Thursday, August 30, 2007

Au revoir, VCA, maybe, for a few days

Very busy at the day job, getting ready for a conference in Prague. I'm leaving Saturday morning, returning Thursday. I've been meditating about elitism in art, reminding myself about the Fairness Doctrine, wondering about novice recruitment (next year's novices are always referred to as boneheads by last year's novices), concocting ways to annoy O'C, hoping I get in my Yale registration before I leave (although I can just email CP if necessary, I would imagine), putting off studying, charging all the necessary travel gear (iPod, Little Elvis's extra hunk of burnin' love, cellphone), remembering to bring chargers for the trip home, buying reading material, putting Moral Minds to rest (I've gotten a great Cur unit out of it), planning how to skip out of Big Jake before O'C starts the 24-hour award ceremony (the mentioning of which is, needless to say, corollary to the previously mentioned annoying O'C). celebrating a wedding anniversary tomorrow (mine), and, of course, et cetera. So, I may be quiet for a few days. Depends on how much time I get when I'm away, how bad my jet lag gets, and how painless the wireless connection is. If I don't post, please use the time productively. I recommend that you reread Moby-Dick. It's about this whale...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Whatever happened to Quaker Brand cereals; it's "Da" Bronx; I shot an elephant in my pajamas; cyberbooks; farewell, 2007-8; 600 what?

Various things.

CP offered for Bump, but I’m already sort of half shot from the Bump gun already, like a half-cooked piece of puffed rice, so I demurred, but I do want to take him up on it for MHL. He’s sent me the instructions, a document which is somewhere between War and Peace and Anna Karenina in length. After I absorb it, I’ll respond. (Thanks, Chris.)

O’C wanted a new MHL website, so I’ve put the old material into the templates Kt did for me, and added what O’C really wanted, which was a list of member schools, especially his. Someday I’ll actually remember the correct name of his school, but not just yet. Fussy, fussy, fussy.

First LD meeting tonight, and the chez is newly fumigated in anticipation. I know a lot of people who ought to be newly fumigated in anticipation, but this is neither the time nor the place to go into that.

Spook Country is now ripped. I’ll put it on the MegaPod for the Prague trip.

There’s an invitation for the Whatever Happened to Tim Averill Tournament in my inbox. Jeesh. The year’s just zipping by, and it hasn’t even started yet.

I’ve been back and forth with Mr. Mug now about a dozen times, but I think we’re done. How do you send a 600 dpi document via email? I spent a lot of time torturing PhotoShop (which I understand with crystal clarity much as I understand Derrida) but I think I finally got it. Oy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Today, remarkably, is August 27. Summer, we hardly knew ye.

All right. I didn’t get all that much accomplished over the weekend. But I got the worst of it behind me, viz., the Bump invitation. That sucker is about ready to go. I’ll read it over one last time, but then it’s out to the world. I’ve decided to open registration on 9/15. On the back end, I need to take a look at the registration spreadsheets, but they’re usually just ported and marginally updated from year to year. I do have to start thinking about assigning the Sailors’ jobs, since most of the upperclass will be judging novice LD. With luck, the Speecho-Americans, such as they are, will rush into the void. Runner!

I also managed to punch up a few of my website pages, nipping here, tucking there. Nothing major, but one does want to look competent when the new batches of Plebes show up in a couple of weeks. I took a brief look at the Cur and saw that it’s a mess, but it’s a usable mess, so I can probably kick off with what’s there. The material is fine, except some of it is inked in rather than fully and neatly typed, but since half the time I just extemp anyhow based roughly on the agenda, that’s probably good enough.

I did pick up another firewire disk Friday for traveling purposes. I ported over the system software, in case of disaster. It also has Civ IV, which I fired up last night. I ended up spending endless time watching the tutorial, but it did get me back into focus on the game. I haven’t played since version 2, so I did have some catching up to do. I also copied RCT 3 on there, since there’s plenty of room, but who knows when I’ll get back to it. Fortunately all this game thinking prevented me from buying a Wii when I saw one at the local electronics warehouse. Live and in person. I had previously thought they were mere myths. Who knew. But I kept my wallet in my pocket. Since I was also fondling the Canon SD 850, maybe it was the confusion of moneys to spend that kept me in complete control of my funds. Nice camera… But not yet. I had toyed with the idea of an SLR, but after taking pictures with my tiny Minolta up in New England I remembered why I had moved away from SLRs in the first place: unless you have a couple of sherpas along for the trip, who needs it? My plan is to pass my present camera to the wife to replace hers, which is ailing. Very convenient. Then again, the kid is, if I’m not mistaken, down one camera. She could always be the backup on this. Hmmmm. One way or another, that wallet is no doubt going to be coming out of the pocket.

