31 March 2004

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus

[This is a writing assignment from MRhé, in which I had to use a number of words in sequential order in the text ("sap" for example). It is also completely historically accurate. — Ed.]

"Bring me the cup," said Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, 7th and final King of Rome.

"Yes my lord," replied his servant, Marcus Pinguis. "On what would you sup this evening?"

"I believe I shall have porcus, thank you."

Meanwhile, on the balcony surrounding Tarquin's palace, a man stepped from the shadows, pulled out a sap and proceeded to incapacitate the guard standing near the doorway. The intruder caught the falling guard with nary a sound but the slap of his scabbard on the flagstones. He pulled the unconscious body out of sight and left him behind a marble column.

Inside, Tarquin summoned another servant with a clap. "Where is this chap who wished to see me?" he asked.

"I shall bring him in presently, my lord."

Tarquin sipped his wine and played absently with a chip of stone which had fallen from the ceiling while he waited for his guest. The news of the kingdom was not good: the family of a woman by the name of Lucretia had arrived by ship and had managed to slip past the loyal soldiers guarding the Tiber. They brought a claim against Tarquin's son, Sextus, who they claimed raped Lucretia and forced her to commit suicide. News of the outrage had caused increasing support for the family.

Tarquin's musings were interrupted by the arrival of his evening repast and an old man escorted by a palace guard. "Leave us," said Tarquin.

"I bring ill news Lord King," said the stranger. " My master, Lars Porsena, is being held hostage by rebels and cannot bring his forces to Rome to support you. Also, rumor is ciruclating that supporters of Lucretia are assembling at the Capitoline hill.

Tarquin was shocked. The scopes of the two tidbits were too much to take in at once. All was not lost yet: there were scores of influential nobles still loyal ot the king, but how soon could they be assembled?

Outside, the man on the balcony stripped the guard, took his weapon and donned his uniform. He moved into position near the doorway where he recalled the instructions of his superior: "When Tarquin sleeps he snores loudly, so wait for the sound and the execute the plan." He checked the pouch of poisonous powder at his waist. Best not disturb it much lest it release its deadly spores.

"Send men to the spires of the Temple of Jupiter to observe what is happening on the Capitoline. And entreat Porsena to enter Rome as soon as possible—the situation is grave. The visitor quickly exited the room and Tarquin was left to ponder how he had so rapidly lost control of so many of the shires under his dominion. "As the sun shines, I vow not to relinquish this crown."

The impostor grew restless on the balcony and observed how the light from the torches in the brackets shined off his breastplate. He doused the flames so that he was completely cloaked in darkness. He listened for sounds from within but could only hear the wind as it whined through the palms.

As the guard whiled the time away, Tarquin moved over to a couch on the far side of the room. He bade his servants leave him be and stretched out to get some rest. As he drifted off to sleep the sound of his snoring wailed through the corridor.

"Now is my chance," thought the waiting man. He snuck in through the doorway from the balcony and crept over to the chalice next to the sleeping Tarquin. He opened his pouch and sifted its contents into the cup. His job done, he crept out of the room and left the palace grounds.

Days later, in the camp of the supporters of Lucretia, word came that Tarquin was leading his army against them. General Vitiosus summoned the assassin and demanded to know why he had failed. There was no response. "I shall have you flailed by my most skilled flailers," decreed the general.

And thus was the end of yet another unsuccessful attempt on the life of Tarquin the Proud.

30 March 2004

More on marriage

Kirby pointed out this site to me. Check out the video under "Get the Facts". They have an interesting conception of what constitutes fact. I continue to be pushed toward favoring gay marriage by people arguing against it. They really need to hire some people who are capable of making logical arguments.

Even that doesn't account for the real problem with the situation in my mind: why is the government in the business of designating any two people as "married"? If the sanctity of that idea, of that simple word, is so important, why not grant civil unions to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation and leave the marrying up to churches?

29 March 2004

Lincoln Center

Saw King Lear on Saturday during my one-day trip to NYC. It was a lot of driving in a short period of time, but it was a fun excursion nonetheless. The show was an interesting interpretation of the play, and my Uncle Paul (who played the King of France) told me that the first thing the director said when they started rehearsing was, "This is a very funny play."

It turns out that they did find quite a bit of humor, but at the expense of some of the gravitas with which the play is usually associated. Christopher Plummer was fabulous as Lear. It's always cool to see guys who became famous in film or television return to the stage and prove they can still hack it. Something tells me that those who do come back must feel so much more at home in a theatre than a movie set.

