Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Debate/Art: On Jake, MOMA and abstraction

Oh, no! I’ve got to stay up late tonight to register for Big Jake? I’ve got to wait on line dressed up as Boba Fett? I remember when you used to register for tournaments by fax. Hell, I remember when you used to register for tournaments by mail. Now you have to like them on Facebook, tweet them to all your followers, drink their special Kool-Aid, and still you have to stay up until midnight.

Some things don’t excite me like they used to. I just wasn’t made for these times.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned yesterday, on Saturday we trundled over to the Museum of Modern Art, which was CP’s choice of cultural venue for the trip. Fine by me. For all practical purposes MOMA was the place where I first discovered art, back when I was in high school. I didn’t know anything, and I had it in my head that if I was going to go look at art, it ought to be modern, me being a modern sort of guy at heart. So, MOMA it was. Walking through it now, I can still recall the effect things like “Starry Night” and the Monet water lilies had on me originally. Imagine never having seen them before. When you do see them, they immediately punch you in the stomach. The combination of beauty and inherent meaning and life and depth are overwhelming.

All of which is hard to appreciate when the place is packed to the gills. Your hit parade of modern artists, the Van Goghs and Rousseaus and Monets and Cezannes—the galleries with these guys were fairly wall to wall with people. Which wouldn’t bother me too much but I can’t for the life of me figure out why half of them are taking photographs of the paintings. A photograph of a painting is like a sculpture of a novel. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s certainly not anything but a capturing of the image in your camera, with terrible lighting. What in God’s name is the point? For twenty bucks you can buy a catalog, with good printing, or for fifty bucks, an art book with superb printing, if you want a record of what you saw. But there are people walking through photographing literally every picture they pass. It’s hard enough to appreciate art in a crowded environment. So instead you take a picture of it and go look at it on your iPhone later? What am I missing here? Is that the definition of a modern-day visit to the art museum?

As one progresses through time at the MOMA, getting away from the early 20th Century, one finds fewer people and more opportunity to look at things. And it is extremely important, if you have any interest in art whatsoever, which as far as I am concerned is roughly equivalent to having an interest in breathing, to put yourself in a position to see art in person. One can talk all day about understanding art, and there is no question that there are certain facts about a given work that might enhance your appreciation, but at some level, just looking at it (or in the case of music, listening to it, or in the case of writing, reading it) is the primary action. Take the Monet water lilies. You don’t have to know squat to appreciate the colors and composition. You barely even have to know they’re water lilies. They’re pretty, and everything flows from that. As a matter of fact, an awful lot of art is pretty, i.e., an attempt to capture some sort of beauty, and you don’t need someone to tell you whether you find something beautiful. As art moves away from that, however, there is an intellectual aspect to it, but still, if the art doesn’t affect you on its own level, absent the intellectual aspect, it’s pretty jejune. A work of art could be trying to impress upon you the horrors of war, for instance; that work is unlikely to be pretty in the normal sense of the word, but it can still affect you, and therefore still be art. Come to think of it, the only thing that can’t be art is something that doesn’t affect you, or at least if something doesn’t affect you, it fails as art.

Every visit to a museum reaps new benefits. I have to admit that this time, for no reason I can explain, I was very much drawn to an awful lot of abstract works. I’ve noticed this lately, that the more abstract work I see, the more I start to appreciate it. And not because of any intellectual improvement of my appreciation mechanism. I have just started to like looking at non-representational, even minimalist works. Go figure. It’s not that I can’t explain it, but I don’t have to. The works appeal to me at a non-intellectual level. That’s art.

Then again, there is some art that only has an intellectual function, like Duchamp’s bicycle wheel. As far as I’m concerned, this may be the most important piece in the whole museum, because it redefines art as what artists call art. (And it predates his “Fountain” by a few years.) It’s more than about ready-mades. It’s about what art can and can't be. The Impressionists had been saying for years that just because their art didn’t fit what the art world insisted art must be didn’t make their work not art, but at the same time, their art, however much it wasn’t the art of the time, had most of the trappings of what was expected of art, i.e., representation, clarity, attempts at beauty (even if the first viewers felt that the beauty was not achieved). But when you throw down a bicycle wheel and call it art because you’re an artist, and the only reason it is art is because you say it is, that’s huge. It clarifies abstraction (which it didn’t completely predate; plenty of pre-20th century art is bordering on, or past, abstraction). Once you know that the rules are what artists claim the rules to be, you can appreciate, or not, literally anything.

So, now I can look at abstract expressionists and wish I had that on my wall, without thinking oh, I could do that. I couldn’t. I couldn’t paint an all-white canvas, at least not well. More to the point, I didn’t. Some artist did. That’s what makes it art.

In our group Saturday, JV was probably the biggest abstraction fan. It probably goes with his essential inner scientist. As I say, I find myself changing in that direction. Not any inner scientist, of course, but just my inner appreciator. It’s getting more appreciative. I like that.

Movies: Indiana Jones and the Unmade Movies

There's a certain sense of loss when one considers Indiana Jones. The good news is that there is one really really good movie, and two okay movies, and only one stinker, although which is which can be a little fluid, except for the real stinker. If you settle back and watch movies 1, 2 and 3, knowing that you like them in some particular order, you may find yourself coming away liking them in a different order. They're all good, in other words, and you can even find one or two of them growing on you more than you expected. As for Indy 4, if you find yourself watching it again, then civilization has crumbled and it is the only DVD left after the nuclear holocaust, so you have no choice, and you have my sympathies. Then again, it could have been Howard the Duck...

The folks at Mental Floss, obviously fans of the canon, have done us a great service by unearthing not one, not two, but three Indy screenplays that were never produced, with the full stories surrounding them.

The Lost Scripts, Part I: Indiana Jones and the Monkey King

The Lost Scripts, Part II: Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars

The Lost Scripts, Part III: Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods

Oh, what might have been.

Arts: The proverbial "really good" science fiction movie

You've got to understand that, with only a couple of exceptions like Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still, for the longest time there was no such thing as a major Hollywood science fiction movie. For that matter, aside from such pictures as Metropolis and Things to Come, there never had been any major science fiction movies period. The Golden Age of science fiction, as far as writers were concerned, was a penny dreadful, cheap book genre phenomenon, far removed from real writing. In the movie world, it was cheap serials and B pictures mostly aimed at the most non-discriminating audiences, like Saturday afternoon double features, and these were mostly populated by Bug-Eyed Monsters.

Still, there were some good movies among all of these. Scratch any buff, and you'll come up with things like the Quatermass films, for instance. But in the 1960s, major studios producing major pictures with major talent was not happening. 2001: A Space Odyssey changed all that.

Arthur C. Clarke was a soft-spoken gentleman whom I brought to Syracuse as part of a big annual event with various speakers and whatnot, which is a good story that I'll get to eventually. We picked him up at the airport and, not being terribly versed in SF, did our best work when we brought him into contact with some local writers with whom he could speak the same language. Clarke was very excited at the time about the possibility of a film of Childhood's End, which he claimed had paid a lot of bills for him because it had been optioned since day one, but now, finally, it looked as if it might really happen. It never did, of course. Anyhow, mostly we brought in Clarke because of 2001. This wasn't just a movie we liked. It was the experience of going into space. It was filmed in Cinerama, a really really wide widescreen process, sort of the IMAX of its day. It was the apotheosis of the space traveling future the baby boomers had all been promised, a year before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Heady times.

When Clarke talked about 2001, he actually did use the expression "the proverbial 'really good' science fiction movie." That's what he and Kubrick set out to make, not just a humongous budget, special effects juggernaut, but a movie with some real thought in it. So much thought, as it turned out, that it may be one of the most misunderstood or least understood movies of all time. Letters of Note manages to track down the original correspondence between Kubrick and Clarke, initiating their collaboration.

Open the pod door, Hal.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Debate: Country mouse in the big city

I guess I’m sort of obliged to report on the activities of the previous weekend, seeing how it was the greatest collection of debate coaches in one place since the construction of the pyramids. Or since O'C ate dinner alone at Japonica...

I collected CP from his train on Friday. Amtrak was running roughly five levels of Word Welder late, because they lost an engine, but as we agreed, better to lose an engine on a train than on a flight in from Logan. CP put the time to good use, propping up tabroom.com with string and Dixie Cup tops in preparation for having it look like it’s running on August 1, when the first registrations open. As he reported on Facebook, by the way, what I was seeing before, which was bizarrely disturbing, was not what he was working on. I must have gotten cached into No Man’s Land somehow. When he was sitting on the chair next to me in the living room, I got what looked liked the comfortingly disturbing screens of old; actually, they looked a little nicer, although I hate to admit it. I’m trusting that CP will be too busy these next few days to be reading any blogs, so I should be safe.

