31 May 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like summer

10:00am: Woke to alarm. Turned it off.

11:30am: Got up, fed Nutmeg, drove to various stores to go bike shopping. Had some difficulty finding an actual cheapo bike, and in particular, one that had neither spring suspension nor quick-release wheel or seat. Eventually had success at K-Mart.

1:30pm: Returned home, took bike off car and started to adjust it, but got drawn into discussion with various locals about the house behind me. Eventually turns into a tour; turns out that the sons of the old lady who used to live there sold the house kit-and-caboodle, and it is full of stuff. New stuff, old stuff, some of it kitschy and some of it probably valuable. Dawn's an eBay aficionado, so it should all go to good homes.

2:30pm: Extricated myself from Dawn's new house but got talked into a tour of Sean and Susan's house a couple of houses over. Some really neat geeky stuff on display, both toys and artwork, and quite a lot of restoration work still to be done. Ended up sitting in the "game room" and talking for about an hour.

4:15pm: Finally got back home, fixed an early dinner and read the paper.

5:30pm: Fed the dog, then went out back to configure the new bike.

6pm: Walked the dog.

6:15pm: Checked email, futzed for a while.

7:45pm: Worked on the kitchen floor, sanding a moderate swath.

8:30pm: Sat down and finished The geographer's library, the audiobook that carried me through my last few roadtrips. (A decent book, though not without a few continuity errors. Forgiven in light of its spot-on depiction of the thinly-veiled "Wickenden University", with cameo appearances of the Chicago suburbs.) Also nearly finished lace knitwork I've been trying out of my Marianne Kinzel book.

11:15pm: Started a load of laundry, and sat down to check email.

And now I'll go swap the load into the dryer, and grade some CS 142 finals. But it was a simply delightful day, just taking everything as it came, not having to worry about deadlines at all. Ahhhhh.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." --Jaroslav Pelikan

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29 May 2006

Hawk bullying

UPDATE: this story got written up in today's Register-Mail.

A letter to the editor:

One of the many groups that marched in this year's Memorial Day Parade was the Knox County Peace and Justice Coalition. We leave our actual protest signs at home for Memorial Day; instead, we have a batch of smaller "Peace" and "Knox County Peace and Justice" signs, and one big posterboard sign. That sign remembers the 2,464 dead of the current war as well as the 17,648 wounded; they may be injured, they may be gone, but they are not forgotten.

Or at least, they wouldn't have been. As we were lining up for the parade, a man from the motorcycle group a few places behind us came up and notified us that "some people" would not be happy with the sign. We acknowledged the possibility, but kept the sign out, so he left and came back with five or six of his friends, who surrounded our group and very aggressively insisted that we not use the sign with the numbers on it, as this parade was "hallowed ground". They made vague legal threats on the basis of the new funeral protest law, and there was an implication that someone might get hurt.

We then edited the sign to make it even clearer that it was meant as a memorial: in its final form, it read "We remember/2464 dead/17648 wounded/Never forget!" But this was not enough, as a few minutes later this group came back again, actually grabbed one of our leaders by the shoulders, and made us put the sign away. Various members of their group (not by far the entire motorcycle group; I estimate there were less than a dozen harassing us) kept coming back up the line to check on us.

Not willing to be completely bullied by these thugs, I hastily made some smaller signs that just said "2464" to tape in my windows, which I didn't put up until the line had started moving. Nevertheless, the situation was entirely unacceptable. Though we had every right to protest, we did not, out of respect; and yet we were harassed, intimidated, and assaulted just for not being willing to sweep our thousands of war dead under the rug.

I understand that these men are veterans, and that they are politically in favor of the war, and that is their right. But it is shameful for them to use a show of force to silence those who would remember the losses of families in Galesburg, in Knoxville, and across the country. Not on Memorial Day; not on any day.

"Maybe it's time for real artists with the English language to replace a few Latin I students on ICEL." --Todd

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25 May 2006

Mixed blessing?

