Posted by Gerald on July 30, 2008
This was one of those days when I had real doubts about the reported high and heat index. It was supposedly only 87 with a heat index of 90, but it felt worse. The air was dead. My grass was cut at about 11:00 am and when I got back from the office at nearly 6 pm the smell of gas fumes was still thick enough to choke on. It was a day when it felt like my skin was burning each time I went out and the normally frosty AC in my car couldn’t keep pace. In other words, it was icky.
I’ve been re-experiencing some old favorites even though I don’t have enough time to read all of the new books I have. I’m not sure if that is just my version of American consumerism or if there is some profound insight about the human condition there.
I’ve gone from an almost instinctive rejection of the movie “Fight Club” when it first came out to thinking it is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Again, here I am finding insight into the human condition. Or not.
I saw “The Dark Knight” this weekend. I was again impressed by Nolan’s take on this “franchise”. He isn’t afraid to leave behind the standard palette of the superhero film. Ledger’s Joker is more outrageous than Nicholson’s without being anywhere near as self-indulgent or immature. He is a trickster. He is Iago. A friend who was with me felt the film was too long, and I’m struggling with that. I felt like I’d seen two very good movies with the same basic themes – transformation and moral ambiguity. The success of this movie gives me some hope that audiences might be ready for a faithful adaptation of “Watchmen.”
My friend Steve at “Semeotikos” has started a multi-part blog post on a mutual obsession of ours – “Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No, this isn’t about my being pervy or nerdy – not that I’m not both at times. Check it out here.
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Posted by Gerald on July 27, 2008
The summer session grading is now officially done. I need to go in to the office tomorrow to fill out the grade sheets. I had a couple of students who tried to test me on the “a deadline is a deadline” rule. I only had one really egregious example of plagiarism in the last papers. Two people turned in review essays on topics they hadn’t cleared with me and which were inappropriate for the course. Overall, not bad by comparison with many other semesters.
Now for the next two weeks I need to crack down on getting my courses ready for fall.
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Posted by Gerald on July 24, 2008
Hopefully my sinuses might be clearing up. I have a lot of work to do this weekend (that I’d like to have been doing for the last two days) and I’m going to join some folks for a matinee of “The Dark Knight” tomorrow. The ability to sit upright without pain would be nice. I am doing better than I was for the last few days, though.
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Posted by Gerald on July 22, 2008
When I saw that the high for today was supposed to be in the upper 90s, I decided to just stay home and work from here (the blessings of an all-online course load this summer.) Unfortunately by about 4 pm most of my house is in the upper 80s on days like this, even with the AC running. There is this little bubble around the AC that is comfortable, but that is it. Then we had a bunch of early evening thunderstorms that just sort of developed and then faded without really moving at all.
My roof needs work. I’m not looking forward to spending the money, but I am looking forward to not worrying about whether it is raining or not outside. In other household news, I finally got the deck fixed. I was thinking about moving for awhile, but given how things are it just makes sense to me to fix what I have rather than going farther into debt. We’ll see where things are in a couple years.
Hopefully this summertime funk will start to clear from my brain and I’ll have more interesting things to say later.
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Posted by Gerald on July 15, 2008
I’ve probably gotten a plagiarized paper once per semester – and usually more than once – ever since I started teaching. Still, each time I feel exactly the same sense of surprise, disappointment, betrayal, and anger. The disappointment comes from the ongoing realization that many of my students share this culture’s lack of concern about honesty, let alone honor. The betrayal comes from the realization that something I think is important just isn’t to most of them. The anger comes from the evidence that these kids think I’m a fucking idiot. I actually do know what it means when I see dozens of embedded hyperlinks to Encarta or Wikipedia articles in a supposedly “original” essay. I’m even likely to notice when a student who has shown at best mediocre language skills is suddenly using words like “zeitgeist”.
It is the surprise I don’t understand. This is not new. I’ve gotten plagiarized work more times than I can count and I seem to get more per semester with each passing year. I know it is coming, yet somehow I’m always surprised – and then disappointed, betrayed, and angry.
