Your word is…

February 27, 2008

Justin Story

Community Education’s Spell-a-Bration, held last night at the Knights of Columbus Hall, provided my two teammates and I with plenty of entertainment one doesn’t normally associate with spelling bees.

Maybe it was the costumes that most of the 23 participating teams – and their ardent supporters – wore that made the event less of a test of nerves and intellect and more of a scene from the old game show “Let’s Make A Deal”, but the Spell-a-Bration ranks up there among my favorite spelling bees in which I’ve participated.

Yes, I spent my awkward teenage years on the spelling bee circuit, reaching the pinnacle with a 21st place finish in the 1994 National Spelling Bee. So, finding myself on stage reciting letters before a judge and a rapt audience very nearly constitutes my natural habitat.

You may ask whether the Daily News hired me simply for use as a ringer for this year’s Spell-a-Bration.

The answer, in a word: no.

I’m fairly certain no one on our team (City Editor Wes Swietek, Business reporter Ameerah Cetawayo and myself) studied very much beforehand, and we didn’t win, which I see as the purpose of a ringer.

Instead, The Headliners finished in third place, knocked out by a National Spelling Bee-caliber word:

Graupel.

Honestly, when the other teams were taking their turns at the microphone, we were mostly incredulous that they were getting words we believed were easy.

So, I suppose it was only fitting that we were tripped up by a word we were hearing for the first time in our lives.

That word, again, being graupel:

graupel, a noun meaning a kind of precipitation consisting of brittle, white ice particles having a snowlike structure; soft hail.

Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Edition

Seriously, graupel.

I could watch the Weather Channel for the rest of my life and never come across a meteorologist issuing a graupel advisory.

In all, though, many thanks to Community Education and Hills Pet Nutrition for allowing us to take part in what proved to be a fun event that if not for the costumes, would have been way more intense.

In case you’re curious, the word that knocked me out in the National Spelling Bee was fauldstool – excuse me, faldstool.


MOVIES: Live Oscar Thoughts

February 24, 2008

There’s always something exciting about Oscar day. The anticipation kind of makes it like the Super Bowl for movie lovers. With a strike shortened award season, this year’s event should be a lot of fun.

 As the Red Carpet is flooded with nominees and ‘A’ List celebrities, the moment of the night may have just taken place.

On the ‘E’ Channel, Ryan Seacrest was about to interview Jennifer Garner and Laura Linney when Gary Busey came in and proceeded to scare the daylights out of Seacrest and the ladies. All I can say for Busey is perhaps he should skip the ceremony and head straight to Celebrity Rehab.

It was one of the most awkward moments I can ever recall on a red carpet and I’m sure it’s going to be replayed for years to come. It is also the perfect example of why this whole red carpet process makes for fascinating television. 

 And the awards begin with a few surprises.

First they skipped a big award and went to Costumes, which went to Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I will admit the costumes were probably the best thing about Elizabeth, but I really thought Atonement, La Vie En Rose or even Sweeney Todd was more deserving.

Animated Feature (Ratatouille) and Make-up (La Vie En Rose) go as expected, but Golden Compass just upset Transformers for Visual Effects. With Compass and Elizabeth already getting awards, I guess that means its OK to be mediocre.

Sweeney Todd wins Art Direction, a category that seemed to be a shoo-in for There Will Be Blood. That’s not a good sign if you are hoping for Blood for a Best Picture upset.

As expected Bardem takes Best Supporting Actor.

It looks like they are spreading out the major awards this year, like they did last year, and are speeding through the technical awards.

Now that the Animated and Live Action shorts are out of the way, most people will return to their living rooms. My picks were just guesses, like anyone else doing an Oscar pool, so I admit I lucked into both picks. That being said, it’s pretty sad when I’m doing better at forecasting in the categories where I haven’t seen any of the nominees.

The most wide open category entering the night goes to Tilda Swinton. It looks like that last minute buzz was true. This will probably be the consolation prize for Michael Clayton. I was pulling for Amy Ryan, but Swinton’s win is pretty deserving too.

The Coen brothers win the first of what should be at least three awards, taking home Adapted Screenplay.

Poor Amy Adams. She has to sing Happy Working Song without any fanfare and then watch someone else sing That’s How You Know with a full cast of dancers. I’m anxiously waiting for Falling Slowly from Once.

They just announced Best Actress is about to be presented, so they really are spreading it out this year.

Knocked Up’s Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill add a little humor to Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Both awards go to The Bourne Ultimatum, giving Bourne a shot to win three technical awards if it takes Editing as well.

Best Actress goes to Marion Cotillard, continuing the trend of awarding mediocre films. No offense to Cotillard, who was very good, but her performance was the only thing that made La Vie En Rose watchable. That could be the worst Best Actress winner since Jessica Lange won for Blue Sky.

That being said rentals for Rose should skyrocket in the next few days.

If you took Bourne Ultimatum as the nights big winner in your pool you are looking good in your pool. Bourne just picked up its third award of the night for Editing, denying everyone a chance to see who would accept the award if No County won. The Coens edited the film, but used an alias in the final credits.

