Thursday, August 30, 2007

If you'd like some more analysis of High Fidelity, check out this Scene Unseen post on feeling listless that was kinda/sorta in the back of the mind when writing my post on Sunday. His is more of an analysis of the DVD version, obviously.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Late to class

It's Tuesday morning and I'm waiting in a long line of cars and I have just realized that it is not going to be possible to get to class on time. 10 more minutes in traffic. 10 to catch the shuttle. Five to walk. Damn, I'm going to be late. Thankfully this is not the class I'm teaching, but still. I finally negotiate through traffic and find a parking space. Then I catch the shuttle. The shuttle route has changed--apparently it makes about a million more stops than I remembered, or at least that's what it feels like. And my stop is now about half a block further away from the old stop. Great. I tried to dress up in nice clothes for the first day but I can feel my button-down shirt getting soaked as I walk to class as fast as I can in my uncomfortable boots. Foot traffic is practically nonexistent so I know for sure that I am officially late. I take the elevator to the second floor of the building. Which room is it? Of course I pick the wrong one but I realize it's the wrong one and go back to the one I just passed by. I'm sweaty and exasperated as I make a grand entrance and take a seat in the back of the class. Late to my first day of this class, way to make a good impression.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heard today on Pandora (The Pretenders cover of it, anyway):

Forever Young
by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The latest cool sport: joggling, running and juggling at the same time. This post explains more. There's even a blog written by a joggler. via The Mountain World

High Fidelity: Book vs. Movie

It's rare that I like the movie version of a book better than the book itself. In the case of High Fidelity this is so. Maybe it's because I saw (and loved) the movie before I read the book, but I think the film is better than the novel for the following reasons:

- The main character Rob seems slightly less self-indulgent (and slightly more likable) in the movie than in the book. I'm not sure if Rob is meant to be a completely likable character, but I liked picturing him as more of a sweet John Cusack type than the schmoe-y, self-centered character in the book. Writing lends itself to self-indulgence, with page after page of first-person musings on music and philosophy of life and relationships, where the movie is thankfully restricted to briefer monologues of Rob's musings.

- The movie is more focused than the novel. The movie retains the best scenes and lines from the book, and the changes made from the book to the movie make the story sharper and not so anticlimactic, i.e. minimizing Marie LaSalle's character and having Rob start a record label at the end.

- A book with so many obscure music references needs a medium with a soundtrack. Who's heard of Solomon Burke, or "The Ghetto" by Donny Hathaway or "Nelson Mandela" by The Specials? Unless you're a music fanatic like the author, you're lost. If you've seen the film you know it has an amazing soundtrack.

- Thank you to the filmmakers for changing the setting to Chicago from London and casting American actors. Yes, I'm biased because I'm an American, but it made the movie version more relatable to me and therefore more enjoyable. Can you imagine John Cusack and Jack Black donning fake British accents? Ugh.

- Which leads me to casting, which is pitch perfect in the movie. John Cusack as Rob, Jack Black as Barry, Todd Louiso as Dick, Iben Hjejle as Laura, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie, Lisa Bonet as Marie LaSalle, etc. Perfection. The filmmakers did a great job of bringing the characters to life.

I guess I can't knock the book too much since it is the inspiration for the movie. I think the movie just kicked it up a notch and made the story that much better, a can of Sprite rather than a glass of lemonade. It's the brilliance of Nick Hornby without so much of the self-indulgence.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"I believe there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught--in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too--in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well--or ill?"

From Chapter 34, Steinbeck's East of Eden.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Paid to sit

I'm $100 richer today than I was yesterday. The reason for my fatter wallet? Today I participated in an experiment at UTEP's Biomechanics Laboratory. The purpose of the experiment is to test the effects on your muscles of sitting for long periods of time. An attendant hooks you up to some electrodes and every hour, you do some muscle resistance tests. The rest of the time you sit in a chair where you can read or write or study or stare into space. No computer use allowed.

