Jill Lepore on the State of Debate: The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly.

— Jill Lepore, “The State of Debate,” in The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

Self begs to differ. She actually doesn’t think people can improve their debating skills by watching other people.

She also thinks that the rules of debate are rendered bizarrely unimportant when the debate is being televised. Because, whether consciously or subconsciously, the debaters will start to “perform.” Of course they are not their true selves. Hello! It’s like Judge Lance Ito in the OJ trial — he was a judge but he was sort of being a certain kind of judge. You cannot tell self that television did not influence his behavior: it could have gone two ways: Ito could have been a little more spontaneous, perhaps to get more of an emotional rise out of the crowd. Or he could have become more “judge-y” — projected more of what television viewers might expect to see from a judge. Self thinks Ito took the second route, and the one who paid was Marcia Clark.

The ones who get better at debate are the ones who see some sort of advantage accruing to themselves as a result of being better (more argumentative) people. The people who see absolutely no point to debate will continue to do their own thing in their peaceful little corners of the world.

When a committed debater meets another committed debater, the debate ceases being about words. It becomes a power grab.

It’s such an empty enterprise, really. All bells and whistles and see-who’s-paying-attention. Especially when it’s conducted for television.

Just self’s two cents.

(Self, when did you get so cynical? Dunno. Mebbe from watching/observing from the sidelines for so long?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Rumble Over “Passengers” (Due Out Christmas)

“They photo-shopped her eyes,” someone wailed on tumblr, and showed the un-photoshopped and photoshopped versions of J-Law for the new movie, Passengers (in which her name not only appears over Chris Pratt’s, but BIGGER. Oh no oh no oh no what are they doing to the girl, she doesn’t seem like the type to go for that kind of star treatment).

Years ago, self was reading a review in The New Yorker about a J-Law movie, it might have been one of the X-Men movies, or maybe something even earlier, but in a passing comment the reviewer gave a nod to “Jennifer Lawrence and her formidable powers of concentration . . . ” And she wasn’t even famous then.

It’s her eyes.

And this is what Hollywood does to her: photoshop her until she’s no longer recognizable as herself but looks like some blonde Barbie doll.

No. Hollywood: stop attempting to glamorize this girl. It doesn’t — won’t — work. What are they so afraid of, anyway?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Snippet for Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, RIP.

So shocked, self can’t even.

Who can forget Alan (She has seen very few articles about him that refer to him as “Rickman.” A lot of them do just call him Alan) in Die Hard, or as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies?

She wonders what London was like, after his passing was announced?

Last week, she found this from something she posted in February, 2012: a quote from John Lahr, The New Yorker theatre critic:

Alan Rickman is the go-to actor for supercilious.

Self knows that is not much of a quote. Nevertheless, it is true.

Oh, how self wishes she were in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at this very moment; her unit had a hardbound copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. From the first day of her residency to the last, self kept the dictionary on her writing desk, open to the page with the word “circumnavigation.”

If she were in her unit in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, she would be able to look up supercilious in a couple of seconds.

Instead, she has to settle for Merriam-Webster:

  • Supercilious: having or showing the proud and unpleasant attitude of people who think that they are better or more important than other people.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.




Selling Lingerie to the Egyptians: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, Aug. 10 & 17, 2015

Self finds the Peter Hessler essay in The New Yorker, “Learning to Speak Lingerie” absolutely fascinating.

She started reading Hessler because he wrote about his two years living in China (as a Peace Corps volunteer) in River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. Self is a graduate of   East Asian Studies, concentration in Chinese, hence the feeling of connection.

Moreover, Hessler is a very very very good writer.

He wrote his essay about Asyut, in Upper Egypt. Here, in this very conservative place (“Virtually all Muslim women there wear the head scarf”), there is “a Chinese Lingerie Corner in a mall whose entrance featured a Koranic verse that warned against jealousy.”

Along a “three-hundred-mile stretch,” Hessler reports he found “twenty-six Chinese lingerie dealers.” Their product? “butt-less body stockings, nightgowns that cover only one breast, G-strings accessorized with feathers, see-through tops . . . Brand names include Laugh Girl, Shady Tex Lingerie, Hot Love Italy Design, and Sexy Fashion Reticulation Alluring.”

Clearly, this is an essay that demands self’s full and unfocused attention.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Also Reading: The New Yorker, 8 September 2015

Self is reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article “The Avenger,” about the brother of a man killed in Lockerbie.


Self read in the Stanford Alumni Magazine, not too long ago, that the father of yet another victim, a lawyer, had died of cancer. The man was tireless in aiding the hunt for his daughter’s killers, even putting up reward money. As self would do too, if she were in his shoes.

Three years ago, self was in Hawthornden Writers Retreat, only 40 minutes by bus from Edinburgh. Every time she took the bus back, she saw the sign for Lockerbie.

Lockerbie, Lockerbie.

The New Yorker article is about Ken Dorstein, a sophomore at Brown whose brother David had been on the plane.

This is what he did:

He traveled to Scotland and spent several weeks in Lockerbie interviewing investigators and walking through the pastures where the plane had gone down. He read the transcript of the Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry, which exceeded fifteen-thousand pages, and he located the patch of grass where David’s body had landed.

