Spent time today reading David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, a graphic novel released in 2009 that was lauded by the critics. I can see why: this work is brilliant. It "combines a modernist style, a formalist structure, and a story about a bristly academic" as one observer described it. Highly recommended.
From security analyst Bruce Schneier:
Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we're doing the terrorists' job for them.
(Read the whole piece on CNN's site.)
Okay, so it may not be a major title--heck, it's actually only an exhibition!--but it has to warm the hearts of Rafael Nadal fans to see him win the Abu Dhabi event this weekend, especially by beating nemesis Robin Soderling 7-6 (3), 7-5 in today's final. It was Soderling who ended Nadal's perfect streak at Roland Garros in May, which really changed the storyline in men's tennis for 2009. To add insult to injury, Soderling spanked Rafa again in the ATP Finals in London in November. (And allegedly there is no love lost between these two players.) The Swede beat Roger Federer to advance to the Abu Dhabi final but Rafa seems to be in the sort of health and playing form that saw him take three of the four major crowns plus Olympic gold in 2008 and early 2009. I'll be interested to see how his bid to defend his Australian Open crown goes later this month.
Lots of speculation about Apple's reserving January 26th for a "special presentation." Most observers believe the company will unveil its tablet plans with a trademark Steve Jobs rollout. It might well look something like the rendering above--an oversized iPod Touch crossed with a Mac OS X dock--but who outside Cupertino really knows at this point? There is some good analysis on the topic here.
When I first started this blog in April 2004, I posted this map indicating the countries I had visited up until then:
Here is my updated map of countries I have been to as of the start of 2010:
Fascinating piece on Obama's real base posted on The Daily Beast website. Worth a read!
I downloaded Google Chrome this morning for a tryout. Supposedly it loads pages pretty fast. I already like how easily it imported all my Safari bookmarks and settings.
I've long had a fantasy of relocating the school somewhere warm just for the winter term. This notion kicks in pretty hard on a day like today, when the high temperature is supposed to hit 33°F. It was bitterly cold walking to breakfast this morning!
It's no accident that the two times I've taken a sabbatical, I took them in the winter term and went to Australia and other antipodal destinations. When I was there in 1998, the temperature in Melbourne climbed to 108°F at one point; you could almost fry an egg on the sidewalk!
Today I went downtown to the barber shop. Since our on-campus barber retired a few years back, I seem to get a haircut about twice a year now. My hair goes from being a bit too long to being way too short. But I guess I am getting my money's worth this way!
I've figured out the best way to schedule my weekend duty nights in the dorm: I do as many of them early in the term as possible so that as the inevitable cabin fever/fatigue of the term sets in, I can look forward to having free nights on the weekend.
This means these first couple of weekends in January I am doing a lot of duty, but the payoff will come in February!
Just saw a production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, which scholarly consensus now attributes to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher--both resident playwrights for The King's Men acting company. The show featured nine actors from the Guerrilla Shakespeare Company [I am not sure why "guerrilla" is spelled with two r's.] This play was likely first staged at the Blackfriars indoor theater. Clearly this is not among the best of The Bard's works, of course, but it moves me just a bit closer to my quest to complete the canon, which it looks like I will be able to do before the end of this school year.
Started watching In Bruges on the bus ride home from Andover on the MacBook Air and finished it at home on the big screen. It's sort of comedic, but pretty black in its sensibility. Strong performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. And lots of pretty Belgian scenery. Worth watching.
In a wonderful surprise, the school awarded yours truly a faculty chair at this morning's school meeting. It's a very nice honor, if a bit embarrassing to be in the spotlight in front of the entire community for ten minutes. I now hold the Hubert S. Packard Chair, named after the longtime French teacher and wrestling coach at Choate, who was (fittingly) also a Williams College alumnus. I am told I will actually be getting an actual physical chair to commemorate this award. I also will get a nice little bump in pay for the ten-year term of the chair.
