Wednesday, July 30, 2008

David Elginbrod Voice Recording

Due to a glut of recent activity, I've neglected to mention that I recently finished recording George MacDonald's David Elginbrod for Librivox.

These audio files can be downloaded all at once, or you can subscribe at the site to be sent a chapter a day. They are also available to download at Itunes.

All recordings for Librivox are in the public domain and entirely free. I did this project because I love George MacDonald and I wanted to do something to promote his works. It was a substantial amount of time and effort, though. (Total recording time is over 17 hours.) So, if you download it and like it, e-mail thanks are always appreciated. If you have Paypal and would like to donate $1, that would be a nice gesture, too. Maybe I could rouse myself up to read another one if this one is popular.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Great 8

So, I've finally recuperated sufficiently to write up this year's Great 8.

I've been having all sorts of trouble with Time Warner Cable this week (concluding with my canceling my service after about three days of busy signals, hang ups, customer service lies, and general frustration), so it's taken me awhile to get around to posting on this.

Overall it was a great experience. Last year I came six holes short of finishing, so the genesis of success this year came with my cajoling Todd into coming down this year in order to be able to avoid senseless delays. (We holed out on the last hole with about 2 minutes to go before the 8:30 deadline.)

Todd and I are both intermediate players--but we have complementary games for doubles. He drives farther than I do, but I'm a bit more accurate off the tee and a bit more consistent putting. (Todd will drop in a few long ones and miss a few shorter ones).

I putted above average (not great) all day, including making some crucial momentum putts. Unfortunately, I also threw my only Sidewinder into the pond at Cedar Hills (why I was even throwing that disc, I'm not sure).

We had several obstacles that made it a little tough to stay mentally up. It rained pretty hard the last four holes in Durham (costing us a stroke). We threw at the wrong basket at one hole on Cedarock (costing us a stroke) and had to run the last six holes or so because of not knowing the course. (Biggest preparation omission is that I should have played Cedarock rather than Wellspring.) I mistook a disc landing and had Todd pick up on one hole that also cost us a stroke.

One thing that was surprising and enlightening was that we finished stronger than we started on most courses. My worst habit as a disc golfer is that I tend to have a preconceived notion of how a round should go, so when I run into a bad result on a particular hole, I'll exaggerate how a "round" is going. A typical example was on Zebulon where we started on hole 5 and it felt like, for most of the round, that we were having a mediocre doubles round. We then birdied three of the last four holes. When we got to Wellspring we bogeyed 2 of the first four holes (tired, still wet from rain); it would have been easy enough to just limp to the finish line, but we got a second breath and before I realized it was happening birdied five holes in a row and shot a 21 on the back nine. Don't give up on a round until it's over, you don't always know where your birdies are going to come from. Easy advice to remember--hard to follow some time.

Anyhow, we shot a 402, good enough for third place in the intermediate division. More importantly, we had a great shared day and experienced the satisfaction of pushing ourselves mentally and physically and meeting a goal. I think we could have shot a little better (though I remind myself that Todd was new to some of these courses)--we shot a 52 at Buckhorn and I recently shot a 49 singles at the same course (my best score at that venue)--but I'm pleased that even when we got tired, we did not card back to back bogeys the entire day.

Zebulon (Starting hole 5)
2-2-4 2-3-3 3-3-5 (27)
3-2-3 3-3-3 4-3-4 (28)=55

Cedar Hills
3-3-3 3-3-2 2-3-3 (25)
3-3-3 3-3-3 3-3-4 (28)=53

2-2-3 2-3-2 2-2-3 (21)
3-3-3 2-3-2 2-3-3 (24)=45

3-3-4 3-3-3 3-2-3 (27)
3-2-3 3-3-2 3-3-3 (25)=52

UNC (Starting hole 8)
3-3-3 3-3-3 2-2-3 (25)
4-3-2 4-3-2 3-2-3 (26)=51

Valley Springs
2-3-3 3-2-3 2-2-2 (22)
3-3-3 2-2-2 3-2-4 (24)=46

3-4-2 4-3-2 3-2-2 (25)
2-2-2 3-2-2 2-4-2 (21)=46

Cedarock (Holes 8&9 skipped for this tournament as instructed)
3-4-3 3-3-3 3-3-3 (28)
3-3-4 2-3-2 3-3-3 (26)=54

Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 Great 8 Play Through Prizes

Saturday July 19th is the 2008 Great 8.

