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Tweets from 2015-04-19 to 2015-04-25

2014 in Review: Music

This is the hardest review post to write, as I often don’t pay strict attention to the music I ingest, even as I’m listening to it.  Nonetheless, here are some notes about music this year.

Pokey LaFarge
Pokey LaFarge by Bill Streeter (cc-licensed)

New albums (by month acquired):

  • The White Stripes, The White Stripes
  • Passenger, All the Little Lights
  • Katy Perry, Prism
  • Pete Seeger, American Favorite Ballads (five songs a month)
  • Jonathan Coulton, Code Monkey Save World
  • Cheap Trick, The Essential Cheap Trick
  • Greg Brown, Hymns to What is Left
  • fun., Aim and Ignite
  • The Langer’s Ball, Ships are Sailing
  • Missy Higgins, The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle
  • Reel Big Fish, Cheer Up!
  • Young Statues, Young Statues
  • Tim Minchin, Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra
  • The Pogues, Hell’s Ditch
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!
  • John Halloway, In Celebration: 25 Years of Naxos
  • Great Big Sea, Fortune’s Favour
  • Gaelic Storm, Chicken Boxer
  • The Wayfarers, Music from Around the World – Australia
  • Paul and Storm, Ball Pit
  • Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
  • Dropkick Murphys, Signed and Sealed in Blood
  • Primus, Pork Soda
  • J. Mascis, Tied to a Star
  • Garfunkel and Oates, Music Songs
  • Pokey LaFarge, Riverboat Soul
  • u2, Songs of Innocence
  • The Mountain Goats, The Coroner’s Gambit
  • The Real McKenzies, Off the Leash
  • Various collections and compilations

Notable songs:

  • Passenger, “The Wrong Direction”
  • Avicii, “Hey Brother”
  • fun. “Walking the Dog”
  • The Langer’s Ball, “The Titanic”
  • Missy Higgins, “Hello Hello”
  • Reel Big Fish, “A Little Doubt Goes a Long Way”
  • Bearcat, “The Nothing”
  • Tim Minchin, “Thank You God”
  • The Pogues, “Rain Street”
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “My Heart Will Go On”
  • The Taxpayers, “Medicines”
  • Great Big Sea, “Oh Yeah”
  • Gaelic Storm, “My Lucky Day”
  • Paul and Storm, “Write Like the Wind”
  • Tom Waits, “Big Black Mariah”
  • Dropkick Murphys, “Don’t Tear Us Apart”
  • Pokey LaFarge, “La La Blues”
  • The Real McKenzies, “Old Becomes New”

Most played:  “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore.  “I’m gonna take your grandpa’s style”  is still hilarious.

My Jam of the Year: “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” by The Toasters




Tweets from 2013-12-08 to 2013-12-14

What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas deserves the accolades that have been heaped upon it.  It’s well-written, compelling, bewildering, and entertaining.  The postmodern novel is written like a Russian nesting doll, with each story wrapping around the one in-between it, with through lines of theme and symbol wound into each story.  At the same time, the book is dense and difficult to find sense or obvious meaning in these through-lines.

Most compelling was the skill with which Mitchell adopts different voices and writing styles to accommodate the vast time and place differences in his stories.  The book is a marvel for this reason alone, glorious prose aside.

This book has been written about enough that I won’t belabor the issue with another review.  Instead, two quotes I like.

“I we believe that humanity my transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races and creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable, & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will comet o pass.  I am not deceived.  It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.” (508)

“Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave.  Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction–in short, belief–grows ever more “truer.” The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming and ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/ expose as fraudulent.”  (394)

Worth a read, but a long one (that was, for me, difficult to get into).

Board games and cavemen

Over the weekend, I saw two movies with my kids, one an old favorite, the other a new film in theatre.  Here, then, is my double review of Jumanji and The Croods.



The Croods

The Croods

In case you haven’t seen the films, here’s a brief summary.  Jumanji tells the story of a magical board game that releases violent and mischievous denizens of the jungle around the people playing the game.  When one of them finishes the game, everything will go back to normal.  The players are two pairs of children, one who began the game in 1968 and the other who began in 1991.  The Croods follows the adventures of a family of cavemen (Neanderthals?) driven from their cave by some sort of massive tectonic disruption.  They find help in “Guy,” a modern-looking human (Cro-magnon?) who helps them learn to enjoy the world and adventure their way across the land ahead of the disaster.  It’s not a great movie, but cute enough.