Word on the street tonight is that Connecticut's senior U.S. Senator, Christopher Dodd, will announce he will not run for re-election this year. The senator has hit a rocky patch in his political career, starting with an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008, followed by revelations of a sweetheart deal on a mortgage. His approval ratings have plummeted as a result. Facing this political math, Dodd has apparently decided not to fight his way to re-election (though I believe he could have turned this around). Stepping down now probably means the Democrats will be able to hold this seat comfortably; with Dodd still in the race, it was a very vulnerable seat.
Having seen Senator Dodd at close range numerous times with student groups in Washington, I will miss him. He is clearly smart, hard-working, and articulate with a wonderful way with people and a firm command of the issues.
Continental Airlines happens to have a pretty good in-flight entertainment system at each seat. I watched the second half of The Informant (which I had started on the trip over to Portugal). This is a pretty witty movie--not laugh out loud funny, but wryly clever. Matt Damon is perfect as an eager beaver informant working for ADM and Scott Bakula is great as a straight man in his role as an FBI agent. Steven Soderbergh directed, and I like most of his work.
I also saw the remake of Fame, which was pretty pointless (and nowhere close to an improvement on the original). Not only was the story pretty flimsy, but the music wasn't all that good. The best song was only one swiped from the 1980s version.
And finally I saw an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a CBS comedy that I have never seen before. It's a mildly amusing show, but I found the canned laughter annoying--especially while listening to the program over headphones. I've taken it for granted, I guess, that most comedies I watch (The Office, 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm) never use a laugh track.
I am back in the daily exercise routine: 45 minutes a day, every day. Not that hard to do, and I feel a lot better getting this done regularly. I don't coach any on-court coaching time against this total, either.
Good day for Choate Squash up at Andover: the girls' varsity and JV and the boys' JV lost just one match total in their three contests. If the boys' varsity squad wins as expected, it will constitute a nice sweep for the program. This day is always one of the best of the athletic year, when most Choate teams face off against their Phillips Academy counterparts. It's dependably good competition and in even years, I get to visit my old stomping grounds for a little while.
Today I was invited to present at a conference in Wilmington, Delaware this June: "Managing Institutional Risk at Boarding Schools Leadership Summit." Sounds fancy, so I better think of something to say!
The school hosted Dr. Robert Ballard, the world's best-known oceanographer (and a Choate parent), to deliver a slide presentation to the entire community tonight in the Arts Center auditorium and it was a fascinating overview of the scientific exploration of our planet's oceans. This is the sort of science I find riveting. And having grown up by the water, I am always interested in seafaring adventures!
This morning, the Choate faculty had a three-hour professional development session. (No classes were scheduled for the day, as this week has an academic Saturday.) This may be a nice break in routine for my colleague, but it totally throws off my morning. That's because I never teach on Wednesday morning. I am scheduled to teach--one or two classes per term--in rotating blocks that do not meet on Wednesdays or Saturdays so I can be available in the Department of Athletics office on game days. So a three-hour block like this on a Wednesday cuts into my productivity in a big way.
I have started using the Ripit application to make my DVDs even more portable by ripping the content to my hard drive. Ripit creates a file that opens up DVD Player just like loading a disc would, and I can access the DVD menus, special features, and anything else on the disc as if it were in the drive. Ripping the DVDs this way has three advantages: (1) When traveling, I won't have to carry the physical media to access on my laptop the movies that I already own; (2) watching a "virtual" DVD drains a laptop battery far less than accessing the DVD drive (and in any case my primary travel computer, the MacBook Air, doesn't even have a drive!); and (3) I can rip non-Region 1 discs just as easily, so the region coding on the DVD drive firmware will pose no obstacle to my watching, say, British DVDs.
The heart-wrenching news and images from earthquake-ravaged Haiti offer some pretty brutal perspective for those of us whose lives are quite comfortable. Hard to get to exorcised over NBC's handling of its late night talent, for example, in light of the devastation in the Caribbean. The Internet makes it easy to make a contribution. I just made a modest donation to the Red Cross, for instance--which I report not to score any points with those few souls who might come across this blog, but to encourage as many people as something to make some sort of effort to help those in dire need.
