Monday, November 03, 2008

Voting and our rhetoric - (and make sure you vote).

I don't care much for politics on this blog, but since there's an election tomorrow:

How we go about debating politics is almost as important as who we ultimately choose. The ends do not always justify the means - and if at the other end, we've left nothing but hurt feelings, broken friendships, split congregations, and severed family ties because we are convinced that only evil or deluded people could dare vote for THAT other person, well - we've done serious damage to our social fabric.

I believe our communities and social ties are more important than particular partisan points. Recognize that good people can honestly disagree.

Now, go out and vote (especially it it's for Bob Barr. Even Libertarians need a little electoral love).

As for the two main choices: I see positives and negatives. There never have been perfect choices ever in American history (except perhaps our first president, and even he had problems controlling his cabinet).

Despite what the opposition says, neither candidate would be a disaster. McCain is not Bush redux - he's opposed torture, and his career (until now) was predicated around poking his own party in the eye.

And despite what some have said, Obama is not some sort of secret Commie. He is liberal, but he's still within the mainstream of the Democratic party. If he tries to veer too far left, then we can expect the Republicans to take over Congress like what happened to Clinton in 1994.

Everyone take a deep breath and say: Whatever happens, the Nation will endure.

And then, go vote for who you honestly think will do the best job. No one will do a perfect job, but one of them will do a better job than the other.

Of course, it's all part of the give and take of living in a rambunctious democracy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best campaign poster ever!

Still not totally decided on who to vote for, but when I saw this, I couldn't pass it up.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Most Recent Publication!

Big news this week: Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up? from Open Court Publishing (not to be confused with a similarly titled volume from Blackwell) comes out this week. It features two essays by me: "Why Your Mormon Neighbor Knows More About This Show Than You Do" and "Coduction: Cylons, Colonials, and Criticism."

Telling you about that second essay is something of a spoiler for the book, since five of the essays are “unattributed” (there are five contributors to the book who each wrote two essays. If you think about it for a minute and are familiar with the show, you can realize why five of us have unattributed essays in addition to our attributed essays).

So, buy a copy and become smartified about philosopicalizing stuff.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today's totally random quote taken completely out of context

"Males couldn't bite you even if they tried; Their mouths don't work that way."

[Bonus points to those who can figure out the context for this quote.]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston has died.

Moses, John the Baptist, and Brigham Young arrive at the gates of heaven. "Nice to see you, Charlie," says St. Peter.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An example of how my mind works....

Yesterday, in my campus paper, there was a small article with a headline that went something like "Campus Club Interested in Brains." (I've tried finding the article online, but it isn't there as far as I can tell).

It was about a neuroscience club, but my first thought was "The Zombies have finally organized. We're all doomed."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top 5 Pop Songs about Rhetoric

Since I study rhetoric, the question people most often ask me is "what is rhetoric?" Usually I give a long answer dealing with the history of Western civilization, starting with the Odyssey and going right up to the current political season.

This post is a simpler answer. If you listen to the radio at all, you already know what rhetoric is. You can find a few definitions of rhetoric on the web, such as here, but, following Aristotle's advice, I'll use previous knowledge (popular songs) on my audience to bring to them new knowledge (what rhetoric is). Here are the top five pop songs that have rhetoric as their subject matter:

1. The Police - "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da." Key lyrics: Poets, priests and politicians/Have words to thank for their positions

2. Extreme - "More Than Words." Key lyrics: What would you say if I took those words away/Then you couldn't make things new/

3. Berlin - "No More Words." Key Lyrics: You're talking and it all sounds fair . . . I'm still listening and still unsure

4. Simon & Garfunkel - "Sounds of Silence." Key Lyrics: "Fools", said I, "You do not know/Silence like a cancer grows/Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you"

5. Tears for Fears - "Sowing the Seeds of Love." Key Lyrics: feel the pain/talk about it/if you're a worried man/shout about it/open hearts/feel about it/open minds/think about it/everyone/read about it . . . read it in the books
in the crannies and the nooks there are books to read

Of course, most of these songs take a rather negative view of rhetoric, but that's Plato's fault. If anyone knows of any songs that take a more positive view, please let me know.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

This New Knight Rider Movie

Last night on NBC. The verdict: Not too bad, better than expected.

Let's do this by the numbers (SPOILER ALERT if you care, and in this case you shouldn't):

1. The dialogue and story felt a lot like the old 80s series. That's not really a good thing. When I was 12, that was fine, but as a thirtysomething, I prefer a slightly more mature sensibility and snappier (or less on-the nose) dialogue. Of course, it ignores all the other Knight Rider sequels like "Knight Rider 2000" and "Team Knight Rider" - and that's a good thing. So it's not a total loss.