Because my sister is really really cool, I'm now the proud owner of the Firefly DVDs. Because her timing is poor I now can't watch them until sometime next week at least. Until then they will sit beside my TV. Taunting me. Argh.

"Put people in direct control of the stuff around them and they will, more or less, on average, be happier. It explains why some people like stick shifts, it explains why lethargic user interfaces make you frustrated and depressed, and it explains why people get so goddamn mad when Sony decides to install viruses on their computers just because they tried to listen to a CD." --Joel Spolsky

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24 May 2006

Caught up!

Word to the wise: don't get behind on your lawnmowing.

Especially if you have a reel mower.

A few weeks ago, I had done an initial round of mowing on most of the yard (the part that grows faster), but the grass was needing mowing again shortly. I planned to do it over the weekend. But then, we got—no joke—a week straight of rain. Not heavy rain, but enough to make it impossible to mow. Last Tuesday it was clear and literally everyone was out there with their lawnmowers. I was trying to mow, but it was slow going. I only got the front yard done.

Then life intervened, and I was unable to get much further. By this Monday, large portions of the yard had gone to seed, and there were sections that were fully a foot and a half long. Yiiiikes. It was not only too long for my reel mower to do anything, I think even a regular gas mower would've had trouble.

I could've gotten a grass whip (think scythe), but decided to just go with the weedwhacker instead. Unfortunately, it is cordless, so I had to do this in 15-minute batches. And then follow up a day or two later with the mower to actually cut the grass down even.

So today I got the last of the whacking done, and all of the mowing done and re-done except for one incredibly thick, dense part of my back yard (although that part still looks ok). Mowing today the portions that I had already mowed a week or so ago was just as easy as it's supposed to be, trimming maybe a half inch or inch off the top, sending clippings flying in my wake.

And now I'm caught up, basically. It is imperative that I keep up! Because I sure as hell don't want to go through all that again.

"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism---it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do." --Br. Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer

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22 May 2006

Citation quest

In my last post I dropped in the phrase "one non sequitur after catfish" because, well, it's a great turn of phrase, managing to illustrate the idea within the sentence in a sort of higher-level onomatopoeia. I had thought that the phrase, catfish and all, was a moderately well-known way of accomplishing this illustration (hence decreasing their mutual information entropy and thus actually making it less illustrative, but anyway).

It turns out that googling for the phrase turns up only that post (as observed by Lee, who also pointed that damn, but google spiders this blog frequently). So where could I have gotten this from? I certainly didn't come up with it myself, though I'd like to think I'm clever enough to have done so. I have it as an entry in my quotesfile, though unattributed; based on its location in the file, it appears to date from early grad school, so say 1997. It looks like it got added as part of a batch, as I did from time to time back when people forwarded around lists of jokes that were actually funny. That would explain the lack of attribution, as by then I was already being fairly careful to attribute quotes of people I actually recorded myself.

Googling on a slightly less constrained search turns up someone else's quotesfile, who has terrible spelling but includes this quote otherwise identically. And here, it's attributed—to one Brian Postow, apparently a CS prof at Union College in Schenectady. Hooray!

Following up this lead, I landed on Postow's own quotes page, which like mine (and probably the other guy's) has its origin in a fortune database, the list of sayings and quotes that you get one of every time you type fortune on older Unix systems. Postow explains this at the top of his page, along with the caveat "Everyone else who isn't otherwise specified was probably a cs major at Oberlin, or a friend of mine from somewhere else... Or, of course some famous type person...".

So, he might not be the source after all. And the really funny part: his own version of the quote does not involve catfish. "Life is just one non sequitur after fruit bat." That page (along with, soon, this one) are the only hits for that formulation. Back to square one.

Continued slogging through Google hits turns up something that may or may not be directly related, but seems promising. Poem CXC in the book 111 2.7.93-10.20.96 by Kenneth Goldsmith ends with the line

...and catfish is a non-sequitur;
It was published in 1997, though, and remains somewhat obscure (well, to me), so I'm not totally convinced it would've had time to first morph into the "life is a..." form and then make its way into the geeksphere in time for me to add it to the 'file. It's possible someone familiar with the poem read Postow's fruit bat verson of the line, perceived that catfish would be funnier, and thus modified it. It's possible they're independent.

