Thursday, March 29, 2007

some old videos

I just got around to uploading a few old videos of myself from New Zealand and Winter Park onto YouTube. As soon as they approve them they should be viewable here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

u.s. nationals wrap-up

Today was the fourth and final day of official competition here at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships in Waterville Valley, N.H. For me, it was a pretty weak ending to a pretty strong season. I had been hoping to come away with my first national title but ended up with only a 5th-place finish in GS and a DNF in slalom. (Because Waterville's race hill is not homologated for speed events, this was the first U.S. nationals not to include a super G or a downhill.) In addition to the two official "championship" races, we raced another GS and slalom that counted as regular Nor-Am races. Those didn't go much better for me; I didn't finish the GS and managed 3rd in the slalom.

Tomorrow should be interesting... they set aside some of the prize money provided by the event's title sponsor, The Hartford, for the winners of a head-to-head, pro-style disabled race, similar to the annual World Disabled Invitational race at the Wells Fargo Bank Cup in Winter Park.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

world leader pretend

On March 12, one of my all-time favorite bands, R.E.M., was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, The Ronettes, Patti Smith, and Van Halen. It was an awesome ceremony in which R.E.M. were introduced by Eddie Vedder and played a four-song set that included collaborations with both Vedder and Patti Smith, and you can watch it streaming online here.

In a recent Rolling Stone piece in which the members of R.E.M. comment on their discography, Michael Stipe says that "the big moment" on their 1988 major-label debut, Green, is the song "World Leader Pretend":
It's a tribute to Leonard Cohen, using military terms to describe a battle within. I was so proud of the lyrics and my vocal take that I refused to sing it a second time. I did it once. That was it.

You can tell that Stipe was proud of the song back in 1988 as well, since until 1998 it was the only R.E.M. song that ever had its lyrics printed on the album's sleeve or booklet. "World Leader Pretend" has always been my favorite song off of Green, too — not only because it's a beautiful song with great guitar and piano lines, a string arrangement, and countrified pedal steel, but because it's one of those rare songs that make me, a not-particularly-close listener of lyrics, pay attention to the words coming out of the singer's mouth:
I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades, and
I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I used them well

This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the wall, and I will be the one to knock it down

I’ve a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated,
I demand a rematch
I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I’ve practiced them well. I fitted them myself

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the walls, and I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me and hold me tight. Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me. Let my machine talk to me

This is my world
And I am the world leader pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given the freedom
To do as I see fit
It’s high time I’ve razed the walls
That I’ve constructed

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the walls, and I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar. You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar. I raised the walls
And I’m the only one
I will be the one to knock it down.

I won't pretend to know what Stipe's getting at, exactly, with lines like "It's amazing what devices you can sympathize"; what I love is his wordplay. First of all there's the line "This is my mistake; let me make it good." There's a great ambiguity here: does he mean "Let me make my mistake well" or "Let me fix my mistake"? I'd like to think that Stipe realized it could be interpreted both ways at once, and I love the idea of "making a mistake well."

Another thing that's always struck me is Stipe's employment of one of English's most delicious homophone pairs, raise and raze. Though pronounced the same, they mean exactly the opposite of one another. From the context (not to mention the lyrics printed in the album's booklet) it's clear when the wall is being "raised" and when it's being "razed," but it's fun to substitute the opposite meaning in each instance and see how it affects the lyric's meaning.

The last thing I want to talk about is the section that begins "I proclaim that claims are left unstated." (A nice line in itself, no?) Stipe begins this line and the next two with three different verbs — proclaim, demand, decree — that the linguist J.L. Austin called "performatives." (Forgive me for getting all linguistics-major-y here, but bear with me.) A performative verb is one that accomplishes something simply by the speaker uttering it: by saying "I proclaim..." you are proclaiming something; by saying "I demand..." you are demanding it. Contrast these with what happens in the fourth line of the section, "I divine my deeper motives." Divine is an ordinary, non-performative verb; by saying "I divine..." you are not accomplishing anything. You are just stating what you do, or have done. By using three performative verbs in a row, Stipe has tricked the listener into hearing his narrative voice as an authority. (Who uses performative verbs like proclaim, demand, decree? Officials, politicians, people signing treaties and cutting ribbons.) But when he gets to "I divine..." he has pulled the old switcheroo. It turns out that this narrator is not an authority figure after all; he is just a normal human being (with "deeper motives," even!) trying to get in touch with his feelings by making proclamations, demands, decrees. The joke's on you, dear listener — Stipe's not being performative at all; he's just being introspective.

And some people say pop music is shallow...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Zoncolan results

Here I am, a week after writing my last blog post and I haven't even been able to post it yet. I'm now in another metal tube, heading from Italy back to Colorado, only this time for some reason we're heading much farther north than usual, up over Greenland. I suppose, barring any unforeseen difficulties, I'll be able to post this tonight when I get home to Winter Park.

It's been a worthwhile trip. We drove about four hours from Munich down to Arta Terme, Italy, which is tucked up in the Dolomites in the northeastern corner of the country, very close to both the Austrian and Slovenian borders. We had two days to ski the race hill and settle into our hotel before the first race, which was a slalom on Monday.

That morning I felt really great, ready to turn in a good performance... maybe that should've been my first clue that things weren't going to go my way. As soon as I got onto the course for the first run, things felt weird. The snow outside of the race course had been really soft, starting to turn slushy by 9 or 10 a.m.; on course, it was a different story. After sliding around on the first few gates, I started to find a rhythm on the next few — only to lean in badly on the entry to the first hairpin and slide off-course. After maybe 15 seconds of racing, my day was over. Even worse, in the second run all three of my male monoskier teammates went down and out as well.

