Greg Poulos
A blog about Things, and also Stuff

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.

Pizza

What does it mean to love pizza? Does it make you demand ever unat­tain­able lev­els of per­fec­tion, crit­i­cal appa­ra­tus fir­ing full-​blast with every judg­men­tal bite? Do you eter­nally pine after some pla­tonic ideal — per­haps one vaguely recalled from child­hood or a fondly remem­bered trip to Italy — grown grotesque with the enor­mous mag­ni­fi­ca­tions of mem­ory? Will your love grow life­less and cold on a pizza-​saver-​shaped pedestal?

Or does it mean you love pizza in all its forms, from New York to Chicago, St. Louis to New Haven, thin crust, deep dish, Cal­i­for­nia, Neapoli­tan, Sicil­ian, Domino’s? Do you love it all uncon­di­tion­ally, poor indis­crim­i­nat­ing slob that you are? Is your love blind to all judge­ment? Is your love more lust than love? Does it trans­form you into a mad and slaver­ing beast, one bereft of all taste and discernment?

Are we beholden to the two horns of this dilemma? Is there no mid­dle ground?

There is not.

You have made your choice. I have made mine. Let us leave it at that.

Unpublishing

I’m begin­ning to real­ize that it’s been a mis­take to pub­lish my cre­ative writ­ing work on this blog. I appre­ci­ate that there are a few of you out there who read my stuff; how­ever, prac­ti­cally speak­ing, I get very lit­tle ben­e­fit in putting any­thing up here. Fur­ther­more, many short story com­pe­ti­tions don’t accept mate­r­ial that’s been pub­lished else­where, so post­ing stuff here can actu­ally be kind of bad for me.

So I’ve gone through the archives and deleted a lot of stuff. In the unlikely sce­nario that you’re look­ing for some­thing and can’t find it, that’s prob­a­bly where it’s gone.

If you really des­per­ately need to find some­thing, I guess email me or something.

New Photo Albums

I recently added two new photo albums to Face­book. The first is from a mini-​road trip I took through Illi­nois in mid-​December; the sec­ond is from Dis­ney­land, where I spent New Year’s with my sis­ter and friends John and Katie!

Because I’m not a very good pho­tog­ra­pher, I try to make my photo albums more inter­est­ing by adding in crazy and wacky com­men­tary. The two albums (which are for some rea­son named after lev­els from the Don­key Kong Coun­try series of video games) are as follows:

Stop & Go Sta­tion (mini-​road trip through Illinois)

Rocket Bar­rel Ride (New Year’s trip to Disneyland)

Stuff I Found on Wikipedia: Poetasters

Did you know that Wikipedia has a navbox devoted entirely to poet­asters?

Poetaster Media Box

Appar­ently, not only is it pos­si­ble to win­now away from the set of all poets who have ever existed the six very worst, but the edi­tors of Wikipedia have done just that! Pretty impressive.

Click­ing around, you can find some really good stuff. Like this con­clud­ing selec­tion from “The Tay Bridge Dis­as­ter”, by William McG­o­na­gall:

I must now con­clude my lay
By telling the world fear­lessly with­out the least dis­may
That your cen­tral gird­ers would not have given way,
At least many sen­si­ble men do say,
Had they been sup­ported on each side with but­tresses,
At least many sen­si­ble men con­fesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed’.

In the words of the Wikipedia arti­cle author: “few could dis­agree with McGonagall’s clos­ing judge­ment.“1

But my favorite of the bunch has got to be James McIn­tyre, a Cana­dian who was big into cheese. E.g., here’s the open­ing to his “Oxford Cheese Ode”:

The ancient poets ne’er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne’er imag­ined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where every­thing did solid freeze,
They ne’er hoped or looked for cheese.

Finally, let me leave you with the final to stan­zas to McIntyre’s clas­sic, “Ode on the Mam­moth Cheese Weigh­ing Over Seven Thou­sand Pounds”, which, accord­ing to Wikipedia, was “writ­ten about an actual cheese pro­duced in Inger­soll in 1866 and sent to exhi­bi­tions in Toronto, New York, and Britain”:

Of the youth — beware of these—
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o’ Queen of Cheese.

We’rt thou sus­pended from baloon,
You’d cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

  1. Inci­den­tally, because these pages aren’t exactly top-​class arti­cles on the Wikipedia Lit­er­a­ture Project Impor­tance Scale, the authors can get away with a lit­tle snark and not get smacked down by some nit­picky Wikipedian with a fetish for NPOV. Thus you get com­men­tary such as, “McIn­tyre was unin­hib­ited by minor short­com­ings — such as his lack of lit­er­ary skills” — completely sans quo­ta­tion marks or cita­tion or any­thing else that would put these words in the mouth of any­one other than Wikipedia writer.

How Many T-​rexes?

Recently, the fol­low­ing ques­tion was posed on Ran­dall Munroe’s What If? blog:

If a T-​rex were released in New York City, how many humans/​day would it need to con­sume to get its needed calo­rie intake?

Randall’s answer was:

About half of an adult, or one ten-​year old child.

This got me think­ing: what if we started using “ram­pag­ing tyran­nosaur” (abbr. ‘RT’) as our stan­dard unit for mor­tal­ity rates? I don’t think it has to be 100% per­fectly pre­cise; we can sim­ply define it as 182 deaths per year.

Thus, we could say that the num­ber of gun deaths per year in NYC is equiv­a­lent to what would hap­pen if you let two ram­pag­ing tyran­nosaurs loose in the city.1 Or that if you some­how elim­i­nated all traf­fic deaths in NYC, but allowed a t-​rex to ram­page through­out the five bor­oughs, the city would still be a safer place to live.2 Or that find­ing a cure for can­cer would be equiv­a­lent to clear­ing nearly 68 t-​rexes from the streets.3