Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What ever happened to "Render unto Caesar..."?

Reasonable people do realize that Mike Huckabee is a crackpot, right? The Republican party is already in pretty bad shape as a result of the last eight years, and it is interesting to see how the extreme elements now have greater weight as a result of the moderates distancing themselves from the GOP. Part of me would love to see Huckabee win the nomination because he could challenge Goldwater for the most lopsided defeat in history and the GOP would take years to recover, but if he did somehow win the general election I think there's a very real chance that it would tear the country apart.

Literacy- Without it, these funny black marks would be pretty boring

In the 2007 edition of a study by Central Connecticut State University, Denver is now 4th on the list of America's Most Literate Cities. Having a good library system, two major daily newspapers, and a decent number of bookstores are the major factors behind Denver's ranking, and I feel quite fortunate to have grown up here for some of the same reasons. (As a side note, the most popular book at CCSU is "The Davinci Code." I'm going to have to stop looking at those stats or will take an army of Obamas to restore my hope in this country's future).

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Tomorrow I leave for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2008 conference in New York City, and I am very excited about it. I had a fantastic time the first time I went to AWP in 2006 when it was in Austin, but this should be even better. In all my travels, I've never visited New York City, and the timing couldn't be better as several of my friends have moved there over the last couple years. Four days isn't much time to both enjoy the conference and visit the city, but I'm going to do as much as I can.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hope is back in fashion, but good books need a champion

The results from South Carolina confirm that the Obama tide is rising again. I was rather concerned about racially charged and aggressive things were getting, as he described it in his victory speech:

It’s the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us. The assumption that young people are apathetic. The assumption that Republicans won’t cross over. The assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor, and that the poor don’t vote. The assumption that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate; whites can’t support the African-American candidate; blacks and Latinos can’t come together.
Another instance of the same sort of significantly increased turnout that was a big factor in Iowa makes me increasingly confident that he can continue to mobilize people all the way through to November. Winning a majority instead of a plurality is huge, and it is striking that he won a fierce contest in South Carolina by roughly the same margin that Hillary won in Michigan when she was the only major candidate on the ballot.

The race is still not over, it probably won't be over after Super Tuesday, and it may very well continue all the convention (and wouldn't that make for some exciting times here in the Mile High City). I had thought that the days of having a President who could give me goosebumps (in a good way!) when he speaks were over, and I hope this election proves me wrong.

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With thanks to Jess, I am fascinated by the looking at which books make you dumb. Of course, it's not actually about the books' impact on intelligence so much as the sort of books that dumb people like (or to be really precise, books that people on Facebook say they like sorted by the average SAT score of their school). It is completely unscientific and enthralling nonetheless. The fact that "I don't read" is even popular enough to be ranked is scary, and the fact that it scored as high as it did is downright terrifying. Shame on Lynn University, where "I don't read" is actually the #1 most popular book. I hope their alumni are embarrassed.

Most of the books that I have listed as favorites on Facebook aren't on the list, but here are the rankings of the ones that are: Great Expectations (1046), Dune (1086), Shakespeare (1101), The Lord Of The Rings (1102), 1984 (1120), Pride and Prejudice (1136), Ender's Game (1167)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Online Videos

I don't watch TV, so I haven't been particularly bother by the foolishness of the writers' strike, but one of the great disappointments for me has been the fact that the vast majority of the online videos supporting the strike have turned out to be quite boring. I watch probably more online videos than is healthy, which meant I was all over Tom Cruise's "Yes, I really am crazy" Scientology video. To my great pleasure, they have been combined with hilarious results:

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I also recently came across the most entertaining video game reviewer ever. Probably not the first choice in terms of deciding which game to buy, but the hilarity more than makes up for his idiosyncratic system of evaluation.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Matters of Medium

Going from the page to the stage can be tricky enough when dealing with something that was written as dramatic literature, and trying to translate a work of art from one medium to another carries a lot of risks. A novel can succeed in a number of different ways, and not all of those elements can be reproduced on stage.

Plainsong at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts was a perfect example. I've never read the best-selling novel on which the play was based, but I have to wonder who thought that it would lend itself well to a stage adaptation. The Aristotelian unities are not and should not be iron-clad rules, but there is a reason his writings have been so influential. A novel can weave together different narrative threads into a coherent whole in a way that the theatre cannot.

The modern stage has the technical capacity to overcome many of the logistical challenges of such multifaceted storytelling, but simply being able to shift move rapidly through a series of short scenes is not enough. The stage adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy at the National Theatre in London was a good example of how it can be done well, and it succeeded because the heart of the novels was built around two central characters, and the stage adaptation was able to channel all of the action through that relationship.