We popped down to Manhattan on Saturday, and JV arrived when we did to meet up with us. The goal was to give our poor unfortunate Bostoner a taste of a real city. We poked around GCT a bit, then headed up to St. Pat’s, and then MOMA, where we ate lunch. I’ll write about the museum separately, but suffice it to say that we had a lot of fun pointing out our various favorites. We also ate lunch there, consisting primarily of a watermelon gazpacho with pansies floating on the top. There’s a picture on my iPhone, if you happen to steal it at the next tournament and want to see what lunch looked like.

O’C promised to me us at 3ish at the museum, and we were forced to take both JV and CP to the emergency room to revive them from the brain hemorrhages they suffered when O’C actually met us at 3ish at the museum. He’s got the Foursquare check-ins to prove it (but then again, he checked in at 27 other places that day, including the men’s room at the Hilton, and you may not want to sort through them all). With our group now complete, we moseyed, specifically up to see the patented stairs at the Apple Store (beats me why they’re patented: they just look like stairs), the St. Gaudens Sherman statue, Rizzoli’s bookstore (where O’C discovered a book of Star Wars blueprints that was selling for a mere $500 which he just has to have, despite the fact that nothing in Star Wars was real, meaning that the blueprints are also not real, but then again, he’s the guy who gets in line for Cinderella’s autograph at WDW, and as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, not only is Cinderella not real, but the person whose autograph he’s getting isn’t her), and then, after fighting the crowds at Times Square and waiting out a short shower, we walked down the High Line to the Village, and ultimately to our dinner destination. CP, who started the day at about six foot four, was now about five foot ten, having worn his feet out to the ankles. But this is the loveliest part of G Village, all the old winding streets and little houses, and even he was impressed. Dinner, at a Brazilian restaurant, was good, but way too loud. The conversation, almost entirely debate-oriented (and, yes, a lot of it was about you, and none of it was complimentary, as you would expect), was rather hard to follow, unfortunately. I would say that when you get a couple or four debate people together, talk is ripe. I hated to miss a word, but there were a couple of times when they were reaming someone out at the other end of the table and I had to interrupt and get the name, just so I could file it away for future reference. After that, we moseyed some more for gelato, and then headed back home. A splendid time was had by all.

And then Sunday we poured CP back on the train for the hinterlands. Somehow through the weekend I got him signed up to work with me on LD at the Pups, and tentatively to help us with the MHL workshop. Plus he introduced us to aged gouda. What more could you ask?

Arts: The life of music

I’m in Starbucks and they’re playing “Sit Down I Think I Love You” by Buffalo Springfield, from a California groups of the 60s compilation album. That song was released in 1966. If I had been in Starbucks in 1966 listening to a song similarly old, that song would have been released in 1922. Possibilities? “Toot Toot Tootsie,” “Sheik of Araby” and “Give Me My Mammy.” Would the Starbucks of 1966 have been selling a record of hits of the 20s?

Just wondering.

And this isn't "Sit Down," but all these years later, who's counting? Remarkably good video, and not lip-synched! You can tell why Steve Stills might have been a Monkee, and Neil Young doesn't look a tenth as cranky as he does nowadays.

And here's Al Jolson, a few years after 1922 (he had to wait until the talkies, in order to capture that incredible whistle solo).

Video: HP on the Cloud

Pretty irresistible...

Debate: Regarding "The Six Truths Judges Will Never Admit"

One interesting thing about the world today is that if someone writes something about debate, there is not only an audience, but there is resonance. Take this article from Victory Briefs: The Six Truths Judges Will Never Admit. It is smart and true, and it makes me want to add on to it.

1. They can’t actually take your speed

My favorite example of this is when very experienced policy judges have gone into LD rounds and come out with their heads pounding. They went in with an expectation of something a little less than supersonic, but the debaters, seeing the policy label, figured that the gloves were off. A swell time was not had by all.

As Arijanto and Wynn point out, by the time the judge yells "Clear," stuff has already been missed. It behooves the debaters to actually keep an eye on the judges. You can tell if they're following you or not. If they're not, most likely speed is the culprit, in which case, if you don't slow down, you deserve the crappy speaker points.

My favorite complaint, and one that is remarkably common, is the opposite of this one. That is, judges go into the round, the debaters ask if they can handle speed, the judges say no, and then the SST takes off. If you don't care, why do you ask? Debaters do drills for speed. How about a drill for less speed?

2. They haven’t been judging in a while

This is so true, to wit, that debaters assume that the judges know stuff the judges don't necessarily know. The article says you'll use acronyms and shortcuts on citations and the like, but I would go even further and say that some debaters will presume an argument is a given. Everyone under the sun has argued X so many times in exactly the same way that everyone under the sun accepts the argumentation so that's your starting point, but the judge who has never been under the sun and never actually heard that argument is at a total loss. Know thy judge.

Of course, this leads me to something else, where arguments are not made but alluded to. You don't explain why X is wrong; you cite evidence, "Joe Blow 3" and that is enough. That's enough? That's not debate. That's sorting a database. Debates require arguments. Please.

3. They have an idea of who they’re voting for before the end of the round

I'm not quite sure what the point of this is, really, because it's way more unlikely that you wouldn't know. There are more obvious rounds than close ones, and rounds seldom play out to the end, although maintaining the win does require certain ritual steps (much like you have to take classes in your senior year of high school after you're already accepted to college). I think the point might have been that judges know before the start of the round, but I wonder about that. The real problem, strategically, is that debaters know before the start of the round. The number one reason for losses against a debater you think is stronger than you is your belief that the debater is stronger than you. There's always a new dog rising. Why shouldn't it be you?

I would point out that while many debaters develop steadily through their careers, many peak as juniors, for a variety of reasons. Giants fall. Each round stands alone. Always.

4. They have their own opinions

I don't think it's so much that judges lean to the truth of one side or the other, but that they buy the arguments more of one side or another, especially if these are arguments that they've developed themselves. This is really bad judging, of course, and is rife when upperclassmen judge underclassmen: the upperclassmen are pretty limited in their knowledge of possible arguments, and respond best to arguments similar to their own. They are way unlikely to accept arguments that are counter to their own; they've bought into them too much. Unfortunately this is true of some others as well, an inability to sever one's marriage to one's own arguments for an hour or so.

Anyhow, the advice the writers provide is good, but I think this may be the least relevant among strong judges.

5. Their paradigms are outdated and obtuse.

The whole paradigm system is ridiculous. Yes, you can provide some general analysis of your understanding of debate, but most paradigms are patently false. The ones that aren't false are too specific for relevance. The number of judges who actually judge according to what their paradigm says is probably a lot smaller than the ones whose paradigms are predictive. And as the writers say, most paradigms are old, which adds to the problem.

This is, of course, why I'm moving away from paradigms in MJP situations, not so much to eliminate them, but to provide a better barometer off the top.

6. They aren’t in the right mind

The underlying truth of judging, especially in later rounds, is that the judges get progressively more tired and more bored by the same thing over and over again (which is why we try to keep judges from judging the same people more than once, but that's usually close to impossible). Debaters who don't make it easy for the judges are, by default, making it hard. Why would you do that?

Here's a simple fact. In six rounds of debate, debaters debate six times. In six rounds of debate, judges judge up to twelve times because of flighting. Depending on the tournament, some judges are lucky to get one round off in prelims and none in elims, especially if they're highly preffed and/or the pool is small. Judges are way more tired than debaters because judges must draw on reserves of strength unalloyed with the adrenalin that drives debaters.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

We haven't been on a coaster in a while. This one is from Dollywood.

Below is what the ride actually looks like. You're hanging out in space, as you can see. I do sort of wish the landscape was more interesting, though. There's a virtual version of the ride on the Dollywood site that makes it look like you're soaring through gorgeous mountains; the reality looks more like a park that hasn't done any landscaping yet.

Coachean Feed: Debaters' links

More links of interest to the debate community.

Articles we didn't bother reading

I think it's time for a new feature. These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Batman Fashions That You Can Wear to the Office

  • World's largest penis arouses suspicion in San Francisco airport

  • “We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.”

