Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Home Improvement Extravaganza

Lots of work on the house the last two days, little time for posting. New doorbell, cupboard handles in the kitchen, working vent fan in the bathroom, and interview with a real estate agent (who seemed great). Plus, some grading and a meeting or two.

Things will pick up in the middle of next week, at least as far as posting goes.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

First Blog Comments!

Graduation-Travis-2, originally uploaded by Emery Lee.

So this blog actually has had at least two readers--one of whom left very nasty comments, especially about my cat. So I will "flame" the commenter by posting a picture of him. The short fellow on the left--that's the nasty comments troll. The tall, handsome fellow on the right, that's me.

That's how we play the game around here.

BTW--The cat doesn't have a sense of humor, especially about her weight. (It's a problem with the whole species.) She will have her revenge! Her first cutting comment: "Nice gowns, manly men."

The Mind-Body Connection?

So during the final exam in American Political Thought, which I "administered" today, I found a handout from Case's counseling service on "The Mind-Body Connection" in the classroom. (During a three hour final, I tend to get quite bored.) Here's a sentence, in an essay on the health benefits of Laughter, that I found particularly disturbing:

"When we find something funny, we tend to talk more, make more eye contact and touch others more."

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for talking and eye contact. But I'm not sure that "touch[ing] others more" is such a positive thing. That's kind of a mind-body-body-mind connection, and the problem may be the second mind . . . .

Also, I take issue with this sentence:

"Be funny every time you can--but never at the expense of another person."

Never? Aren't there important cultural traditions, like the put-down, the comic insult, the dozens, etc., that wouldn't exist if we followed this rule. I mean, there's being cruel, and then there's kidding someone who can take a joke. And isn't it OK, at least some of the time, to make fun of someone behind their back? I mean, I read somewhere that a sense of humor serves an important purpose for subordinates in a hierarchical society (like a dogpack).

What about Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"?

So many posts today. Could the explanation be: lots of grading on my desk? Killing time with the Internets.

Experiments with flickr

Well, flickr seems to work a little quickr than buzznet, but the full-size display option puts the photo out into the margin. But I'll keep working on it.

League Park, Cleveland

league_park_3BW, originally uploaded by Emery Lee.

This is a photo of the original (?) home of the Cleveland Indians. It's in a rather rundown section of the East Side, not too far from Case's campus. I took this shot in the late afternoon (see the shadow), on a sunny day in November when I was feeling somewhat depressed.

Now that's a ballpark

Originally uploaded by Emery Lee.

This is a picture I took of the infield and grandstand at Tiger Stadium, summer of 1999--one of the last games played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The reason for posting it? Just another experiment with flickr.

More experimenting with picture posting

Originally uploaded by Emery Lee.

This photo, from last year's Grand Canyon hike, is one of my favorites. This is sunrise at Skeleton Point (I think). You can tell how intense that sun will be in just a short time.

This one was posted with flickr.

More Jedi Thoughts (The Lightsaber)

Here's a random thought on the jedi. Remember when we were first introduced to the lightsaber? Obi-Wan describes it as "a more elegant weapon, for a more civilized age" (or something close to that). But in PM and AOTC, the Jedi are, for the most part, fighting battle droids. Where's the "honor" or cultivation in fighting machines with "a more elegant weapon"? If you're just fighting droids, isn't a blaster equally dignified?

If the Jedi spent time dueling other sentient creatures also armed with lightsabers, then the lightsaber would make sense. But that's not how Lucas presents the Jedi here. In fact, we are told in PM that the Sith are (were) believed to be extinct. So why do jedi use lightsabers? Because it's a cool special effect? Because Lucas had a thing for Kurosawa samurai movies? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Now it's really time to get down to business and do some W-O-R-K.

Baseball: Tigers only one game below .500

It's April 28, and the Tigers are only one game below .500 at nine up and 10 down. Now, if the weather the last week had been better, the record might be worse (or it might be better). But this team is definitely on the upswing. The still-young staff needs another quality starter. Bonderman (3-2), Johnson (2-1), and Maroth (1-1) have to keep pitching well (by Motown standards at least). But if they keep the team in it, this is a line-up that is going to score some runs. The offensive numbers are really striking. Dmitri Young is on track to hit over 30 HR (I remember the days when 30 was a lot). With 69 at-bats, Carlos Guillen is hitting .406. Note: Pudge is currently fifth in hitting and sixth in slugging.

