Mar 312007

I purchased An Inconvenient Truth yesterday and watched it this afternoon.

I had not given the film much thought until I read James Randi’s comment on it last week. He was clearly impressed by it, and that’s a big indicator. Randi is one of the most no-nonsense guys there is, and if he’s piqued, then I’m paying attention.

To the extent that I had considered the film at all, I suspected it was like Fahrenheit 9/11: engaging and well-made, but heavily biased, perhaps a bit crass, and a “documentary” in name only (as most of us use the term).

My suspicion was inaccurate. This is a powerful, compelling, and entertaining piece of persuasive communication. The Al Gore in this film is charismatic, comfortable, and genuine–everything he wasn’t in 2000. If this man had run for president, there would have been no Florida recount.

For me this is not the end, but the beginning. I am motivated to read and research further to discover and build a well-supported position on global warming: something I never much cared about having before. I suspect that given my political history, intellectual background, and the like, that motivation would be sufficient for Gore to consider his film successful with me.

 Posted by at 9:02 pm
Mar 312007

Nathan attended his first soccer practice tonight.

He was alternately excited and nervous all week, but he fell in like a round peg when it came time. His first game is this weekend, and his team is called the Blue Dragons. He’s excited. Dad is, too.

 Posted by at 1:48 am
Mar 302007

The extracurricular activity I enjoyed the most in high school was band, far and away. I played trombone and marched in the Oxford (Alabama) High School band my freshman and sophomore years, and it was a blast. We were adored at home, just a click under the football team as far as peer respect in the hallways, and greatly feared at marching competitions. We were good. And I still fondly remember my band director Mr. Barker as one of the people who had something significant to do with who I am today.

I don’t think I’ve ever again been close to anyone who understood music like Mr. Barker did. His knowledge was so broad and deep, it was nearly unbelievable. Trombone was his first instrument, but he could also play piano, guitar, flute, clarinet, saxophone, mellophone, French horn, baritone, trumpet, tuba, and bells. If a single instrument in his 170-odd-piece band was as little as a quarter-tone flat, he could hear it. He could sing anybody’s part from any song in our show off the top of his head.

Mr. Barker also had two personalities. In the bandroom, and especially one-on-one, he was funny, warm, and nurturing. If you had a bad practice and wanted to talk to him about it, he wouldn’t hear it. He’d clap you on the back, smile his big smile, and say “hey man, we’re practicing again tomorrow! You’ll get it!” But on the practice field, he was a drill sergeant. I remember mouthing off very mildly to him once during practice, and receiving what is still the greatest chewing out of my life–two inches from my face, pulsing veins, and absolutely as loud as the man could yell. I never made that mistake again.

I have to tell something on my friend Jenny B. (now Jenny P.) too, as long as I’m talking about Mr. Barker. Jenny was on the Golden Girls dance team, and coincidentally was also my coworker at UGS for almost five years. To me, she is a classic southern beauty: somewhat softspoken but appealingly accented, with a room-warming smile and an eternally happy soul. It’s been 22 years or so since we were in band together, and she’s aged perhaps 3.

Anyway, during band camp one year, we had to keep practicing this one part of the show over and over, because the drum section had to do this weird turning-while-backing-up thing, and they just couldn’t get it. So everybody had to keep practicing the same four or five measures of the show while they tried to do it to Mr. Barker’s satisfaction. (Did I mention it was about 128 degrees?)

So Mr. Barker stopped the show again and raised the megaphone to his mouth, presumably to bitch at the drummers some more. Instead he pointed toward the front and said “You know, I just want to take a minute to brag on Jenny B. here. We’re out here in this heat and humidity, trying to get this show up to Oxford standards, and she’s not scowled or rolled her eyes even once. Every time I look her way she has a smile on her face. We should all try to be more like Jenny B.” Then he went back to business.

I told her that story from my perspective about three years ago, and she was deeply surprised I remembered it. She also told me she still thinks about that day sometimes when she’s working out, pushing on a project at work, or whatever, and needs a boost.

Mr. Barker left Oxford not long after we moved, and I lost track of him. I still think of him from time to time and hope he’s doing well.

 Posted by at 12:04 am
Mar 292007

It would be difficult for me to overstate my affection for chess. I think it is the finest, most beautiful game ever conceived. Part of its seduction is that I believe that a true “solution” for chess lies just beyond human ability. It is that gap that attracts, and makes, lunatics. (The best chess players have generally been basket cases in one way or another; in fact, we are living through the first time in recorded history that many of the world’s best chess players also seem to be otherwise well-adjusted human beings.)

My single favorite characteristic of chess is its purity. It is precise, brutal, decisive, and totally unclouded by luck or ambiguity. The chessboard is the least hospitable environment for nonsense on the planet. You’re not going to be saved by a dice roll, and there will not be a fortunately placed power-up, and your smarmy, lipless smile and obsequious attitude aren’t going to get you out of the tedious work assignment or into her pants this time, skippy. If you lose, then you didn’t play well enough. Period.

As much as I enjoy the game, it’s been bittersweet for me lately. Six years ago I attended Huntsville Chess Club meetings every Monday night, and played at least one challenging (200+ points above my rating) standard game on the Internet Chess Club every other night. At least weekly, I tried to spend three or four uninterrupted hours on some aspect of the game (learning the Lucena position, pawn scrimmages, stuff like that).

But I don’t do that anymore, and don’t play so much at all right now. Since we became parents, it’s often 10 pm or later before I have the uninterrupted time for a standard game, and by then my mental acuity isn’t what I think it should be for serious chess. I feel like I’m cheating myself if I play when I’m fatigued, and I second-guess myself to pieces on that basis when I drop one.

I still pay my annual dues on ICC, though if I ever get on at all anymore I usually play blitz, which is a hell of a lot of fun but absolute poison for my game. It’s almost like I’m paying $60 for the hope that I’ll find a way to bring all of my brain to the board sometime in the following year. In any case, it will be there when I’m ready.

 Posted by at 12:26 am
Mar 282007

Did you see the new image of the gigantic hexagon at Saturn’s north pole yet?

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft just imaged it. The Voyager probes took pictures of this feature over 20 years ago, but not with this detail. At Saturn’s north pole, we’ve apparently encountered a remarkably regular, naturally occurring hexagon that is 15,000 miles across.

As much as we’ve learned as a species, this is the kind of thing that reminds me that we really are, at best, only technological and scientific adolescents. Astronomers talk about standing waves or maybe a sort of aurora we don’t yet understand, but the bottom line is that we just don’t know what this thing is.

Maybe it’s a massive, intergalactic hub for starships, overseen by sulfur-based intelligent life for which we have no detection capabilities. Think William of Ockham would like that? I don’t, but it’s fun to think about.

 Posted by at 10:41 pm
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