A few thoughts about both films:

  • Though these are ensemble casts, both films have an adult man as one of the central figures (perhaps even the crux of the narrative).  Both are played by men whose star was higher in the 1990s than it is now (Robin Williams in Jumanji and Grug in The Croods).
  • Both films feature deadly plants: The Croods has a field of sentient meat-eating flowers, Jumanji features vines with hungry yellow pods.  Also: both have mischievous monkeys.
  • Neither film passes the Bechdel test.  The Croods gets as far as two women having a conversation without a man, but I believe they spend it talking about Cage’s character.
  • Both films hinge the emotional development of these men on fatherhood.  Grug has to learn to shift from his primary role as protector and worry-wart into the father of an adult child free to make mistakes. Allan, the boy who spends decades in the Jungle, has to face his own unresolved issues with his father and learn to survive in the real world.  And in case the father issues weren’t clear enough in the story, the same actor plays the hunter Van Pelt and Allan’s stern father (he also played J. Bruce Ismay in Titanic.
  • The Jungle also becomes a stand-in for a wild, untamed place of both wonder and danger in both films, though there are far more dangers in the Jumanji jungle.

All in all, Jumanji holds up pretty well, with its kid-centric adventure story keeping the Robin Williams antics to a minimum and its terrible CGI looking only sort-of bad.  The Croods would be a fine movie to rent–the finale was actually very touching to me as a father–but probably not worth theater prices unless you’re also looking for an outing on a cloudy/cold day (like I was).

2012-10-07 Tweets

  • "Discussions about acceptance can help get our culture back to the basics – compassion." @UnityTempleUUC #
  • Our 6yo girl asks why the Chippendales on the #amazingrace dance without their shirts on. We explain that "adults are silly." #
  • @columbophile #columboday asks "What's your fav #columbo ep?" Mine is "Swan Song" with Johnny Cash. Here are my top 5: in reply to columbophile #
  • @columbophile I love seeing behind the mask. When #Columbo helps the Mexican detective, we get a glimpse of how the Lieutenant thinks. in reply to columbophile #
  • #TheBigSleep "I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it." Page 3. #
  • Super excited for #topsswim Team Red mini-meet today. Go, swimmers, go! #
  • I briefly held an apple in my mouth to free my hands as I walked. I realized that if I dropped dead right then, I'd look like a luau dinner. #
  • @briancroxall just the fire of knowledge. in reply to briancroxall #
  • "Everything you dream of is true. The baby's asleep in the shoe." It's good to have Tom Waits back in my monthly play list. #
  • As much as I believe lecturing to be ancillary to my main role as college instructor, I sure love doing it when I get on a roll. #
  • Latest ep of international waters makes me want to read HELLO GOODBYe HELLO. #
  • Great video about a college censoring a "free speech wall." #
  • Realized that I accidentally spoiled one of the short stories my Det fic students read for today. Oops! #
  • Holy cow, amazing bit of radio about ethics, truth, and the nature of investigation on @RadioLab this week. Great work! #
  • Just overheard two dudes on the train talking about the Harry Potter alt soundtrack, "Wizard People." Brings back memories. #
  • @forestparkreads "A great library provides. It is enmeshed in the life of a community in a way that makes it indispensable." FPPL to a T. in reply to forestparkreads #
  • Comparing their knowledge of the world, Avery says she "studies science of lots of leaves." Ian replies that he "scientifics all the trees." #
  • Just got the new chris ware box/book and am about to hear him speak. Yay! @UnityTempleUUC #comics #
  • Holy Cow. The Movie 43 trailer is insane. Gross. Uncalled for. Hilarious. This generation's Kentucky Fried Movie. #
  • "Little Talks" is good, but "King and Lionheart" is better. Listen to it, people. #OfMonstersAndMen #
  • Lunch at Five Guys. Mmmmmm. #
  • "@donttrythis: EXCITED for Sunday's premiere of @MythBusters featuring the @TitanicMovie?" Darn right I am! #
  • The unexpected end of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. #
  • How does Barack Obama find time to govern in between the constant flow of tweets? I bet after an hour he tweets to keep up his Klout score. #
  • Off to Fall Family Fun Festival at Triton for Daddy/Finn quality time. Meanwhile, Avery and Jenny attend the first swim meet of the season. #
  • At the halloween store, Avery said the talking standup zombies were so scary they made her have to go to the bathroom. #
  • NDG > DW #

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Artisanal … everything

On the always-awesome Judge John Hodgman podcast, his Honor often uses the adjective artisanal to send up the hipster DIY crafty local home-made home-brewed grow local trend that results in all sorts of strange representations of craft as quality.

