Cinderella Movie Night

Cinderella (1950)
Cinderella (1950)

This evening we had our second family movie night. Shannon set out a delicious finger-food dinner and popped popcorn to eat while we watched the classic Disney version of Cinderella from 1950. The movie was fabulous. Some of the shots, especially early on, exhibited wonderful draftsmanship, and of course the animation was marvelous, too: I was amazed by the liquid motion of shadows against the floors or walls.

Even more than watching the movie, though, I liked watching the girls watch the movie. They know the plot (or rather, the plots) from the several versions of the fairy tale that we have, so they knew what was going on. Vivi is still a little mystified by some of the action in movies and teevee shows, especially when there’s lots of quick dialogue, but Cinderella is broad enough that she could follow along and enjoy the crazy stuff. She especially liked any scene with Lucifer the nasty cat in it. “He’s even mow gwumpy dan our cat is!”

Julia, on the other hand, knew exactly what to expect and what was going on at all times. For most of the movie, she sat raptly, pinching her lip like she does when she’s concentrating on a book. When Cinderalla went out to weep in the garden after her stepsisters ruined the ballgown made by the mice and birds, Julia exclaimed, “FAIRY GODMOTHER!” and bounced on the floor. It must have been amazing to finally see the fairy godmother, after reading about her (and her ilk) for years.

I can’t wait to see the next Disney flick with them.

World Cup Feva

So I’ve watched a bit of the World Cup so far, and more than anything else except the actual fun of watching soccer being played, I’m impressed by the presentation of it. The broadcasts are almost the opposite of American sports broadcasts.

First of all, the commentary is relatively subdued. A John Madden is impossible to imagine, at least for this casual viewer. The great accents of the English-language announcers are just a bonus.

Second, the production is excellent, as it should be given that the World Cup is supposedly the biggest sporting event in the world. In particular, the camera work and shot selection is very reliable, with the camera almost always on the relevant action, not some crap occurring elsewhere, much less fans.

Third, the uncluttered field makes it easy to follow the players and the ball. I’m not sure if it’s fading eyesight or what, but I have to really focus to track the action on the comparatively crazy-quilt play areas of NFL or NBA games. Though players shrink to ants on the giant pitches, it’s easier to see where the ball is and how the play is evolving at and away from the ball.

Fourth, the action is almost never interrupted by replays. The only replays I’ve seen have been of fouls, shots on goal, or actual goals. Compare this to the almost non-stop replays that mar MLB and especially NFL games. I remember watching one (American) football game last fall in which the broadcasters replayed a simple, stupid incomplete pass a total of six times. Insane.

Fifth, and on a related note, I’ve seen very few graphical hijinks – crazy highlighting on the ball, that phenomenally annoying writing-on-the-screen gimmick that inevitably obscures more than it illuminates, etc. The one concession here is the use of some manipulated replays to assess offside calls (or non-calls) – which are actually pretty helpful.

Sixth, and finally, goddamn if soccer isn’t fun to watch. The continuous ebb and flow of the action is more like basketball or hockey than football or baseball, but it’s superior to all of them – if only because, as David Brooks (of all people) said, “basically it is a long series of frustrations leading up to near certain heartbreak.” I like that. It’s rather like life itself.

Orthographical Arithmetic

Julia and Genevieve are fascinated by spelling, both for practical reasons related to their reading abilities (“What does ‘r-e-c-i-p-e’ spell?”) and philosophical ones related to why the world’s so weird (“Why is ‘night’ spelled that way? It should be spelled ‘n-i-t-e’.”).

But for some reason, both girls are also presently fascinated by the number of letters in particular words. Reading to herself, Vivi will stop and slowly, carefully count the number of letters in, say, “hospital” or “vehicle.” Chatting with me, Julia will pause on a word one of us has used and ask, “How many letters are in ‘utensil’?”

They’re both most interested in finding long words. “Adventurous” (11 letters) is good, but even better are “kindergarten” (12 letters), “chrysanthemum” (13 letters), and the current reigning champion, “pharmaceutical” (14 letters),which they saw on the side of a medicine bottle. Long names are good too, but most names are pretty short, mine (11 letters) and Genevieve’s (9 letters) notwithstanding.