Speaking of sets, this production was originally done in a Shakespeare festival in Canada. They recreated that set, which is a replica of the traditional in-the-round (or at least 2/3) Elizabethan stage. The costumes were wonderfully ornate 17th century but the stage was mostly bare. In retrospect it seems like it might've been worthwhile to go a little further with sets and furniture given that they made the transition from Stratford, Canada to Broadway.

I was reminded, as usual, both how hard it is to play Shakespeare and how wonderful it is when done well. Goneril and Regan were fairly flat and uninteresting, and their relationship with Cordelia totally conjured images of Cinderella and the wicked stepsisters. There were times (e.g. when Edgar is raving) when the words were so thick that all meaning was obfuscated, but there were others (usually when Plummer was onstage) where the language really danced.

Beyond the show we had very little time in New York. The weather was lovely, though, so walking around Broadway was a nice way to kill an hour before the show. I was also reminded how intimidated I feel when I'm in New York. It feels very foreign compared to other American cities I've visited. Stupid New Yorkers.

26 March 2004

The French

Watched The Work of Directory Michel Gondry last night with Scott, Amrys and krobinso. His music videos are pretty amazing, especially "Star Guitar", "Come Into My World" and "Sugar Water". It really makes you wonder about the differences among various mainstream artists. There are clearly some musical groups who come back to Gondry again and again because his work is so brilliant (Björk, The Chemical Brothers, The White Stripes) whereas most pop musicians make the same crappy music video over and over again.

Also, if you ever get a chance to check out his video for "Je Danse Le Mia", don't pass it up.

25 March 2004

Blue Ruin

After a number of recommendations, some more forceful than others, I went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind today. I have a variety of feelings about it, but in the end, as I left the theatre, I felt the same way I always do after discovering a beautiful work of art.

That's the bottom line with this film: it's a work of art, and it's very well done. It misses the mark of "life-changing" but only by a narrow margin. The story is touching and the acting is really quite wonderful. It's a damn shame that Jim Carrey has spent so much time doing goofball roles, because he's truly honest in this film and manages to make it through almost the entire picture without resorting to his old standby of physical humor. Kate Winslet easily turns in the best performance I've ever seen her give, and the supporting cast rounds out the whole nicely.

Much like my thoughts on Lost in Translation, I was struck again by how nicely this script could be adapted for the stage. I'm beginning to think that part of that reaction has to do with how I associate this type of art with theatre, and that I'm just unaccustomed to seeing it on screen. There are those elements of the two media that overlap in this case, though: very small cast (could be done with two characters, really) comes to mind immediately. Like Lost in Translation, though, the film incarnation of this script really does utilize the tools of that trade well: the visuals are mostly spectacular. Perhaps the lesson in all this is that I'm crazy.

The film did fail me in two places, however. In the middle of the picture I started getting tired of some of the memory sequences. Kaufman keeps hashing over the same point and manages to muddle some of the really nice work with some stuff that just seems like repetition. I think they could've cut 15 minutes from the middle of the movie to make the whole thing tighter and I was just surprised to occasionally find myself shifting in my seat eager for them to get on with it. The other problem is the subplot with the Lacuna employees. I just found it lumpy and it felt like some of it had been stapled on to serve the story instead of to serve the needs of those characters.

But let me go back to what I said at the beginning (appropriate for discussion of this film): the film is beautiful and the writing (I really want to read more stuff by Kaufman after discovering he shares my love affair with the frozen Charles--he really must've wanted the reference to work it into a movie set in NY) is so wonderfully executed by the actors and assembled into a whole by the director that I'll happily see again.

16 March 2004


This is just a reminder to anyone who frequents this space that you should check out the Rigs Party at the A-Side this Saturday. The announcement.

Oh yeah, and if any of you are in contact with a certain David Lopez, tell him he'd better get his ass up here or I'll break his legs.

15 March 2004

Fame & God

Why is it that everyone knows who Albert Einstein is? I'm not trying to debase his contribution to Science, but I don't understand why he's treated as the pinnacle of scientific thought. How come people don't talk about Niels Bohr like that? Now I know that many readers of this bløg have a greater breadth of knowledge of these things than the average person, but in general people have never even heard of Bohr, Rutherford and Heisenberg. For that matter, I've never heard of the guys upon whose work General Relativity was built: Grossman, Levi-Civita and Ricci-Curbastro and I have a physics degree from a supposedly prestigious university.

There can be little doubt that he is one of the greatest minds in 20th century physics since he contributed to the three top specialties of physics in his day, one after another: quantization of energy, special relativity and statistical mechanics. But for whatever reason he has transcended scientific greatness and become a cultural metaphor for unmitigated genius. What is almost certainly worse are cases when historical vagaries elevated one man over another without merit (c.f. Edison vs. Tesla, which Scott can elaborate on with much more vigor than I).

