Friday, April 27, 2007

So last weekend I went to College Park, Maryland (nice campus, sketchy town, really sketchy "Fundome" which appeared to be neither fun nor a dome) to TRASHionals, which is the national championship of popular culture quizbowl. Despite a slow personal start, I came on later in the event, and I had the good fortune of attaching myself to one of the best established teams out there. The bottom line is that after 17 years of organized quizbowl on the high school, collegiate, and open levels, I finally found myself on a national championship team. W00t!! How great is that--Ray Bourque, Jerome Bettis, and yours truly. OK that's ridiculous, but still.

In other news, we're in the middle of finals period right now. Tax was Wednesday and I'm in the middle of my Bankruptcy takehome. That should be over by the end of the weekend at the latest, and that will leave Copyright. Next Saturday is graduation. It's a busy time.

And yet somehow in the midst of all that, I've been concentrating more on the NFL draft than anything else. Seriously, I think I need help. I've been reading everything I can find on it for weeks. Thank God the thing is over by the end of the weekend or else I might never get anything done again.

My draft thoughts? The Steelers draft at #15, and the guys I would really like to see fall to that spot are Patrick Willis and Alan Branch. Because I don't think that's going to happen, I assume like the rest of the world that the pick is a CB, an OLB, or a trade down. But with a new coach (although the personnel department hasn't changed), I have much less of a feel for what the Steelers might do than in any other recent year. Of course, I had no idea we'd get Santonio Holmes last year, so who knows. I do know that I'd love to see Brian Leonard come in and be a Mike Alstott type--playing some FB, some TB especially at the goal line, and being a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Every mock draft I've seen has him going to Philly--usually in the second round, but occasionally in the first. So my one actual draft prediction is that Brian Leonard will not be an Eagle next year.

As for other teams, I'm most fascinated with the Lions, who should have a real sunk costs problem on their hands. Do you take the best prospect in the draft, Calvin Johnson, despite spending 3 of 4 first-rounders on WRs, or do they avoid it? I say they should do it unless they can extract as king's ransom for it, which is a possibility. If they can trade down with Tampa or Atlanta and pick up two additional second-rounders, they should be able to fill a lot of holes in a hurry. Since this is what logic dictates, I'm curious to see how Matt Millen screws it up. The Redskins, Broncos, Ravens, Colts, Bills, and Patriots should also be fun to watch, because they are teams that draft either particularly well or particularly interestingly. The one thing I do know is that I'll be planted tomorrow, way more interested than anyone should be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Some extremely brief reviews of the Netflix I have watched relatively recently:

This Film Is Not Yet Rated: Snarky documentary, a bit full of itself, but makes a good point about censorship and the movies.
Boyz N The Hood: Don't quote me boy, I ain't said shit. Long overdue viewing.
The Weather Underground: Shadowy film, hard to get ahold of, just like its subject. Watch it only if you're particularly interested in the subject. I was.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Most entertaining movie I've watched in a long time. Kilmer's best work, and possibly Downey's too, and that's saying something.
Control Room: al-Jazeera documentary. Probably one too many documentaries in a short time, but I was bored.
Thank You For Smoking: Very funny, and treated the lead character with more humanity than I expected.
Shaun of the Dead: Closest competitor to Kiss Bang squared. Can't wait to see their new movie.
Mean Streets: Exactly what you'd expect from early Scorcese/Keitel/DeNiro, except maybe 10% less fun. Still solid.
Black Sunday: The Super Bowl X footage was probably the most entertaining part. But I'm a Steeler fan.
Bottle Rocket: My favorite Wes Anderson film, which is to say 2.5 stars out of 5.
Beyond the Sea: Before this movie I didn't know much about Bobby Darin; now I know way more than I needed to.
Ray: I'll take the Johnny Cash movie of the two, but that's probably more of a musical preference since they're almost exactly the same movie.
Wake Up Ron Burgundy: They had about 1.5 funny movies worth of material when they made Anchorman; still, if you like those characters and that humor, you could do way worse.
Avalanche: I'm clearly out of good '70s disaster movies and am scraping the bottom of the barrel. If they get any worse, I quit. Note: If you ever make a disaster movie, establish the physical space and where everything is, or people won't understand what's happening when the disaster hits.
The Fall of Fujimori: Really interesting and even-handed documentary about a country (Peru) and a leader I didn't know much about; also notable is that it's the first movie I've watched Netflix's new streaming "Watch It Now" feature, which is particularly good for documentaries, comedy concerts, and anything where the appeal is not particularly visual, since you're watching on a computer screen.
Reality Bites: Irony (n.): a movie soaked in pop culture retro kitsch becoming retro and kitsch itself; doesn't hold up particularly well; Winona still chooses the wrong guy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes.