I finished the GS the next day, and while at the time I was pretty disappointed with my 12th-place finish, I think finishing two solid runs built up my confidence a bit. It was also pretty encouraging to see Gerald and CDY have better races, finishing 6th and 7th. On the morning of the final race, a super G, I didn't have much motivation: I hadn't had a decent finish yet in Italy, the course didn't seem well-suited to me, and my warm-up runs just felt off. Before the start I told Nick, "If I have any success today, it will be a fluke." I didn't make any major mistakes in my run, and got to the bottom having thoroughly enjoyed it. It's nice when ski racing is actually FUN, even if "fun" doesn't always correlate well with "successful." Somehow, though, I crossed the line in second place, and only three more skiers who came down after me were able to beat me. Suddenly I had my first top-5 World Cup finish of the season, in the last World Cup race of the season. Not only that, CDY gave our men's monoskiing team its only podium of the season, finishing third.

For the U.S. Ski Team's press release on the races, click here. For complete results, go here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I'm writing this from inside a metal tube about 33,000 feet above the North Atlantic Ocean. At home it's 11 p.m. and at our destination, Munich, it's 7 a.m., but whatever time it technically is here, it doesn't feel like sleepytime. Despite the many other things I could be doing right now to pass the time — like doing seven Sunday crossword puzzles, or watching the movie Happy Feet, or reading a magazine so pretentious that it insists on spelling out all numbers, like "five thousand thirty-two" (that would be The New Yorker) — I have instead been listening to Jay-Z while staring at the little animated map that I can call up at the touch of a button on the LCD screen behind the balding head of the man in front of me. (That was a lot of prepositions. Whew!) This map amuses me to no end, because (a) I am a huge dork, (b) it gives distances in miles even when displaying them in German (show me one German person who has any sense of how far "1431 meilen" is), and (c) it depicts extremely obscure cities but not important ones. Apparently this cartographer lives in an alternate dimension where New York and Paris are not worth noting on maps but Stephenville, Newfoundland and Keflavik, Iceland are. I mean, if you're going to mark a city in Iceland, surely Reykjavik is the natural choice, no?

While I'm on the theme of stream-of-consciousness rants, let me tell you about how cool my computer's current desktop background is. It's a manga-style cartoon of Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka hurling a flaming, planet-like object, accompanied by some Japanese characters I can't read. I downloaded it from The Onion's website, where it accompanied a story titled "Excited Red Sox Fans Eagerly Await Debut Of Matsuzaka's 'Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion'." I love The Onion; I really do.

Continuing with the randomness, here's something I've been worried about lately. When you enter the town of Fraser, Colorado (the town line is just a few hundred feet from my house in Winter Park), a sign proclaims Fraser "The Icebox of the Nation." Ever since I moved there, I've heard it said as gospel truth that Fraser has the coldest annual average temperature in the lower 48. But a recent New Yorker article about Sublette County, Wyoming, notes that it, too, claims to be "the icebox of the nation." Disturbed, I did some Googling and discovered that at least five other towns — International Falls, Minnesota; Pellston, Michigan; Truckee, California; Stanley, Idaho; and West Yellowstone, Montana — also claim the title. Which one is truly the Icebox of the Nation? And more pressingly, why do they all insist on the anachronistic word "icebox," anyway? Wouldn't "The Refrigerator of the Nation" be more au courant?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

blog? i have a blog??

No, I hadn't forgotten, and no, I wasn't too busy to update it — just too lazy. I haven't done any racing since last time I posted, but that will change soon. On Thursday the whole U.S. team leaves for the World Cup Finals, on Monte Zoncolan, Arta Terme, northeast Italy. We will race two super G's, a GS, and a slalom on a hill most of us have never been to before. The rumor is that conditions there are decent, thanks to snowmaking and a relatively high altitude. Many other European ski areas are already closed for the season or have too little snow to host a race, thanks to spring-like conditions all winter long. We were scheduled to be racing in Abtenau, Austria right now, but those races fell victim to the balmy weather and were canceled a couple weeks ago.

In other news, I spent five days at the end of February driving around Arizona with Jared in a ridiculous car — a silver Chrysler Sebring convertible, the kind of car you would buy if you were going through a mid-life crisis but were too conservative to consider a Miata. And it wasn't even that warm, so once we left Phoenix the top was up most of the time. We did, however, have a great time in various Northern Arizona locales, such as Jerome, Flagstaff, the Hopi Rez, Ganado, and the Hubble Trading Post.

In Keams Canyon, we met up with a Hopi potter named Karen Charley and spent the better part of an afternoon talking to her and learning about her pottery. Then we took Karen and her granddaughter out for dinner at the Hopi Cultural Center on Third Mesa, where Jared and I stayed for the night. She also set up a meeting with the superintendent of her school district whose board she serves on in Jeddito the next day, and Jared (a teacher) had a good time talking with him about their situation.

On our first day we had hit up Arcosanti, a crazy concrete desert experiment in "arcology" (architecture + ecology). But we met so many cool people there that we decided to go back and stay there for our final night. We made some friends, learned their bronze casting, and even played music with some of the workshop kids there. I may end up going back to do a workshop there myself some day.

Jared took some good photos, and he has posted them online here.