If you are annoyed that I my last few posts have been reviews of movies and books and not the usual displays of my stupidity, I am sorry, but I haven't been on my normal peregrinations because I pulled my soleus muscle with ten minutes left of my last adult league soccer game-- this is after surviving two and a half months of coaching two teams, playing pick-up on Sundays, and playing Wednesday nights in the adult league-- so it's rather annoying that this little muscle chose the waning minutes of the semi-finals in which to snap (we were tied 1-1 when my soleus went "pop," but minutes before our youngest player pulled his hamstring and our star had to leave at the half to pick up his wife at the airport, so I was covering two for two slower and older players in the center, and after I went down the opposing team scored two goals and knocked us out . . . there's always next year, if this thing ever heals) and everyone has a different opinion on how to fix this muscle-- stretch it, don't stretch it, use it, lie in bed for a week, massage, don't touch it, be careful of your Achilles tendon, if your Achilles is taut don't worry about it-- but I'm trying some exercises from a book a friend recommended, called Pain Free by Pete Egoscu, but the weird thing is that I ordered the book before I got injured, simply because of my friend's description-- the stretches and exercises in it sounded helpful-- and the book arrived the day before my play-off game . . . like a postal premonition . . . very creepy . . . so I will be keeping a close on other omens and harbingers that appear in my mail.
Tarsem Singh's visually rich movie The Fall is The Princess Bride on acid . . . on acid, steroids, meta-amphetamines, crack, psilocybin, and-- most significantly-- morphine; it is morphine that fuels the double plot of this frame tale, set in the 1920's in a hospital where a depressed, desperate, and seriously injured stunt-man tells fantastic stories to a little girl in order to persuade her to steal morphine pills for him . . . something else the movie has in common with The Princess Bride is that it uses no digital effects to produce its wonders: Singh traveled the world (the film is shot in 28 different countries) to find the exotica in the film: the intricate forts and castles, the sweeping deserts, the scenic islands and floating palaces, the labyrinthine villages, barren mountains, and verdant jungles are all real . . . you can look them up on Orbitz and go visit them; despite all this spectacular imagery, the story isn't as touching or enthralling as that of The Princess Bride, but the movie is worth watching simply for the images . . . I give it nine swimming elephants out of a possible ten.
Sometimes you need to step back and think about what things look like from the outside; last week my son Alex woke up with a mission: to build a kite from scratch using a "Harry Potter" plastic bag as the body; he used a toilet paper roll and some cardboard discs he cut from a pizza box as the spool, wound it with twine, built a frame with sticks from the backyard and, as luck would have it, the next afternoon was a blustery one, so we went to the park-- my son Ian with his store bought fish kite and my son Alex with his home-made plastic bag kite-- but Alex's sticks immediately blew off the "body" of his kite and he was left pulling a black plastic bag on a string (he could get it five feet off the ground if he ran fast enough) while Ian was having a blast swerving and diving his fish kite in the wind . . . and when I took a moment to assess the scene, I realized we looked like a family that could only afford one kite, so that the pariah of the family had to fly a ghetto kite with a toilet paper spool, but the funny thing was, Alex was quite content dragging around his ghetto kite because he made it himself.
Science fiction writer William Gibson once said, "The future is already here-- it's just unevenly distributed," and the characters in his new novel zero history definitely live in the positive agglomeration of the futuristic present . . . rhenium darts, penguin shaped floating surveillance drones, and ekranoplans are all de rigueur in this universe; in fact, things, especially fashionable things linked to the military, play a more important role than people in the book, which makes the novel hard to follow . . . the people are bystanders to the fashion, technology, intrigue, and marketing that surrounds them . . . and, appropriately, people in the book are constantly "Googling" things because they are beyond their ken, and they are worried that their knowledge of these secret, obscure, often technological things might be ersatz, and meanwhile, in my less futuristic present, I was Googling things in the book as well, to see if they were real or not: I'm glad I finished the book, I've read everything William Gibson has written and I don't want to stop now, but this is the weakest effort in the "present-future" trilogy (the other two are Pattern Recognition and Spook Country).
