Actually, Maestro, Infinity Isn’t A Number

November 22, 2008

On November 7, I received an email message with the subject line “CHORAL SINGERS NEEDED!!” It turned out to be from a student in the music composition program here at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He had written a piece for a choral ensemble, and he was looking for singers to rehearse and perform it in his master’s composition recital a few weeks hence. He was writing to ask me to participate in the project, if I wasn’t too busy.

Now, by no means am I a very good singer; I’m just a lowly computer science student who happens to be a member of University Chorale, which is but one of the thirteen Jacobs School of Music choral ensembles. Nobody in the graduate composition program would have any reason to know who I am. I’m sure that this particular student composer, after contacting all the actual good singers he knew, just got my email address from one of a number of lists the choral department keeps, most likely the list entitled “Passably Okay Singers Who Can Probably Be Flattered Into Being In Your Ensemble For No Credit And No Compensation, As Long As You Make It Sound As Though You Think They’re Somehow Important And/Or Special.”

Whatever the composer’s recruiting technique was, it worked, and I readily agreed to rehearse and perform his piece. I was assigned to sing the seventh alto part, and rehearsals were to begin the following week. The title of the piece was White Love/Shadow Illumination No. ∞. Yes, that’s correct: “Number Infinity.” Needless to say, hilarity has ensued.

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History Needs More Dinosaurs

November 14, 2008

Via my fabulous friend Jeremy Tolbert, I received the following most awesome link:

Roadside Attraction: The Alternative History Theme Park Where Dinosaurs Fought in the Civil War

As the article says:

Most speculative fiction surrounding the American Civil War imagines how the world would be different had the Confederacy won its independence. But roadside attraction creator Mark Cline has imagined an entirely different kind of Civil War science fiction. His fiberglass creations tell the tale of a group of Union soldiers who discover a lost valley of dinosaurs in Virginia and plot to use them as weapons against the South.

You absolutely must click over there to see all the fantastic photos of the recreated dino vs. soldier battles. As you may notice in the first photo, things don’t appear to have gone exactly as the Yankees had planned. Given that I live in North Carolina and the museum is in Virginia, I’m definitely starting to feel the need to take a road trip.

What other ideas can you think of for alternative history theme parks you’d like to see?

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The Sheik & Social Mores part 2

November 13, 2008

Initially, I had envisioned part 2 (part 1 here) as comparing and contrasting the continuum from reel–>read–> real. In the future I’d like to steer back in that direction with some other silent film, perhaps The Lost World or Phantom of the Opera. In the meantime I’ve gone off on a bit of a literary bender related to the Near East, chewing thorough numerous online references, Persian Pictures (1892) by Gertrude Bell, and Winter in Arabia (1937-38) by Freya Stark. I wasn’t that impressed with Pictures, but Winter in Arabia is an excellent companion piece to Nicholas Clapp’s Sheba.

A lot of people have gotten mileage off the Sheik-Valentino mythos, particularly on sociological topics including race, class, gender roles and the taming of otherness. These have been covered in professional literature, which I’ll leave to you to look up. Despite my earlier dismissal of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, there’s actually a lot more alike than dissimilar between the two novels, but LC is consistently included on the ‘banned books’ list while The Sheik is remembered as an early popular romance. Why the contrast in notoriety?

The authors (E.M. Hull and D.H. Lawrence) were contemporaries, both with a Derbyshire connection, but from different social classes. Each novel deals with an intimate relationship that was disturbing to the prevailing mind set (LC class reasons, S racial/colonial issues), involving blunt, passion-driven men and women described as remote or cool to emotion. Both also deal with sex as something that happens, this touch of directness in Hull’s writing I wasn’t expecting, given the dense layering of purple prose in places, but Lawrence is even more direct, which is probably the reason LC is stuck on the banned books list. That and the conflict in LC was resolved by a pregnant Constance Chatterley running away to British Columbia—leaving behind a crippled aristocratic husband and a large estate—to marry a lumberjack. The solution to Diane’s problems were a bit more deus ex machina (He’s a Spaniard! Aristocratic even! Raised by wild desert tribesmen the way talking apes raised Tarzan Viscount Greystoke!) I was actually looking for this b/c the movie was my first introduction to the idea of anti-miscegenation laws and the Hayes code.

The two novels definitely don’t match up in the development of the female protagonists. Constance grows into herself, while Diane suffers a psychological break and decides she’s perfectly happy being carted all over the back of beyond by a guy whose idea of foreplay is making her cry. *Bleh* The Ahmed-Diane relationship in book has hallmarks of Stockholm syndrome, and he’s totally open about the fact he grabbed her off the street because he hates the English, and she was conveniently English, blue-blooded and vulnerable in one hot package. Freud must have had a field day with the horse breaking scene if he read a German translation. It’s interesting that the male author (Lawrence) writes about a woman finding more of herself and the female author (Hull) goes the subjugation route. Have to wonder what the rationale for each of them was since they were both seeing the same changes in society, broadly speaking.

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5 Ways You Can Still Help Barack Obama — Even from Overseas

November 4, 2008

We are 24 hours away from this election being over — but we still have not won this thing yet!

If you are an overseas American who cast your vote weeks ago, you may feel somewhat disconnected from what is going on tomorrow in the U.S. There are nevertheless a number of ways we can still be involved.

Here’s a list of 5 easy ideas for readers anywhere on the globe:

If you live in the U.S. or overseas:

1) Have your overseas American friends sent in their ballots?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check up with 5 American friends living overseas and make sure they have received and returned their absentee ballots. If they have not, use the information below to help them cast a vote if there’s still time!

2) Will your American friends and relatives be headed to the polls today?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check in with 5 American friends or family members living in the U.S. and encourage them to head to the polls today. Take a couple minutes to tell them why you support Barack Obama and why we’re counting on their vote.

3) Will other Americans — those in key swing states — be headed to the polls today?

  • The campaign has set up an online tool called Neighbor to Neighbor, which allows you to make calls to registered voters in crucial areas, providing them with information about their polling locations and encouraging them to vote for Barack Obama. You can pick the state you’d like to call here. You can find answers to commonly-asked questions here. (Don’t forget to calculate the time difference.)
  • If you do not have a way to make cheap or free phone calls from your land line to the U.S., try using your computer to make calls. You can get 5 free hours of calling from Internet Calls; another inexpensive option is to create and use a Skype account — calls to the U.S. are just 2 cents/minute.
  • If you do have a telephone flatrate, consider inviting friends over today or tonight to make these calls from your home. Polls do not begin closing in the U.S. until midnight CET, so there is plenty of time to make calls after work!

For overseas voters:

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The Seven Deadly Sins, Politicians, and the American Electorate

November 2, 2008

The past few years have seen a rotating schedule of politicians caught in bizarre scandals relating to sex and/or money. We just had Alaskan Senator Stevens convicted of ethics violation, and a week earlier Democratic Congressman Tim Mahoney, who replaced creepy Republican Mark Foley (of the text messaging sex scandal), was caught up in his own sex scandal involving affairs and payoffs. What is with these people? I’m generally of the opinion that politicians are usually at least as smart as normal people, so why does this seem to keep happening? Part of me just wants to dope slap them, but another part of me really wants to understand what’s going on.

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