Sept-Oct chez tomorrow: the troops are armed and marching. PF the following night. We’re getting there.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hours in the day; jumping the Bumpovian starting gun

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the dumbest things. Here’s the problem: through sheer serendipity—we occasionally receive random audiobooks at the day job—I have acquired copies of both the new William Gibson and the new Steven Pinker on disk. (Of course, if you followed me on Twitter, which at the moment I am enjoying but which no doubt I’ll tire of soon enough, you’d know that already.) My initial reaction was the traditional Happy Dance, but since that moment of wild ecstasy I’ve been trying to figure when, exactly, I’ll listen to these puppies. The problem is my already full and rich listening life which is satisfied by my regular set of podcasts. Between Lopate and Wait Wait and This American Life and a couple of others, especially the guilty/inane pleasure of the endless episodes of WDWRadio, I have more than enough for any one week. I listen when I take my morning constitutional, and I listen in the car, and that adds up to about an hour and a half a day. But I acquire roughly 9 or 10 hours of material a week. 5 * 1 ½ < 9 or 10. The average audiobook takes about 20-30 hours of listening. Which means either that I have to take the long way to work, or give up listening to something, not to mention that there are times when one just wants to hear some driving music. Now, of course, I could read either of these books in the traditional fashion, but that would mean cutting into that universe of finite time. On the other hand, I can read faster than I can listen, and there have been a couple of times when I’ve switched over in the middle of an audiobook to it’s Gutenberg analog just to get the damned thing over with. Anyhow, you see my dilemma. There are worse dilemmas one could face, no doubt, but so it goes. If you see me on the street and I refuse to remove my earbuds, now you’ll know why.

Curiously enough, even though Bump registration hasn’t begun, people (of the non-O’C persuasion) are already campaigning for extra slots. Jeesh! I’ve pretty much decided on V LD and Pfffft in the high school and novices at the grammar school. I get about 33 rooms at the HS, plus I can turn over much of the library to Pffft, and that should do it. That assumes that we’ll get 100 or so novices. If the number of novices is substantially smaller, I can do Pfffft at the grammar school. It’s hard to tell what that novice number will be, since this is the first time out. I’m estimating about 40 Pfffter teams, based on last year plus the TOC bid. Maybe more? Who knows. When I officially send out the invitation I’ll ask for a quick response at least with a sense of numbers, to begin pinning this down. Anyhow, I’ll finalize the invitation tomorrow. I also need to update a lot of other website stuff. I want everything to be neat and clean when the new season begins. First general meeting will be Tuesday, the 11th. I have, however, realized that some topic brainstorming is necessary between now and Yale, and have set up a couple of early chezzes to address both LD and Pffft. With LD, it all seems so set in my mind, having done this topic in depth not that long ago, but I doubt if the Sailors share my mind-settedness. As for Pffft, I have to admit that I know nothing about this topic, and I look forward to finding out something. Anyhow, next week we’ll start revving up the chez engines. Whether Pip will be willing to give up his chair for the proceedings is another question altogether.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vacation concluded: the Murphys; Mr. Mug

The last part of the trip is worth commenting on, but it probably won’t mean much to most of the VCA. At Williams, there was an exhibit devoted to Sara and Gerald Murphy. Williamstown, for those who have never been there, is at the top left corner of Massachusetts, which makes it an extremely long and boring drive from L. L. Bean, which is a very large store open twenty-four hours a day that looks just like my closet, only more of it, with kayaks. Anyhow, the Murphys were a satisfyingly romantic couple with a few extra dollars to burn who pitched their tent in France during the 1920s, attracting a nifty crowd of artistes including Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso, to name a few. Plus Gerald did a few not uninteresting paintings of his own. The biographical narrative of the couple’s lives was well done, and there were all sorts of peripheral items like letters atwixt Hemingway and Fitzgerald on how bad slash not bad Tender is the Night was (the novel is based on this émigré experience), a series of sketches that evolved into La Flauta de Pan (google-image it), some films and artifacts that evoke some of the tragic loss of the Murphys’ two young sons, etc. One of my favorite little pieces was a glimpse in a corner of a crowd scene photograph taken on the beach wherein sits Picasso’s mother. Tres formidable! (Feel free to translate that into Spanish.) For all practical purposes the Murphys are at best peripheral characters in the Modernist art world, but they are interesting ones, and it was worth the long and boring drive to see this. At which point we went home and cooked up some pesto and reintroduced ourselves to the cats, and generally got back into the business of doing what we do.