Just over a week after being awarded the faculty chair, I am still receiving some wonderfully thoughtful sentiments from colleagues, students, parents, and alumni. Folks have been just so nice about this honor. I am humbled and grateful for all the good wishes.
The chair arrived today. When one is awarded a named faculty chair at Choate, the school gives you a very nice actual chair. It has the school seal engraved on the front and my name on the back. Pretty classy, I think.
It's the height of the Australian summer right now and the world's best tennis players are converging on Melbourne for the first Grand Slam tournament of 2010, the Australian Open, which gets underway Monday (Sunday night in Eastern Standard Time). Looking forward to see what unfolds in this event!
Interesting piece in today's New York Times on people like me trying to complete the Shakespeare canon by seeing each of The Bard's plays in performance. (Though I'm not sure about the reference to "trainspotters"!) The English couple described in the article took twenty years to complete the quest. Looks like I am going to finish the cycle in about 25 months!
An article in this morning's New York Times addresses the perception that those of us working in academia skew toward a liberal political orientation. The current thinking:
Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals -- and so few conservatives -- want to be professors.
Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.
The tendency of people in any institution or organization to try to fit in also reinforces the political one-sidedness . . . when it comes to hiring, "the majority will tend to support candidates like them in the matter of fundamental beliefs, values and commitments."
Provocative analysis, and one that seems to make sense to me.
Went down to Yale this morning to see some Choate alums competing in squash matches in the Payne Whitney Gym. Upon returning to campus this afternoon, I met with a couple of guys from the tennis team for a hit on the indoor courts--my first tennis in a few months. It still feels pretty nice to connect in the racquet's sweet spot!
Now appearing on the Google home page:
Yesterday, invitations to Apple's January 27 scheduled press event were distributed. Expectations are that Steve Jobs will unveil the much-anticipated tablet device at this gathering. It's been leaked that the next generation of iPhone software, OS 4.0, will be announced and that iLife will be refreshed in a 2010 version. I'll be paying attention.
The Bridge Project mounted a terrific As You Like It, which I caught at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater tonight. The play depends heavily on strong acting in two particular roles, I think: Rosalind and Jaques. Juliet Rylance and Stephen Dillane were wonderfully up to the task. Production values were outstanding, as well: sets and lighting created a bleak, snow-covered Arden Forest in winter, as well as a lush version in full bloom for the later acts. And a small band of musicians added to the atmosphere effectively.
Last night's big news was the Massachusetts election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Seems to me the right-wing crowing and media hype are all misplaced. 41% hardly constitutes a majority in the Senate, after all. Yes, the White House and Congressional Democrats need to do a better job conveying their message. But let's remember the GOP in Washington is embracing a fairly nihilistic approach to governance right now: opposing nearly every Administration initiative (at least in domestic policy) and offering scant little in the way of alternatives (other than the usual tax-slashing mantra). This could be just the wake-up call the President needs to kick in those political instincts and oratory skills that were deployed so effectively throughout the 2008 campaign.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision announced today, Citizens United v. FEC, probably represents a greater shift in our nation's political life than the Massachusetts special election earlier this week. In a 5-4 vote, the Court's conservative block threw precedent out the window by invalidating a 63-year-old congressional ban on virtually all corporate (and union) spending in support of, or opposition to, candidates in federal elections. Such an outcome suggests the majority on the bench has, in fact, embraced a philosophy of judicial activism--ironically just the the label American conservatives incessantly have used to blast supposedly liberal judges in recent decades. Basically, this approach entails judges stretching Constitutional interpretation in order to impose their personal policy preferences on the citizenry, in a manner that contradicts established legislation fashioned by the people's elected representatives.
Though the George W. Bush appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, posed as judicial moderates during their confirmation hearings, it turns out they are intent on shifting American jurisprudence sharply to the ideological right.
