30 Nov 2006

Vacation blahs

It's not that I'm bored. It's that I have lots of things that I'm putting off.

I can think of at least four or five things I ought to be doing right now, but I've just sat in my office for three hours and not accomplished anything productive. (Well, nothing officially productive. I've had some good message-board conversations.)

Normally, I'd stay until I'd gotten some of it done. But it's 20° outside and scheduled to get colder, and the first snow is supposed to start falling in the next hour or so, getting progressively heavier until the wee hours, at which point 2" an hour will be coming down, leaving a total accumulation of 6–12" by morning (and more to come tomorrow).

In light of that fact, maybe I'd best get back home while the getting's good. I'll have a harder time buckling down and getting stuff done , though....

"If you're a sinful homosexual, being attracted to someone of your own sex could lead to a great relationship. If you're a disordered homosexual, it could lead to a divorce." --Ross M. Levine

Posted by blahedo at 6:25pm | Comments (0)

28 Nov 2006


"Leaning back to create a 135-degree angle between the thighs and trunk is much less straining on the spine and will not lead to the potentially chronic back pain associated with sitting in an upright position for extended periods of time."

"The statement that people are rational and we just can't figure out the function they use is something I would expect from someone who had made that assumption without actual study to back it up. It's the same failing economists have." --Eric Stuckey

Posted by blahedo at 3:15pm | Comments (0)

24 Nov 2006

The perspective of a four-year-old

My cousins came to visit today, among them my little cousin K——. Aside from being totally adorable, she's pretty smart and comes up with clever statements often enough that sometimes you forget you're dealing with a four-year-old.

So it was that when she asked for more milk, I went to pour it for her and said, "say when."


And when she said this, my instant first thought was that she was teasing me; I interpreted it as her saying to stop even before I started pouring. Momentarily nonplussed, I paused, processing.

Meanwhile she wasn't understanding why I'm not actually pouring it, and evidently came to the conclusion that I was teasing her, or at least doing one of those obscure "what's the magic word" things that all those crazy adults seem to be obsessed with. Because then, she revised her response:

"Oh. Right now!"

I had just been realising that her "when" response was a "Goodnight, Dick" (or "Goodnight, Gracie") sort of response, and starting to laugh, so when she remisinterpreted the initial line, I just lost it (as did everyone else in the room). Poor K—— didn't understand why we were all laughing at her, and of course she still wanted her milk, but first I needed to stop laughing so I could explain to her how "say when" works. Then, of course, after I'd explained it, I was pouring the milk really slowly, and kept glancing sidewise at her, which was making everyone else crack up, but finally at about 2/3 full she said, "stop now." And so the episode came to an end.

"The inheritance we've received in our beliefs is like a priceless work of art that draws the masses wherever it appears. But if you throw it at someone or handle it improperly, it breaks." --Rocco Palmo

Posted by blahedo at 9:32pm | Comments (0)

23 Nov 2006


And, crucially, sweet potatoes. Pumpkin pie, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

"When I pray to Him, I find I'm talking to Myself." --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

Posted by blahedo at 10:56pm | Comments (0)

22 Nov 2006

Forgiveness is not permission

In a homily several years ago—in the wake of the abuse scandals and in response to them—I heard a priest give an excellent homily that he ended up summarising in nine words: "sin is in the will; forgiveness is not permission." It's an important message of reconciliation, and even if you're not religious and have no use for the concept of sin, that second part is something anyone can (and should) take to heart. We have this idea that if we forgive someone, it's like saying it was okay to do the thing in the first place. Not so. And that attitude is corrosive; it keeps divisions in place and holds wounds open to fester and burn. It encourages a tit-for-tat race to the bottom, where everybody loses.

I think a really important first step to reducing racial tensions (as well as sectarian tensions, ethnic tensions, social tensions...) is to recognise this basic idea: forgiveness is not permission. If we can forgive someone their past faults and let them try to start from a clean slate—knowing there may be more stumbles yet to come—then we can lead by example and help them to become more tolerant and loving and cosmopolitan, rather than inciting them to anger and to lash out again.

(I originally posted this as a comment to Eric Zorn's musings on the Michael Richards situation, but I liked it and decided to post it here too. :)

"Last time I preached the Word, in Galilee, I spoke in parables. MIS-take!" --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

Posted by blahedo at 11:13am | Comments (0)

21 Nov 2006

New Orleans

As some of you already know, I'm heading down to New Orleans next month.

