Tuesday, March 18, 2008

keeping everything

having completed a few busy weeks of dissertation work, i'd like to say that i'm taking a break from it. and i guess i did on sunday, but as of yesterday, i was back to work, trying to track down scholarly influences for a mid-19th century literary-rhetorical theorist named kenneth burke, namely the influences of pragmatism (john dewey, william james, etc.). this means pulling every book by the guy and about the guy in the library, and browsing through them while making notes. that's how i spent most of my time yesterday, and today will be little different.

the other fun thing about my work is reading student papers, and since i'm not actually teaching courses this spring (and instead doing independent studies), i can focus on the parts of reading student papers that i really like: helping them improve, pointing out places where they could develop their research or analysis, and then talking with them about their work. it's quite nice.

having offered some analysis of the men's ncaa, and because of title ix, i have to say a little bit about the women's ncaa and wnit. no, actually i don't have to, but i do want to. i probably watch more women's college basketball than just about anyone who's a mid-to-late twenty-something guy. the team i follow is the hometown team where i grew up: south dakota state university. their men's team has been quite awful the last few years, and i've become quite enamored with the women's team. leaving outside of radio range has made me purchase the internet radio broadcasts for the team the last couple years. the other interesting thing about sdsu is the transition from division ii to division i that the school has made over the last few years. each sport handles the transition differently, but for basketball, the team cannot participate in the ncaa tournament the last few years. this is kind of a strange rule for the transition (most other rules related to the number of scholarships, coaches, and roster spots available), and for what i would guess is the first time ever, it has actually been important to the makeup of the ncaa/wnit tournaments the last two years.

last year, sdsu finished the regular season with an rpi of 40, a 1-2 record against #1-25, 0-1 vs. #26-50, 4-2 vs. #51-100, and 14-0 vs. #101-332. they didn't yet have a conference in order to receive an automatic bid, and those numbers would likely have given them a low seed in the tournament (~13). they settled for the wnit and lost to eventual champion wyoming after winning a few postseason games.

they haven't been quite as good this year, but now belonging to a conference, they won the regular season title with a 16-2 record (23-6 overall), and couldn't compete in the conference tournament. the second place record in the conference was 12-6 (20-10 overall), and the tournament winner, oral roberts, was 10-8 (19-13 overall). oral roberts gets the lucky draw of tennessee in the first round. had sdsu went to the ncaa tournament this year, i would put them on a 14-15 seed, but certainly not a 16.

sdsu will play creighton in the first round of the wnit, and winning that will mean playing marquette. these games are winnable for the team, but marquette is the last team to have beaten sdsu at home (they have a two year winning streak, the second longest active in ncaaw). i give them a good shot at the first game, and a not quite as good shot at the second. we don't have a superstar like last year's megan vogel (drafted in the second round to the wnba), but we have a solid team.

on the ncaaw side, the tournament is a little better than the men's because there is no play-in game. the regions still make no sense in terms, but at least there's no play-in game. in terms of bracket analysis, i won't go into as much detail as i did yesterday, but the following points are striking to me as i look at these brackets. first, even though i'm sure they can handle it, i think tennessee has the toughest road to the elite eight. i think texas a&m is the weakest #2 seed, but purdue (9), oklahoma (4), duke (3), and texas a&m (2) can each give tennessee a tough game, and it might wear them down more before the elite eight than other #1s.

second, the other #2 seeds are going to be very tough games for the #1 seeds because the competitive drop-off after these top seven teams is rather large. i would put maryland's bracket at the toughest because of the strength of baylor at the #3 seed, but this matters more to baylor and stanford than it does to maryland. if texas (8) beats minnesota (9) in the first round, texas will also present a larger early challenge to a #1 than will be seen elsewhere. i think that minnesota will be a challenge for texas, but even though they are another hometown favorite for me, i think minnesota should have been closer to a #10 seed and won't present much of a challenge to uconn.

