Monthly Archives: April 2012

Civil War Ninjas

(this originally ran on a now-defunct site called Modern Humorist)

by Keith Pille

Feedback on Midterm Paper
US History, 10th Grade


I find it very painful to say this, but your midterm project is unsatisfactory in virtually every way an academic paper can be. I can only hope that this is a one-time occurrence and not a sign of deeper problems that could compromise what promises to be a fine scholarly career.

I must say that it was rather unorthodox to open your paper with what I can only characterize as a personal attack on me and my so-called “revisionist history.” While I grant you it is academically healthy to question the veracity of the information you are given in your textbooks, it is hardly constructive to couple your claims with crude statements about my family life, moral character, and mental capacities. I did my best to prevent my evaluation of your work from being colored by your opening remarks. Continue reading Civil War Ninjas

A Bad Day to Be A Sturgeon

This is an essay I wrote in 2005 for American Nerd, a now-defunct web magazine I used to run.


Some fish are beautiful works of natural engineering. Northern pike, for instance, are streamlined and powerful-looking and possess the same sort of deadly grace as a fighter jet. Or look at trout; for a hiker, there are few treats greater than hiking next to a clear, swiftly-moving stream and spotting a school of trout hovering in formation. You can almost convince yourself that the piscine evolutionary process includes an aesthetic clause, some hidden set of criteria that weights grace and beauty as highly as survival and reproduction.

The lake sturgeon is proof that this is a hollow conceit. There are uglier things in the world than the sturgeon, but not too many. Long, thin, and rubbery, an individual sturgeon looks like a beefed-up seagoing vacuum hose with a few perfunctory fins, an impression furthered by the limp sucker mouth hanging down from the bottom of the fish’s head. The bottom of the fish is your standard fishbelly white; the top is a dark brownish-green that wouldn’t be at all out of place in a diaper. A set of whiskers (barbels if you want to be scientific about it) represents the sturgeon’s only attempt to snazz it up, and, well, barbels as an accessory don’t even look that great on catfish.

Lake sturgeon, to put it bluntly, don’t look like something you’d want to eat, much less go to any effort to catch. If anything, they look like they’d be useful for scaring children or maybe leaving in someone’s bed if you wanted to send a particularly emphatic message.

It’s hard to believe, then, that the sturgeon is capable of inducing mass hysteria (well, maybe if a giant one rose out of Lake Michigan and started menacing the city of Green Bay). But that’s the case. Every five years, Eastern Wisconsin’s brief sturgeon-spearing season drums up enough excitement to cover the lakes with flash towns of ice-fishing shanties, each one full of normally-rational adults willing to stare for hours into dark water with a spear in hand, hoping for the chance to impale a butt-ugly fish.

Continue reading A Bad Day to Be A Sturgeon