Back in March, a group of nearly 70 Knox kids went down to NO to help local residents gut houses. This is important work, because you need a lot of biohazard gear to rip out the toxic-mould-ridden plaster or drywall, not to mention any upholstery or carpeting. Once this is done, handy homeowners have a shot at doing a lot of the rest of the rebuilding themselves. People from around the country have been travelling down there to help, and this was a popular spring break trip among the more community-minded of the college crowd.

At the very moment all those Knox kids were ripping up walls in New Orleans, I (and, briefly, Kathy) were ripping up my kitchen floor for my own little renovation. It turned out very nice, of course, but the comparison was certainly not lost on me: here I was doing minor demolition work to make my house prettier, and there were a bunch of people doing minor demolition work to help people rebuild their lives.

It was a memorable and moving experience for a lot of the people that went, and many of them dedicated weeks or even months of their summer to returning to New Orleans and continuing the job. A few of them took the initiative to try and figure out how to get a big group of Knox students down there again over December break; the waiting lists for the charity house-gutting work are still on the order of a year long. So it was that in mid-September an email went out to the faculty/staff mailing list asking for a couple of us to tag along and be "advisors" (i.e. responsible grownups) on the trip.

Now, I talk too much. I have known for some time that I don't do nearly enough along the lines of service and charity, and I had been trying to figure out where I could most effectively apply my time. The email came at the perfect point for me to just immediately turn around and say, "Yes!" (Strictly speaking, I said "maybe". I still needed to hammer out what other commitments I'd already made! ;) After a brief interlude for the fac/staff volunteers to self-select two to actually go, I became officially one of the two advisors to the trip.

My role is a very funny one, actually. I am doing precisely none of the actual organising; the student leaders are handling all of that. They've raised thousands of dollars and coordinated release forms and vans and myriad other details in order to make this trip possible. And it's not like I'm one of the few adults on the trip, either, since of course all (or nearly all) of the students are at least 18. I'm not expected to police the students. If someone gets hurt, the advisors are a last resort for approving medical whatnot, but only if the two or three emergency contacts can't be reached. It's true that I technically have a few years' more world experience than the students, but some of them, the leaders especially, are perfectly mature and able to handle themselves.

So basically, on the whole, I get to be just another pair of hands schlepping down to a disaster area to help some victims of bad luck and governmental mismanagement, help them get a jump on rebuilding their lives and communities. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was home to some of the most cohesive communities in the country, some of them going back decades or even centuries, and as time trickles on with little or no rebuilding, the old communities remain in diaspora, their cohesion slowly drifting away. I can only hope that the nine days I'll be helping out down there make a bit of a difference.

"You see 10 million billion miracles a day, and you want conjuring tricks." --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

Posted by blahedo at 10:33pm | Comments (0)

19 Nov 2006

Home improvement moves indoors

When the weather turned cold, I had to wrap up all the exterior projects I had been working on—caulking windows, laying a gutter/patio—and move indoors. Project #1: matching simple flat curtains for all the basement windows, so that when I forget to turn out the light, the entire contents of my basement are no longer on display to every single person walking on the sidewalk. Bought fabric yesterday, cut and sewed it today, and first thing tomorrow I can go buy dowels and hooks to hang them. Should be done by midmorning. Hurray!

"Dick Cheney: A man who can say, 'I'm not currently saying this', and mean it." --Betty Bowers

Posted by blahedo at 11:49pm | Comments (0)

15 Nov 2006

Takin it easy

After a long day of FP conferences yesterday, my active-teaching part of the term was officially over (nothing but grading now). I went to bed early last night and slept in this morning. Folded some laundry, did some dishes, walked the dog. Finally got around to calling the brickmason, as I've been meaning to for weeks now. I'll go in to the office in a little bit, but it's just amazing how suddenly the pace changes when the term ends. :)

"I've discovered new depths of personal fatigue and sleep deprivation in this first week of parenthood. I suspect the baby is controlling me with pheromone conditioning, because when I see him through my exhausted haze, I find myself wishing to do his bidding." --Scott Harris

Posted by blahedo at 11:32am | Comments (0)

10 Nov 2006

The ruling class

This weekend's offering at the Studio Theatre is The ruling class. Go see it, it's good (and showing at 2pm and 7:30pm tomorrow).