In order to play eight disc golf courses in one day (Zebulon, Cedar Hills, Kentwood, Buckhorn, Chapel Hill, Valley Springs, Cedarock, Wellspring) participants have to be a little more aggressive about playing fast, which occasionally means asking other groups of golfers on the course if we can "play through."

To express our appreciation to the disc golfing community, this year we are offering a number of "play through prizes." Here's how it works: if you let one or more groups participating in The Great 8 play through on one of the courses above, leave your name and some way to contact you (preferably an email link) in the comment area of this blog entry. On Sunday the 20th I'll do a drawing from the names here, and if your name is picked you win a prize. That's it. No catches--just our way of saying thanks for helping us meet the goal of eight courses in one day.

Here is a current list of prizes:

1 DX Ontario Roc (New, Hot stamped with circular red flame pattern but no writing).
1 2007 Ice Bowl DX Roc (New).
1 KC Pro 12x Roc (New)
1 Justice League: New Frontier DVD (Used)
1 Cinderella Man DVD (Used, Russel Crowe)
1 Hoyle Classic Card Game CD-Rom for PC (Play Hearts, Spades, Poker, Euchre, and other games on your computer)
1 World Series of Poker CD-Rom Game for PC
1 Dixie Chicks Wide Open Spaces CD
1 Portable MP3 Player with USB PC interface (Used--Holds 18 to 20 MP3 songs; needs 1 AAA battery [not included])

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is it just me...?

Or does anyone else really hate the 2007 MS-Word?

I had to get the new Office Suite when I replaced my laptop computer recently, and I've found that even after a year of usage, I still struggle to find things in the new MS-Word. I understand fixing bugs and everything, but so many of the features are hidden in counter-intuitive menus--hey, let's put headers and footers under "Insert" instead of "Page Formatting"--or moved (the weird symbol is now the "Save" menu that one ends up having to re-learn just about everything in regards to a program one has already invested countless hours learning.

Oh, and the default styles are like run by gremlins. One can't change line spacing just by using the paragraph formatting anymore, one has to adjust the "Styles" that throws lines in-between paragraphs.

I really hate this "upgrade."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

These Things Really Frost My Biscuit

I was at Wellspring Disc Golf Course (in Burlington) the other day, and they had a glass display case just filled with cigarette butts. The caption read that cigarette butts are the number one most frequent incidents of litter in the world. While some people think they are relatively harmless, they are not just paper (particularly the filters) and can take years to biodegrade, wash into water supplies, be eaten by wildlife, etc.

I don't wish an afterlife in the nether world for anyone, but I wish there was some special room of torment for people who litter. Ideally it would involve the suspension of privileges or suspension of access to the place they litter. I mention this because, quite frankly, many disc golfers are particularly bad about this and other forms of litter.

I played a monthly today at OT Sloan in Sanford, and excepting Redan (in Atlanta, Georgia) OT Sloan tends to be the filthiest course I play on. What makes this maddening is that the park has several trash receptacles, including ones by holes 1 (&18) 7, (&8), and 10 (&12). I typically find discarded Gatorade, pop, and beer bottles, often no more than 100 feet from a trash can. Today, typically, the course was strewn with Taco Bell wrappers, Wal-Mart bags, and other trash. Again, I don't (in an ideal world) want to see the people who strew this trash publicly caned, but I wouldn't mind some sort of karmic penalty box where they get a flat tire the next time they are driving to the course.

