Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Holiday-Appropriate Sports News

Never mind whether Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna unfairly mocked his coach's past legal troubles -- I think "naked man" is about the cheapest, easiest costume I can think of.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Haunted Actual Hayride, plus Miscellany

We are nothing if not tenacious around here. Your Haunted Hayride gets rained out, you just get back on your feet, hitch a ride two nights later with your same work friends out to Old Saybrook, and you go on that Haunted Hayride. And then you go home, fix yourself a hot cocoa spiked with brandy, and watch the last four innings of the World Series.

In the constellation of autumn activities in Connecticut, I'd say that the Haunted Hayride represents a star that's brighter than the Corn Maze but not as bright as the Durham Fair.

* * * * *

Saturday night, meanwhile, was my coworker Kate's annual Halloween costume party, attended by more or less the same set of work friends. (Such social butterflies! Apparently all pinned into the same display cabinet, this weekend.) I have lovingly attached the photographic record of my '40s-era soda jerk costume. Keen!

* * * * *

I'm not a huge believer in Feng Shui, energy flows, etc., but I will tell you that having a giant, immobile, inoperative television in your living room does, very tangibly, represent a certain spiritual blockage in your life. To relieve this feeling, you must center yourself, then call upon your roommate to help you convey, with great effort, the source of the blockage into the back of his Suburu wagon. Then you travel to the city dump, where, in a moderate gray rain, you drive up to a ledge four feet over a heavy-waste dumpster and you just chuck that bastard. Thud. This is probably what it feels like to dispose of a body. It's a good feeling.

Then you get a new TV, and the spiritual energy renews itself and flows into your mind and body once more. Or if not spiritual energy, then at least part of Spaceballs.

* * * * *

I may have exaggerated the extent to which that banana bread turned out badly. I didn't throw it away, and it was fairly edible after it had spent a while in the fridge. (The several muffins I made with excess batter were legitimately awful, though, and they weren't long for this world.) Duly noted. I am cautiously optimistic for the next attempt.

I Actually Only Watched the Last Four Innings of All This

Highlights of the Red Sox World Series victory celebrations:
● League headquarters arranges $4500 restoration of championship trophy, which emerges from on-field celebration badly dented and caked with pine tar

● Disney World forced to cancel "What are you going to do next?" TV commercial after Jonathan Papelbon unexpectedly replies "I'm getting fucked up on aerosol cans and joining the Country Bear Jamboree"

● In consolation phone call, agent Scott Boras reassures moping Johnny Damon that he's "still the prettiest"

● Unprecedented victory relieves long-suffering Boston fans under the age of 3

● Manny Ramirez begins intense mental preparation for 2008 season with Monday morning workout and batting-cage session

● Twenty-pound crate of unsorted used toe socks shipped to Hall of Fame officials in Cooperstown

● To celebrate Boston's total sporting dominance, six captive Washington Redskins defensemen are conveyed overland from Foxboro and installed in Boston Common pillories for the public amusement

● Bunch of college kids drink a lot, throw up

Monday, October 29, 2007

...But a ______________ is Fruit and Cake

I was reading the end of Daniel Dennett's "Elbow Room" on an airplane this weekend and during a passage about Newtonian mechanics I suddenly had a strong, visceral craving for a particular type of sweet. I couldn't put my finger on what it was but I strong impression of how it tastes -- tart, kind of a mealy mouthfeel. After a moment I realized I was thinking about a Fig Newton. Ah, that makes sense.

Once I finished "Elbow Room" I immediately started Oliver Sacks' new "Musicophilia", which touches on similar types of partially occluded linkages in the brain, for instance where a patient can discuss a topic and five minutes later start humming a tune whose words relate to that topic, but without being able to place the song's title or lyrics. (Of course in my case this isn't consistent and pathological; otherwise I'd probably be the least justifiably troubled subject of an Oliver Sacks story.) I think it's fairly fascinating that these kinds of mental events exist and what they seem to indicate about the unconscious connection-making that underlies the operation of the mind. I described all this to Kyle and she thought it was interesting too, but mainly for the fact that I'm capable of craving Fig Newtons at all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Haunted Hayride

What: Haunted Hayride

Where: Old Saybrook, CT, ~50 mins. up I-95

When: Friday night

Who: Several coworkers

What if: It rains too hard?

We could drive all the way to Old Saybrook, and realize the Haunted Hayride is cancelled, and then drive right back to New Haven and go to a bar

Which adds up to: 1 hour 40 minutes of driving, and then going to a bar

Why not: Yeah, why not

Would you do it the same way again: Yeah, why not

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jack vs. Baking, Round 1

Oh, sure, on the outside it looks like a banana bread. But inside, inside it's a seething mockery of human endeavor. Whence this unsolidified goop? Huh? Whence, m************er? WHY DIDN'T YOU COOK? YOU WERE IN THE OVEN FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF

But don't think this is the last you've heard from me, Baking. Oh no. Burn yourself on the outside and be gooey in the middle all you want, but I'm coming back.

