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1.28.2015

A Few Thoughts on American Sniper

I'd like to go see American Sniper (2015). I love Clint Eastwood's films, and I'm interested to see Bradley Cooper's acting chops. The Oscar buzz is, of course, another aspect that piques my interest.

It's a curious film, one that is smashing box office records while igniting what has been described in The Washington Times as a new round of culture wars. 

Biopics are, by definition, designed to portray true events. AFI has an interesting piece on the genre (though dealing with James Brown and not Chris Kyle). I went to AS's official Web site, looking for the studio's own phrasing on how they're labeling the film. Is it a true biopic, or did the writers and producers cherry pick the events for Hollywood? Did they dramatize some details while leaving others out? If so, then calling it a biopic might be a stretch. 

Perhaps as a testament to the film's interest, the site wouldn't load. 

War films are tricky. Perhaps more than any other genre, these films inspire discussion and shape our collective understanding of the pivotal moments of our era. In that way, they bear the greatest informative scrutiny for their care in how they depict conflict--in how they mediate death and destruction in the light of winning and losing. 

It's a tough task, to be sure.

Kyle lived an extraordinary life in a very volatile period in human history. He wrote about his experiences in his memoir, and we can contrast that book with the findings advanced in such studies as the 9/11 Commission Report in order to get a fuller picture of what happened in Iraq and how our soldiers were forced to deal with combat. 

As is the case with most of these contentious political debates, there's probably multiple truth values embedded in this discussion, and it's on each of us to make sense of the material for ourselves. I hope to see the film soon, and I'm looking at it for both entertainment and contextual purposes. A film can be entertaining, by the way, without traipsing into the realm of propaganda.

1.26.2015

Quick Thoughts on Peer Review...

Motherboard has posted an interesting piece on an "article" that was published in Science Bulletin. This Monckton character has a well-documented history of espousing junk science, so how on Earth did this pass the editorial process?

It looks like it was rushed through review, and doesn't look as though it was thoroughly vetted by actual scientists.

For those preparing work for publication, here are a few thoughts:

  • Scrutinize the journal's board of directors. Do you recognize names on that list? Are there theorists on the board actively publishing in your field?
  • There is no professional distinction anymore between digital and print publication. In fact, if you actually want folks to read your work, you might simply target digital publications from the start.
  • If you are publishing in the digital humanities or humanities computing, Penn's CFP Web site is a great resource.
  • Any reputable publication will take your essay through anonymous peer review.
  • Be respectful of the guidelines, and contact the editor if you have any questions on special features of your piece. I've found editors to be quick and helpful when fielding such inquiries.
  • Be careful about the rights you are assigning. If you want to republish your article, you might have some issues if your journal takes your rights.
  • This is just me, but I'd never pay even a single dollar to a journal to read my essay. I get a solicitation or four every day in my Outlook inbox for these publications, and I just shoot them into the trash. That's not only an expensive route to publication, but it's actually not a boon to your C.V. either. 
In order to maintain a vibrant marketplace for theory and analysis, publications have to shoot for quality, consistency, and accuracy. Try to find places that will publish you quickly in digital formats, are read (and governed) by people in your field, and who take your piece through at least some moderate level of peer review.

1.22.2015

On the Chile Trail


Coyote Joe did a great job with this one. I love these recipes, and I enjoy the challenge of finding and cooking with some of these obscure chiles. Well worth your time and effort to give this cookbook a look...

1.20.2015

State of the Union...

Tonight (9:00 p.m. EST) marks another opportunity for President Obama to discuss the present condition of the United States of America. On the surface, things seem to be improving. Simply on an anecdotal level, I see more development and reinvestment in real assets than I've seen since the Great Recession. I was struck, just yesterday, by the number of signs I noticed on I-10 advertising open positions, including master mechanics and qualified truck drivers. Those are jobs that provide a decent wage, and which usually signify an increase in demand for luxury items (in this case, recreation vehicles).

Our enrollments at FSCJ are down a substantial percentage, which usually signifies that individuals are confident in the job market and are willing to put aside re-training in an effort to earn more money. Like any service-related industry, we boom and bust in a cyclical pattern.

Still, there's an eerie lag in wage growth. When adjusted for inflation, Americans are actually about $2000 worse off than when the recession started in 2008. This is keeping inflation in check (relatively, but don't look at groceries for confirmation there), but for how long? Once we see even minimal wage growth, I'll begin to believe more wholly in the notion of a recovery.

President Obama is tasked with the tricky proposition of selling a recovery to an America that is still reeling from the real estate crash (Florida is now #1 in the country in foreclosures, thanks very much, according to First Coast News) and high unemployment. He will, once again, be looking to change the tax structure in ways that benefit the middle class. 

I applaud his efforts. This exhaustive piece in The Atlantic illustrates the nature of our present economy. It's a great piece, and I highly recommend that you read all of it. Will we be able to bolster our middle class through economic policies like the one the President is proposing tonight?

Almost certainly not.

Never before have we seen such partisan gridlock in Washington. It's both reassuring (checks and balances and all of that) and soul-crushing at the same time. Do something, for heaven's sake!

The dominant paradigm of the last three decades (Reagonomics, and the supposed "trickle-down" theory of wealth distribution) has failed the American middle class. Sure, automation and globalization are a large part of it as well, but the truth is that corporations don't reinvest, they sequester dollars in foreign accounts. Wealthy individuals don't allow their funds to trickle down--they improve their estates through untouched capital gains. 

America seems to be responding to the President's latest proposals, which include a stronger national cyber security shield and free community college. But I don't see how these tax measures will ever clear Congress.

We live in a world in which eighty (80!) individuals own more than over three billion people. 

Chew on that for a moment.