Plainsong was engaging in spite of its structure thanks to skill of several of the actors, but it is a shame that they did not have more to work with. Several of the characters were clearly supposed to be emotionally significant, but in the rush to get everything from the novel on stage, they were not given any opportunity to engage with the audience. The fact that there were so many characters fighting for the audience's attention and sympathy made it all the more remarkable that some of the actors were still able to make those connections.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Caucus confusion

Yesterday I went to a meeting at Barack Obama's Denver headquarters to learn how the Colorado caucus works. Although I've been an active voter since 2004, I've never participated in a caucus because Colorado only uses them for presidential elections and we were always irrelevant because we came so late in the season. This year they've moved it up to Super Tuesday, and that's why I was waiting outside with about half a dozen people while the Obama campaign volunteers tried to find someone with a key to get into the building.

My impressions of both the headquarters and the staff fit with the image that the media has presented of the Obama campaign: low-budget, young, and inexperienced, but with an earnest enthusiasm to make up for their lack of polish. It had the odd effect of cementing my support for him while simultaneously increasing my doubts about whether he can beat Hillary.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Moral Aspect of a Sledgehammer

This evening I went to see the world premiere of Lydia, a new play that was commissioned by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It was extremely well-executed and powerful, but it also left me asking Why? The actors turned in excellent performances working with very difficult material, but I struggle to see what the playwright and the director were trying to accomplish. It was a brilliant sledgehammer of a play, but aside from the emotional spectacle of watching a family tear itself apart, I couldn't see that it accomplished anything.

That raises the question of whether art needs to have a "purpose" or if it should just be allowed to exist completely detached from moral considerations in a bubble of "art for art's sake". My feeling is that while art need not have a moral agenda, the artist must still take into consideration that it does exist in a moral world. Sometimes audiences need a play to be a sledgehammer that smashes ideas or expectations, but there's a reason we speak disparagingly of "shock value", and it is a shame that a play full of such beautifully crafted scenes ultimately did nothing more than revel in a spectacle of rage, guilt, and destruction.

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A recent article in Slate has prompted a lot of thought on my part. I've actually never read anything by Nabokov, but I feel deeply conflicted about the question of whether his grandson should carry out his wishes and destroy his unfinished final novel. As a reader and scholar of literature, I have a knee-jerk reaction in favor of defying his wishes and releasing it to the public, but that thought sickens me when I consider that he clearly felt that it was incomplete.

At what point do the desires of the reading public override those the authors who provide the literature we crave? Does a writer's control over his work diminish in proportion to his greatness? I have no answers that can diminish my visceral feeling that the manuscript shouldn't be destroyed, and I feel like my inability to make up my mind on this issue is a failing on my part.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Occasionally a geek will actually have a date to the prom

In a lovely bit coincidence, Ashley, an old friend of mine from high school, started a blog recently. She gave me a shout-out in her blog the other day (and was the first to comment here), so I'm returning the favor as part of my general policy of supporting anyone who gives me gratuitous praise.

Her boldly titled blog.

Coming from a mind crazy enough to be my date to senior prom, it's a safe bet that interesting will not be in short supply, so check it out. I've also added a list of links to some other blogs that I like.

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In an earlier post I presented the following grotesque sentence that some friends and I came up with in class:

I have the awareness that the flesh of young humans, ideally humans within the age range typically defined as infancy, is indeed capable of being processed by the gastrointestinal tract, in ergo facto providing the necessary je ne sais quoi of a meal more delicious than the love of Baby Jesus.

After spending some time wandering through the Forest of Rhetoric, I thought it would be fun to list all of its stylistic vices:
macrologia- Longwindedness. Using more words than are necessary in an attempt to appear eloquent.
tautologia- The repetition of the same idea in different words, but (often) in a way that is wearisome or unnecessary.
cacozelia- Bad taste in words or selection of metaphor, either to make the facts appear worse or to disgust the auditors.
soraismus- To mingle different languages affectedly or without skill.
acyrologia- An incorrect use of words, especially the use of words that sound alike but are far in meaning from the speaker's intentions.
catachresis- The use of a word in a context that differs from its proper application.
hypallage- Shifting the application of words. Mixing the order of which words should correspond with which others.
cacemphaton- An expression that is deliberately either foul (such as crude language)or ill-sounding (such as from excessive alliteration).

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Anyone geeky enough to still be reading at this point should get a kick out of this:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stick figures+ violence= awesome

The New York Times corrections page is often far more interesting than one would expect, but it really tickled me to see Hitler, Jesus, and Satan all in the same correction.

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Animator vs. Animation by *alanbecker on deviantART

This manages to appeal to both my geeky side and my masculine affinity for violent action. I especially like when he squirts water into the big laser rifle.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Edge of the Bell Curve

There's nothing like reading a nice Victorian novel to set the mind wandering on the subject of marriage.

