Apr 5, 2005

smarter than I inaugural edition

"Okay, discussion time," Mr. Anderson barked, and his 4th-period digital literature class grudgingly set down their pens and arranged their desks in an oblong facsimile of a circle. "Today we're talking about good writing. Did you remember to bring your homework, your example to share with the class?"

Mark Olson raised his hand. "What homework?--just kiddin', Mr. A." Mark cleared his throat. "This one's pretty good. 'Yes, I watch far too much television. And my tastes are not those, in general, of this blog's audience. But, you know, TV isn't all that bad if you don't turn your mind off.' It's part of a fascinating article called Mason, Rockfish & Nursing, by Ginny of Chicago Boyz. The title's great--and you'd never guess what the article is really about."

"Which is...?"

"Nuh-uh," Mark replied. "Gotta go read it."

Tom Harrison broke in. "And I quote: 'There have been far too many harsh words thrown back and forth over Terri Schiavo. To my chagrin, it is my side that has initiated most of the hostility, but the other side has gotten in its licks. This is a plea for some mutual understanding.' That's from the other side of Terri Schiavo, by Dave Gudeman. Not everything has been said about Schiavo. Until now, maybe."

"I have a feeling you're right, Tom. These are interesting choices so far. More?"

The stentorian voice of PZ Myers boomed across the circle. "'Spring is finally slinking into the northeast, and the backyard wildlife here is shaking off the winter torpor. Our oldest daughter, Charlotte--' (the class snickered)-- 'is now old enough to be curious about this biological exuberance. She likes to tell stories about little subterranean families of earthworm mommies and grub daddies, cram grapes in her cheeks in imitation of the chipmunks, and ask again and again about where the birds spend Christmas. This is, of course, hog heaven for a geeky science-writer father like myself--' (more snickering)-- 'but there is one subject that I hope she doesn't ask me about: how the garden snails have babies. Because then I would have to explain about the love darts.'" (General uproar.)

"Shhh, shhh," said Mr. Anderson, repeating his favorite phrase. "Well-read, PZ. A delightful excerpt from Carl Zimmer's Love Darts in the Backyard. (Uproar again.) "Okay, okay, shhh. Who's next?" He scanned the room, looking for someone making the mistake of eye contact. "Ah. Kathy B. What did you bring today?"

Kathy frowned only slightly. "Well, I was on a technical kick, reading John Darnielle's really really brilliant essay, Bits, about digital versus analog, or as he calls it, 'That hoariest of chestnuts.' I'll read a sample passage: 'Which is why there was no point in shifting away in the first place; digital's big PR point, or one of them, was that it was gonna democratize things. You wouldn't have to buy big expensive consoles, you wouldn't have to know a Neumann from an AKG, you wouldn't have to become tech-nerd-guy if you didn't want to. You'd have More Power.'"

"I like that last phrase. Very Monster-Monster-Monster Trucks," Mr. Anderson responded, pointing to Ryan Fenno, who now had his hand in the air.

"I don't have a selection to read," Ryan said, "but I'll describe it. Reverend Mykeru's tagline 'Serenity Through Viciousness' is in lights for The Right Wing's Persistent Vegetative State. Although it was written prior to Schiavo's passing, it really gives a great snapshot of how the blogosphere--especially the right wing political sector--dealt with the controversy."

"So I was right. There still is more to say about Terri Schiavo--yes, Matt?"

"This ought to sound familiar," replied another Anderson. "'Submissions must not be your own. Sorry. That's what other carnivals are for. Choose the best post you've read in the past week or two, perhaps with a brief (1-2 sentence) description or shout-out. There are no other criteria--just good writing, wherever you can find it.'"

"Leave it to our resident philosopher to bring a self-referential example," Mr. Anderson said, laughing. "All right--" he glanced at the roll sheet--"who hasn't shared yet? All the way at the end of the alphabet... Zivkovic. Bora Zivkovic."

"More Schiavo, I'm afraid. jonnybutter isn't too thrilled with Peggy Noonan, and takes a swipe at Nat Hentoff, too. Ranting, I believe, is the right word to describe this: 'Originally, I had a little delayed gratification here, tantalizing the reader with anticipation for the creamy-goodness, the sheer sugar-and-spice girlish charm of Noonan's piece to come. I'd had a brief detour into a column by legend-in-his-own-mind Nat Hentoff , who, as a 60s NYC hipster, I felt simply must be paired with Peggy in the context of this post. But...I thought better of it. Hentoff's column really didn't add anything, and was just full of stock lies you can read anywhere...' Ouch."

"Sounds a little like Mencken," Mr. Anderson said. "If you're in the mood for withering prose, you'll appreciate Ed Brayton's welcome-back to Alan Keyes." (From somewhere in the circle: "Who's Mencken?" "You'll know when you're older.")

jpe waited patiently until finally jumping into the conversation. "My hard drive crashed last night, so I had to go on the library computer and dig up something quick during ten-minute break. How about K-punk's theory-ish, counterintuitive reading of ethics and the family?"

"Sounds like--" and the bell rang, cutting Mr. Anderson short. As the students shuffled toward the door, he called out, "Don't forget next week's discussion." When the last backpack disappeared, he collapsed at his desk, worn out from the first-ever smarter than I.


Match some of our contributors with their very own blogs!

____ Mere Orthodoxy
____ Science and Politics
____ Pharyngula
____ L'esprit d'escalier
____ Imposter Syndrome

a) jpe
b) Matt Anderson
c) Ryan Fenno
d) PZ Myers
e) Bora Zivkovic

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the very first smarter than I; I'll be adding to my blogroll because of your choices. Thanks also for the publicity, which will continue to be a large factor in this carnival's growth.

The purpose is simple:
We already have enough carnivals where bloggers trumpet their own work. Let's share the love. I propose a new carnival titled "smarter than I," in recognition of those who are too humble, too busy, or too shy to submit their tidbits of genius.

You, too, can join in the fun. If you'd like to host a future smarter than I, email me at smarterthani at hotmail.com.

Send in your links for next time as well. Untapped talent is everywhere. Go find it!

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