I haven't left the house today except to walk the dog.
I feel kinda bad, because the Knox County Dems were running a bunch of last-weekend-before-the-election stuff, and I was going to go help them out. But it's so hard to get myself motivated on that, when the fed elections are all pretty well set---Evans in the 17th, Obama in Illinois, and Kerry for IL's electoral votes. And the local ones, which are just as important and on which I could have even more influence, I can't bring myself to care about. *sigh*
Instead, I slept until noon and spent the rest of the day doing laundry, cleaning, and typing in a couple of knitting patterns. Now I'm going to sit here and watch three hours of animation. Time well spent. :)
"Wait, vegans won't eat honey!?!? I mean, for goodness sake, they're bees. There are trees that are higher on the evolutionary scale than bees." --Jonathan Prykop
My teaching load this term is no heavier than the last two---arguably quite a bit lighter than in the Spring, actually. So why is it that I feel so much more strung out this time around? I'm having the most difficult time trying to keep up with my grading, being now behind by one full homework in each class and looking at a project coming in this weekend.
Oh yeah, and I need to put together a packet of info for the Faculty Personnel Committee about why I should be signed for another two years, by... Friday. It's mostly done, but the stuff I have left keeps getting deferred by, "I need to write a lab for tomorrow!" or "I'd better refresh my knowledge of TCP/IP before I have to lecture on it in three hours".
The worst of it is, I'm not even procrastinating that badly. (You'll notice the plethora of recent blog posts.)
"Kerry is not the ideal instrument, just as a rubber raft is not the optimal vessel on the open sea. But when the ship is sinking, you can't be choosy." --Steve Chapman
The Fall Term mainstage show is Dancing at Lughnasa. It takes place in late summer 1936 in rural Ireland. It reminded me in several ways of Ah, Wilderness! from last year: both revolve to some extent around a boy in nostalgic but changing times, but are really at least as much about the adults around him. This one a bit moreso, as the boy doesn't even appear as such in the play, although his older self---the narrator---fills us in on his half of the dialogue when necessary. (This particular dramatic conceit was odd and didn't get any less odd as the play went on. But, apparently it's written into the script, so there you go. Saves them the trouble of getting a 7-year-old bit player, I guess.)
Overall I think I would rate this show good but not great. There were a few line stumbles, which are hard to cover up in monologue, although I suppose they'll improve in later performances. It took a solid twenty or thirty minutes to really get into the show, partially because I think it took some of the actors that long to really slide into character. (Perhaps they were thinking too much about their Irish accents, which were good throughout but strongest at the beginning.) I have a hard time pinning down any one moment I didn't like, though.
What I did see was a whole lot of raw talent, and much of it in freshmen and sophomores. Four of the eight actors had never been in a mainstage show before, and I find myself already looking forward to their performances three years from now.
The hardest role, I think, was that of the narrator, played by Nicholas James Perry; aside from a few lines of dialogue as his younger self (spoken while standing off to the side while the other actors interact with the invisible character), what he has are a lot of big, long monologues. And aside from not knowing what to do with his hands for a lot of the time (and this is a hard problem---you try reciting a speech while making your hands neither distracting nor limp), he did a great job. Where did he come from? He's a freshman, and I expect great things from him.
At the beginning, I thought that Sylvie Davidson (whose performances I've commented on before on this blog) was overdoing it this time around. From pretty much the start, it felt like there was something unidentifiably not quite right about the way she was playing her character. In point of fact, it turned out that she was perfectly playing a character about whom something was Unidentifiably Not Quite Right. So, good work there.
In the same vein, I kept looking askance at certain things about the set work or the costuming---"I get that women in a rural household might be wearing something more practical on their feet but... are those galoshes?"---and then later discovering that these things were wholly intentional---"Rose, why do you insist on wearing your Wellingtons all the time?" Ah.
I think that Jason Cascio's main problem is that I don't like the characters he gets. I've not been really thrilled with any of his performances, but I don't think it's actually his fault. Here he played Gerry, the least dislikable of the characters I've seen him do, and he did a decent job at it. (I was certainly impressed when he sang "Anything Goes" while dancing for several minutes, not even sounding out of breath at the end of it.) I'd really like to see him land a more congenial part at some point, though!
I think my favourite performance ended up being Jessica Drew as Maggie, though. She has a great smile and played her part with just the right amount of winking fun; you got the clear sense that even though times weren't great she'd always make the best of them.
