

Con­clu­sion

I hope this has been of some help to you! If it proves nec­es­sary, I may later pro­vide primers on other pop­u­lar Amer­i­can sports.

  1. It has been brought to my atten­tion that “sport­ball” may in fact be merely an ironic usage, intended to con­vey the speaker’s total lack of inter­est in all mat­ters related to sports. How­ever, this claim strikes me as incred­i­ble, as it would sug­gest a kind of vast con­spir­acy amongst a huge num­ber of oth­er­wise intel­li­gent indi­vid­u­als, all to prop up a hack­neyed old joke that has long out­lived its poten­tial for humor and which, to the extent that it does aggres­sively adver­tise the speaker’s lack of inter­est in sports, does so in a way that can most politely be described as “con­de­scend­ing”, and less politely as “kinda douchey”.
  2. NB: The teams do not actu­ally con­sist of sea­hawks and bron­cos. They are made up of humans.

Pandoravirus

Good after­noon, ma’am. So, we looked at your con­tact lens and found out what was wrong with your eye. Well, ma’am… it was a virus. Yes. A big one. The largest virus ever dis­cov­ered, actu­ally. So big that we had trou­ble even rec­og­niz­ing it as a virus. Rep­re­sent­ing a hereto­fore unknown branch of the tree of life. We’re call­ing it

PANDORAVIRUS

PANDORAVIRUS


Oh, but you’re totally fine. Prob­a­bly totally fine.

Oscar Predictions: UPDATE

I saw Philom­ena yes­ter­day, which means I’ve finally seen all the Best Pic­ture nom­i­nees. So now I’ve got to update my Oscar pre­dic­tions! Here are the updates:

  • None
  • Every­thing is the same
  • There are no updates

Oscar Predictions

I know the Acad­emy Awards are silly. I know the whole thing is pompous and unrep­re­sen­ta­tive of the year’s best in film and &c &c &c. Even so, each year I still end up pay­ing way too much atten­tion to the nom­i­nees. I think the fas­ci­na­tion bub­bles up from the insup­press­ible part of my brain that loves logic and order and des­per­ately wants to believe that these things can be ranked, that clear win­ners can be deter­mined via ratio­nal and objec­tive processes, and that awards and dec­o­ra­tions really do rep­re­sent every­thing they pur­port to.

Also, it’s some­thing to talk about. So let’s get to it.

Best Writ­ing

12 Years a Slave (adapted screen­play)
Her (orig­i­nal screen­play)

Adapted screen­play is a tossup for me between Wolf and 12 Years, but I’m guess­ing the Acad­emy will go with the latter.

Orig­i­nal screen­play seems like a no-​brainer to me. I might could’ve seen Blue Jas­mine win­ning, except for the fact that Woody Allen won this cat­e­gory two years ago for Mid­night in Paris.

Best Visual Effects

Grav­ity

The only ground­break­ing movie in this category.

Best Doc­u­men­tary Feature

The Act of Killing

OK, so I haven’t actu­ally seen any of the other nom­i­nees in this cat­e­gory. Even so, I feel pretty con­fi­dent in say­ing that The Act of Killing deserves the award. That’s how aston­ish­ing it is. If you haven’t, please go see it.

Best Direct­ing

Steve McQueen

I ini­tially felt very strongly that the Golden Globes got this one right in giv­ing it to Alfonso Cuarón for Grav­ity—but then I real­ized that the Golden Globes don’t give out a cin­e­matog­ra­phy award. So while a win here for Cuarón would cer­tainly be well-​deserved, I’m hop­ing the vot­ers will rec­og­nize him for cin­e­matog­ra­phy instead, and give this one to Mr. McQueen.

Best Ani­mated Fea­ture Film

The Wind Rises

I haven’t actu­ally seen it. (Or most of the nom­i­nees in this cat­e­gory, for that mat­ter.) But, like, come on. It’s Miyazaki.

Best Actress in a Sup­port­ing Role

Lupita Nyong’o

I really don’t know about this cat­e­gory. JLaw was great in Amer­i­can Hus­tle, but I don’t know how inclined the Acad­emy is to give her an award two years in a row. Which still leaves us with some very good per­for­mances, but none stand out to me as obvi­ous favorites. When in doubt, I’ll go with 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor in a Sup­port­ing Role

Jared Leto

Best Sup­port­ing Actor is pretty stacked this year. But of all the nom­i­nees, I think Jared Leto is the one whose per­for­mance most car­ried his film.

Best Actress in a Lead­ing Role

Cate Blanchett

I haven’t seen two of the films in this cat­e­gory, so I’m com­ing from a place of rel­a­tive igno­rance here. But using the prin­ci­ple of “How pos­si­ble is it for me to imag­ine this film absent this per­for­mance?”, I think this one is a no-​brainer.

Best Actor in a Lead­ing Role

Chi­we­tel Ejio­for

If Sup­port­ing Actor is stacked this year, Lead Actor is fuck­ing tee­ter­ing. Again, a win for any of these five would be extremely well-​deserved.

Best Pic­ture

12 Years a Slave

This is objec­tively the cor­rect answer. Whether the Acad­emy will arrive upon it is dif­fer­ent ques­tion alto­gether. My hope is that they’ll come through.

Part­ing Thoughts

These choices are pretty much what I’d choose if I were in charge of hand­ing out the awards, with the excep­tions of Best Sup­port­ing Actress (Jen­nifer Lawrence wins in my book, or maybe Sally Hawkins) and pos­si­bly Best Actor (hon­estly, I’d prob­a­bly just roll a D5 to decide that one).

Also, the fact that I don’t have Amer­i­can Hus­tle win­ning any of the act­ing cat­e­gories make me ner­vous. And in gen­eral, I’m prob­a­bly favor­ing 12 Years too much. But oh well. We’ll find out soon enough exactly how wrong the Acad­emy is about everything.