If nothing else, finding long words becomes a kind of spelling/counting game, which is probably good for both of them. As careful a reader as she is, Julia is surprisingly sloppy when it comes to counting (even when she tries to point to each letter in a word), whereas Vivi can regularly count up past ten without either pointing at the words or using her fingers as digits.

All in all, this is a curious but productive little corner of their brains right now. Even so, I haven’t introduced them to the most famous long word of them all. They’re not ready for Mary Poppins.

Cinco de Mayo

Though I knew that Cinco de Mayo commemorates a victory by the Mexican army over a French one in the 1860s, I didn’t know much about the actual battle, at Puebla, in 1862. In sketching out the context of the Battle of Puebla and its significance, Wikipedia offers up a few choice bits of history, including the fact that the battle didn’t prevent the French from occupying Mexico between 1863 and 1867 and installing the Emperor Maximilian as their client. Still more interestingly, the French invaded Mexico in 1862 after the Mexican government defaulted on its foreign debt. It seems some aspects of the international finance system never change.

And but so, happy Cinco de Mayo! Let the noted Mexican-American singer Liz Phair serenade you:

Best of April 2010

Best blog post: Mary Walters, “In Praise of Revision, or the Four Fails of Trying to Write the Last Draft First” – an excellent essay which expands on the hoary but oh-so-true idea that “writing is revision.” That the piece is superbly written shows, as much as a redlined printout might, that is has been superbly revised.

Best (worst) news story: Eileen Biernat, “Mary Stauffer stalked by former math student Ming Shiue” (City Pages [Minneapolis]) – the astounding true-crime story of a 1980 kidnapping case in the Twin Cities, now back in the news because the kidnapper – who was also a murderer and rapist – is up for parole.

Best rock song: Vampire Weekend, “Horchata”

Best jazz: Brad Mehldau, Highway Rider, including great stuff like “Don’t Be Sad”

Best photo: the ash plume from that volcano in Iceland

Volcano Plume
Volcano Plume

Best TV: The Wire

Pop Cultcha (Better Late Than Never)

For a number of reasons, I spent today wallowing in pop culture – not all of it the very most current stuff, but all undeniably poppy. Starting low and ending high…

The Hills
At the gym this morning, I watched an episode of The Hills, the MTV “reality” show. Even with closed-captioning, the show seemed just as bad as I’d heard: interchangeable slick young women shopping with each other and emoting over interchangeable scruffy young men.

Vampire Weekend, “Horchata”
I have no idea what this song is really about, except or unless it’s about just feelin’ good, but the tune is insanely catchy. “Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten…”

(The song reminds me of another catchy, slightly off-kilter song, Atlas Sound’s “Walkabout,” that also gets lodged in your head.)

Date Night
The Tina Fey-Steve Carell flick is pretty funny, and not a bad action movie, either. There were a few scenes, and especially a few exchanges between the main characters, that were a little too familiar to be entertaining, much less funny. I’ll go with “uncomfortablizing” as the best descriptor.

The Wire
I know this is a good show, but I’ve been putting off actually watching it for a long time. I finally broke down and watched the first three episodes, which I found to be as good as everybody’s said, and at least as good as my personal gold standard for TV, The Sopranos. I’m eager to watch the rest of season 1, and pleased I have four more seasons to go after that.

Best of March 2010

1. Things I Read
A. Online Article
“Blogging, Now and Then” by Robert Darnton, in the New York Review of BooksNYRBlog

How new, then, is bloggery? Should we think of it as a by-product of the modern means of communication and a sign of a time when newspapers seem doomed to obsolescence? It makes the most of technical innovations—the possibility of constant contact with virtual communities by means of web sites and the premium placed on brevity by platforms such as Twitter with its limit of 140 characters per message. Yet blog-like messaging can be found in many times and places long before the Internet…

Short, scurrilous abuse proliferated in all sorts of communication systems: taunts scribbled on palazzi during the feuds of Renaissance Italy, ritual insult known as “playing the dozens” among African Americans, posters carried in demonstrations against despotic regimes, and graffiti on many occasions such as the uprising in Paris of May–June 1968 (one read “Voici la maison d’un affreux petit bourgeois”). When expertly mixed, provocation and pithiness could be dynamite—the verbal or written equivalent of Molotov cocktails.