At least it delayed my needing to throw away those old bananas by a couple of hours.

The World Series of Hyperbole

I'm watching the pregame stuff for game one of the World Series on the TV, and the public announcer in Fenway Park just called John Williams (who conducted the national anthem with some Boston Symphony brass players) "the most accomplished composer in our time" and "the epitome of our culture". My guess is he just really liked the theme from Sugarland Express.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sources of Crime Other Than Beer Consumption

I would generally guess that most of the readers of our dear little blog here read the The New York Times on their own time as well (one of the only things that FIU has going for it is free copies of The New York Times (which is not to say that the Miami Herald doesn't have an abundant amount of great news going for it)), but I thought this article was interesting. And also only one page long! A nice summary of some solid Freakonomics style economics.

Really, this kind of article really fills an important niche in online reporting. It's a short summary of a paper that appeared in some obscure economics journal that I would have never heard about, and doesn't waste my time with any additional pages of ruminations about the paper. I've never claimed to be any good at the internet, but I certainly feel like the NY Times online version needs more single page articles about obscure-yet-accessible papers in obscure-and-inaccessible journals.

Or is that what searching LexisNexis based on random keywords is for?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dept. of Reading between the Lines

So I quickly heard this morning, literary circles that I swim in and all, that J. K. Rowling "outed" Dumbledore of the world of the Harry Potter books over the weekend. That is, if "outed" is quite the right word for retroactively describing a fictional character as gay. Can you do that? I guess if you're the author you can do that.

There's probably a "serious" question in there about the relationship of an author's claims about a character, extrinsic to the text, to the "actual" nature of that character within the text. For now I'm just happy that it lends authenticity to my crossover fantasy slash fiction. Or half-authenticity, I guess, till we hear something about Gandalf the Grey.

(Kidding. I haven't even read the Harry Potter books yet.)

Other children's book characters to be retroactively declared gay include Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, The Phantom Tollbooth's Milo, Miss Viola Swamp, and one or possibly even both of the Hardy Boys. And I think we all knew about Frog and Toad already.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back from the Garbage (Chute)

This happened on Thursday:

I was getting a ride back to my apartment from one of my classes with two of the other MFA dudes that are also in the class with me - both also first year students in this program. We all live in close proximity to each other, but in different buildings/complexes. They asked me what they thought of the building where I live. I told them I had no complaints. I've been there for almost three months now, and its been fine. My electric bill isn't terrible. Maintenance has been fine. And I live in the building that houses the leasing office, so they repaint the walls all the time.

I was hosting a small vegetarian potluck dinner Thursday night so they were both coming over later anyway, they could see for themselves the glorious mediocrity of my building. (And, incidentally, it is possible to play classical music at social gatherings - I played exclusively classical music, and the only thing to garner comment was Schumann's Piano Concerto ("This music is epic, Pete.") so Jack was unnecessarily wary of playing such things at his party last week.)

But of course, no sooner do I state my generally satisfied opinion of my building then something comes along to test that resolve. I went to throw away a bag of trash from apartment. There are small laundry rooms on every floor of the building which are also host to the garbage shoot. No sooner had I entered the laundry room then the door swiftly slammed shut. I was unable to open it. I spent the next ten minutes knocking on the door, hoping that someone would eventually hear it. I then called a neighbor to see if she could come get me out, but by the time I was making that phone call, finally someone was on the other side of the door, trying to open it.

The door would not budge. By now there were two helpful-sounding female voices on the other side of the door, asking me my name and urging me to stay calm. I was informed that they were going to call Fire/Rescue so they would come get me out. I said maybe they should just call Maintenance, but it was after 5 in the evening, and they assured me that it would take hours for anyone from maintenance to show up - I was really better off with Fire/Rescue.

I next overheard a sequence of phonecalls between one of the women and the Fire/Rescue. "Yes, I realize this isn't an emergency, but the door is very heavy and is stuck." "No, he's not a child." "For the third time, we just need you to come open the door." Needless to say, I was quite skeptical as to whether or not Fire/Rescue would even come, and continued to recommend that they just call maintenance. Fire/Rescue then, apparently, agreed to contact the Police, and have some cops come by to see what they could do.

