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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Films of 2013


As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, or from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix. Because I simply do not see that many new films in the theater, I cannot today write a credible post on the best movies of 2013. After all, I have not yet seen most of the highly touted films released in late December. Eventually, of course, I will watch them.

This year, I missed many of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, most of the best films I saw this past year were recent films that I originally missed in the theaters -- or were late 2012 films that I viewed in theaters during early 2013.

To make this abbreviated 2013 list (split, as usual, into two sub-lists), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2013. In rank order of my preference, these were the best 2013 films I saw this year, so far as I can recall:

American Hustle **
Mud
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire **
Side Effects
The Way Way Back **
Blackfish (documentary)
Elysium
Europa Report
Upstream Color

I must say that this is a fairly weak crop of films and genuinely reflects the fact that I did not yet see most of the Oscar-bait movies that are in theaters right now.

The exception is American Hustle, which I wrote about last week. When I exited the theater, I overheard some of the younger viewers complaining about the film being too slow and boring. My daughters had friends who walked out or witnessed people walking out while they were seeing it.

But I liked it.

Mud might garner some attention by the Academy Awards, but I seriously doubt that any of the rest of my top list will be noticed (except, perhaps, in special effects or other technical categories, such as costuming or sound).

The second Hunger Games film is very good, fairly loyal to the book, and sure to help Jennifer Lawrence make millions and millions in the future. The rest of the list includes some films with provocative social or political messages though they are not especially heavy-handed (for the most part). I recommend them and think most movie buffs will enjoy them.

The following list includes the remaining 2013 movies I viewed during the year. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom.

Computer Chess
Room 237
We're the Millers **
Now You See Me
It's a Disaster
This is the End **
The World's End
Warm Bodies
The Heat
The Bling Ring

** I saw these films in the theater.

That's right, we went to the theater twice during the summer to view stupid comedies with lots of drug-related humor. Yawn.

I also saw a number of comedic post-apocalyptic films this year (one is also in the drug-humor category) and thought that It's a Disaster was the best of the bunch. Both This is the End and The World's End seemed promising at first, but the writing was not up to par once the disasters struck. Warm Bodies borrows greatly from Romeo and Juliet, which is about the best that can be said about it. I rarely laughed during The Heat, though my spouse seemed to enjoy it far more than I did.

Computer Chess is a nerdy period film that is quite quirky and well worth your time on Netflix. Room 237 is a sure-to-be-cult documentary that explores some really odd theories about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

I found The Bling Ring to be fairly tedious and lacking in story. It was like a prolonged music video -- but by a band that is not very interesting.

Here's the annual list of movies I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2014): 12 Years a Slave, 42, 56 Up, Admission, All is Lost, Anchorman 2, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Cockneys vs. Zombies, Dallas Buyers Club, Despicable Me 2, Dirty Wars, Don Jon, Drinking Buddies, The East, Ender's Game, Enough Said, Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, How I Live Now, Inside Llewyn Davis, Iron Man 3, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Love is All You Need, Manhunt, Much Ado About Nothing, Nebraska, Oblivion, Our Nixon, Pacific Rim, Philomena, Place Beyond the Pines, Prisoners, Rush, Saving Mr. Banks, Short Term 12, Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Star Trek Into Darkness, Stories We Tell, The To Do List, Thor: The Dark World, Trance, You're Next, We Are What We Are, Wolf of Wall Street, and World War Z.

Hat tip there to Metacritic.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2012 movies from last year's wishlist:  Amazing Spider-Man, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bourne Legacy, Chronicle, Compliance, Cosmopolis, End of Watch, Farewell My Queen, Flight, Hitchcock, Holy Motors, How to Survive a Plague, The Impossible, John Dies at the End, Killer Joe, Lawless, Not Fade Away, Prometheus, Ruby Sparks, Rust and Bone, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, This is Not a Film, To Rome With Love, and West of Memphis.


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Sunday, December 29, 2013

American Hustle



Friday afternoon, my spouse and I went to see American Hustle, the latest David O. Russell film starring Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Louisville's Jennifer Lawrence.

If you haven't seen the film, but intend to see it, stop reading this post because it includes spoilers.

The film is based on the  late-1970s and early-1980s Abscam scandal featuring political corruption (mostly bribery), which resulted in the conviction of the mayor of Camden NJ (a story-line emphasized in the film), half a dozen members of the House of Representatives, plus a U.S. Senator. The FBI videotaped many of the politicians accepting cash bribes.

Interestingly -- and this is the primary focus of the movie -- the FBI was aided by a colorful con man they employed to help convince the targeted politicians to accept cash in exchange for political favors. The con man, played in the film by Bale, had a British mistress/partner-in-crime (Adams) and a whistle-blowing spouse (whom he described as cuckoo) (Lawrence).

In the film, just about every character is playing some kind of con, ambitiously trying to get ahead in life by deceiving others, cutting corners, or breaking the law. The movie opens with Bale meticulously performing a sophisticated hair styling operation to hide the fact that he is bald on the top of his head. Later, however, the FBI agent (Cooper) is revealed to use small rollers to produce the natural-looking curls he sports throughout the film. Yet, in one key scene, the FBI agent tussles the criminal's comb-over.