since i'm doing some home team analysis right now, i'll say a few things about the twins this year. having traded johan santana and luis castillo to the mets in the last year (both of whom i'll miss), and having lost carlos silva and torii hunter to free agency and what look to me like really stupid contracts (both of whom i don't really miss, and certainly not for the money they're pulling), the twins are different this year than last. they also traded a good young pitcher (matt garza) and a shortstop (jason bartlett) for a very good young hitter delmon young (who i think i'll like). uncertainties surround the starting pitching of course (liriano's health, the youth factor in most of the rotation, the innings-eater potential of livan hernandez and whether his starts turn into throw-aways like silva's in 2006). the strength of the american league (bos, nyy, laa, sea) and the central in particular (cle, det) make this a tough year to be a twins fan, but it should work out okay in the end--i do think that our run production can't help but improve. i'm looking forward to games actually being broadcast more so that i can decrease the amount of time i spend reading baseball blogs as part of my morning news/email reading (nyt, grist, facebook).

probably one of the more entertaining things about march madness is that it really is madness of a sort. my brother and i are planning our spring break trip right now, and strangely enough, we're planning our trip around when we can see basketball games on thursday and friday, at least in part.

instead of teaching, and in addition to the other things i'm doing this semester, i've started an environmental film series on campus. every other wednesday evening we show a film (mostly documentaries, but not exclusively), and people can relax and enjoy the film, but also get together and talk about what they saw. i think it's a good thing, even if there aren't massive numbers of people attending. i also think that some of the people who read this might be interested in learning more about some of the films i would recommend if you're interested in environmentally-related films. all too often i focus on books i think people should read, but this is even easier. so here's a list (along with a book in parentheses that you might read if you enjoy the film). look them up if you're interested in them, watch them on netflix, or buy them.

--king corn: traces the story of corn grown in iowa into our food system (pair with michael pollan's the omnivore's dilemma)
--who killed the electric car?: the title should suffice
--an inconvenient truth: many people have seen this, so i rarely show it, but the next one is a good follow-up (field notes from a catastrophe)
--everything's cool: what are the political, ideological, and communicative aspects to climate change
--into the wild: based on krakauer's book, not a documentary, and just recently available on dvd
--monumental: documents the life of david brower, leader of the sierra club and called the archdruid (encounters with the archdruid or wilderness and the american mind)
--blue vinyl: looks at environmental health and justice issues, tries to make it funny (any book by sandra steingraber)
--the end of suburbia: addresses peak oil (the long emergency)
--empty oceans, empty nets: looks at overfishing and makes you rethink your diet, yet again
--green, green water: looks at the effects of manitoba hydroelectric dams on people (where much of minnesota's "renewable" energy comes from)

this song is from one of my favorite albums of 2007, the shepard's dog by iron and wine. in addition to being poetic in a very likable way, the lyrics (and music) make me think that seeing the world as sam beam seems to in his lyrics would be a pretty good way to live. i might say the same thing of sufjan stevens or john vanderslice. interesting imagery, but more importantly a soothing thoughtfulness or awareness.

resurrection fern by iron and wine

in our days, we will live
like our ghosts will live
pitching glass at the cornfield crows and folding clothes

like stubborn boys across the road
we'll keep everything
grandma's gun and the black bear claw that took her dog
and when sister lowry says amen, we won't hear anything
the ten-car train will take that word, that fledgling bird
and the fallen house across the way
it'll keep everything
the baby's breath, our bravery wasted and our shame

and we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
both our tender bellies wound in baling wire

all the more pair of under water pearls
then the oak tree and its resurrection fern

in our days we will say what our ghosts will say
we gave the world what it saw fit and what we get
like stubborn boys with big green eyes
we'll see everything
in the timid shade of the autumn leaves and the buzzards' wings

and we'll undress by the ashes of the fire
our tender bellies are wound around in baling wire
all the more pair of under water pearls
than the oak tree and its resurrection fern