To appreciate the importance of a pre-modern blog, consult a database such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online and download a newspaper from eighteenth-century London. It will have no headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type, aside from one crucial ingredient: the paragraph. Paragraphs were self-sufficient units of news. They had no connection with one another, because writers and readers had no concept of a news “story” as a narrative that would run for more than a few dozen words. News came in bite-sized bits, often “advices” of a sober nature—the arrival of a ship, the birth of an heir to a noble title—until the 1770s, when they became juicy. Pre-modern scandal sheets appeared, exploiting the recent discovery about the magnetic pull of news toward names.

B. Book
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a novel about Thomas Cromwell, a powerbroker in Henry VIII’s England. This novel has it all: an incredible (and historically-grounded, if not “true”) plot, fascinating characters, ridiculously good writing at every level from the sentence to the chapter, and the an ending that both closed the book and didn’t. Incredible stuff.

2. Things I Watched
A. Movie
The September Issue, the 2009 documentary about the production of Vogue‘s mammoth and influential September issue. I expected to like it okay, but I found it engrossing. Watching the magazine’s staff put together the magazine was interesting enough, but the politics at Vogue specifically and in fashion generally were gripping. Anna Wintour makes Thomas Cromwell look like a doofus.

B. Presentation
Designer Kacie Kinzer talking about her fascinating “Tweenbot” project, in which humans help a dumb but cute little robot navigate a New York City park. The idea is simple, but her execution of it and her exposition of it are brilliant.

C. Sports Video
The first 15 seconds are literally jaw-dropping. (We could have ski flying right here in the Upper Midwest, if Copper Peak near Ironwood, Michigan, were refurbished.)

3. Things I Saw
A. Stupidest Picture
“No Excetions,” in the “Teabonics” photoset on Flickr, a collection of misspelling or just dumb signs from Tea Party rallies.

No Excetions
No Excetions

( / CC BY 2.0)

B. Sports Picture
From‘s “Big Picture” set on the 2010 Winter Paralympics:
Haitao Du #5 of China competes in the men’s standing 20km free cross-country skiing race during Day 4 of the Winter Paralympics on March 15, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)”

Haitao Du #5 of China (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Haitao Du #5 of China (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

New Digs

I was very exciting when I arrived on campus this morning to see that Carleton is immediately starting to put up a new building, the William H. Sallmon Administrative Building. As President Oden says in the video announcement of the project, the building will be devoted to offices for Carleton’s large and growing administrative staff. In other words, me! Thank god. I need a new office, with room for a sofa and, I hope, a nice view.

Note the heavy machinery in place to start construction right away this morning.
Sallmon Administrative Building

A more legible close up of the sign.
Sallmon Administrative Building

In Which I Watch Lady Gaga Videos

There are more gaps in my pop-culture awareness than there are holes in a Sarah Palin policy speech, but thanks to the internet I can address one of those holes by watching the videos for all six of Lady Gaga’s number-one songs. Which I will now do, with the grounding assumption that I have never before seen or heard any of her songs and will probably never see or listen to any of them ever again.

Just Dance” (2008)

This is a straightforward song about “being drunk at a club,” albeit one with a pretty catchy beat. The video mostly illustrates the lyrics – getting down and acting stupid at a party – but mixes in some weirdness like the old lady in the new-year’s glasses and the singer doing relatively little dancing. Apart from that, I liked this song more when the Beastie Boys sang it as “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).” Nothing new to see here.

Poker Face” (2008)

A little darker-sounding than “Just Dance,” and oddly more dance-y – even though Lady Gaga’s Donatella Versace wig is very distracting. Lyrically, the chorus, such as it is, is much better than the verses, such as they are. The processed voice is annoying, and again, I liked this song better in Peaches’ earlier variant – which also had a much better beat.

