For the last week I've been at the ACL conference, going to lots of talks and learning about stuff and seeing people I haven't seen since last year (or longer). I'm really psyched about getting back into things, and I hope I can sustain that and get some work done.
But today was the first day of workshops, the post-season if you will, and the conference is winding down. At lunch, I took a nap and then drove out to a nice little local yarn shop---Flying Sheep Yarns---which I'd been planning to do anyway but really needed to do since I unexpectedly finished the pair of socks I was working on. (My knitting speed has definitely increased in the last year; I was only about 2/3 done with one sock of the pair at the start of the conference, so I was knitting on the order of 4000 stitches a day, or---given that I was probably only knitting for four or five hours per day---a bit less than a thousand stitches an hour. Whew! Anyway, I bought some sockweight alpaca-wool blend in off-white and green that will make a nice pair of socks (not for in-meeting knitting; I'll have to pattern these to make them beautiful), and two skeins of a cotton-wool-nylon blend that I'm a little leery of but seems to be comfortable so far.
I went back to the workshops and continued drifting from one to the other, seeing a number of good talks and yet another one by a guy redoing exactly what I'd done without even citing me. After the last one, a bunch of us decided to walk over to the south campus for dinner, which we had at what was basically a sandwich shop, where we all ordered different varieties of reuben. The sandwichista nearly cut his finger off at one point, which was a bit exciting, but fortunately he turned out to be ok and after bandaging up his hand and putting on a fresh pair of gloves, he went back to making our various sandwiches.
After sitting around and chatting for a while, Eric, who grew up in Ann Arbor, suggested checking out a gaming store nearby. After some joking comments about how dangerous that was, we went to the little sidewalk mall it was in and discovered it was in a closeout sale, all stock must go, closing by the end of June---i.e. tomorrow. Uh oh. Going inside, we saw that most of their stock was already gone, which was a relief, but there was quite enough left in little piles labelled "20% off" and "40% off" and "60% off" to, um, keep us there for a while. Among five of us, I believe we purchased nine games and about fifty assorted dice, although there may have also been some five-cent Magic cards in the mix. I, of course, unconstrained by airline luggage regulations, was able to buy more than most, and after trying to decide which of four games to get, I just got all four of them: New England, Lunar Rails, Meridian, and Rumis.
We then came back to the dorm, and after sitting around in my-and-Sharon's room talking about what we'd go to tomorrow, we went downstairs to the lounge and played Rumis, a relatively new and really cool 3D block game that everyone in the world needs to go play right now.
And now, I'm going to bed. :)
I just sent an email to someone I knew from Brown, congratulations about getting a book chapter published. The response reads as follows (identifying information removed):
Subject: Returned mail: see transcript for details
----- All mail to xxxxx is being AUTOMATICALLY DELETED -----
Your message bounced.
(reason: xxxxx needs a break)
----- Transcript of session follows -----
procmail: Refused to save
.... User exhausted
Daemons have decided to destroy xxxxx's mail so that she may rest without fear of returning to the dreaded INBOX. All messages sent to xxxxx from May 28-July 3 2005 will not be delivered. If it is still important, contact xxxxx again after July 3. Perhaps, if you feel so inclined, invite the Daemons to visit your server so that you too may rest without email.
----- Do not resend until after July 3 -----
Say bye-bye. Your message has just found a new home in /dev/null. ::wave:: bye bye cute message.... bye bye....
Maybe I'll have to try that sometime....
"There's only one person who cannot walk away from your problems." --Vernor Vinge
The scene: sandwich shop in downtown Galesburg, on East Main. Our protagonist enters and stands in the "line", looking at the menu whiteboards.
OWNER #1 (working cash register): Hey, how's it going?
PROTAGONIST: Pretty good, yourself?
O1: Doing fine.
OWNER #2 (making sandwiches): Hey, I'll buy your lunch if you run across to the bank for me.
PROT: Uh, okay... what did you need?
O1: Here you go. (hands PROTAGONIST two 20s and a 10)
PROT: Sure, um, be right back. (exits)
PROT: Here you go. (Hands O1 two paperclipped stacks of 25 one-dollar bills.)