The acting is almost uniformly terrific throughout the film. Adams and Bale are especially good. Lawrence is a talented actress, and does a very good job providing the film's comic relief, but I thought she was too young for the part she plays. Lawrence is Bale's aggrieved spouse and they have a son (roughly age 5 or 6) by one of her prior relationships. I suppose she could have been a teenage bride and mother, but the real con man's spouse was about 40 at the time of Abscam and the couple had been married for almost 20 years.

In any case, despite that minor distraction, I've now seen at least seven of Russell's feature films and American Hustle rates among his very best. For my tastes, it is quite difficult to top Three Kings, a movie I've shown in my class on "Global Politics Through Film." The film works as a synecdoche for the Persian Gulf war and has implications for the second given its particular anti-war message in an oil-state setting.

Russell also directed last year's Silver Linings Playbook, which netted Lawrence an Academy Award for Best Actress, and The Fighter, which earned Bale an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Russell was Oscar-nominated for his direction of those two films. I wouldn't be surprised to see this cast and perhaps Russell himself earn some 2013 nominations. Adams should be a very strong candidate for Best Actress.

Four stars for me.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pope? Or Oberlin Review?

My spouse told me about a quiz that Vanity Fair has on its website: "Oberlin College Newspaper or Pope Francis’s Anti-Capitalist Apostolic Exhortation?"

Here are a few of my favorites:
B. “To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”  
D. “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.”  
G. “It is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.”  
J. “The dual crises of the capitalist economy and the planetary environment are systemic, paradigmatic and deep.” 
Click the link for the answers -- and for the rest of the quiz.

Disclosure: we have a daughter at Oberlin.



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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Home Field Advantage

At a lazy pace, I've been reading chapters of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim. The book was marketed as Freakonomics for sports fans and there is a lot of truth in that description. The authors use tools of behavioral economics and apply them to various sports-related questions.

For example, a couple of interesting middle chapters try to determine the cause of home field advantage. The authors use various measures to demonstrate that players perform at about the same level in home versus road games; yet, every major sport has some level of home field advantage. This summary is from a presentation Moskowitz delivered for a conference:
"Home field advantage exists in every sport, at all times in history, and in all geographies," said Moskowitz, Fama Family Professor of Finance. 
"And it's remarkably consistent," he added, citing statistics from the five most popular team sports—football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and hockey. In basketball, for example, both NBA and WNBA teams win about two-thirds of the games that they host. In baseball, the home team prevails roughly 54 percent of the time, whether it's an MLB game or played in Japan.
In addition to the consistency of player performance in different venues, they similarly dismiss other possible causes of the advantage, including fan enthusiasm (at least not the conventional interpretation) and travel. Basically, Moskowitz and Wertheim find that referee/umpire behavior is at the root of a significant portion of home field advantage.
"We don't think this is conscious," said Moskowitz, who built on previous studies of soccer referee bias to uncover the connection to home field advantage. The cause, he says, is physchological [sic], and in particular, related to social conformity. 
"Basically, what's happening is referees start to see things the home crowd's way," Moskowitz explained. 
In high-stakes game situations before making a split-second decision, referees seek both information from fans—and their approval. 
I am especially interested in baseball and their results ostensibily explain much of the home field advantage in my favorite sport:
Referee bias becomes more evident, Moskowitz said, as the calls become more ambiguous—borderline strikes in baseball, for instance—and as crowds become more animated and opinionated. 
Fear of blowing a call can cause referees to look for ways to "relieve some of that presure," Moskowitz said, "of having 50,000 screaming fans yell at you." 
And the calls affect the scoreboard. In baseball, Moskowitz examined the strikezone and estimated that visiting teams receive 516 more strikeouts and are issued 195 fewer walks from home plate umpires over the course of a season.
"If you add up how much this is worth in terms of runs scored and everything else, that can explain a sizeable chunk of the home field advantage in baseball," said Moskowitz.
Spoiler alert: the book presents evidence finding that umpire bias disappeared in baseball games in stadiums that major league baseball had rigged to use QuesTec to evaluate umpire performance. Actually, umpire bias didn't disappear -- it moved in the opposite direction and created a substantial road team bias on ball-strike calls. They refer to this evidence as the "smoking gun" and find that other indicators of home field bias did not shift since Ques Tec was only monitoring ball-strike calls at home plate.

However, to me this finding completely deflates the psychological conformity thesis. Umpires must have known about the data finding home field ball-strike bias and then intentionally changed their behavior to correct for the problem. This makes the result conscious.

A few years ago, a study found that umpires were slightly more favorable calling balls and strikes for pitchers of their same race. Again, however, the presence of QuesTec eliminated this bias.

The chapter made me think about other situations that could be compared. If scrutiny from QuesTec diminished umpire bias, what about the extra scrutiny of post-season play in the instant replay era? Does Tim McCarver's commentary work to decrease umpire bias? What about the possible differences in highly scrutinized televised games during the regular season versus obscure games played without so many viewers? The Yankees and Red Sox play many more TV games than do the Royals and Pirates.

If home field noise provides pressure to influence umpires, is there more bias in years when small market teams draw sizeable crowds? How about a study of bias in Twins games during years when the team draws about 1 million fans versus the years when they draw 3 million?