I nearly didn't get in; as usual, I was cutting it close to the wire, and when I got there at 7:29, they told me the house was closed. Then they asked if I was by myself—there were two seats left, actually. So, happily, I got in after all.

After some brief delays, the show started, and our introduction to the family Gurney is a speech by its highly eccentric earl, who turns out to be partial to pink tutus and hangman's nooses. The earl is played by Matt Allis in the first of three brief but very funny roles where he gets to be quite the scene stealer. The other character in this first scene is the butler, played by Pam Schuller, also a scene stealer through the rest of the show.

The rest of the cast is a bit more serious, though they all have their moments. Not a one of them did a bad job; this show is the sort of show that makes me brag about the Studio Theatre to people who ask me how I like Galesburg. But the clear winner here is Evan Sawdey, the star of the show, the gravitational well around whom everyone else is orbiting. I don't know from psychology, but he sure looked like he was convincingly rolling through several stages of some schizophrenic disorder to me. The role was technically very demanding, just in terms of having about a million lines, many of which needed to be spit out at (literally) insane rates of speed; but it also requires some pretty radical character development through his various God complexes, which he pulls off without even batting an eye. Nicely done. It makes me a little sad that, because it went up in the Studio, this part isn't eligible for that one acting award that gets voted on at the end of every schoolyear, but then, there's three more mainstages yet, so he'll have another shot.

The show was not without its foibles, of course. One actor kept cracking a smile at his funny lines; another kept forgetting to limp. The actresses all need to learn better how to walk in heels (and that's been an issue in a lot of different shows I've seen here). But overall, the problems I saw were so small as to just seem nitpicky compared to all the good stuff. I haven't even gone into how great the script is, lots of subtle lines, little things that small subsets of the audience would pick up on; and I won't. I'll let you go check it out for yourself.

"Not here---last time I was kissed in a garden, it turned out rather awkward." --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

Posted by blahedo at 11:52pm | Comments (0)


So last night, I went to sleep at 10:30 because I was really tired, but I set my alarm for a "nap" because I had some stuff I needed to get done. Predictably, I turned off the alarm and didn't get up until after 8.

Now, I'm well-rested and sitting here thinking, hey, that stuff I didn't get done? Not that important. I'll manage. And now I think about all the times when I don't have time for a nap in the afternoon, or don't have time to get a full night's sleep... I really need to just reprioritise sleep a little bit higher on my list. Ah well.

"Why have I let myself be tempting into cutting another head off of the science-journalism hydra? This is the occupational disease of blogging, I guess." --Mark Liberman

Posted by blahedo at 8:31am | Comments (0)

3 Nov 2006

Leonardo's last supper

I just got back from watching a truly awful show. Leonardo's last supper is the work of one Peter Barnes, an English playwright; it is an absurd little story about Leonardo finding himself come back to life in the workshop of the gravedigger scheduled to bury him.

Absurd is fine; last year's Titanic was perfectly enjoyable, for instance. But the script on this one just rambled, and while there were certainly a few funny lines, I spent most of the play glancing at my watch or staring off into the rafters.

This was unfortunately exacerbated by the inexperienced cast. As a rule, their emotional reactions were awkward or unconvincing (or both), and the line delivery was modulated in just one of two ways: talky, or shouty. I'm sure it can't be easy to convincingly portray a character so clearly absurd, but regardless of the difficulty level, they didn't quite hit their mark.

The show was sort of disappointing in the technical arena as well; it looked like costume and makeup kind of half-assed their way through their jobs. Leonardo's beard kept threatening to fall off; Angelo's "beard" was smudged and oddly-shaped; and assorted other minor problems. Nothing too terrible, but I've gotten accustomed to expecting better out of the theatre crowd here.

So I'm afraid I can't recommend this show. Which is too bad, and I hope none of the actors gets discouraged; I could tell they had the energy (and the memory for lines!) to be good if they keep at it. Everyone needs to start somewhere, right?

Where is WMD?
What a kick if he has none
Sorry about that --Col. Steve Rotkoff

Posted by blahedo at 9:11pm | Comments (0)