  • Tube Of Goo Unappealing

  • Eating Half-Rotten Wildebeest Legs

  • Pieces of balloon boy saucer sold as trading cards

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Les Temps Perdu: Summers and nights (Employment continued)

Turning 16 in my day meant that you could get a real job. As soon as I turned the calendar I filled out a bunch of applications at country clubs and the like, assuming that summer employment would be my best bet, but these jobs were considered rather tony, and as a result, they were in high demand. I also applied to the local supermarket where we shopped, and was surprised out of my boots when I got a call a couple of weeks later to come in. The next thing I knew, I was working at the new First National up on Ridge Street.

You want to know something? I probably learned more there than I did in high school. For me, working at the First National was like debate: it showed me a new world, and it helped me grow up. I worked there summers, weekends and after school until I went off to college. It was my main extracurricular activity. I had dabbled in drama and debate and bowling (!?) and some writing gigs, but once I was working just about every afternoon, there wasn’t much time left for any of that. To be honest, I don’t think it was the best use of my time, and I would never urge anyone to take a job in lieu of some other serious afterschool endeavor, but it wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. And as I said, I learned some lessons there that I think I needed to learn. And I got paid while I was learning them.

The good news was that back then supermarkets were only open nights on Thursday and Friday, until 9:00, and they were also closed on Sundays. I did work both those nights, though, and Saturdays. And of course full days during the summers. It wasn’t like now when the stores never close, and you could be working godawful hours practically every day. Friday night at 9:00, once it became feasible, wasn’t that late for going out with my buddies and hanging out for a while. One of my friends, a kid named Tom from the next town over, drove a car we called the Silver Ghost, which was as big as a couple of barns and always available. He and my friend Glenn would pick me up, and we'd do what we did, and we did pretty well for ourselves, all things considered.

The way things worked at the supermarket, there was the manager and two assistant managers. Meat and dairy and produce were separate universes with their own managers, and those of us in grocery didn’t have much truck with them. Our jobs were either stocking the shelves or running the registers. Since we weren’t open all night, the shelf-stocking had to take place during working hours. Some foods disappeared faster than others, and stocking was both a science and an art.

There was a set hierarchy among the stock clerks. If you had been there for a while, you had full responsibility for a certain department. This meant that not only did you keep the stock on the shelves, but you ordered the stock for the week, filling out the forms for how many cases of this, that or the other you predicted we would need. Things generally ran according to a set pattern, and if you went through six cases of small cans of Bumblebee tuna one week, you’d probably go through six cases again the next week. A good stocker kept a little ahead, just in case, but storage space was limited, so playing the game well and keeping things close was important. If you were talking about cases of, say, paper towels, one of which would be the size of a hundred cases of tuna, it became even more important. On the other hand, there were more different possibilities among canned meats alone then all of the paper goods put together. Because of the quantity of canned meats and the mass of paper goods, the clerks who got these assignments were our top guys.

Every Monday the truck would arrive with the week’s main shipment. Downstairs in the basement, each clerk would be manning his storage area. Up in the truck, the driver would load the cases onto a conveyer belt that shot everything down to the waiting clerks. Starting out, with no particular assignment, I’d be helping the driver. Later I’d be downstairs helping whoever I was assisting or filling in for. It was all the same as far as work was concerned. Unloading trucks was serious exercise, no matter what position you played.

If the high men on the totem pole were canned goods and paper, the low end of the pole was ice cream and candy. Ice cream was a stinker because you had to go into the freezer to pull your load (i.e., collect whatever you needed to bring upstairs to restock), and then you had to get the load up and into the floor freezers before it all melted. And occasionally the basement freezer broke down, usually on Sundays, and you had to clean the whole damned thing out and start over again. As for candy, this was a little like canned meat in its variety and product size, with the distinction that no one walking by a can of tuna ever ripped it open and snuck a taste. Supermarket candy was felt by some shoppers to be intended solely as free samples, and whenever you walked down that aisle, you would find the latest break-in. Cookies were not dissimilar, but the cookie aisle tended to be busy, while candy tended to be quiet, so the vandals could get away with more damage. You really didn’t have to pull that many loads of candy in a week, to tell you the truth. It was more just policing the area before the bugs found the open packages.

Needless to say, my assignment at First National, once I finally got one, was ice cream and candy.

Additionally, I was a checker. These were the days before computerized registers. Nowadays, the price code is read automatically, and all the checker has to do is stay awake while pushing the goods down the belt. Then, you looked at the price, and entered it on the register. If it was 2 for 29 and there was 1, you entered 15 cents, but first you looked to make sure there weren’t two, and if a second one did sneak along later, you had to remember that this one was 14 cents. You had to do this for every item, including the ones that were 11 for 93 or 14 for a dollar or whatever, when people bought 5. Before you could stand at the register you had to take a test, and unfortunately this was the sort of math I could do in my sleep and I became a highly preferred checker, with amazing accuracy (they compared the money in your drawer at the end of the day to the receipts, of course), and the problem was, this was the most boring job ever invented. If you were lucky, they’d put you on speed, i.e., the express line. At least there, there was a lot of turnover.

As I moved up in my supermarket career, I helped all the other clerks, and even filled in for the paper goods guy when he wasn’t around, which for me was a plum. I also filled in for the soda guy, which was not a plum because soda is heavy. Toilet paper? Not so heavy.

That was the job that I head for three summers and two school years. But that part of it was just the job part. It was the people part that was important. Simply put, the folks who worked at the First National ranged from the way-too-cool guys to the local toughs. My home town had its share of JDs, and the JDs with jobs worked at the supermarket. Everybody drove to work in Pontiac GTOs that they spent all their non-working hours tuning up. They had Danny Zuko hairdos and wore the clothes that they wouldn't allow us to wear at my Catholic high school. Pegged jeans? Cigarette packs tucked under the short sleeved t-shirts? Welcome to very first day job. Or at least my very first afterschool and weekend and summer job.

The manager wasn't much different from the rest of the cast of Grease that worked the place, except he was older and had the great sense of humor required by anybody employing a small army of adolescents, the vast majority of whom were going to night school at the local community college. One of the assistant managers was nicknamed, not to his face, Lurch, which he had worked hard to earn. He would lecture me on "merchandising," how the attractive displays he created sold more items. "It's all about merchandising." In essence all we did was pile the products neatly and keep the floor swept, but to him it was psychological warfare with the customers. The other assistant manager was an old guy named Walter, who acted exactly like the quintessential old guy named Walter. You never saw him around much, and when you did he sort of tut-tutted as he creaked away so he wouldn't have to do anything. Even at sixteen I could recognize a time-server waiting for his pension to come through. There were a couple of other adults, one of them the custodian, a short guy who constantly muttered curses under his breath as he mopped the place, although most of his working day he spent in a stall in the employee bathroom. The other adult was the guy who worked out front, loading the cars. Inside, we packed the grocery bags into containers that then rolled outside on a conveyor belt, where this guy, built like heavyweight fighter, packed them into the cars that pulled up in front, earning tips of roughly a quarter a bag. Filling in for him on his break was one of our favorite gigs, because then we would collect those quarters a bag.

This was a new and frightening world for me, way outside my comfort zone. These were the people I was always afraid of running into on a dark night, the ones that would beat me up with such disdain that they wouldn't even bother to take my lunch money. But you've probably picked up on the obvious. These were the guys who had jobs. Most of them were working their way through school at night, unable to pull off what I would, namely having parents who could afford to send me away to an expensive school so that I could do nothing but labor in the fields of academe. (Yeah, right.) These were tough guys, definitely: tough guys with a sense of responsibility and ambition and drive and a willingness to do what it took to get ahead. Yes, they talked differently than I did (it was from them that I learned to swear correctly), and they dressed differently than I did (which amused them no end, especially since at the time I favored Hush Puppy chugga boots, which they referred to as my gravity boots), but they trained me to do my job, and once I did it, they accepted me. Some of them liked me, and some of them didn't, but that's life. I didn't like all of them, either. But we all certainly got along, and I could sit around with them and chew the fat during breaks or whatever. They taught me to eat all sorts of Italian foods I had hitherto been unaware of (there were a couple of venues nearby, a greasy spoon truck with amazing chili and a bowling alley slash pool hall with amazing burgers on hard rolls). In other words, they opened my eyes. They expanded my universe. I was kicked out into the world to make a few bucks, and I did. More importantly, it wasn't that I survived this previously frightening world, but I learned that there was nothing about it that required survival. It was just a bunch of people, albeit different people, doing their thing. If I wanted to, it wasn't that I might fit right in, but I could certainly get along.