The particular ruling in this case, while wrapped in the language of the First Amendment, was properly lambasted by the most senior justice, John Paul Stevens in a withering dissent read from the bench. Basically, the majority opinion held that the campaign finance laws in question violated the free-speech rights of "citizens." The central flaw in this analysis is treating corporations as citizens, of course.
This is scary!
For the cross country team's end-of-season gathering tonight, I am using iPhoto to show 300 slides set to music. iPhoto makes it tremendously easy to set this up without a lot of effort (other than sifting through several thousand shots from the fall season to select the best pictures and ensure each of some 70 team members is represented in the show). But since I did the work on my MacBook Air, I had to make an emergency run to the Apple Store in the Westfarms Mall in Farmington this afternoon to get a Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA connector so that my laptop could drive the projector. I am constantly amazed how efficiently the Apple Store works. Once I found the accessory in question, an employee scanned its barcode on his specially decked-out iPhone (or maybe it was an iPod Touch), ran my credit card through, thanked me by name, and asked if I wanted the receipt e-mailed to my account--clearly the system recognized my credit card details as associated with my Apple account. The speed of this transaction enabled me to make this trip a surgical strike!
Long day for the girls' varsity squash team today. After SAT testing finished (some twenty minutes late, unfortunately) we made the three-hour trek to Concord, NH, for a showdown with our St. Paul's School counterparts. We had some good competition, particularly at the top of the ladder, and prevailed 5-2 (and got matches for the five extra competitors who made the trip, all of whom won). The down side of the excursion was getting home just before 10:00 at night. Unlike our trip to Andover two weeks before, which was in a comfortable double-decker motor coach, i was behind the wheel of a mid-bus for all of the driving. So I am ready to crash now!
Entertainment Weekly published a list of "must-see" movies to be viewed before the Oscar nominations are announced, and today I saw a matinee of A Single Man. I could see why Colin Firth's performance has been so widely praised. He's far better than the overall film, which fashion czar Tom Ford directed as if it were some sort of fashion spread: in general it was pretty to look at, but the story slowed to a glacial pace in places. I liked Julianne Moore in this movie, too.
Before my trip to Portugal at the end of last month, I downloaded a handful of movie rentals from the iTunes Store so I'd have some entertainment readily available while abroad. I watched a couple of them, but still have three on the laptop whose thirty-day rental period is about to expire. So I watched The Devil Wears Prada tonight. It's very light fare, I suppose, but reasonably entertaining. Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep are mostly convincing, but I though the real stars of the flick were New York City and Paris.
Since I arrived at Choate, there has been a winter term tradition called "President's Day" in which the head of school makes a surprise announcement in the evening canceling the following day's classes. Word just came via e-mail that tomorrow is the day, so spirits are running pretty high around here right now.
The President is delivering the annual State of the Union address tomorrow, but most folks I know are far more tuned into the scuttlebutt regarding Apple's scheduled announcements tomorrow, which most assume will be centered around the unveiling of a new tablet device. Though the Internet has been abuzz with leaks and speculation, we know very little for sure. I am eagerly anticipating the goodies Steve Jobs will be showcasing tomorrow.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal retired with a knee injury in the third set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Andy Murray. In fairness to the Scot, Nadal was being consistently outplayed in this match before he called it quits. Andy Roddick also went down in five sets to Martin Cilic, who is clearly one of the hottest players on tour in recent weeks.
Late last night and early this morning, I watched another iTunes movie rental that is about to expire: King Corn, a documentary by two recent college graduates who spend a year in Iowa growing an acre of corn and attempt to follow it through the food supply chain. As in Super Size Me, the focal point of the film is as political as it is about nutrition: how American agricultural policy since the 1970s has influenced the prominence of high fructose corn syrup and other corn by-products in the American diet.
So the Apple Tablet is real and about to hit the market: the iPad didn't have all the bells and whistles some were hoping for (built-in videoconferencing capability, for instance) but neither did the iPhone when it was first released. I believe the over the next eighteen months we'll see the emergence of apps--both from Apple and from third-party developers--that will indeed make the iPad a huge hit as well as a game changer.