Or, it could be that non sequiturs and catfish go back a long way. I'm tapped for now; anyone got anything else?

Life is just one non sequitur after catfish. --??

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20 May 2006

All the world's a stage

That's from As you like it, unfortunately, because it'd be an even better title for this post if it'd come from Hamlet. Tonight I saw this week's Studio offering, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, by Tom Stoppard, which isn't really based on Hamlet but might be said to be affiliated with it.

I have my usual assortment of notes scribbled on the back of the program, but I'm having a hard time putting them together into a coherent post; they all seem too picky, that is, the ones that aren't embarrassingly gushy about how great the show was. I've a note about how well Doug Porter did sycophantic and how well Eric Feltes did creepy-crazy, and a few notes about how well Matt Allis did all sorts of things. These notes don't really lend themselves to critique, and I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts together in a coherent fashion.

Part of the problem is that the show is just so odd. I've certainly never seen anything quite like it. Billed as "theatre of the absurd", it's one non sequitur after catfish,* and it started making a lot more sense after I stopped thinking about it too much. Kind of an impressionism of the stage—back off and look at the big picture, and you can actually see it, or at least get a feel for it. Even though there was very little explicit fourth-wall humour, I felt throughout the entire show that we the audience were much more involved in the production than usual, partly because the characters, though addressing each other, seemed to be talking to us a lot of the time.

The main characters, onstage for the entire play, are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, bit parts in Shakespeare's version of events. Here, though, they talk to each other, trying to figure out what the hell has gotten into Prince Hamlet but mostly trying to figure out why they're there. Where "there" is is usually left somewhat ambiguous between "in this play", "in this room", or "alive", though it's clear that all is at least allegorically referring to this last, larger question of existence. Matt Schmalz's character is more the serious one, with Matt Allis as more of an, I don't know, "ingenu", more easily distracted and maybe not quite as sharp, though in the end just as concerned about answering the existential question. The two of them were well-cast, sustaining between them over two and a half hours of dialogue while remaining expressive and snappy. Allis in particular had the most amazing range of facial expression throughout the show, and both of them had their dialogue down so well that it sounded completely natural and perfectly timed—the "questions" scene was so flawlessly executed that it inspired a spontaneous and well-deserved round of applause from the audience.

The chemistry in the supporting cast was pretty darn good, too. For the leader of the acting troupe, we saw Morgan Cohen, and although the part seems to have been written for a male actor, she (along with, presumably, director Jason Cascio) figured out how to make it a truly female role. It fit perfectly as such, other than the "he"s and "him"s, which I'm a little surprised they didn't just tweak in the script. Although, if you're going for "absurd"....

Part of me really wants to see another production of this, now, to see just how much of it was Jason and the cast putting their stamp on it. I loved the silent part(s), for instance, and I'm curious how much of that (the blocking, the length) is shared among all productions. The "what next?" at the end becomes so pointed as a result of it; "what indeed?", you find yourself asking. This is how they spend their whole life, sitting around and waiting for the next thing. Heck, it's how a lot of people spend their life, just sitting there and waiting for the next task someone hands them.

This show was very long and entirely weird. I got the impression that the weirdness put off a lot of the audience; which was too bad, because Jason and his cast put together a really tight little (well, not that little) production. I still don't really understand it. But I thought it was fantastic.

On potential two-person activities: "What did you have in mind, a short, blunt, human pyramid?" --Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead

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18 May 2006

Purple tree redux

[tree with some purple leaves] I noticed the other day that the not-purple tree out front is actually starting to turn purple. How is it that I've never seen this process before? Anyway, it looks like this is the process it follows: first, send out small leaves on existing branches. Then, grow longer branches, and on those branches put out larger leaves. At this point, the older, smaller leaves start to turn purple.

So now I don't know if it's just the interior leaves that turn purple, or if they're just the first to do so. It's possible that with last year's major drought, the tree never got to steps two and three, so that only the old branches sent out leaves, and these turned purple. I dunno. But I'm keeping an eye on it!