It was a great life lesson for me. If you're raised in a narrow environment (not by choice but by happenstance, in my family's case), you don't necessarily realize that other environments may not be all that different. Oh, sure, some really are, as I was to learn later, but people are people, and most of them are just doing their best to get by. Maybe this was my first step on the road to learning philosophy, via working as a checker and shelf-stocker at the local grocery store.

As I said earlier, as a result of this job, I gave up all extracurricular activities, except for some offhanded writing. I had a minor job on the yearbook, granted by a favorite English teacher who wanted me to have something other than work on my resume, but that was about it. Work took up all my time when I wasn't literally in school, or at least all the time I would have devoted to debate (which I did do for a little while, until the job came along).

You may read this and think, what a boring life. What a limited existence. Maybe, but those were the times. I love the world of today where I see an incredible mix and match of races and nationalities in the schools. In my day, the mix and match was Irish or Italian. Hell, in my home town, the Italians had their school and church, the Irish had their school and church, and the Polish had their church (although they were forced to mix in at my school), and they did not communicate. This wasn't racial segregation with all its attendant ills, but it was certainly cultural segregation. I don't think there was an Asian in my entire town, except those working at the dry cleaner or the Chinese restaurant. Downtown where I grew up is now almost entirely Latino: in my day, there was a kid named Lopez in my class, and that was it. African-Americans? The town had a big black population, on the other side of the tracks (literally). One of them—literally, exactly one black person—was a parishioner at my church. Any wonder at my insularity?

The world has changed.

Thank goodness.

Music: An awesome Beethovian flash mob

I have no idea why I am so moved by this sort of thing.


Movies/Books: Life of Pi

Normally I wouldn't bother posting a preview, but this one intrigues me.

First of all, I loved this book, and from the getgo have been flummoxed by the idea that it would be turned into something literal. If you've read it, you know what I mean.

But then you look at these scenes, and you think about Ang Lee, and regardless of how much or how little you think it feels like the book, it sure as hell feels pretty amazing as a preview. Maybe this will be one of those 3-Ders that actually do the job, the last of that ilk being, in my opinion, Hugo. When serious filmmakers take on a new technology, the results are worthy of study, whether they succeed or fail. This may seem to contradict other things I've said about 3-D, but my fears have never been that artists will move the medium but that hacks will move it. At the point where almost every movie released is, unnecessarily, in 3-D because of an idea that that's what the market will bear, thus generating more revenue, it is not an artistic decision but a financial one. Say what you will about theories of art, those theories that equate art with commerce are probably not the ones artists should be following. The muse of money may be real, but it's not particularly artistic. I'm as much in favor of making a buck as the next guy, in other words, but not at the risk of losing works of art.

Anyhow, this one looks interesting, at the moment. It also looks only marginally like the book Life of Pi. And that's the underlying problem of previews: it's not that the jury is out, but that the trial hasn't even started yet. We'll just have to wait and see. On the other hand, the preview itself is quite good. Maybe we don't need the movie. Maybe this is enough Richard Parker to satisfy us forever.

Today's Birthday: The funniest lady ever?

George: Gracie, those are beautiful flowers. Where did they come from?
Gracie: Don't you remember, George? You said that if I went to visit Clara Bagley in the hospital I should be sure to take her flowers. So, when she wasn't looking, I did.

Today is Mick Jagger's birthday. Sorry, Mick, but today is also Gracie Allen's birthday. And, first of all, she dances better than you. Not many people can hold their own with Eleanor Powell:

Second, her spouse was totally keyed into her.

And third, well, you never had to deal with an elephant, as far as I know.

So, happy birthday, Mick Jagger. But, as the evidence proves, you're no Gracie Allen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Debate blog: On site design and cheap stuff

The new banner was Kt’s doing. She got the dinosaur from DeviantArt (I put a credit to the artist down below, and since I’m not making any money off of this, unfortunately neither will he) and the cat from a company that will remain nameless. I had used a p.d. cat myself, but so it goes. It does look livelier than what I had before, no question about that.

I also jiggered the right hand column a bit. Since at the moment, the Twitter feed is only a broadcast of the blog posts, it’s sort of silly to keep it up high. Maybe someday I’ll get more into Twitter for other stuff, but it won’t be in the foreseeable future. I realize that some people breathe Twitter, but I am not one of them. I’m becoming fonder of it, though, as a place to watch to see what’s going on in the world. I’m always the first to know who died. What more could I ask for?

As a side note, I guess we do need to TVFT the final four resolutions. Maybe next week. I’ll try to enthuse the troops.

I think my greatest accomplishment this week was getting O’C to buy a Lego Millennium Falcon at a serious discount. 254 bazillion pieces, if I'm not mistaken. I get these notices from Amazon all the time, so it was nice to pass it along to a willing sucker customer. What I also get a lot of (and I will admit I do like Twitter for this) is notices that mp3 albums are temporarily dirt cheap. It’s getting to the point where as often as not, I’m never paying more than $5, but more often than not I’m only paying $2. For full albums. Given the type of music I like, I never have bought into the idea that albums consist of a good song or two and a lot of filler. That may be the case for pop artists (with the warning that they may not even have the good song or two) but not for jazz or shows and the like. Or most serious rock artists, the ones who work at it. You may end up liking some songs more than others, but that doesn’t render the lesser liked songs as unwarranted additions to an album. Take the Beatles, for instance. Even the songs that you don’t like as much, you still like. (Except maybe for Revolution 9, which no one has ever liked since the dawn of time except for John and Yoko, and you’ve got to wonder if John was just jiving us.) Parties interested in cheap Amazon music should sign up for their newsletters; you’ll generate a little mail, but it will pay off soon enough.

Tech: Kickstarter

Kickstarter may be one of the most fun sites around these days. You've probably heard of it; it's where entrepreneurs can obtain funding from the world at large. The amounts of money sought are reasonable—we're talking a few bucks, not twenty mill to launch a competitor to Facebook—and the projects are absolutely all over the map. And when you pledge, you get not a share of the profits, but maybe an early release model or a discount or whatever, depending on the project. Regardless of whether you've got money to spend, it's a great site just to poke around. Who knew?

I offer two radically different proposals. This one is way over its goal, for the obvious reason that it is, on face, a really good idea, really well executed.

A different project altogether, newer to the site, is John Kricfalusi's animated "Cans Without Labels." John K created The Ren & Stimpy Show (long live Powdered Toast Man!) and is, needless to say, wonderfully twisted. His pitch for funding, as he tells his own story, is hilarious, and his presentation of the materials to date is, for animation fans, fascinating. There's plenty of room left for funding for this one, if the money is burning a hole in your pocket.

I'll be following Kickstarter closely in the future, and I'll pass along any really interesting projects. This is just too much fun to ignore.

Books: A Shakespeare sonnet

Stephen Fry reading Sonnet 130 'My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun' from Touch Press on Vimeo.

This is via Open Culture, and is just one of the sonnets, as read by famous folk in a new iPad app. I'm with the Open Culture poster myself. I'd like Stephen Fry to read everything, all the time. I am on record as believing that his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is among the best audiobook reads of all time, and I curse creation that I can't get my hands on his Harry Potter (although, let's face it, Jim Dale is nothing to sneeze at). I also curse creation that Fry hasn't done the other Adams books. Come on, people. Get it together. I have a long commute. I need those books!

Music: Johnny Hodges

Johnny Hodges was born on July 25, 1906. He most famously played with Duke Ellington and is regarded by many as the greatest alto sax player of all time. Judge for yourself.

Hodges died of a heart attack in 1970. I love that not only can we hear him, but we can even watch him, whenever we want. What a wonderful world.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Debate blog: Late July is starting to look like early August

CP’s visit to NYC this weekend is turning into a mini-DisAd. We’ll have JV for the day, and most of O’C. Too bad there isn’t a gate-opening ceremony, where the Mayor comes out and greets everybody and then Mickey arrives on the #1 train and there’s a rope drop and we all go running to Space Mountain or wherever. We should at least go into the Disney Store for practice. I have to admit that I am already stoked for DisAd13 (the real DisAd), even though it’s 13 months away. I’ve been tinkering with the calendar, trying to balance things. By the time we actually start signing up, we should have a pretty good idea what it is we’re signing up for. Which is more than you can say about most things in life.

I’m still rather frightened by the new tabroom.com. It says, unconvincingly, “We may look ready,” but I have to say, ready is like what it doesn’t look. The black-on-black login took me forever to find, and I still can’t find Yale 2012. Of course, I will have CP captive over the weekend, so my fears should either be alleviated. Or justified. We'll see.