I give my kid-friendly thumbs up to both Ponyo and Secret of Kells-- they are animated in the old-school style and contain no musical numbers; Ponyo is the usual from Hayao Miyakzaki . . . a trippy story about an adventurous boy who falls in love with a gold-fish princess, with environmental overtones, and watching The Secret of Kells-- an Irish/French/Belgian collaboration-- is like walking through a medieval illuminated manuscript (the animation looks like the The Book of Kells) and the mood is equally as trippy as Ponyo and there is an equally adventurous orphan boy who ventures outside the walls of his monastery home to collect ink-berries for a George Carlin-esque monk who is trying to illuminate the most beautiful manuscript ever made, but outside the walls of the monastery lie pagan gods and Vikings, and both are equally scary . . . the Vikings are something out of Pink Floyd's The Wall and his battle against the dark pagan god Crom Cruach is spooky and epic; I enjoyed both of these as much as my children and you've got to see The Secret of Kells on Blu-Ray, the detail in the animation is fantastic (I think I am becoming a Blu-Ray snob).
One of my students confessed to having killed a praying mantis when she was young-- and she referred to this bug-slaughter as "committing a felony"-- and I can remember hearing the same thing when I was a kid: that it is against the law to kill a praying mantis, but according to the myth-busting website snopes.com, this is an urban legend . . . so if one of those large green alien-headed critters surprises you while you're on the john and you smash it with a magazine, you don't have to chop the body into little pieces and sneak it down to the Pine Barrens for a a clandestine burial.
A student told me this joke last week: "How many emo kids does it take to screw in a light-bulb? Who cares, let them cry in the dark," and I laughed, but I'm still not sure what exactly defines "emo," and if you ask, you get answers like this Wikipedia article: i.e. rambling, imprecise, and always mentioning the band Dashboard Confessional and the sub-genre "screamo" . . . but I suppose this is excellent for jokes, because if you can't define "emo," then it is fair game to make fun of it and use it as the butt of a joke, because no one will claim to be offended by the term-- but if anyone has a concise definition, please share.
My six year old son Alex called me "Mave" the other day-- Mave is a girl in his class that also played on our soccer team-- and then explained his error in a Joycean monologue: "I have all these names smooshed together up there . . . kids in my class and kids at school and kids from soccer all up front, and you and mom in the back, and whichever one is next just spills out."
Franco Moretti's book Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History takes a novel approach to literary criticism: instead of analyzing individual novels, he looks at genres as a whole and uses charts and graphs like these to illustrate his points . . . one of his more interesting charts show the development of clues in detective fiction and how this trait was revolutionary and evolutionary in its birth, growth, competition, and survival, but what interests me is another evolutionary metaphor he uses; he mentions Richard Dawkins' idea that "there are many ways of being alive, but many more ways of being dead" and Moretti shows this with detective fiction and those authors that couldn't figure out how to create and place "decodable" clues in their stories-- these stories became "extinct," and this brings me to my worries about this blog: there are more ways for a blog to die than there are for a blog to flourish, but perhaps if I pursue what Moretti calls the "third voice," that voice that is "intermediate and almost neutral in tone between character and narrator: the composed, slightly resigned voice of the well-socialized individual," then perhaps, against the better judgment of the Narrator, who often wonders what comprises the actual aim of his writing, but wishes to remain artistically and intellectually active, and wishes to fend off early-onset Alzheimer's, boredom, ennui and malaise, and so continues this semi-literary foray in the backwaters of the internet, come hell or high water, critical commentary, and even-- worst of all-- total silence, then perhaps the Narrator will be able to forge ahead into unknown realms, one sentence at a time.
REEP, KIPP and TFA Lecture Series from Jon Paul Estrada on Vimeo.
