Don’t take your love to town

Kenny Rogers did it well before, but there’s something about the melancholy rockabilly style of Cake that makes mournful songs just heartbreaking.  I just listened (while hanging drywall) to their cover of “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”

  • Ruby seems like a pretty big jerk in the early part of the song, but when he says this line, my heart just cracks open: “I’ve heard them say it won’t be long until I’m not around.”
  • Of course, then he says he’d kill her if he had a chance, so there’s that.
  • I’m a little surprised Cake didn’t shift the line “that crazy Asian war” to “Arab war,” as is their wont.  I’m still fond of the change to “I Will Survive” in which they say “I should have changed that fucking lock, I should have made you leave the key.”  I’m pretty sure Gloria Gainer didn’t say fucking.

Voices of Our Time

Collected Radio Interviews by Studs Turkel

A delightful collection with lots of bits of wisdom and heart.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Nearly every interview had pieces I would have liked to share, so I just grabbed things from the first three interviews.

1. Pete Seeger on folk songs, which sounds to me like a discussion of copyright. (Pete Seeger and Studs Turkel clip)

2. Dorothy Parker on the beats.  I find this one particularly funny because we’re having a Beat Generation celebration next year at Columbia.  ( Dorothy Parker and Studs Turkel clip )

3. Alan Lomax on assembling world music.  I just like his phrase at the end. ( Alan Lomax and Studs Turkel clip )

I just realized…

The projected due date for the new Riley is August 8th, which would make his birthday 8/8/08. Check this out:

In the Greek mysteries, the number 888 represented the “Higher Mind.” The Greek variation of “Jesus,” “Iesous,” equals 888. (link)

The symbolism of the number eight: starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. (link)

On one hand, I love the idea of the higher mind being embedded in my child’s birthday. On the other hand, it makes me think we’d be in danger if a bunch of Religious folks intent on fighting the coming antichrist get wind of this. Perhaps we’ll induce on the 7th.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome

1947. Tracy faces off against a bank robbing gang who has a secret formula that freezes people immobile for about 15 minutes. A moderately entertaining story made great by the fabulous mise-en-scene and characterizations. I’m enjoying these movies more by the minute. Here are a few screenshots and some commentary.
The Hangman's Knot

Once again, a seedy bar in Dick Tracy land has an awesome name. This time, it’s The Hangman’s Knot, and unlike The Dripping Dagger, The Hangman’s Knot has an actual knot hanging outside which you can see in the shadows at the upper right of the image below.

The Hangman's Knot 2

The villains’ factory hideout also has an awesome name: Wood Plastics Inc.

Wood Plastics Inc

My favorite minor character in the film (despite the winning names of the physicist Dr. I.M. Learned and the taxidermist named Stuffum) is the lackey with the sinister, Peter Lorre lilt and the Coke Bottle glasses.  He ends up being Gruesome’s helper by the very fact that he’s the only one Gruesome doesn’t kill.  When we first saw him, I paused the movie and asked Jenny if he reminded her of anyone.  Turns out we both thought he looked like the sinister Nazi torturer guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The villain from Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome The villain from Raiders of the Lost Ark

In this shot, he’s just learned (to his horror) that he’s supposed to burn the comatose henchman, Melody, in the incinerator.  As with many of the shots containing this gentleman, I’m mesmerized by the light twinkling in his Coke Bottle glasses.

Not Melody Too!

As usual,  Pat Patton, Dick’s “assistant,” gets the worst of it. Like the more bumbling Watsons, Patton regularly gets knocked out (though only once in this epidose), overpowered by the villains, and looks the fool.  In this scene, he’s looking for the villain in a taxidermist’s shop and he backs into a stuffed gorilla.  I don’t really want to know why a taxidermist in Chicago has a gorilla to stuff, but there it is.  In case you’re wondering, after Pat recovers from the Gorilla attack, Gruesome overpowers him with a tiger-skin rug.

Pat Patton backs into a gorilla

When Melody abandons his piano to go on a crime spree with his buddy Gruesome, his boss scowls.  Now that’s the kind of bit player I like to see.  Check out those eyebrows!