Yesterday I began negotiations with my mug man for Bump. Unfortunately the old mugs are no longer made, so I need to find new mugs. The good news is that now the old mugs are collector’s items, and I can unload the leftovers on O’C for about fifty bucks each. Anyhow, Mr. Mug and I have been back and forth, so I won’t know anything for a couple of days. The whole point of mugs is, of course, that they are a little cheaper than trophies at the edges of the eliminations. That is, five gavels for top speakers, mugs for the next five, but, of course, with the added benefit of crappy prizes. Ditto mugs and CPs for the double-octs people. This is certainly better than the occasional certificate drawn up by some tournaments: that is cheapskate writ large, while mugs are cheapskate writ small. Although I have to admit that I have been the (sole) advocate of eliminating trophies at MHL and running the thing entirely free (since all the money collected goes to hardware). But as O’C rightly points out, the trophies send a message in certain instances beyond the recipients and to the school administrations. Taking tin can speak volumes, in other words, when support for a program is needed. I can understand this. But nevertheless, at this point I’m running Bump as a fund-raiser to some extent (although not as many funds as I would like it to raise, after custodian costs, food costs, judge costs, trophy costs), so any savings I can find, I will take. Along these lines, mugs versus trophies provide about the only saving I’ve been able to wrangle. But then again, CPs cover a multitude of sins, and I’ve already got quite a supply laid in. If you’re not going to win Bump, where victory guarantees no CP, then you should break and then immediately drop, which does guarantee a CP. Every tournament has its traditions. Big Jake has 183 of them. We only have a couple, but the CP is grandfathered in. And at this point, I think, most attendees, as we say, get it. I’d hate to think that we’re giving someone a book on, say, the history of raccoon farming in Tanzania and they think we’re serious. If that doesn’t scare them away, nothing will.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Murdering the time

I’m setting up a blog for work, and we’re doing that one the opposite to this one, that is, with Google’s newfangled layouts. Once you get the hang of them, they do seem to be marginally easier than maintaining straightforward html, and now that I understand them I’m less worried about losing stuff, so I might move over myself, once I get some time. Although speaking of time, I do seem to have some on my hands that I’m wasting. At this time of year I always feel I should be doing a lot of stuff, but I’m not doing much of anything that I should be doing. But I am just about finished up on the writing project that I’ve alluded to here once or twice, so with that off my agenda, I should be ready for the Unreal World again. Since I’m going to Prague on Labor Day weekend and into the following week for a day-job conference, I really only have next week to get everything shipshape. I need to look at the Cur and get it ready for annual startup, finalize the Bump invite, order trophies and mugs, get Monti motel rooms, get back to Nostrum, organize a couple of View from Tab lectures that I’ve been backburning, and generally meditate on life as we know it. Last night I organized some pix in iPhoto from the trip, which always slows one down. I love playing with photographs but that is a time-consuming business, and I never even got as far as Yale, what with NYC architecture photos and LOLcats. Oh, well…

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cheezburger in the home...

Surf's up!

Spurred on no doubt by my intriguing descriptions of New Haven and its wonders, the Sailors have come through with the required second driver/chaperone in the form of Mrs. LPW. She’s got sand, as they say (they being characters in novels set in the Old West), and I admire her for it. We can now take our full contingent up to beard the Pups in their den.

Meanwhile the whole issue of scaring up judges, either student or parent, has got me thinking that this is a mug’s job extraordinaire. I probably spend more time agonizing over this than any other non-Bump aspect of the activity. In other words, it’s a mug’s job, and to date, I’ve been the mug. Well, as the VCA well knows, I am not one to suffer for long. So, after about a mere decade or so of quiet (and not-so-quiet) frustration, I have decided that some other mug should do this job. And needless to say, it is of more concern to the Sailors that they have judges than to me, as I pretty much get to go to whatever tournament I want to, while they must adjust to the vicissitudes of their elders. So it makes sense that the Sailors, or a Sailor, he entrusted with this important responsibility. So I’ve decided to enlarge the incredibly important job of Hen Hud’s Hardware Engineer to include Wetware, both parental and varsity. In the past, the Hardware Engineer’s main job has been signing up for meeting rooms, but henceforth the job will include wrangling judges. For that reason, the name of the position will henceforth be the Engineer/Wrangler, or EW. (It is only coincidental that the poor person appointed to this position will, indeed, make the sound “Ew!” on learning of his or her fate.)