This all started when I read this post by Rodin, who is ever increasing in my esteem. Even he who is one of the most equanimous people I've ever met takes comfort that Einstein believed in God as an example of how Science and Faith are not irreconcilable. You know what's crazy though? I've always found that comforting myself. So clearly I subscribe to the same bias about Einstein as everybody else. Note that I have no clue whether deBroglie believed in God nor where Heisenberg thought his cat's soul went when he opened the box.

So here I am, struggling with my own faith, trying to figure out how I can rationally believe in a 2000 year old incarnation of a tri-partite God come to earth to die for my sins and taking comfort that a dead Jewish physicist refused to believe that God plays dice. Murky belief in a higher power is one thing, believing in transubstantiation is entirely another. I suppose I must take comfort in the knowledge that at least I'm asking the question.

12 March 2004


Russ had a good post about truth which was insightful and (unsurprisingly) confusing as hell. I reproduce here some of my thoughts (which I originally posted in a comment):

I think there's an important distinction between truth and fact. All the time we take events from real life and use them to seed a story. One measure of how successful we are is indeed whether we've captured the truth of the original but this is different from simply recapitulating the facts of the matter.

I believe truth straddles the line between what we think and what we feel. True (haha, no pun intended) art happens when the artist finds a way to communicate the truth of his subject to the audience.

A friend and mentor of mine uses the following example, which I always found simple, yet very apt: Let's say you see a beautiful sunset and your immediate reaction is "Wow." Now you decide to write a story about this sunset. The last thing you want to do is say to the reader, "I saw this sunset and said, 'Wow.'" You simply want to show him the sunset.

11 March 2004

Bad Art Ensemble

I went to the Plough and Stars last night to see "Bad Art Ensemble" (a People's Republik bartender is the frontman). The bar is a tiny joint with a heavily brogued bartendress who poured a fine pint and a blinking "HOT NUTS" dispenser on the wall. The band consisted of 8 dudes who looked like vagrants and whose performance modus operandi was to just fuck around and get drunk. In short, they were awesome.

The music was kind of a mix between Ska and They Might Be Giants. One song in particular reminded me of Istanbul (Not Constantinople). I'm not sure if the stuff they were performing was original music or covers of bands I've never heard of. Their repertoire included audience-request "Cops Are People Too", the theme from the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and the "HOT NUTS" theme.

The band consisted of the following assorted members:

  • The vocalist was about 5'3" and looked like a miniature Gonda (if that means anything to you). He had long scraggly hair and a scruffy beard and crooned into the mike while holding a pint of Guinness in his other hand. When he wasn't singing he just sort of chilled out in the corner and checked out this chick who was dancing near the band.

  • The drummer displayed a number of tatoos and sported a blue wife-beater. During the middle of one number he just got up and went over to the bar to order another drink, keeping time the whole way with his drumsticks, and then sat back down at the drums and jumped right back in with the rest of the band.

  • The trumpeter was definitely the most wasted of the group and was decked out in pseudo-intellectual blazer and long foofy scarf. By the end of the night he was clutching a glass of scotch in one hand and would occasionally toot out a few notes with his horn in the other hand.

  • The guitarist and bassist were kind of hidden behind the drummer, and the guitarist had to get out of the way every time somebody wanted to use the men's room, since it was crammed behind the band. I think I'd characterize his vibe as "sheepish".

  • The trombonist and saxophonist (is that a word?) both maintained a higher level of sobriety than the dude with the trumpet, probably because their instruments require both hands to play. The sax (which is a woodwind, by the way) had some pretty hot licks, and I really back the twangy sound the trombonist was laying down.

  • The eighth dude arrived in the middle of the set, joined the band (while being mocked by the singer) and whipped out a pair of bongos which he proceededly to play feverishly. He looked exactly like Donny from The Big Lebowski and was totally rocking out (he occasionally went nuts and started wailing on a cowbell, using the bongos as his percussor).

All told I had a great time. Between the intimacy of the venue and the relaxed attitude of the band, I felt like I was hanging out in somebody's basement watching my friends jam (I do not have any friends who jam in basements, alas). The music was eclectic, but groovy, and the whole scene was pretty sweet.

Thanks to Ehren and Scott for suggesting the planz0r.

09 March 2004

An Upstanding Citizen

Rodin has a hot post about politics in the USA.