Next, one of the girls slid her laundry card under the door and asked me to move her laundry from the washer to one of the dryers. "Uhhh... okay." With the dryer on, the room became quite noisy and began to get hotter and hotter. I began to sweat a bit more, and passed the time by sending text messages to various friends, letting them know that we may have to delay the dinner party, as I was locked in a laundry room. After about 45 minutes there was suddenly a very loud metallic sound at the door. I plugged my ears and removed myself to the far corner of the room.

After several more sequences of the loud noise, a crow bar burst through the edge of the door and pried it open. I was greeted by four upstanding members of my fine community's Fire/Rescue department. "Hey, thanks!" I said. They all kind of laughed and mentioned that wow it was hot in there. I agreed. They then proceeded to knock the handle completely out of the door, to make sure that they wouldn't have to come right back the next time someone went to do laundry or throw away garbage.

I'm just hoping now that it doesn't get back to building management that the door was mangled on my behalf, since it'd suck to have to pay for the damage done by the massive Fire/Rescue crowbar thing. Pretty funny though!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Seasonal Piscophilia?

I think Jack's jellyfish monoprints below are cute, but following this blog's wayback-machine-type links to the right I'm reminded that at this time of year in 2006 Jack also rendered cartoons of aquatic life with some artistic care.

That may be less a function of wanting to draw fish and more an effect of being able to effectively, casually draw only a limited number of organisms. (My little off-the-cuff doodles over the years have tended to overrepresent lobsters, robots, and snowmen as subjects, and some of those aren't even organisms per se.) If, Jack, you really do feel the need to draw a bunch of under-the-sea creatures once more -- was there a student carilloneur encouraging you earlier in the week when this happened last year, incidentally? -- note that it there is a risk it will again provoke a slightly-mocking escalation.

Rat Haven

Ratatouille was a whimsical and wonderful movie, but of course its storyline was fictionalized and its message was overoptimistic. In real life, if a bunch of rats get together to found a restaurant, it looks less like a charming French bistro and more like this:
illus. via cellular telephone
"Cheese Restaurant" hasn't opened yet, but it looks like the poor critters are struggling with presentation and misjudging the culinary tastes of their human target market.

But, if there was a moral to Ratatouille, it was open-mindedness, so I wish them success in pulling it together. It may turn out to be superior to the Japanese restaurant it's replacing; I didn't eat there, but the friends who once did said it was completely empty at dinner hours and the staff seemed unfamiliar with the process of waiting on people.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Evening Review

It's Saturday evening, I'm kind of exhausted from a busy week, my roommate is in New York City for the evening, and I'm totally happy to kick back on the sofa and write about the several preceding days. Tomorrow's going to be active too: AM tennis with a coworker; afternoon book swap party; Steelers game up in Hamden with my Pittsburgh-native friend Andrea, a couple of her Steeler-fan friends, and Stu. Really in the mood to take it easy for a bit.

Ooh, I should put some music on.

[. . . . . Feldman, Coptic Light in the living room]

The living room's all cosy and comfortable suddenly. We had a medium-smallish shindig here last night (mostly why I'm tired out) and finally got the apartment into honest-to-god livable shape. The living room cleans up pretty good, as it turns out.

(There's still the matter of the huge, nonfunctional TV set hulking against one of the walls that we haven't found time to get rid of yet. Somewhat long, uninteresting story there, and I don't feel like telling it. Major themes include attractively cheap Craigslist purchases and the inadvisability of half-assed strategies for moving heavy objects up a flight of stairs.)

Today, 10/20 I woke up with the alarm for a 10 AM haircut, which I'm pretty happy with; God knows I needed one, after (what's it been) 3 months? Then it was off to the mall in Milford to buy a Steelers t-shirt and a drill. (This involves a 45-minute bus ride each way, since they don't run the express buses early on Saturday, but I really wanted each of these items sooner rather than later.) Lunch was a bacon cheeseburger at the popular below-street-level Irish bar Anna Liffey's. Like almost all bacon cheeseburgers, this one failed to live up to the ideal of the bacon cheeseburger you call to mind when you are very hungry.

The yearly month-long "open studio" season just started in New Haven's enthusiastic if amateur-heavy art world, so I took another bus over the bridge to West Haven around 4 to see a peripheral friend (a sometime softballer) in the studio she splits with another 10 or 11 people. She walked me through a monoprint-making demonstration, and I came away with a matched pair of jellyfish cartoons in green ink. (That's what I drew on a whim.) Rather than wait for another bus I just walked the 3 miles home, which hopefully burned off most of the bacon cheeseburger.

Currently I'm laundering the new Steelers t-shirt, the 5 new plain solid-color t-shirts I bought on heavy reduction at the same sportswear shop (hooray for unbranded clothing), and my Terrible Towel, which I'm hoping will look slightly less unused if it goes through the dryer once.

