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—


Wait, what?

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




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??


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?


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!


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.


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


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.


  • 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”.


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.


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



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


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.