This Diane Ravitch lecture is rather long and dry (like Diane Ravitch's excellent and comprehensive book, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, which I summarize here) but she summarily refutes the claims of Governor Christie's favorite documentary, Waiting for Superman, and she exposes some of the myths behind data based teacher evaluations, charter schools, No Child Left Behind, unions, market driven school reform, and tenure . . . I highly recommend the book, but if you don't care enough about our nation's educational system to read an entire book-- which I completely understand, because it's almost Black Friday and you probably need to start reading the circulars-- then you can use this clip (she starts speaking ten minutes in) as a guide, albeit an ersatz one.
I recently reported how my fanged son (he lost his two front teeth) gets distracted any time he sees a reflective surface because he is fascinated with his own image, and now I must inform you that I am equally narcissistic: mysteriously, we found Webcams in our classrooms last week, and once the neighboring teacher showed me how to use mine, I became obsessed with it: I used it to check my nose for boogers during class (always a concern of educators) and I used it to create "infinity" by pointing it at the monitor and then placed parts of my fingers and face in the infinite regression of screens and then, once the kids left, I took out my guitar, strapped it on, and pointed the camera in such a way that I could see my hands and my face, and then played for while, mesmerized by how my hands moved on the guitar's neck and how my facial expressions corresponded to what I was playing.
The characters in Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino are unrealistic caricatures-- Walt's grand-kids are overly obnoxious, his children are calloused and cold, the gangsters are insensibly cruel, and his neighbors are extraordinarily foreign-- and while I questioned the realism at times during the movie, I now realize the exaggerated characterization is intentional: these people make you just as angry as Walt, which is the purpose of the film, because then you start to feel like Clint Eastwood and want to be tough like Clint Eastwood, because there's no other way to be in a world that is so hard and mean . . . and the movie moves like clockwork, or more like a train-wreck, there's no stopping or pausing, but upon reflection, when it's over, and you hear Clint Eastwood's voice singing the final song, and you remember that Clint Eastwood is 81 years old and has been acting, directing, composing, and producing film for more years than most of us have been alive, and you start to wonder: is Clint Eastwood really that tough? . . . can he really use tools? . . . can he actually fix a sink? . . . can he stare down gangsters a quarter his age? . . . and you realize that though the answer is probably "no" to all of these, it doesn't matter because he looks the part (especially on Blu-ray!) and so I give this film nine push lawn-mowers out of a possible ten.
Ian had a couple of night-time peeing accidents just before our trip to Washington D.C.-- he is a very sound sleeper-- and we were worried that after a long day of sight-seeing he would be unable to wake up to urinate and thus cause major grief with the hotel staff, so we convinced him to wear a pull-up diaper at night . . . I told him that even some adults need to wear diapers and this logic worked like a charm . . . in fact he repeated this to Alex several times, "Even some grown-ups wear diapers!" and he put his diaper on with without resistance or shame . . . and this worries me: fifteen years in the future he'll be the one suggesting to his friends that they have a "Depends Party."
I skimmed this insane article and it seems that Play Doh really is non-toxic and edible (although there is a petroleum based lubricant in it . . . it could also serve as a laxative) and so I am wondering why Hasbro makes the Play Doh container more difficult to open than a bottle of Percocet; I have strong guitar playing fingers and the colorful plastic tops still cut a deep ravine into my calloused fingers . . . so how are my children ever supposed to be ever to take initiative and become sculptors if they can't open the containers? . . . and while I am on this theme: why did Didier Boursin write a book for children titled Origami Paper Airplanes which-- if you would like to comprehend the instructions and actually complete one of the airplanes-- requires that you have a PhD in geometry and an extensive technical vocabulary (including the understanding of such terms as "mountain fold" and "water-bomb base" and "pleat fold") when he knew it was going to be placed in a elementary school library? . . . I think it might be easier to let my kids play with matches.
As a teacher, you hope that you are forewarned certain things about your students, or else incidents like this and this are going to happen; one of the things that requires a warning is if your student has a twin . . . but I was not warned, and so when I saw one of my particularly clever students on the stairway, and was excited that she had coincidentally used the word "anthropomorphize" in her essay-- because this was a word that came up in class that day and she was the only student who knew what it meant-- I yelled this non sequitur to her: "Anthropomorphize! You used it in your essay! That's funny!" but I did not realize that this was NOT my student, but her twin (because, as smart as my student is, she did not warn me she has a twin, so I blame her for this awkward moment) and so her twin gave me a weird look of non-recognition-- a look that said, "Why are you yelling sesquipedalian words at me, creeper?" and then she gave me the cold shoulder and continued up the stairs . . . but we sorted it out later in the day and now I am on my guard for doppelgangers.