Friday, 10/19 was the "housewarming" shindig in the apartment, obviously not really "housewarming" since we've both lived here since the early summer. It was a good crowd, though, even if Charlie's people kind of showed up together in a later second wave and there wasn't a full sense of mingling. Fun, though, and the apartment feels like a real apartment in a way it didn't before. Music-wise, incidentally, I supplied 40 minutes of Thelonious Monk and told Stu to bring some other stuff, which he did. There was a Tortoise album he had that was very good party background music, though I didn't catch the title.

I'd had this idea to do hot cocoa spiked with brandy. Well, it was not cold last night and extremely humid (actually it rained buckets right after work for an hour, happily letting up after that), and after the first three people had arrived it felt like about 80 in the apartment. So that plan didn't come to fruition. I've got quite a surplus of spiked cocoa fixin's on hand now; I guess I could start bringing it to work instead of coffee in the morning.

Thursday, 10/18 Charlie and I hit up Ikea after work for some last-minute pre-shindig apartment improvements, like curtains. After that I hitched a ride down to Toad's Place with a friend for They Might Be Giants. Hadn't seen them live before! Very entertaining show. Good to have heard Birdhouse in Your Soul firsthand. I'm not enough of a fan to have heard much besides Flood, John Henry, and whatever album "Doctor Worm" is on, but they came through with the crowd-pleasers, most of them arranged in a row as glossy, high-energy set pieces at the end of the show. Their newer songs (they just released a new album) are less quirky and therefore less interesting to me, though I did like "E Eats Everything" from their album of children's music.

Wednesday, 10/17 I availed myself of the University's new arrangement with Zipcar to buy myself 3 hours of automotive time for tracking down shindig food and apartment improvements in the swath of commercial American crapulence on Route 10 in Hamden. (Yes, I'm excited about driving myself to the most boring slice of Connecticut there is. Sorry.) Zipcar seems to work out pretty well -- the price is right, and it patches over much of the remaining gap of travel I can't manage by walking, busing, or mooching rides. This makes me happy. Plus the polka show was on 88.7 for the first hour of the drive.

I haven't forgotten how to drive. It's like riding a bicycle, you never forget. I might have driven part of the way with the parking brake on. No evident harm done. Do you ever get this feeling that your Dad is invisibly yelling at you from 1996, though?

Tuesday, 10/16 involved nothing of interest, other than doing the bulk of the apartment cleanup. Although I did hear one of the student carilloneurs banging through "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid during lunch break, which made my day.

Monday, 10/15 I played clarinet after work with the wife of a coworker of mine; she's a somewhat out-of-practice but very talented pianist, and we started having chamber music sessions at their house in Wallingford (nice piano room) several Monday nights ago. Started to start, at least; this was only the second time the timing actually worked out, but we're both trying to make this a regular thing, so here's hoping.

We've read through the 2nd & 3rd movements of the Mozart concerto (which has the advantage that I know it already, and the disadvantage that the piano part isn't too pianistically satisfying, but the advantage that it's jaw-droppingly good music) and some of a set of "Five Easy Pieces" by the Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, which I pulled off the University library shelf at random and which turn out to be a lot of fun. They're easy in the right way: technically not too difficult, but with neat interactions between the instruments and some unexpected rhythmic and harmonic stuff going on. They're very folk-ish; I forget when Bacewicz wrote them, I think the late 1940s though.

There's a good biography of Bacewicz here. I remembered her name since one of my college professors was a fan of her later atonal music. What I've found on CD (or rather the Naxos online listening library, still an essential fixture of many workdays) of her earlier works are very engaging: but warm-blooded and down-to-earth. Her Concerto for Strings is a fine piece, but I don't get the sense it surfaces in the US too often.

Yeah, see, I can't describe a week of my own life without sidetracking into a description of some obscure 20th-century Polish composer. There are so many good ones though!

Sunday 10/14 I already described.

* * * * *

I was up to some stuff last week I haven't written about, too, notably a couple of classical concerts on campus; I'll try to get around to this. Not for your sake, Dear Reader, but for my own, since if I don't write it down then I can't read old blog posts about it months later, and then I'll forget that any of it happened.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Pseudoscience of Tomorrow is Here Yesterday

If you wanted you could use "watson" as a biology-themed Cockney rhyming slang term for "prick", via "Watson and Crick". Or you could just declare them synonymous based on a fresh but apparently not unprecedented batch of racist sentiments from James Watson, as noted in William Saletan's science-n-tech blog in Slate. From the post and the Times Online article it draws on, his claims seem like a combo of bald racism (search the text for "black employees") and stale, fakey-fake, science-flavored, Bell Curve bullshit.

