Sidereal ramblings

Monday, July 31, 2006

It's time for Animaniacs!

Helloooo, Nurse!

I don't buy a lot of new DVDs. Like CDs and books, I generally wait to see if I can find what I want in the used racks somewhere. And I actually haven't even bought many used DVDs lately. However, when I saw that Animaniacs Vol 1 had been released on DVD, I rushed right out to purchase it. Didn't hurt that the local indie music store where I bought it had it on sale for something like 30% off. I'm about halfway through the second disc of the five-disc set, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Some of it's a bit dated (these first shows are from 1993) with topical jokes about contemporary celebrities, but the overall absurdist humor is what really shines about this show. I suppose in part it takes me back to a certain point in my life that I remember fondly. Mostly, it's just a great show: from the misadventures of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot and the first appearance of Pinky and the Brain (narf!) to the mafia-pigeons of Goodfeathers and my personal favorite, Buttons and Mindy.

Okay. I love ya. Bye-bye.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Would it kill you to hire an editor?

Over the past several days, I've been reading a novel titled Zapatista by Blake Bailey. I received this book as a birthday present from a former student. (Mike and I share a birthday, as well as some political viewpoints and tastes in music, which has bound us together somewhat. Though I give books as gifts often, I'm a bit uncomfortable getting them; I feel an obligation to read them, and I already have quite a backlog of books to read.) The novel is about an aspiring
American writer who gets caught up in the Chiapas Indian uprising/revolution in southern Mexico in 1994. It's an adventure story, though the facts of the uprising are supposedly presented accurately. The book was okay, but I had a huge problem getting involved in it due to the overwhelming amount of errors in the book. When I read a professionally published novel, I'm not surprised to find an ocassional grammatical mistake or two, usually a missing or misused comma, but certainly no more than a couple. This book had glaring mistakes every ten pages or so, on average. Things like "their" instead of "they're", "it's" instead of "its" and "past" instead of "passed." These are the kinds of mistakes I expect to find in my students' writing, and hopefully I'm able to correct them, so that at least some of them learn from it. But not in a novel.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lo! There Shall Come an Ending...or Not

As part (well, all, really) of my short-story-a-day plan for summer, I've been reading the last couple of years' worth of THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR collections. I swear by these. A new anthology comes out every August for short fiction published the previous year. Ocassionally there's a dud, but most of the stories are quite good, and there's always a handful or two in each book that are really excellent. I've read all of last year's and am curently about halfway through the year before's. And I've noticed a trend, a rather disturbing trend. A lot of the stories I've read, even ones that started out excellently, don't seem to come to anything resembling a satisfactory conclusion. They just seem to ... end.* I'm wondering if anyone else -- particularly those of you who read a lot more than I do -- has noticed this lately. Or is it just in the collection I happen to be reading?

*This reminded me of a completely unrelated comment, that I think is attributed to Neil Gaiman. The difference between a story with a happy ending and one with a sad ending is just when the story ends. Any story with a happy ending simply ends sooner; if it continued, it would have a sad ending. Neil (or whoever) certainly stated it better than I, but that's the gist of it. I was thinking of this idea in relation to Romeo and Juliet. If you were to end the story after Romeo and Juliet get married, just before Romeo meets up with Tybalt and the deaths start to pile up, it's a happy ending.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Romeo Loved Juliet

Last night, I saw my second performance of the Great River Shakespeare Festival: Romeo and Juliet. As much as I enjoyed Twelfth Night last week, I think I liked Romeo and Juliet even more. I'm not sure exactly why that was. I am considering (almost definitely) directing Twelfth Night for our school's fall play this year, and while watching it last week, I was probably more than usual looking for ideas on staging and interpretation. (Although often when I attend plays, I think about how I would have done things differently.) Romeo and Juliet is so well known, I've read it many times, and taught it when I had ninth graders at Wabasha-Kellogg. GRSF did a great job of presenting this play. There were a couple points where I thought things were a bit too static. But I was very impressed by the quick method of switching scenes. And the actors all seemed to really embody their roles.