I had been thinking I'd write something about what I'd been reading lately (short answer: not much), but instead I find myself writing about something I read a long time ago.

I was in 10th grade when I picked up Cat's Cradle. I had read a lot as a kid, but it was mostly young children's books, sports books, Stephen King, and a little bit of Robert Heinlein. Vonnegut was one of the first "serious authors" I ever picked up just for fun.

You know how the things you experience at a young age will always stay with you in a way that things you experience as an adult tend to come and go without leaving quite as deep a mark, because you're already in some sense fully-formed? Because of that feeling, I know that no book will ever be as influential in my life as Cat's Cradle has been.

I can't adequately summarize the reasons why that's true, but I know that it has something to do with cynicism, absurdity, and learning (as the bumper stickers tell us) to "question authority". By reading about Bokononism, ice-nine, and all of the wampeters and granfalloons and foma out there, I learned how ugly and ridiculous the world could be--but also how full and rich and complex the world could be if you started looking behind the happy bullshit. I still think about granfalloons every time someone talks about patriotism and loving one's country, and I constantly go back and forth about whether foma are harmful, useful, or both.

I have re-read Cat's Cradle more than any other novel, and I expect to continue re-reading it every few years for the rest of my life. I've read many of Vonnegut's other novels, and they have all mattered to me to some extent (except, strangely, Slaughterhouse-Five, about which I never understood all the fuss), but those first 150 pages that I read will be the ones that stick with me always.

Also, the line "Whoever did write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut," from Back to School kills me every time, even if it's totally ripped off from the Marshall MacLuhan bit in Annie Hall.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

When I was growing up, Easter was a major day on the family calendar. Along with Christmas Eve, it was the day we knew there was no wrangling out of church. Plus there was candy. In fact, there was candy well beyond the time when it was age-appropriate, because Mom has always been a sucker for holiday traditions. At some point, though, Easter became that random Sunday in April or occasionally March where everything is closed and it takes me way to long to remember why. The past few years I've been much more aware of Passover observers around me than I have of Easter.

While that's still true (prepare for groaner), I still had a really good Friday. I woke up with the idea that there were 5 or 6 discrete tasks that I had to accomplish, and I set out to do them and got them done with plenty of day to spare. That was remarkably satisfying, putting together a mental list and checking them off one by one. I even had time left over to read for one of my classes and to watch two of the three Netflix that had been laying around for a couple of weeks without turnover. It's funny how some of your best days are the ones where nothing earth-shattering happens, but you just mow through tasks that had been accumulating for a while.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I sometimes wonder if the people who named Red Delicious Apples were delusional or if they were just being ironic. But in neither case was it total, because they are definitely red and they are totally apples.

You know that great quote from one of the Godfather movies about how every time he thinks he's out they pull him right back in? Ann Arbor is the exact opposite of that. I was riding my bike around all last week and then again on Monday and thinking, "hey, this place isn't so bad." Upon hearing me think that, the weather gods decided that what we really needed over the following 72 hours was severe thunderstorms, a 60-degree temperature drop in 36 hours, snow, hail, and winds in excess of 50 miles per hour. Tomorrow's forecast calls for a 70% chance of frogs, with intermittent locusts and death of firstborns toward evening.

I drove home again last weekend. Still no change with Dad, which is amazing in and of itself. One moment left me wondering whether to laugh or cry, though. The nurse had brought in lunch and then left, and Dad just stared at it for a couple of minutes without moving. He does that a lot nowadays, blankly vacantly staring off into space until something gets his attention. I asked him if I could give him a hand with anything, and he instantly shot back, "Suicide." That could have simply been quick wry gallows humor; at least I hope it was.