In any case, it's certainly growing fast. Just this year, most of the branches have grown a foot or more (and it's only May). We'll see how soon it gets tall enough that I don't have to duck to mow under it....

"To use anything as an idol is to see in it the sum or measure of the Source, to forget what precedes what, and to follow the creation rather than That Which Creates." --Jonathan Prykop

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16 May 2006

Writing assignments

It sure is nice to write assignments far enough in advance (like, say, a day) that you have the chance to write code snippets to make sure Java works like you expect, and when it doesn't, to research the fix on the net. It means you don't have to send out a complicated-sounding correction after the fact (and these corrections always at least sound complicated, even when they aren't). It means that the workaround that you give can be the Right One, rather than a hastily-cobbled-together hack that'll get the job done for this assignment only and then sit in their directory as a painful reminder of your dereliction of duty. It means that you might even get a chance to teach your students, tangentially, about some other aspect of how network security models work.

It'd be especially nice if I could get myself to do this sort of thing as a rule, rather than as the exception. :P

"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men." --Abraham Lincoln

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14 May 2006

Response

(UPDATE: much later a followup)

Last week, when I wrote an angry post about how upset I was that my extended family never got informed of my cousin's death, I knew it was not very tactful (but more or less in line with the other venting I do in this space to an open audience mostly of my friends and acquaintances). Although they had moved away from the Chicago area and we'd mostly lost touch, I thought we remained on good terms with them—a great-aunt stayed at their house every year when visiting Arizona, and my dad and his brother had enjoyed weekly breakfasts together up until they moved—and was surprised and, well, angry that they closed us out of this.

Since I was little, Blaheta and Fischer (and for that matter Lux) funerals have been a family time. A time for the family to come together, and celebrate the life of our deceased relatives, for the older generation to reminisce and pass the family lore on to the younger generation, and generally to lean on each other and be a family. Even if the relatives were distant ones; there were certainly a few funerals I was brought to where I barely knew the one who had died, but I was able to learn more about them and form closer ties to the living relatives. The whole weekend between finding out from Mike's coworker that he might have died, until reading the obituary, I was working under the assumption that there'd at least be a memorial service in Chicago and trying to figure out how I could take time off to get there. Even as late as when I posted the blog entry, I was confused as to how a family, even one that had fallen out of touch with their extended family, could forget to notify that extended family of the death of a relative. It seemed downright bizarre, hence the title of the post.

I certainly wasn't expecting the vitriolic, hateful barrage that was posted in the comments section of that entry. Of course, I now know (as do you) that it wasn't a matter of forgetting to tell us, but rather, that my aunt, uncle, and cousin had intentionally cut themselves off from the rest of the family, and had no interest in hearing our condolences, having our support, or indeed in ever contacting us again. They even seem to resent that we found out about Mike's death, for reasons that still aren't clear to me. But they're still family, and I still have positive memories from when they still lived in Palatine and we got along.

So here it is: I don't know what it was that I did that so deeply offended you, but whatever it was, I'm sorry it happened. I'm sorry for being tactless in my post about Mike—posting while upset is of course never a good idea. And I'm sorry that the other basenote incited such awful nastiness to be thrown around in Mike's name. I'd be pleased if you could find it in you to let us re-open the lines of communication.

Thanks.

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12 May 2006

small letters period

That was the name of the informal dance concert I went to tonight. As usual, it was sort of hit-or-miss, but there's so much variety at the informals that I think any given person is pretty much guaranteed to like some and dislike others (with the "some" and "others" varying from person to person). There was a tap dance to "Singing in the Rain", which was sort of unpolished but a lot of fun. Unfortunately, having to tap on the marley really subtracted something; I hope that if there's more tap dancing performances they figure out something to do about that.

Some of the pieces were essentially conventional modern dance, except that the dancers focussed more on working with the music than on trying very hard to make it meaningful. That's good, because if you have to pick just one and you go with "imbue meaning", well, it's a lot harder to watch and doesn't really convey much anyway. I wish more dancers would spend time in the fluff pieces first, polish the skills, and then move on to the interpretive dance. At least that way the intermediate stage is fun to watch!