Not that the Tigers are going to catch the red-hot White Sox, who dominate the AL Central at 16 up and only six down. I have no idea how the Chisox are doing that; I'll have to take a look soon. In terms of Cleveland, I think Tribe fans are going to have to get used to looking up at the Tigers. And I say that as a secondary Tribe fan. The Indians' rotation is a joke. Jake Westbrook is 0-5. Why? Because he's only started five games. When he starts number six, he'll be 0-6 (by the end of the thing, anyway). The adjectival form: "Westbrookian." I know this guy was an All-Star last year. But what I can't figure out is, WHY?

The O's are the big surprise in the East, at 14 up and seven down. But look at that Away record--nine wins on the road compared to just two losses. That won't last (duh). Maybe the Yanks and Bosox struggles are a bigger surprise to some. In the West, well, things are bunched up.

National League thoughts--although I am an AL guy. St. Louis is just going to run away and hide in the NL Central. The West should be interesting, especially when (if) Bonds gets back for SF. The East should be even more interesting. Too close to call at this point. But I refuse to become a Nationals fan. And I refuse, even more steadfastly, to refer to them as "the Nats."

Point of Sale Inspection, T-minus 30 minutes

This morning the city's building inspector will be coming by to conduct our point of sale inspection, required before selling a house in University Heights. I hope that this old house passes with flying colors, but we shall see.

Update: The inspection took about 20 minutes. A few penny-ante type things--install another smoke detector, repair some cracks in the garage floor--but nothing too serious. The one downside: the vent fan in the downstairs bathroom chose this morning to die. Or, at least, issue a high-pitched whine when turned on. Bastard.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"The Tempest" by William Shakespeare, at the Shakespeare Theater in D.C.

Went to see the (D.C.) Shakespeare Theater production of "The Tempest" last night. Up front, my complaints. The actor playing Prospero was hard to hear in Row N, and it seemed like he spoke many of his lines to the back of the stage. (This seemed like bad direction to me.) This production cast Caliban as a Taliban (I know Talib is the singular form). This was timely, but did little for me, in the context of the play. I was not overly bothered by this, but . . . not crazy about it.

Now, what I liked. The production design and costumes were wonderful--especially the Mardi Gras-style heads on sticks for skulls, creatures, and geese (?). The pinwheels for the waves. The masque was amazing, especially the spinning wheels. The actor playing Ariel was great, and I also like the actors playing Miranda, Antonio, and Gonzalo. The comic relief actors, especially those playing Stephano and Trinculo, were fantastic. Nothing hits the spot on the desert island like a bottle of sack.

"The Tempest" is one of those plays that is best viewed. Many things do not come across in the reading, at least for me. The reconciliation, forgiveness, the wonder of love. The mystery of the production and the play itself--really, the magic, not the mystery. This play is always moving, in production, if not in the reading. The masque, especially--reading cannot do that justice.

BTW, in the row in front of us (Row M, Orch R), there was a father and daughter. The daughter could not have been more than eight, and possibly younger. I was thinking the little girl was too young to get anything out of the play. But she clearly enjoyed the production. On the way out, she asked her dad, "What was your favorite part?" I didn't hear the answer. How does one explain to a small child what one gets out of THIS play?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Thoughts on the Jedi in Episodes I and II

Like many people my age, I grew up with the Star Wars Universe. That's not to say that I've read all the books, etc., but I have read a few, and I've seen SW, TESB, and ROTJ many times, and when I was a wee lad I liked to play with the action figures. So I feel like I have an investment in this Star Wars thing.

Like many people my age, I was sorely disappointed by Phantom Menace. It was really bad. And I was disappointed by Attack of the Clones, too. I even wrote a review of the latter for Film and History (not currently available online). There's much to dislike in these movies. But what bothers me the most is the protrayal of the Jedi.