I was also fortunate to bring some students to a pre-performance program. We got to listen to the technical director, head lighting tech, and fight choreographer discuss their work. Most interestingly, we got to watch the "fight call," during which the actors rehearsed each of their fight scenes. Particularly interesting was the long, drawn-out fight between Mercutio and Tybalt (and later Tybalt and Romeo). The actor playing Tybalt very much impressed with his strong, athletic moves. After this, we also had a short session where the director talked with us about his experiences, which I found very fascinating. I applaud the GRSF for this program, and hope it continues into the future. I know I'll try and bring some students again next year.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Endorsement Process

A few weeks back (June 28 if you want to look it up), I posted about being on a committee that screened political candidates for Education Minnesota (my union) to decide if they should be endorsed for election. Bro asked "how do you decide which candidate to endorse?Is it a majority [v]ote deal, or do you need to reach a consensus?" A question to which I never responded, until now. Yesterday we interviewed (screened) two other candidates who couldn't make our original screening date. All told, we screened five candidates for three seats, two in the House, and one in the state Senate. Technically, the committee doesn't have the power to endorse candidates. We sent a recommendation to the PAC branch of the union in one of three forms: endorsement, no endorsement, or defer to the PAC. The matter in each case came to a vote; consensus would have been impossible to reach in at least some cases.

In the state senate case, we voted "no endorsement" for our current state senator, who came to us with basically the attitude, "I won't get your endorsement because I'm in the wrong party." The vote was 3 "no" and 2 to defer. (There were only five committee members present at yesterday's meeting; eight on the original date.) Her challenger in the race, we voted to defer, although there may have been some "no" votes (it was three weeks ago; I don't recall the exact vote). In one of the House races, we voted unanimously to endorse the challenger, who was knowledgable and had "good" positions on issues. It probably helped that his opponent, the encumbent, refused the invitation to meet with us. The other House race was interesting. We voted to endorse the challenger (3 votes "yes", 2 to defer). The incumbent, who we screened earlier, was deferred. The vote that day was 6 to defer, 1 "yes" to endorse, and 1 "no." (I was the lone "no" vote that time.)

I've been thinking that voting "to defer" (which, admittedly, I did at some point) is the wimpy option. It's almost like copping out, not making a decision. Of course, these are recommendations only. The PAC gets our recommendation along with notes that each of us took during the screening/interview process, and they can choose to go along with it or overturn it (which I'm told has been done for our neck of the woods in the past).

If anyone's read this far, you're probably more of a political junkie than I am.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Road Destruction

We've all heard the old joke that there are only two seasons in Minnesota: winter and road construction. (And after this weekend's heat, I look forward to winter.) I encountered a number of miles of road construction along I-90 on my trips to Winona last week. But there's road construction -- or destruction -- even closer to home. Much closer to home. The street in front of my house -- my block only -- is undergoing "resurfacing" this summer. About three weeks ago, a road crew came by and ripped up the top inch or two of the street's surface. Since then they've been back I think twice working on replacing some curb south of my house, closer to the main thoroughfare that is Blue Earth Avenue. Mostly it's just been a matter of having the street torn up and closed (except to local traffic -- that'd be me) for the past few weeks. This weeeknd they brought some huge Caterpillar-brand equipment down and left it sitting in the street. This morning they were out there firing up these machines at 6:30 a.m. (Which is kind of a pain considering I didn't get to sleep until about 5:30.) One of the road crew guys came pounding on my door about ten minutes to seven to inform me that they'd be "digging up the street" in about an hour. At least it gave me time to get my car (or rather the loaner; my car's still in "the shop") out of the driveway and into the parking lot across the street. Ah, well, I had a meeting I had to be at by 8:30 anyway. They spent the rest of the day today digging up the street to a depth of about a foot. My informant this morning told me they'd try to be done in "a few days." I can't wait to see (hear) what time they get started tomorrow.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