I have not yet decided who the lucky new EW will be. For that matter, I have not yet decided who the new Novice Coordinator(s) will be. I’m beginning to get the distinct impression, given the signups so far for Yale and especially Monti, that either all of my incoming sophomores and seniors are in Guatemala with Robbie stewing guinea pigs and therefore completely incommunicado, or else I’m down to 4 incoming sophomores and a small assortment of juniors. Harrumph, as they say (they being characters in novels set in the Old East). For those who are following the scorecard, we are also presently lacking a team captain, a situation which we will correct with an election in December. So, as you can see, we are Sailors on a stormy sea. It won’t be until a few more weeks that we discover where we are, and what to do about it.

Man the lifeboats, you scabbies!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Vacation, part four: MFA

You only have a few more days to see the Edward Hopper exhibit at Boston’s MFA. Do it. Barring that, see the next major exhibit of his work, wherever they put it. I now have a new favorite painter.

Of course, Hopper isn’t exactly obscure, and one sees various of his pieces as one visits museums hither and yon. But I never paid a lot of attention. I was always certainly taken by the people in his paintings and what they were up to juxtaposed against what the world seemed to be up to, if anything. There’s a sphinx-like quality to his people that forces you to think about them in unique ways. But that’s only a small part of his work, and at some level, I think of that as a merely accidental extension of other parts of his work. That is, he’s not a painter of disconnected people, he’s a painter of objects that capture the imagination for reasons that are difficult to articulate. He paints buildings with no life from angles that make them into architectural touchstones. He takes the quotidian and portrays it in a way that makes it no less quotidian, but absolutely commanding of your attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s people or buildings. I have no intention of offering an art critique of his work, for which I am not equipped. But I was standing with jaw agape over and over again. You might too, if you give him a chance.

Another aspect of the exhibit was a lot of his watercolors. I’m new to this, so my previous exposure to his work was the famous oil paintings, which stylistically all have a semi-diffuse nature to them; he’s not exactly a sharp realistic painter. But his water colors were bright and breezy, many of them at summery locations. Beaches, lighthouses, that sort of thing. It would be silly to portray this as a day to the night of his oils, and it would also not be accurate, but there is feel to these that is completely different from the oils. Much to think about, when all is said and done.

So we went to MFA to check it out, and figured they had the Hopper, so what the hell. It turns out that the Hopper will probably become something of an obsession going forward. As for the rest of the place, some nice pieces, especially La Japonaise by Monet (new to me and therefore a jaw-dropper), some PRBs, Whistler and Sargent in a from-the-attic room, more Sargent mural work, a solid American collection of art and crafts, all very nice for a provincial little city. Now if they could only figure out a way to have theater for the whole year, and streets that a human being could actually drive on while maintaining such sanity as that person had at the point of starting the engine, and if they could get over winning the World Series once every millennium, they’d be a nice place to visit again some day. Till then, as the song says, I’ll take Manhattan…

Friday, August 17, 2007

Vacation, part three: Copley Square

All things considered, you’d think I’d know Boston better. But it has always been a place of only middling interest to me. When I was a kid I knew people who went to various colleges there, but I didn’t visit often. With no driving need to ever go there after that, it’s always been low on my list. With in-laws nearby, we’ve done the Freedom Trail or the like over the years, or the odd meal with Kt when she was at Brandeis, and of course the various visits to Cambridge, but that about sums it up. So when we went to the Isabella S.G. museum last Christmas and drove through town, I might as well have been driving through Shanghai. Some of the architecture we passed was intriguing, so we figured, what the hey, we should take a closer look some day. Which turned out to be last week.

We stayed off Copley Square, and right away you’ve got some interesting sights. There’s a few skyscrapers that have popped up sort of incongruously (it’s not a particularly high city overall), and they’re attractive enough in a sterile sort of way; you’re not awed by them, but they’re okay. The Trinity Church, on the other hand, is quite the place. Neo-Roman, which is sort of like neo-Gothic without the doodads, but a great space inside with a fascinating assortment of stained glass by various artists, including Bourne-Jones (a PRB type). It’s a squared-off place, so there’s no dramatic vaulting overhead (cf. Westminster), no domes, but impressive nonetheless. There’s an odd steeple effect from what looks much more like a central turret than any sort of steeple you’re normally familiar with, but it does the job. The joint is run by the Episcopalians, whose gift shop has all manner of Episcopal souvenirs, if you need any. Practically made me want to convert, just for the tee shirt.