Sunday, March 16, 2008

burns a circle in the snow

another long stretch of tiring days finished yesterday. my hope is to take a couple days off and relax for a bit before working again on my dissertation's first chapter. it's been about three weeks of working full time on a dissertation fellowship application and my prospectus. i defended the latter on wednesday and submitted the former on friday. in addition, i gave two presentations on wetlands and climate change at two of the schools where i work, and i created some more figures for the paper we're writing. i've now given this presentation five times in the last couple months, and i'm getting better at it performance-wise, but there's still more than a little room for improvement.

the other special opportunity i had yesterday was interviewing high school seniors who are vying for my school's top merit scholarship. they were an impressive group, especially on paper, and generally quite good in person, too. it was inspiring for me to talk with them and remind myself of where seniors are at.

rather than telling a story, how about some ncaa basketball analysis... i'll start with the east (and yes, they should get rid of these stupid region names--teams from both coasts, playing in denver?).

east: north carolina is a tough team, but i think tennessee is the best #2 rather than the worst. in fact, though i'd like for kansas to win it all, i think tennessee may have deserved a #1 over them. even bigger problem (might be the biggest problem in the tournament) is ranking indiana at #8. i'd put them at a #6. i'd switch indiana with oklahoma. and i'll pick tennessee on a narrow victory over unc in the elite eight (risky pick, but they can get up for it).

1 unc (good)
2 tennessee (up)
3 louisville (down... good, but i'm not on this bandwagon)
4 washington st (up... good, can beat #1s)
5 notre dame (down... not on the bandwagon
6 oklahoma (way down... they are not a #6 to me)
7 butler (up, but only a little)
8 indiana (up, switch with oklahoma)

midwest: toughest overall bracket. in fact, most of my favorite teams are in this bracket, which makes things really annoying. on the top side (#1v4 and their comrades), kansas is my favorite team with a good chance to win it all. i don't really like any of the other teams in the upper half, but in the #2v3 lower half of the bracket, i don't like georgetown (though they're quite good), but my favorite teams are here: #3 wisconsin, #7 gonzaga (the team i cheer for and try to watch the most every year), #6 usc (i wanted to like them early in the year, but they never really impressed me), and #11 kansas state (with national player of the year beasley). i think that kansas state is the most likely bracketbuster (they can beat any #1 seed in the tournament, and ranked #11, this is just crazy... yes, they're inconsistent so they probably won't go far). similarly, usc has proven they can beat #1 seeds. i think that gonzaga, kansas state, and usc are the strongest teams at their seeds. and wisconsin, they're the top #3.

1 kansas (weakest performance for #1, but my favorite, most balanced team to 10 players)
2 georgetown (good placement, i don't like them, but they're good)
3 wisconsin (up, should be ranked higher, not sure why or how, but they get it done)
4 vanderbilt (fine placement, but again i don't like them)
5 clemson (down, a little high, but they're better than i give them credit)
6 usc (about right, maybe up a little, inconsistent, but most dangerous #6)
7 gonzaga (up a little, too inconsistent, but my favorite, and can be tough)
8 unlv (honestly one of the teams ranked this high that i haven't watched)
11 kansas state (up, inconsistent, but so good you don't want to meet them, could upset four in a row and be in the final four)

west... the west is the weakest bracket in my view, or maybe it's just full of all the teams i don't like that much. i think that duke is the weakest #2, which is to say, the #2 seed with the smallest chance of beating the #1 to reach the final four. i think the weakness of the rest of their lower bracket to reach the elite eight is similarly weak, or they would have the least chance of the #2s of making it that far. having said that, i will say that i do enjoy watching duke this year and will watch their games, but honestly, this is by far the bracket with the fewest interesting games for me. i hope for a drake win over uconn, an arizona win over west virginia, purdue to beat xavier, and for someone to upset ucla, though i just don't see it happening.

