Missing the point (or not)

This past weekend, we made what has become our annual pilgrimage to Lebanon, NH, for the Five-Colleges Book Sale, where I’m typically surrounded by 30,000 or so of my good friends—that is, used books. Love it, love it, love it.

But for the first time, I really noticed the presence of the book dealers. If you hang out at these kinds of things, you probably know ’em, too—also called book scouts, they’re the ones armed with the PDAs outfitted with bar code scanners, and they typically flit from book to book, not even caring what the book itself is but rather simply interested in how much it could get them on the open market. The scanner allows them to get a fair market price in more-or-less real time… if the price is past some threshold, they scoop up the book, with the intent to resell it later on eBay or Amazon or such.

In this case, they weren’t doing anything wrong—the pre-sale announcements for the sale explicitly stated that dealers were welcome—and they were actually pretty well-behaved, not pushing their way past you to get to a book (for the most part). And because they need to be able to quickly get a row of books quickly, they actually (in many cases) helped to tidy up rows of books that had become strewn all over the place, as they needed to line the books up for themselves to be able to scan a bunch of books quickly. So that was a nice side benefit.

But I kept thinking to myself: Do they even see the books? I mean, see them as books and not just as a quick buck? For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love affair with used book store and sales, going back to the days when I first discovered Half Price Books growing up. I love just spending hours poring over rows and stacks of them, often alternating between joy upon finding a hidden surprise (“wow, there’s a book for that!”) and amusement (“wow, there’s a book for that?”). They’re not just things, but things to treasure and savor. Yes, I’ve sold my fair share of used books—but only after enjoying them for what they were and then wanting to pass them on to someone else so that they could get the same joy out of them. But to have them simply pass through my hands without ever actually reading them? I can’t even fathom it.

So yeah, I guess I can understand the motivation behind the dealers. But then again, I guess I don’t.

In memoriam

Syndicated political columnist Molly Ivins died of breast cancer Wednesday evening at her home in Austin. She was 62 years old, and had much, much more to give this world.

She remained cheerful despite Texas politics. She emphasized the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never had to write fiction. She said, “Good thing we’ve still got politics—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.”

Molly Ivins (1994–2007)

Gutless f*cking cowards

Un-f*cking-believable. (The choice of epithet is intentional—read on…)

In one of the more gutless and disingenuous moves of late, a number of ABC affiliates have decided not to show tonight’s uncut Veteran’s Day airing of Saving Private Ryan. One of those affiliates? Dallas’s own WFAA-TV, owned by Belo Corp. (Belo also owns a number of the other ABC affiliates who are not airing the movie.) According to Belo:

“Due to the intense adult language and graphic violence throughout the movie, Belo Corp. believes it is inappropriate to air this movie at a time when large numbers of young children are watching television […]”

It is violent, there’s no doubt about that—it’s probably the most realistic war movie ever made. But let’s be real here—it’s about the language (i.e., the word “f*ck”) and the fact that it might offend someone’s puritanical sensibilities:

Despite a grisly opening scene that, upon the movie’s release, caused some moviegoers to walk out, the movie isn’t being taken off the air solely for violence, Al Tompkins, a writer for media watchdog site Poynteronline.org wrote in a column posted Wednesday.

“It is the repeated use of the F-word that has TV stations backing off airing it,” Tompkins wrote. “Station groups tell me that they estimate the F-word is used more than a dozen times in the movie.”

(Still not convinced? Let me throw this out to think about: Should ABC, in the future, secure the broadcast rights to The Passion of the Christ, WFAA and Belo will practically be tripping over themselves to see how fast they can air it. After all, it’s a movie about Christ, and Christ sells in the Deep South—never mind that the movie’s also ultra-violent, almost grotesquely so. Just wait—it’ll happen, I guarantee it.)

Still think it’s about the poor children? Not even the decency watchdogs are buying into that:

But according to a story in the Charlotte Observer, even the Parents Television Council, which the Observer describes as one of the most aggressive lobbyists for broadcast decency, said it didn’t approve of stations pulling the movie. The Charlotte, N.C., ABC affiliate WSOC-TV also canceled the broadcast.

“Context is everything,” L. Brent Bozell, the organization’s president, said in an interview with the Observer.