Across the square from the church is the Boston Public Library, which I would have to say has a very “eccentric uncle we hardly ever talk about” feel to it. It’s a fine building, and they’ve got the damnedest stuff in there. Dioramas from children’s books, dreadful J. S. Sargent murals, dreadful other people murals, WWII posters, miniature books, galleries, whatever. Even some regular books in one nice big open reading room, but mostly it’s as if you’ve stumbled into that eccentric uncle’s attic and you can’t for the life of you decide why, exactly, this is here. Worth a side trip, in any case.

Speaking of the Sargent stuff, he also did some murals for the MFA. Apparently he felt that his paintings were ephemeral, and if he wanted to be remembered for the ages, being a muralist was the way to go. The thing is, his murals, which have this semi-classical art-nouveau blandness about them, can’t hold a candle to most of his best paintings. His mastery of light and of character simply don’t come through. How little we know ourselves…

If you head down from Copley to the MFA, you pass, in turn, the mall that easily fits into the “end of the streets” mentality, i.e., a private space replacing the public space at street level, but it’s a busy enough neighborhood that this might not matter. We spent about 2 minutes in there, which was more than enough. Beyond that a ways, there’s the Christian Science area, which is absolutely a bizarre anomaly. There’s a church about the size of Peoria, which unfortunately wasn’t open for a looksee, but from the outside I would rate it as one of your more solid domed basilicas and not to be sneezed at. There’s also other buildings, postmodern (or, maybe better, non-modern or anti-modern reactionary) where they take the basic modernist glass and steel and cover it with stone-like facing to hide what it really is. Normal enough in its day (the 60s and 70s). There’s also a wonderful pool about as long as the campus that, from most angles, looks as if people on the other side are standing in it. All in all, a most impressive area filled with contrasts. Around that neck of the woods there is also the home of the BSO. Now, again, we didn’t go in, but I have to say, I do hope that the acoustics are exceptional, because this has to be the ugliest building I’ve seen in quite a while. It is, essentially and at best, a brick arsenal, and at worst, a refurbished baby buggy factory. Heaven forbid if it were actually built as a concert hall; I don’t know, and I’m sort of afraid to find out. No wonder these folks hightail it out to Tanglewood every summer. If I were them I wouldn’t want to have to enter this dungeon in nice weather either. At least in the winter you can crawl directly from the T into the arsenal and not spend too much time thinking about it…

The best part of Boston was absolutely revelatory and transcendent. And that’s something for next week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

À la recherche du gigs perdu; Vacation, part two: Newport

I have this continuing problem where I run very close to the edge of Little Elvis’s memory abilities because there’s so little disk space available that the RAM functions threaten to come to a halt. This especially happens when I’m porting over my old cassettes, a true memory hog (the program doesn’t release the temp files until you shut down the machine, which is nice if it crashes and need to recover but murder if you’re trying to do anything else simultaneously). Until I can figure out a way to convince Little E to use one of the ancillary drives for temp files, if ever, I need to keep him as empty as possible, which is really hard. I’m lucky if there’s 2 gigs of his 30 available even with constant vigilance; Little E is one fluffernutter away from crashing all the time. Last night I dumped RCT (which I haven’t played in a while, and I’m sorry, but I prefer the versions prior to V3), but didn’t get much from it, but then I found about 3 gigs of audio backup files, so all of a sudden I’ve got over 5 gigs available of 30 (well, 27 you can actually access), and Little E is as happy as if he were being appointed Special Government Agent Extraoirdinare by Richard Nixon. I’ve barely made a dent in my transfers of cassettes to MP3s (last night I ported over some Phish), and with all this extra space, Little E and I are in memory hog heaven. More Phish tonight. And maybe some early Steve Earle. If only this didn’t have to be done in real time. That’s the story of my life: not enough real time. And not enough hard drive space. You can never have enough time, money or memory (static or dynamic). Always buy the biggest hard drive they sell, and max up the RAM. Trust me on this.