It's the national holiday for the land Down Under. Sort of like Fourth of July for the Aussies. Good on ya!
Seven of my colleagues and I were invited down to the Metropolitan Opera House tonight to see the Carmen production that opened to rave reviews a few weeks back. We were driven into Manhattan and had drinks and a light dinner in the penthouse apartment of a couple of Choate parents--with spectacular views of the city and artistic antiquities on display. Then we were treated to a center box on the parterre level at The Met--courtesy of another CRH family--which was a wonderful vantage point from which to take in the performance.
The opera itself was a satisfying production, in which the setting was updated by about a century, to Seville of the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. (This is the first opera I have seen more than one production of, so I could make some meaningful comparisons.) We saw an understudy in the title role, and while her acting was terrific, she was a bit shaky vocally, particularly in the early going. But no quibbles: this was a great night out.
I set the DVR to record the men's final in Melbourne and caught the tail end of the Federer victory when I woke up. Hard to imagine a year ago it looked like the era of Roger as the man to beat had ended; here he is today with three of the Slam titles under his belt (and he probably should have won the fourth) and none of his rivals looks up to the challenge right now.
I woke up to find out that Serena Williams prevailed in a three-set final over Justine Henin to cement her position as the WTA's top player. If she can dial in her game consistently this year, there is no reason to think Serena can't be a dominant force. The landscape of the women's game is certainly more attractive now that the two Belgians, Clijsters and Henin, are back in the picture.
For the fourth time in five years, the Bryan brothers won the men's doubles title in the Australian Open. While American players have not been in the winner's circle in Grand Slam singles events since the 2003 U.S. Open (Andy Roddick), the Bryans have assembled a very strong record in the majors over the past decade.
Spotted at the Georgetown/Duke game in D.C.:
Barack Obama was awfully impressive in facing down House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore today. He is so quick on his feet, so even tempered, and has such command of details that he really took over the occasion. It was a coup for the White House to have this exchange of ideas played out in front of reporters and television cameras.
Got caught up on the State of the Union address I missed while in the city last night. I was impressed by President Obama's tone: not exactly defiant, but firm enough. I liked the way he called out the Supreme Court majority on its disastrous campaign finance decision. Looks like there's still plenty of fire in the belly.
Spent some time today planning my summer schedule, the centerpiece of which will be a trip across Canada bookended by two major North American Shakespeare festivals: one in Stratford, Ontario, and the other in Ashland, Oregon. I am taking a four-night train trip from Toronto to Vancouver, and this journey is supposed to be filled with gorgeous scenery. I'll spend a couple of nights in Toronto (the men's ATP event will be up and running while I'm there) and in Vancouver as well.
I've been pretty faithful in putting in 45 minutes a day around the indoor track in the Johnson Athletic Center this past month and have gotten into the habit of playing either some music or lectures from The Teaching Company while racking up the laps. Doing the latter makes me feel especially productive: I am immersed in classical mythology this week while getting my workout done.
I was summoned to report to Superior Court in New Haven at 8 a.m. this morning for jury duty. I was in the first batch of potential jurors brought into a courtroom to begin the voir dire process. The dates of the case next week conflict with my scheduled flight to Florida on Friday, however, and this resulted in my being excused from service. thus I got to head home--through a light snowstorm--at 11 a.m., a far cry from the last time I got as far as the voir dire, when I was at the courthouse past 5 p.m. before being excused.
I am conflicted about the prospect of jury duty. Philosophically, I believe strongly in the principle and I would be curious to take part in the process, but logistically it would pose huge complications to my life, especially in getting my teaching and coaching duties covered. So I was relieved to have been excused this time around.
No classes today. My team has the day off. The athletic office is covered by one of my colleagues. No big plans at all. This meant I got to stay in bed until after noon today. I was awake most of the last few hours, but very much enjoying the chance to veg out a bit for a change!
Now off to the Hart Pool, the Johnson Athletic Center, and the Remsen Arena to see our teams in action this afternoon.