O1: Thanks so much. What are you gonna have?
"A simple antiphon sung or heard quietly and repeatedly is easier to learn, remember, and even apply to daily life, than a three-verse strophic hymn. Advertising agencies apply this lesson well. Parish music ministries ought to consider it---is not the "product" we "advertise" much more valuable than, say, cat food?" --Aristotle Esguirre
Tonight, the third installment. They got off to a shaky start; when they did their little "here is the character of the dances they'll be doing" bit (new this week), I'm not sure I agreed with their emphasis, for example, on "really fast turns" in jive. But, with bated breath, I let them get started.
I simply dreaded Evander's jive. He clunked around the floor in everything else, and I just knew he was going to do the same thing in jive, where you need to maintain a connection with the floor but you really need to be light on your feet. But in the event, he wasn't so horrible as all that. He was merely bad. His feet stayed apart and I never once saw him point his toes. I'm not sure I would have recognised it as jive if the sound were off. But it was at least understandable as dancing.... He got a 13, which I totally agreed with.
In introducing Rachel, they talked about how she was in the bottom two last time, which certainly gives the lie to their claim that the non-eliminated were called out in random order! But anyway. Her international tango was danced to surprisingly upbeat music, but she really got into it. Again, she had a good mix of technical merit and art---she did some excellent artistic flourishes. And netted a 26, a score with which I was well pleased.
Kelly, then, danced a jive, which was surprising since in the past the dances ran down gender lines. I wonder if they were assigned dances for this one or if they got to choose.... But in any case, she took the floor with some fairly basic jive that was nevertheless pretty well done. The cut lines between "basic jive" and "flashy open choreography" were perceptible, and the open stuff had a little bit of awkwardness, but all told I'd put it as a pretty good novice routine. (She really needs to find a costume with more support if she does jive again, though.) I think that the first week was just an anomaly, because I once again agreed with the judges' score of 21, and with most of their comments. (The audience, incidentally, was incredibly rude. The judges gave some excellent constructive advice, which Kelly obviously appreciated, and the audience booed so loud you could barely hear the judges. Cretins.)
John and Charlotte have an amazing chemistry, and I'm thinking that she's also the best of the instructors. When they have clips of her teaching, she is always making some comment that is right on, be it about posture or lead or anything else. When they started their tango, the first thing that struck me was their incredible synchrony---again---whether they were doing easier basic stuff or open choreography. This is hard to maintain when you're also doing the staccato move-slow-then-move-fast thing that really makes the tango work, but they pulled it off. (But why is her hair down? It does weird things when she snaps her head around.) They couldn't quite replicate their quickstep success, but they did very good and are still obviously the couple to beat, overall. Still the prettiest! They got a 24, which was pretty right, all things considered. (I continue to love Len, the Brit: "you move like a PANTHER!" Heh.)
You could've driven a mack truck between Joey's legs, but I still enjoyed their routine. He is clearly having so much fun with this, I'm going to hate to see him go. I really like that he and his partner are both contributing to their routines, although I wonder just how good she is if she claims not to know how to make it look like she really is feeling the dance. All told, a little sloppy, and 22 might've been a smidge high, but I couldn't really complain much.
At this point they explain how the scoring really works, and I was a little disappointed. The scores we see earlier do nothing other than rank the couples, who are then awarded between 1 and 5 points accordingly. (Five for the highest, etc.) The audience voting does likewise, and then the points are added up. Which means that if the scores are 30-29-28-27-10, that second-to-last place might as well have gotten an 11 for all the good it'll do them. It's like an Amber auction. Here, though: lame!
Finally, they called out the couples, again in "random" order but the last two were claimed to be actually the lowest combined scores. Thank goodness, Evander was eliminated. Anything else would be a travesty. Who next? Hard to say; I voted for Rachel (thrice) and John (twice) to stay, but the last place is a tossup between Kelly and Joey. We'll see how they do next week....