Phil Birnbaum has a strong critique worth reading.


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Monday, November 04, 2013

Donn W. Parson retirement

This weekend, I attended a number of retirement events in honor of Donn W. Parson, who was my college debate coach. Known as the Head Jayhawk, he worked at the University of Kansas for 48 years. During half of those years, he was Director of Forensics. For another twenty years, he directed the graduate program.

In this picture, the HJ can be seen with me, his spouse Andi, and my former debate partner, Mark Gidley:


My old friend Jim Reed sent the picture.

Incidentally, the Parson Wikipedia entry I linked above includes an outrageous claim:
Parson coached KU to National Debate Tournament (NDT) championship in 1970, 1976, and 1983 (although the legitimacy of this title is being increasingly questioned)
In 1983, Mark and I won the National Debate Tournament. We have the trophy, the gift watches, etc. The Dartmouth B team finished 8-0 in the preliminary rounds and was slated to debate the Dartmouth A team in the semi-finals. Ken Strange, the Dartmouth coach, elected to advance the senior A team and Mark and I beat them by winning 4 of 5 judges' ballots.

I don't know who is questioning the legitimacy of the decision, nor who made this entry into Wikipedia, but no team wins a national championship by providing another team a walkover in the semi-finals. That counts as a loss for the purposes of making the tournament bracket work.

That Dartmouth B team won the NDT in 1984.

Bonus photo:


University of Kansas NDT champions at the Parson retirement dinner (left-to-right): Bill Arnold (1954), Robin Rowland (1976), me, Dr. Parson, Brett Bricker (2009), and Mark Gidley (1983).

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Non-Proliferation in 2013



On Monday, I attended a lunchtime talk by Ambassador Susan Burk, former Special Representative to the President for Nuclear Non-Proliferation. Her talk, sponsored by the Center for Asian Democracy, was entitled “Reducing Nuclear Dangers: Challenges and Opportunities for the International Non-Proliferation Regime.” It was the second in a recent series of talks on nuclear nonproliferation.

Ambassador Burk did a nice job of presenting the conventional wisdom about the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and regime. She reviewed some of the history, talked about her own experiences attending three review conferences, and briefly overviewed some of the concern about potential proliferants.

However, Burk didn't really talk about Article VI of the NPT or U.S. responsibility to reduce its nuclear weapons. I guess the ideals expressed in President Obama's 2009 Prague address have lost some of their power.

One of my former graduate students asked Burk a question about the potential illegality of nuclear weapons, but I had to attend another event before I could hear the response. Apparently, Burk does not believe nuclear weapons are illegal for the original five nuclear weapons states of the NPT.


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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comedy and Satire as Discourses of Protest in Asia


This Saturday, I am participating in an event sponsored by the Center for Asian Democracy at University of Louisville: “Comedy and Satire as Discourses of Protest in Asia” -- A Symposium.
This year’s workshop seeks to examine the relationship between political protest and comedy in East Asia. In particular we are interested in the ways in which comedy has and is being used to critique and parody authoritarianism, corruption and political leadership.  Recognizing that in the West comedy and satire have a long tradition of not just speaking truth to power but also as a powerful tool of public criticism, this workshop aims to analyze the role of comedy in East Asia. Is it analogous to the role it plays in the West? Are there unique forms of comedy and protest? Are there cultural obstacles to parody and satire?
Specifically, I'm slated to give the Introductory Remarks at 10:00am — "Comedic and Satirical Narratives in Global Politics."

Note this detail: Chao Auditorium, Ekstrom Library.  Lunch provided. Free and open to the public. RSVP for lunch is requested. RSVP to cad@louisville.edu, or call 502-852-2667.


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Friday, October 04, 2013

The 100 Greatest Novels Ever

This list was in Entertainment Weekly, mid-July:

1. Anna Karenina (By Leo Tolstoy -- 1878)
2. The Great Gatsby (By F. Scott Fitzgerald -- 1925)
3. Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen -- 1813)
4. Great Expectations (By Charles Dickens -- 1861)
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude (By Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- 1967)
6. My Antonia (By Willa Cather -- 1918)
7. The Harry Potter series (By J.K. Rowling -- 1997-2007)
8. The Rabbit quartet (By John Updike -- 1960-1990)
9. Beloved (By Toni Morrison -- 1987)
10. Charlotte's Web (By E.B. White -- 1952)
11. Mrs. Dalloway (By Virginia Woolf -- 1925)
12. The Sound and the Fury (By William Faulkner -- 1929)
13. To Kill a Mockingbird (By Harper Lee -- 1960)
14. Crime and Punishment (By Fyodor Dostoevsky -- 1867)
15. Ragtime (By E.L. Doctorow -- 1975)
16. Jane Eyre (By Charlotte Bronte -- 1847)
17. The Road (By Cormac McCarthy -- 2006)
18. Moby-Dick (By Herman Melville -- 1851)
19. Lolita (By Vladimir Nabokov -- 1955)
20. Lonesome Dove (By Larry McMurtry -- 1985)
21. An American Tragedy (By Theodore Dreiser -- 1925)
22. Wuthering Heights (By Emily Bronte -- 1847)
23. The Brothers Karamazov (By Fyodor Dostoevsky -- 1880)
24. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (By James Joyce -- 1916)
25. Bleak House (By Charles Dickens -- 1853)
26. Invisible Man (By Ralph Ellison -- 1952)
27. A Wrinkle in Time (By Madeleine L'Engle -- 1962)
28. War and Peace (By Leo Tolstoy -- 1869)
29. The Handmaid's Tale (By Margaret Atwood -- 1986)
30. Native Son (By Richard Wright -- 1940)
31. Blindness (By Jose Saramago -- 1995)
32. The Catcher in the Rye (By J.D. Salinger -- 1951)
33. Maus (By Art Spiegelman -- 1986)
34. The World According to Garp (By John Irving -- 1978)
35. A Personal Matter (By Kenzaburo Oe -- 1964)
36. Atlas Shrugged (By Ayn Rand -- 1957)
37. The Sun Also Rises (By Ernest Hemingway -- 1926)
38. The Regeneration trilogy (By Pat Barker -- 1991-1995)
39. Middlesex (By Jeffrey Eugenides -- 2002)
40. A Suitable Boy (By Vikram Seth -- 1993)
41. Go Tell It on The Mountain (By James Baldwin -- 1953)
42. The Stand (By Stephen King -- 1978)
43. A Confederacy of Dunces (By John Kennedy Toole -- 1980)
44. His Dark Materials (By Philip Pullman -- 1995-2000)
45. The Color Purple (By Alice Walker -- 1982)
46. The Age of Innocence (By Edith Wharton -- 1920)
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (By Haruki Murakami -- 1994)
48. The Talented Mr. Ripley (By Patricia Highsmith -- 1955)
49. Ender's Game (By Orson Scott Card -- 1985)
50. Snow (By Orhan Pamuk -- 2002)
51. The Corrections (By Jonathan Franzen -- 2001)
52. Song of Solomon (By Toni Morrison -- 1977)
53. Gone With the Wind (By Margaret Mitchell -- 1936)
54. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (By Ben Fountain -- 2012)
55. A Fine Balance (By Rohinton Mistry -- 1995)
56. Sophie's Choice (By William Styron -- 1979)
57. The Children of Men (By P.D. James -- 1992)
58. Midnight's Children (By Salman Rushdie -- 1981)
59. Dracula (By Bram Stoker -- 1897)
60. Their Eyes Were Watching God (By Zora Neale Hurston -- 1937)
61. Love in the Time of Cholera (By Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- 1988)
62. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (By Mark Twain -- 1884) 
63. Portnoy's Complaint (By Philip Roth -- 1969)
64. Infinite Jest (By David Foster Wallace -- 1996)
65. Herzog (By Saul Bellow -- 1964)
66. Howards End (By E.M. Forster -- 1910)
67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (By Michael Chabon -- 2000)
68. Middlemarch (By George Eliot -- 1874)
69. Money (By Martin Amis -- 1985)
70. Neuromancer (By William Gibson -- 1984)
71. The Hobbit (By J.R.R. Tolkien -- 1937)
72. The Remains of the Day (By Kazuo Ishiguro -- 1989)
73. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (By John le Carre -- 1963)
74. Cold Mountain (By Charles Frazier -- 1997)
75. Madame Bovary (By Gustave Flaubert -- 1857)
76. The Golden Notebook (By Doris Lessing -- 1962)
77. Tom Jones (By Henry Fielding -- 1749)
78. A House for Mr. Biswas (By V.S. Naipaul -- 1961)
79. Bring Up the Bodies (By Hilary Mantel -- 2012)
80. Swann's Way (By Marcel Proust -- 1913)
81. Frankenstein (By Mary Shelley -- 1818)
82. Disgrace (By J.M. Coetzee -- 1999)
83. The Stone Diaries (By Carol Shields -- 1993)
84. Clockers (By Richard Price -- 1992)
85. Catch-22 (By James Heller -- 1961)
86. A Home at the End of the World (By Michael Cunningham -- 1990)
87. White Teeth (By Zadie Smith -- 2000)
88. The Bonfire of the Vanities (By Tom Wolfe -- 1987)
89. Tristram Shandy (By Laurence Sterne -- 1895)
90. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (By Carson McCullers -- 1940)
91. The Leopard (By Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa -- 1958)
92. The Glass Bead Game (By Hermann Hesse -- 1943)
93. Bastard Out of Carolina (By Dorothy Allison -- 1992)
94. The Moonstone (By Wilkie Collins -- 1868)
95. The Poisonwood Bible (By Barbara Kingsolver -- 1998)
96. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (By Italo Calvino -- 1979)
97. The Big Sleep (By Raymond Chandler -- 1939)
98. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (By Judy Blume -- 1970)
99. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (By Douglas Adams -- 1979)
100. The Joy Luck Club (By Amy Tan -- 1989)


Notes: I've read the books highlighted in blue.