Speaking of Yale, I still only have one Speecho-American signed up. Maybe it’s time to fold the tent. Maybe Brx Sci is hiring. I could work for O’C. Or better yet, Gazzola. I could carry his luggage or something. Of course, I do know that my debaters are offline at the moment; I just hope they actually do come back. Sailor S-As, on the other hand, are notoriously scatterbrained about things like signing up for stuff. Oh, well. Maybe they’re offline too, but then again, how would you know?

I realize as August looms just a week away that, for all practical purposes, the season is about to begin for me in earnest. It is in August that I polish up the Bump invite, and I will have no choice but to get back to working on my PF curriculum, which I abandoned by at the end of last season; one’s momentum does run out every year, even though it does always kick in again the next year. Provided that I do get debaters signed up for the Pups, we’ll have to start brainstorming as soon as the topic is released. If they’re not going, we have a little reprieve until October is released. I’m also hoping to host a little alum get-together before everyone drifts back to school, and that will also have to be about topic-release time. I look forward to that, of course. My goal is to make macaroni and cheese that the Panivore will actually eat. A worthy enterprise indeed, although perhaps one doomed to failure. Oh, well. I can always carry Gazzola’s luggage.

Games: Musical history of PC games

There's something about this...

It comes from Video: The evolution of PC games, from a site called TheVerge.com. Looks interesting.

On the site, by the way, they list the sources of the visuals and sounds in the video.

Art: "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."

There are certain things that seem to belong to the past, and it can be both enlightening and slightly jarring to see them drifting into the modern age. For instance, occasionally we hear a scrap of recording of, say, Brahms playing his own music, or Mark Twain speaking, and we think, wait a minute, that’s right, Edison recorded sound a real long time ago. We confuse capability with common occurrence.

Open Culture has posted three films recently of French artists, the first shock of which is their very existence. But then again, Monet died in 1926, Degas in 1917, and Renoir in 1919. Film had been around since the 1890s. Why wouldn’t they be captured in motion?

The second shock is the men themselves, to see them as they really were. Monet is the easiest to take. Talk about your lion in winter. In his later years, CM moved out to Giverny and created his famous garden, the one you see mostly in all those lily pads. For all practical purposes he was the great man with a mission, and the money to make it happen. The thing about Monet is that, even while he was alive, he was ridiculously popular. There was none of this Van Goghish starving artist, sell-no-paintings-while-you're-alive business for him. I think he was already on calendars and napkins and tee shirts before World War I! And there he is in the film, smoking away, looking exactly the way a great artist should look. Could it be that he is the most popular artist of all time? I wouldn't bet against it.

The footage of Edgar Degas is a mere glimpse of an old man on the street. But read the text. He had begun going blind at quite a young age, and needed his models to tell him the colors on his palette. This, of course, explains his sculpture.

But the most amazing footage is of Renoir. His hands are so crabbed that his son has to put the brush between his fingers, but still, he painted almost to the end. And his late works, while maybe not as big in size as some of his more famous pieces, are every bit as controlled.

As they say, the more you know, the more you know. Seeing paintings in the museum is one thing (and a very good thing). Understanding the artist makes seeing the paintings even better. Of course, at some point the art stands without the artist, or at least we think it should. Does it matter if the artist was one-legged with an ear where his nose should be, or does it only matter that we look at the work and take it as the total sum of itself? There's no easy answers to that one.

Birthday: Rare photo of Amelia Earhart explains all

Today is Amelia Earhart's birthday. This photo of her and her copilot explains a lot about her disappearance. [Via.]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Forensics: CP in the City

Big weekend coming up. CP visits NYC. I gather that Mayor Bloomberg is giving him the keys to the city, and that Cardinal Dolan is giving him the keys to St. Patricks. He'll be stay chez moi, but I'll be damned if I give him the keys to that! Next thing you know, my cat will be pregnant and—

Enough of that. Mostly we intend to sightsee. The poor child of Boston is only vaguely aware that the Bronx is up and the Battery's down, and we will do our best to correct that. O'C will join up with us, and perhaps JV, if he's not in Las Vegas doing whatever it is he and O'C are doing for the NFL in Las Vegas. Needless to say, while CP is around, I'll harass him about tabroom.com as it goes into its final pre-August reload. Last time I looked at it I couldn't find anything. Maybe it's a plot...

I did go over the Yale invite with JV, and we reported back to the Pups in Charge that, uh, some things needed changing. For one thing, I'm not quite sure where LD will be. Last year it was some new school that was okay, but we never did get comfortable. We got kicked out of tab by some cooking class on Saturday morning, which would have been all right if they had given us a cupcake or something, but not even a lick of the bowl, and the next thing we knew we were tabbing with some guy doing Parli. Nice guy and all, but, well, Parli this, if you know what I mean. I don't share well.

On the other hand, given our digs this year at Jake, I'm happy to share. For reasons buried in the dark past, we had previously chosen a tab room near a central table, but anyone who has been to Jake knows that it's too big for anything to be central, so this year we've opted for a room with couches and a microwave. In other words, we're settling in. I wouldn't have trusted them a few years ago without me breathing down their necks; now the foe is on the other shoot, and they can breathe down my neck. I'm not saying that the Foods of the World Unite were exactly lukewarm, but last year we started a small fire just to bring the ziti up to room temperature. Oh, wait a minute. It's not debate ziti at Jake, it's "tastes of the Mediterranean." I think they have George Orwell writing their invitation. Then again, O'C just posted an old article from the New Yorker on his Facebook page about the event back in the 80s, when the tab staff spent their days in the morgue dissecting random cadavers just to get in shape for pairing the rounds. I miss that about Jake now. No cadavers. It's just not the same.

Dance: Michael Jackson

Wait a minute! Michael Jackson didn't defy gravity? Another bubble bursts.


Books: Great (not) history

I'm rather taken by the History News Network's poll of the the least credible history books in print. Granted this was a biased and short-lived poll, but still...

First of all, the title to take top honors was Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. In this book, the author points out such mistaken ideas as the one that TJ believed that there should be a wall of separation between church and state. TJ thinking that the government and religion should not be the same thing? Well, shut yo' mouth! The very idea! I'm going to postulate that any book labeled nonfiction that has a Foreword by Glenn Beck is yet another category altogether, namely, nonnonfiction, where you just make stuff up because you like it that way.

It's curious how a lot of people who want religion in government want to use the Founders as the source for this idea. Whether or not we should or shouldn't, and whether or not it's a good idea (and please note how neutral my language is), the Founders, the guys like Jefferson and Adams and Washington and Franklin, did not wish to blend religion with government. Not no how, not no way. Get over it. In our world today, we use whatever we like of Founderism to prove that we should do a certain thing, and usually we pretend that contrary ideas are not those of the Founders. (Certain members of SCOTUS are notorious for this.) But to create Founderistic beliefs whole cloth that are contrary to their ideas? That's the American way!

What the interwebs were more interested in about the poll than second-rate history making stuff up was that Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States came in a close second. Talk about a totally different animal. No one questions Zinn's history; what they object to is his hypothesis. I know a lot of people who strongly admire Zinn's leftist interpretation of history. After all, he's a real historian who doesn't make stuff up. But you know something? I'm going to side with the least credible contingent on this one. I could not read this book (and I'm a big history book buff). The interpretation of the facts was so heavy-handed that I wanted to find the author and hit him over the head with it. Lighten up, Howie! I mean, I may not be a card-carrying communist, but I'm as much a left wingnut as the next guy. But not when the next guy is the late Howard Zinn.

If you haven't looked at Zinn's book, give it a try. It's obviously controversial. You can tell the pinkness of your diapers by how much you buy into it. For the details of the poll as a whole, read What is the Least Credible History Book in Print?

Tech: There. Fixed it.

None are so blind as those who can't find what they are looking for.

Thanks to Professor Ryan Miller, I now have RSS code that will either give you a feed of everything in the blog, or just give you a feed of debate stuff (which will include some non-debate stuff, similar to what I used to do here before I was struck on the head by the Grinwout's bug). Once I got started on this, I went on and also added Arts only, Amusement Parks only, and Tech only. It's all over near in the right-hand column. If you are an RSSer, and why wouldn't you be, you now have your choice. I would trust that you might take it all, but you may wish to separate the various stuff by theme. I know I was certainly trying to separate it myself, so I understand the impulse. As you've probably figured, I'm narrowing down the posts to a handful of subjects. I'm hoping these broad categories are enough. Occasionally there will be something that doesn't fit; that will be collected in the general RSS, so it won't get lost.

