08/27/09

This pretty much summarizes what's wrong with entertainment news media

Filed under: Home and personal, Newsjksterup   @ 09:25:11 am

From the Bad Astronomy blog:

Instead of asking people what they think is a greater risk in their opinion, FOX could responsibly inform people about what IS the greater risk (and not in a Could-the-H1N1-vaccine-kill-you?!-Story-at-11 kind of way, but an Actually-the-vaccine-prevents-you-from-developing-symptoms-and-there's-nothing-to-be-afraid-of kind of way). After all, this is objective, scientific truth we're talking about.

FOX News: Confusing fact and opinion since 1996.

08/25/09

I'm still here, folks

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 09:18:42 am

Yes, it's been just over two weeks since I last wrote. Not coincidentally, that is when I started back at work. Things have been pretty busy as I've been planning a new class and getting all of my IEP materials ready.

The time I'm putting in is paying off. I feel like I'm more on top of things than I have been in any of my previous years of teaching. I also just think this is going to be a great year. I have a good group of students and co-teachers that are on board with what I want to do.

In other news, Daniel started preschool. The first couple of days were a little bit rocky. At home Daniel talked about how excited he was to start school, but as soon as we hit the entryway he tensed up and didn't want to go in. When I dropped him off the second day he cried and wouldn't let go of me (my mom tells me I did pretty much the same thing my first day of preschool).

By the third day, though, Daniel let me leave. I still had to pry his hands off from behind my neck, but there was no crying. And today he even got down on his own and waved goodbye to me as I left.

Some while ago my friend Andrew shared this little "My Life According to ____________" meme where you respond to each question with a song title by your favorite musician or band.

Here's my life according to The Flaming Lips:

Are you a male or female: Man From Pakistan

Describe yourself: 1000ft Hands

How do you feel: Suddenly Everything Has Changed

Describe where you currently live: Redneck School Of Technology

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Distance Between Mars And The Earth

Your favorite form of transportation: The Abandoned Hospital Ship

Your best friend is: Up Above The Daily Hum

You and your best friends are: Realizing the Speed of Life

What's the weather like: Halloween On The Barbary Coast

Favorite time of day: One Million Billionth Of A Millisecond On A Sunday Morning

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called?: My Own Planet

What is life to you: Slow Nerve Action

Your fear: The Sound Of Failure

What is the best advice you have to give: Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Internal, Existential Fear

How I would like to die: Sleeping On The Roof

My soul's present condition: Jesus and a Spider are in My Sleeping Bag Tonite

My motto: Love Yer Brain

Your favorite colour is: The Colossal Gray Sunshine

You know that: We Can't Predict The Future

If you could change your name, what would it be?: The Captain

Something you are looking forward to: Riding to Work in the Year 2025

I'd like to get back to writing a little more substantively once my schedule settles down a bit. It seems like I've been telling myself that for two years now.

08/10/09

No more albums

Filed under: Music, Newsjksterup   @ 12:22:33 pm

I saw on the All Songs Considered Blog that Thom Yorke recently suggested Radiohead may be done recording albums.

His statement isn't very surprising, considering that several years ago he had said the band wanted to switch to releasing EPs instead of LPs. As it turned out, their next release was still a full-length album, but was distributed exclusively from the band's website, at whatever price fans wanted to pay.

So perhaps there's still something to this announcement, as Radiohead continues to lead the way to a new distribution model. It certainly makes sense if you consider that we're headed toward an era of containerless digital music. Downloading individual songs has been growing more common and the 12-track album is becoming a relic of a previous time.

I find myself unwilling to let go, though. When Radiohead originally announced their intent to release EPs, I wondered if that method would be as much fun to listen to as an album. I'm wondering that even more so with the prospect that we could be getting nothing but individual songs from now on.

Most bands release a new album about every two years or so, and a typical album is around 12 tracks. That comes out to about one song every two months. So let's assume that every 2 months Radiohead makes a new song available for download at their website, and they maintain that pace for 2 years. At the end of that time they still would have released 12 songs, but getting them in increments just doesn't seem as satisfying to me as if I heard them released together, as a package, on a single day.

When I heard Radiohead's new song, "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," I was not very excited, and I've had a similar reaction when bands I love have released single songs in the past. If they were part of a larger album I might like them a lot better, but standing by themselves they seem somehow inferior, and less worthy of my dollar.

Perhaps it's just what I grew up with, and I've been trained to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I'm afraid that what Radiohead is considering may really be the future of music. And in my head, I know it makes sense: in an era of containerless music there is no reason to have to bundle a dozen or more songs together. But I still can't help but feel sad at the though of no more albums.

08/09/09

Silliness

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 12:09:10 pm

07/26/09

Yesterday

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 01:56:08 pm

Erika's brother Ian visited us this weekend, which was very exciting for Daniel. This morning at breakfast he was jabbering away about uncle Ian and what we all did together, and at one point he said, "You know, yesterday, we unfold the bench and uncle Ian just lay down on it."

I should mention here that Daniel still uses the words "yesterday" and "last night" to refer to anytime in the past: last week, two months ago, and earlier the same day are all "yesterday" to him.