Getting paid to sit (mostly) for eight hours is a pretty nice gig. I was not bored at all; in fact, I was happy to have a golden invitation to read. There wasn't much else I could do. I nearly polished off East of Eden and started reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read TIME and Cosmo and Runner's World. It was cool. I really wish I could do it again! Uninterrupted time to read for pleasure, there's one thing I could never get enough of....
From an article in TIME on Spanish chef Ferran Adria's restaurant El Bulli: "El Bulli has become the focus of a lively debate about the aesthetic value of avant-garde cuisine. Suddenly art critics and foodies alike are scrutinizing the gin fizz that manages to be simultaneously hot and cold, the edible paper dotted with flowers, the frozen Parmesan 'air' that comes packed in a Styrofoam tub, and asking, Is it art--or is it dinner?" Whether it's art or dinner or a science experiment, it sounds cool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day 10 of no longer working at night. It is so much easier for me to force myself to be alert during daylight hours, even when I'm tired and sitting through a long, boring meeting, than it was at night. It's much more difficult to force yourself to stay awake when you're tired at night and your internal clock is screaming at you to go to sleep. I suppose that's pretty obvious--working at night goes against natural circadian rhythms, which is why those hours are considered undesirable. It was a huge priority for me to get enough sleep when I worked at night, since I was so afraid of driving home exhausted and possibly getting into an accident. Perhaps the fear was unnecessary, since after awhile I think I had reprogrammed my body to be alert late at night. But I had forgotten how powerful sunlight is as an incentive to staying awake.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New poll

There's a new poll on the sidebar.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I think I could just as well have used the title of Friday's post to describe the state of my life at the moment--everything's different now.

First of all, I'm starting to adapt back to a daytime schedule. Having so many evenings free is very strange to me after two years. I feel like it's a crazy luxury that for the foreseeable future I can do whatever I want between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight. I can watch all the prime-time TV I want, Heroes and Lost and ER and The Bachelor. Wow. I can go to a movie on Friday or Saturday night, both if I want to. I won't have to skip my cousin's wedding reception. On the other hand, daytime trips to Wal-Mart may be coming to an end, and I probably won't be able to stay up late enough to watch Conan and The Daily Show. Fair tradeoff? We'll see.

My sister has moved back to Las Cruces to go to school there. So it's one less person in the house to vent to. One less person to watch The Wedding Singer with for the 20 millionth time. Good for her but the house can get lonely.

And my name is now on a syllabus, right after the word "Instructor." Yes, I am teaching a class. Don't expect me to write about any of my misadventures here, but I am sure it is going to be a quite an experience.

Years ago, I read a poll in TIME magazine where most of the respondents agreed that real adulthood begins at age 26. I turn 26 next May, so I'm treating this school year as my last hurrah as a wild and crazy young adult. It's one last year to learn as many things I can that I want rather than need to know about, language and literature and music mostly, one last year not to be swallowed up by real grown-up concerns. I hope it goes well.

Favorite words in Italian

Words I learned in my class this summer, in no particular order. Note that 'c' is pronounced as a 'ch' sound in English when it comes before an 'e' or 'i' and 'ch' in Italian is pronounced like a 'k' sound in English.

buona sera good evening

arrivederci good bye

bella beautiful

molto bene very good

brutto ugly

piovere to rain

piangere to cry

attraversare to cross over

piacere to please mi piace la pizza I like the pizza (we ended up talking about pizza a lot in Italian class)

mangiare to eat

leggere to read

scrivere to write

semafori stoplights

andiamo avanti let's go forward

non lo so I don't know

amare to love

parlare to speak parlo italiano I speak Italian

stasera tonight

uomo man

donna woman

cane dog

gatto cat

uccello bird

piazza plaza

ho sonno I'm tired

ho paura I'm scared

a piedi on foot

bambino child

sorella sister

fratello brother

moglie wife

marito husband

piccolo small

basso short

grasso fat

magro skinny

testa head ho mal di testa I have a headache

macchina car

ieri yesterday

domani tomorrow

cucina kitchen

dove where

aggiustare to fix

profesoressa teacher

piatto plate

capire to understand non capisco I don't understand

scarpe shoes

sempre always

stanca tired

pomodoro tomato

ragazza girl

l'estate summer

pomeriggio afternoon

raffreddore a cold

burro butter

Friday, August 17, 2007

Everything's Different Now

Ah, what better thing to do on a long and uninteresting day than to look up used CDs on Amazon, preferably fairly obscure titles from the '80s or '90s. So it came about that I was browsing through some Aimee Mann CDs the other day and saw something interesting--an album from her days in 'Til Tuesday called Everything's Different Now (1988). You might recall 'Til Tuesday as the band with the '80s Top 40 hit "Voices Carry." Encouraged by some positive reviews on Amazon, I thought I'd give some of Mann's earlier work a listen.