We have at least another 15-20 of these books in my house, so I could/should read them at any time.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Bowie book list

That's right, this is David Bowie's top 100 must-read books:

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby (2008)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007)
The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard (2007)
Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage (2007)
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters (2002)
The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens (2001)
Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler (1997)
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes (1997)
The Insult, Rupert Thomson (1996)
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon (1995)
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman (1994)
Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard (1993)
Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C Danto (1992)
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia (1990)
David Bomberg, Richard Cork (1988)
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick (1986)
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin (1986)
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (1985)
Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey (1984)
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter (1984)
Money, Martin Amis (1984)
White Noise, Don DeLillo (1984)
Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes (1984)
The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White (1984)
A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn (1980)
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester (1980)
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1980)
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess (1980)
Raw, a "graphix magazine" (1980-91)
Viz, magazine (1979 –)
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (1979)
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz (1978)
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan (1978)
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed Malcolm Cowley (1977)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes (1976)
Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders (1975)
Mystery Train, Greil Marcus (1975)
Selected Poems, Frank O'Hara (1974)
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich (1972)
n Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner (1971)
Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky (1971)
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillett(1970)
The Quest for Christa T, Christa Wolf (1968)
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn (1968)
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg (1967)
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr (1966)
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1965)
City of Night, John Rechy (1965)
Herzog, Saul Bellow (1964)
Puckoon, Spike Milligan (1963)
The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford (1963)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea, Yukio Mishima (1963)
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin (1963)
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell (1962)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)
Private Eye, magazine (1961 –)
On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding (1961)
Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage (1961)
Strange People, Frank Edwards (1961)
The Divided Self, RD Laing (1960)
All the Emperor's Horses, David Kidd (1960)
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse (1959)
The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard (1957)
Room at the Top, John Braine (1957)
A Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno (1956)
The Outsider, Colin Wilson (1956)
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)
The Street, Ann Petry (1946)
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)

Notes: I've read the books highlighted in blue.

I own a copy of the books highlighted in green.
Could read them any time.

One day, I still plan on reading books highlighted in yellow.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Updates

I've been a blogger deadbeat, but here's what's been happening:

1. The 10 year anniversary of this blog passed without fanfare. My first post was September 3, 2003, though I later assigned an August date to a post that provided my biographical information.

2. I've been writing the latest paper for my Comedy of Global Politics book project: "Reading the Global War on Terror as Comedy." I'll be presenting it this Saturday morning in DC at the ISSS-ISAC annual meeting. I discuss comedic and satirical narratives and frame key early elements of the GWOT around them.

3. Saturday night, I attended "Bang, Bang You're Dead" at YPAS. My youngest daughter Cate has a key part in the production. She was fantastic in the moving play about a high school mass shooting.

BTW, a group of YPAS students plans to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland next summer and they are looking for financial assistance to cover expenses. Eat at Impellizzeri's pizza in the Highlands tonight and this YPAS project receives 10% of the revenues.

4. Finally, I wish to express my condolences to the family and friends of local financial entrepreneur George Emont. His son Jacob is a close friend of my daughter Claire and his recent death is a genuine tragedy.


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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interviewed About Syria, Use of Force, and Norms

Monday, Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg interviewed me about the various norms at stake in the Syria debate. We discussed international norms limiting the use of force and the implications of using force to punish chemical weapons use. I'm not confident that a US retaliatory strike would meaningfully deter future use of chemicals. It might be an effective military action in Syria (by destroying capabilities), but would future dictators be deterred?

Flavelle ended up quoting me in his story published September 10:
In fact, the norm against the unauthorized use of force may be more important than the norm against chemical weapons, which are held by a small number of countries. By contrast, "norms limiting the use of force are seen as centrally important to most states," according to Rodger Payne, chairman of the political science department at the University of Louisville.
I was accurately quoted, though Flavelle and I talked about the problem of Security Council authorization. Essentially, one permanent member can block action desired by a global consensus.  The international community needs to figure out a way to authorize the use of force that is at least somewhat less onerous than the current procedure. States acting collectively ought to be able to prevent future Iraq-type invasions, if opposed by a very large number of states, but allow potentially desirable actions, such as limited interventions to protect civilians or prevent certain kinds of terrorist or WMD attacks.

Also, we didn't really talk about this, but chemical weapons are relatively easy to manufacture (their use dates back a century, after all), which means that dozens of states could make them if they wanted. That means the proposed strike might have implications for many other states in the future.

Finally, I also stressed that the norm against chemical weapons has actually been solidified if not strengthened these past few weeks by the fact that so many members of the international community are outraged by the alleged Syrian use. There are many other ways to signal the international community's displeasure, including sanctions, resolutions condemning the action, etc.


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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Commemorating the March on Washington

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The University of Louisville commemorated the event this afternoon with a program of speakers from the campus and community.

I snapped this picture of my Political Science colleague, Professor Dewey Clayton, who was introducing Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer:



Dr. Clayton was credited as the chief organizer of the event.

Additionally, I took a picture of several other colleagues who attended the symbolic march and event. From left-to-right, Professors David Buckley, Tim Weaver, Susan Matarese (looking down), and Laura Moyer (who noticed me snapping the shot):



Several other colleagues attended at least part of the event, but they are not pictured here. Nonetheless, it was an important event and I was pleased about the Political Science turnout.


