12.29.2013

Looking Back, Looking Ahead...

The vast majority of my reading in 2013 was non-fiction, and I read some great books. What follows here is a short list of stuff that I enjoyed and experienced last year, in addition to a couple of resolutions that I want to observe in 2014.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The Saturated Self, Orality and Literacy, Convergence Culture, Writing Space, and Alone Together were all excellent books. How Information Came of Age and The New Media Reader were also invaluable texts...

I enjoyed Katherine Tomlinson's Just Another Day in Paradise...

Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages really did something neat with "Wakulla Springs." Not just the best story I read in 2013, but one of the best stories I've ever read in my life...

Cap's on the Water never disappoints, and I had the best scored flounder there back in the spring. It was lightly fried in a rice flour batter and then topped with a peach and mango glaze. Dang, it was delicious...

I had my first eagle in Florida back in August. Stepped up on the first tee at Mill Cove and hit my drive 280. Punched a fairway medal onto the green to about twenty feet, pin high, then made the putt. It was with a Srixon golf ball my daughter gave me with an angry bird logo on it. I promptly lost that sucker in the pond two holes later...

I coached the Arlington YMCA Mustangs to a 4-4 record on the year. The team was a joy to work with, and the kids did a great job of taking coaching. I'm hoping the same group will get together again this spring...

Enjoyed the Players Championship again this year with Kris, even though I had to visit the ER a day before when I cut my foot open while kayaking. That was one nasty gash, but the skin knit up nicely and it hasn't given me any problems. Thank goodness I avoided the flesh-eating bacteria...

Argo was excellent--very engaging film. I also really liked The Conjuring. Just re-watched Prancer with my daughter on Christmas Eve. What an underrated Christmas movie. On the other end of the spectrum, I have no idea what Guillermo del Toro was thinking with Pacific Rim. I laughed the whole way through that film, and there wasn't a joke in that damned thing. I honestly think the actors were being serious with that crap. Thor: The Dark World was equally terrible, and I gave up on The Haunted Mesa. Talk about repetitive and, well, dull...

I had a nice time returning to the classroom at FSCJ, working with about 125 students. I will continue to tweak a few things in the materials I use and the approach to working on the writing process...


For 2014...

I resolve not to laugh at the kids up the street that always scrape their lowriders when they pull into their driveway...

I resolve to read more fiction and write more short stories...

More fish and wine in my diet...less steak and beer...

I resolve to keep a golf handicap, hit ten buckets of balls, and break eighty in back-to-back outings...

More sunscreen and longer runs...

More movies in the theater... 



12.24.2013

SURVIVAL

Survival
The weather outside may be frightful where you are, but be thankful that you don't have to survive a twenty-four-hour blood-drenched gauntlet for the right to become a father.

If you're looking for an exciting, plot-driven afternoon read for your holiday break, take a look at Survival, a dystopian novelette that can be purchased for under a buck for this week only!

As always, thanks very much for reading, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours! 

12.23.2013

The Gators of the Paynes Prairie Preserve

State wildlife biologists believe that the alligator population down at Paynes Praire Preserve State Park may in fact be cannibalistic. Recent droughts have led biologists to theorize that the large alligators fed on smaller alligators as food sources became scarce.

Paynes Praire Preserve really sounds like a place worth visiting. There is a population of American bison inside the park, an impressive wildlife observation deck, freshwater lake fishing, loads of gators, and ranger-led storytelling sessions on Saturday nights in the winter. 

I just finished a run through the JAX Arboretum, and I have to say that I'm actually excited that a cold front is coming in tonight. It's 81 right now, and we have the AC on as I write this. Last night, there were crickets chirping and lizards hopping around on the back patio. With temperatures plunging into the low thirties on Wednesday morning, it'll be a welcome changeup for Christmas Day...

12.22.2013

Come Out to the Coast!



The Silver Coast and Other Stories

If you're looking for a mixture of horror, dark fantasy, and apocalyptic storytelling, The Silver Coast and Other Stories is just $1.99 for the next two days. Pick it up for half off and enjoy some dark narratives this holiday season...

12.19.2013

Frozen



I saw fifteen films in the theater this year, and none was better than Frozen. It had likable characters, a couple of very good musical sequences, some stunning animation, some humor that appeals to parents and kids alike, and an excellent story. I would see this again today if I wasn't going to go check out the latest installment in Jackson's The Hobbit re-imagining. The best Disney film since Wall-E and Up, and much better than either of those, to be sure...