Crusty Bar Owner

The filmmakers made a lot of the fact that they had Boris Karloff playing Gruesome.  He lurches around and scowls a lot.  They give him lots of cool portraits, including this one in which he’s frozen.

Karloff as a Corpse

Incinerators are ALWAYS cool.  Two other movies I enjoy that have incinerators (or corpse-size furnaces): Grosse Point Blank, Blood Simple.


Worth my thirty-eight cents:

There’s lots of stuff in this movie worth it, but I’d put my seal of approval on Tess’ identification of one of the bank robbers.  Of course, Tess was in the bank when it was robbed and, since she was sealed in a phone booth, did not breathe any of the freeze gas.  When they captured one of the robbers (after Pat shot out their tire and made them crash into a tree), she’s brought in to identify him.  She gives a positive I.D. — “Yes, I’m sure that’s one of them.” — despite the fact that his face is wrapped like a mummy’s.

Tess makes a positive I.D.

And we’re off! Again.

Summer plans (work):

  1. Teach my online courses
  2. Continue the process of getting my detective article published
  3. Finish the prospectus on my detective book
  4. Finish the syllabus for my detective class

Summer plans (home & family):

  1. Go to the pool with Avery
  2. Do some more home improvement stuff
  3. Camp
  4. Welcome the new Riley in early August

My Socks are White

With my in-laws visiting this weekend, they had the delightful idea to go to a White Sox game, so we picked up tickets and went to see the Sox play the L.A. Angels. It was a pretty fun game. Here are my highlights:

  1. The stadium itself. I like lots of things about Cellular field. It looks like a baseball stadium should look, to me.
    Sunset over Cellular Field
    Having seen games exclusively at the Metrodome when I was a kid, seeing games outdoors kicks ass. I love the fireworks that go off when there’s a homerun or the Sox win. I don’t like paying $4 for a bottled water, but that’s to be expected. I find the batters-eyes on the banner-screens haunting and creepy.
    On Our Way to Cellular Field
  2. The game itself. Unlike the last snorer I attended, this game had some tense moments, as the Angels threatened to take the lead or get on base and the crowd waited with bated breath.
    The game tied at 2/2 at the bottom of the ninth, only to see Quentin somebody (I’ve decided not to go look up anyone’s names for this post) hit a homerun to win it. What a perfect way to end the game.
  3. The crowd. Last time, Jared and I sat among a relatively calm group of folks. Perhaps it was because we were at an afternoon game. This time, though, the crowd around us was boistrous and jubilant.
    Dancing in anticipation
    They got drunk. They partied. It was oodles of fun. We rose to our feet to watch the two White Sox homeruns fall into the stands. We cheered on the giant inflatable woman that bounced around the crowd until security got it; then we booed security for getting it.
  4. The Memorial Day stuff. Because this game took place Memorial Day weekend, they had lots of service men and women featured and discussed, they had military themed games, and a general “let’s remember and respect our fallen” theme. It worked well, weaving together America’s two national pastimes (baseball and war). I snark, but the really were some touching, as when a soldier who was the only surviving member of a humvee attacked in Iraq threw out the first pitch from his wheelchair. The roar the crowd gave this man and the look of joy on his face as he raised his cap to us were both very touching.
    After the Star Spangled Banner, they released a whole shitload of balloons.
  5. The Hecklers. These two guys in front of us epitomized, for me, the stereotypical rowdy baseball fans. One of them kept taunting the left fielder for the Angels, hollering “Daaaa-reeeennn! You suck!”
    I was reminded of the Simpsons episode when Bart and Lisa chanted “Daarrrr-yylll” over and over. At one point, security came and threatened to kick them out, because they were being too rowdy, but they talked their way back in, I guess. At the end of the game, they hugged.
  6. Photoshopped ads. On the way home, we were looking at the CTA ads for the White Sox and I thought they looked a bit photoshopped. Careful study of the shadows shows that I’m right. That’s right, I rule.
    Photoshopped White Sox Ad
    Notice the shadows on the woman to the left of the guy with the side or the guy with the white Chicago shirt above and to the right of the guy with the sign. In both, the sun is in front of the person, casting a shadow back onto their face or chest. The guy with the sign, however, is backlit. His head and neck cast a shadow down onto the front of his shirt.