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Posted by Gerald on July 13, 2008
I just got back from seeing “Mongol.” This is a historical epic by a Mongolian film maker (with support from, among others, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Information and Culture – Insert Borat joke here) about Temujin, or “Genghis Khan”. The film is big and sprawling and feature beautiful shots of the Asian steppes. The performances were good and the film didn’t raise any immediate flags for me on the accuracy front (not that I’m an expert).
Still, it fell a bit flat for me.
The film strongly emphasized the love story between Temujin and his first wife Borte. The film really opens with their betrothal as children then follows his trials as a youngster, then their marriage. After this we see them separated – she gets kidnapped and he rescues her, then he gets captured and she rescues him. “Nothing will keep him from her.” After she rescues him we see kindly loving Temujin playing with the kids and then announcing he has to leave to go unite the Mongol people. Cut to him with a huge army fighting an old friend with an even bigger army. That victory leads to a final narration about how his career was just beginning.
Here is my problem; nowhere do we really get any sense of WHY he developed this mission of uniting the Mongols save a vague reference to how they are fighting too much. We also never get a sense of what it was about this man that would make him into a true world conqueror – good or bad. We get no sense of vision from him in the story, we get no sense of driving ambition, we don’t even get a good sense of him as a superior tactician.
I suppose this movie is decent fur costume drama, but it doesn’t give any insight into what made Temujin who he was. I’m not sorry I saw the film, but I can’t say I thought it did a good job as either biography or history.
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Posted by Gerald on July 12, 2008
I spent the bulk of the day at work in a series of interviews. I’ve been serving on a hiring committee for the last few weeks. The interviews went fine, the only problem was that we had three of them in a row. Each was ninety minutes, so I was at this with the others from 9 am to 1:30. Luckily, I think we found a good candidate.
My geeky triumph came this evening. I finally won a game of Civilization IV. All together this game took 19 hours (the game keep track of that, but doesn’t tell you until you are done.) I was also somewhat gratified that this was a “cultural” victory. That means I had built my civilization’s art and literature to a point that was overwhelming others.
This weekend looks to be fun. I’m planning to go to my favorite used book store to do some trading. I’m going to visit friends tomorrow, and Sunday I’m hoping to go see “Mongol.”
Then next week I’ve got to pick a contractor to fix my roof.
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Posted by Gerald on July 9, 2008
Archaeology had an article a couple of months ago about China’s project to build a replica of one of Zheng He’s treasure ships. This is being constructed in Nanjing using the materials mentioned in the written sources and using hand tools. This ship is then going to re-trace the voyages of Zheng He’s fleet – sailing all over the Indian Ocean and hitting all the major ports.
The Chinese government is doing this to demonstrate China’s new role in the world. They are writing history to suit their ambitions (no surprise there – who doesn’t?) They are using this story as a way to draw a distinction between China and the West. The story is that Westerners sailed all over the place bringing disease and violence and planted colonies. The Chinese brought gifts and trade and then went home.
The problem with this is that the vast fleet Zheng He commanded included thousands of soldiers. One of the leading non-Chinese experts on the Ming dynasty made the point in the article that these voyages were about showing power and projecting it even in the absence of invasion or the creation of colonies.
My reaction was one of familiarity. A dominant technological and economic power sails advanced ships around the world. It doesn’t create colonies, but establishes unequal diplomatic and economic relations with less powerful and wealthy countries. It overawes with its culture and wealth, but also uses the veiled threat of force to establish itself. Through this all, it is guided by an unshakable sense of its own superiority.
Isn’t this neocolonialism?
Once again, China proves how it has already invented almost everything the West later came up with. Just as Europeans began their first forays into imperialism, the Chinese were already transcending imperialism by moving on to the more subtle oppressions of neocolonialism. Now the Chinese are using their wealth and technology all over Africa and Asia. Even as the former colonial world celebrates its independence from the dominance of the West, it is finding its way into the system being created by the once and future champs at world domination.