But even that's not what prompted my rant, since (sadly) it is so typical and pervasie that I'm now used to it. Nah, I'm frosted today because of a special kind of litter. For two days in a row now, I've returned from disc golfing on a public course to find gum on the sole of my shoes. Big old gooey, sticky, half melted (in 90 degree North Carolina heat) just strewn on the floor to find my shoe. Now one can rationalize that with some trash (like bottles) that perhaps it falls out of one's bag while one isn't looking (though I doubt that on the empties), but it's hard to buy that one can't carry the gum (in one's mouth) another hole or two until a trash can or wrap it up in a napkin if (heaven knows why) one can no longer stand having it in one's mouth.

Again, I don't wish hell on anyone.

Maybe just amount proportionate to the time I have to spend scraping and brushing and washing the crap you spit out of your mouth off my shoe because you can't be bothered to show a little common decency.

And by you, I mean you gum spitter, butt flickerer, beer can discarderer. You know who you are.

And you wonder why your sport is not more popular and doesn't catch on with the fans.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Kid Could Paint That--Now on Video

Since I gave a shout out to Honeydripper's DVD release last week, I thought I should mention that another one of my favorite films from 2007 is now available on DVD. The indie documentary My Kid Could Paint That delivers an interesting and engaging case study about the nature of art, the role of media, and the tantalizing uncertainty of first impressions. Here is a link to my original review at Looking Closer.

More recently, Jeffrey Overstreet has been praising the film at his blog, and I agree with him that it stands up quite well to repeated viewings. Like a good painting, the film has features that the viewer might notice in different viewings, so sustained attention is rewarded.

One of my favorite exchanges in the documentary comes late in the film, and is (I thought) relatively subtle. Director Amir Bar-Lev is interviewing art critic Michael Kimmelman. Like most (but not all) of the interviews, this one is presented in the form of a sound clip by one participant--we only see one person and the interview is edited so that we hear the person's opinions or ideas but not how they form or develop. I don't mean to imply that this is deceptive; it is readily apparent that these are clips of broader, longer exchanges, and at times the person being interviewed speaks to the camera as though he or she is speaking to Bar-Lev.

Kimmelman is an effective and smooth speaker, and so his sound bites have an extempore feeling to them. That is why it is a little surprising when in one exchange, Bar-Lev leaves the camera on Kimmelman but includes an exchange between him and the interviewer (presumably Bar-Lev) that might otherwise have been edited out:

Kimmelman: All writers, all storytellers, are imposing their own narrative on something. I mean all art is some ways is a lie. It looks like a picture of something, but it isn't that thing, it's a representation of that thing. Your documentary is on some level going to be a lie, it's your construction of things. I mean, I'll say that right now if you like...

Bar-Lev: Yes. yes, please...yeah.

[Pause. Kimmelman looks away, collects his thought, turns back to the camera for another "take."]

Kimmelman: I mean your documentary is itself going to be a lie. It's a construction of things. It's how you wish to represent the truth [and] how you decided to tell a particular story. By that I don't mean that certain things don't happen. Of course they do. It's not that there's no such thing as truth, but we come to like and trust a certain story not necessarily because it's the most absolutely truthful but because it's a thing that we tell ourselves that makes sense of the world, at least at this moment....

Now, I love the way Bar-Lev leaves in both takes...or the interruption to the longer take with the overlap of the key sentence. In doing so, he reinforces structurally (formally) two themes that are so prominently explored in the speech and the film as a whole. First, it reminds us at a key moment that everything we are seeing is edited, filtered, and spun. Most of us have no first hand knowledge of Marla, her parents, or any of the people involved. More importantly, though, because the camera lends an air of authenticity to our experience, we tend to receive these speeches as we would if someone were in front of us making them, and tend (perhaps, unless we are very well practiced in watching media presentations but together) to experience them, receive them, process them, as though they were regular conversations rather than rehearsed and edited speech acts made in a different context from which we often hear them. (In my review, I mention how this theme is reinforced in the confrontation between Marla's mother and Bar-Lev in which her ambiguous "documentary gold" comment can be read as an attempt to embed the context within the interview itself--to remind the viewer that what he is seeing, although it may look like an everyday conversation is really something else.