Avery enjoys a lemon

My brother in law shot this little video on his camera phone about a year ago. It’s Avery’s first encounter with a lemon.


Music on the backburner, but I give you comments anyhow, with multimedia!

  • 2: Fatboy Slim – I always enjoy this music a lot, but he uses a lot of curse words. Which is annoying because I don’t generally think of his music as music I should be wary of playing near little ears, but then this song comes on (Fatboy Slim clip NSFW ) and I wonder, is the curse word here an adjective or, much more provocatively, a verb?
  • Filter (1 song): One of my favorite one hit wonders ever — hey man, nice shot. Wikipedia tells me it’s about Bud Dwyer’s infamous on-television suicide. Interesting.
  • 2: Five for Fighting – The Michael Jordan song is cool and weird. (Michael Jordan clip)
  • 3: Flogging Molly – my go to band for the last year or so. I love these guys, especially “Screaming at the Wailing Wall.” It makes me feel kinda skanky that I found my first disc of theirs on an endcap at Best Buy.
  • 1: Franz Ferdinand – Like eating a Bit O Honey candy bar. Really good when you’re in the mood. Looks disgusting when you’re not. “In the Matinee” delights me everytime though. “You take your white finger / Slide the nail under the top and bottom buttons of my blazer.” I presume the adjective here is meant to highlight the contrast of the finger against the dark fabric of the blazer, but I also ponder the possibility that her/his other fingers are not white.
  • 3: Gaelic Storm – another delightful band. Their jaunty reels and Irish folk songs make me want to riverdance. My favorite thing about celtic music is the regular tradition of mixing music you wrote in with standards from the tradition. Thus, I have three or four versions of “Mary Mac.”
  • 2: Garbage – I didn’t like this band when I heard them on the radio regularly. A friend passed me these discs a year or so ago and now I like them quite a bit.
  • 1: Gnarls Barkley – These guys have too much press to really be cool any more, but I like ’em anyhow. The theramin “crazy” videos on YouTube delight me.
    I may raise my cool factor by going to buy the second album, which got panned so buying it is an act of faith in the band: I will understand the music in a way the critics didn’t, because I have true vision. I am a visionary. I can consume ANYTHING.
  • 1: Grandmaster Flash – I got this album when I was researching the STYLE tag and found out that they had a Peter Gunn cover called Style. Delightful.
  • 2: Great Big Sea – Weird synchronicity: my buddy Nate gave me a mix CD that had the Road Rage version of “When I’m Up” on it, and I loved that song but had no idea who sung it. Then, riding with Phil in his truck, he put in this cool CD that started with a jaunty tune about riding donkeys (Donkey Riding clip) and I said, “Hey, this album’s pretty cool.” Then “When I’m Up” played and I bought the CD within days.
  • 2: Green Day – American Idiot is a very good album. I don’t want to be an American idiot.
  • 1: Greg Brown – Has a very cool, deep voice and excellent guitar skills. His song “China” is fantastic. Alas, I don’t have that song — my mom does though.
  • 1: Helmet – One of those 12 CDs for a penny deals made this album worth buying to get the song “Unsung,” whose guitar riff I still thrill at. (Helmet Unsung clip ) Once the lyrics start, the song is okay. But that intro — c’mon, you want to punch somebody, right?
  • 1: Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls – a delightful rockabilly album. One of the few doubles I found between my music collection and my dad’s.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

Cover image from The Confessions of Arsene Lupinby Maurice LeBlanc; read by various

With grading finished and my intellectual activity relegated, for the next few days, to the backburner, I’m doing some home excavation.  We’ve gutted the bathroom and are putting in an exhaust fan, new drywall, new light fixtures, new vanity and mirror/cabinet.  As such, I have plenty of time to audiobook it.  So I just finished reading The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, a delightful collection of stories about France’s “national criminal” somewhat in the vain of The Scarlet Pimpernel, only he steals jewels and taunts his victims rather than stealing French nobles from the angry mob.