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Friday, August 09, 2013

Transparency in the Future

I found this unsettling paragraph in a stack of dusty material meant for this blog. It's from a May 2011 Jackson Lears review of three Sam Harris books, including his well-known (and best-selling, which is redundant, I suppose) The End of Faith: Religion, Terror & the Future of Reason (2004).
Convinced that brain science has located the biological sources of “bias”—the areas of the brain that cause us to deviate from the norms of factual and moral reasoning—[Sam] Harris predicts that this research will lead to the creation of foolproof lie detectors. He does not say how these devices will be deployed. Will they be worn on the body, implanted in the brain, concealed in public locations? What he does say is that they will be a great leap forward to a world without deception—which, we must understand, is one of the chief sources of evil. “Whether or not we ever crack the neural code, enabling us to download a person’s private thoughts, memories, and perceptions without distortion,” he declares, the detectors will “surely be able to determine, to a moral certainty, whether a person is representing his thoughts, memories, and perceptions honestly in conversation.” (As always, the question arises, who are “we”?) Technology will create a brave new world of perfect transparency, and legal scholars who might worry about the Fifth Amendment implications are being old-fashioned.
Sounds like something that could appear in a Philip K. Dick story.


Note: This is NOT in reference to the famous Sam Harris who was my high school classmate.


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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

2013 Louisville Sluggers

This is my annual post about the Louisville Sluggers of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League. We draft twice each season -- once prior to the regular season and again at the beginning of July. I didn't get around to putting this post together until now. Sorry, though I doubt anyone cares.

Prior posts: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008,  2007, and 2004.

Why do we draft twice each year? Well, the OBFLB crowns champions for both the "A" first half and "B" second half of the baseball season, divided by the All Star game. My team's most recent championship was in 2008B. I'm going to report draft results for second half season -- my A season did not go all that well though the team's hitting was very good. My aging pitchers failed or got injured as a group, especially Tim Lincecum (SF), Josh Beckett (LAD), and Joel Hanrahan (BOS). All are gone now, as is Jeremy Guthrie (KC).

As I list the team's current roster, keep in mind that the OBFLB is a 24 team head-to-head fantasy baseball league using 10 categories: home runs, stolen bases, batting average, runs produced average (R+RBI/ABs), plate appearances, innings pitched, wins, saves, earned run average and "ratio."

Here are the 2013B Sluggers (players in red were retained from 2013A). Since I kept 10 players, mostly infielders, I started the draft in round 11. Also, I intentionally drafted a few injured players so that I could put them on the DL and acquire extra players. Since backup catchers aren't very important in this league (injury insurance only to prevent penalty) and relief pitchers are so numerous, I delayed filling many of those roster spaces until the free agent period. We use 28 man rosters, exclusive of injured players.

 Starters

 C:  Jason Castro (HOU)
1B: Joey Votto (CIN)
2B: Jason Kipnis (CLE)
3B: Todd Frazier (CIN) 
SS: Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF: Matt Joyce (TB) (13th round)
OF: Lorenzo Cain (KC) (14th round)
OF: Seth Smith (OAK) (21st round)
DH: Billy Butler (KC)

SP: Alex Cobb (TB) (DL)
SP: Chris Archer (TB) (12th round)
SP: Edwin Jackson (CHC) (15th round)
SP: Ivan Nova (NYY) (16th round)
SP: Danny Salazar (CLE) (18th round)
SP: Tyler Thornburg (MIL) (free agent)
RP: Junichi Tazawa (BOS) (25th round)
RP: Carlos Torres (NYM) (20th round)
RP: Casey Fien (MIN) (free agent)

Bench

 C: Anthony Recker (NYM) (free agent)
3B: Conor Gillaspie (CHX) (23rd round)
3B: Mike Olt (CHC) (minors)
IF: Jurickson Profar (TEX)
OF: Byron Buxton (MIN) (11th round) (minors)
OF: Cameron Maybin (SD) (24th round) (DL)
UT: Chris Colabello (MIN) (26th round)

SP: Archie Bradley (ARI) (minors)
SP: Noah Syndergaard (NYM) (22nd round) (minors)
SP: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (PHI) (27th round) (minors)
SP: Chris Rusin (CHC) (free agent)
RP: Stephen Pryor (SEA) (28th round) (DL)
RP: Robbie Ross (TEX) (free agent)

In retrospect, I probably should not have retained Olt. His former teammate Profar qualifies at 2b and SS and will soon qualify at 3B. He may also qualify at OF eventually. For the B season, our league requires that a player appear 6 times at a position during the current year -- or once during the week when he is list at a position.

Buxton of the Twins has replaced Profar as the top prospect in baseball and many analysts rank Bradley as the top-ranked pitching prospect. Syndergaard is also highly regarded and pitching in AA.

Other notes: Pitcher M.A.G. was a Cuban free agent without a team at the time of the draft, but he signed with Philly soon after the season began. Pitcher Torres had joined the Mets rotation when I drafted him, but may now be in line for some saves (which I desperately need). Utility player Chris Parmelee (MIN) (17th round) was sent down during the draft and I cut him right afterward so as to have a healthy and active substitute player. SP Kevin Slowey (MIA) (19th round) lost his spot in the Marlins rotation and then got hurt. Thus, he too was cut and replaced.


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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

College Elitism

College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be Cover
Cleaning out my office, I found an interesting book review written by CUNY history professor Richard Wolin in The Nation, May 21, 2012. Wolin discusses College; What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco, a distinguished humanities professor at Columbia University.