"The enemy of a critical theology is not natural literalism but conscious literalism with repression of and aggression toward autonomous thought." --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith
So here I am, sitting in my office, when all of a sudden this aethereal music starts playing around at the edge of my hearing. After a few moments of this, I had to go investigate; this isn't exactly an everyday occurrence. I go out in the hallway, turning this way and that, go down the stairs---listen for a moment because it's stopped, but then it begins again---and finally discover, in one of the side passageways in the psych wing, a Knox student sitting there on the floor with her music and her flute. Evidently she doesn't like CFA and spends all her time here anyway. (For me, that'd be a reason to go find someplace else, but hey, different strokes and all that.) She kept apologising, but I told her I didn't mind at all, but I think I've scared her away. No---there it is, she's started again. Bizarre (but cool!).
"Faith, if it takes its symbols literally, becomes idolatrous!" --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith
It's been said in a variety of places that there is a natural alliance between leftist political groups and religious (or at least Christian) groups, regarding serving the poor, working for peace, and so on. I've said it myself, in fact.
What troubles me about such an alliance, however, is that in its own way it's just as bad as the alliance between the we-control-your-life rightists and Christian groups. Once again, they are using the machinery of politics to impose religious beliefs on everyone else; a tyranny of a (perhaps temporary, coalitional) majority.
And, truth be told, the reasons I support my various progressive causes are not at all religious. Religion is a reason for me personally to go out and help feed the hungry and help provide shelter for the homeless. (Something which I'm regretfully not very good at.) But if I say that the government should do those things for religious reasons, that's no good at all; it's a violation of the establishment clause, and just generally bad policy, since it would mean that a decrease in subscription to certain religions should decrease government services, which is madness.
No, I believe the government should be in the business of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and so on, because the government's business is to serve the people. The imperative for the government to provide social services is not particularly a moral one; to the extent that government is not just of the people and by the people but also for the people, basic services like keeping people from having to eat cat food is just part of the job description.
The fact that good Christians should be helping out on the side is just gravy.
You can't legislate morality. When you try, it doesn't make people suddenly start making moral choices, whether they be to give food to a soup kitchen or decide not to have an abortion. It just takes the decision away from them; such people aren't acting morally, they're just tooling along in an amoral state, following the law because they fear punishment or literally can't do otherwise. If you give people real choices, sometimes hard ones, they will surely make mistakes; but only through those choices and, yes, those mistakes, can they graduate to the highest levels of moral decisionmaking.
"The radical criticism of the myth is due to the fact that the primitive mythological consciousness resists the attempt to interpret the myth of myth. It is afraid of every act of demythologization. It believes that the broken myth is deprived of its truth and of its convincing power." --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith
Yesterday at the hearings on the reactivation of parts of the "Patriot" Act, the committee chairman---James Sensenbrenner---decided he didn't like what people were saying, and so without a motion to adjourn or any warning, he went on a three-minute rant and then declared the meeting over. When other committee members tried to question what he was doing, he cut their mikes. Heaven forbid that the American people get a full hearing about their worries that dissent is being silenced! The C-SPAN video of this disgraceful action is available at this site, along with a second clip showing what happened next: the rump committee continued the hearing, even with their mikes cut (C-SPAN had boom mikes, I think, but you can tell that the people in the room have to raise their voices to be heard).
"If [civil authorities] try to enforce spiritual conformity, and are successful, they have removed the risks and courage which belong to the act of faith." --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith
I can't stand how the announcer called out "Are you ready to rumbaaaaa" as if he were the first person to think of it. But anyway. This week the ladies danced the rumba (international), while the men danced the quickstep.
Rachel started off this week with a high-quality rumba. She really had the feel of the dance right on, and the timing---never easy for a newcomer to international-style rumba---was perfect as well. The judges gave her a 24, higher than any score last week, which sounds about right.
Joey followed that with a quickstep. It was preceded with a bunch of whining about "it's so faaaaast", with which his partner agreed---which made it clear right from the start that he didn't get it. Despite the name, a good quickstep actually feels quite smooth and slow. As the dance got going, his butt was sticking out and he had no connection with his partner. (And yeah, that would make the dance a lot more work than it should be!) On the other hand, his steps did seem to be fairly well-synched with his partner; I just wish they'd done something other than the gallopy stuff. Alas. 21 for them, which seems a tad high but not outrageous.
