Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ciela and Pumpkin

Ciela and Pumpkin
Originally uploaded by shermans.

In a nice exchange of services, some friends of ours watch Ciela one night a week in exchange for us walking their dog during the day. I'm not sure who's getting the better end of the deal. They really like Ciela, but Ciela loves walking Pumpkin. We've only been doing it a couple of weeks, but today Ciela took over. She must have been watching all of us and how we relate to the dog, because once she had the leash in her hands, she became the alpha dog.

She would pull on the leash and yell "Punky, no!" and "Punky, down!" which in her language sounds like "Punky, own!" Then she would pull on the leash and motion with her hand for Pumpkin to follow her, which Pumpkin would refuse, just as she refuses for me.

It's amazing to watch this transformation in Ciela. She's so dependent at times on her mother and me. And in crowds, she's very quiet, observing intently, or playing on her own. Even when she interacts with other kids or adults, it's very subtle or tentatively. But with Pumpkin, she somehow recognizes that the dog should obey her in a way that is strikingly different than her expectations of her mother or father giving her milk or crackers. She can already sense that she has some sort of superiority over Pumpkin that she doesn't have with anyone else.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A couple of videos to start the week

Chris Bliss: Must-See Finale

Autistic basketball player creates mayhem at game

Take a break from your rather dull day and give thanks for home video.

YouTube - Autistic basketball player creates mayhem at game

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No Football Player Left Behind

A little light-hearted humor for all my friends out their in the school system.

(from a widely dispersed email)

No Child Left Behind: The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they have won the championship. Coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship, their footballs and equipment will be taken away until they do win a championship.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. No exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own without instruction. Coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in 4th, 8th and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. No child gets ahead, therefore no child is left behind.

If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that screen out non-athletes. Parents can then rest assured that their children are not attending school with bad football players.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Museum Plaza

Museum Plaza
Originally uploaded by shermans.

This is the rendering for Louisville's new landmark building that will hold a contemporary art museum, residential condominiums, commercial office space and the University of Louisville's Fine Arts Program. It is being designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Rem Koolhaas's firm. Koolhaas is a huge name and a rather large plum for Louisville to get. Some of you Chicago types can see OMA's work in the recent Illinois Institute of Technology Campus Center.

I really like the idea the museum center. My praises to Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, the lead developers, in investing a lot of money and energy into creating an architecturally explosive statement in the downtown area. And I also appreciate the desire to include residential units. Downtown Louisville seems to lag behind a lot of other urban areas when it comes to bringing back 24 hour residences. A lot of things are happening down there, but the successes will be short lived without people coming back to live downtown.

All that said, I don't like the building. It has some fundamental flaws in how it relates to the surrounding buildings, and the underlying assumptions about how people use buildings. Now to be fair, the site selected is a tricky spot. As I understand it, it's in a flood zone, it has to deal with a major expressway right next to it, it's got another major landmark building--the Muhammed Ali Center--competing with it for visual space. Such constraints can lead to creative, innovative solutions. They can just as easily lead to awkward, souless failures. I think the museum plaza skews toward the latter.

The most serious flaw is in elevating the main concourse--the museum plaza itself--into the air. Civic buildings like museums are focal points for a community. They should be monumental public spaces that remind us of what's noble and good about our humanity. (Yes, this is an old-fashioned humanist understanding of art, civics and design--sue me). Key to this existential experience is the transition from the commonplace, quotidian life into the realm of beauty, ideas and challenge of art.

Yet this transition, by way of extended elavator rides or funicular ride (that diagonal strut across the lower half), mutes the experience, isolating the public element of the building behind distancing technology. Literally, it puts art above the people instead of in contact with the people.

The secondary function of civic buildings is to create a focal point for the surrounding area. A place where spontaneous public interaction can occur. For example, look at the front of The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The wide, accommadating stairs lead up to a monumental entrance way. People meet on the stairs before shows. Festivals use the stairs as a main staging area. One of my favorite concert moments was watching Buddy Guy play his guitar standing on the Jean Dubuffet statues looking at his reflection in the mirrored glass. The Museum Plaza has none of this. Rather, it sits at a remove, beyond an impassable gulf, admitting only the favored through sliding doors.

Ultimately, the building off gasses artistic arrogance. Rather than see the difficult site as a challange to create a civic space for the city, OMA saw it as a chance to subvert the idea of civic architecture in pursuit of innovation solely for the sake of innovation.

Watch the video. See the clever modeling bit where the sub-titles read "identify public elements, insert public elements at grade (street level, in other words)...flip...connect to context."

This is marketing bullshit to seduce us into thinking that their _radical_ design works in relation to the rest of the city. "connect to context" cannot be done by a lame diagonal escalator. The title cards should read: "identify public elements, completely destroy their function as public elements, create an isolated, elitest private sky box for people who like looking down on the peasants."

The developers have the right idea to integrate museums, commercial and residential aspects in one significant building. They just selected an architectural firm more enamoured of their daring and innovation instead of concerned with what's best for the city.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Renaissance Fair

Renaissance Fair
Originally uploaded by shermans.

I got 'em eating outta my hand

I got 'em eating outta my hand
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Even this easy, he still shot the wrong bird

Cheney's Canned Kill, and Other Hunting Excesses of the Bush Administration

Monday, February 13, 2006

When things go awry

We travelled way out east this past weekend to go to Arizona's Renaissance Fair. Lots of towns have these attractions on the outskirts. Arizona's is just outside Apache Junction, a town known for the lower rent section of RV and trailer parks populated by the blue-collar snowbirds in contrast to Scottsdale's chardonnay and plum collared royalty. For two or three months in the summer (or winter here in the Southwest) a bunch of people in fake Elizabethian accents and often anachronistic costumes, gather every weekend to pretend they are royalty and peasants, wenches and knights, attractive, witty and perfectly capable of pulling off that bodice and/or pirate shirt. Scattered amidst these adult dungeon and dragons gamers are people like me who show up in jeans and a t-shirt to drink beer and watch the frivolity.

