February 28, 2005

A copy of our home game

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 1:07 am

Art imitates life: On page 53 of the February 28 issue of The New Yorker, in an otherwise fairly terrifying article about the avian flu epidemic, we find the following quote from Prasert Thongcharoen, a Thai microbiologist:

“At the very first sign of a problem, the department told the public that the chickens had cholera. But farmers said it wasn’t cholera. If a chicken has cholera, you give it antibiotics and it gets better. These birds got sick one evening and the next day they were dead. That’s not cholera.” (emphasis added)

Those of you who knew me in college will probably remember why this line is interesting to me. If you’re in the dark, there’s a game I’d like to teach you…

February 24, 2005

The guardians and protectors of the mind

Filed under: Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 12:16 pm

So I mentioned good news, and that news is, I’m going to be teaching an English class next quarter! That’s a real English class, with real literature and real (first-year) English majors. What’s more, within certain guidelines, I get to choose the focus and the syllabus! Here’s where we find out if I know anything about all this book stuff.

The class (I’VE decided) will be on unreliable narrators, and the books (I’VE ordered [with the department’s money, of course]) will be:

Aphra Behn, Oroonoko
Herman Melville, Benito Cereno
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

I’ll spare you (unless you ask me not to) the various “ideas” and “themes” I plan to “explore” with my as-yet-undetermined students. Feel free to follow along next quarter by reading those books, and then calling me up and listening to me drone on about them.

In other news, my ears are clear again! Man, wait a difference a half-dozen squirts of water and hydrogen peroxide makes (don’t try at home). After the treatment, the wax bucket (I don’t know what they call it…wax catcher?) looked like someone had dissolved a crayon in it. If they made crayons in “Dull Orange.” And am I hearing well now–the clicking of the keyboard is sharp and crisp as a rifle firing at 72 shots a minute.

The tears of unfathomable sadness

Filed under: General Me — tomemos @ 2:22 am

I’ve got some good news that I’ll probably give you tomorrow. I’m tired right now, though, so instead you get some gross (or at best banal) news: my earwax has gotten out of hand. My hearing in my left ear, and off and on in my right, has been muted since Sunday, and no matter how many drops and how much water I use, the forces of wax are apparently holding the line.

It’s an embarrassing malady, like being incapacitated by excessively dirty fingernails. It’s also aggravating in a way that sort of snuck up on me; since I could still hear I figured that it would just be a minor inconvenience, but a little minor inconvenience goes a long way. It was especially bad when teaching on Tuesday—my class this quarter already seems to suffer from a lot more inertia than the last group did (apparently the second-quarter freshman has acquired a world-weary cynicism unseen in his first-quarter counterpart), and conducting the class without able to hear my students clearly was pretty maddening. Luckily I’m getting ’em cleaned in the morning (my ears, not my students), so I’ll be able to clearly hear whatever they’re saying about me. And you guys won’t have to read an entry like this for a few months. I wonder now why I wrote it in the first place, but I suspect that the answer is lost to the ages.

(Did you know that “ear candles” are quackery? Do you even know what “ear candles” are? It’s something where you put a wax cone in your ear and light it on fire, and supposedly the heat sucks the wax out of your ear. Thinking on it I’m surprised I gave it any credence, but I did. Faced with my current problem, I looked into it, and it turns out it’s hokum. Not only does it not work, but you can get more wax in your ear, and fire. Another smug victory for skepticism.)

February 15, 2005

Hand in unlovable hand

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 1:01 am

Joe and Pat and I saw The Mountain Goats last week. The thing about them is that it’s really just one guy, John Darnielle. Sure, he’s got a band with him, but he’s the only fixture of the band; those other guys are rootless, not important to the band’s longterm future. They even borrowed a drummer from one of the opening acts. This got us thinking: what are some other bands that are really just one person, but have a name like a full band? I don’t mean something like The Cure, where Robert Smith is the only member of the original lineup left; I mean something where the band has always been just about the one musician. A few we came up with:

Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor)
Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst)
Badly Drawn Boy* (Damon Gough)
Aphex Twin (Richard D. James)
The Streets (Mike Skinner)
White Town (Jyoti Mishra)

*sort of questionable since BDB is just his stage name, but three words sounds like a band to me.

Of course, from here it was just an associative hop to the opposite category: full bands that sound like one person. Some of these include:

Moby Grape
Veruca Salt
Steely Dan

Then there’s Belle & Sebastian, who sound like two people but are actually many more. Anyone have any contributions to either list?

Anyway, the Mountain Goats. Yeah, they’re great. The singer is just such a nice guy, great at bantering with the audience. They closed with my favorite song. It put me into a big getting into music thing, just in time for Coachella and for my bank account being empty because of Coachella.

Oh yeah, one more music thing: Beck has a new video out (there’s a link here, but you can watch a higher-quality version via iTunes). I like the song, and I like the video pretty well too, but does it strike anyone else that the video looks like it was directed by The Cheat? Compare it with the Homestar video for the They Might Be Giants song “Experimental Film” and you may get the impression, as I did, that the Brothers Chaps are more on point than you’d expect an internet cartoon show to be. How do you keep your finger on the pulse of American culture with boxing gloves on your hands?