But the truth lies in an article in today’s Dallas Morning News (somewhat ironic, as the DMN is also owned by Belo):

In the wake of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” many stations said they fear that the Federal Communications Commission would rule the film indecent and levy fines.

“The inconsistent manner in which the FCC is choosing to apply these rules puts TV stations like ours in a most difficult position,” Raymond H. Cole, president of WOI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, said in a prepared statement Wednesday.


“We regret that we are not able to broadcast a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces like Saving Private Ryan.”

Granted, WOI is not a Belo station, but that’s all it is when it comes down to it. It’s all about Janet Jackson’s tit and saving a buck. It has nothing to do with how appropriate the airing of the movie is. (And what’s even more confusing is that ABC has already come out and said that they’d pay any fines that result from the airing of the movie.)

Look, we all know in advance that, yes, there’s going to be a whole lot of swearing and violence in the movie. To that I say: Big. F*cking. Deal. If you don’t feel it’s appropriate, change the f*cking channel. There’s your choice, and it’s completely within your rights and abilities. If you know what’s coming and you still expose your children to it, you have no—zero—right to be offended.


I don’t know if this is something that’s endemic to just English-speaking populaces or what, but what’s with people trying to use foreign words and phrases when they obviously have no idea what the word or phrase means? Do they think it makes them sound more intelligent or something—’cause trust me, it doesn’t (or are you simply choosing to ignore the snickers and giggles around you?).

Today’s example: the French phrase au jus. Everyone knows what that means, right? I mean, take Quiznos and their new Steakhouse Beef Dip sandwich, advertised as being served with a delicious “pan-roasted au jus“. Mmm mmm mmm, gotta love that yummy au jus, don’tcha?

Well… no. The phrase au jus literally means “with juice”, as in the natural juices that are produced while a meat is cooked. So you can talk about serving a prime rib au jus, and that is indeed some tasty eating. To say something is served “with au jus” simply makes no sense. And you’d know that if you actually knew what au jus meant instead of just blindly throwing around a culinary term just to seem all hoity-toity.

The phrase that I’d guess 99 out of 100 people are looking for is jus lié, which refers to a sauce made of slightly thickened meat juice. But if you can’t be expected to know what au jus means, trying to throw around jus lié would probably make your poor little head explode.

Taken out at the ballgame

By now, pretty much everyone has heard the story: At the Rangers game on Sunday versus the Cardinals, a grown man jumped across a 4-year-old boy’s seat to get a foul ball, unapologetically nearly knocking the boy down not once but twice in his blind zeal to retrieve his in-game trophy. But in a move that shows that the cosmos does have a sense of fair play, the tot ended up being showered with gifts (balls, bats, you name it) from both the Rangers and Cardinals players. The (at the time) unnamed jerk got the crap booed out of him as he left the park about halfway through the game.

Well, the jerk has a name, and that name is Matt Starr. But reminiscent of seemingly every interview with the neighbor of a serial killer (“He was such a nice, quiet young man. I never would have suspected…”), poor ol’ Matt doesn’t deserve the unending grief he’s been subjected to since the incident:

Starr is “not the bad guy he’s been made out to be,” said Rick DuBose, senior pastor of the Sachse Assembly of God Church. “He probably got a little aggressive and did something he regrets. But that’s not Matt. He’s a good kid, a good young man.”

Now let’s review the facts as they stand right now: He practically knocked down a 4-year-old kid. To get a foul ball. Hit by Gary Matthews, Jr. (who may be a fine player in his own right, but we’re not talking Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds here). And to top it all off, he had the gall to mouth off at the boy’s mom when she disapproved of his actions. But he’s not a bad guy?

At one time, maybe he was a “good kid”. At one time, maybe he was a “good young man”. But actions speak louder than words, and his actions show that for all that he was, right now he is a big ass.

Congratulations, Matt Starr. Display that ball with pride.


Follow-up (Jun 17, 2004): Starr has [belatedly] offered to give up the foul ball and make restitution of sorts to the boy and his family. A noble offer, though he essentially had to be guilted into it. He could have spared himself a whole lot of grief and scrutiny if he’d just done the right thing the first time around…