Everything's Different Now sounds very much like one of Mann's solo albums--her crystal clear voice is featured on every track, and nearly all of the songs exhibit her trademark sarcastic and amazingly clever lyrics. However, what's notably missing is the polished production of her later work. In reverse of the last album I reviewed, here's a case where lyrical sophistication runs miles ahead of musical sophistication. One reviewer on Amazon said these songs reminded him of a fireside sing-along, and I think that's right on the money. While a lot of Mann's later songs have an anthemic quality about them, these are even more pared down. There's a simplicity to them musically, not necessarily a bad one, but one that reminds you not to take these songs too seriously. The most unfortunate touch is the '80s synth effects that really date the album.

But, hey, it was the '80s and a little trendiness can be forgiven. Really, you can't go wrong with Mann's vocal talent and brilliant songwriting. There are some real gems on this album, sad and sweet and smart, especially the title track and "The Other End (of the Telescope)": "There was a time not long ago/I dreamt the world was flat/and all the colors bled away/and that was that/and in time, I could only believe in one thing/the sky was just phosphorus stars hung on strings/and you swore that they’d always be mine/when you can pull them down anytime." Who else could come up with lyrics like that? And my favorite: "So long and sorry darling, I was counting to forever and never even got to ten" on "RIP in Heaven."

Given the choice, most days I'll pick musical perfection over lyrical perfection. But in this case I'll let some musical roughness slide and enjoy these sophisticated sing-alongs. If you're an Aimee Mann fan you will definitely enjoy this album, and if you're not an Aimee Mann fan, you should be.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

According to this article in the NY Times, all of Netflix's customer service is now done over the phone rather than through e-mail in an effort to gain an edge over Blockbuster. "The decision to invest heavily in telephone customer service was an expensive one for Netflix, but it may be one advantage that the company with the familiar red envelopes has over its rival with the blue ones, analysts say."

It's a fascinating tactic and exactly why I like Netflix so much. Blockbuster's Total Access sounded tempting to me for about five seconds but then I remembered the bad customer service I experienced at their video stores. At Netflix, care was event taken in planning the location of the call center. Netflix VP Michael Osier says he rejected other cities because of high turnover rates and "settled on the greater Portland area because of the genial attitude on the part of most service workers." Wow, I'm impressed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

- I'm liking getting up earlier now that I don't have to work at night anymore. We'll see if I feel the same way once the fall semester starts and I have no choice.
- You know what I hate? Buying a shirt and then ruining it the first or second time you wear it. This has happened to me twice in the past three weeks.
- Current reading list: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier. And O magazine, of course.

Monday, August 13, 2007

July and August photos

Some pictures from the past two months or so. Apologies in advance for the quality of these. Obviously, I'm no photographer, and the cameras I use are the of the very ghetto disposable variety.

Visitor's dugout from the July 3 Diablos game.

My copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, taken the day it arrived.

Is it just me or does anyone else think my dad looks like Clark Gable in this picture? This was taken at the racetrack in Ruidoso, N.M., on a very losing day at the races.

Jockey on a gray horse

Nearing the finish line

From Steinbeck's East of Eden:

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different face of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels. The sectarian churches came in swinging, cocky and loud and confident. Ignoring the laws of debt and repayment, they built churches which couldn't be paid for in a hundred years. The sects fought evil, true enough, but they also fought each other with a fine haughtiness. They fought at the turn of a doctrine. Each happily believed all the others were bound for hell in a basket. And each for all its bumptiousness brought with it the same thing: the Scripture on which our ethics, our art and poetry, and our relationships are built. It took a smart man to know where the difference lay between the sects, but anyone could see what they had in common. And they brought music--maybe not the best, but the form and sense of it. And they brought conscience, or rather, nudged the dozing conscience. They were not pure, but they had a potential of purity, like a soiled white shirt. And any man could make something pretty fine of it within himself.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Tonight I say good-bye to the job I've had for the past two years. I don't usually say too much about work on this blog, so for those of you who don't know, for the past two years, I've worked at the sports desk of the El Paso Times preparing the "Scoreboard" page, basically the second page of the sports section where all the previous day's scores and standings are printed in teeny-tiny type (agate, to you journalism people). People always give me a funny look when I tell them what my job is. I'm going to miss that. Anyway, I've known for months that I'd be leaving at the end of the summer to take a job as a teacher's assistant. In some ways that has made it easier to process but in the end I think that it has made it much harder to say good-bye. I feel like I've been saying good-bye for months, attempting to loosen my attachment to a job I've really loved.