The review and the book focus on the elitism that now thoroughly permeates American higher education. Forget the ideal of meritocracy:
"He [Delbanco] notes that whereas the child of a family earning at least $90,000 a year stands a 50 percent chance of receiving a BA by the time he or she turns 24, for a child whose annual family income is in the range of $60,000 to $90,000, the odds diminish to one in four. For someone from a household with an annual income of $35,000 or less, they plummet to one in seventeen....
Delbanco explains further that the children of affluent families are four times more likely to be admitted to a prestigious, highly selective university than students with comparable grades and test scores from families of more modest means."
You probably already know why these statistics are important, but here's a well-known stat referenced in the review:
"Over a lifetime, someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn an average of $2.1 million, nearly twice as much as someone with only a high school diploma."
Moreover, given what graduation from an elite colleges means for entry into a host of professions and professional networks, Delbanco concludes that "top universities perpetuate the perquisites of privilege rather than ameliorate them in a democratic manner." There's more:
"To judge by all the evidence available, American higher education today more closely approximates the dystopian image of the 'nightmare society' than it does the egalitarian 'pipe dream' that would be more in keeping with the democratic aspirations of our founding."
Towards the end of the essay, Wolin addresses the content of higher education, not merely the access to it. For example, he references Dewey on the importance of critical thinking, autonomy, and "participatory learning" for fostering democratic citizenship. He also cites de Tocqueville on the dangers of majoritarian tyranny, which he says higher education can help counter by promoting nonconformity.

The key passage from the conclusion echoes a point made by a long line of critical theorists, though the author refers to Plato and Rousseau:
"One of the central problems of undergraduate education today is that it increasingly reinforces the “instrumentalist” view that the major decisions in life concern the efficient selection of means rather than a reflection on ends. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that higher education has been degraded to the status of an enfeebled auxiliary to reigning social and economic interests." 
My youngest daughter is entering her senior year in high school, so we've been looking at some elite schools, some of the top flagship state schools, and a smattering of liberal arts schools that emphasize her particular interests.


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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Breaking Bad Deadpool

Earlier this week, I participated in an on-line draft for political scientist Steve Saideman's "Breaking Bad" Deadpool game. Let's begin with a description of the game:
I have twelve players and twenty four characters (at least as far as I can count) who may or may not live to see the end of the Breaking Bad finale.  This means that in the draft (to be explained below), everyone will pick two characters that they think will survive.  Three points for those characters that are alive when the show is over--if the show makes a leap forward in time and has only one character alive, so be it.  One point if they are in a coma or near-death like situation that is unresolved.  Oh, and to make it interesting: -1 point for the first character to die in the final eight episodes.
Oh, and for a three part tiebreaker: you will have to email me at the end of the draft the name of who you think will be the last person killed, how they will be killed and by whom.  
So, this is the list of characters Steve provided for the 12 participants in his  "Breaking Bad" deadpool:
Walt/Heisenberg
Skyler
Walt Jr./Flynn (dying under either name counts for both)
Holly (the baby--yes, we have no humanity--Walt lost his, and we lost ours when we rooted for Walt)
Jesse
Hank
Marie
Saul
Steven Gomez (the DEA sidekick)
Ted Beneke
Skinny Pete
Badger
Todd (formerly of Friday Night Lights)
Andrea, Jesse's former girlfriend
Brock (Andrea's kid)
Lydia
Bogdan (the guy who used to run the car wash)
Kaylee (Mike's grand-daughter)
Group Leader played by Jere Burns--from Jesse's addiction treatment group
Gretchen Schwartz (one of Walt's former business partners)
Lawson (Jim Beaver, the arms dealer)\
Old Joe (the guy with the wrecking yard)
Huell, Saul's bodyguard
Declan, the new drug dealer
I encountered two big problems when I tried to partake. First, Steve did not receive my draft list email until the morning after the draft. I was going out on draft night, so knew I couldn't make live picks. Fortunately, I checked into the results board mid-draft and discovered the problem, so my draft card wasn't a total disaster. More on that later.

Second, I missed this proof-of-life warning: "Folks who never show up in the final eight get bumpkus/zip/zero/nil."

I never really took that warning into account. Indeed, my solution to the first problem was simply to post my complete rank ordering of possible picks on the comments board mid-draft:
Kaylee 
Brock 
Bogdan 
Group Leader played by Jere Burns
Gretchen Schwartz 
Lawson (the arms dealer)
Saul
Holly
Marie
Old Joe 
Andrea
Walt Jr./Flynn 
Ted Beneke
Huell
Skinny Pete
Badger (aka Brandon Mayhew)
Hank 
Jesse
Steven Gomez 
Declan
Walt/Heisenberg
Skyler
Lydia
Todd
And now, for the results of the draft:
Players1st pick2nd pick
NoahJesse
BrandonSaulBogdan
RobKayleeSteve Gomez
RodgerGretchenLawson
ChipHollyWalt
KristyToddTed
CaitlinSkylerGroup leader
WillBadgerDeclan
Kelsey HuellBrock
WendyHankSkinny Pete
SaraMarieWalt Jr.  
MattOld JoeLydia
Blue means likely to live and be relevant, red means likely to be dead (using Nate Silver's prediction machine). 
I've got some serious proof-of-life problems with my picks. Steve doesn't mention that Gretchen Schwartz is Walt's ex-girlfriend. Or that she hasn't appeared on the show since April 2009.