I also have to note that this is the second mainstage in a row that had a character actually knitting onstage, a development of which I wholly approve. But for a spinster who makes her living by knitting, I'd maybe expect a bit more familiarity with the process, not to mention needles more suited to the project. :P Between Aggie's knitting (purportedly by a professional knitter) and Gerry's dancing (purportedly by a ballroom dance instructor), I feel like I should've been doing some serious consulting on this show. ;)
But like I said, the show was fairly good. I'll give it two and a half out of four stars---though as any of my students will tell you, I'm kind of a harsh grader.
"They are men and women who would otherwise be civilians at home and to me, that's a draft." --Joe Shidle
I occasionally mentally compose blog entries, but then it never seems like I'm near a computer when I think of typing it in. And now my front page has gone blank from lack of posts and people are emailing me to check that I'm okay.
I'm okay! Just busy.
The middle of the term was last week, and in the lead-up to that I had midterm exams and projects to grade; and that was just enough extra work that I still haven't pulled myself up through the usual homework load (though I'm sort of close, I guess).
Fall is really really here. Monday I started wearing sweaters, and Blanket Guy has been wandering around campus for a week or two now. But the real indicator is that I've stopped lamenting the cold and started looking forward to the first snow.
Last Saturday, I was in Urbana for the UIUC ballroom competition. I wasn't competing, but Kathy was, and it was good to go to a comp again. I'm all psyched now to get a few couples to go to Iowa State's comp in March. One of my students, Andrew, actually came with on Saturday; and aside from a little bit of shyness about actually getting out there and dancing with people that were better than him (I promise that's the best, funnest way to improve!), he really seemed to be into it. I also made a convoluted connection with some Monmouth kids (one of Kathy's teammates's sister and her boyfriend, or was it brother and his girlfriend?) who might be joining us now or at the start of the next term, which is pretty exciting.
I haven't had any time to do any political stuff, which is a little frustrating but probably just as well, as I'd just get angry. Although, I did write a letter to the Zephyr last week, which got its own heading rather than being put with the other presidential debate responses, about this idiotic "culture of life" business the Republicans are yapping about now. (See, there I go again, getting angry.)
So anyway, here I am, plodding along. My next planned departure from Galesburg is the 6th, when I go back to Urbana for the ACM programming contest, and I might go visit Ames at some point. But other than that, I'll just be here. Grading.
"Programming is just another name for the lost art of thinking." --Aaron Hsu
Once again, Bush's debate voice was best characterised as "guys, you gotta believe me!" Not very presidential. Others have noticed, of course, and I just wish some of the more mainstream media pundits would point it out.
His debate face was a bit better this time around. Clearly, someone told him he had to stop smirking and looking impatient; almost as clearly, he took lessons in this from his wife, whose long-time approach to this is to appear utterly (perhaps udderly) vacant.
Someone needs to fill in W on modern computing terminology, though. I mean, "there's a rumour on the inter-nets"? Has he not used a computer in the last ten years? Heck, forget using a computer; I'd think that general media exposure, even for illiterates, would use the word "Internet" often enough that pretty much everyone but the mountain hermits would know it by now.
Kerry, for his part, seemed a bit restrained. He made a few good points, as with the "we did something they've been unable to do---balance the budget" line. However, there were never any really powerful zingers. In fact, he was handed two golden opportunities by his opponent, which he totally passed up.
Early in the debate, Bush made reference to Kerry's "global test", as we all knew he would. Kerry should have been ready, as soon as that was said, to start his rebuttal with some variant of: "Oh, weren't you paying attention the other night? I explained my global test then, but I'll revisit it now..." The spin of that whole thing, condensing a whole paragraph of explanation into its two least representative words, is an inexcusable bit of campaign 'strategery' from the Bush camp, and making Bush out as if he wasn't paying attention had every potential to be another "There you go again" or "You're no Jack Kennedy".
Later, in one of the last questions, Bush went on and on about his "Culture of Life". I don't remember whether this was in response to abortion or stem-cell research. But when Kerry got his 30-second extension, Kerry should have immediately dropped the proximate topic and ripped Bush a new one: "Culture of Life? Culture of Life? This from the man who supports increasing the use of the death penalty, sends thousands of men and women to their deaths with no plan or purpose served, refuses to fund any sort of realistic health care initiative for children, the elderly, or indeed anyone at all. Ladies and gentlemen, we can talk about a culture of life, but this man shows no consistent support for quality of life or even the preservation of life. Do not believe his lies."