I think "out of his depth scientifically" about sums it up. From my seat in the laypersons' section I see two major holes in his reasoning:
1. Racially different populations did not evolve independently on an actual evolutionary scale. Cultures have but cultures move faster. I believe the most accepted theory still holds that anatomically modern humans -- and that anatomy includes our big sexy brains -- evolved in Africa and migrated outward much more recently. Even if they didn't I doubt the population distributions of pre-modern humans probably would correspond to the locations where different cultures as we know them took root.
2. Racial identity is not a particularly accurate indicator of genealogy. Rampant interbreeding between populations these days! White folks are not the exception!
It's tempting to apply the same standard to Watson as you might to an embarrassing elderly great-uncle at a friend's wedding -- "That's inappropriate, but he's old and unreformable, and he'll be probably be gone soon, bless his heart" -- but it's deeply obnoxious to hear those sorts of discredited proclamations emanating from a scientist when many people don't understand that any idea expressed by a scientist isn't by definition science, let alone that a specialist who made his reputation identifying the existence and molecular structure of DNA isn't necessarily an expert on the population-level dynamics of evolution.

I don't consistently read Saletan's sci/tech coverage in Slate because his glib capsule commentaries usually rankle me somehow -- the point that the top of his head comes to isn't as sharp as he seems to think it is -- and with his "never be afraid to consider testable claims" I think he fully misses the point. The problem is Watson is misrepresenting the views he supports as an established theory within the scientific community. As with analogous arguments against Darwinian natural selection and global climate change, these Bell Curve-type arguments are endlessly re-advanced regardless of how often they are deflated and shown to be marginal within the scientific community. The "debate" is political, not scientific, and the intention isn't to advance good science, it's to stick a foot in the door and create the impression of a wide open question. Meanwhile the zombie claims about generalized intelligence and test scores and such are nicely rebutted by (to pick a prominent example I'm familiar with) Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, which has been around for something like 25 years now.

Here Comes The Night

Hey, all of a sudden if you stick around work until 7:30 it's dark when you leave. Do we have to be at that part of the year already? On the other hand it is still quite warm, but I think that's more a function of my apartment building's air conditioning having been turned off earlier this week.

In honesty I can't complain too much; there are some days when I actually want to be exposed to daylight in some kind of serious way but on Thursdays I mostly just want to get home in time to watch 30 Rock.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Classical Music Will Make Your Stupid Baby Smart

Nate's hit upon a totally viable marketing catchphrase just now, but, as always, I can tell it's going to take me to realize the sheer profitability of the thing.

Now I'm not guaranteeing anything to prospective investors here, but I will say I've got a stronger-than-usual suspicion that, provided 75 minutes of studio time with a classically trained pianist and $80,000 to cover startup costs, I can come up with something big, baby. Big baby big.

May I present to you, on one digitally rendered all-compact disc,

  • 75 minutes of actual classical music performed by acclaimed pianist to be determined later
  • Enhance your baby's mathemalogical mind!
  • Learn the true composers' parenting secrets that invariably made composers' children more successful than they were!
  • Not a knockoff of similar pre-existing products!
  • Mozart and stuff!
Play it once a day before your baby even knows better, and before you'll know it you'll have a wunderkind on your hands, sitting pretty on their way to exclusive kindergarten and day school and inheriting Daddy's toniest club memberships.

I'm serious here, people. I'm seeing lots of little dollar signs, dancing around a musical staff, connected with little eighth-note beams. You all know where to reach me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Frost Doggerel

One of the minor benefits of hoarding a bunch of old computer content is that when you comb through it you occasionally find a preserved crumb of interest. Here, from a March 2002 email, is a Robert Frost parody that Jack wrote. It seems to hold up; at any rate it still rigorously respects the rhyme scheme of the original.


by Jack B.

Whose car this is I do not know.
He's left a window open, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To take away his stereo.

My crowbar grates metallic, clear;
But on this street no soul is near.
Its iron gleam will catch no eye,
Its grinding will offend no ear.

The radio, with one last pry
Quiesces, like a plaintive sigh;
And now I'd best be moving on.
(I'll take a road less traveled by.)

I'd stay, through evening, night and dawn,
But I have merchandise to pawn,
And much to steal till day is gone,
And much to steal till day is gone.

Classical Party Hits 2KNever

Soundtrack for cleaning the living room prior to Friday evening get-together:
Maurice Ravel, String Quartet, mvt. II
John Adams, John's Book of Alleged Dances (most of)
György Ligeti, Etudes for Piano
Einojuhani Rautavaara, Vespers (most of)

Soundtrack for actually having Friday evening get-together:
?? . . . uh . . .
Maybe my roommate has some nonclassical CDs. Otherwise we're gonna be limited to Thelonious Monk, Nick Drake, the M. Shanghai String Band, Sesame Street Sings the ABCs, and the original cast recording of Merrily We Roll Along. Well, that and some filler.