LoveGame” (2009)

Snore. A silly synthy song about casual sex. That’s, what, the zillionth one? It’s too bad that, after two other hit songs, Lady Gaga still didn’t have enough budget to costume herself. She spends much of this one wearing nothing but rhinestones. Around her eyes.

Paparazzi” (2009)

Finally, something undeniably good. The video is self-consciously cinematic, and the song is the best one so far. The lyrics are awfully catchy, and the video – even if it’s a pretty trite story of unrequited, murderous love – is fun to watch.

Bad Romance” (2009)

This video takes the penchant for bizarre eyewear to new heights. If you ignore the beat, which would be dumb, because it’s pretty great, this song could be an In Utero-era Nirvana tune. Which would be awesome, because the lyrics are beyond catchy, from the phony French to the chorus. I could see having this on my iPod.

Telephone” (2010)

Now here is the reason that I’m really doing this – the video that engendered the pre-fab controversy about it being too “controversial” for MTV. The cigarette glasses in jail are awesome, the underwear dancing and thongs much less so, and the goofball lyrics and story far, far less so. This is a gratuitous, stupid song, and a worse video. Better luck next time!

Olympian Distances

The nordic events at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games were colossally exciting to watch. The best single moment for me was Billy Demong’s gold-winning attack in the last nordic combined race, last Thursday. Demong’s medal – part of huge American haul in nordic combined which also included two silvers from Johnny Spillane and a silver in the team competition – was just one great moment, though. Many of the biathlon events and virtually all of the cross-county events were exciting, down-to-the-wire affairs.

The last cross-country race, the men’s 50-kilometer, lived up to its precursors at the Games, with a mad final sprint culminating two hours of hard racing. Petter Northug, the world’s best male XC skier right now, took the gold by finishing three-tenths of a second ahead of Axel Teichmann, a German who is himself a phenomenal racer but who also has a knack for losing to Northug. The bronze went to Johan Olsson, a hardworking Swede whose efforts animated three of the XC races at Vancouver and who crossed the finish line another seven-tenths after Teichmann. A half second behind Olsson came Tobias Angerer, another German and now the possessor of the dubious “wooden medal” that goes to fourth-placed finishers.

Then – just a tenth of a second later – came one of my favorite racers, the Canadian Devon Kershaw. His fifth place matched the best-ever finish by a male Canadian XC skier (a record set last Saturday), but it also capped a herculean effort in the race from Kershaw, who had raced well but not up to his standard at the Games. A prolific blogger and Twitter-user, Kershaw seems to be a great guy – someone who works hard, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and who has overcome no small amount of tragedy in his life to become one of the world’s best cross-country racers. If he’d somehow just been a half-meter further up the straightaway, he’d be wearing a medal right now. But the near misses are as much a part of the Olympics as the medals. I hope he gets another chance in four years. I doubt he’ll miss it then.

Kersh in Fifth (Bernard Wieil/Toronto Star)
Kersh in Fifth (Bernard Wieil/Toronto Star)

Charlie Brown’s Fans

The girls are really enjoying A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is great because it’s short (limit the screen time!), funny (Lucy’s and Sally’s Christmas lists; Linus telling Charlie Brown that “of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brownest”), easy to use to create a few minutes of quiet, well-scored, and fairly moving.

If the show has a flaw, it’s the overuse of the adjective “stupid,” which has led Vivi to happily adopt the word and apply it willy-nilly, both appropriately (that is, inappropriately) – “Julia, I doan like dat! That stupid!” – and dadaistically – “Yum! Dis toast is so stupid!”

In counterpoint, though, the girls are enjoying running various lines from the show, many of which are inevitably compiled on IMDB. Just before bed tonight, they pretended that their skin cream was actually called “pantophobia,” borrowing from Lucy’s interrogation of Charlie Brown and apt given that Julia has an irrational disgust of the stuff. They then reenacted the entire interrogation at Lucy’s psychiatry stand, which was funny.

The best ACBC borrowing, though, had come earlier, as dinner ended. Watching Vivi finish off her minestrone, Julia asked, with just the right level of Lucy-snottiness in her voice, “You think you’re so smart with that soup. What are you gonna do when you grow up?” Without missing a beat, Vivi (as Linus) turned to her and said, “Maybe I’ll make it into a sportcoat.”