Remember the Jedi in SW, TESB, ROTJ? There were only three (not counting Vader): Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Luke Skywalker. When we meet Obi-Wan, he's living in the wastes of Tattooine. I've always assumed he's out there to keep an eye on Luke. But the point is he's "a crazy old wizard" living on the fringe of a fringe world. He has great powers--how great, we never know, because he usues them sparingly. The whole point, it would seem, is not to draw attention to himself.

Yoda lives on the swamp planet Dagobah, in similar isolation. But with Yoda, Lucas seems to go further, because Yoda's appearance is such that when Luke first meets him, he assumes that Yoda is not a threat. Again, the point of the Jedi would seem to be that these are creatures with great powers, but these powers are (1) not apparent on first glance (one does not advertise that one is a Jedi), and (2) Jedi use their powers sparingly--only for defense, never for offense.

Similarly with Luke. The Force is with Luke, and he's clearly the most important rebel fighter. But is he the leader of the Rebellion? No. He fights in an ordinary squadron, except in ROTJ, when he has other business.

Here's the point: The Jedi were originally protrayed as a group of powerful wizard-like beings. They may move about and do things, but to the average observer, they should appear to be "crazy old wizards" or, like Yoda, insignificant beings. The comparison I would make here is Gandalf in LOTR. Butterbur in Bree has no idea who or what Gandalf is. Nor do the Hobbits, for the most part. One has to be initiated into the lore of the Wise to know such things, and most people aren't. It always seemed to me that the Jedi were just like that.

But in PM and AOTC, the Jedi are all wrong. First of all, there are so many of them, and they have their own "academy." The model seems more like some kind of martial arts academy than wizards. Second, the Jedi do not have a withdrawn, on the fringes and margins type of existence. They are at the center of the action in Coruscant. Think about the original Jedi, living in some kind of communion with Nature--the desert, the swamp. Now think about Yoda living on the city-planet, Trantor--er, I mean Coruscant. How does Yoda experience the Force there? This is not to say that Jedi wouldn't serve larger ends, but would they do it this way? Plus, the Jedi are completely dependent on technology. It just goes on and on.

The worst moment is Yoda's lightsaber duel with Count Dracula, er, Dookoo (sp?). The whole point of Yoda, it always seemed to me, was that Yoda shows that the power of the Force is manifold. One can be a dashing young swordsman, or an old wizened wizard. But don't think that the latter is less dangerous than the former. Here, Yoda is some kind of whirling dervish of a swordsman. This violates everything the character should be about, including his RESERVE.

Oh well, just some thoughts down on the blog. More to come.

Call Upon Yoda

Yet another Star Wars Epidode III tie-in campaign: "Call Upon Yoda" from the folks at Pepsi, with Hasbro and Lego. With this one, there's a code inside the Fridgemate box. You go to the website and type in the code--after yegistering at Yahoo!--and then a Star Wars character appears in a new window. If it's Yoda, you win a prize. "If the Jedi Master responds, you win!" Unfortunately for me, Darth Vader answered. Oh well.

I guess the concept here is that a Jedi in trouble can always "Call Upon Yoda," but Yoda doesn't always answer the phone, and there's no voicemail in the Force. Overall, a pretty lame tie-in.

We were at Giant yesterday, and I saw plenty of tie-ins. So this continuing series will, er, continue.

Light posting the past couple of days (as in no posts) because of travel and other commitments. But I stored up plenty of ideas for posts, and my schedule is pretty light today . . . .

Friday, April 22, 2005

Home Improvement Week Continues

No posts yesterday because of classes, etc. Today I am at home waiting on a variety of contractors. The plumber already came and snaked out the drain. There was gross stuff down there. Still to come: estimates on the carpeting for the stairs and the electricians to repair the mystery wiring in the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Choose Your Allegiance"

I saw this Monday in a Walgreen's: M&M's new "Choose Your Allegiance" marketing campaign tie-in with the soon-to-be-released Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Now, I am really geeked about Episode III (although my expectations are low, given Episodes I and II), but I'm not sure about this campaign. The idea is that you choose between the Jedi M&M's (peanut? regular chocolate?) and Dark Side M&M's (dark chocolate?). It's a cute campaign, with lots of graphics, but really, don't we know which side ultimately triumphs? I mean, in "Episode VI," formerly known as Return of the Jedi, the Jedi triumph over the Dark Side. So is M&M's suggesting that we should choose between the winners and the losers? What kind of choice is that? Especially when the losers are EVIL. C'mon people.