The best piece of the evening was without a doubt the Mother Africa bit. It was not really a skit in the theatre sense, but a lot more than just dancing; there was a script and a story to tell. And the live drummer was awesome (both meaning "great to listen to" and "great for the piece").

There were some clinkers too, but I'm not going to dwell on them. Too much negativity lately. Overall, nice show!

"Two facts: He loved us. And we killed Him." --Nicholas Patricca, The fifth sun (Anne)

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11 May 2006

From memory

Pinwheel, pinwheel, spinning around
Look at my pinwheel and see what I found
Pinwheel, pinwheel, breezy and bright
Spin me good morning
and spin me good night.
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6 May 2006

Leo Tolstoy, I want those two hours back

In another round of FP reading, I read Tolstoy's The death of Ivan Ilyich, a 60-page short story about a banal man that lives a banal life comme il faut but realises on his deathbed that none of it was worth anything. I thought it was terrible. The obvious question it poses could be just as easily posed in a short essay of a few pages; after reading it, I kind of wanted those two hours of my life back. It was really boring reading, too, and I had to force myself to keep reading through to the end. I felt no connection with any of the characters and I just couldn't bring myself to care.

I do hope it isn't selected as a required FP reading, although I suppose I'll manage if it is. (If so, in the inevitable event that one of my FP students finds this page in the archives, hi! I hope class is going better then than I'm envisioning right now....)

"I do not agree with them—but I do not judge them." --Nicholas Patricca, The fifth sun (Rutilio)

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Happy are those who are called

Tonight's offering in the Studio was The fifth sun, a play about assassinated archbishop Óscar Romero. Had it been a play being workshopped, I would have said "right on": the premise was solid, the topic was interesting, and there were many instances of good lines and good acting. As a finished work, though, I found it a bit lacking.

It was handicapped from the start by the script. Though sprinkled with some great one-liners and a few good dialogues and monologues, it really needed a lot of tightening up. There were several places where the writing got a bit tedious, and some awkward interactions between the characters that no amount of good acting could have saved.

And there was a bit of good acting, but not as much as I'd've liked. I was surprised how few of the Studio Theatre regulars were involved in this production; with, I think, two exceptions, most of the actors were very inexperienced. It showed. Romero himself kept doubling over in what I gather was pain from an ulcer, but it was pretty unconvincing. The papal nuncio could probably have been played either as evil or as aloof or even as self-absorbed; there were stabs in these directions, but a lot of it just felt like he was reading lines. Many of them still hadn't overcome the beginner instinct to stick their neck forward and move their hands awkwardly. Nearly everyone had a few nice moments, but then fell back into reading lines again.

Emily Richardson was lucky enough to get a part with a lot of witty lines, and she really came through as a slightly sarcastic feminist nun, flawed and human but full of compassion and concern for the social injustice the Salvadoran people were being subjected to. She served well as Romero's conscience, the angel on Romero's one shoulder against Jon Gripshover's devil on the other. The character dynamic between these two was among the most interesting and effective in the show, with the debates between her pragmatism and his marxism providing some good exposition of the ethical, religious, and political tangles through which they navigate their common cause.

The staging was interesting. The stage itself was a dais on the long wall of the studio, extending out in a thrust configuration with seating on three sides. That presents many of the usual in-the-round difficulties, but there were only a few instances where the actors did any weird and unmotivated walking around (that I noticed, anyway). The top of the dais was a pulpit, which Romero took on a few occasions for a homily or a Mass; good dramatic placement. Most interesting, though, was the everpresent group of dancers, a sort of Greek chorus—four of them, switching between playing Mayan goddesses, villagers, and the occasional bit part, and sitting in quiet observation for the rest of the time. They frequently spoke in unison, and did modern dance during their parts that highlighted their otherworldliness. For all that I diss modern dance from time to time, it was deployed very effectively here.