Anyhow, in the continuing debriefing on the short trip, we tootled up to Newport after New Haven. I’d never been to Newport before, but heard good reports from everyone. We stayed at a B&B near the center of things, and mostly walked around just soaking in the place. It’s old, of course, and there’s one part of town with mostly 18th Century houses with tiny well-kept gardens that you walk through and feel you have to photograph each and every one of them. These are the kind of houses that, if you went into them, you’d keep bumping your head on the ceiling because, well, that’s the way they built them then. People were not Lilliputian a couple of hundred years ago, contrary to the popular delusion. We have grown an inch or two, but not enough to throw off the scale of our living quarters. The idea of building big spaces to live in simply didn’t make a lot of sense in pre-central heating times (warm air rises, so why have high ceilings?). Ostentatious housing did indeed exist at the time, both here and in the Mother Country, of course, but that was for the gentry. But normal people lived in normal accommodations, some of which were quite nice, thank you very much. Of course, eventually a certain gentry in the 19th Century discovered the pleasantness of Newport, and ostentatious housing began to be built on the outskirts, and the other half of visiting the town today, in addition to the old area with its restaurants and tourist attractions and historical area, is visiting the mansions. Some of these are paradigmatically “piles” in the worst sense, some of the ugliest buildings you’ll ever see, albeit in their day some of the most expensive. Granted that salt water is destructive of many building materials, you still don’t have to have something that looks like it’s chiseled out of lead. The interiors of these places, on the other hand, define grandness, varying depending on their periods and what was popular at the time, from neo-Gothic to Victorian to Arts & Crafts, so what you’ll like depends on, well, what you like. They’re well worth seeing, in any case. My personal architectural fancy runs more to public than private spaces, but it is nice to imagine yourself dining with the nobs on a summer’s night at the turn of the (19th) century, all duded up and lah-di-dah and witty as all get out. I have the same vision of the great country houses of England, dropping by for a Brideshead weekend, tennis and cocktails and Bertie and whathaveyou. Very evocative.

So in the account book, Newport is definitely worth a stopover. Since every time you turn around you’re eating a lobster, even if you hate walking through people’s old houses, you’ll still have a happy day or two.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sept-Oct and Sept Pffft; Jake is jake; RG is stewing rodents; fewer pups with each iteration.

Busy day today, so I’ll just make the odd comment on the debate life, which officially begins today for the 2007-8 season with the release of the first fall topics.

I like the LD resolution for novices, but I don’t think I’ll push to use it at Bump. My thinking now is one topic for both divisions for this year, since there’s so much new stuff this year that I want to keep variables down to a minimum. Still, in the literal months of Sept-Oct, this topic will be a good one for newbies to learn some elementary use of evidence, the meaning of justice and of a just society, and some basic morality. Overall, Sept-Oct rezzes have not been terrible lately. I can only recall one (and I can’t even recall exactly which one) that was absolutely impossible. The rest have all been workable one way or another. I still hold a fondness for the Modest Novice, however. Maybe some day… I’m reserving judgment on the Pffft rez, however. It’s a little legal and not the most pressing issue of the day, except when you invert it into Rupert Murdoch, which will be okay, and obviously intended, but it will be a bit of a juggle in the individual rounds getting from the courts to Fox News.

O’C reports that he’s about filled to overflowing at Big Jake. This is a good thing, at least for me in tab. It’s much easier to run a big tournament than a little tournament. It’s the small tournaments with a handful of schools that make for the nightmares.

I get the impression from the Crank’s Twittering that the family has sent Robbie down to Guatemala. I can’t imagine why, although I do know that the locals consider guinea pig to be quite the delicacy, so maybe he’s there for the food. Whatever. I do hope he’ll be returning to Chicken Hud next month, and that they haven’t sent him down there permanently. I’d miss the guy (especially since he’s a dead ringer for Linguini in Ratatouille).

All things considered, I’ve dropped the number of people I’m bringing to Yale to 3, for reasons that will be clear when they’re announced. That’ll leave 5 Sailors behind on that fateful Friday, their noses pressed against the Detention Room windows, watching us drive away into Pup Land. Oh, the humanity!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vacation, part one: YCBA

Speaking of the Pups, which I know you were, I finally got to the Yale Center for British Art. The collection was worth the trip; it starts early and ends late, and there’s fine pieces from every conceivable period, including a spectacular Whistler (yeah, he’s only sort of half-British, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on their “The guy hung out there for a while” approach), some fine PRBs, a few fairly cow-free Constables that improved him quite a bit in my estimation (usually I find his work a cacophony of deciduous jungle plants with no beginning, middle or end, interrupted by cud-chewers), decent Turners, plus a few discoveries, at least for me.