With the end comes relief at the easing of responsibilities and excitement about starting something new, I suppose, but mostly sadness. This job has meant a lot to me, maybe too much. In many ways it has been the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Here's what I wrote about it at the end of 2005 (let me just clarify that I don't actually write for the El Paso Times). In so many ways 2005 was a horrible year for me--I was a confused and depressed grad student, but one good thing came out of that year, and that was getting a job at the newspaper. Maybe many would consider it menial, but to me the job was glamorous and fast-paced and just plain cool. And even two years on, that sense of awe that I work there has never really left me. Maybe I'm not still bowled over every time I have gone in to work like I was the first day, but just being around that constant rush of excitement of the newsroom is still thrilling to me, even two years later.

And now I'm going to give it up. Sure, there are some very good reasons to be moving on from this job. I feel like I've mastered the job twice over and then some, and when you can do a job in your sleep I think it's about time to start looking for something new. The hours are odd (nights and weekends and holidays), the pay is low, and stress can be high. I've known from the beginning this wasn't a job that you stayed at for years and years, and I do think I'm making the right decision--it's time to move on. But I am really going to miss the job with all of its eccentricities. I'm going to miss headlines and jumps and tag grafs and knowing about dozens of different tab styles. I'll miss knowing the ins and outs of high school sports and knowing local sports schedules off the top of my head. I'll miss the chaotic order of the newsroom and finding out about news the second it happens. But most of all I'm going to miss my hilarious and amazingly hard-working co-workers. Working there has sometimes been like being on a TV sitcom, since my sportswriter friends are so quick to come up with witty remarks. I've never worked at a place where people have so much fun at work. Work can be fun? Shocking to most people. I am going to miss that very much.

In a lot of ways getting this job was some crazy accident and I have to believe it was fate. A lucky star. It was the perfect job for an aimless twentysomething slacker grad student still living at home. This has really been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something I will look back on and marvel at the fact that I did it, and I think experiences like these are what life is all about, really.

I don't think there will be any tears on my last day, probably because I have shed many tears already as I've reflected on the highlights of the past couple of years and said some early good-byes. I think I'm ready and that in the end I'll be cool and calm and collected. Well, maybe. So farewell, El Paso Times, it has been a fun ride.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

OK, after this I promise to lay off the Discover magazine articles for awhile. But this Q and A with sci-fi author William Gibson is so fascinating I couldn't resist. According to the article's introduction, Gibson knows little about computers or technology of any kind, which is odd, but after reading the rest of it I could see how it makes perfect sense. Sometimes it takes an outsider to take a fresh look at things and see how they fit into the big picture.

Some excerpts:
Gibson: ....[T]here were guys who already had their own kind of Radio Shack computers that they'd built, and I knew some of those guys, and I would talk to them and say, “Yeah, they’re going to hook them all up, and then, and then. . . .” And they would always say: “But there’s not enough bandwidth!” I never knew what bandwidth was, and I probably don’t really know today, but I just knew that they were wrong—that it wasn’t going to matter about the bandwidth. It was amazing to me: These guys were so smart, so technical. They were doing this stuff, but they couldn’t see its potential.
To me, the Internet is as basic a thing for humanity to be doing as, say, cities have been. It’s that primal, that important, maybe more so.
That’s a very interesting thought experiment, by the way. I recommend that to anyone: Sit down and choose a year—it doesn’t have to be 1967, of course, but it only really works if you choose a year in your own life—and compare it to your sense of where the present is and look at the difference. What most people experience when they do that is vertigo. It scares them. They say, “Oh, it’s really changed a lot,” and suddenly feel like they ain’t seen nothing yet.
By turning itself inside out, the digital has become the constant; it’s becoming where we all are, all the time. And really the exotic and kind of weirdly unexplored area is the part of our lives that isn’t online, that for some reason can’t be online.
There are some interesting picks on Amazon's Best Books of the Year So Far: Hidden Gems. Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott seems like the one I'd most like to read. That book about cats looks funny (despite my usual aversion) and Getting Unstuck may be worth a read. Too bad my budget for books isn't bigger.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

White Light, Black Rain is an unforgettably powerful HBO documentary about the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Difficult but necessary viewing. As the New York Times says, "The film is a blunt reminder that the goings-on in Germany were not the only 'never again' to emerge from World War II."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Interview with J.K. Rowling in O magazine from January 2001. Pretty interesting--Rowling discusses one of her favorite books, why her main character is a boy, and class consciousness in the series.