February 8, 2005

And know they love you

Filed under: Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 1:16 am

Those who know me know that I am gracious, modest, restrained, even diffident in triumph. I am not one to sing my own praises, to gloat, to make a great to-do when I succeed. But I’m about to throw that all away with the following:

Today I got the summary of my teaching evaluations from last quarter. Students gave me a rating from 1 to 7, 7 being excellent, in fifteen categories, and I got a sheet showing my averages in each category. Ladies and gentlemen, I destroyed teaching at UC Irvine last quarter. You might say I was teaching at UC Irvine last quarter. Check me out: I was rated higher than the average (for this course or for all writing courses) in every category. Only two of my scores were below 6. Some highlights: “Organization and management of class time”: 6.7; “Listened and responded to students’ comments”: 6.8; “Written comments on papers”: 6.5; “class started and ended on time”: 6.6 (what!!); “Overall”: 6.5.

Admittedly, there seems to have been a certain amount of grade inflation with these evals going on last quarter–the average overall rating was 6 for the course I taught, 6.1 for all writing courses. Clearly it was an enthusiastic fall. Nonetheless, I believe that with a 6.5 I beat the spread.

Okay, even I’m getting tired of my self-adulation here, so I’ll sign off. Still, though: I’m going to do this teaching thing. I am doing it, even.

February 2, 2005

Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 3:48 am

The Coachella 2005 lineups have been announced. My first reaction to this list was disappointment, because it didn’t match up to the list that was “leaked” back in November or so, which included David Bowie, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, The Postal Service, and Frank Sinatra. Well, none of those guys are coming, and while Bowie can do whatever he wants FF and MM are so central to music right now that they’re conspicuous in their absence. The “leak” ends up looking less like a leak and more like the organizers’ Christmas list.

However, given time to contemplate the real list, I’ve become excited again. To be sure, this year’s lineup is not as strong as last year’s when it comes to headliners; it’s hard to top Radiohead and the Pixies. At the same time, the second- and third-tier bands are definitely on par with last year’s, with both Confirmed Greats (Wilco) and Rising Stars (Arcade Fire, the Futureheads) on tap. Though the Big Acts were great last year, as much of the event’s success was credited to the smaller performances like Stellastarr*. So I’ve decided that this Coachella will be nearly as good as last year’s. To prove it, I’ve set up this little comparison:

British stadium rockers headlining night #1:
’04: Radiohead
’05: Coldplay
Advantage: ’04

Dark gothish band headlining night #2:
’04: The Cure
’05: Nine Inch Nails
Advantage: Even

Poppy Scottish band backing up the headliners:
’04: Belle & Sebastian
’05: Snow Patrol
Advantage: It would be B&S but they weren’t very good last year so I’ll say Even.

Brooding young indie darling:
’04: Bright Eyes
’05: Bright Eyes
Advantage: Even

Overly portentous band:
’04: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
’05: Bauhaus
Advantage: ’05 (especially since AYWKUBTD stunk last year)

Effervescent electronic pop band:
’04: Air
’05: New Order
Advantage: ’05

Band making a comeback:
’04: The Pixies
’05: New Order, NIN, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Gang of Four
Advantage: Even, Even, ’04, ’04, ’04. And an extra advantage to ’04 for not fielding five comeback acts.

Left-of-the-dial rapper:
’04: Dizzee Rascal
’05: Aesop Rock
Advantage: Even

Weird, fun American band:
’04: The Flaming Lips
’05: Weezer
Advantage: Hard to say, I don’t know Weezer very well.

Weird experimental band that doesn’t always put breaks between songs:
’04: Erase Errata
’05: Fiery Furnaces
Advantage: ’05

Poppy Danish Band:
’04: Junior Senior
’05: The Raveonettes
Advantage: ’05

Guitar-heavy American indie band
’04: Death Cab for Cutie
’05: Wilco
Advantage: ’05

Dark horses (for me, anyway):
’04: Sahara Hotnights, Broken Social Scene, The Thrills
’05: Rilo Kiley, The Faint, Arcade Fire
Advantage: I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

It is so much more than Chicken Bread

Filed under: Film and Video, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 12:42 am

Some of you may remember the work of Breakfast Films, a production company founded by friends and acquaintances from a nearby high school of mine. Chicken Bread, Ford For President, The Milkman Cometh…ring any bells? (If not, get me to show you the tape the next time I’m over.) Well, some of those guys started another production company with their NYU friends, Waverly Films. Click on “our work” to unleash the magic. They’ve gotten some honest-to-goodness work already–they’ve made some clever commercials, and music videos for The Thrills and Fatboy Slim–but as with Breakfast Films, it’s the short film where they excel. Check, I mean just check this out: The Werewolf Solution.

(The other shorts are definitely worth watching–“Hi, Frank” can definitely be described as “taut”–but only once you’ve watched WS two or three times.)

Blog at