Surprisingly, I had a good time. The jousting knights were rather anemic and more comical than catastrophic in being unhorsed. The food was expensive and mediocre. We thought we'd stay three hours until Ciela fell asleep, but ended up spending most of the day there. The shows--outside of the jousts--were entertaining, the shops and craftspeople were intriguing (mostly because we were amazed at how much the costumes actually cost. You're average Lord-y coat going for around $200).

The Royal Falconer's show was one Judy wanted to see, and it started out like most bird shows, a hawk comes out, grabs a dead mouse, flies around a bit and then goes back into a cage (or in this case, a medieval tower). Judy likes them just because she can see raptors up close, and this is about the only thing going for them. We already know most of the educational patter spat out, and the jokes are invariably of poor quality and dubious taste. This one was perhaps a bit better than most, but nothing worth remembering.

Until the red-tail hawk refused to fly to the post, refused to return to the roost, and pretty much refused to behave at all, bringing the show to a halt. The falconer tried in vain, employing various baits, lures and cajolery to get him back. Amidst his increasingly frantic attempts, he mentioned that the bird kept looking up, and he wondered if there was another bird around. The sky was absolutely clear, but after five minutes or so, a speck appeared high up in the sky. Slowly circling and over the course of the next ten minutes, dropping steadily toward the park. We were amazed at the unplanned demonstration of how powerful the eyesight of a hawk is. Even when we finally could see the predatory bird, the whole crowd repeatedly lost sight of him in the distance.

The trainers finally coaxed the hawk back into the roost and brought out a different bird less susceptable to a bullying eagle defending his turf. Yet despite the derailment of the program, or rather because of it, the show was much more successful. The trainers were truly worried about the bird and their ability to protect it or keep it from flying away in escape. The very material existence of these birds was brought home in the sudden danger of the moment. They were no longer zoo animals on display, but points in a very complicated and serious web. We have a tendency, a prediliction to isolate animals into distinct monads. Our pattern is to anthropomorphize them, and at the most extreme we make of them pets and members of the family. But animals (even the human animal) are more process than product. We are intersections in a series of forces, and the presence of the circling eagle revealed quite explicitly one of those lines of force, a pulsating line of fear and adreneline between a grounded hawk and an eagle circling thousands of feet above.

After that, we saw a guy shoot an arrow through an apple on his wife's head. Same principle of forces, but that arrow lacked the metaphoric resonance of the hawk and eagle. That and the John Tesh sound track was without nuance.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The dictator defense

David Cole has a nice rundown of Gonzales's weaseling before Congress this week, but let me just point to something Gonzales said that disgusted me and pretty much sums up this administration's one and only guiding principle in foreign policy: fear.

From Gonzales's statement:

"Now, we all agree that it's a necessary and appropriate use of force to fire bullets and missiles at Al Qaida strongholds. Given this common ground, how can anyone conclude that it is not necessary and appropriate to intercept Al Qaida phone calls?"

This is just blatent fear mongering. The objection is not about intercepting Al Qaida phone calls, but about an executive branch usurping Congress and a law that provides for this action but with legal oversight. Gonzales knows this, but rather than address the objection directly, Gonzales choses to re-frame the issue as an executive branch that wants to hunt terrorists and a legislative branch that wants to neuter W.

More in that vein:

"Our enemy is listening. And I cannot help but wonder if they aren't shaking their heads in amazement at the thought that anyone would imperil such a sensitive program by leaking its existence in the first place, and smiling at the prospect that we might now disclose even more or perhaps even unilaterally disarm ourselves of a key tool in the war on terror."

Again, Gonzales goes back to the pail to carry more water for an administration absolutely bereft of ideas or explanations for their actions. When caught red-handed breaking the law, the response is to yell "Look out! Behind you!" And then run like hell when we turn our heads.

What jerks

Tournament of Books

The Morning News has announced the line-up for the 2006 Tournament of Books. Unlike last year, where I picked David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas to win (which it did), I have no real knowledge of this years field, having read none of them so far.

But that's not enough to stop me from picking a winner.

Unfortunately, they haven't yet listed the matchups, so I can't pick a final four, but I'm going to guess that The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell go down to the wire, with The King beating the Vampire.

On Athiesm

Richard Dawkins on why science and reason have failed to win out over mythology.

"That trend toward enlightenment has indeed continued in Europe and Britain. It just has not continued in the U.S., and not in the Islamic world. We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other. The very large numbers of people in the United States and in Europe who don't subscribe to that worldview are caught in the middle.

"Actually, holy alliance would be a better phrase. Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them."

The full interview here

Friday, February 03, 2006

I've been blocked out of my own blog

I can't read my own blog. I can post to my blog. I can change the template of my blog. I can alter the settings of my blog. But I cannot read my own blog. I would like to take this as an existential metaphor for being unable to know thy true self, but I'd rather be able to see my blog.

I am unable to read the story of my life. I have been cut off from the narrative that is me. Textual schizophrenia has divided me in two. I am in complete control of all my faculties. I can alter my appearance. I can communicate with the outside world. I can send and receive messages. But access to who I am remains denied.

Yet even this is paradoxical. I can, indeed, view my profile. I can see who I am. But I cannot see me.

Moreover, I can see my other blogs. My other me's. My writing me. My professorial past. But not my present.

Where am I?

Who am I?

I am not in Chicago. In Omaha. In Scottsdale.

I am denied access to my life.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A better view

A better view
Originally uploaded by shermans.

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