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Wednesday, 28 May
Is That All?

I've been reading James Gleick's biography Isaac Newton for the past couple days. I'm enjoying it well enough, if not as much as the much longer Genius, his previous biography of Richard Feynman; Feynman was, of course, colorful as hell, slyly pyrotechnic both in word and deed, a biographer's dream. The monkish, reclusive, devout Newton is himself naturally very fascinating, but as a literary figure, doesn't quite offer the same wealth of anecdotal material. But it's a minor deal, given Newton's simply stupefying output of ideas and calculations over his lifetime. Lest anyone need brushing up, here's a (wildly abbreviated) list of some things he did:

--Well, he invented calculus. "Heigh ho, I've got murderous gout; might as well invent a new mathematical system."

--He described the laws of motion. By comparison, I maintain (by which I mean, someone helps me) a website called "Izzle Pfaff." It's close, but I think he edges me.

--He figured out (and named) gravity. Not incidentally, while doing this, he happened to whip the hot piss out of perpetual rival Robert Hooke (the microscope guy) and managed not to get laughed out of town for gravity's apparent "action at a distance," which made people queasy all the way up until our own century.

--As a happy corollary to that, he fucked around a bit explaining planetary movement and the tides. Oh, he also defined certain essential qualities of mass, time and space. Uh, and invented his own reflecting telescope. Oh, and was an alchemical wizard. Unfortunately, he also nearly poisoned himself handling (and tasting) mercury, so that at least wins me some points. I've never done that. Sheesh, Newton! That was kind of a boner!

--He explained betting odds to Samuel Pepys; he corresponded with John Locke in secret about his very heretical biblical treatises (he hated the idea of the Trinity--kind of a big deal) that could easily have gotten him jailed; he made a virtual errand boy out of comet-lad Edmond Halley, who wrote the adulatory introduction to Principia and then cheerfully flogged it to anyone who would listen, which hardly mattered, since only a very few people could understand the fucking thing in the first place.

--And my personal favorite, when worried about the double-bind of understanding the human senses when those are exactly what we employ to, well, understand things, he took a large, blunt needlelike thing and shoved it into the corner of his eyeball socket and started gingerly pressing the tip around. By comparison, I once considered going to a laser show, but we had, as I recall, run out of pot.

Isaac Newton, ladies and gentlemen. Titanic genius, but he didn't play well with others, couldn't keep from eating the paste, and liked to poke himself in the eyes. It's sad to tarnish such a reputation, but that's the kind of hard-hitting reportage my tens of readers have come to expect from Izzle Pfaff.

Tomorrow: Michael Medved: Tortured Genius? Or Literary Colossus?

Friday, 03 January
A Found Tone Poem Composed Entirely of Email Subject Lines I Have Received Today


could not find path
Even Steven goes to war
yay us.

Error lights and daughter windows
Once again terribly remiss . . .
Have you heard of HGH oral spray?
Hey Hey

I'm not a virus, I promise!
This room of . . . This Room and This Gin and These Sandwiches
Cost of living

That's why you're hearing ducks
vintage hats are now GONE

Houston, we have a problem . . .

Monday, 23 December
Movies I Haven't Seen Make Me Feel Bad About Books I Haven't Read

There is a very serious movie coming out soon called The Hours. You know it is very serious for a lot of reasons. Right off the bat, you've got the Meryl Streep factor. Meryl Streep makes serious-ass movies. Anyone who has seen Out of Africa, Sophie's Choice or The River Wild knows this.

The next thing is the poster. It is totally serious. Check out the uglified (read: normal-looking) Nicole Kidman. They could have hired an actress who, you know, looks normal and un-gorgeous without having to sandblast her extensively, but dammit, they needed Nicole for some reason! Sit down, plain actresses! You've been replaced.

But finally you know this is a serious movie because it's based on Michael Cunningham's breakaway book that nobody read of the same name, which is itself predicated upon knowledge of another book that nobody read, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Following me? It doesn't matter. There are only three people on earth who have the requisite amount of erudition to follow this trail of hopelessness, and nobody likes them anyway.

I am of course snarking away mainly because I'm a doink. I have a copy of the novel The Hours, which I am unable to read, because I paralytically think, "I can't read this. I haven't read any Virginia Woolf!" Which destroys my usual veneer of "I read pointy-headed books and stuff." So then I go out and I pick up a used copy of Mrs. Dalloway. I am struck by the irony that I am not reading this book out of an actual desire to read this book, but because it is a prerequisite to reading yet another book that--I suddenly now realize--I really don't care about reading too much either (it was a gift). At this point, the whole meta-ness is starting to suck at my neck, so I blow it off and get down to reading.

And that's when the sudden-onset narcolepsy hits. It turns out that I am unable to read Virginia Woolf. Which makes me feel dumb and philistine-y and awful. But not awful enough to keep trying to read. I'll just chalk this experience up as Not For Skot and move on. Secure in the knowledge that I Am Not A Serious Person.

But hey! I realize: I can always see the movie.

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