The director, Chris Storey, had mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he was doing this play, and he especially recommended that I come; he thought I would find it especially relevant and interesting since I'm Catholic. Which was probably an accurate observation, but particularly given that he was aware of this important aspect of the show, I think the most disappointing thing about the show was how thoroughly it dropped the ball on its Catholic ties. While the show clearly has its merits for non-Catholics and even non-Christians, there are many, many places that draw on Catholic experience and can be quite a bit more dramatic and powerful for those familiar with Catholicism.

For instance, in the last scene we see Romero celebrating a Mass, working his way through the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There is all sorts of powerful symbolism in this scene, and major tension because the audience all knows that the archbishop is about to be assassinated. And yet, it is painfully obvious that the guy who played Romero has never seen a Mass celebrated. It's a little distracting, and it robs the scene of the transcendent power it could have had.

Speaking of distracting, the costuming was bizarre. Post-Vatican II priestly garb has got to be the easiest costume in the world—black shirt, black pants, and a white tab folded over the collar, but nobody wore that. One of the priests wore this poncho thing that looked a little bit like a Franciscan habit (but he was a Jesuit, I think) and a little bit like Salvadoran native garb. The archbishop and the nuncio were wearing billowy black PhD robes with, respectively, a red stole and a white stole. Meanwhile, the nun wore more-or-less modern street clothes (which given the character was probably accurate, but certainly marks the proceedings as distinctly post-Vatican II). Now, I'm not looking for a perfect facsimile of bishop's garb, not even if the show had a budget to work with. But especially for the priests and arguably for the other two, they'd've been much better served to simply go with all-black plus a roman collar. If they felt they had to go with something cassock-like, something that actually resembled a cassock would've been good, maybe with purple sash and skullcap as easy and cheap accessories. As it was, the costuming was distracting and gave the (possibly inaccurate) impression that the nearest any of them had been to a Catholic priest was hearing someone tell them about a movie about Baptist ministers.

All of which is not to say that it was a terrible show. Disappointing, yes, but still worth seeing. Particularly if you find it thematically interesting—for Catholics, for social-justice progressives, and for those interested in Latin American history, this show is one you really ought to see.

"God is a good marxist, Monseñor. He takes from each according to his ability, and gives to each according to his need." --Nicholas Patricca, The fifth sun (Hector)

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5 May 2006

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I've just read a book that is (among several others) under consideration for next year's FP: Michael Haddon's the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. An incredibly easy read, and just 226 pages including the proof at the end, it took me a total elapsed time of maybe three or four hours to read it today. It's about... well, its protagonist is an autistic teenager. I'm still trying to decide what it's about.

My inclination for much of the book was to wonder why anyone had ever suggested it for FP, whose main theme is making choices. As I finished it off, though, I started to envision a few angles for discussion, along the lines of the sacrifices various other characters make on Christopher's behalf. Perhaps even Christopher himself; it feels like he's just swept along, but he's doing a lot of his own thinking. And for all that he comes across as barely functional at times, he believably manages a few things rather better than some "normals" that I can think of.

I do recommend the book as an interesting and light-but-serious read. The trick in bringing it into FP will be in conveying a sense of relevance. Why should a non-autistic 18-year-old care or identify with any of the characters in this novel, after all? What it could do is initiate some interesting conversations about unexpected (and perhaps unwanted) responsibilities. Christopher's parents didn't ask for an autistic son, but when one came along, they did their imperfect best. Sacrifices both explicit and implicit come along with some regularity, but they choose to bear up under the responsibility as best they can.

I dunno. I think I could manage to teach it, but I'm not sure I'd pick it as a first choice. On to another one from the proposed reading list....