Guide to Appropriate Audience Behavior

Here are some eventually not-particularly-musical thoughts about a Kennedy Center concert I went to yesterday evening, reproduced almost verbatim for expeditiousness' sake from an email I sent Jack earlier this afternoon.


I should get around to blogging exactly the right amount about my most recent concert-goings but Guide to Strange Places is a hoot in concert. Vaguely hostile and Looney Tunes-esque rhythmic shenanigans; long dramatic pauses; eerie chorale passages. I thought the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst could have been a little bit punchier (that may largely be the orchestration though; string-heavy and very mid-period Stravinsky, especially Adams' use of the piano) but they sound just effortlessly technically proficient. One thing I really liked about the program was that in Tchaikovsky's sixth in the second half Welser-Möst used a couple of broader-than-usual dramatic pauses that seemed to me to call back to the gaps between those weird chorales in Guide. I didn't used to get excited by subtle communication between pieces within a concert program but there you have it.

Also: If you're an old dude in a yellow shirt whose seat is front-row center in the chorister section behind the stage, directly within the conductor's line of sight, you should make sure to get to your seat before the second half in a timely manner. Because if you wait until the conductor is ready to start conducting, such that he stands in his just-about-to-conduct pose while you slowly make your way to the center of your row, most of the people in the audience will laugh at you. Then they will applaud when you finally sit down. Then the conductor will wait a few more moments until the house is sufficiently settled down for the Extremely Sad Symphony to begin. I wondered what it would be like if the concert were taking place in, say, Yankee Stadium. (Boos? Epithets? Thrown bottles?)

Also also: Even though it's awesome when awesome modern music makes a toddler in the audience screech a little bit and hold his ears until his mother reluctantly removes him from the hall, it's not awesome enough that you can bring a toddler to an 8 pm weeknight orchestra concert and still get into heaven when you die. Despite the presence of a Mozart symphony on the program, this is not the same as one of those Classical Music Will Make Your Stupid Baby Smart tapes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It Might Be Giant

It's not like I don't own a car because I disapprove of driving on environmental grounds. Still, now and then I'll think that not owning a car is at least a little better on carbon-footprint grounds than the alternative. Then I'll find myself to be the only passenger on a city bus, like today, and realize that I'm essentially consuming a busworth of fuel all by myself.

The bus was taking me 25 minutes north of here, to Sleeping Giant State Park. Getting there for a hike was imperative on a fall day as nice as this one, so I don't regret the busworth of fuel it took to get up there. I'm glad that no one seems to be rigorously auditing the passenger use of weekend bus routes here.

Sleeping Giant has some mighty fine hiking trails in it. I hadn't gotten up there before, even though it's not so far away. The trail I picked was a lot rockier and steeper than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Good workout; got some of the outdoorsy endorphins activated. Foliage hasn't really changed over yet, presumably since we had a hot and dry summer. I brought my CD discman and soundtracked part of the hike with Samuel Barber's violin and cello concertos, which are both good outdoorsy-endorphin-type pieces, especially in the fall.

The weather was absolutely perfect for this. It's a good thing the Steelers had a bye week.

Beforehand I'd cooked myself a fairly robust late breakfast (scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, steamed spinach), and afterwards Stu came by for Modern Pizza and beer. I think that makes for a pretty good Sunday.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Swearing Instinct

Steven Pinker writes about swearing in The New Republic.

I think this is the most interesting part:
As secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, Fuck you means? (Some people guess "fuck yourself," others "get fucked," and still others "I will fuck you," but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:

Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?

I don't give a damn >> I don't give a fuck; I don't give a shit.

Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!

For God's sake >> For fuck's sake; For shit's sake.

Damn you! >> Fuck you!
The rest of the article is interesting too, though the sexual sociology stuff isn't as convincing. The opening gambit is fun, especially when it gets around to teasing out what part of speech "fucking" is. Surprisingly tricky!

Linguists are no doubt trying to work out a full theory of F-bar syntax. This seems to be a good start.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Conversations We Have

[Gmail chat, 5:55 PM, Friday]

Pete: lurking in the office before some social outing again?

me: yep

Pete: i'm helping kids learn

me: if by "social" you mean "drinking gin"

and "outing" you mean "under an overpass"


no you're not

Pete: well - when I said "helping kids learn"

what I meant was "drinking gin under an overpass"

so, small world

luckily there's wireless here

me: yeah I know!