1 ucla (right on, they're good, and i like them more this year than in the past, but still not much)
2 duke (weakest #2, could be the place for wisconsin, the two are pretty similar)
3 xavier (down, don't like them, and think they're the weakest #3)
4 uconn (don't like them, never have, but might be accurate ranking)
5 drake (probably okay placement, hope they beat uconn)
6 purdue (kind of like wisconsin, don't know why they're as good as they are, but do well)
7 west virginia (down, not as good at this slot as they should be, but then again, neither is miami)
8 byu (may lose to texas a&m, who doesn't impress me either)

south: what distinguishes the south is the separation between the top three teams and the rest of the group. while i think that the top three is probably stronger than (or at least as strong as) any other group, the rest of the field doesn't seem as competitive to me. i would switch michigan state (#5) and pitt (#4), but would still say the same thing. i think that texas has a decent chance to beat memphis, but as i said, the top three teams here all play very different styles, are all quality teams, and make choosing very difficult.

1 memphis (good, teams won't be able to beat them,
2 texas (a good #2 pick
3 stanford (a good #3 pick
4 pitt (don't like them, think they're closer to a #5)
5 michigan state (better than pitt, but inconsistent, can beat about anyone)
6 marquette (inconsistent, and hasn't done as well lately, but could be good)
7 miami (down, not good, i'd say a 10 seed)
8 mississippi st (didn't see them enough to know, but likely losing to oregon)

top consistent teams (will beat most teams most of the time): unc, memphis, kansas, ucla, duke, georgetown, tennessee, texas, wisconsin, stanford (my top ten)

top teams that confuse me as to why they are this good: wisconsin, uconn, pitt, xavier

top teams that don't impress me (or that i just plain don't like): georgetown, unc, uconn, pitt, louisville, vanderbilt, clemson

top inconsistent teams (can beat almost anyone): kansas state, usc, michigan state, indiana, washington state

teams that shouldn't have made it: villanova, kentucky, baylor, kentucky

teams that should have made it: dayton, illinois state (when your rpi is less than 34, you should be in the tournament)

big 12: kansas and texas are great. kansas state could beat anyone and has a low ranking. oklahoma could beat people also and are a little more consistent than kstate, but not as good. baylor and texas a&m aren't really in the same league as them.

big 10: four teams (pretty obvious who they would be), two are inconsistent, but good (michigan st with neitzel and morgan, indiana with white and gordon), and two are good but confusingly so (wisconsin and purdue). i just don't know how they do so well.

pac 10: ucla is good. stanford is a good #3, wash st is a good #4, and usc is a good #6. oregon and arizona are fine, but not a threat really.

i won't comment too much on other conferences, but the acc and sec had a couple good teams each. the other conferences with a lot of teams are good, but i don't like them too much.

overall, i've watched a lot of college basketball over the last two years, and probably paid more attention to womens college basketball than just about anyone who has never played, been involved with, or related to someone in that sport. and to a certain extent, it's more of a waste of my time than most things i do, kind of like reading baseball blogs. nothing really productive comes of it. even though i have watched ten times more college basketball each of the last two years, i'm not really any better at picking the teams that are going to win certain match-ups than i was when i didn't watch it at all. i guess i get two things. i get to know players, and through getting to know them, i begin to like them more. second, i have some common experiences and interests to discuss with people who care about these sports, whether it's college basketball or major league baseball. i've even started watching more nba basketball than i had in quite a while. and i guess that's a good thing. but putting all of this in its place, i don't think it's the kind of addiction that will outlast its usefulness or become troubling in any way. i suppose that's a good thing.

let's see. i guess the only other things of note recently were some good conversations catching up with friends in the twin cities while i was there last week a few days, and chatting with friends in california over ichat with video, a new experience for me. interestingly enough, my first internet video chats were for my job, working on science research from afar. using it for more social/friend reasons was fun, and not a bad way of doing things.

this song captured my mood last night somehow. i'm not sure exactly why. maybe part of it is the melting we had around here this last week, a series of days that i love beyond measure. we lost a lot of snow cover, and it puddled up because the frost is still plugging the drainage into the groundwater (something i study as it relates to wetlands, climate, and hydrology). but the song is good beyond that in a low-fi, alt-country sort of way. i'm not sure it's quite the same kind of country that rebecca solnit was talking about in this essay (probably the best thing i read over the last week), but the song is something i like nonetheless.