So we were sitting and trying to figure out just what Daniel could be thinking about. Ian certainly hadn't done anything this weekend involving any benches. Then an idea struck me. "Daniel, are you talking about the couch that folds out into a bed?"

"Yeah."

I didn't immediately remember that happening either, but Ian said that when he visited us last summer he slept on the hide-a-bed and that when Daniel woke up in the morning he went out and laid in it with him. Ian said that he was excited about it at the time and it may be something he would remember.

Yes, I pointed out, but that was an entire year ago. Daniel was barely two years old then. The fact that he can remember such a specific detail from that long ago is impressive. What's even more interesting is that he would not have had the vocabulary a year ago to tell us about it the way he did this morning, and we certainly haven't discussed it with him at all since then. That means that he retained it as a purely visual memory and only found the words to talk about it a year later, when he finally recalled it. This goes directly against the theory in psychology that our memories are primarily verbal, and that the reason we typically don't remember things before the age of 2-3 is that we don't have the words for it.

So I thought this was all a pretty cool revelation, and it got me thinking a lot about memory. Specifically, it caused me to realize that Daniel is now at the age that he is forming permanent memories. From here on out, the things he experiences could stay in his mind for the rest of his life.

I've been thinking back to some of my earliest memories. The primary landmark for my memory is my third birthday. I remember my parents giving me a chalkboard on an easel, and I know it was my third birthday because it had a big number 3 written on it. From there I can trace backward. I turned three when we were living in Scottsbluff. I also remember when we moved into that house and I'm pretty sure I have a few fleeting memories of when we were living in Columbus before that.

These memories are so brief and so few that they are very precious to me. In fact, I feel that way about most of my childhood memories, especially the ones about my father. Sometimes I think that if I could conjure up every single memory I have from age 2 to 9, and watch them back to back like a movie, it would take less than a day to get through them all. That's seven years of my life in a single day.

Memory is such a fragile thing that every experience that can actually survive into adulthood is precious. I wonder what kinds of things Daniel is going to remember when he's older. I'm willing to bet that his train ride at the zoo will make the cut. Earlier this month we went to Nebraska to visit my mom, and one day we took the Daniel and Eva to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. I hadn't been there in years and I wanted the kids to see it. It turns out that we picked probably the busiest day of the year to go (Friday, the day before Independence Day) and we had a very difficult time in traffic just trying to get there. We ended up spending most of the day there and the kids missed their naps, but it was totally worth it. The kids enjoyed every minute.

The highlight for Daniel, though, was riding the train. Today when Daniel talks about our zoo trip (which is frequently), the first and often only thing he brings up is riding the train. He doesn't even mention the elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses (rhinoceros? rhinoceri?), or any of the other animals we saw that day, but he will talk all about the train. It makes me feel good to think that when he is 30 years old he might still remember with fondness the time he rode the zoo train with his dad.

What's interesting to me is that we almost didn't do it. Throughout the day we had seen the train going by us periodically as we walked, and every time Daniel was beside himself at the sight of it. Late in the afternoon, when it was getting close to time to leave, we happened to come up on one of the boarding stations as the train was stopped. Daniel was begging us to go and look at it. I don't think the thought had even crossed his mind that he could ride it: he just wanted to see it up close. Erika and I are pretty frugal with money, and we don't normally like to pay for unnecessary expenses. For us it makes more sense to just walk around the zoo than to pay extra money to ride a train around it once. But we were in a pretty good mood that day, and Daniel did love the train so much. We debated for several minutes about whether or not we should take Daniel on the train. Eva certainly wouldn't be able to sit still for it, so someone would have to stay behind with her and wait, and I didn't know if that would be a good idea, since it was so late and she hadn't had a nap. We finally decided that for Daniel, to ride the train would be the highlight of an already spectacular day, so I bought the tickets.

Considering the way he's talked about the train ride since then, I do think that this will be for him one of those priceless early childhood memories. When I consider it in that light, it's hard to believe that I even considered not doing it. It was about $8 and 30 minutes for an experience that could stay with him for the rest of his life.

07/24/09

Marvelman has an owner?!

Filed under: Literature, News, Comicsjksterup   @ 04:38:51 pm

I don't normally pay attention to comic cons, mostly because I'm jealous that I will probably never have the privilege of going to one, but this caught my eye today.

Marvel has acquired the rights to Marvelman.

To help you understand why you should care, here's a brief history.

Marvelman started as a silver age carbon-copy of DC's Captain Marvel.

In the early 1980s a promising young comics writer named Alan Moore revamped the character for the newly-created Warrior comics. He had an entirely fresh take on the character, that cast him in a more realistic and morally ambiguous world (this was all pre-Watchmen).

Warrior went under before Moore could finish his story, but Malibu comics bought the title and began reprinting the stories. They were forced to change the name to Miracleman due to a lawsuit with Marvel comics (who apparently felt that they had exclusive rights to anything with the word "Marvel" in the title). Malibu also gave Alan Moore the opportunity to finish the story he had started. In fact, he took the title far beyond what he had done previously, imagining what an entire world reshaped by near-omnipotent superheroes would be like. These stories were both terrifying and gorgeous, and represent some of Alan Moore's boldest work.