I totally agree with his point about how the polarization of American politics into Right vs. Left has completely obscured what I consider to be the heart of Novus Ordo Seclorum. He goes on to praise Tony Blair:

He is substantial, and willing to take risks and stand up for what he believes in, and do it right. I think if we had more people like him run our country, it wouldn't matter as much which camp they were in.

This is the same reason I have some amount of respect for President Bush. Rodin might not continue to agree with me here, but I feel that the man has some integrity and is constantly striving to do the right thing by the American people. He's not perfect, and I may very well decide not to give him my vote in November, but the thing I just can't understand is people who claim he's destroying the fabric of the Republic. The affairs of a nation as large as the United States are complex and anyone who claims to be able to initiate sweeping policy changes to "fix" everything is clearly delusional.

I am proud of my heritage as an American, and I aspire to public service, but I think that we've lost sight of the vision of the Founders. Thomas Friedman once made the point that the burgeoning democracy in Iraq only needs three people to succeed, but those three people are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Jay. I think we could use an infusion of their spirit here at home, too.


This totally made my day. MRhe forwarded me an email from hotfoot (which was actually a fwd of a fwd from another dartmouth dude named "swingle" who is apparently unfamiliar with the finer points of French spelling):

I'm sitting in the reserves and ralph is setting up his digital face book... he decides he wants a picture for himself, so he types in the phrase "grim dudes" to the google site search.

The first link that comes up is "2 grim dudes."

Guess who the dudes were? it was hotfoot and cheese reyaume... i couldn't believe it

The photo in question. Sometimes the world wide web is a real kick in the pants.

08 March 2004

The Wild 70's

The Gospel reading on the 2nd Sunday of Lent is usually the story of Jesus' transfiguration. The priest at the MIT Chapel was talking during his homily about similarly receiving God's light in our lives. He went on to say:

We all need light to grow, so in addition to food and water and friendship we need to be in the light. Back in the 70's when we used to grow pot, we'd put it under a bright light...uhh...maybe that wasn't the best example...

At least he got everybody to pay attention to what he was talking about.

03 March 2004



A sand mandala is being created this week at MIT. A group of Buddhist monks create a circular image 4 feet in diameter by painstakingly arranging individual grains of colored sand according to instructions from a 1000 year old text.

The most amazing part, though? After spending four days creating the mandala, the monks will carry it to the Charles and dump the sand in.

The MIT News piece describes the specific meaning of this design as well as details on viewing the construction process.

02 March 2004

Water, water everywhere

So evidently NASA is pretty sure that Mars was once drenched in water. As usual, slashdot has a bunch of opinions on the matter, mostly from uninformed nerds.

Aside from all the sundry implications about possible primeval life on Mars, the potential for subsurface liquid water is a big plus for W's proposed manned missions to Mars in 20 years time.

01 March 2004

Attack of the Swedes

Reuters headline: "Video games make kids fat, violent-Swedish experts."

Ahhh! Our children are becoming fat, violent-Swedish experts.

Also amusing is this similar tidbit from Anand.


I saw the username beeflower today. I can only assume it is meant to be parsed:

bee flower

and not

beef lower


I'm not sure if I've ever watched an entire awards show before, but last night I sat through the Oscars. The opening bit with Billy Crystal was pretty fabulous, I must say. He did a good job throughout &mdash clearly he had come to rehearsal, unlike just about everybody else involved. If these people are professional actors why do they find it so incredibly difficult to read a teleprompter? Tom Cruise and Robin Williams were the only ones who looked completely at ease, and poor Tobey Maguire sounded like a total robot: he used no punctuation and read the lines as if he had no clue what he was about to say next.

As far as the awards themselves went, I hadn't seen that many of the films so I didn't usually have a very informed opinion. The two biggest letdowns for me were the Best Actor and Best Song awards. You could just see how badly Bill Murray wanted the Oscar. They had a five-way split screen when they announced the winners and the losers for every award would smile and applaud politely. Not Murray. He was so pissed that Billy Crystal made what I assume was an unscheduled joke about it after Sean Penn took the award. I haven't seen Mystic River yet (anyone wanna go with me?) so I'll withhold judgment about who should've won. And the crummy LotR song that won that award was the worst of the nominees (they played them all during the show, so this time I have a real opinion). Mighty Wind should've got it just for the amazing live performance by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.

The highlight of the night, however, had to be Peter Jackson's complete dishevelment. He badly needed a haircut, his shirt collar was unbuttoned beneath his tie, and he looked like he had had about a dozen drinks at the pre-party. He was like Jabba the Hutt sitting behind the five primly decked out hobbit actors. Yeesh.