Pete: going to watch the baseball game?

me: nope

movie night at friend-of-a-friend's

bad horror movie theme

Pete: that's way better then the best playoff pitching match-up of the postseason

me: yeah, well

I don't have a working TV yet

Pete: i have none

going to another poet's house

me: silly

poets don't watch tv

they all live in the 1800s

Pete: yeah i know

massive chrono-distortion

Prizes and Stuff

I thought the Al Gore movie was good, but I don't know about Nobel Peace Prize good. The science-y stuff was OK, but it really lacked the kind of star wattage that the Nobel Peace Prize committee should respect.

I mean, really. Is it like they didn't even see Babel? That's totally a Nobel Peace Prize movie right there. Not only is it about the whole world and stuff, but it's got Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in it. Did Al Gore bring that much passion to the screen, and look so good doing it? I don't think so.

Plus, there's lots of important, Nobel-Peace-Prize-worthy themes in Babel. Did you ever stop to wonder whether everyone everywhere is interconnected, even to fabulous celebrities like Brad and Cate? Probably not, but Babel answers it for you: Yes! There's also other stuff: like how other languages are impossible to understand, and how sad it is when there's guns, and that you shouldn't let your kids be taken care of by Mexicans. It's really deep!

You know all those scenes that are really long, and no one's talking, and there's some sensitive guitar music playing softly? That really makes it feel like you're thinking. And you can tell the characters are thinking too, like Brad, and like that one Japanese schoolgirl who keeps getting naked 'cause she's thinking about stuff.

I really felt like I was thinking the whole way through this movie, and that's like for 3 hours. I think that really says something.

And let's admit it: Al Gore's movie is smart, but it's kind of a downer, too. At the end of Babel you know everyone came out OK, or at least the pretty-looking American people did. Come on, Nobel Prize committee: is Peace about being gloom and doom all the time, or is Peace about everything turning out all right in the end? Right, that's what I thought.

It's especially tragic that the Nobel Peace Prize committee didn't make the right decision, since just a couple years ago they already passed over Cate Blanchett! I couldn't believe it when she missed the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, after her unforgettable turn as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. Now I'm not saying anything mean about Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency, especially since I haven't seen any of their movies yet, but Cate totally should have won after a gutsy performance like that! And can you even imagine the amazing Nobel Peace Prize party she'd probably have afterwards to celebrate? Wow.

So Al Gore has my congratulations, but now you know where I stand. I just hope the Nobel Peace Prize people don't think Global Warming is all taken care of now. There's a whole lot more work to do if we want to see Leo win the prize next year for his Global Warming movie! Good luck Leo!! I'm keeping my fingers crossed!!!

And meanwhile, everyone should watch Babel on DVD!! I'm totally not kidding!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow?...

Today in the greater D.C. region the high temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit colder than yesterday's, dropping from the low 80s to the high 60s. If this trend continues the national capital will be an icy deathscape by, oh, the end of the weekend or so. Even if it doesn't I'd like to note that early autumn in this area is really lovely when the daytime temperature settles around, say, 72 or so. So it would be pretty neat to have a day or two like that.

(After a little bit of further consideration I guess this past Saturday was pretty nice, but I was in Baltimore for most of it. So: doesn't count.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Weekend's Activities in Brief

The Baltimore Symphony under John Adams:
  • Adams' My Father Knew Charles Ives: Tight, surprisingly affecting (especially the hazy jazz material floating in and out of the second movement), deeply enjoyable.
  • Beethoven's 7th: Spirited but not detailed.
The American Visionary Art Museum: Stocked with often fascinating outsider art and/or neat contraptions but too heavy on the rah-rah, pan-spiritual crap in presentation. Also, lots of religion-themed Post Secret cards.

The National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin:
  • Jefferson Friedman's Sacred Heart: Explosion: Coincidentally also outsider art-themed; like warped Lord of the Rings music; somewhat bloated.
  • Beethoven's 9th: Briskly paced, full of good cheer, extremely crowd-pleasing. Niftily overemphasized piccolo trill at the very end.
The Steelers, as watched from the Pour House on Capitol Hill: Excellente.

When the Wind Blows

When the Wind Blows is on youtube. Hooray! Not the best way to watch it though, really. But I'm glad its available for the watching at all, since its not available on DVD in this country. The optimal method I suppose, would be renting the VHS tape from your local super-hip video rental place. I know I've mentioned this movie on the blog a couple times in the past, but the blog-search yielded no results (well, maybe I only mentioned it that once?). At any rate, even if you don't watch the whole thing, it should be pretty clear why I like it so much after the first 10 minutes or so.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

There It Is

I remembered that Peanuts cartoon from an anthology Nate has, and he also has a scanner, of course.