When Alan Turing proposed the test to determine if a machine is intelligent, he suggested that if a judge cannot reliably tell the machine from a human, the machine has passed the test for intelligence.

On his remarkable photographs-of-toys Flickr stream, J. D. Hancock recently posted this remarkable Human Torch picture:

"Universal Human Torch" by JD Hancock

“Universal Human Torch” by JD Hancock (cc-licensed)

Below it, he described his process: This image is straight out of the camera: no tweaking, no color processing, no cropping, no nothing.

I’ve seen these proclamations at craft fairs, photographers who claim their photos are entirely analog: shot on film, printed in a dark room, framed by, uh, human hands.  And while those declarations, like the photo above, make me admire the skill it took to make the product, should it really make a difference in the product itself?

It’s long been clear that Benjamin was wrong when he said mass-produced commodity art couldn’t have an aura.  Witness the vast market for early printings, for mint condition objects, for the process of having seen it.  I saw Titanic in a test screening (the first test screening, actually) and lay claim to that movie a little bit more than can someone else.  Others attach experiences and stories to the objects they own, as with my DVD copy of The Wedding Singer, the movie I watched over the phone with Jenny many times while we were dating long distance.  There are innumerable jokes about how hipsters “liked X before it was cool.”

So in claiming to have produced this photo in the raw, Hancock claims a mastery of the art form that someone who did post-processing would not be able to claim.  But why not?  Wouldn’t a manipulated image dazzle my eyes just as brilliantly?  Perhaps moreso.

At the same time, I enjoy the meta-conversation about the production of the art we enjoy. On the Road still appeals to people because it was typed on a single long scroll.  The fact that they don’t read it on the scroll or that Kerouac may have written earlier drafts, belying the impromptu notion implied by the single scroll doesn’t seem to diminish the mythos surrounding it.

In some ways, that’s what the academic study of art is all about– the explicit layering of meaning around the texts we love.

2012-06-17 Tweets

  • 760 words today. Tough slog, but it's a monday. #750words #
  • Boy, one day driving downtown during rush hour makes me glad I ride the train most days. #TrafficSucks #
  • Driving back through the city, two diff ppl sped up rather than let me merge properly. Thanks, assholes. #
  • 793 words this morning. Not bad. Good stuff, but I'm not sure if it will be better to move into another chapter. #750words #
  • From Bryson's SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING: There once were guinea pigs the size of rhinos, and rhinos the size of two-story houses. #
  • Singing PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON tonight, I sang with such pathos that Finn started stroking my arm when Jackie Paper stopped visiting Puff. #
  • Pop quiz: Josh Charles plays brother to an actress who later plays his love interest in a different project. Name both. #
  • 863 words this morning. This chapter is resisting my attempts to bring it to a close. #750words #
  • Hey Twitter: How long should I wait to write about a difficult experience with a student in a class? Can I ever write about it? #
  • First essay due from online writing class today. Wading into grading. #
  • @mark_bousquet I'd love a PDF (epub even better) of Gunfighter Gothic. Can I Paypal you a buck? I dislike Amazon DRM. #
  • Started Penn and Teller's BS series last night. Oh man, it's great! #
  • He who sits between an air conditioner and a roof-ceiling wall will perspire unevenly. #OneSweatyArmpitToRuleThemAll #
  • Despite the fact that he died on TITANIC, I can't help but think Maj. Archibald Butt had a funny name. #
  • Five hours in the van? Culvers time. #

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2012-04-22 Tweets

  • Back from #pcaaca on a trip to the arboretum. Looks like rain might cut it short. Damn you, Mother Nature! #
  • Have I mentioned that I love to eat at chicken and waffles? #
  • Finn says to Grandma re 'Hush Little Baby' — "I wish I could sing that to you when you are little." #kids #cute #lullabies #
  • Finn sings "Home on the Range" to us, says "Seldom is heard, a susquoragioning word, and the skies are not cloudy all DAY!." #lullabies #
  • @wisebeck "Re: Rhetoric of Neanderthals" That Ooog, he have full bearskin tunic and big cave. Good Ethos. in reply to wisebeck #
  • Wind so strong today, I expect to see Mary Poppins float down and heckle me to go fly a kite. #gusty #
  • Yesterday it was windy, today I'm wishing I'd brought a stocking cap. 46 degrees is March weather, people. #getItTogetherWeatherGods #
  • Every day, I eject my ipod, put it in my pocket, click "play." Instead of the podcast I was listening to, it always starts "Dancing Queen." #
  • The #protip for getting your finicky three year old to eat asparagus? Creamy dijon mustard sauce. Good thinkin', Grandma! #
  • Columbo on his own marksmanship: "If I were standing on a dock, I couldn't hit the water." #oldschool #
  • Patrick McGoohan goofs on himself a bit in this episode of Columbo–he plays a spy who regularly says "Be seeing you!" #HesAManNotANumber #
  • @mozservices Sync saying "Unknown error" #
  • Watching History Channel Titanic special I taped last week; 90 seconds after each commercial break is summary. UGH. Enjoyable, otherwise. #
  • Rockin' the wind room at Dupage county children's museum. #
  • Lady at the museum hummed the "da da da" sequence from the Adam West Batman incorrectly and I had to work hard not to correct her. #imanerd #