2. Let's check off the standard PC plot points:
- Lesbian character? Check.
- Disaffected Iraq war vet who apparently no longer supports the War on Terror (or is at least very cynical about it)? Check.
- Evil corporation with on-the-nose name of Black River (read: Blackwater) that does security work in Iraq and wants to steal the good guys tech in order to do evil, evil things? Check.
- The real bad guys are capitalists with possible ties to the White House or other government agencies and start wars in order to make loads of cash? Check.

3. Plot twists were rather predictable and paint by the numbers. The only unexpected plot twist dealt with a body double and that felt more like a cheat rather than a legitimate plot twist. I guess it should have added tension to the narrative, but instead it seemed to come out of nowhere and made the plot even sillier.

4. At least the old 80s KITT had an attitude. Val Kilmer played this KITT like a Vulcan overdosing on Valium.

5. And that's about it. The story structure and basic plot felt like they were written by someone who had just finished their third viewing of "Knight Rider: The Complete Series" on DVD.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Gilded Read

The Incorporation of America (25th anniversary edition)
by Alan Trachtenberg

This is one of those books that are really only read by academics such as myself. Since my dissertation covers the overlapping time periods variously known as "the Gilded Age", "Victorian America", and "The Progressive Era", I more or less have to read various works of cultural studies and history dealing with those same eras. This one is a classic work that covers the Gilded Age. Written when "American Studies" was in its most nascent form, this book helped define that academic discipline and served as a model for many, many later studies.

That said, it really is only for academics who must read it in order to deal with what has already been said about this era. A large part of academic writing is acknowledging that you've read whatever tome other academics consider important.

For example, an academic journal recently told me that they would publish an article by me if I did some significant revision. One of their revisions was that I include information from around half a dozen landmark academic studies. Well, I had read all of those studies, but the information in them didn't really apply at all to what I was discussing. My dissertation director said that all I needed was to be able to include the book in the bibliography, so I just needed to pull out a quote from each book, stick them in footnotes somewhere, and I would be fine. Apparently, many reviewers go straight to the bibliography before reading the actual article, and if certain books aren't listed, the article is already damned from the beginning.

This is one of those books. It's interesting enough in an academic way, and I'm actually using quite a bit of it in my dissertation, but the general reader likely won't find anything interesting here. I enjoyed the book for what it was (though the gratuitous Bush hate that permeated the "25th anniversary" introduction made the book harder to enjoy. People really need to learn to let go).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Comics for this week.

JSA Classified #34 (DC): A nice little one-shot tale of no consequence, but a lot of fun to read. The best part, however, is the "DC Nation" news page that announces a new Ambush Bug mini-series. Since Ambush Bug is my favorite DC character (for the uninitiated - Ambush Bug knows he is in a comic. It's also implied he's a human from our - the real - world who has managed to enter the comics realm. As such, he's insane, ignores all rules of characterization and plot, and his comics usually make no sense whatsoever).

Daredevil #104 (Marvel): What a depressing comic. Matt Murdock's blind wife has been driven insane by Mr. Fear and has been killing (or attempting to kill) people. Daredevil has become more ruthless than usual in tracking down those responsible. Very violent, this story shows why it is that most superheroes avoid getting married: the villains will go after them in order to get at you.

Fantastic Four #553 (Marvel): Of course, this married superhero couple does okay, since they both have super powers and tons of cool advanced technology. The story here is slight, as it's meant to be a farewell from the current writer (the excellent Dwayne McDuffie). Doctor Doom comes from the future, claiming that the Fantastic Four have, in the future, taken over the Earth and rule with an iron fist in order to ensure utopia. The future Fantastic Four come back as well and say that Doom is lying. But who to believe? Given Reed's less than stellar behavior during the Civil War (what a mess of a series that was), Doom may be telling the truth.

Project: Superpowers #0 (Dynamite): There's a Daredevil in this one as well, but this is the original Golden Age hero. There's a sense of deja vu with this comic, since Marvel is also putting out a series called "the Twelve" that resurrects several obscure Golden Age heroes by providing a plausible explanation for their unaging survival into the present day. The story here, as this is a zero issue, is all set-up with little action, but it is intriguing and I found myself interested in where it was going to go. I'm not sure what is up with the current comic book nostalgia for WWII heroes, but I'll be reading both this and Marvel's the Twelve.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bollywood lite?

Bride and Prejudice.