After Moore finished his run Neil Gaiman took over, but he too was unable to complete his work, this time with Malibu. It was alleged that Warrior's publisher, Dez Skinn, had actually not legally acquired the rights to the character from the original creator, and so did not have the authority to publish Marvelman in the first place or to sell the comics to Malibu. Furthermore, Todd McFarlane purchased the rights to all Malibu properties, including, he believed, Miracleman.

To further complicate things, Skinn had shared the rights with co-creators Alan Moore and Garry Leach, and Moore had passed his share on to Gaiman when he handed the title over to him. If you want to read more in-depth about all of these legal battles (and about a bitter dispute between Gaiman and McFarlane) go here.

So for years the legal status of Marvelman/Miracleman has been up in the air, with all of the abovementioned parties disputing over who actually owns the character. Meanwhile, some of the best superhero comics of the 1980s have been long out of print, and the only way to read them has been to A) pay big money for the original Malibu issues, B) pay even bigger money for the very hard-to-find Malibu trade paperbacks, or C) download scans using BitTorrent.

It has been known that Marvel was interested in buying the property, and Gaiman has beend doing new projects with them partly to pay for the effort, but there hadn't been any word that they were actually getting anywhere. Provided that Marvel is right about finally sorting out the legal issues and acquiring full rights to the characters, we can look forward to not only seeing these stories in print again, but seeing them as they were originally written, as Marvelman (not Miracleman).

Also, since Neil Gaiman has taken such a personal interest in bringing Marvelman back into print, there's the presumption that he could finally complete his run on the series. I'm not sure how this would play out. Marvelman was pretty revolutionary in its time, but a lot has happened in comics since then. It would still be interesting to see what he had planned, though.

07/20/09

Chicago 2009

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 08:30:35 pm

Yesterday the family and I returned from our biennial trip to Chicago. Melanie and Andrew are some friends of ours who got married around the same time we did and have kids close in age to our own.

We've made it a little tradition that we spend a weekend with each other every summer, alternating location. This year was our turn to go see them
As I mentioned last week, a wonderful bit of serendipity placed Dave McKean in Chicago the same weekend I was there, and the first thing I did when we arrived on Thursday was to meet up with Andrew and drive to the city for a signing. It was a long drive after a long day of driving, but it was totally worth it. The nice guys at Challengers Comics e-mailed me after my previous blog entry and let me know that I could go ahead and bring the three books I wanted signed.

I figured I would also buy a fourth book in the store, to get the extra signature and also support the store for bringing Mr. McKean in. I've been wanting to replace my copy of Mr. Punch for a while because its spine is broken and the pages are coming loose. So I thought I would either buy a new copy of that or perhaps a new book that was being promoted. When I got to the store I saw a display of McKean's various works, including exactly one copy of the first edition hardcover of Mr. Punch. I took that as a sign and bought it.

I put it with the copies of Cages, Pictures That Tick, and Skeletons that I brought to be signed, and when I got up to the table Mr. McKean said, "These are some of my favorites. It's nice to see them here." I smiled, and as he began signing my books, I told him that I love the illustrations he's done for Ray Bradbury's books: the Skeletons collection and The Homecoming. I asked if that was something he decided he wanted to do, or if someone approached him about it. He told me that, No, the idea was brought to him, and that The Homecoming was originally written for another illustrator who never completed it. He added that sometime after he began the project, Neil Gaiman let him know that The Homecoming was the story that inspired him to be a writer, which I said was very cool.

At one point Andrew, who had helped me get to the signing, said that I had come all the way from Missouri. Mr. McKean asked how far that was, and I said it took six hours. "You drove?" he asked, a little surprised. I said yes, and added that we were staying with our friends for the weekend. I think he got the impression that I had come to Chicago this weekend just for the signing.

By this point he had about finished signing my four books. In Pictures That Tick, one of the rarer ones, and probably my most treasured book in my collection, he drew a sketch for me.

Dave McKean was very nice to meet in person and the whole thing was well worth the trip. But that was just the beginning of our weekend.

The next day we went into the city again, but this time by train and with our wives and children. We went out to eat with an old friend of Erika and Melanie's, and took the kids to Millennium Park.

Daniel had a lot of fun looking at himself in the big Bean.

After that we decided to take the kids to the Family Fun Center set up under a tent, but Eva was anxious to get down and roam free, so I took her over to the outdoor amphitheater, where lots of people were playing and lounging in the grass. Eva was delighted to just delighted to run around and watch people, so I had a good chance to get a bunch of pictures.

After she had her fill we returned to the big tent to see what the rest were up to.



By this time it was getting late in the afternoon and we had some very tired kids who had spent a lot of time walking in the city with no naps, so after a short stop for ice cream we decided to head home.

We caught the express train back to the suburbs, and the kids were much more quiet and subdued on the return trip than they had been on the way out.