The book has lots to it, including at a couple interesting connections with my detective studies.  (I’ve placed several relevant quotes below the fold, for folks who’re interested.)

  1. In a couple spots, the book refers to the Bertillon system, a French protocol for documenting the physical characteristics of prisoners, so they can be positively identified later despite attempts at disguise.  Lupin regularly makes a mockery of this system, eluding the numbers and so on.  But the book also highlights a key idea from Robert Ray’s “Snapshots” essay, that photographs actually destabilize this process rather than enhancing it.  The Gentleman Burglar is able to evade the system through clever disguises because the photographs all “resemble” him, but not enough to be sure.  He also reveals several ways to disrupt his appearance so much that his nemesis doesn’t recognize him at one point.

    Along these same lines, at one point the story develops an analogy for the dangers of photography and their secret smuggling of disruptive details by having Lupin hide the jewels and money from a major theft inside the camera he’s carrying.

  2. Obvious connections with two literary detectives.  First, Poe’s Parisian detective is named “Dupin,” and the rise of a criminal named “Lupin” might just be coincidence, or it might be a magnificent rhyme.  Second, Sherlock Holmes shows up in the Lupin stories.  In the first one, he appears as Sherlock Holmes.  In later stories, because of protest from Doyle, he appears as “Herlock Sholmes,” apparently.

The counterpoint between Holmes and Lupin seems key here.  Both interface directly with photography, with Holmes performing the function of the classic detective story, to reinforce law and order, and also shoring up a rational worldview by reading the details that photographs reproduce in abundance.  Lupin does the opposite: using his superior intellect and attention to detail, he performs daring acts of theft and authority-taunting.  I’m not sure about how it connects yet, but Arsene Lupin seems an important figure in figuring out story of the detective and the emergence of electracy.

I read this book as a librivox recording.  It was pretty good, with several folks I’ve heard before making appearances.  Good work, everyone!

Below are some interesting quotes from the book.

Continue reading The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

The Innocent Man

by John Grisham; read by Craig Wasson

Grisham’s nonfiction account of the unjust prosecution of Ron Wilkenson and Dennis Fritz is pretty compelling and very good story telling. It makes one unbelievably leery about the incompetence that can result in amazingly bad justice. Hearing about the utter lack of evidence on which these men were convicted shocks me to the core and at the heart, I wonder how the juries could possibly have convicted the men.

Also exposed in the film audio book is the awful neglect indigent defendants have in our judicial system. Since all attorneys, expert witnesses, and everything else involved are so expensive, it’s pretty much impossible for people with public defenders to get anything near the resources they should have. In Wilkenson’s and Fritz’s case, the single biggest factor in the non-existent evidence against them was the “hair expert,” who testified that the hairs were “microscopically consistent” with the men. He left out the part about them being just as “microscopically consistent” as a whole lot of other folks.

The book is very one-sided, though. It gives no doubt, from the very beginning, who the actual villain was. I’m not sure this is the best way to present the story. It’s hard to see whether the prosecutors were really acting in as much bad faith as Grisham suggests when the reader knows far more than the prosecuters did, from the get-go.


Other people celebrate post numbers like 1000.  Not me, I’m celebrating 777.  Please note, this posts reflects on having posted 777 posts, it is, itself, number 778.

Seven posts I’m proud of

Seven things I like about blogging

  • Trying out my ideas in public.
  • Keeping track of stuff I read and see.  Also, by making a habit of posting commentary on my media intake, I’m forcing both a cataloging, a process of explicating thinking about these texts, and providing content for your ever-ravenous readers.
  • Comments from other bloggers.
  • Thinking of something really cool to blog.  When I’ve got my camera with me and I’m in a certain mood, I take lots of pictures because I’m channeling photographers.  Since I try to post something every day here, I’m also channeling bloggers.
  • Fiddling with the sidebar (particularly adding more stuff to it).
  • Mixing the personal, the anecdotal, the analytic, the pedagogical, and the superfluous.
  • Posting something I think is both hilarious and stupid.