Apparently, biology teachers are showing my animated video "Amoeba Love" in class, thinking it's a cute way to illustrate binary fission, but-- unfortunately for them-- they get a "priceless" surprise at "00:27" . . . and though I know it's not people at my school showing this (Thank God) because we can't stream YouTube videos, I would still like to apologize to all the other educators who were surprised by the direction the song goes (warning! completely inoffensive cartoon depiction of genitalia!) but you have to understand the kind of mental place I was in when I animated this song: it was a snow day and both my children were napping and I had only two hours to record a song and animate the corresponding video and, to my chagrin, in the days previous I had come to the frank realization that I was not going to be a great animator, despite learning to use some pirated animation software, because I can't draw, and so I decided that the only subject I could animate was an amoeba . . . and now things have come to their logical end, my amoeba video has asexually reproduced its digital footprint on the internet and returned to visit me in a place I never expected: my profession . . . and in the end, I think any discomfort I have caused to our nation's biology teachers is probably outweighed by the joy I have given to countless students (and judging by the comments, this has happened more than once, and in more than one classroom . . . for more on this, visit Gheorghe: The Blog).
If you are interested in scientific studies on clairvoyance and a stunning revelation on the true origins of the "genius" Daryl Bem's supposedly seminal paranormal experimentation, head over to my post at Gheorghe: The Blog.
collective ages . . . old age is advancing upon us like a glacier that may occasionally recede a foot or two, but then inexorably slides forward, cold and massive, destroying all in its path, tearing up trees, moving mountains, carving holes into the earth, pushing a moraine of boulders, dead trees and stone and grinding the green and youth from our bones; the team felt the glacier Wednesday night, when we finally lost our first game to a younger and faster team (but I was in Washington D.C., so there is a certain satisfaction, despite the loss, that I wasn't there and therefore, was not to blame . . . or, in another sense, was to blame since perhaps we needed me there to win . . . either way, I am still undefeated, even if the team is not).
fanged child can see his reflection, and it amuses him so much that if he catches a glimpse of himself in anything reflective-- tinted glass on the Metro, the window across from him at the dinner table, a store mirror, the side of a polished car-- then he starts laughing demonically and making various vampirical faces until we drag him away.
During our whirlwind four day tour of Washington DC, our kids walked us into the ground: we visited the Baltimore Aquarium, The Lincoln Memorial, The Air-Space Museum, The Museum of the American Indian (best cafeteria on The Mall!), The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Smithsonian Castle, The Museum of Natural History, The National Geographic Museum, The National Zoo and the Washington National Cathedral, but our favorite thing might have been a serendipitously discovered exhibit of "surrealist" Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo's major works in the National Gallery; he was the official portraitist of Maximilian II, despite the fact that his portraits are totally bizarre amalgamations of objects piled together as visual puns . . . they are completely arresting, and our family favorite, Water, is both a Renaissance bestiary of fish and sea life, as well as a surreal collection of puns weirder than any Dali painting.
award winning writer) wrote those words in a comment, and somehow that comment became the top search entry on Google for the phrase "residual glee," and although this only lasted for a few hours, it's still weird to think that you could write a comment on my third-rate blog and end up tops on Google-- something companies pay marketing firms loads of money to accomplish-- and now, what is even stranger (and more meta) is that Eric's post about his comment is now the top search when you type "residual glee" into Google (and, also, on an unrelated note: I think Residual Glee would make a good name for an indie band).
Kevin Kelly juxtaposes two definitions in his new book What Technology Wants; the first is Alan Kay's: "Technology is anything invented after you were born," and the second is Danny Hillis's: "Technology is something that doesn't quite work yet," and the first definition makes me think of that awesome yellow first down line that appears on the television screen during football games, and the second definition makes me think of FoxTrax, television's failed attempt to animate a glowing hockey puck.