July 15

Hot enough for you?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cars suck

I've been having some trouble with my car lately. Occasionally, though not consistently, it will seem to "miss," to sputter and jerk a bit while accelerating. I had it in to the local Ford dealership last week, but they couldn't find out what was wrong with it. At one point, they mentioned the word "transmission" which scared me considerably. To me, that sounds way more expensive than it's probably worth it to fix. They didn't charge me anything last week since they couldn't figure anything out, and told me to drive it some and come back. Well, I went to Mankato and back (about 100 miles round trip) the next day with no problems. Then I drove over to Winona for part of the weekend, again with no problems. When I drove back, I stopped in Albert Lea and bought gas. Right after that, it again started doing the same thing it had done previously. I didn't take my car back in.

On Thursday, I was preparing to drive over to Winona again with three of my high school students to attend the Great River Shakespeare Festival's performance of Twelfth Night. We stopped on the way out of town, as I wanted to buy a water since I'd forgotten to grab one from the fridge before we left. When I got back in the car, it wouldn't start. I mean, nothing. It didn't turn over at all. I tried it several times, and in my frustration, got out and looked under the hood (like I could tell anything by that). I got back in the car and it started right away, but I felt very unsure about driving 160 miles with three kids, not knowing if the car would start after the next time I shut if off. I drove back home while one of the kids called her dad to see if it was okay if we took their car (she had driven everyone else over to my house). He was understandably reluctant to do that.

I drove back over to the Ford dealership, left my car with them, and rented a vehicle to drive to Winona with. So we made it to Winona and back without any problems; the play was excellent, by the way; I encourage anyone in the area to see it. When I returned the rental today, the owner of the dealership cut me a deal -- only 7 cents per mile instead of 15, which saved me about $25. Still this trip ended up costing me a lot more than it would have otherwise. I talked to the guys in the service department. They had to push my car in from the street 'cause they couldn't start it either. Apparently, the starter went out (they say that's the way they go, with no warning) and they are going to replace that. What else may be wrong with it, who knows. Right now, I've got a loaner car for the weekend ("to tool around town with" as they put it), which is a newer model, but almost exactly the same as my car, color and all.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Movie Reviews

I've seen a few movies in recent days, mostly on video/DVD. Last night, I saw Deliverance for the first time ever. (See blog entry for June 16 for more details on that.) It was about what I expected, capturing the moment-to-moment plot of the book, but none of the tone. There were a couple of times when the filmmaker obviously was striving for that (the scene in which Ed, Jon Voight's character, heads out into the woods on his own with his bow, and just misses shooting a deer, for example; though in the movie's terms, that's really just setting up his later encounter with the "toothless hillbilly"), but didn't succeed. Unfortunately, the video I rented was "formatted for the screen", meaning it was full screen, rather than wide screen, so I know I missed a lot of the scenery of the original movie, which I'm sure added a lot.

Earlier last night, I watched Kinsey on DVD. I really reccommend this for anyone who isn't put off by a frank discussion of sex. It's well made, really very interesting, and features a prominent role for Peter Sarsgaard, one of my favorite actors. The ending was a bit abrupt, but other than that, a fascinating piece of work.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was a film I'd been looking forward to watching. Knowing that is was a Wes Anderson film, I thought I was prepared for the strangeness evident in his work. However, I couldn't get into this one for some reason. There was some dry, sardonic humor (which I usually appreciate), but then there were psuedo-action scenes that took on more gravity and seriousness than I was ready for. A very odd film, but one I wouldn't necessarily suggest anyone rush out to see.