In Which the Timid Sisters Try to Watch a VeggieTales DVD

Today Julia and Genevieve received a nice Advent gift from their Nonna and Boppa in Moorhead, a video in the “VeggieTales” series:

The Star Of Christmas

Veggie Tales: The Star of Christmas
VeggieTales: "The Star of Christmas"

Cavis Appythart and Millward Phelps (Bob & Larry) are putting the finishing touches on their first Christmas musical. With more electric lights than London has ever seen, Cavis is sure his show will “teach London how to love!”

Unfortunately, the local church Christmas pageant is scheduled for the same night. Which will London turn out to see? Find out in this Christmas story adventure that encourages us to love each other. And more importantly – that God showed the greatest love of all when Jesus was born!

It had been a long day, so we decided to let them watch the video after dinner, expecting it to be a 45-minute slide toward bedtime.

Bad idea.

The girls liked the first twenty minutes or so, which was basically just a lot of silly dialogue among the various strange veggie characters. About the only thing they found objectionable was that one of the characters was a tomato. As Julia said, perplexedly, “A tomato is a fruit!”

And but so, they watched with great apprehension as the show’s volume level climbed (despite my equal-and-opposite attempts to lower the TV’s volume) and the action got more intense – or at least as intense as the action can be in a oddball crypto-Christian kid’s show.

But then there was a scene in which the main characters escaped from a big fire, and another scene in which they characters tried to ride in a rocket-powered motorcycle… Julia turned from the TV, on the verge of tears but covering her ears, and said, “I don’t want to watch this video! It’s too scary! It’s too scary!” Anything which Julia finds scary is, ipso facto, also found scary by Genevieve, who immediately and more loudly echoed her sister’s plaints. I flipped the TV off and tried to comfort them, promising they didn’t have to watch the video – today, tomorrow, or this year.

The next 45 minutes (that is, about 150% as much time was spent actually watching the video) were spent discussing the various scary parts of the video, talking about why they probably won’t actually have nightmares about it, identifying preferable DVDs (Julia: “I like the Princesses! Princess videos aren’t scary!” Me, in my head: ‘They’re not scary to you, kid.’) and speculating as the ages at which they might want someday to watch the video again. Vivi, not quite snuffling, said, “I’ll watch it when I’m owder, like when I’m eight, ouw fouwteen.”

If the VeggieTales are out, I guess they’ll have to get their Bible indoctrination the old-fashioned (or at least the fall 2008) way – Lego videos on YouTube.

Mac System 7: Genius or Foreshadowing?

With the outbreak release of Microsoft’s new “System 7” now imminent, some tech-minded folk have been looking back at Apple’s own System 7, which was, back in the day, quite a big deal. My first Mac, a Classic bought and used at Mac(alester) in 1991, ran System 7. I wrote dozens of papers on System 7, mastered Sim City and Tetris on System 7, and even used System 7 to dial into the campus modem pool to chat (avant la lettre) with a certain blonde girl whom I found rather attractive.

Fond as I am of the Mac System 7, I was still blown away when an Apple-happy friend sent me a webpage showing off the graphical elements of System 7. Sure, all the icons and windows and such are grayscale, but they’re all sharp, easy on the eyes, and usable. What’s more, the “Mouse” control panel perfectly prefigures a later, even bigger and better Apple innovation.

Mac System 7 Mouse Control Panel
Mac System 7 "Mouse" Control Panel

I only wonder why that user is pressing down on the iPod’s screen. Probably mixed up about future tech, and thinks the original iPod will have a touchscreen.

Leaving Summer Behind

Art for the first day of fall…


Bill Evans playing “Autumn Leaves,” one of my favorite jazz tunes. (Judging by the YouTube comments, this isn’t the classic Evans trio with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro, but this cut is at least as good as the canonical version on Portrait in Jazz.)


“Porcelain,” a great poem by Carl Phillips (presented as a screen grab to preserve the formatting):

Carl Phillips, "Porcelain"