Trista had good technical control of a lot of her moves, but appeared to have a very weakly-felt notion of the rumba rhythm. A lot of places, she was stepping not quite in time, though her partner never let her get completely off-time. Very nice ending. With all the flaws they could have called her on, though, the judges decided to diss her on her facial expressions; once again, it's like they're judging a fun dance. Sigh. At least this week I'm agreeing with the judges more: 19 was pretty much right on for this routine.
John took the quickstep floor with a really cute lead in, and then once he and his partner took their frame, he went into a solid gold quickstep. No gallopy stuff, but a really good medium-to-advanced syllabus quickstep, with good frame, exactly the right expression, and a very smooth motion. After one trip around the room, he brought in a few scissor kicks and a diagonal race across the floor before ending up with some more demonstration of his mastery of the dance. Wow. The judges were pretty floored too; rather than their usual feel-good gushing, they were actually at a sputtering loss for words. John is definitely the man to beat in this competition. He got a 26 out of 30. Right on.
After last week's misjudging, Kelly was unfortunately led to believe that she needed lots more FEELing in her dance; this week she had too much feeling and not enough dancing. Her rumba was a lot worse than her waltz, with very little in-time motion, just lots of running up to her partner and then pushing him away. The judges claim that she had improved a lot, which is simply false, and gave her a 17. That score is about right, I think, with my only reservations being that it poorly reflects the relative quality of the two performances.
Evander was just as bad this week as last week, clunking around the floor with no sense at all of the dance. It was all gallopy stuff; like Joey he was not connected to his partner, but unlike Joey he wasn't even particularly synched with her. His performance reminded me of what it looks like when a couple of intermediate ballroomers are goofing around and try to "lead" an open quickstep---his partner made a game try at following, but there really was not much she could do. Bleh. This week the judges seemed to perceive his lack, awarding him a meagre 14 out of 30.
Finally, having added up two weeks' worth of judging, they added in last week's viewer voting and in "random" order (read: arbitrary order, carefully selected for dramatic effect) called the callbacks for next week. When they called Evander back, I thought sure Kelly was out (since judging-points-wise she was in last place), so I was pretty floored when they called her back. Only Rachel and Trista remained, and although I didn't dislike Trista's work, I was really hoping that Rachel got the nod---her waltz was adequate, but her rumba was quite good. I wish that they'd shown us how the viewer voting played out; and I still don't know just how cumulative everything is. (I suspect that all the judging points are cumulative, but each week the viewer voting starts fresh to comprise half the callback numbers---that'd be the most dramatic, sigh.) As for drama, I'd rate the remaining five as John, then Rachel and Joey in some order, then Kelly, then Evander, which sets them up nicely for the alternating boy-girl elimination that you know they really want.
Anyway, eagerly awaiting next week. I totally voted for John, although I think Rachel might have been a wiser strategic vote. Amusing endnote: at the end of the credits, we see that this has been a BBC production. But of course!
"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself." --Sen. Barack Obama
I didn't get a chance to watch it last week, but I taped it. Dancing with the Stars is ABC's summer reality show about ballroom dancing, pairing celebrities with professional dancers and dropping them into a stock reality competition format. Here are comments on the first round (last week).
The first guy was fun to watch because he looked like the newcomer that he is. Joey (formerly of NKOTB fame) had the sort of head-forward stance that so many newcomers take, and throws his arms out rather than bringing them up in a controlled fashion. The routine they've choreographed, like many open cha-cha routines, spends very little time actually chachaing, something I've never been a fan of but which doesn't seem to bother judges much. The first two judges gushed about his performance, but the third (Bruno) brought up his posture. He got a 20.
The second competitor, Rachel, danced a lovely routine to waltz music that looked more like something out of a theatre arts competition. Brit judge Len pointed out exactly that; she still got a 20.
Evander Holyfield was the third, and what he was dancing bore no perceptible relationship to the cha-cha. His partner had a few cha-cha moves, but he mostly just stood there; when he did move, it was just one or two steps on individual beats. I'm not sure I saw even one cha-cha-cha out of him. The judges seemed to pick up on this, but then awarded him an 18; the 7 and 6 he received were the same scores awarded to the previous two. Judges officially noted to be on crack.