After that exhausting but enjoyable outing we decided to take it easy the rest of our stay. Saturday Andrew and I watched the kids while Erika and Melanie did some shopping, as a way of repaying for our childless trip to the Dave McKean signing, and that evening a babysitter came over so the four adults could spend a night out.

I've grown fond of our yearly visit with our Chicago friends, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again next summer.

07/12/09

Dave McKean signing

Filed under: Home and personal, Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 01:47:02 pm

I'm very excited about going to see Dave McKean in Chicago. I usually read books and comics based exclusively on who the writer is: Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore are my favorites, but I've learned to follow a few others as well. I almost never read comics for the art. I tend to think that good writing can make up for mediocre artwork, but good artwork never makes up for bad writing.

The one real exception to my rule is the work of Dave McKean. I will buy just about anything with his name attached to it, provided I can afford it (which I occasionally cannot). He is an artist in the truest sense of the word, and the books he produces are often art objects in themselves. In the process of indulging my obsession with his work I've been lucky enough to acquire a few very hard-to-find items at very reasonable prices, and I've dreamed of the day that I could meet Dave McKean in person and have some of these treasures autographed.

In a wonderful bit of serendipity I've learned that this weekend, when we were already planning our biennial trip to Chicago to see some long-distance friends, Dave McKean will be in town for a two-day show of his paintings and films. Not only that, but on Friday, again the day we were already planning to go downtown, he will be at Challengers comics for a free signing event. While I'm afraid it won't be practical to go to his paid shows, due to our previous obligations, the signing event is a perfect opportunity.

My only disappointment is that each person is allowed only one outside item to be signed, and assuming I can convince my friend Andrew to come along, that means I can bring only two books, which makes my decision a difficult one.

Of course I'll be bringing my copy of Pictures That Tick, of which only one hardcover edition of 4000 copies has been printed so far (a paperback edition will finally be coming out later this year).

The next most obvious choice is Cages, a monster of a graphic novel that's as big and thick as most college textbooks. It's not as difficult to come by as Pictures That Tick, but it's his comic masterpiece and would be great to have signed.

I do have a third book, though, that is not as remarkable as either of those two, but is the rarest item in my collection. It's called Skeletons, and is a slim little chapbook of two Ray Bradbury short stories, illustrated throughout by Dave McKean. Only 500 copies were printed, and I probably would not own it now if my sister had not bought it for me off my Amazon wishlist during the probably one week it was actually available. I don't think she had any idea how rare it was when she ordered it for me, but I'm grateful she did. Anyway, for its obscurity and utter rareness, this would also be a very cool item to bring to have autographed.

I'm actually tempted to bring all three. I've never been to a signing before, so I don't know how strictly these rules are enforced. If I conceal the Skeletons chapbook inside one of the others, could I sneak it in and get it signed? It probably seems like I'm spending way too much time thinking about this, but I'll probably never get to meet Dave McKean again, so I really want to make the most of it.

If I've sparked your interest in Dave McKean, or if you want to see more of what I keep going on about, check out this very good, very timely interview, which includes a ton of samples of his artwork.

06/29/09

"I am YHWH your God!"

Filed under: Religion, Literaturejksterup   @ 07:23:01 pm

This month I've resumed reading Everett Fox's translation of The Five Books Of Moses. I chose to read this because it preserves the Hebrewness of the scriptures by by trying to retain key phrases and linguistic stylings in English. I know some translators frown on this, claiming that a faithful translation should simply be done in idiomatic English, but I think it's interesting to see some of the original Hebrew phrases reflected in new English constructions, and I think it helps more of the poetry to show through.

Anyway, I've been reading this off and on for a while now: I read Genesis, put it away for a long time, then read Exodus, put it away again, and now I'm on Leviticus. A lot of it is not much more exciting than most bible translations, and most of the insights I've been having are due more to the commentary than the new translation, but tonight I came across a passage that really surprised me.

It's from Leviticus 19 and is written in a very rigid pattern that makes it feel very poetic. Fox's translation has a lot of energy to it, and each time the phrase, "I am YHWH!" is repeated the passage grown in intensity.

Here it is (I left out one section for the sake of rhythm--I hope that's not blasphemous):

YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying:
Speak to the entire community of the Children of Israel, and say to them:
Holy are you to be,
for holy am I, YHWH your God!

Each-man--his mother and his father you are to hold-in-awe,
and my Sabbaths you are to keep:
I am YHWH your God!

Do not turn-your-faces to no-gods,
and molten gods you are not to make yourselves,
I am YHWH your God!

...

Now when you harvest the harvest of your land,
you are not to finish (to the) edge of your field in harvesting,
the full-gathering of your harvest you are not to gather;
your vineyard you are not to glean,
the break-off of your vineyard you are not to gather--
rather, for the afflicted and for the sojourner you are to leave them,
I am YHWH your God!

You are not to steal,
you are not to lie,
you are not to deal-falsely, each-man with his fellow!
You are not to swear by my name falsely,
thus profaning the name of your God--
I am YHWH!