The other point I'd make about the Kimmelman/Bar-Lev exchange is that in a metastructural way, it mirrors the process of creation that critics of the Olmstead insinuate is used to create Marla's paintings. I said in my review that I thought Kimmelman was a knock out in this film--he's articulate, knowledgeable, affable, insightful. His contributions to the film help make it a success. But isn't most art collaborative on some level? The director doesn't merely turn on a camera and microphone and record the result--he helps shape the speeches by prodding, coaxing, leading. And Kimmelman, as a professional assists in this process. Do you want me to say it this bluntly? Do you need a better segue? Do you want me to say it again? The line between conversation, preparation, and articulation is hopelessly blurred. Has Bar-Lev put the words (or ideas) into Kimmelman's mouth? Of course not. But he has encouraged certain trains of thought (and presumably edited out others), and this isn't all that much different from the way Marla's father lays out paints and canvases for her or reports at one point that he suggested she hold the brush differently. There are differences, certainly. Kimmelman is an adult and a professional for two, and as this scene also illustrates, he is aware of the nature of the documentary process and participates in it willingly.

It's not that the meaning of Kimmelman's speech would be that different if the parts in bold were redacted. It wouldn't be. But that's the point and (I think) the brilliance of Bar-Lev leaving it in. What would be different is the feeling of it. We get to see for the film what the critics claim they don't get to see in Marla's paintings--the process. And by seeing (parts of) the process, we have the confidence that the film is a fairly accurate representation of the events that transpired that we might not otherwise have if we were presented only with the finished product.

Or do we? The decision to include that one unedited--I use the term for convenience's sake, though all exchanges are, of course, edited to one degree or another--scene was certainly a conscious choice. We don't see the process of the film being put together, we only get the feeling that we do because it is so well put together. The depiction of the process is only partial, like the Ocean documentary that apparently didn't satisfy Bar-Lev (or at least put his doubts to rest). Just as Laura Olmstead suggests in her "documentary gold" speech that it is possible Bar-Lev could be constructing a confrontation not (merely) to assuage his doubts but to make his film more dramatic, so too a cynic might say, a clever artist or politician can carefully create the illusion of spontaneity or transparency (perhaps by including a sample clip that is unedited) in order to build trust or divert our attention from (rather than call our attention to) the fact that this particular instance stands out precisely because the audience being allowed to see the process is the exception rather than the rule.

Do I think this is what happened? No. Bar-Lev's documentary felt to me more like an honest attempt to be transparent rather than a cleverly constructed illusion of transparency. I think the above exchange was a sincere attempt to draw subtle, structural attention to the edited nature of documentary film by an artist himself pursing the artistic problem of how to represent a story (in this case the story of the film in his involvement in it) in as transparent a way possible. But my point is, we don't know. The better/more skilled the artist, the harder it is to distinguish between flawless performance and transparency.

Or, perhaps, I'm just more attracted to that story of the documentary because it more closely approximates my own relationship to truth in a media age. It's easy in a cynical age to just throw up our hands and say "truth is unknowable," therefore I'll never trust anyone or waste time trying to make informed, reasonable estimations of truth, even if I know they can never be infallible. Art (in my experience) that acknowledges that truth is hard to find but worth working to uncover whether or not we are always successful is fascinating and heartening. Art (or argument) that says truth is unknowable and thus trying to uncover it is a waste of time tends to be didactic, shrill, sensationalist (for sensation's sake), dreary, and tedious.

My Kid Could Paint That was, for me, definitely more of the former than the latter.