Meanwhile, the whole tags thing is starting to bother me no end. I would like to limit the number of tags, but once something already has a tag, it seems pretty much impossible to untag it, at least as a batch process. Oh, well. We will continue to look forward! And I'll eliminate the tags box, as pretty useless anyhow. If you want to search for something, search for it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

How about an attraction that was never built, to tide us over for the weekend? In EPCOT's opening day TV Special in 1982 (you can catch it on YouTube), host Danny Kaye talks to Roots author Alex Haley about the soon to be built African pavilion.

We're still waiting.

The problem, as explained in The World That Never Was: Equatorial Africa, was basically money. As in, Equatorial African nations weren't rolling in it, certainly not enough to pass a whole bunch of it to Disney. Author Josh Taylor explains in the piece that there were numerous parts to the envisioned attraction, including a virtual safari of sound.

Animal Kingdom has probably satisfied WDW's need for an African presence on property. Taylor says that Brazil is eyeing the very empty space where Equatorial Africa would have been built. That works for me. Brazil is one of those places I may never get to. Much like Equatorial Africa. But at least I could get there via Disney World...

Tech: Great new Amazon service


Coachean Feed for July 20

We continue with links of interest to the debate community.

Weekly link roundup

More good stuff that speaks for itself:

Music: By Jingo, it's Carlos Santana's birthday

On that first Santana album, sure, there's also "Evil Ways." I love "Evil Ways." I'll bring "Evil Ways" with me to that proverbial desert island. That's because, when I get to that island, they'll already have "Jingo."

Two versions, separated by a mere 40 years. The liveliest, happiest song of all time?

Santana is one of the most distinctive guitar players ever. A lot of people can play, but how many people can you identify by just a note or two, yet who endlessly fascinate with their creativity? When it comes to the gods of the six strings, he's got peers, but no betters. He's 65 today. No way that's retirement age!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Les Temps Perdu: In which I gain my first employment

I had other jobs in addition to my short career sweeping up the music school. After all, I started working when I was 13. You rack up a few miles when you get a head start.

My first job was caddying, which was also my first encounter with the game of golf. 13 was the considered age for starting one's bag-toting career, and there was a public course at which people my age had a perfectly good chance to get out, as we used to call it. Of course, you would get out after everyone else, but if you didn’t mind waiting around for most of the morning playing cards, it would happen. This was before the dawn of golf carts, which means that everybody walked, and it was the rare golfer who wanted to carry his (or occasionally her) own bag. These things could weigh in at serious tonnage, and if you didn’t have to carry it yourself, what did you care if you threw in a few extra clubs, a couple of dozen balls, a change of clothes including shoes and your pet brick collection? Young ‘uns like myself would carry one bag, a single; older kids and adults usually carried two, a double, and get paid twice as much for it. If you were hungry enough, and stalwart enough, you could get out twice a day with two doubles. You could also saw off your right foot with an emery board, if you enjoyed slow torture. One bag once a day was rough enough, especially if your golfer wasn’t any good. In addition to the five or so miles of traversing the course, bad golfers would send you into the woods as often as not, adding a couple of miles more over hazardous terrain. And woe be to the caddy who didn’t find a ball! That was your job. You watched it fly off, and then you marked it, connecting to some geographic landmark to which you would head and then, voila, there it was. Or not.

The golf courses I would caddy at were not near my house. Sometimes a parent would drop me off, but as often as not I would hitchhike. At the age of 13. The idea of hitchhiking at any age in the year 2012 (unless you’re John Waters) is tantamount to wishing yourself a sexually abused and slow tortured demise, but back then, it was just somebody picking you up and giving you a ride. I hitchhiked up through my college years, hardly alone in the act, and only encountered a couple of dicey situations (if you don’t count Texans telling you about their guns and how they’re ready to use them so even though they’re good guys for picking you up don’t try any sudden moves). It was just how you got around, almost always effectively. There was one course I could walk to, though, where I discovered that, if I got there early enough, I could get right out. The Westchester Country Club was about a half hour away. I would arrive there at about five in the morning and help put up the flag, and then there would be a handful of solo golfers who were going to work or put in their family time later and wanted to get in a round right after sunrise before they had to punch in or before the duffers showed up. These guys tended to be seriously good and seriously fast, and I would make my money and be back home by nine o’clock, ready to head to the beach for the rest of the day. Of course, a place like the Westchester had professional caddies, so if you didn’t catch one of these early birds, you’d soon be sidelined by the serious workers. There were two courses at the club, a really tough one and a normal one. (I don’t think there’s such a thing as an easy golf course anywhere on the planet. Normal is the best you can hope for.) All the he-men played the tough one; the men who were honest with themselves, and the women, played the other one, the South course. In the private club world of the 60s, women were literally not allowed on the other course. Imagine that. Imagine also that they were paying through the nose not to be admitted to all the privileges their husbands enjoyed. On top of that, when they did play, on the wrong side of the tracks, they would get caddies like…me. Those poor women. Then again, poor me. I’ve played golf with plenty of women, including plenty of women who are a damned lot better at the game than I am, but at that course back then, it was women who were waiting for their husbands to finish their games over at the real course or whatever, and as a rule, they were dreadful. Slower than molasses, for one thing, and not capable of moving the ball very far. A round on the South course could easily last an hour longer than a round on the real course. At least the women were nice to the caddies, though. They didn’t pay much attention to us, for the most part, but the one thing they didn’t do was blame us for their shortcomings. At the public course I usually worked—I wasn’t getting up at 4:00 a.m. every day because I may have wanted to make some money but I wasn’t insane about it—I still remember one golfer in particular who was, to this day, the worst golfer I have ever seen*. Worse, the cause of his crappy play was, in a word, me. He blamed me for everything, every time. I recommended the wrong clubs, I was standing in the way, I lost his balls, whatever. (Imagine me at 13 years old. If you were a golfer, would you listen to my recommendations of what clubs to use?) That guy was, for all practical purposes, the first lousy boss I ever had. And as I say, I still remember him, even though I only caddied for him once. I even remember what he looked like. That’s amazing.

I caddied for three years, until I was 16 and old enough to get working papers and a regular job. Which I did, almost immediately. Which is a story I guess we'll get to soon enough.

* Bonus John Updike golf joke: A golfer goes to Ireland and hires a caddy and the golfer hits the ball everywhere but straight, losing balls, whiffing, generally demonstrating terrifically bad golf for the entire round, scoring off the map, while all the while blaming his caddy for everything that goes wrong. At the end of the round the golfer says to the caddy: "You are the worst caddy in the world," to which the caddy replies, "I don't think so, sir. That would be too much of a coincidence."

Some more handsome devils

I did this once before, and I kind of like it. I'll post three pictures this time. The answers will be at the bottom, in links.

This first one is from a photo booth. That was back when pictures that looked like Instagram were the best we could do and we couldn't wait for improvements in the future. Little did we know.

As for the next one, you really need to identify them both.

And the young lady in the last picture managed to get picked up in a domestic dispute with her husband. Nobody ever looks good in a mug shot.

Answers: #1, #2, #3

Dance: Or is the category Robots?

Another reason to get a robot.

It does go on a bit too long, but then again, the amazing thing is that it goes on at all.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Forensics: The new season develops

Okay, after a lot of grunts and groans, things heated up so much at the DJ over the last couple of days that I'm lucky if I even remember where the computer is, much less think about random postings. Meanwhile, things really are kicking in for the new season.

First of all, I noticed that the Pups invitation is up on tabroom.com. To be honest, it’s last year’s invitation with the date changed, meaning that it’s close but no cigar. I have communicated this to the proper authorities, and hope to update at least the parts that are relevant to LD. I’m especially interested in getting everyone on-board with MJP, as I’ve been discussing here, and I’ll introduce that better there. I don’t know how many people have actually seen the invite, to tell you the truth, since the link is only visible on the opening page of tabroom before you log in. But still, it’s the only link we’ve got. It should roughly reflect the tournament.

The good news is that we have a lone, lorn Sailor all signed up. My heart pitter-pats at the thought. I’m thinking there is an extremely good chance that I’ll be traveling up with at most 3 Speecho-Americans and no debaters. Oh, well. It’s a carload.

And we’ve officially kicked off Princeton, in that the Tigs have made the initial contact. What I’m hoping for more than anything there is getting PF back off campus on Saturday. I did like the 2 on and 2 off for LD, though, the old schedule from the dark ages. It’s extremely civilized, and resulted in judges showing up in unrecognizable droves in plenty of time. A lot easier on everyone, if you ask me. We’d have a little more space for everyone, too, if we got the extra out-building. We’ll see.