You are not to withhold (property from) your neighbor,
you are not to commit-robbery.
You are not to keep-overnight the working-wages of a hired-hand with you until morning.
You are not to insult the deaf,
before the blind your are not to place a stumbling-block:
rather, you are to hold your God in awe;
I am YHWH!

You are not to commit corruption in justice;
you are not to lift-up-in-favor the face of the poor,
you are not to overly-honor the face of the great;
with equity you are to judge your fellow!
You are not to traffic in slander among your kinspeople.
You are not to stand by the blood of your neighbor,
I am YHWH!

You are not to hate your brother in your heart;
rebuke, yes, rebuke your fellow,
that you not bear sin because of him!
You are not to take-vengeance, your not to retain-anger against the sons of your kinspeople--
but be-loving to your neighbor (as one) like yourself,
I am YHWH!

Who knew Leviticus contains such powerful poetry?

Also, I forget how much of the Old Testament law is about justice, compassion, caring for foreigners (sojourners) and the poor, and loving your neighbor as yourself. These are things I typically associate more with the teaching of Jesus than with Leviticus.

06/27/09

3 Embryonic tracks

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 02:36:15 pm

The Flaming Lips have given out a free EP of three tracks from their upcoming album to people who have ordered tickets to their upcoming tour. The Internet being what it is, those songs are now available to the rest of us through *ahem* other means (via a discussion thread on the band's new official site's message board, no less).

Anyway, I gave the tracks a listen and thought I'd write down my initial impressions.

Convinced of the Hex opens up with some chaotic bleeps and feedback, gradually settling into a steady rhythm of heavy drums and distorted instruments. I like it. I'm not sure I like Wayne's flat speech-singing or his repetition of "That's the difference between us" over and over again. Everything else about the track is very good. It's easily the best of these three songs.

The Impulse is much more low-key, with slow synth-sounds and a vocal track that is distorted to the point that it's barely recognizable as a human voice, much less comprehensible.

Silver Trembling Hands is the most recognizable as a Flaming Lips song. It's more pop-oriented and sounds a bit like "Up Above the Daily Hum or one of their other Yoshimi-era B-sides. The vocals are not nearly as distorted here, but they're still pushed to the background.

Taken together, these songs sound less pop-oriented and more spacey and atmospheric than the band's usual album material. It's not a completely different direction for the band, but it's definitely more like the stuff that they've left off albums in the past, which is to say that they take more risks. That's a good thing. One complaint fans had about their last album was that some of the B-sides were better than any of the album tracks.

06/25/09

A cover for Embryonic

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 11:58:38 am

Details about the new Flaming Lips album have been gradually trickling out. We now know it is definitely a double album, it will be titled Embryonic, and the cover will be this:

Interestingly, this has me more exited than anything I've read about it up to now. Wayne Coyne takes a very hands-on approach to the band's album artwork (along with George Salisbury), which I think telegraphs his attitude about the album, including its overall mood and style, and how similar or different it is from what the band has done previously.

To illustrate, here we have the covers for Transmissions From The Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic:

These two were released during the Ronald Jones and Steven Drozd phase of the band, and are characterized by dense noise-rock built around Jones' frenetic guitar effects and Drozd's heavy drumming. The artwork for these albums is appropriately rough and homemade-looking.

After Ronald Jones left the band, The Flaming Lips began their period of multi-channel musical experimentation, culminating in the infamous four-CD-simultaenous-play album Zaireeka.

With Steven Drozd now playing the part of multi-instrumentalist, the music was now much less traditionally rock-oriented and more of an in-studio orchestration of diverse elements. The band took this approach to a more consumer-friendly format in The Soft Bulletin. The common elements to both albums are reflected in the smoother presentation of the covers, the bold color separations, and the circular bursts, hinting at the layers of orchestrated sound:


In many ways the band's next two albums continue in a similar vein (the lineup in the studio remained unchanged during this time), but I think there are some small differences. The sound on Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics is brighter, more pop-oriented, and a little more bombastic. For the covers for the albums and all of the singles, Wayne used his original paintings:

So what does the artwork for Embryonic tell me?

Well, for one thing, it's something different. Wayne has mentioned in interviews that this new album is going to have a different sound to it, but he always says that. His album artwork, though, telegraphs a major change in direction. I hope this is true. The image also tells me the album is going to be more psychedelic than their recent work, and more boldly experimental. Given that it's a double album (and given Wayne's own comments about that decision), I also think it's going to be all over the place.

I can't wait.

06/24/09

A very good year

Filed under: Movies and TVjksterup   @ 12:27:51 pm

Popmatters features what is, at first glance, a ridiculously long list of the 60 [plus 2] most memorable films of 1999.

My first reaction was, "62? Isn't that a bit of overkill?"

But as I read through the list, I realized these really are some great movies. Some of them I would probably put on my all-time top movies list. It's hard to believe they all came out in a single year.

Here are some notables:

The Thin Red Line
Office Space
The Matrix
Election
Run Lola Run
The Iron Giant
The Sixth Sense
American Beauty
The Straight Story
Being John Malkovich
Princess Mononoke
Sweet and Lowdown
Magnolia
Man on the Moon
Fight Club

How is it that a single year could spawn so many beloved films? I'm sure that for me at least, part of it is the timing. I was 19 years old, and had just recently awakened to the range of great film art around me. Naturally, the movies I saw at that age shaped my critical taste more than movies released today possibly could.