Once gets its just award, Best Original Song. This almost makes up for Cotillard – almost. Glen Hansard gives a speech, ABC goes to commercial, and comes back with Stewart allowing co-winner Marketa Irglova a chance to say thanks as well.  Irglova’s speech proves to be one of the most elegant of the night.

There Will Be Blood finally gets on the board with Best Cinematography.

Watching the list of people who passed away in the last year, it’s still hard to believe Heath Ledger is dead.

Atonement gets on the board with Best Original Score.

Six awards left, beginning with Documentary Feature and Short.

Freeheld gets Short, while Taxi to the Darkside upsets No End in Sight for Feature. You have to give the Academy credit, they have certainly been unpredictable this year.

Diablo Cody, former exotic dancer turned screenwriter, is now an Oscar winner – taking home Best Original Screenplay. If Juno was going to win anything, it had to be screenplay. The dialogue was the sharpest and freshest of any film in 2007.

At least the Academy got Best Actor right. Daniel Day-Lewis wins for There Will Be Blood. Lewis thanks writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (who should win director, but won’t). As humble as Lewis is, it is hard to believe that he could be capable of creating a character like Daniel Plainview. That’s why he may be one of the best living actors today.

After winning Best Director, Joel and Ethan Coen might as well stay on the stage and accept Best Picture. On a night of surprises the final 30 minutes proves to be quite predictable.

The final tally is No Country for Old Men with four awards (all in the major categories), The Bourne Ultimatum with three awards, and There Will Be Blood and La Vie En Rose with two each. On a year full of quality, the Academy did a decent job of spreading the wealth.

Here is a list of winners

  •  Best Costume – Elizabeth: The Golden Age (I picked Atonement)
  • Animated Feature – Ratatouille
  • Makeup – La Vie En Rose
  • Visual Effects – The Golden Compass (I picked Transformers)
  • Art Direction – Sweeney Todd (I picked There Will Be Blood)
  • Supporting Actor – Javier Bardem
  • Live Action Short – Le Mozert Des Pickpockets
  • Animated Short – Peter and the Wolf
  • Best Supporting Actress – Tilda Swinton (I picked Cate Blanchett)
  • Adapted Screenplay – No Country For Old Men
  • Sound Editing – The Bourne Ultimatum (I picked Transformers)
  • Sound Mixing – The Bourne Ultimatum (I picked Transformers)
  • Actress – Marion Cotillard (I picked Julie Christie)
  • Editing – The Bourne Ultimatum (I picked No Country For Old Men)
  • Foreign Language – The Counterfeiters
  • Original Song – Falling Slowly from Once
  • Cinematography – There Will Be Blood
  • Original Score – Atonement (I picked Ratatouille)
  • Doc Short – Freeheld
  • Documentary – Taxi to the Dark Side (I picked No End In Sight)
  • Original Screenplay – Juno
  • Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis
  • Director – Joel and Ethan Coen
  • Picture – No Country For Old Men

Live Blogging the Oscars

February 22, 2008

Have you ever wished that you could sit with Daily News movie critic Micheal Compton as the Oscars are announced? Well, he’s not inviting you to his house, but he will be blogging live Sunday night during the Oscars.

Live blogging provides a constant stream of content from an event. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, you can see where the Daily News has done this before when our photo editor Joe Imel liveblogged his quest for an iPhone last summer.

Check back here on the blog Sunday night for Micheal’s commentary and insight into the winners (and losers).


Countryside in the Spotlight

February 8, 2008

Justin Story

Wednesday night’s screening of the 2000 documentary “Stranger With a Camera” at WKU and the subsequent question-and-answer session with the film’s creator, Elizabeth Barret, touched on a host of issues near and dear to how we in the media approach this profession.

Barret said the documentary used the story of the 1967 murder of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor while he was filming a shack in Letcher County as a jumping-off point to discuss further the obligations that filmmaker, or journalists in general, have toward depicting the subjects they cover.

Included in the documentary alongside interviews with subjects close to Hobart Ison’s shooting of O’Connor were reams of archival footage of eastern Kentucky shot by filmmakers and TV news crews in the 1960s (including most of a 1964 piece by Charles Kuralt, the late CBS News reporter famous for his “On The Road” series)

Much of this footage shows subjects who were especially sensitive about how the fact of their poverty would come off in the national spotlight.

I’ve lost count of how many times people I have interviewed for various stories have told me to make them sound good. I realize where they’re coming from; they are opening themselves up in a rather public forum by speaking to me and expressing an understandable concern. My approach, though, has been the same from the beginning – the best way that I can portray the people I cover and interview is to present them to the public as similarly as they presented themselves to me.

This is a similar challenge that Barret said she faces in her work, though her challenge is arguably enhanced since she works in visual media, with images that are more likely to persist past the initial viewing.

I spoke with Barret briefly after the screening, talking with her about how much the media landscape has changed since the 1960s, when it seemed Appalachia was inundated with TV news reporters, filmmakers and politicians trying to understand and document the plight of the poor coal miners of eastern Kentucky.

Since then, of course, our culture of information has accelerated greatly; there are so many more outlets to receive and disseminate information with the advent of cable TV news, and the many online file-sharing communities have fostered more connections among people to the outside world at large.