I've actually discussed this with other people. Some have suggested that people might choose the Dark Side because evil is somehow more "cool" than the good side. But the problem here is that creepy Emperor. He just isn't that attractive a draw. Who'd want to hang out with that guy?

Others have suggested that this is like people choosing to be Confederate Civil War re-enactors. There is the "romanticism" of the Lost Cause (as misguided as it may be). Can one compare the Lost Cause of Southern lore with the Galactic Empire? I mean, the Confederates had dashing heroes (in the opinion of many); they were outgunned, but fought better with less than the Union. The Empire: The Death Star. (Actually, 2 Death Stars.) The Enpire was never outgunned. The clear analog of the Lost Cause is to the Rebel Alliance. So there may be appeal in the outgunned South (other than that whole SLAVERY problem), but not in the planet-busting Empire.

Sorry, this campaign doesn't make sense. I know that may be too high as a threshold for advertising campaigns.

Warning: This is only the first of many Star Wars posts to come . . .

Review: "A Snake of June," Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto (2002)

This is a very strange movie. I won't try to summarize the plot. Let's just put it this way: beautiful, young wife married to neurotic, bald, dumpy middle-aged husband. She's a phone counselor. She gets "photo stalked" by one of her clients, who blackmails her with voyeuristic photos into exploring her sexual fantasies. This eventually leads to an extremely sexy scene involving rain and a flash camera. That particular scene is great--reverse voyeurism with the husband as voyeur. But there's a lot here I didn't understand, and not just because it's a Japanese movie. From my brief web search, other viewers have had a similar problem with understanding what's going on. Big questions: What's that snake thing that comes out of the stalker's pants in the scene between the husband and stalker near the end of the film? What about the cancer plot twist? When the film ends, with the husband and wife having sex, does that mean that Rinko (the wife) will die soon? Comparisons to Cronenberg and Lynch seem appropriate. Imagine Lynch in Japanese.

Final word: Not for most tastes, mine included.

It's Raining in Cleveland

It's raining in Cleveland. Good thing I mowed the lawn in the interval between thunderstorms. (This is the earliest date on which I have been able to mow the entire backyard since we moved in back in 1998.) In terms of getting the house ready for the market, had some contractors out to fix some things today. New deadbolt on the front door. Electricians to puzzle over the mystery wiring in the first-floor bathroom. The electricians will return with a solution on Friday. So no posting yet today.

On Friday, a plumber is coming to fix the gurgling sound the kitchen sink makes, the electricians are coming back, and I'm getting two estimates on carpeting the stairs. The cat has really wrecked havoc on the stair carpeting.

Update: It's raining very hard in Cleveland (or the eastern suburbs) now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Review: "Singularity Sky" by Charles Stross (Ace, 2003)

Singularity Sky examines an interesting "what if": "What if a planet kept technologically backward by its rulers encountered a 'post-human' information-gathering entity that offered anything an interlocutor desired in exchange for information?" The result would be a singularity--an event so dramatic as to mark a sharp break from the past. Here, a society based in Russian-Eastern European models experiences such a singularity when the "Festival" arrives. With scarcity overcome, ready arms for the Bolshevik-like (?) revolutionaries, and even the limitations of evolution transcended, what happens is a disaster for the traditional order and many of its participants--at least until order is restored. The plot involves two secret agents sent to spy on this backward society--one sent by anti-proliferation forces based in the U.N., one serving the post-human Eschaton--a kind of superhuman intelligence emanating out of human information technology. The Eschaton (no relation to Atrios) threatens societies with destruction if they toy with the idea of time travel, presumably because then one of those societies could go back in time before the Eschaton came into existence and preclude its existence. So the question is whether the singularity experiencing society of the story will attempt time-travel (a causality violation) and thus bring destruction down on itself, or whether the Eschaton's agent can stop them. There are a number of subplots, some romance, and some satire, as well as some interesting fantasy sequences. This is a fast read, with lots of action. It certainly held my attention.