The fourth dancer, Kelly, was loads of fun to watch, because she and her partner were the first to actually dance the dance. They did a waltz routine that circled the floor, including a mix of basic and advanced moves (several of which I've done myself---Kathleen and I could've done that routine much better, actually). The ending was a slight clunk, but that's what you get for dipping an inexperienced dancer. Even so, this was clearly and by far the best routine so far. Except... the judges, I now see, are not actually judging these dances as dance competitions, but as fun dances, where skill and style take a back seat to fancy and/or outrageous moves, regardless of execution. The entirety of their complaints seemed to have to do with her facial expression, except for Len, who went on about how the routine was all "flowers" and no "lawn", when in fact this was the first routine that had any basic moves at all, that showed any notion of the actual spirit of the dance. They socked her with a 13.
John, the fifth dancer, had a little sloppiness in the footwork, but excellent posture, and he really had the look and feel of the dance well in hand. There was some actual cha-cha-cha in the routine, and just the right amount of flash. (Also, nice shish-boom!) Easily the best of the three guys; but he's stuck with another damn 20.
Trista, who is by this point famous for being famous, was the last of the six competitors. Her dress was frustratingly too long, so I couldn't see her feet, but the motion was generally pretty good, especially for a newcomer. Overall, I rated her as a "meh"---it was recognisably a waltz that she was doing, basically, and had no particularly notable positive or negative characteristics. The judges gave her an 18, which, whatever. Their numbers clearly have very little attachment to reality.
Now off to watch this week's tape, and see who gets bumped off. Apparently "half" of the points are to come from viewer voting, but it's not clear what the algorithm will be, or how many votes Kelly will need to overcome her undeservedly low score of 13, when everyone else had basically the same scores. :P
"In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it: Social Darwinism, every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity.... And it's especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life's lottery." --Sen. Barack Obama
I don't ever remember being actually alerted to a tornado warning by the air raid sirens before. In fact, I don't ever remember hearing them aside from at 10am on the first Tuesday of the month.
I was puttering around in the kitchen, when all of a sudden I felt a cool breeze from outside. Since it had been almost 90 just a little while earlier, this was surprising; and indeed the sky was black and the clouds were racing. I took Nutmeg outside real quick before the rain started, thinking, this'll be one helluva thunderstorm. The temperature had dropped close to 30 degrees in less than an hour.
Moments after I got back inside, then, I heard the air raid sirens. After a brief moment of shock, my raised-in-the-Midwest hindbrain kicked in, and I grabbed my phone, a book, and my dog, and went down into the basement. I then smacked my forehead and ran back up to grab a portable radio. After finding a station, I ascertained that the sirens were indeed for a tornado warning over western Knox County; an actual funnel had been sighted about three miles northwest of Galesburg.
So I sat out the warning down there. Apparently the extent of the damage within the city was a downed tree blocking North Prairie St; no funnel clouds here (thanks, St. Crescent). Now, it's just raining (and not even that hard, considering) and, occasionally, thundering.
UPDATE: It's St. Crescent who protects Galesburg from tornadoes. Silly me.
"Our present prisons ... find or make men guilty, ... enclose wretches for the commission of one crime, and return them, if returned alive, fitted for the perpetration of thousands...." --Oliver Goldsmith, "The Vicar of Wakefield" (1766)
I always seem to do this to myself. I've had loads of time to work on it, but I've put off until now working on my cs142 grading, which is of course due tomorrow or I'd probably put it off more.
I mean, I got my senior grades done a week ago. Why couldn't I have finished my grades then? Sigh.
"Dogma is useful for pulling oneself up by one's moral and religious bootstraps, but simplistic moral claims are not effective in choosing between several far-from-perfect alternatives." --Chris Tessone
Commencement was Saturday, and Senator Obama was the main speaker. God, he's a great orator. He also is, or has, an excellent speechwriter. But it's not just that; he can integrate stuff on the fly. The Knox website has a "transcript" that is pretty obviously just the intended speech (and not copyedited, at that, tsk tsk), but comparing that to the actual transcript is pretty impressive, as you can see how he made changes as he went, and if you listen to the video you can see that when he would misspeak on one word, he'd extemporaneously edit the rest of the sentence to match it.