Really, with the Internet at one’s disposal, anyone could conceivably become a documentarian and obtain an audience.

I asked Barret if she approached her work from that perspective, as though her presentation of the people and region she films is in competition with who knows how many other presentations.

She said she did, which is not surprising given the thoughtful approach to the people she interviewed in the film. Barret added that the proliferation of more media in the past several years has its benefits and drawbacks.

It’s beneficial in the way in which more people are able to report and document honestly the conditions of a place and time and are able to present that to a broad audience.

Of course, one of the main drawbacks is one that has seemed to plague Appalachia since the dawn of news reporting: the underlying fear that no matter what, the people of rural eastern Kentucky will be presented as gun-toting, overall-wearing rubes and objects of ridicule to a laughing public.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” went off the air in 1971, but that image of a simple mountain family thrust into what some may condescendingly call “modern civilization” persists. Most people know what I mean when I talk about Jed Clampett going from shootin’ at some food to making sense of his new “cement pond.”

In fact, Barret said the new media landscape opened up the possibility of what she termed one of the most cynical attempts to present rural America to the public — The Real Beverly Hillbillies.

This attempt to throw a real-life rural family into affluence was stopped from airing thanks in large part to a campaign of several individuals and groups acting on behalf of rural America.

That in itself may be the most significant indicator of our present media landscape — eastern Kentuckians and other rural folks who are wary of being dogged by the spotlight now have people acting in their interest in ways that they didn’t when camera crews in the 1960s first arrived in the region to ensure fair treatment.


Soccer slugged

February 5, 2008

Interestingly, WKU’s decision to eliminate men’s soccer has stirred quite a passionate response from some former players and those in the community who are involved in the sport in some way.

A recent protest march drew a crowd of 200 or so.

I wonder if, practically, WKU really had another route to take. It could have sliced small amounts from all sports programs. But then you get into the bread and butter of athletics on the Hill. No way was football going to get scaled back, unless WKU’s back was against the wall even more in terms of cuts.

Basketball programs draw fans, too. Soccer does not draw well at all.

What should WKU have done instead of cutting the sport and why? At a point when IA football is being built up, would you cut there? Men’s and women’s basketball?

If you were the AD, what would you have done and what would you base your decision on?


Bowling Green for $2,000, Alex

February 5, 2008

The category was colorful cities — or something like that. To be honest, I was watching Jeopardy — the TV quiz show — out of the corner of an eye Monday. I did glance over when host Alex Trebek read the clue — something like: “This colorful city is the home of Western Kentucky University.”

Of course, the answer was a no-brainer — except for the three contestants. No one ventured even a guess. It was up to Trebek to reveal the answer. ‘What is Bowling Green?” he told the chagrined contestants.

Guess it just shows that you can know a lot about 17th Century French poets and still not be intellectually well-rounded …


The Votes have been Cast

January 23, 2008

Tuesday’s mock presidential election at Bowling Green High School (about which a story appears in today’s Daily News) featured more than just the question of who students and staff there want to see in the White House in 2009.

Preliminary results indicate that more people who participated in this mock election voted for Barack Obama than any of the other candidates in either major party, with the Illinois Democratic Senator nearly winning a majority among the 10 Democratic and Republican candidates.

BGHS literacy coach William King told me yesterday that whoever wins among the candidates in the mock election would likely stand to do well in the remaining primaries and the general election this November.

However, I am more interested for the purpose of this post in another question that was asked of BGHS voters:

If miracles could happen, which one of the following Presidents would you want to lead the nation in 2009?

The options presented included these former presidents:

Bill Clinton
Dwight Eisenhower
Thomas Jefferson
John F. Kennedy
Abraham Lincoln
Ronald Reagan
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
George Washington

It’s a good historical exercise and I would be interested in learning whether a student’s preferred former president would be a good indicator of who that student would vote for in the general election on Nov. 4.

Since this won’t be asked of me or any other voters on the actual ballot this November, I feel comfortable pulling the proverbial lever on this issue.

Out of all the former presidents mentioned above, I would give FDR another shot at the White House.

Thinking of the rural Kentucky town in which I was raised, there are probably as many tangible reminders in Flemingsburg of FDR’s policies as there are of any other former president.

The building that served as my middle school and my parents’ high school was the product of the Works Progress Administration, the largest of the New Deal public works projects. The post office in my hometown features a mural on one of the inner walls painted during the Great Depression, part of a WPA art project. Of course, there is also a dwindling but passionate population of World War II veterans who for the most part are only too happy to offer their recollections of that time in history.

To think that so many of those things are still, several generations after the fact, a part of where I grew up makes me curious about how well FDR would fare in the modern world of presidential campaigning, how he would withstand the scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle and how voters would react to the polio that disabled him (presuming it weren’t vaccinated, he could not possibly hide that particular disability in today’s world). Also, I’m curious about how he would govern under the two-term limit the Constitution set for presidents after he died in office during his fourth term.

Could he be as effective in eight years today as he was in 12 back in the 1930s and ’40s?

I’ll now open the polls to anyone reading this — of the former presidents listed above, who would you like to see come back for another chance at the White House?