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It's somewhat old news, but I'm still amazed at the window-washer in New York who fell 47 stories and lived. I can even understand all the miracle talk, even though it's not too hard to understand if you accept his incredible good luck to have avoided injuring either his head or pelvis. People don't think very clearly when it comes to statistically improbable occurrences.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Hampshire keeps things interesting

It's probably a good thing that elections are still really difficult to predict. Everybody was forecasting a major victory for Obama tonight, which would have given him an almost unbeatable lead. Instead the New Hampshire voters produced a narrow victory for Hillary, which leaves the race still very open. Edwards was a distant enough third to be in trouble, but he'll stay in the race until South Carolina. Obama answered a lot of doubters (myself included) by winning Iowa, but one of the remaining questions was how he'll perform as the front-runner instead of the underdog. Obama still looks to be in pretty good shape, but it remains to be seen what was responsible for this upset victory for Hillary. If she's managed to make voters doubt his message of hope, then we're in for a tight race, but it's likely to shift back to Obama if this victory was fueled by the sympathy she got after the crying incident.

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Of course, all that means very little in light of this clear sign of the coming of the apocalypse:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Children are edible

One of the things I love about grad school is the fact that I'm able to sit down in classes full of creative people and create things like the following anti-Strunk & White revision of a sentence from Swift's "A Modest Proposal":

I have the awareness that the flesh of young humans, ideally humans within the age range typically defined as infancy, is indeed capable of being processed by the gastrointestinal tract, in ergo facto providing the necessary je ne sais quoi of a meal more delicious than the love of Baby Jesus.
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When I travel, it is important to me that my tourism provides me with valuable experiences and helps to make me a better person. It's encouraging to learn that Henry James also felt that sightseeing is serious business.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Geaux Tigers!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Literature and Linguistics

This afternoon I came across the following article by Robin Sowards (a professor of English): "Why Everyone Should Study Linguistics". It's interesting to see someone articulating what I have often thought of only in vague terms, namely that students and teachers of literature should study linguistics.

My interest in linguistics comes largely out of my frustration when I have to get students to unlearn things they have been taught about writing that are counterproductive. He captures my thoughts exactly:

Surely grammar is the only domain in which virtually the entirety of literary scholarship is willing to accept uncritically the received wisdom of the nineteenth century.
He does a very good job of explaining how to develop an understanding of linguistics as a complement to literary analysis, but I worry that anyone who is not already at least somewhat interested in linguistics is unlikely to be convinced by this essay. It seems clear enough how important such knowledge is when working with students' writing, but I suspect that a stronger case must be made for linguistics' utility to literary criticism before anyone will start requiring linguistics courses.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Shakespeare AND the Beatles? It must be good for your cultural IQ

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


This is the time of year for looking back and making grand pronouncements about what we will or will not do in the coming year, even though a year is a long time and New Year's resolutions rarely make it through January. It is nice to look back on where I've been and where I hope to be going in the coming year.

Things I accomplished in 2007:
  1. Got into grad school.
  2. Successfully taught a creative writing class by myself with a group of 3rd-5th grade students.
  3. Helped establish my work with writing tutoring for 6th-8th graders as an ongoing volunteer program.
  4. Made a friend unexpectedly who has already become one of the closest people in my life and who I expect will be a life-long friend.
  5. Had a long relationship that taught me a lot about myself.
  6. Found the courage to stand up for myself and end that same relationship when it grew increasingly unhealthy.
  7. Began a serious and organized effort to get my poems published (aka, started a rejection slip collection).
  8. Started to believe that I can be attractive to other people beyond my intellectual gifts.
  9. Worked full-time and successfully navigated the minefield of a dysfunctional workplace.
  10. Saved money and established a budget so that I should be able to get my masters without going into debt.

Things I would like to accomplish in 2008:
  1. Break out of my patterns of procrastination.
  2. Be more proactive about dating.
  3. Make more of an effort to write new poems, without getting away from the good revision work that I've been doing.
  4. Find out why my brother gets under my skin and learn to be at peace with him.
  5. Commit the time to write an academic paper that represents my very best work.
  6. Make more connections among the department's faculty and graduate students.
  7. Restore the university's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta to viability with undergraduate leadership.
  8. Find ways to travel without screwing up my budget (my upcoming trip to NYC will be a good start).
  9. Learn more about teaching methods, effective classroom skills, and good pedagogy so that I'm more prepared to teach college-level courses.
  10. Embrace the fantastic path I'm on without closing myself off to unexpected opportunities.

Things have changed significantly from where I was 365 days go, and while I don't foresee such dramatic changes in the coming year, I can only hope that my life improves as much in 2008 as it did in 2007.