Thursday, 03 March 2005

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Everything has its precedent... Everything has its precedent. As Erik Larson* notes in The Devil and the White City, one of the members of the workforce that built the legendary 1893 World's Fair in Chicago was a humble carpenter/furniture-maker by the name of Elias Disney, "who in coming years would tell many stories about the construction of this magical realm beside the lake. His son Walt would take note" (153). So as I sort of said, nothing is without precedent. So as I rail against the many offenses of the hippies and those who studied them, I want to acknowledge that nothing I say can capture the intellectual and emotional vacuity of the hippies near as well as a single sentence from Joan Didion's essay "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." If you had half a brain, you'd stop reading my sorry blog, punch up Amazon.com and get yourself a real education. What? You're still reading? I appreciate it. Dumbass. So, as Didion says, "We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vaccum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that society's atomization could be reveresed .... As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one's self depends upon one's mastery of language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from 'a broken home.' They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words." I read and re-read these lines, wondering how anyone could miss their import, and then it dawns on me: the people who should've recognized their import had--sort of ironically but really awfully--been trained to ignore these signals of idiocy. Instead we have linguists like Paul A. Eschholz blithely analyzing the wordlessness and, as Didion would have it, the conceptlessness of "hippic argot" as if it weren't something dangerous.** In his article "Freak Compounds for 'Argot Freaks," published in the Winter 1969 edition of American Speech, "largely as a result of the hippic movement, the last decade has witness not only a widespread resurgence of the wod freak, but also a curious mutation in the essence of the word itself. When long-haired, outlandishly dressed, drug-using hippies pilgrimaged to Haight-Ashbury in the early 1960s, they were quickly dubbed freaks; the perjorative appellation was both obvious and intended..." Blah blah blah. In the end, Eschholz would have us embrace the "bizarre fashion and popularity" of the redefinition of the word freak. And I, for one, won't stand for it. I don't care if "Newsweek in a small lexicon of 'now words' states that freak is 'sometimes the hippie ideal,'" or if its editors believe that "the adjective freaky is defined as 'quintessentially psychedelic,'" because, well because they're unwittingly enlisting American children into that army waiting to be...
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One Man, One Dream... One Stomach Who wants to see Crazy Legs Conti? The International Federation of Competitive Eating's efforts to mainstream the sport are paying dividends. First Takeru Kobayashi's three-peat in Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest attracts national attention, and now the 13th best competitive eater in the country--a man whose only victories came in the 2002 Big Easy Eat-Off and the IFOCE's official pancake-eating competition--is the subject of a documentary that's bound to bring the sport the same national prominence Spellbound brought to the world of competitive spelling. "The thrill of victory..." Some--foremost among them Alan Young--believe there's something disconcerting about the inevitable popularity of competitive eating. He finds it troubling that "there is a federation dedicated ot the promotion of this activity. Competitive eating is morally problematic in a world where the hungry vastly outnumber the comfortably full." But does Mr. Young stop there? No, it's not the eating of competitive eating that bothers him... it's the competitiveness. "In fact, all competitive practices are steeped in moral ambivalence. Winning a contest has little to do with moral achievement." Not that he doesn't have a point--the introduction of a competitive element into things that ought not be competitive, like sports, games, and the real world--can cause a debilitating sense of loss in the morally-sound and aptly-named "losers." Defeat is defeating... but winning makes a person feel like a "winner." The Toronto Star really found itself a winner in Mr. Young. I'd applaud its balls-out approach to selling papers, but the complement would undoubtedly fall flat on Canadian ears--after all, hiring writers with brains instead of ones who've been brained would be so capitalistic, so crass, so competitive and, well, so American.* *Full disclosure: I'm friends with a member of the IFOCE. For the record, Leon "Justice" Feingold is a morally responsible human being. Not at all the sort of amoral monster Mr. Young describes. How can you dislike a man who "has solid perfomances in matzo balls"? (Few sentences parse funnier.)

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