Come to think of it, the Gem of Harlem has also made contact, and we connected on the need to do the January 25 weekend (as in, there’s absolutely no other possible weekend). So, we’re in good shape with the colleges, but January is otherwise a fiasco. We lose the MHL, theoretically, although I’m thinking that we can run it with Columbia, but down at Beacon, with the expectation of smaller LD/PF entries. (Come to think of it, there might be some way of tying in Policy to the Gem. Hmmmm…)

The other big hassle for the coming season is September and October. For reasons that elude me, October has meanly decided to have only four weekends, putting the first-timers’ way early, but there’s no way around it. There will need to be big adjustments in the NYCFL to accommodate the confluence of CFL and MHL debate, which we all want. So, nutty times are coming, but at least we’re all aware of them.

Video: Marco Tempest

iPod Magic - Deceptions from Marco Tempest on Vimeo.

I'm a sucker for magic, and love how Tempest brings it into the modern age. Of course we want to see people do tricks with iPhones! Tempest has a big presence on Vimeo if you want to see more of his work.

Via BoingBoing.net.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

General: LinkedOut

I continue to suffer through get-off-my-lawn fugue states, lately in the area of social media. I could say that I just don’t get it, but I think that maybe I do get it, and I just don’t care. And I think it’s a generational thing. You know how nowadays if you can’t think of the actor who had a walk-on in a movie you’ve completely forgotten and never liked, all you have to do is turn to Google and you’ll know the actor’s name in less than five seconds, rendering useless that part of our memory in which we used to store such information? I feel the same way about most social media, that it is somehow bringing to the fore people I’ve completely forgotten or never liked, or in many cases never even heard of, or in the cases of people I care for, keeping me abreast of all the parts of their lives in which I have absolutely no interest.

The thing is, users of social media don’t dabble. They embrace. They live it and breathe it. They are like visitors from Uranus who walk among us but thanks to the dynamism of Uranusian communications, are able to stay in touch with their fellow Uranuses and do so to the exclusion of the physical world of the earth. Take Twitter, for instance. People who tweet, at least the ones I know, don’t post to Twitter now and then. They are always on Twitter, accessible through Twitter, and posting on Twitter. Tweet after tweet after tweet.

How to use Twitter (note to self):
1. Got nothing better to do? Turn it on. Look at it until you get confused about what you've already seen and what's new. Turn it off.
2. People you care about? Notify when they tweet via iPhone. (Exclusive to family members.)
3. Wonder who died recently? Turn it on. Check trending.
4. Incremental promotion of CL: Remember to post a bitly link that makes some sense to those constantly in the river of Twitter.

LinkedIn? This one really eludes me. I understand how some people I know might consider me a resource for their careers, especially former students, but the only activity I’ve ever performed via LinkedIn is accepting their invitations to Link In to them. I’ve never given anyone a job, looked for a job, been asked about a potential employee, or anything else remotely related to what I imagine LinkedIn is all about. Oh, and my college keeps telling me that there’s 14 discussions transpiring right now on LinkedIn, which to me is a reminder, never observed, to turn off the feature in LinkedIn where my college can tell me about their LinkedIn discussions.

How to use LinkedIn (note to self):
1. Accept invitations from people you know.
2. Ignore invitations from people you don’t know.

Foursquare? Okay, I have to admit that a couple of times I’ve checked into places and gotten discounts, so that’s a no-brainer. I have had to stop following people who check into everything, including their visits to the mens’ room. If you’re not checking into something interesting, who gives a flying fig?

How to use Foursquare (note to self):
1. Check into unusual places to gain badges, like street fairs and cockfights. It’s the only boost to your self esteem you’ll probably get on a given day. (You get 5 points for your first cockfight.)
2. Check into places when you’re on a debate trip, so that you can find the other people you’re looking for when it’s time to eat.
3. Don’t check into places when you’re not home for a long time. It’s better just to put a big banner outside the chez saying: “Not home. On vacation. Please rob.” I grant you that’s probably a generational response, but I also gather that for the younger generation of females, posting on Foursquare can be an invitation to stalkers, i.e. the antisocial—nay sociopathic—people who only exist on social media.

And then there’s Facebook. I’m more inclined to look at this than any of the others. Probably every three or four days I browse for five or ten minutes, to see if anyone I know got married or had a baby or something. Mostly I see that so-and-so is listening to some obscure group on Spotify, or that they like Colgate toothpaste, or that they’ve commented on Joe Blow’s picture (“Nice picture, Joe Blow”).

How to use Facebook (note to self):
1. Check every few days to see if debate team members have enlisted in the Marines and won’t be showing up for tournaments as previously planned.
2. Accept friend requests. Don’t worry if you don’t know these people. They don’t know you either, so it’s mutual.
3. Direct messages to notify via iPhone. Realistically, Facebook is an excellent phone book slash address book in a world where people change their emails and phone numbers every now and then. Who knew that Facebook would become the Rock of Recognition Gibraltar?
4. See if anyone you know has actually done something interesting. Don’t be disappointed to find that everyone you know is even duller than you thought.

There are probably other social media venues I’m missing. But as you can see, the way I see things, I’m probably not missing much.

Movies: William Castle

O'C mentioned The Tingler yesterday in a comment on the 4-D posting, calling it "worthy 4D schlock." Worthy or not, and for that matter, 4-D or not, it recalls the late, great William Castle, who was the god of the movie gimmick.

Movie gimmicks go back to practically the first movies. After all, the original gimmick was that a collection of still photographs "moved" in the first place. Whether we believe the stories of people running from the theater in fear when the Lumiere brothers' filmed train pulled into the station, audiences were certainly excited by it. Movies were made in color as early as 1895, with each individual frame hand-painted. Color was still a gimmick in 1939 when it came in the Oz scenes after the bleak sepia world of Kansas. It was the French who first used sound in movies, in 1900. 3-D? 1915, although it was the 50s, when Hollywood saw the direct competition of television, that it became commercial. In fact, that box in the home set off a wave of gimmicks, like wide screens and then really really wide screens, high fidelity sound, and generally anything that you couldn't get watching Milton Berle.

But there were gimmicks, and there were gimmicks. A true gimmick is something that has virtually no value whatsoever except as a promotional tool. And that's where William Castle comes in. He didn't push the envelope of the technical scope of film per se; he pushed the envelope of the advertising.

Macabre, in 1958, was his first horror film; he had done a whole bunch of B movies before that, mostly westerns and crime stories. Macabre, which he also produced, had a gimmick: Castle offered a $1000 life insurance policy for anyone who died of fright during the movie. To aid with the presumed flood of invalids and corpses, there were nurses in the lobby and hearses in the parking lot. This gimmick was a real hit, and in his way, Alfred Hitchcock parodied it in the Psycho ads in 1960, where he ruled that no one would be admitted after the movie started, and he further admonished audiences not to reveal the ending to their friends, because your friends would kill you. And if they didn't, Hitch would!

Castle's movies were the cream of adolescent goofiness because of the gimmicks. For House on Haunted Hill, a skeleton popped out of the screen. I saw that one in a late night screening; the only scary thing was that the wire might break and this stupid thing might fall on your head. For Tingler, buzzers encouraged you to scream (which kept you safe from the yucky Tingler); legend has it that these were actually rigged to give you a jolt in your seat, but that may be urban legend. Thirteen Ghosts started out with Castle on the screen, explaining how to use your ghost viewer that you received when you bought your ticket; it looked something like a strip of the paper used in 3-D glasses, to heighten the color of the ghosts on the screen. I saw it when it came out; why didn't I keep that ghost viewer? I also saw Mr. Sardonicus, in which Castle stopped the movie near the end for the audience to give thumbs up or down on the villain's comeuppance; the gimmick was like the one for 13 Ghosts, but this time we have a glow-in-the-dark thumb. As far as I know, poor Mr. Sardonicus never got of scott free, but I have to admit wondering at the time, what if audiences voted the other way? How would they work that? (I was young back then.)

And there were others in the Castle ouevre. William Castle may not have moved the needle on the art of film, but he sure as hell movied the needle on the art of fun. It's the sort of nutty business that you never see in theaters anymore.

By the way, Joe Dante's Matinee, if you haven't seen it, is a loving tribute to Castle, revolving around the movie Mant! ("Half man, half ant, all terror!"), filmed in Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama. Castle would have loved it. And he probably would have outdone it in his next picture.