"Masturbation is a normal part of human sexuality and about the safest sex there is. You won't contract any sexually transmitted diseases or cause an unintended pregnancy, and you don't have to worry about performance anxiety or ever leaving your partner unsatisfied. And really, there's no need not to respect yourself in the morning, unless you didn't respect yourself before." --SDSTAFF Jill, The Straight Dope

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4 May 2006

Oh, and also

I forgot to mention a crucial observation I made about one of Rachel's new songs: it's going to drive the prescriptivists batty. It's a pretty bitter song about leaving someone, and keeps coming back to the same phrase: "every room you've ever lived". As in, "in the corners of every room you've ever lived"; "to the doorway of every room you've ever lived", and so on. The meaning isn't even remotely in question. Probably the more grammatical way to say it would be "every room you've ever lived in" or something awful like "every room in which you've ever lived". But even the non-awful one doesn't have the same musical rhythmic flow, ending on an unaccented monosyllable. So she just dropped the semantically redundant "in", and ran with it.

I love it. But I bet it grates on a few people's ears.

"If we get into the voucher thing, everybody is going to position themselves, and they are going to scream and yell for the cameras, and nothing is going to get done." --Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago

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3 May 2006

Tonight's concert

I think Rachel Ries gets better every time I hear her. She was in Galesburg tonight, kicking off a two-month tour with a performance in the Gizmo. Much of it I'd heard before, but at least four were brand-new; she's putting together an album for release next winter, and it sounds like it will be a worthy offering.

The best part of this live performance, though, was that Knox's Adam Prairie (a talented post-bac who turns up at a lot of musical events, most recently as the composer and musician for As you like it) had emailed Rachel two days ago to ask if she had an opening act, and would she want one? Not only did he open for her, he backed her up with banjo and vocals on "Valentine", a peppy number that benefitted greatly from the backup—the blend was different from either the album version or Andru Bemis's version the last time Rachel was in Galesburg, and that's why live performances are so neat. They had rehearsed it exactly once (about fifteen minutes before the show). That's the sort of thing you get when talented musicians meet.

And Rachel's the best. Her big news since the last visit is that she has now gone pro: she was making enough from her music to be able to quit her day job. Awesome! More time to make albums for me to buy. :)

"Any organization based around a common ideology will act like a church when given political power." --Jonathan Prykop

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2 May 2006

Bizarro family

(UPDATE: my response, and much later, a further followup)

Last Friday I got an email from a former coworker of my cousin Mike Blaheta. This guy had found me on the net, and wanted to offer condolences and learn more about this inspiring individual who was taken too soon, etc, etc.

What?

I called my mom and asked her if she'd heard anything, and neither she nor Dad had. We wanted to be careful on telling the family in case this was bogus, but there was enough detail in the email to convince us that this guy definitely knew Mike—the only question was whether he'd actually died. And the way this guy knew was that COBRA had faxed this company the notice that Mike had died, for insurance purposes.

Did we hear from Mike's brother or mother or father? No. We scoured the net for obituaries or mention of this. Eventually we did call other parts of the Chicago branch of the family, some of which were in better touch with them than we were, but none of them had heard anything, especially about Mike—I know I hadn't seen him in well over a decade, and I don't think most of them had either. Mike's brother I last saw a few years ago, and Mike's parents I saw just before they most recently moved to Arizona, maybe two Christmases ago.

Finally, this morning, my dad (who had been googling for obits daily) tracked down an obituary that confirmed the details, so it's true. But we never heard a single word from them. If this guy from Mike's former workplace hadn't emailed me, nobody in the family would know.

And yet, if you look at the guest book on that obituary, there are loads of people from the NW suburbs in there, although Mike died in Arizona (and a week ago at that). One of the posts, the one from Florida, was—get this—the widow of the owner of the tavern where Mike's dad and my dad (brothers) hung out thirty years ago. So his mom contacted a number of people back home, but didn't bother to contact her husband's brother about this. At all. We didn't even know he was sick, although apparently whatever it was had been going on for a while (the coworker mentioned doctor's visits). We still don't know how he died.

What the hell? I don't particularly miss him or anything, and I can barely even remember what he looks like, but it pisses me off that we had to find out accidentally through the grapevine.

UPDATE: a follow-up.

"The one thing we can say about George W. Bush is we will be forever in his debt...." --Rahm Emanuel

Posted by blahedo at 12:01pm | Comments (29) | TrackBack