As a semi-fan of Bollywood movies and a sucker for (almost) any type of Jane Austen adaptation, I probably went into this movie with higher expectations than it deserved. This movie should have worked, actually. The casting was excellent (except in the case of Darcy, who was far too bland), and the idea of mashing an Austen novel with a Bollywood movie (both of which are often obsessed with the idea of finding the right mate and getting married) is inspired. And I thought it was going to work. The initial wedding scene appears to drop any pretension at watering Bollywood down, with an excellent guys vs. girls song and dance number (“Kites Without Strings”) that could have a place in any good Bollywood film. But then the filmmakers decided to show they didn’t trust their audience, and far too much of that excellent little song was spent focusing on Darcy as someone translated the lyrics for him and tried to explain the culture on the fly as well.

And then the rest of the musical numbers were, frankly, too westernized. One (“No Wife, No Life”) was a bland, insipid mixture of hip-hop and reggae that combined only the most superficial elements of each. Others were plain love ballads or other bland songs that are more appropriate over the end credits of a movie, rather than as show stopping musical routines. Clearly, this was meant to be Bollywood-lite, a way to give western audiences a small taste of what a Bollywood film might be like. But, it really isn’t that at all. Instead, it’s a “Hollywood” (in the generic sense) film that borrows a few elements of Bollywood and waters them too far down. Perhaps it’s like cinematic homeopathy – the belief that the most effective dose is the one where the solution has been diluted so many times, the original substance is undetectable.

There are other problems. The Elizabeth Bennet character (Lalita, played by the drop dead gorgeous Aishwarya Rai) is not near as witty as the original, despite a yeoman’s effort. The wittiest lines she has come from slightly altered quotes in the original novel, but most of her supposedly witty remarks (“What do you have against books? They don’t leave enough room in your bag for make-up?”) aren’t all that clever or funny. Instead, she comes across as rather shrewdly mean and witlessly sarcastic.

Perhaps this might be a good film for those afraid to take their Bollywood straight up, but a better starter flick would be the award-winning Lagaan (if you can take the four hour running time). I can’t recommend this film at all, except for those who absolutely must see every version of Pride and Prejudice (including the Mormon one).

Friday, January 25, 2008

This week in Comics

Fine, fine. The e-mail and comments on the last post show there are at least six people who check this blog out once a month or so. Plus, my brain needs a break from the dissertation. Since today is my birthday (and I have some free time since I just finished two articles that will be published in a book sometime over the summer - more on that later), I'm going to make a return to blogging. And what's a more appropriate way to do that then review my comics haul for the week?

Ultimate Iron Man II #2 (Marvel): Well, Orson Scott Card's first Ultimate Iron Man series was a fun, if typical, well told Card tale (child genius with amazing powers and all that). This series is turning out a whole lot better, though. Card shows that he's learned from the first series and has now gotten a better handle on the form of comics (the last series had several clunky transitions and scenes that a veteran comics writer would have avoided, though none of those missteps were even close to fatal).

Card also manages to use the "War on Terror" in way that takes no sides and allows for humanity among all those caught up in it's terrible web. Rather than preach (which Card can be wont to do in his online essays), here he uses it as a backdrop and allows the story to go forward without any preaching. Given Card's strong views and the current spate of movies and comics that can't seem but to take time off from the story in order to preach to the audience about the evils of Bush, etc. this is quite an achievement on Card's part.

Plus, the story has guys in robotic armor duking it out. So it's cool.

Damage Control #1 (Marvel): So, the Hulk has returned from outer space and smashed New York (don't ask). Luckily, Marvel comics has an in-house explanation for why New York can get demolished several times and still remain intact - the high tech construction company, Damage Control. Previous versions of Damage Control have treated the company rather light-heartedly, with lots of slapstick and goofy gags. This version has its tongue somewhere in the vicinity of its cheek and silly situations abound. Yet the bizarre and out of place commentary on the War on Terror mixed with the rather depressing and all too serious Marvel comics has taken after their recent Civil War (please don't ask), this comic feel tonally off, as though it's playing a violin concerto in B flat Locrian while the rest of the orchestra is playing Indonesian Gamelan music with a slendro tuning.

Battlestar Galactica Season Zero #5 (Dynamite): This series is okay, though there's no suspense since you know which characters can't die or be seriously injured, and the other characters clearly aren't important since they don't show up on the show. Plus, the whole plot about quelling a potential revolt seems rather anti-climactic when you realize that this all takes place a few months before the entire planet gets nuked.

No DC or IDW comics this week.