So I got up early today and dragged myself to jury duty. I was called to jury duty in March of this year. I recall filling out the juror questionnaire online and asking for an exemption because I was a student. A few days later I got an e-mail saying that my request to be excused was denied. But then I received a letter saying that my court had been cancelled and to report on Aug. 7 at 8:30 a.m. instead, nearly four months after I had originally been called. Which was weird, but I saved the date and showed up at the courthouse today.

A woman scanned my juror badge and said to see the lady at the window. The lady at the window said that I had been excused after all but the letter telling me to report was mailed out before it was approved. It would have been nice of them to inform me of this earlier. I was puzzled but I just said OK and walked out. Actually, I was a little disappointed. I think it would be interesting to serve on a jury. I had already gotten myself out of bed and driven to the courthouse, part of me wanted to go back and say, let me serve anyway, but I'm not that much of a nerd. Now I think I'm going to try and get some sleep...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Change is hard. I now recognize it's a pattern, that the times I'm most stressed out are times of transition. It's not like I can stop life from changing; all I can do is find a way to deal until things reach equilibrium again.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours doing a sudoku puzzle. I wish life were more like sudoku. I wish the answers were all there waiting to be discovered logically one after the other. Maybe they are. Maybe I will look back at the end of my life and realize that there was this grand order to it. Or maybe life is a sudoku puzzle that will never be solved? Some of the answers come easily but others will elude us until the very end.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Medical Meltdown

From Discover magazine, "Iraq's Medical Meltdown":

In one of the most damning reports of American policy failures, "Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under U.S. Occupation," journalist Dahr Jamail cites a litany of horrors evident in Iraqi hospitals in and near Baghdad. At Arabic Children's Hospital, patients brought their own food because the hospital lacked funds to provide meals. Chuwader Hospital operated with only 15 percent of their necessary water supply. The toilet on the intensive care unit at Al-Karkh Hospital looked like a sewage nightmare of the most noxious order.
According to the report 'Medical Support of the U.S. Army in Vietnam 1965-1970,' U.S. military clinicians treated some 220,000 Vietnamese civilians a month through the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) in 1970. As a result of the Military Provincial Health Assistance Program,teams of 16 Americans augmented the clinical staff in each of 30 civilian hospitals.

"I don't think there are many MEDCAP missions at all now," says Burke. "There is no presence of U.S. military in Iraqi hospitals. Our troops get space-age medicine, but 70 percent of the Iraqis injured in the same blast die."
Although the Iraqi Ministry of Health has refused to report the number of injured civilians, the medical journal The Lancet estimtes the number of seriously wounded Iraqis at nearly a million. According to the World Health Organization, there were a total of about 35,000 hospital beds in Iraq in 2005.

According to my calculations, that's approximately 30 seriously wounded Iraqis per hospital bed.

Over the weekend I watched The Russian Dolls (thanks to Stu for the idea, apparently his favorite film of last year) and it is probably the best movie sequel I've ever seen. Along with its predecessor L'Auberge Espagnole, these are two fun yet honest films about young adult relationships. Yes, both movies are mostly in French, but please don't let that intimidate you, these are really worth seeing, even if you have to read subtitles for a couple of hours.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I finally checked the results of my's 4-1 dogs. Who needs cats anyway? Thanks to the five of you who voted. I also attempted to create a new poll about the presidential candidates but Blogger is having some issues.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


- It's all over--I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But I will hold off writing about it so as not to give away the plot. Now I can read the reviews and see if I agree with them.
- Cloudy weather depresses me.
- Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? I am trying to find a series to start following. I watched an episode of Mad Men on AMC the other day. It was OK but I don't think I'll start watching it regularly. Then last night I started watching Damages on FX, but Glenn Close's character seemed too mean to sympathize with. I also watched John from Cincinnati on HBO but it seemed stupid to me. I suppose I should give these shows more of a chance before I decide that they are not worth watching. They all seem sort of the same to me, like they cloned one HBO series over and over, complete with self-absorbed characters and gratuitous adult content. Maybe when the fall TV season starts I'll find something worth watching.