But that doesn't explain it all. Several of those movies, including Sweet and Lowdown, The Straight Story, The Iron Giant, and The Thin Red Line, I didn't see until years later, but they still had a bit impact on me.

What do you think? Was there really something extraordinarily great about 1999, or is it nostalgia?

06/19/09

Hoosier

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 11:37:32 am

In summer school today I played for one of my students this story from NPR on the Dictionary of American Regional English, which inspired us to look for some examples of regional slang in Missouri. In the process I came across a regional definition for Hoosier, which enlightened me to the cause of an old argument between me and Erika.

It was in the early years of our relationship, and I don't remember the exact context now. It could have been a car up on blocks in someone's front yard or a nasty couch sitting out on their front porch, to which Erika commented, "That's so hoosier."

I was surprised and a little bit offended to hear her use the term this way. Growing up in Nebraska I had learned from the movie Hoosiers and from Kurt Vonnegut that "hoosier" is a term proudly self-applied by residents of Indiana, and I thought that to use it as a pejorative is insulting.

Erika was surprised at my offendedness and that as far as she knew "hoosier" is just another word for "redneck." I asked her not to use it that way for my sake, and she agreed, even though she seemed to think it an odd request.

Anyway, when I started reading about Missouri variations of "hoosier," I found out that in St. Louis (Erika's hometown) it has a very specific meaning that is different from just about ever other region in America:

Thomas E. Murray carefully analyzed the use of "hoosier" in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is the favorite epithet of abuse. "When asked what a Hoosier is," Murray writes, "St. Louisans readily list a number of defining characteristics, among which are 'lazy,' 'slow-moving,' 'derelict,' and 'irresponsible.'" He continues, "Few epithets in St. Louis carry the pejorative connotations or the potential for eliciting negative responses that hoosier does." He conducted tests and interviews across lines of age and race and tabulated the results. He found the term ecumenically applied. He also noted the word was often used with a modifier, almost redundantly, as in "some damn Hoosier."

I've read a couple of different explanations for the pejorative use in St. Louis. From Wikipedia:

One need only look to the St. Louis suburb of Fenton, which, in the mid-1950s, was at the then-rural southwest rim of the county. At the time, Chrysler Corporation built a large automobile assembly plant in the city of Fenton and closed a plant it had been operating in Indiana. Many former employees of the closed Indiana plant moved to Fenton for employment; so many, in fact, that entire subdivisions of new homes (with streets named after Chrysler models such as "Fury" and "Belvidere") sprang up south of the plant, near what was then US Route 66.

It became something of a local joke to refer to the new arrivals from Indiana as "hoosiers", and before long, anyone from the rural edges of St. Louis County was considered such.

The Urban dictionary has a different (and to me, more compelling) explanation:

Dates back to a strike that occurred in St. Louis in the 30's. During this strike, scab workers from Indiana were brought in to fill in for strikers. The perjorative (sic) hoosier stems from the St. Louis workers' lack of appreciation for this.

There isn't a source cited for either one, so there's no way to know which is true.

It's a cool bit of trivia and it helps me to understand where Erika was coming from. Her use of hoosier really is a well-documented regional variation of the term.

06/16/09

Pictures That Tick

Filed under: Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 07:59:59 am

I just found out that Dave McKean's collection of short comics work, Pictures That Tick, is to be released by Dark Horse Comics.

This is great news because before now it was only available in its first edition hardcover edition, of which only 4000 copies were made.

It's not easy reading: many of these are experimental comics, with greater emphasis on interesting visuals than on story clarity. If you're willing to invest a little effort, though, there are some big rewards, like (eye), which tells its story using only illustrations and pictorial icons, or the story about his father, entitled simply "His Story," which Neil Gaiman has mentioned as his favorite of McKean's short comics work.

Right now you can get it for $13.57 at Amazon, which is a steal, but you better buy it soon. McKean's short film collection, which was one of my favorite releases last year, is already an out-of-print rarity.

06/14/09

Eva walks

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 07:15:26 pm

A couple of months ago I posted a video of Eva's unusual way of crawling.

For a long time this was Eva's only way to get around and she became very fast at it. So fast, in fact, that it seemed like she didn't feel any need to learn how to walk. By her first birthday, she could raise herself from sitting to standing without pulling up on anything, but she still wasn't taking any steps. If she needed to go somewhere she would just lower herself back to the ground and hobble-crawl over to where she wanted to be.

I thought she might need a little bit of encouragement to figure out the whole walking thing, so one day I spent maybe five or ten minutes standing her up, putting a single finger on her back, and nudging her forward. Immediately she began taking several steps before falling down. By the next day she was walking to get to places.

Since then she has been a regular power-walker. She toddles around back and forth from room to room, all day long.

06/13/09

Reviewing the abortion debate

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 01:30:20 pm

I know I'm a couple of weeks late on this, but the murder of George Tiller has got me thinking again about the whole abortion issue.