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2012-04-15 Tweets

  • Been putting something off? Get on it. This will help. #
  • Off to Boston for #PCAACA12 yeah! #
  • As I sit on the plane just before takeoff, I ponder whether to make Ian Michael Black's "Banana Noises" during the flight. #PCAACA12 #
  • "@johndan Twitter discovers Titanic wasn't just a movie:" ALL young people discover this, only SOME know to keep quiet. #
  • PCA friends: sign at the conference indicates #pcaaca as the official hash tag. Enjoy it. And come see us at the info desk starting at 12pm. #
  • @dancpharmd Let the good half win! in reply to dancpharmd #
  • Another great day at #pcaaca Here's hoping tomorrow is just as good. Hey folks! Tell us one excellent moment from your day. #
  • Overheard in the bar at #pcaaca "Thank God for bluray review websites." #
  • Overheard in the elevator: "On the other hand, my father had prostate cancer and he never did anything about it." #
  • Last day of #pcaaca makes me sad. Good conference, good colleagues, good ideas. Enjoy those last panels, folks! #
  • About to go into the theater to watch Titanic on the 100th anniversary. #nerdingout #
  • Boston is just as busy a 1am as at 9pm. #
  • @CultPopCulture roger that! see y'all next year! #pcaaca in reply to CultPopCulture #

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14 April

Morbid, Respectful, both, neither?

Morbid, Respectful, both, neither?

So if you follow this site much at all, you know I’m a bit of Titanic buff, a Titaniac to use the phrase I first heard from my grad school friend Megan Norcia.

In case you’d forgotten, here are some bits of writing I’ve done about the big ship.

So my question is this: should I make an effort to see Titanic 3d, particularly on 14 April, the actual 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking?  Part of me feels that it’s a gruesome choice, slightly seedy because the film is a melodramatic depiction of a tragedy.  But being a Titanic buff is, in itself, slightly seedy, no?

Gentle readers, what do you think?

Additional considerations: I’ll be in Boston for an academic conference, so seeing the movie will likely mean forgoing academic comeraderie and networking in favor of a movie.  I’m also likely to make my next academic book project one about the titanic, so there’s a scholarly aspect to it as well.

When I look at this house, I see my life’s work (series 1 and 2)

Downton Abbey, series one

Downton Abbey, series one

We recently watched this BBC Masterpiece series on Netflix and boy, oh boy, was it good.  The series follows the ups and downs of the household living at the eponymous manor.  On one side of the house, we have Lord Grantham, his Wife, and their three daughters, along with a few hang-on gentry.  On the other side are the servants, who outnumber the family and outdo them in intrigue and excitement.

  • Good writing creates complex characters about whom we’re divided, something present in Downton Abbey in spades.  Several of the main characters–mostly the gentry, now that I think on it–have divided motives and secret actions that make them a joy to watch.  Lord Grantham is a difficult character to understand, as his allegiance to the Abbey in the early episodes seems contrary to what we’d expect from his allegiance to his daughter.  Mary Grantham stands out as the second most complex character–while she starts the show quite unsympathetic and stuck up, she quickly evolves into a more complex figure, IMO.
  • At the same time, the show revels in setting up oppositions: the two matriarchs face off against one another, each with her own blind spots and prejudices.  We also have the conflict between the footman Thomas and the valet Bates, and we mustn’t forget the scheming Ms. O’Brien–Lady Grantham’s personal maid–who schemes like Iago, though her vicious mask slips a little in the last episode of the series.
  • One of my favorite professors from my college years once said that he enjoys Henry James novels because they seethe with undercurrents–each conversation has as many unsaid words and meanings as it does words on the page.  This kind of subtext resonates in Downton Abbey as a clear marker of Victorian England and the English gentry, which puts propriety above all, thus building numerous codes that mask the sniping and competition that roils through many scenes.
  • We’re also reminded of the rigid class structure at work in England of this era.  People at every level of the house are concerned with their position and station, whether it be a housemaid seeking to better herself by becoming a secretary, a professional man suddenly elevated to be heir to a title and large estate, or the daughter of a Lord lamenting her potential ruin because of scandal.  We’re reminded how subtle such things are in the United States, and how fluid our boundaries are compared to days past.
  • If you still aren’t convinced to check out Downton Abbey, you must watch it for the glorious Maggie Smith, an actress without peer who can wield sugar as well as salt.  Sure, you enjoyed her turn as Prof. McGonnigal in Harry Potter and her turn as Rose’s mother in Titanic, but it doesn’t get better than her wicked tongue and bold defense of her family in this show.  When one person responds to an insult by saying “I take that as a complement,” she replies, “Then I must have said it wrong.”