Overall, though, I think the debate went well. Bush rambled a bunch, using the same old phrases we've heard before, and there was a fair amount of not answering the question on both sides. But the questions were excellent, and the moderator was at least somewhat good at pressing the candidates when they dodged a question. I'm not a fan of the "town hall" format where random people are picked and then they ask a question, because there's a lot of not-really-a-question questions and general grandstanding. But having an impartial moderator select questions from 200 or so written by audience members, that gives us the best of both worlds.
Also, I just noticed as my dog was sitting on my lap that some of his whiskers have split ends. So cute!
"People do what they want to do. Corollary: When people do things, it's because they want to do them. This philosophy saves me a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted on trying to figure out other people's motives." --Casey Westerman
This morning, on our walk, I told him to "leave it"---the command I use to mean variably "stop barking at that squirrel", "stop licking that food wrapper", "don't even think about eating that piece of poo", etc.---and he looked up at me and then looked straight at the pocket I keep my treats in, expectantly. Evidently "leave it" now means "I'll give you a treat if you look at me right now", and more importantly, he's trained me to offer him a treat every time he goes sniffing at something unsavoury. Hmm.
Earlier this week, he was laying down in the hallway chewing on a rope toy, and I sighed and said, "I have to go to work now. You know what that means..." and he did! With no further prompting, he stood up and trotted into the kitchen, into his dog bed, and looked back at me sadly. I gave him a big old treat and he seemed somewhat mollified.
And my no-leash-at-night policy was vindicated already last night. It was cold and rainy and I just didn't want to go outside. I let him out, he peed, and then he raced right back in to get the treat he knew was waiting for him. And I stayed completely dry. Success!
"No matter how you feel about Bush, watching him speak is difficult. It's like watching a drunk man cross an icy street." --Tucker Carlson
Well, tonight marks a major, important moment in my relationship with my dog. What on earth, you ask? Well, I let him out back without a leash.
It was super-scary, actually, but I had to do it at some point if I was to achieve my goal: sometime before the first snow, I want to be able to let him out the back door to relieve himself while I stand up on the somewhat-less-cold enclosed porch. And it's starting to get cold, and no time like the present, right? So I pulled out my big-bucks treats, some variety of Beggin Strips I think, and I waved them under his nose immediately before opening the porch door and letting him out.
For his part, he actually was reluctant to even step off the stairs without me. I actually had to go outside as far as the sidewalk before he'd run onto the grass. He did, and he went, and he ran right back when I called him inside. And he got his treats.
"The intuitive bottom line on the Macintosh versus PC productivity debate is actually pretty simple: I've never met a PC user whose focus on the job he or she was supposed to be doing wasn't significantly diluted by the need to accommodate the PC and its software, but I've never met a business Mac user who considered the machine anything other than a tool, like a telephone or typewriter, for getting the job done." --Paul Murphy
That was certainly the high point. Kerry got asked what the biggest security threat was, and BAM he answered. He got Bush to agree that nuclear proliferation was the biggest threat, and totally laid out the ways in which Bush has failed to deal with it.
Overall, I think the debate went fairly well on both sides, actually, but to the extent that anyone "wins" these things, it had to go to Kerry. Bush's tone from start to finish kept making me thinking he was about to add, "c'mon guys! you gotta believe me!" He got increasingly panicky through the evening. There were several times he delivered lines that clearly seemed designed to make the audience laugh, except of course they'd been carefully instructed not to make any sound in response to the debate, so these lines fell completely flat.
My only cringe moment for Kerry was when he totally misused the word "cohort". Then a little while later he used the word "severalfold", and that was cool enough that I mostly forgave him.
The item of the evening that Bush kept trying to push was that Kerry was inconsistent in his stance on the war (though he avoided the word "flip-flop"). Regardless of whether it was true (and it's not), Kerry really won this battle, because he outlined a short, concise statement of his position, and each time it came up he reiterated this and gave a different supporting point. Bush's only response was, "but he was inconsistent!" No support. Hey, if you say it often enough, maybe it'll become true!
Another point Bush was hammering, and rightly so, was Libya. Considering it might be the one and only true success in his whole little war, Bush has taken long enough to realise that he needs to dwell on it. On the other hand, he was certainly beating that drum enough tonight.
Now, back to writing my exam....
"I would say that participants in this discussion would be well-served to read "Ideology and Utopia" by Karl Mannheim, but no one here ever takes book recommendations seriously, preferring instead to argue from existing bases of knowledge and assumptions that don't overlap, so I won't." --Michael Feltes