Birthday 2: Disneyland (sort of)

Disneyland was supposed to open tomorrow (in 1955), and today was a preview for the press. But somehow the word got out, and they were breaking down the doors. And this is the day it was dedicated, so let's go with this one.

What was the park like in 1955? Well, why not take A Journey Through The 1955 Guidebook? It was produced before the park opened, so what you see is, mostly, what you get. Here's a link to the pdf if you want to own your very own copy.

Today the park is 57 years old. What I find more amazing is that this year, WDW is 41 years old. I expect Disneyland to seem like it's been around forever. But WDW? 41? It just doesn't compute.

Today's Birthday: P.D.Q. Bach

The 21st of Johann Sebastian Bach's 20 children was born today.

Actually, it was Peter Schickele who was born today. Same difference.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Forensics: Halfway through the summer

One of the problems of putting CL into evolution mode is that when I say evolution, I meant it. I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going—intelligent design does not play into it. My only goal is to open it up to more things than debate. But at the same time, I don’t want to lose the debate parts, which are core. Or the audience that has developed over time because of the debate parts. I have a general idea who’s reading this, in other words. But I don’t think that all of them are only reading it for debate stuff. The VCA is interested in a lot of other things as well. My goal is to provide non-forensic material for those interests, to entertain the sort of person who would be in the VCA in the first place. Forensics remains core, though: make no mistake about that (as Richard Nixon would say, usually when he was lying). I have no intention of moving away from debate, letting the tail take over the dog, so to speak.

Still, we have problems, especially for those who really don’t want the non-debate stuff, or think of the debate stuff as apart from the rest of it. If I could do separate RSS feeds for the same blog, I would, but that is beyond me (or maybe it’s just beyond Blogger). That was one of the reasons Grinwout’s was created, but I’ve already discussed why I’ve given up on that.

Anyhow, to try to make things palatable, I’m adding a generic tag at the top of each post title. I’ll try to keep them to a manageable few, like Movies, Music, Coachean Feed (which I’ve revived as a weekly post), and of course, Forensics. This means that, at the very least, you can see off the top if you want to read that sort of post because you’re in that sort of mood. Or you can just pass over the ones you’re not interested in, if you’re merely reading this to keep up with registration dates at the next high school tournament. Your call. I’ll do this for a while, until I think of something else.

Meanwhile, if you missed it, we put up a new TVFT last week, talking about the second three in the set of 2012-13 resolutions. Mostly we agreed this time around, except maybe on the civil services one, which I went into hating. I came out of it hating it just as much, and I think some of my reservations (chiefly its broadness) started to click with the others. Listen for yourself. In any case, it was good to get all four of us back together again. We do come at things from such radically different points of view. I think of Bietz and CP as hot into the midst of today’s LD, whether they like it or not (L’Etoile did win TOC, after all), while Cruz has such a literally vast army that he has no choice but to take a broader view of forensics as a whole while I’m firmly rooted in the get-off-my-lawn land of about a decade ago. Our longevity is interesting, come to think of it. This was the 59th episode, going back at least a couple of years. We have yet to run out of things to say. How odd that a bunch of speech/debate people could be so chatty.

On the home front, I have sent out the call to the Sailors to get their acts together to sign up for the Pups and Jake, both of which open on August 1. The Pups opens at 1:00 pm and goes immediately to a waitlist, which is pretty sane if you ask me. Jake opens at 12:01 am and closes about a minute later because O’C prefers the style of the midnight opening of the latest Geaoge Lucas film, and models his tournament after The Phantom Menace.

Quick quiz for normal people. No peeking. Okay, quick: Name the last movie directed by George Lucas.

Aha! I knew you couldn’t do it. (O’C doesn’t count.)

Anyhow, at the moment, the Sailor signup sheets remain as pure as the driven snow. I’m sure this will change. (One parent has advised me that their kid is offline for a couple of weeks, which rather shocked me. I didn’t know people could go offline anymore.) I’ll fill in a few slots with dummy entries (that is, temporary space fillers, not wooden-headed students) until a reasonable time. I mean, I do hate going to tournaments alone. It sort of undermines the whole point of things.

Music: Cher

Cher does West Side Story. All of it.

As one of the YouTube commenters points out, if there ever was a video where the words "No description available" didn't begin to sum it up, this is it. It's from one of her specials in the late 70s.

Via Hairpin.

Movies: Yet another D

Where are we going with movies, one has to ask. Reading 4-D Coming Soon to a Theater Near You forces you to question what movies are supposed to be. I am all in favor of the sensory overload theme park attraction. I like the smells and the motion and the splashing and whatnot, but these are in aid of a very specific experience, to wit, creating a “real life” version of something. A ride like Star Tours gives you the experience of flying through the Star Wars universe. Spiderman allows you to get thrown off a building. MuppetVision tosses you into the middle of the mayhem of the Muppet universe. I love all of these. But I love them for what they are, theme park attractions. The question is, at what point do I want my movies not to spawn theme park attractions but to actually become theme park attractions?

So, then, what are movies supposed to be? After all, the genesis of the medium is definitely in the area of attraction, when movies were short and shown at nickleodeons, when projected movies were still a novelty. But over time, the novelty wore off. Just the sight of people moving around on-screen wasn’t enough. As more and more talented people got into creating movies, films took on a certain form, and audiences developed certain expectations. Allowing for experimental variations, what we ended up with was a narrative form that had the ability to transcend its medium. That is, like any artistic experience, movies had the ability to go beyond being a movie into something that could change your way of seeing the world, your understanding of yourself and others, and the very way your lived. That is what the best art does.

Of course, movies (and a lot of other art) is also commerce, and the vast majority of films set out mostly to entertain and therefore make a buck. There's nothing wrong with that. Book publishing has a similar history. For every author who wants to change the world (say, James Joyce), there are many more authors who simply want to tell good stories. In book publishing, the tradition was that the latter, with their commercial success, enabled the former, although that is becoming less true in the e-book publishing world of the present. Movies, of course, cost a lot more to produce than a book, and take a lot more people. So the idea that a movie can be art becomes a difficult but not impossible one. That there are movies that can be defined as art proves the point. That a movie that can be defined as art can also be commercially successful is a happy albeit rare coincidence.

What happens when we watch a movie? We transcend the experience of being in a theater and looking at a screen, and the film takes on an inner reality in our minds. And the thing is, this is true for movies beginning in the mid 1920s, when they were still silent and black-and-white. It’s just like being engrossed in a book. You are taken away. You are transported. You are there in this other reality. And there is a chance, however slim, that this other reality might leave you changed in some way.

Movies have never stopped becoming technically improved. Film stock got better and color became possible, sound was enabled—those were big. Smaller innovations like Steadicams, computer aided effects and the like enabled more possibilities. For what it’s worth, digital recording seems to be the coming thing (although there are plenty of people who prefer the warmth of film). There are a lot of ways the process of filmmaking has developed over the years. But the point remained the same, to create that experience where the viewer was brought into a new world, for whatever that world might yield.

And here’s the problem, as far as 3D (or heaven forbid, 4D) is concerned. At what point are we looking at the effects for the effects’ sake, rather than for the enabling of the artistic or even just the narrative experience? If silent black-and-white movies made in the 20s (watch The Big Parade or The Goldrush or The Thief of Bagdad) already were capable of enabling this experience, everything that follows simply adjusts for technical evolution. But if we put the technical evolution processes ahead of the innate film experience, we’re getting it all backwards. We won’t be evaluating movies by how they touched our souls, but how they shook our booty!

And I’m sorry, but that is not how I want to evaluate movies. Yes, I want to see them in movie theaters, and yes, I want to see them as their creators made them. But if the film requires total sensory commitment using mechanical devices, rather than enabling total sensory commitment without the need of mechanical devices, then I’m sorry, but it’s nothing but an overlong thrill ride. And while I have nothing against thrill rides, as I said, at the point where they replace movies, then they’re a problem. All this nonsense about 3D and 4D and the like, with its potential commercial possibilities, also has the potential of driving out regular movies that don’t rely on cheap tricks to do the job. And if you ask me, that’s what all of this stuff is: cheap tricks.

How many times to I have to go smash with the Hulk, in 4D with my chair shaking and my brain tearing loose from my skull because of the noise ripping through it, before I start to think, oh, gee, here we go again smashing with the Hulk? We will enter a world where every movie is a sequel.

Who needs that?

Then again, I could be totally wrong, and maybe the future of movies is, indeed, total sensory control. Maybe it's just where the movies have been going all along.

In that case, get off my lawn.