lazy eye by fruit bats

you are a diamond in the dirt
and you're the centipede who broke
the camel's back

you didn't think i'd get hurt
love burns a circle in the snow

you're frog eggs in the sky
that rain on the gwb
and the palisades
love turns tripe into gold
love burns a circle in the snow

hey, you there with the lazy eye
turn, turn it to me
let me hear you say it one more time
you, you there with the lazy eye

Sunday, March 09, 2008

the slow and difficult trick of living

i'm awake, and it's been a long week, or month, or six i suppose. the last thirty hours i've had a little time to relax. up until that, i had gone two weeks without much of one. you would think that someone who is used to teaching would feel a little less busy without teaching this semester. yes, i have two students working on independent projects, recommendation letters to write, and other activities to attend to. but mostly my time has spent on a fellowship application (writing research and personal statements) and my prospectus (the last official step in the phd process before defending my dissertation). i'm meeting with my committee this coming wednesday. beyond that, i'm giving a biology seminar on campus on monday (gave one of these talks up at umn a week ago, and maybe another this tuesday also), possibly filling in as a guest instructor in environmental ethics on monday, that sort of thing. and making more graphics. i do that a lot lately.

trying to get all of these things figured out and done has taken a lot of time lately, and i just don't know how i would have done them had i been teaching. i'm pretty sure i wouldn't have gotten them done. that seems unfortunate for all the many people who aren't as luckily unemployed (at least less employed) as i am. i'm still getting paid for the work i did last semester and during january term.

the strange dreams continue as they always do. most notably, i had a new variation on my most often recurring dream a couple nights ago. this time i was riding in a truck with a guy from my hometown, someone with whom i graduated, but haven't talked to since middle school really. and for a while, it was making a lot of sense that we'd be talking about other people from our grade, as though we were at a class reunion. but driving along in his truck, we soon had to be avoiding the people who were chasing us. and just like normal, this meant driving along a ridgeline with a crazy drop-off and unexpected places in the ridge road that you might not see when going at higher speeds where the road just wasn't there, with the accompanying drop-offs again. i know a place like this very well, but much less extreme, which is what makes the dream the most confusing. and i know this dreamed landscape about as well as one can know such a thing, especially with the minor variations.

it's not the only dream i have that's like this, some recurring more often or varying to greater degree. others involve running and hiding in a hillside forest from an undesirable bunch of militant-types, showing my family around behind-the-scenes of a large research facility, or boating in a flooded forest.

it makes me wonder how dreams can influence how someone plans for the future, life choices, that sort of thing. i hardly ever dream of being a middle-aged professor, and it is somewhat disturbing that this hardly comes up in the futures of my dreams. most of the time, things are pretty tense or disturbing.

on the other hand, my best thinking happens when i'm sleeping. if i can't figure out what or how i'm going to say something in a paper or project i'm working on, most often i solve it and figure it out while sleeping. some people say that they think the best in the morning or afternoon. for me, it's when i'm sleeping at night.

if i were to include a song's lyrics here today, it would probably be all my little words by magnetic fields (because of the writing i've been doing among other reasons), but i referenced that song in september 2005 so i'll skip it this time. i suppose if you haven't already listened to it, you should. but a conversation with my brother this last week sent me back to the poem below, which i liked when i read, but had forgotten. i don't think i'll forget it again.

going to walden by mary oliver

it isn't very far as highways lie.
i might be back by nightfall, having seen
the rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.
friends argue that i might be wiser for it.
they do not hear that far-off yankee whisper:
how dull we grow from hurrying here and there.

many have gone and think me half a fool
to miss a day away in the cool country.
maybe. but in a book i read and cherish,
going to walden is not so easy a thing
as a green visit. it is the slow and difficult
trick of living, and finding it where you are.