And while we still have the world's greatest standard of living here in America, we're seeing economic disparities that we couldn't have imagined in the 1950s and '60s, when many of our parents were coming of age and embarking on a journey that would make them the most economically prosperous generation the world has ever seen.

We in the Generation X and Millenial demographics better strap on our hardhats. Between student loans, a cratered real estate market, and the white elephant of healthcare for an aging population, we'll be pushing that rock up the hill for a damned long time.

It would be nice if, along the way, we got a little economic relief and a chance to improve our present conditions (a personal state of the union, so to speak).

Tonight will be all about rhetoric. It always is, of course, but tonight will be especially telling in how the President frames his speech. 

1.14.2015

Picking up the Pieces...

John Day River, Oregon


Ouch. That loss to Ohio State in the national championship hurt. I spent yesterday in a funk, and that's rare for me. I'm an optimist and, even when things are going badly, my glass is way more than half full.

But this one stings, and it's because I was just so invested in how resilient and talented this group of Oregon football players is. I'm proud of them. 13-2 is a great season, and there's much to be thankful for with this team.

They showed some true grit in overcoming injuries. They rallied together on a march toward greatness and, even though the result in the final game wasn't what we were expecting, they made the state of Oregon proud. 

I woke up today feeling great, and I'm heading out for a run. Got to win every day, and keep pushing that rock up the hill.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with fishing. I spent most of every summer day knee-deep in the John Day River, attempting to catch every trout between John Day and Mt. Vernon. I learned a lot about myself in that river, and they're important lessons that I cherish to this day.

Be strong. Be smart. Keep working. 

I think this Oregon team understands those same lessons, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for the program. Follow the Oregon way, fellas. We'll be watching, every step of the journey!

1.07.2015

Oh Reader, Where Art Thou?

I've been digesting some interesting theory on the human capacity for attention maintenance. In the 1850s, in the era of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, Americans could (and did, as the debates were popular) sit for hours, quietly attentive of some very complex rhetoric. Both speakers were eloquent, composing their thoughts extemporaneously with what Neil Postman has called "typographic" characteristics. 

Morse's telegraph changed things and, in 1854, the Associated Press was formed. In effect, Morse had conquered the dilemma of space and distance. News came in from all over, though much of it had little to do with the local needs of the various papers subscribing to these wire feeds. This is a precursor to what Henry Jenkins has called "churn" and other theorists have dubbed the "echo chamber": the recycling of opinion and reaction which is often repackaged as "news." This created what Postman called "impotent" news, for what was a bank robbery in New York City to a farmer in Des Moines? Indeed, our practical information-action ratio--those things upon which we can enact some control--seems diminished with the death of every local newspaper. We can offer a snarky comment on the latest celebrity news splashed across the MSN interface, or lament that a number of journalists were shot in Paris, but that's about it. 

Modern communication theory seems filled with such binaries:

  • informational impotence/practical utility
  • modernism/postmodernism
  • stuff/fluff
  • calculation/navigation
  • collaboration/prohibitionism
Postman called this decades ago: "In a sea of information, there was very little of it to use" (Amusing Ourselves to Death 67). Richard Lanham has called it, re-contextualized for the Internet, "attempting to drink from the fire hose of information."

So in the space of 160 years, we've shifted gears from sitting quietly for seven-hour debates to truncating data into soundbites and 140-character tweets. I'm not saying this is good or bad, mind you--just different than what came before.

But when we learn (via Pew) that about a quarter of Americans aren't reading so much as a single book in a year, this is unfortunate news. It says a lot about our ability to focus on actual ideas. Sure, we love instagram, but a photo is nothing more than a representation of a category of things at a moment in time. It takes an understanding of language to discern the meaning of something (an idea Turkle plumbs deftly in Life on the Screen's third chapter). Nature doesn't care about the "treeness" of a tree, but our language ascribes it meaning. 

And our ability to understand and digest important ideas seems deeply tied to our ability to maintain attention. 

Recommended reading for those interested in this topic: The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, Richard Lanham. Excellent text. We'll be talking more about this throughout the next four months in RTV 4403, and thinking about the variety of ways we attract (and sustain) attention in our own media production...


1.05.2015

2015

Turning the page feels good, and I always look at these first few months of the new year as an opportunity to touch base with some core goals that set the rest of my year up for success. This year, as I head into comprehensive exams at UCF and dissertation work, my goals are a bit different. I have two releases forthcoming in 2015 (a story collection and a novel), but I don't see much happening in the way of new fiction. That's both a little bit sad and kind of exhilarating, as I've never written a book-length work of non-fiction. So my first goal is to dedicate myself to the academic text process, and switching gears takes some practice--on the reading, writing, and thinking fronts. It's just a different creative lifestyle, I think...

I'll be spending much of the next few months writing a prospectus and reaching out to authors in the speculative fiction community. I'm mulling project design and drafting research questions. I'm considering ordering and coherence in the various essays that I'll be putting together. I'm investigating the level to which I want to include visuals and multi-modality (interesting workshop coming up in February on this very subject at UCF).

In terms of personal goals, the girls and I have a bunch of stuff to continue to work on as a family (all of it positive and hopeful). We'll stick with soccer and ballet, and try to play more golf and take more hikes and camping trips. These girls! Man, very fortunate...

I want to train hard for the Gate River Run in March, and I want to chill out on biting my fingernails (criminy, why is that so hard?). I want to excel in these exams and continue to grow in my role in the Converged Communications program at FSCJ.

2015 should be a fine year. As I write this, it feels like an Oregon spring day here in Northeast Florida. The air is crisp and the sun is bright. I'll pick Lyla up from kindergarten in a bit and we'll head out for a hike. I dig it...

Hope it's a banner year for those dropping by. Set some goals and knock 'em down, and keep that optimism throughout the journey...