Downton Abbey is a well-written show with great end-of-episode reveals, solid dialog, and lovely period costumes.  Like the shows Steven Johnson praises in Everything Bad is Good for You, there are numerous, interweaving complex plots to follow, informed by shifting allegiances among the twenty characters you need to know.  It’s invigorating and very stimulating. Well worth a watch.

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

Logan Mountstuart lived an incredible life, spanning the era from just before the first World War until the middle of the 1980s.  He kept journals off and on throughout his life, chronicling his experiences as a writer, an adventurer, a lover, and a gatabout.  This novel collects those journals and creates a chronicle of his adventures.  (Just in case I’m being too cryptic, he’s fictional.)  A few thoughts:

  • In some ways, the novel reads like Forrest Gump if the protagonist were an upper-class British intellectual instead of an earnest if slightly slow Southerner.  Over the course of the novel Logan, who runs in art and literary circles because of his class and his literary aspirations, meets numerous literary and artistic giants, passing through their lives as a n embodiment of a certain kind of wealth-born ennui.  He meets Virginia Woolf, Jackson Pollock, the Prince of Wales who abdicated the throne, Picasso, Hemingway, and Ian Fleming, to name a few.
  • Yet another novel in which the main character grows into someone better (as we all hope we do, I suppose) but who makes a vicious fool of himself early on.  In this case, infidelity seems built into Logan’s bones, and he practices it all the time, except for his brief marriage to the one woman he truly loved.  This makes him, for me, a pretty dislikable character, and while I come to like him, warts and all, by the end of the book, I wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t been a gift.  That said, I’m glad to have read it and thought it was well-done overall.
  • The literature and art in the novel feel well out of my range, I’m afraid.  Boyd tosses around art and literature references with a familiarity and obscurity I couldn’t only match in reference to Star Wars or Titanic lore.  I particularly liked the sequence in New York, when Logan was running an art gallery.
  • I can’t say I understand the title entirely, but I’d say the complexity of the character is what makes the novel work.  Just as with any human heart, Logan finds himself driven by different forces at different moments, taken by temptation of lust or alcohol, and ultimately left only with his thoughts and the fruit born by the seeds he planted for both good and ill.

Any Human Heart is a fine life-spanning novel, one that gives depth of feeling and verve to the human condition.  It’s not the sort of book I usually choose to read, but it has a lot of payoff despite its slow-burn build.

Year in Review: Blog Posts

Blogging Merit Badge, by edrabbit

Blogging Merit Badge, by edrabbit

Each year I post a list of my 12 favorite posts from the year, in chronological order.  I generally exclude review posts, but one might make the cut, I suppose.

See also: 2010, 2009, 2008

2011-10-30 Tweets

  • My Halloween playlist just cycled into "Stonehenge." Spinal Tap FTW. #goestoeleven #
  • Want to read essays about THE WALKING DEAD from zombie luminaries galore? While you're at it, you can read my essay. #
  • Yearly health screening today == 12 hour fast, water only. Hulk miss coffee. #onehourtogo #
  • Watching [REC]2 while I eat lunch. It's excellent so far. #zombie #
  • New titanic book! I wants it! #
  • Dropping a school work sheets in the recycling bin, Avery says to me, "Daddy, I deleted one of my papers." #kidssaythedarndestthings #
  • A lick from Beastie Boys' LICENSE TO ILL wafted from a panel truck roaring by on Congress Ave. It will haunt me until I identify it. #earwig #
  • A: What are Wheat Thins? B: A kind of cracker. A: What kind of cracker? B: Uhhh, Wheat Thins. A: Oh. Sounds tasty! #
  • Overheard at the playground: Your butt is on fire, 'lizbeth! What do you care more about, money, or burnt butts?! #kidssaythedarndestthings #

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