First of all, there was a cartoon from This Modern World that isn't that great as a whole, but makes an excellent point in the last two panels:

I think that we as a nation need to realize that demonizing someone as a murderer isn't merely political rhetoric. It has serious consequences in the way the members of our society behave, and I do think that people like Bill O'Reilly bears some responsibility. No, he did not tell anybody to commit murder, but if Tiller had not been made infamous by the right-wing media he would not have become a target.

Am I suggesting we need to restrict conservative pundits' right to free speech? Of course not. I defend the right of everybody to say what they think, no matter how repulsive. But just because we are free to say something something doesn't mean we should, or that we are not responsible for its effects.

But that's not all. Thinking about this made me realize something even more disconcerting. It's likely that the man who killed Tiller believed he was justified in doing so because he genuinely believed Tiller was guilty of murder. That got me thinking: If somebody really believes that abortion is murder (and many people do), and that killing of millions of unborn children in the United States is an atrocity on par with the Holocaust (and again, many people do believe this), then killing abortion doctors IS a reasonable response.

But if you ask any pro-life activist, he or she will tell you that this man was wrong to do what he did, which would suggest that killing an unborn child is not as serious a crime as murder.

Here's another example: Pro-life individuals were asked on the street, If abortion were made illegal, what should be done with women who have abortions? It's hardly the most scientific of studies, but the responses do reveal something interesting: a great number of these people believe that the woman should bear no punishment for murder. Either these people are willing to let women get away with murder, or they don't truly believe that abortion is on par with taking a person's life.

All of this leaves me unsure of where I stand on abortion. However, it does make me think that there must be some common ground where pro-life and pro-choice people can agree.

06/06/09

Helen Keller on This I Believe

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 04:59:00 pm

I think the greatest tragedy of the Red Scare is the enduring and complete rejection of any political stance that in any way resembles Socialism. To this day, even the smallest hint government involvement in business elicits fear and paranoia in conservatives.

In our nearly universal acceptance of the notion that Socialism is inherently bad, we forget that there was actually a period in our country's history when good, patriotic Americans, when faced with masses of poor and hungry people throughout the world, could unabashedly describe themselves as Socialists and take political action with the goal to achieve economic equality.

Helen Keller was one of those people.

This I Believe has an essay written by her for the original 1950s series, and it is quite good. My favorite part is when Keller, who lived the first part of her life in extreme isolation, first learned about the suffering of others:

It was a terrible blow to my faith when I learned that millions of my fellow creatures must labor all their days for food and shelter, bear the most crushing burdens, and die without having known the joy of living. My security vanished forever, and I have never regained the radiant belief of my young years that earth is a happy home and hearth for the majority of mankind. But faith is a state of mind. The believer is not soon disheartened. If he is turned out of his shelter, he builds up a house that the winds of the earth cannot destroy.

When I think of the suffering and famine, and the continued slaughter of men, my spirit bleeds. But the thought comes to me that, like the little deaf, dumb, and blind child I once was, mankind is growing out of the darkness of ignorance and hate into the light of a brighter day.

06/05/09

You just can't beat the Kirksville Wal-Mart for bizarre sights

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 04:14:08 pm

I just ran up there to pick up some cold beer for the guys who have been working all day to build us a new roof.

While I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot I saw a woman driving a Bronco with three young Amish men as passengers, all of them sporting their typical blue shirts, straw hats, and Abraham Lincoln beards. They were all eating ice cream cones.

It's not that I think there's something wrong about the Amish enjoying some ice cream or even riding in a car (I know they're allowed to ride but not drive). But there's just something about the scene that struck me as funny, like these three Amish men were being taken out for their Friday ice cream treat.

$125,000 teachers

Filed under: Education, Newsjksterup   @ 12:44:21 pm

The New York Times has a story about a charter school that is trying an education experiment to see if they can dramatically improve student performance by assembling an all-star staff of teachers drawn by huge salaries.

The descriptions of the teachers the school's principal hired is inspiring:

The eight winning candidates, he said, have some common traits, like a high "engagement factor," as measured by the portion of a given time frame during which students seem so focused that they almost forget they are in class. They were expert at redirecting potential troublemakers, a crucial skill for middle school teachers. And they possessed a contagious enthusiasm — which Rhena Jasey, 30, Harvard Class of 2001, who has been teaching at a school in Maplewood, N.J., conveyed by introducing a math lesson with, "Oh, this is the fun part because I looooooove math!" Says Mr. Vanderhoek: "You couldn’t help but get excited." Hired.

With teachers like that, I don't see how the school could fail.

How can the school afford to pay these all-star teachers $125,000 per year?

To make ends meet, teachers will hold responsibilities usually shouldered by other staff members, like assistant principals (there will be none). There will be no deans, substitute teachers (except for extended leaves) or teacher coaches. Teachers will work longer hours and more days, and have 30 pupils, about 6 more than the typical New York City fifth-grade class.

The principal, Mr. Vanderhoek, will earn just $90,000. Teachers will not have the same retirement benefits as members of the city’s teachers’ union. And they can be fired at will.