Dorstein tells The New Yorker: “I had found a less painful way to miss my brother, by not missing him at all, just trying to document what happened to his body.”

He also married his brother’s ex-girlfriend. When he told his wife that he wanted to go to Libya to confront the “culprits who were still alive,” he invoked what they call in their marriage “the Lockerbie dispensation.” She could not refuse him.

Dorstein showed the New Yorker reporter a large map of Lockerbie, “with hundreds of colored pushpins indicating where the bodies had fallen.” In death, as in life, there were divisions: first-class passengers clustered in one place, economy passengers in another (But isn’t it interesting that they all ended up in the same place anyway: which is to say, dead)

Shhh, now.

Self has to finish reading the article.

Stay tuned.

Not Your Usual Boundaries

Self likes playing with the concept of boundaries, this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.

For this post, her examples of BOUNDARIES are:

a Rothko:

Every painting by Rothko is about boundaries.

Every painting by Rothko is about boundaries. Layers are boundaries.

a window. A window is more than just a means of ventilation. It also frames a landscape. It imposes a boundary on the “outside” and turns it into what we think of as quote unquote view:

It's just a window.

A window is not just a window.

a river. Rivers are boundaries. Self took this picture from a bus heading to New York City from New Hampshire, March 2015:

The Last Gasp of the Industrial Age? Hard to believe this was taken just this year.

The Last Gasp of the Industrial Age? Hard to believe this was taken just this year.

Self really loves ruminating on this week’s theme. In honor of the last, an excerpt from a poem called “Coming Into New York,” by John Updike (Who knew he wrote poetry?) in the Oct. 5, 2015 issue of The New Yorker:

After Providence, Connecticut —
the green defiant landscape, unrelieved
except by ordered cities, smart and smug,
in spirit villages, too full of life
to be so called, too small to seem sincere.
And then like Death it comes upon us:
the plain of steaming trash, the tinge of brown
that colors now the trees and grass as though
exposed to rays sent from the core of heat–

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Story by Danielle McLaughlin: The New Yorker, 7 September 2015

Just self’s luck. The first New Yorker story she reads in a long, long time, and it’s about


(Trigger Warning: Read the rest of this entry »

Jane Shore, “Encyclopaedia Britanica” (The New Yorker, 7 September 2015)

Self began to love poetry because of The New Yorker.

She began subscribing over 20 years ago. There have been breaks of a year or two, it hasn’t been one continuous subscription. But she usually reads it cover to cover.

When she was growing up in the Philippines, she did not connect with any of the poetry she had to read for school: Shelley, Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Walt Whitman.

But in the pages of The New Yorker, she saw that poetry was actually like little slices of life, like flashes of insight. The lines were plain and unadorned and she did not have to look up any words in the dictionary.

Here’s a poem self read this evening, by a poet she knows nothing about: Jane Shore.

It’s called “Encyclopaedia Britanica.”

The Encyclopaedia Brittanica (the books, not the poem) has been replaced by Wikipedia. Are there any libraries that still stock the Encyclopaedia Britanica? In the Philippines, her home had two different encyclopaedia series: The Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Book of Knowledge. Never did she need to look up stuff in a library, she could just go to the bookshelves in her home. Thanks much, Dearest Dad! He was such a bookworm and lover of learning.

Here’s part of the Jane Shore poem:


We were as excited as when we’d bought our new car,
and it, too, weighed a ton, the entire history
of the world and everything in it
on two whole shelves in our family room,
sitting like a judge over our new color TV.

We fact-checked over dinner
to settle arguments erupting like Etna (Volume 8)
while the Caesar salad was being served.
In which movie does Charlie Chaplin eat a stewed shoe?
What was the exact date of Kristallnacht?
Before we had our Encylopaedia Britannica,
everybody had opinions instead of facts,
which they stuck to, uncorrected, unto death.

But you couldn’t pick a fight with the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Even saying its name upped my IQ.

And that is about all self will quote for now.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: 3rd Wednesday of August 2015

I don’t think writers are much smarter than other people. I think they’re more compelling in their stupidity.

— David Foster Wallace, quoted by Anthony Lane in his review of James Ponsoldt’s film about Wallace, in The New Yorker August 10 & 17, 2015

Self has never read David Foster Wallace. She resolves to add Infinite Jest and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Anthony Lane Reviews “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”

It honestly doesn’t feel like summer because usually, in summer, self watches a movie a week.

Anyhoo, she wants to see “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”

Browsing the web for reviews, she finds one by Anthony Lane, movie critic for The New Yorker.

As usual, he lands a zinger in his very first sentence:

  • How impossible can a mission be, if it is successfully completed fives times?

Hoo Hoo Ha Ha!

She will never forget what Lane wrote (20 years ago?) about the movie “Speed”:

  • When I first heard the plot of “Speed,” I did not stop laughing for a week.

Back to the current article: Lane also reviews James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour,” about Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace. This movie features Jason Segel (as DFW), Jesse Eisenberg as a reporter chronicling a book tour, and Joan Cusack as a tour escort and self really, really wants to see it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

« Older entries