Yesterday I went to the local movie theatre to see Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest. Let me say that I liked the first Pirates movie; it was light, entertaining, with likeable characters having adventures. None of that carries over in the sequel. A friend of mine suggested it was "funny" though I can't remember laughing once, and that it had "great effects." I'll grant that, but that doesn't make for a good movie in my opinion. There was no coherent storyline; it was never clear why anyone on screen was doing what they did. I just kept waiting for it to be over. I didn't feel any sympathy for any of the characters in this convuluted mess. Even though it featured Keira Knightly (probably one of the top five most beautiful women on the planet), that couldn't save it. I have no desire to see the third installment.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Phone Call From the Future

Friday night about twenty minutes to midnight, my phone rang. This didn't strike me as especially odd, since most of my friends know I tend to stay up late during the summer months. It was my friend Alan. I wasn't surprised to hear from him (though we haven't talked for a couple years) as he'd said through e-mail that he was planning to give me a call one of these days. Alan lives in Tokyo. One of the first things he said was that it was Saturday afternoon there, so he was calling me from the future. [Insert spooky Twilight Zone music here.] Alan's going to be back in the states for awhile sometime in August, so I'm sure I'll meet up with him then. I still want to get over to Japan some day. Considering that I've got a place to stay for free and a "guide" who speaks fluent Japanese, I'd be a fool not to, right? Maybe next summer.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Roses Are Red

On my kitchen table right now is a Mason jar with two roses, one red, one pink. (I really need to invest in a vase.) I got them last Saturday, the closing night of our play, from one of my fellow actors. He gave flowers to every member of the cast, so there wasn't anything romantic about it. But it's cool. Not surprisingly, I am not given flowers very often, and it's pretty cool to receive them. They've lasted the better part of a week already with no sign of diminishing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Aliens and expectations

In 1978 I went to see the movie Superman, starring a then-relative unknown named Christopher Reeve. Going into the film, I had low expectations; in fact, I expected to hate it. I'm not a big fan of the character Superman, and at that point in time, comics fans didn't really have any good experiences to look back on as far as movie versions of comics characters were concerned. I emerged from the theatre having really liked the movie a lot. It was totally not what I expected. They treated the character with respect and crafted a darn fine movie storyline.

This afternoon, I went to see Superman Returns, the new film starring Brandon Routh as the man of steel. My expectations were quite a bit higher today. We've seen some great comic book-based super-hero movies in recent years (think X-Men, Batman and Spider-man, not The Hulk). Hype among comics fandom has been really high, and director Bryan Singer was well known for the first two X-Men films (he opted out of the recent third X-Men movie in favor of Superman). Previews looked good. Though I'm still not really much of a fan of the character. I was pretty disappointed in this movie.

Spoilers may follow. You've been warned.

Brandon Routh does a fine job as Superman, and probably even better as Clark Kent, the harder part of that role. Kate Bosworth is an adequate Lois Lane. I didn't like Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, despite the fact I think he's a great actor (Kevin Spacey, not Lex Luthor). Luthor is a genius, albeit an evil genius, and shouldn't be portrayed as a campy stumblebum. Parker Posey's character was both completely unbelievable and completely unnecessary. The Jimmy Olsen character is a complete caricature. The storyline was pointlessly -- I almost said "complicated" but it's not complicated. It's a sequel to -- what? Certainly not the last Christopher Reeve-Superman movie, but to something. Supes has been gone for five years, and everyone's gone on with their lives. Lois is engaged and has a son. Why? It complicates (there's that word again) characters in needless ways. Supes becomes almost a super-stalker where Lois Lane is concerned. My biggest complaint is probably the campiness of the characters and story. After the greatness of Batman Begins, we may be a little spoiled. But I think comics fans (and movie fans) deserve better than this.


Last week, I performed in our town's summer community theatre play. As I have the last couple of years. Although this year I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I'm not sure exactly why that is. The play itself is very funny, and we got excellent reactions from the audience each night. Most of the other actors in the show were people I'd worked with in previous years. Somehow the level of excitement just wasn't there for me. Going to rehearsal every night was more of a chore than something to look forward to. After finishing the final performance on Saturday night and striking the set, while walking home, I felt primarily an overwhelming sense of relief that it was all over. As I said, the play itself was a good one and the other cast members are people I consider both friends and theatrical talents (to some degree), but I just didn't have much fun, and I'm not sure why.