My major complaint: There was a lot of techspeak in this novel in the space battle scenes. I'm not sure all that was necessary. (Other readers might not find this so offputting. I mean, I'm a political science prof with a law degree, not an engineer.)

Minor complaints: (1) I'm also tired of superhero fighting moves by main characters. At least here, Rachel has tech implants that allow her to do the moves. (2) There are mimes in this book. Seriously (and here, seriously deadly). Could have done without the mimes.

Book's greatest strength: A fully developed future universe, including entities like the Eschaton.

The Eschaton's law (p. 132): "I am the Eschaton. I am not your god. I am descended from you, and I exist in your future. Thous shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else."

Final analysis: If you like the Ender novels, you'll like this.

Scratching Post

Scratching Post
Posted by: eglee3.
Catblogging II.

Tuesday Catblogging: Felines 4 Kerry-Edwards

Here she is, in her cat-blogging debut--the sweetest cat in the world.

Potential for Growth

Last week in my APT class, I had the students do an exercise where they rated themselves by criteria commonly found on letter of recommendation forms. The kind of forms that profs have to fill out all the time. Rate students on the following scale for the following items . . . Usually placing students in some percentage of all students (e.g., Top 2%, Bottom 50%). The students complied--even though it wasn't relevant to the class, really--but then insisted that they rate ME by those same measures. I was surprised that they rated me lowest in "Potential for Growth."

This surprised me, because from my own point of view I have not reached my full potential, professionally or personally. I'm only 35. I'm changing jobs soon, etc. I asked why they rated me so low on that category. Their answer: "You have a law degree and a Ph.D. You're a professor. You're married. What more is there?"

When I responded, "But I'm still a young man," one of my students blurted out, "What?"

A couple of thoughts (to be continued):

The students think of "growth" in terms of credentials, especially degrees, and events/conditions (getting a job, getting or being married). But I think of growth in much more intrinsic ways. What do I know? What can I do? Not really in terms of "What have I done?" at all.

This also highlights the gap students perceive between themselves and their professors.

Post-War Consensus and the End of Ideology

Commenting on the post-WWII consensus thinkers (Hartz, Boorstin, Bell), Dolbeare and Cummings (American Political Thought, 5ed, p. 424-25) state that "[t]here have not been many times in American history when such an authoritatively voiced and widely accepted interpretation of the social experience has been so completely wrong. Today, the question might better be: How could that impression have gained such widespread credibility in the first place?"

Is this really a question? The postwar consensus theory posited the realization of liberal ideals (all of them, more or less--freedom, equality, and so on), an end to fractious ideological conflict, and, more importantly, that problems of scarcity had been largely overcome. What's not to like about that?

That's what counts as a deep thought in my American Political Thought class, at least at the end of the semester.

The main subject today, however, is the New Left, especially The Port Huron Statement, Students for a Democratic Society (1962). The idea that strikes me, today, in this reading, is the importance of Utopia as a concept for SDS. For the SDS, the question was "[W]hat is the perimeter of human possibility in this epoch?" (D & C, p. 447). That is a question that we no longer ask "in this epoch." Not that I sympathize with the SDS. They describe me (in their own terms) when they point to "a defeatism that is labelled realistic" (p. 443). But it is interesting, just for a moment, to consider what non-defeatist (and therefore non-realistic, and therefore utopian) thought about the present epoch would lead to.

That should do for a first post.

Unity Temple, Oak Park, exterior detail

Here's a picture from my recent excursion to Oak Park during the recent Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago. This is a detail of the columns of Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple. I was really interested in the design of these columns, which combines a classical feel with geometric patterns similar to the interior stained glass, which show Japanese influence (?). I'm no art historian.

The Oak Park excursion was definitely worth the el ride from the Loop.