I’m less than taken by the building, though. The gallery spaces were pretty good, actually, although occasionally one could get lost, and since the main collection is thematically chronological, getting lost was not a good thing. It is a challenge for an architect to design a space that is open and inviting and inductive to contemplation that nonetheless moves you from one place to another in a logical fashion. The NYC Guggenheim is a good example of directed movement: you start at one end of the spiral and have to alternative but to end up at the other end, short of jumping off the edge. Not necessarily contemplative, though. Big rooms where you can step back and look at works from a distance, or up close, and sit maybe for a while, are what you get at the Met, but their special exhibition spaces are usually cramped and overcrowded (unless it’s a show no one wants to see, but there’s not much point in that). Aside from special shows, one easily gets lost at the Met; one never gets lost at the Guggenheim. One occasionally gets lost at YCBA. Not a terrible position on the spectrum, overall.

But I withhold approval of the two giant open spaces, which the literature of the place refers to as courtyards. The first of these is the entrance. It’s like walking into a vast open castle tower, albeit squared off. You look up and see…nothing. You look around and see…nothing. Just big empty space. Now this can be inviting (q.v. the upgrade of the Morgan library in NYC, with its wide open entryway that I love), but this one is just…nothing. Nothing to see, nothing to make you feel welcome at having come through the door. At the end of the space is the entry into the gallery, which is shrunken down from the vast scale of the entrance, so it’s like entering a little cave passage out of a big open cavern. It’s like a scene out of TLOTR. The building wants to swallow you up, and you don’t feel happy about it; even the stairs are weird. But if you take the elevator up to the top, you’re fine, and then you get very nicely lighted galleries and decent enough viewing scenarios. On the utilitarian side, at least, you’re getting what you paid for, most of the time.

But then there’s a second courtyard duplicating the entrance. This one’s on the other side of the building. It’s done up like an Adventurers’ Club with no roof, four stories high, with a layer of Stubbs (and others’) assorted wildlife paintings at eye level, and what looks like the laird’s relatives on a layer above them, all grand and big and overpowering. You get to sit on a nice leather couch and take a little nap (Stubbs will do that to you, unless you’re especially an equinophile). But you’re at the bottom of this well, with a disturbing shell of that bizarre staircase to one side, and people regularly sticking their heads out through the open spaces above you wondering, from their perspective, what the hell this is all about, and it just doesn’t seem right. Now if they put in an audioanimatronic Major and sold a few Kungaloosh coctails, things might be different…

The building across the street was one of the architect’s (Louis I. Kahn) first works; this was one of his last. When I’m up for the Pups next month, I’ll try to check out the early building for comparison purposes. Needless to say, the things I don’t like about YCBA are the things the literature touts. What a shock.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Just a bit of catch-up for now. I’ve got too many other things to do to languish here for too long.

Moral Minds is a keeper. It’s also subject to cosmic sync, as I’ve now heard Hauser on This American Life, seen him referenced in reviews of The First Word, and, of course, found out that CLG’s beau studied with him. The next thing you know, Hauser will be moving into my house. What I especially find useful in the book is the material that gauges innate moral responses, which I can easily port over into the Cur for the Sailors. Frankly, I have sooooo many people whom I would push off the bridge in front of the trolley… The point for the Tars is to attempt to evaluate instinctive moral responses, if they can. Fun stuff.

I sort of like Twitter. It allows for brief entries that require little or no further explanation. Not that I’m against further explanations, as the VCA well knows, but sometimes you just want to state a fact and be done with it. Feel free to follow me directly, so that I can follow you. This may be the most Web 2 thing I do. Personally, I’m waiting for Web 5.3.7 before committing myself to anything.

There’s a new LD topic, Sept-Oct, due in a couple of days, and the Sept Pffft topic. That should send out a few fire brigades.

The vacation covered New Haven, Newport, Boston, L.L.Bean and Williamstown. I’ll have specifics to go into later, but for now I will report that the Pups will be radically different from previous iterations because of construction on 91 and the elimination of virtually every landmark I recall (all of them restaurants, of course). Oh, the horror. I think I’m down to a mere 4 Jolly Ts heading up to Pups because no one has stepped up to the plate to offer to drive, even though I’d put said driver into the Pffft pool, if they preferred it. Everyone apparently thinks someone else should drive, which is great except that when everyone feels that way, no one drives. Since the hotel is not within walking distance, we have no option other than cars. Then again, there is a game of judge chicken that people play, waiting till the last minute to volunteer when no one else has. This is annoying but there’s worse things in life. The problem is that I have to confirm with the hotel, drop rooms, etc., in a few days. I know that I will be going, no matter what, and I guess that’s all that matters. For the rest, it’s a lottery (which has already been chosen, 4 lucky souls riding with me, listening to my entire iPod on random select).