Seven things I’m planning to post about in the future:

  • A Youtube video explaining how to thread an Emdeko sewing machine.
  • The setup of Avery’s new room and the rebuilding of the bathroom.
  • My detective class
  • My regular stuff: Game Journal (Half-Life 2), Books I read (Krakatoa), Audio books (The Innocent Man), Music (Fatboy Slim to Greg Brown), Movies (Reno 911! or the new Indy movie)
  • The new arrival (eta August 8th)
  • My next batch of truffles (‘smores)
  • The flotsam that drifts across my transom.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

On finishing grading

Finish Line image by Karen Withak

I crossed the finish line, flags waving and emails sent. I’ll upload the grades on Friday, but all the grading is done. I generally enjoy writing comments and responding to student project, but I really dislike grading. As I teach more, I’ve wavered quite a bit in what I think about grading, but I tend to think it should just go. Gone.

Ken Bain’s What The Best College Teachers Do has a long section on grading. Bain suggests that grading at its best serves as a communication tool between teacher and student. He also explores some studies that consider grading often gets in the way of developing a perspective of learning among students.

…they have consistently found that most extrinsic motivators damage intrinsic motivation. That have also found that if they use “verbal reinforcement and positive feedback”–in other words, encouragement or praise–they can stimulate interest, or at least keep it from evaporating. (33)

If external motivation becomes the driving force behind the student’s desire to learn, the internal motivation wears away and then, when the student is no longer a student, the motivation isn’t there either. I know there’s a vast body of stuff written on this that I haven’t read yet, so I’ve still got some research to do. That said, here is one grading plan I’m considering using after I get tenure.

No grading at all. James Kincaid, author of Annoying the Victorians, apparently just gives everyone As regardless of what they do. I’m not sure if I’m willing to go this far, but perhaps another version of it would be like this:

“I will be giving you lots of feedback on your work in this class, but letter grades are not part of the evaluation mode. Thus, everyone who stays enrolled until the end of the semester gets a C automatically. Students who attend class regularly and turn in all the projects for the course earns an A automatically.”

The goal here would be to let me concentrate on giving comments and not grades. I would only keep track of whether projects were turned in or not. It puts the burden for motivation on our class, not on the grade. It also allows the students who literally don’t want to be there to just get the gentleperson’s C and never come back.

What grading methods do y’all use? Does anyone in my readership actively subvert the grading system? Do you worry about “grade inflation”? Should you?

Two down, one to go

Hour One to Go by Thomas23

I finished my ICW grading and emailed the students.  Only my New Media grading stands between me and the end of the semester.  And I’ll finish that tomorrow!

Indescretions of Archie

by P. G. Wodehouse; read by Mark Nelson, a librivox recording

Yet another highly amusing audiobook version of Wodehouse from Mr. Nelson.  The main character of this book features the flightiness of Bertie and the cleverness / luck of Jeeves.  As usual, the dialogue is just cracking.  Here are a couple of my favorite bits:

As always, Mark Nelson does a great job with this librivox recording.  Download and enjoy. Today.  You blighters.

…but then I read Brian’s post

I was going to write something about The Office season finale…

In this compressed space, where character development felt more like shorthand, the cast really ended up carrying a lot of the load, and special mention should be made of those supporting actors who are sometimes overshadowed by the Pam-Jim-Michael triumverate: B.J. Novak, who makes Ryan both deeply dislikeable and strangely sympathetic (“Night Out” is particularly good at reminding us of how Ryan’s ego and ambition are intertwined with his immaturity and vulnerability, like a little kid in grown-up clothes); Leslie David Baker, whose curmudgeonly Stanley dodges stereotypes and quietly offers a rich portrait of race, professionalism and frustration in the workplace; Angela Kinsey’s terrifyingly officious Angela, whose busybodyness never quite conceals the sense of pain underneath; and most of all, the remarkable Melora Hardin, who takes the seemingly thankless role of Jan and makes her the show’s most fascinating character, one whose combination of fragility and entitlement makes her impossible to have a settled response to. (link)

That man needs to put together an edited collection so I can get an essay in it and have my writing benefit from the warm glow that his gives off.  Like I did at SCMS during his glorious meditation on Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows.