Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy flick

Some context: I don't go to movies often. I don't enjoy the experience, and I tend to be hyper-critical of movies. I'm also a big fan of Douglas Adams, especially, as I suppose would go without saying, of the Hitchhhiker's trilogy.

Lauren and I had read the first four books in the trilogy together just recently. I hadn't read them in years, and it was wonderful to get back into them. At his best, Adams' writing tickles my brain in a very particular way that pleases me tremendously.

So we were sure to go see the movie when it came out, and yesterday, opening day, there we were, at the matinee. Lauren was guardedly optimistic; I was prepared for it to be bad. You see, we'd been reading reviews of the thing days before. The balance was on the negative side, but it was clear that some of the reviewers who panned it either didn't understand science fiction or didn't understand Adams. One actually criticized the film's plot for not making any sense - clearly this person hadn't read the book. Those who had were often upset that good lines were omitted or rewritten, with the effect of making them less funny. The positive reviews were often odd, too. Some of them were just enthused that it got made (there's a long history of failed attempts to get the project off the ground, beginning in the early 80s). Others seemed to be speaking in opposition to the harsh criticisms, offering that Mos Def wasn't too bad as Ford Prefect, for instance, or that the way they handled Zaphod Beeblebrox's having two heads could have been worse.

So we went to see it. It was pretty bad. Almost none of it retained Adams' sense of the strange, almost none of it retained his sense of humor. The best bits were the sections from the book and the visual effects of the Vogon constructor fleet and of Magrathea. The opening credit sequence, featuring a song-and-dance number that many critics decried vehemently, was actually kind of fun.

The two main problems are these. First, nothing that happens in the movie seems motivated by anything. Adams' stuff relies on exposition - provided humorously by the book's narration in the original radio series, by that and additional text in the books. His jokes are not generally one-offs. Adams' versions of the events sketched in the movie are driven in a particular direction, arbitrary or disjointed as that sometimes is. All that is missing.
If you didn't know the book, you wouldn't understand what was going on, basically from the beginning. If you did know the book, you wouldn't understand why they did what they did with it.

But above all, the very worst thing about it, is that it just wasn't funny. There were bits that were amusing, but I think I laughed once, quietly.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ain't nobody here but us chickens

I roasted a chicken tonight. Hot damn, I love roasting chickens. Tonight's was a free range hen courtesy of Trader Joe's, which came out splendid. I also made mashed potatoes, and put together a little salad replete with my first ever batch of croutons (an excuse/opportunity to use up a drying baguette).

It has been an intense, soul-searching weekend. We've both been under stress lately, the end of the semester looms, and on top of it all, up pop the occasional ghosts from lives past.

Mainly I remember being 20-21, driving around Charlotte in my 1978 Honda Accord with the paint sandblasted off ("The William F. Buckley, Jr." after the columnist), noting as I went by certain corners that person(s) with whom I had a past could be right there and I could happen to cross paths with them. I remember a sometimes overwhelming sense of the place being haunted. The one thing I liked about the experience was the exhilaration of potential danger or conflict.

Conflict never ensued. If it had, it would have run its course, as these things do. This may seem machismotically stoic, but I think it's true nonetheless: most things run their course. Even curses obey statutes of limitations. And what I still possess from those weird tense days is a set of memories, most of which are pleasant enough, and a few of which focus on the perfect freedom one can only experience at 20-21, in an old junker, driving in warm afternoon sun with all the windows down and good music on the stereo, with one's first tastes of Pyrrhic victory, craziness, politics, emancipation, and wine on one's lips.

I learned there aren't really any ghosts. There's just jerks in white sheets saying "boo."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The fine art of sneering

I've concluded, after some time spent studying the matter, that sneering is a subtle act, requiring a finely tuned sense of minute and evanescent social interactions. Most of the sneering I've been watching hasn't been terribly impressive, so for what it's worth, here are some dos and don'ts:


* sneer in concert with others
* face the target of the sneer
* combine the sneer with whispered snide comments to someone next to you


* sneer at someone further than 10 feet away
* sneer at someone who doesn't care what you think of him/her
* sneer at someone who is feeding you
* attempt to sneer and smile as if warmly at the same time in an effort to mask the sneer

I think that if you follow these simple guidelines, your sneering will improve vastly. You're welcome.


It's been another ridiculously busy week. Lauren had a paper to write and a couple tests. I had appointments upon appointments, union stuff happening, etc. By last night we were quite well prepared to do nothing, which we utterly failed to do: we went to my colleague and our friend Val's birthday party. It was a potluck affair, and for it I made a gorgonzola, red onion, and asparagus tart (food porn forthcoming). She had originally planned a small gathering, but apparently kept expanding the guest list until, during the height of events last night, there were in fact 6.6 million people there.

I am now the duly elected and first lecturer rep to the CSU Stanislaus Academic Senate. So next fall, unlike the previous 4 falls when I was the rep from the philosophy department, I'll do something completely different with my Tuesday afternoons, and go to senate meetings again. Sometimes I enjoy listing the different things I've gotten myself into: Academic Senate rep, IRB member (I think I might be vice-chair), Campus Community Building Committee member, CFA lecturer rep from Stanislaus, lecturer subcommittee on evaluation member, lecturer rep to the Contract Development and Bargaining Strategies committee, chair of a new lecturer subcommittee on faculty governance.

So there.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

CFA Assembly weekend

So, as of this morning, I am now a member of the California Faculty Association's Contract Development and Bargaining Strategies committee, or CDBS. I ran unopposed for a seat from the Lecturer's Council, so I wasn't permitted by union rules to give my speech, which would have mentioned that my chief qualification is that I can see de b.s. clearly.

The rest of the Assembly was a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, there was more than the usual amount of highfallutin' speechifying, and less than the usual strategizing. We heard two speeches in the Assembly about the political future of the public good in the state. They were fine, but I had a feeling of being preached to as a member of the choir. But there were some interesting notes I'll have to get back to later.

Mainly, I think these kinds of events are scheduled for odd year spring assemblies because that's when we elect officers, the board, and CDBS - the policymaking core of the union. The last time I was there for this, there were many more contested seats, and a lot of conflict and political wrangling. This year there was much less of that, at least surrounding voting.

Plus, I've been working long hours lately, and I've got more appointments, meetings, and so on than I'd really like coming up.

But tonight, we're getting some relaxing time. Lauren is cooking corned beef; we've watched the King of Iron Chef semi-final, and plan on more audiovisual entertainment, because we can. So there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

It could be worse... It could be raining.

The worst part of my job is grading papers. In a typical semester I have 4 classes of around 30 students each. If I have each class write a couple papers that I have to grade, that's 240. The worst part of grading is not, however, the quantity of work.

I get frustrated, eventually, when I hit a patch of papers written in order to complete an assignment and nothing else. When students think of writing papers as merely something to get done and over with, as a chore, they write pretty lousy papers. I would hope that the act of writing a paper could be something more than a hoop to jump through, but I haven't found a way yet to make that sufficiently clear, or to produce assignments that elicit a more interested response. I fantasize about grading papers that each take a unique and provocative position and make new and vivid sense of the student's ideas and experience.

It's not much to complain about, really, and I'm not really complaining much. It is a problem in my life, one for which I'd love to find a solution.

Compared to what could be happening to me, I don't have much to complain about in general. This realization came to me in full force while watching an episode of Farscape with Lauren last night, and considering that (so far as I know) there's nobody trying to take my planet hostage or destroy it, nobody torturing Lauren to find out where I am, and I don't have to travel into an alternative reality to try to find out where she is from alternative versions of my friends, meanwhile having to watch what might be an alternative version of her get killed by my nemesis,...

It's practically Stoic wisdom: there's nothing on Earth that can happen to you that can't be helped by doctors or lawyers.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Celebrity deaths, Bill Buckley

I've been out of the news loop for a while, having abandoned the Modesto Bee last summer, and having chosen not to subscribe to a paper since. Recently, however, I was rummaging through comics on the Yahoo news feed, realized they now allowed you to have comics on your main Yahoo page, and also noticed you could add columns as well. I added Bill Buckley's.