After Obama's speech, and after the diplomas were distributed, Dan Lieberman gave the student speech. It was structured around a motif of "Hi mom!", "Hi faculty!", each one followed with some remarks thereto, and when he addressed the abovementioned orator, he turned around and said, "Hi, President Obama!" A brief gasp and then thunderous applause from the audience. Dan then coyly explained that he wanted to "try that out and see how it sounded"---more applause. Dan then directed the Senator to find under his seat Dan's résumé (it was actually there, Obama held it up to show the crowd), in the most shameless bit of job schmoozing I've ever seen. I hope it's effective; he'd be a great guy to get into politics.
Aside from these two excellent speeches, the ceremony was chiefly notable for the rain which didn't quite hold off. As the choir sang "How can I keep from singing", a perfectly serendipitous thunderclap accompanied the line "No storm can shake my inmost calm..." as grey clouds raced in to threaten. The platform party skipped a bunch of stuff to get to the diplomas in an effort to beat the rain, which failed, so all the graduates got a bit rained on. However, by the end of the list, the rain had stopped again, so we went back and picked up the earlier stuff we'd skipped, and indeed the weather then completely cleared. By the time we'd finished the recessional, it was sunny and warm again. Sigh.
At that point, I grabbed some food, said hi to a few people, and then ran off to my car to race up to Milwaukee. But that's for another post.
"If Christianity is to remain relevant in the United States, it has to emphasize a doctrine that has historically been important to the faith but has been much maligned in this past century: the efficacy of the conscience apart from the institutional church." --Chris Tessone
The book-on-tape that I just finished listening to over the weekend was something of a departure for me; normally I go for the suspenseful thriller mystery, since one of its chief goals will be to keep me awake and alert while driving. But this one struck my fancy anyway, billed as the first comedic novel written in English: The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith, first published in 1766. And the voice actor's accent alone was worth the price of admission (which was free, but still); the novel itself was a little scattershot, but still a fun read. I was interested to note that the desire to tie up all the loose ends with a nice, happy little bow, currently billed as some sort of American weakness, was already alive and well in 18th-century England.
Indeed, I was pretty surprised at a lot of the ways in which this novel could have been written much more recently. Many turns of phrase were older than I thought, and aside from a leaning towards some now-less-used words like 'assiduity', there were very few places where the language of the novel would be out of place in modern Standard English. (Even the thees and thous seemed to be on their way out; I think by this point they were already restricted to intra-family conversation.) I was certainly pleased to note a bunch of split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions, the most delightful being in the second-to-last chapter: "She was now made an honest woman of." Magnificent.
But the most interesting parts of the book were when characters were having discussions about politics and society, many of which are just as applicable today as they were 240 years ago. On class and the accumulation of wealth:
An accumulation of wealth, however, must necessarily be the consequence when, as at present, more riches flow in from external commerce than arise from internal industry; for external commerce can only be managed to advantage by the rich, and they have also at the same time all the emoluments arising from internal industry; so that the rich, with us, have two sources of wealth, whereas the poor have but one. For this reason, wealth in all commercial states is found to accumulate, and all such have hitherto in time become aristocratical.That's from Chapter 19. On the nature of punishment and the role of the state therein:
Then, instead of our present prisons, which find or make men guilty, which enclose wretches for the commission of one crime, and return them, if returned alive, fitted for the perpetration of thousands....Chapter 22 has more on this theme, starting around page 224. Some of it, it's like he's looking through time at turn-of-the-21st-century America, and all of us that even existed then was a bunch of colonies across the sea.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Perhaps because of its familiarity in language and politics, it helps to show me just how different some other things were about life in 18th-century Britain.
What could we say? We're only twenty five years old,
with 25 sweet summers, and hot fires in the cold.
This kind of life makes that violence unthinkable;
we'd like to play hockey,
and grow old.... --Moxy Früvous, "Gulf War Song"