Hooray. (Click the image to view it larger, as usual.)

The book it's from is pretty great; neat combination of comics, plus photos of various pieces of memorabilia, and a small amount of interesting commentary. Good coffee table book, and a good gift idea for anyone who's a Peanuts fan, I think.

Weekend good so far! Go Steelers . . .

[Update, 9:08 pm]

Ike Taylor picked a good time to hold on to an interception . . .

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fatty McPitchPitch Go-to-Hell

So, seeing Josh Fogg get the win today for the Colorada Rockies, I was prompted to look up when the last ex-rookie-as-a-Pirate pitcher got a win in the playoffs (expecting it to be Tim Wakefield with Boston). But, as is typical, I got bored and stopped looking before finding any information (thats what makes my blog posts, I think, so great!).

But the information I did find was so startingly terrible that I have to post it here:

Did you know that Jimmy Anderson (25-47, 5.42 ERA career) got a World Series ring for being on the Boston Red Sox in 2004?

What the hell? He made baseball fans in Pittsburgh miserable every five games for four years, and somehow he has a WS ring? I say we name a bridge after him.

Columbus Day Was a Very Brave Man

There's a classic Peanuts strip where Sally is writing a school report about Columbus Day, and she takes Columbus's name to actually be "Columbus Day." It's pretty funny. I wanted to find it online, but I can't, so here's a random Bloom County strip instead.

Ha ha ha ha! Opus.

I'm going to be celebrating the Columbus Day memorial weekend by visiting Nate (among hopefully a few other people) in DC, where we'll be seeing *two* symphony concerts on Saturday (John Adams & Baltimore in the A.M., Leonard Slatkin doing Beethoven 9 with the NSO in the P.M.) and settling into a Steelers bar for the Super Bowl XL rematch on Sunday. ("This Time, We're Hoping It's Not Marred by Wretched Officiating!")

So, everyone else, try to have this much fun, but don't get too broken up if you find you can't.

Meantimes, here's a charming short essay from 1825 by the English writer Charles Lamb titled "The Superannuated Man," a gently fictionalized account of his retirement from 36 years of office work. Still has a familiar ring to it, even with the antique wit.

Happy long weekend,

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's Like Money in the Bank!

Jack's Guaranteed, Lock-Solid Baseball Playoff Inevitabilities Presented before the Fact:

Yankees over Indians, 5 games
Angels over Red Sox, 4 games

Phillies over Rockies, 4 games
Diamondbacks over Cubs, 4 games

- - - - -

Angels over Yankees, 6 games
Phillies over Diamondbacks, 6 games

- - - - -

Angels over Phillies, 5 games

- - - - -

You should totally bet money on this! I don't, but you should! I kind of even pay attention to the regular season!

Names I Want Now

I thought for sure I'd spotted a typo this morning in the proof of a book's dedication page (typeset by an overseas co-publisher), since the last name of the dedicatee was given "ffrench." But this was in fact correct.

The name appears to originate, according to the Internet, not in ffrance but in Ireland, where it’s attached to a late 18th-century barony. I don't know if our dedicatee is attached to that family or not. In any case, the current Baron ffrench is a fellow by the estimable name of "Robuck John Peter Charles Mario ffrench."

It should go without saying that I want to have a name like that now. Though if I were a Baron, I'd just make people refer to me as "The Baron" all the time, in the third person. ("Good day, and how is The Baron doing this morning? Excellent. Say, I believe I saw The Baron's gardener replanting my topiaries in The Baron's back yard last night.")

ff***in' A!

Monday, October 01, 2007

My T-Shirt Shows Everything

Richard Dawkins, sometime in the last little while, has founded a new campaign to organize atheists around the world. This is just a brief, superficial reading of the website, but it seems to me that the centerpiece is these hip new t-shirts. The first thing I checked was whether they're sweat-shop free or not, and of course, they're not! See, atheists care about other people! Their supercool Hawthorne-referencing t-shirts are sweatshop free! Hooray!

I'm not really sure what my reaction at this point is, really. Sort of a bemused ironic distance from any notion of t-shirts making even a little bit of difference tinged with the sense that even if I did wear such a t-shirt in Miami it would just raise my already high chances of being hit by a car (as so many SUVs in this gorgeous state proudly sport their pro-life license plates (it was, in 2003 the 10th most popular license plate in the state (sadly, I can't find an SUV-specific statistic))).

Greetings from Beijing

Hey, blogger isn't blocked today! Unfortunately, I have no time to write. I'm really happy here in China, though.

Here's me, dead, in the Gobi Desert.