One of the original motifs of this blog is how much I cherish when my wife screws up, but this doesn't happen very often (thus the cherishing) and last week was a memorable one, so enjoy it: I was fast asleep when Catherine woke me up to tell me that Ian had left some bloody stool in the toilet and she got me out of bed to look at said stool and it did seem bloody, but red blood, which I knew wasn't internal bleeding, and after a quick internet search we determined he either had hemorrhoids or anal fissures, neither of which was life threatening, so I went back to sleep, but then Catherine woke me up again at 4:00 AM to tell me that it wasn't bloody stool at all, it was old vitamins leaking red dye-- she had cleaned the hall closet out earlier that day and had forgotten she tossed them into the toilet.
Clint Eastwood's movie Invictus is just as much about rugby as it is about Nelson Mandela, and although the film doesn't try to explain the rules of the game or make a coherent narrative out of game play (which was smart . . . and if you watch highlights of the actual Springbok/All-Black Final, you'll see the film does a fantastic job of capturing the look and feel of rugby, including the "haka," New Zealand's pre-game Maori war dance) it is a sports movie first and foremost . . . about two underdogs, the inspirational Mandela, who survived a twenty seven year training camp breaking rocks on Robben Island, and the Springboks, a mainly white team (with a token black), upon who Mandela bestows the responsibility of bringing honor and reconciliation to South Africa . . . it is well filmed and well-acted but it definitely sticks to the sports genre: nearly every scene is inspirational in some way, and-- as I am a sucker for sports movies-- it had me near tears multiple times (even a scene of the team running in the early morning before the big game got me choked up . . . but show me a movie where some mom dies of cancer with her kids around her deathbed and it has no effect) but it still portrays the characters with a hagiographic sheen that will make the movie ultimately forgettable . . . unlike The Wrestler, a film that I will never forget . . . and all this rugby and film discussion reminds me of "Ruck and Maul," a rugby screen-play that Whitney and I wrote many years ago which was certainly closer in theme to The Wrestler than Invictus . . . perhaps now is the time to pull it back out and pitch it.
The English Department has been hosting some creative parties lately: we had a Minute to Win It Party at my house (this was all Catherine, but still, the party was in the place that I live) and Liz and Eric hosted a Who Can Write The Scariest Story Party (and the stories were quite good and I feel bad for Stacy, who created a beautiful multimedia Case File, which was handed to me to read, but the complexity of the different documents-- fake newspaper articles, photos of a severed hand and a dead cat, an IM conversation, a medical report, etc.-- made me go into an over-stimulated coma, and so Liz had to take it from me, and I probably would have voted for it, if it hadn't stressed me out so much . . . and I couldn't figure out who wrote the other stories and I thought my story was well disguised but someone remarked that only Dave would have the main character eaten by a "series of animals" but I was glad I pulled a vote because the competition was stiff) and Jeryl Anne is hosting a Chili Cook-Off in a couple of weeks and this makes me think that I need to strike while the iron is hot . . . I need to organize my two great party ideas, which I have offered to the world free of charge, and which have been roundly ignored: I am talking about, of course, my YouTube and Survivor Parties, which I once again, offer to the on-line universe, free of charge, and which I expect to see implemented by close friends in the very near future.
Most of us are happily in denial (I forget about my receding hairline each and every day, but a look in the mirror shocks me back to reality . . . the hair I had on my head in college has migrated to my chest and back) but here's an example from the new Slavoj Zizek book that will make you feel better about your own mild delusions; the Shindo Renmei, a Japanese terrorist organization that existed in the 1940's in Sao Paolo Brazil, refused to believe the news that Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, and used violence against those that did believe, but, of course, as Zizek points out, "they knew that their denial of Japan's surrender was false, but they nonetheless refused to believe in Japanese surrender" and I am sure they got plenty of other people that knew that the news was factual to believe otherwise, because when the alternative is a violent death, what's wrong with a little denial?