Anyhow, as I say, details to come. For now, I simply wanted to report that I am back in business.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I'm outta here

One last thing. I'm on the fence with this Twitter thing. If anyone else wants to link up with mine, do so. It sort of does work over there on the right, but it's much more Web 2.0 than I am...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Is he gone yet? Whew!

The book I referred to yesterday is Moral Minds by Marc Hauser. I’ll leave you with this as I head off into the sunrise.

Hauser’s premise is simple enough. As one might accept that there is an instinct for language in human beings, an innate evolved mechanism that enables language, he would suggest that there is also an instinct for morality. The book starts off with some elementary discussion of philosophical moral mechanics, but suggests that these don’t really explain some innate responses we may have. I haven’t read far enough into it yet to either accept or reject his thesis, but you’ve got to admit that it’s interesting. And he’s a pretty good writer, to boot.

As the VCA well knows, I am a firm believer in the convergence (consilience, if you prefer) of the social and physical sciences. That is, philosophy is about the meaning of life, the meaning of thought, etc. Science is about the same things. But whereas philosophy’s success or failure at explaining its subjects rests solely on the (science of) logic, science’s success or failure is demonstrated through the physical process of method and proof. Language study is a good example of this. While philosophers can postulate any damned thing as an explanation for language, there is really no ground for their explanations except guesswork supported by logical extensions. Scientists, on the other hand, while they can postulate any damned thing as an explanation for language, can then test the postulations with physical experiment and explorations. While no matter how you slice it the philosophers are using words (language) as their tools, an obvious limitation when the subject is linguistics, the scientists are using, say, CAT scans and 30 years of bonobo experiments, etc. I’ll take Pinker any day over any philosopher you care to mention on the subject of language, even though I may believe that what the given philosopher says is true. The difference is that Pinker offers proofs. But at the end, since they are both studying the same things, they should ultimately come together to work for the solutions to the questions. The philosophers, with their wild-ass but nevertheless perceptive and creative intuitions, could be getting much of it right, and the scientists, with their down-to-earth tools and measurements, can prove or disprove the philosophers. If the goal is truth, then perhaps using all the means of achieving truth makes sense, and, in some cases, using diverse means may be absolutely necessary.

Anyhow, I’m curious to see how Hauser will make his case. I guess I am a little doubtful that I’ll accept it, but that’s just a gut reaction. The other book I’m curious about and just ordered is The First Word by Christine Kenneally. I heard her talking to Lopate this morning and was hooked, plus the Times gave it a pretty good review.

So, see you in a week or so.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Everything's jake; SCOTUS; the paradigmatic utilitarian

Great googly-moogly! I have actually signed up for a tournament for 2007-8. As the song says, “That’s why everyone loves New York / The Bronx, the beautiful Bronx.” I’ve got to get myself some judges, but I think I’ll wait till school starts. There’s a few ex-Sailors in Manhattan who would be fine both for LD and Pffft. But since they’re also college freshmen, they may wish to find their dorm rooms first.

I finished watching that Supreme Court TV series last night, and I continue to highly recommend it. By the time you get to the Warren and Rehnquist courts, you’ve got not only real interesting stories but also more personally relevant history than the Marshall court. Obviously one needs to understand Marbury from a historical point of view, but one has an emotional attachment (one way or the other) to Roe and Brown v Board and Griswold. Good stuff.

I’ve also finished Harry Potter. I have to admit, I’m glad to put the whole thing behind me. And I was happy to have read it without having the ending spoiled (FYI, at the end Harry turns out to be Kaiser Soze). So now I’m thinking about doing my summer debate reading. There’s this book on the biology of morality (more on that as I continue through it), plus some survey slogs, the never ending story of Manny the Kant, the odd pomo slash cultural studies book I couldn’t resist buying and which now lies in my ever growing pile on the bed table, etc. I’m away next week traveling through New England (which means no need to torture myself reading daily bulletins from WTF, and no need for you to torture your little self with daily bulletins from Coachean HQ), so something for reading on the odd B&B porch is required. Last time we did this I remember having my lovely hardcover edition of Moby-Dick, which I have to admit I wouldn’t mind looking at again (all those reviews of the Leviathan book, I guess). But I will forebear my personal pleasure for the greater good of the Sailor community. Am I a brick or what?