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Posted by Gerald on July 7, 2008
I got quiet over the weekend because I was out through much of it.
Some of you might remember my posting from a year ago about a Memorial Day cookout and my traumatized dog. The same friends hosted a July 4 bash this year. I left the dog home this time, and a good thing too. Lest me just say that you haven’t witnessed a private fireworks display until you’ve seen one put together by two little boys and their father, who commands an artillery battalion of the National Guard. Grilled hot dogs, deafening fireworks, and Battlestar Galactica – that is what America is all about!
I went out again on Saturday to see my old college friends who I get together with on a regular basis. They are currently fostering a small pug-and-other-stuff aptly named “Ming” (because he is merciless). Neither my current dog nor my last one have been into standard canine pastimes like fetch or tug-of-war. Not so Ming. I worked up a real sweat playing both games with this hyper-active mutt. It was fun. If I had space or resources for a second dog I’d want to adopt this guy, but no can do. Luckily he has found a home of appreciative folks with enough income to keep in in imperial splendor.
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Posted by Gerald on July 2, 2008
I had to go in to the office for two meetings yesterday and the first was at 8 am. Those amongst my readers who have experienced being around me in the morning will probably agree that it isn’t my best time. In any case, I was asked to serve on a search committee for a new admin post at the college, someone who will coordinate the various teacher education things we do (Early Child care, lateral entry, accreditation, etc…). I also went to a meeting of a committee examining our attendance policy and related issues. Both were productive. Both also featured our newly hired VP, who I am very favorably impressed with so far.
In any case, having had a busy day of unpaid service to the college (I’m on a nine-month contract and I’m paid like an adjunct for my summer courses), I decided to take today off. Also, I’m in the midst of one of my perennial summer bouts of insomnia and so I didn’t get to sleep until almost 3 am.
I’ve always respected John McCain, but this manufactured offense concerning Clark’s comments is reprehensible. Besides, I’m sorry, but the fact he was a POW does not make him any more of a foreign policy expert than anyone else.
My good friend Steve over at Semeiotikos wrote a personal eulogy for George Carlin. I’ve been thinking about Carlin too. On Saturday, HBO showed Carlin’s 1977 concert special – which I remember watching back when HBO was new. I hadn’t realized until watching that how Carlin’s humor fit into my own developing interest in language and rhetoric. In recent years I’ve looked back to realize that my interest in rhetoric didn’t begin in Iowa, but crystallized there. It’s root go all the way back to my childhood and my father’s love of wordplay. Carlin’s humor – so linguistic in its themes – was another step on the road. Later that night I saw some stand-ups on Comedy Central doing shock humor (“tee hee, he said “cum””). The contrast with Carlin was strong. He used those “seven words” to discuss American morality and hypocrisy. These later folks are frequently foul-mouthed just for its own sake – and that is the very definition of “vulgar”.
Don Davis died. If you ever watched science fiction on TV, you’ve probably seen Davis. He was a regular for most of the run of Stargate SG-1, he played a supporting character on Twin Peaks, he played Agent Scully’s father in the X-Files episode “Beyond the Sea” (one of the best ever), and a lot more. Frankly, if it was shot in Vancouver in the last 20 or so years, he was probably on it. I thought he was one of those actors like Gene Hackman. Not everything he was in was good, but he was always good in everything I saw him do. I don’t care for the whole celebrity thing. I have no personal connection to this man or knowledge of him as a human being. I wouldn’t presume to mourn him, but I will miss his work.
My department chair is supposed to have her baby tomorrow. She and her husband are in my thoughts a bit. Everything has gone fine and should tomorrow. I suggested waiting for Friday. My thought was that it can’t do a kid’s self-esteem any damage to have parades and fireworks on their birthday. You don’t have to tell them it isn’t all for them.
If I don’t post before then, let me wish you all an enjoyable Change-of-Ruling-Elites Day!
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