Lawson the gun-dealer has been on the show a couple of times in the last two seasons, but actor Jim Beaver strongly implies in a recent interview that he was not invited for additional filming for the last half of season 5.

But there's hope.

First, Gretchen. In a NY Times story from mid-May 2013, actress Jessica Hecht apparently revealed a potential spoiler:
Jessica Hecht was filming in Albuquerque last year, reprising her role as the lost love of Walter White’s youth on the concluding season of “Breaking Bad,” when she got a call from Lynne Meadow, the artistic director of Manhattan Theater Club, asking how soon she could be back in New York for a reading of a new play
Look around on the internet, and you'll find speculation that Walt's cancer is back, which might cause him to connect with his former lover and colleague. Also, some people have suggested that the Walt Whitman poetry book Hank finds in the last episide may have been a gift from Gretchen. The inside note is signed GB. Walter's last name is White and some say her maiden name was Black [White plus Black = company name Gray Matter]. Of course, Schwartz is German for black, so this idea about her initials may just by hooey. Worse series creative force Vince Gilligan says dead meth scientist Gale Boetticher gave Walt the book.

Dunno about all that fun stuff, but I think we'll see Gretchen again.

Second, Lawson the gun dealer appears prominently in the opening sequence of season 5, selling Walt an M60 machine gun and ammunition. This remarkable opening scene was a flash-forward to a time period that we have not yet viewed. Walt has a full head of hair and a beard, along with a false New Hampshire ID and a different vehicle from those we've previously known. This must occur some months into the future after Hank finds the poetry book.

Like Checkhov's gun, the M60 is almost certainly going to figure prominently in the resolution of the series. I'm hoping Lawson himself will re-appear in an extended re-play of that transaction. Potentially, no new filming would have been required for this to happen.

Still, my challenge is significant. These long-lost or minor characters have to appear in the upcoming episodes -- and then they have to survive. This is my tiebreaker scenario:
Last person killed: Walt
Killed: gun battle
By whom: law enforcement
I'm looking forward to the final half-season, which begins August 11.


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Friday, July 26, 2013

Think from the gut

Remember the 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner performance by Stephen Colbert? This was the terrific opening segment:
Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert, and tonight it is my privilege to celebrate this president, ‘cause we're not so different, he and I. We both get it. Guys like us, we're not some brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut. Right, sir? 
That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. 
Here's the video:


According to this story in the July/August 2013 Mother Jones, Colbert was actually on to something:
The gut has its own nervous system; it contains as many neurons as the spinal cord. About 95 percent of the body's serotonin, a neurotransmitter usually discussed in the context of depression, is produced in the gut.... 
So the gut isn't just where we absorb nutrients. It's also an immune hub and a second brain.
More, from Scientific American, February 2010.


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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Buy an E-Z Pass

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Do you drive frequently on tollways? If so, you should buy an E-ZPass.

Why? Well, Lindsay Abrams reported an interesting health benefit involving E-Z Pass in the June 2013 Atlantic.
Exposure to pollution matters, too. One of the more inventive recent studies involves, of all things, E‑ZPass. The toll-collection system eased traffic on New Jersey and Pennsylvania highways, improving air quality, which seems to have in turn affected fetal health. Among pregnant women living within a mile or so of an E-ZPass toll plaza, premature births fell by 8.6 percent, and low birth weight, by 9.3 percent. [Emphasis in original.]
Abrams references Currie and Walker, “Traffic Congestion and Infant Health” (American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Jan. 2011).

The short Abrams piece cites a number of other studies involving maternal and fetal health. It turns out that nuclear fallout is bad for newborns, but you would have guessed that. The piece also references data suggesting that national tragedies (think 9/11) and war are also harmful to fetuses -- but so is famine. Indeed, even voluntary fasting during regular religious holidays seems to have unfortunate health consequences for babies.


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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Global Ecopolitics, fall books

I'm teaching POLS 335 this fall, "Global Ecopolitics." I adopted that course title many years ago because it echoes a phrase often used by a faculty member (Dennis Pirages) at my PhD-granting institution, University of Maryland. Essentially, however, the course is about "Global Environmental Politics."

This is the first time I've taught the course since 2009 as my last scheduled section was handed off to a colleague when I was elected Department chair back in 2011.

The large gap means that the course needs entirely new textbooks. Once again, I've decided to emphasize climate change in the course. Instead of also addressing the "bottom billion" as it did previously, the class is going to focus on raw materials scarcity.

The books:

The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources CoverThe Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources

by 

ISBN13: 9781250023971
ISBN10: 1250023971 



Pwws - Polity Whats Wrong #7: What's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It CoverWhat's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It

by 



ISBN13: 9780745652511
ISBN10: 0745652514 




What We Know about Climate Change (Boston Review Books) Cover

What We Know about Climate Change

by 

ISBN13: 9780262018432
ISBN10: 0262018438






Disclosure: If you use those links to order from Powell's Books, the blog receives 7.5% of the purchase price.


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