I love the the fact that the school is investing so many of their resources in classroom instruction (and that the principal is even paying himself less than the teachers). I can't wait to see the results.

06/04/09

I haven't done this in a while

Filed under: Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 09:29:43 am

Here's a great McSweeney's list:

Potential Business Opportunities Based On Songs By The Rolling Stones, à la "Ruby Tuesday" Restaurant.

"You Can't Always Get What You Want" Steak House

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" Escort Services

"Sympathy for the Devil" Pet Supplies

"Under My Thumb" Construction

"Brown Sugar" Refining

"As Tears Go By" Grief Counseling

"Beast of Burden" Overnight Shipping

"The Last Time" Dating Service

"19th Nervous Breakdown" Mental Institute

"Mother's Little Helper" Daycare Center

05/26/09

Happy birthdays

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 04:43:21 am

Our kids sure love their birthdays, and with so many grandparents it seems like we've been having a lot of them lately.

Here's Eva from a few weeks ago:

And here's Daniel's, celebrated in Fremont yesterday:

05/16/09

The Kirksville Cyclone of Aught-Nine

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 11:53:00 am

I've debated about whether or not I should write about my experience in our tornado. I didn't see as much as other people, I'm not sure I have any special insights into what happened, and I wasn't affected by the tornado nearly as much as some other people in the community. So why write about it?

I realized, though, that a lot of you who read this are personal friends of me and my family and may have been wondering how we're doing. Some of you have called with concerns, and we appreciate it. Others of you may have feared the worst when you heard nothing from us. I know a lot of you would really like to know what's happened.

I also just feel a need to get this out. We've had a very eventful 48 hours and writing it down is my way of processing it. So for better or worse, here's my story.

Full story »

05/12/09

Flaming Lips double album

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 01:16:39 pm

Billboard confirms recent rumors that the next Flaming Lips release will be a double album.

I wasn't sure what to think of this at first. I've come to realize that At War With The Mystics is not as solid an album as The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It has some great songs on it, but it has some duds too. If the band wants two albums' worth of songs, that's great, but it might be wise to just pick the best of them to assemble a normal-length album (much like Sufjan Stevens did for Illinois).

But then I got to reading the article, and I actually liked a lot of Wayne Coyne's reasons for going with a double album:

"And some of my favorite records ? thinking Beatles 'White Album,' Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti' and even some of the longer things that the Clash have done ? part of the reason I like them is that they're not focused. They're kind of like a free-for-all and go everywhere.

...

"I think with this there was an element of accidentally stumbling upon more spontaneous sort of freak-out stuff," Coyne says. "We were sitting at (drummer) Steven's house and we just started out having these freak-out jam sessions where he'd play drums and I'd play bass and we just would sort of do freaky stuff. Some of those recordings, even though they're not recorded very well, really had a spontaneity about them that we probably wouldn't have purposely done.

When I read that, I have to admit that my favorite Flaming Lips albums are some of their older ones (or at least their middle period, from Hit To Death In The Future Head to Clouds Taste Metallic), before the highly orchestrated production of The Soft Bulletin. Even their earliest work, though rough, has a reckless playfulness that I like. If the band wants to move back to being more spontaneous, that sounds good.

And his point about The White Album being all over the place is a valid one, but I think it's very difficult to pull off, and could very easily fail.

I'm ready to see The Flaming Lips try, though.

04/29/09

Don't go throwin' no coupons on my grave

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 11:18:59 am

I wrote a while ago about Beck's deluxe reissue of One Foot In The Grave.

Since then I've learned from the Paper Tiger blog that if you order the album directly from Beck.com you'll be treated to a free unreleased bonus track titled "The Way it Seems."

Furthermore, the songs ID3 tags identify its album as "K records 2," and the accompanying e-mail hints at an upcoming release of the fabled unreleased follow-up to One Foot In The Grave that Beck recorded for K Records.

This is my favorite period of Beck's career, and I'm very happy that we're being treated to so much unreleased material from that era.

04/24/09

Best spam e-mail ever

Filed under: Computersjksterup   @ 07:30:27 pm

I don't make it a general habit to read my spam messages, but today I did because 1) it's a rare occasion that one actually makes it through my filters and 2) because the subject line was just unusual enough to catch my eye (I won't write it here because I don't want to get weird search referrals or encourage the spammer).

Aside from the subject line, though, the entire message of the e-mail is so nonsensical it's almost beautiful. Here it is in its entirety, minus the subject line which was oddly inserted between the two paragraphs:

That monarch never conquered by any enemy, gave jemima says no one else ever will! I have been.

To drink melted snow. A malignant epidemic of vows, and engaged in silently reciting certain to break that seal. There were no telegraph poles others direct that they should never be without that is due to lawful kings, even though they set in. They showed a desire for western learning is it? Katherine said. It's moving. I can feel henry might return he must clinch matters finally. A childish people, and keep them in a state of began to worship (that car), o prime of men. And riding oh the same car, both rushed against bhima lavas, and kashthas, and kshanas, and months,.

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