Sunday, March 30, 2008

Crazy week of activities (Having a social life is hard work!)

Because the first week of classes is usually pretty mild, I decided that I would catch up on having a social life, as well as trying to get a head start on my coursework. Since Wednesday I have done the following:

  • Gave a big presentation on Madame Bovary for my graduate seminar on Modernism (and came up with vague notion for a possible thesis topic)
  • Watched the first disc of Battlestar Galactica Season Three with my friend Ben as we try to get caught up so that we can watch Season Four on TV (with a few more marathon sessions scheduled for the coming week because the first episode airs this Friday night)
  • Went to see an excellent touring production of My Fair Lady (the first time I had ever seen that show)
  • Went to a Saturday matinee of the play Gee's Bend and got an idea for how I might write one of my story ideas as a play
  • Cheered on the Nuggets in a thrilling victory over the Golden State Warriors in the first live basketball game I've been able to attend in years
  • Drank a few beers with my buddy Frank and had the first non-depressing conversation about academia that I've had in far too long
Now I must get back to all the reading that I neglected while I was having so much fun.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wishes and Memories

I recently received an email through my grad school list for a project that is collecting anonymous wishes and memories:
This looks pretty interesting, and I regret that I no longer live close enough to Louisville to go see it when it goes on display.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's getting eerie, what's this cheery singing all about?

I find it odd that while I lack any passion for music, to a degree that I've wondered at times if there's something wrong with me, I do have a clear fondness for musicals. Part of it is my general enjoyment of the theatre, but there's also element of escapist longing to live in a different world where emotions can be expressed by bursting into song. In short, I sometimes wish my life was a musical.

A few weeks ago my Aunt Laura emailed me a link to what is now one of the my all-time favorite online videos, in which a group of people stage a seemingly spontaneous musical in the food court of a shopping mall.

Words cannot express how much I envy those people.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Guy Who Beat Duke for Governor!

It's March, so it must be time to loathe the student-athletes of Duke University.

It is an interesting question whether there is a genuine competitive advantage to being hated and feared as a sports team. It certainly helps your players' confidence, and it is possible that it makes it easier to intimidate opponents, but it also means that no one overlooks you and you always get your opponents' best shot. The Duke men's basketball team has actively cultivated that sentiment, and they are far and away the most universally disliked team in college basketball.

I have no particular reason to dislike Duke as a school, but along with the rivals of the two schools I've attended and any school that's ever rejected me, they are one of the few teams that I actively root against in the NCAA tournament. I was disappointed on Thursday when they narrowly escaped being the victim of a gigantic upset at the hands of the lowly Belmont Bruins, and I happily followed all of the action today as they were beaten solidly by West Virginia in their second round game.

Beating Duke is an achievement that will probably be remembered far more fondly than anything else they achieve in this tournament. I couldn't help smiling when one of the CBS commentators shouted, "He's gonna get votes for governor!" after the second of a couple of key plays by a West Virginia player to seal Duke's defeat.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mmm... sack.

When it comes to seeing plays, they tend to come in streaks for me, and thus last night I went to see the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The DTC generally does a good job with Shakespeare, and I was looking forward to it because I'd never seen this play performed before. Unfortunately, while the play wasn't bad, it was wasn't great either. It was moderately funny, and they didn't fall into the trap of playing it solely for cheap laughs, but it didn't live up to my expectations because they failed to present a coherent treatment of Falstaff.

I had the privilege of seeing Michael Gambon as Falstaff in both parts of Henry IV in London a few years ago, and I certainly wasn't expecting to see a performance like that here, but I was disappointed by the fact that this production seemed uncertain about whether or not Falstaff should be a sympathetic character. Part of his popularity is that he is such a likable character even though the audience recognizes that he is a villain, but they seemed to be treating Falstaff as a genuinely unsympathetic character.

It's not enough simply to declare him a villain and spend the whole play abusing him. According to my ideal interpretation of the play, Falstaff should be a sympathetic character who is eclipsed by the greater sympathy that the audience develops for the wives, but in this production that was not the case. The wives were a bit too malicious for me to share their joy in Falstaff's suffering, and the end result was a comedy that drew chuckles instead of laughter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Interesting may make life worth living, but sometimes it also makes me sad

Last night I went to see my friend Jenna perform in her class project, the play Mad Forest: A Play From Romania. She is a friend from my undergrad years at Evansville, and now she is in grad school for theatre here in Denver. She is an outstanding actress, enough so that I would happily watch anything that she's doing, even a play about the Romanian revolution, which I actually knew enough about beforehand (thank you history degree and international studies minor!) to question whether it would be a good subject for a play.

As it turned out, the setting and subject did suit the play, providing good raw material for the energy and vitality that can only be fully expressed in chaos. When used effectively, confusion can be a powerful emotional tool, and the fact that it was difficult to tease out the humor and pathos made those elements more intense.

It was a very interesting play, and it succeeded largely because the performers brought a profound energy to what might have been a sluggish mutant of political satire and surreal theatre. That said, I can't say that I liked the play. It was interesting in the same sense of the word as the old curse "May you live in interesting times" and it makes me sad to think about how so much of the energy of life is the product of confusion and chaos.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stop playing cards and start talking about our problems

Over the last few days, I've been catching up on the some of the things I wanted to write about during finals, and one of the topics on my list was to examine the state of the race for the Democratic nomination. In particular, I wanted to post my belated responses to the results of the Wyoming caucuses and Mississippi primaries, and I figured I would wait for the the next big development in the race to talk about the long march to Pennsylvania and Obama's steadily growing lead in the delegate count.