I've been reading Buckley since I was 14. The habit peaked in high school, when I would read his column three days a week while I was delivering newspapers.
While I was in college, I became addicted to his PBS show, Firing Line. I even named my first car after him - the William F. Buckley, Junior. But along about then something happened to the Buck. His dad, WFB Sr., a spy, was killed. Buckley seemed to lose a bit of his stamina, then some of his cussedness, then some of his wits. Firing Line went from an hour to 30 minutes, and often the show drifted into chatter. He even hired Michael Kinsley, the weenie editor of New Republic, to ask questions. So, sadly, I lost interest.

No sooner did I add Buckley's column to my Yahoo feed, but this first item comes up: A Farewell. "Yikes!" I thought, "Buck's quitting!" But no, it was worse. Buckley, good Catholic boy that he's always been, was saying farewell to the Pope. But worse still. Buckley's account of the Pope seems only to say that he was charismatic. That flash of light in the Pope's eyes Buckley noticed in Havana that hot day, he doesn't ascribe to the divine, but to nothing grander than the Pope's being Pope.

Now, I would be among those who'd agree with Buckley's assertion that what makes people famous is fame, and his implicit argument from this premise that what makes someone Pope is being Pope, but I find myself disappointed. If I agree with Buckley's next column, I'll have to dump him. There's no point in there being an agreeable Bill Buckley.

Monday, April 04, 2005


Spring Break ends as of this morning. We're not amused by this. Yesterday was the start of so-called Daylight Saving Time (sic: it's Daylight Saving Time, despite what people call it). We're even less amused by this. Is it only by chance that the two events fall together? Perhaps I'm a bit nervous, maybe even slightly paranoid, but I do in fact believe that both are the actions of a vast conspiracy involving the Illuminati, international petroleum corporations, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Federal government, Bill Gates, the Trilateral Commission, and the University Educational Policies Committee - Subcommittee on Academic Calendar.

Yesterday we cleaned the Apartment of Earthly Delights. It wasn't unclean. Our desks had gotten messy and there were the occasional things that could be in better places, a little dusting to do. So it's gone from being not-at-all-not-clean to being rather clean indeed.

Meanwhile I baked a focaccia bread with some herbs in it - basil, sage, but mostly parsley and rosemary. This was to accompany home-made fettucine with bechamel sauce and chicken. Though I slightly overcooked the pasta, otherwise it was probably the best batch I'd ever made. Lauren was extremely pleased with the way the chicken and sauce tasted and felt - the chicken not overcooked as it always seems to her to be in yer typical Itie slop house. I hypothesized that this was because I had roasted the chicken, two days prior, to an absurd degree of perfection and juiciness. But we didn't pursue this line of inquiry far.

This weekend we also finished Life, the Universe, and Everything and began and finished So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. It had been far too long since I'd read Douglas Adams. I'm holding us back from Mostly Harmless, the fifth (5rd) book in the trilogy.

For now, it's off to fight the good fight against the great and evil conspirators.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Newz!! Congress to intervene in Pope case

[This'll be timely for approximately 2 hours, but heck.]

REUTERS. Calling to order a special session of Congress, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn) have challenged fellow law-makers to "protect the unprotected" in the case of Pope John Paul II.

The Pope has been admitted to an Italian hospital for the third time in three weeks, suffering complications from a series of illnesses. In addition, a nasal feeding tube implanted in the Pope two days ago has begun to cause the infection such extraordinary medical treatments almost always cause in the very sick and dying.

"This is a matter of principle," Frist explained. "We cannot sit by and let the Pope be victimized by Italian medical meekness." Frist called for "immediate action" by the US Supreme Court to hear the case to keep the Pope alive "by any means necessary."

Responding to reports that the Pope had already settled the matter, having provided in a living will that all possible medical means to keep him alive should be employed, Frist said, "that goes to show that we must act now. Time is short."

DeLay added, "if we can't protect the lives of those whose lives would otherwise be protected, then whose lives can we protect?" During the last days of Terri Schiavo, when Congress intervened to call for a 5th hearing by federal courts, it was revealed that DeLay had decided to pull the plug on his father.

Responding to charges that Congress has no authority, nor indeed any interest, in the Pope's case, DeLay said, "That's a matter for the courts to decide. I'm no authority on law."

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Pope lay dying, but peaceful and serene. After having the Stations of the Cross read to him, he reportedly asked to see his favorite film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.