The inflammatory sermons of Obama's pastor have been the main political topic of the last few days, and I figured that as the scandal du jour played itself out, it would give me a chance to write about the unhealthy dynamic that has developed between the two campaigns wherein supporters on one side or the other periodically say something they shouldn't, followed by a quick dismissal and a round of distancing (or rejecting and denouncing).

What I didn't count on was Obama delivering a brilliant speech on race in America that throws those political games out the window.

Like many people, I have often believed that the United States would always have racial tension, that it was an issue that might be improved but never wholly eliminated. I still don't believe that the dream of a truly colorblind America will happen in my lifetime, but after watching Obama exceed my expectations once again, I now have hope that it is possible.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Failing a saving throw against health problems and old age

The news is a couple of weeks old now (and thus has already been on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me), but I have to post something on the passing of Gary Gygax. In case there was any doubt about my nerd credentials, I am also a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons. The necessity of having a group was always a limiting factor, but I could fill in the gaps with computer versions like the excellent Baldur's Gate games. The only reason I'm not still playing it now is that the friends I played as an undergrad all graduated and went to different places.

I actually my first exposure to D&D in the form of Gygax's first edition of the rules, a set that had been left in our basement by my half-brother many years before. It is difficult to recall that many of the fundamental concepts of the entire genre of role-playing games were invented by just one man. It's disappointing that the business side of things and the various legal battles cast a shadow over the last few decades of his career, but he will be remembered for creating a game that made the trials of awkward youth a little less painful.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Food Fight

An enthralling video from the excellent blahg of Shawn:

One might think that watching food act out an American-focused summary of major conflicts from WWII to the present would be funny, but it's even with such non-human actors, it's still a bit disturbing. I felt very impressed with myself that I was able to recognize pretty much all of the foods and all of the battles they were fighting.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

When you treat English as a shiv, everyone sounds like a blackguard

This video cracked me up when I finally had time to watch it earlier today. Beyond just being funny, it directs its mockery at one of my chief pet peeves, the attitude that "Our job is not to offer people the words they do use, but the words they should use."

Friday, March 14, 2008

It shreds stuff AND lights it on fire? Tell me more...

While celebrating the end of the winter quarter with some classmates in a bar last night, the drunken conversation somehow ended up on the colossal geekiness of my teenage years (and all the nonexistent dates that ensued because of it).

I had consumed enough at that point that I told a story from my time playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles role-playing game, in which my character (a teenage mutant ninja moose) defeated the heavily-armored villain who was standing on a shipping container full of Styrofoam packing peanuts by firing a machine gun at the container until the peanuts burst into flames.

The point of sharing that story is that it reminded me of the following unspeakably awesome video clip I watched a few weeks ago from the show Mythbusters, in which they demonstrate that you can in fact cut a tree down with a Gatling gun.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tell me what you eat, and I'll smile and nod

I have finally made it through the my winter quarter finals, having just barely finished both term papers in time. During that time I had to impose strict limits on myself in terms of how much I would sample the endless treats that the Internet dangles in front of me, and part of my method of self-control was to write down each nifty website and video I came across so that I can come back to it later. Now that I'm basking in the light at the end of the tunnel, I'll have time to check those things out and post about the cool ones on here.

My self-imposed Internet diet was necessitated by the fact that last week I wasted a bunch of time exploring the joy of Iron Chef clips on YouTube.

It all began with a presentation in my Style class on the writer M.F.K. Fisher, who wrote about food and the experience of eating in a way that deeply resonated with me. I hadn't heard of her before, but I'm now planning to read more of her work as soon as I have the chance, which may not be until this summer.

The class discussion ranged all over the topic of food, and eventually the subject turned to the original series of Iron Chef. At the time I classed it among the many interesting television shows that I might someday check out if I spot the DVDs in the library, but that changed when one of my classmates passed along this clip.

Of course I had to watch the next part, which led to watching the whole episode, and it went downhill from there.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sad Day

I read Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace for the first time last night, and then I found out about his death this afternoon. I fell in love with the way that Williams debunked the invented rules that grammarians use to bludgeon writers and rant about the death of the English language. I don't agree with everything he said, but his book is the first style manual I've ever read that I would have no qualms about suggesting to others.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Leap Day

Yesterday was Leap Day (2/29), and when a day comes along so rarely it deserves a bit of reflection (as pointed out by my friend Britannie). This was my sixth Leap Day (fourth that I was old enough to remember), and I spent the day basking in the 60° sunny weather and the evening having wine and brie with brilliant people at a house reading of poetry and fiction.

That's quite the contrast from the previous Leap Day in 2004, which I spent watching Leeds United struggle valiantly before losing at home to Liverpool on their way toward relegation in a tragic rise and fall from which they have still not recovered (they were relegated again last season and are currently laboring under a 15 point penalty).

It was my first time watching a live Premiership match, and I had a blast even though they lost. The atmosphere in the stadium for the entire match was charged with energy to a degree that I've rarely seen in American sports.

I think the idea of only having a birthday once every four years is fascinating, and someday I hope to make friends with someone who was born on a Leap Day so I can talk to them about it.