12.18.2013

Constructive Criticism



Barry Hinson just gave a great interview on Jay Mohr Sports. He apologized for calling his athletes out by name, but he wouldn't apologize for the rest of it, and I give him credit for his stance. In the interview with Mohr, he talks about a lack of accountability among his athletes, and an inability for them to take criticism. Every time he tries to correct a bad behavior, or introduce them to something new via analogies or stories, these young people roll their eyes at him. They're too apathetic to be bothered, according to Coach Hinson.

It was interesting to hear him talk about communication as well. He stated that he thought texting and e-mail communication has created an environment in which digital natives have a hard time dealing with confrontation. His point is that, when he has something to say, or an issue to contend, he just makes a phone call or schedules a meeting.

I can relate to his points, but I do think it was a mistake to single out an athlete on the air. After his rant went live on SportsCenter, one of his athletes let him have it on Twitter. He later deleted the tweet, but that's a good example of how difficult communication can be between the coach and his athletes in the digital era. Dashing off a quick tweet is just too immediate, and it doesn't take any formulation of an actual argument. It's merely reactionary, and it has zero rhetorical value at all when one just deletes it a few hours after pressing "send." 

I like Coach Hinson and I applaud him for his passion to compete and his implementation of tough standards. It's an important lesson for these coddled college students to learn--life is filled with challenging expectations and interpersonal conflict, and Coach Hinson is going the extra mile to help prepare these athletes to meet those challenges.

Oh, and as I write this, Coach Hinson is just killing it in terms of positive audience reaction. I think there is a real thirst in this country for the kind of tough correction methods that Coach Hinson is bringing to this SIU hoops squad. These are adults, not kids...they need to step up and accept criticism when they under perform, skip practice, and refuse to take coaching... 

12.14.2013

A Few Titles for the Holidays

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman, one of the more consistently excellent speculative writers out there, delivers another fine story in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A short novel filled with the kind of world-sucking menace that exists at the heart of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, the writing here is very keen, the narrator's voice endearing. There is love, wonder, magic, myth, and longing here; in short, this is a Gaiman story.


The Novellas
I love novellas, and I'm a new fan of the work of Kealan Patrick Burke. His writing is powerful--haunting and lyrical, with strong plotting and characterization. These stories will stick with you, and they are all above average. A novella represents a great way to kill an hour or two without committing to a story over a longer haul, which is perfect for a holiday afternoon. 
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four

Ellen Datlow did a really nice job with this one. I've been quite surprised by the mixed reactions in many of the public forums that I've encountered with this one, as I found it consistently unsettling. There wasn't a tale in the bunch I thought undeserving, and there are a few (the tales by Barron, King, and Lanagan, to be sure) that are excellent. 


In Search Of and Others


One of my favorite books of the year, this is another collection with consistently excellent content--cover to cover. Will's writing shows tremendous insight into the human condition, and he has an innate ability to find the weird in the otherwise mundane.
Joyland
I have already blogged my review of this one, but I have to say it was my favorite King release in 2014. Don't get me wrong, Doctor Sleep is a good book. But this feels more like vintage Stephen King. There's a nostalgia about being young and in love that is just so authentic in this story, and it's another example of King's prowess in writing across generally acknowledged genre boundaries.

I expect to return to more reading (and writing, and blogging) in the speculative genres next year, as I am nearing completion of the coursework portion of my degree down at UCF. I'm hoping to get re-acquainted with a number of authors that I've missed out on reading, and whose work would ordinarily appear here in a much larger list...


12.11.2013

Seasonal Change


"I like it warm outside," she says. I'm speaking with my little girl, who absolutely can't stand the cold weather. 

"What if we lived on top of a mountain, high in the Cascade Mountains?" 

A shrug of the shoulders. "I still like it better warm. I don't like the cold weather at all. It makes me cry."

Her and the rest of the peninsula. I just took a jog at the Jacksonville Arboretum, and folks out hiking the trails were seriously bundled up.

And it's only about 55 degrees!

I played golf on Monday afternoon, up at Deerfield Lakes in Callahan. It's a beautiful course and the folks were nice. I haven't spent much time on Lem Turner Boulevard, but I could get used to life in that part of the world. The lots are huge, the traffic slow and easy. There was livestock all over the place, and a couple of country restaurants and feed stores. Very pastoral, and very nice...

But I got out on the course in 82-degree weather and actually had to question whether I had brought a sweatshirt with me. Fortunately, it never cooled down and I played a quick eighteen holes in stunning weather for December 09.

But now we're supposed to get some cooler weather, including frost warnings for some parts of the area, and it always feels nice to get that seasonal change in the climate. It's that great time of the year when the parking lots at Deerwood are empty because students are only taking finals, but the campus has that anxious energy because students are wrapping up final papers or cramming for exams. We're just a few days away from the conclusion of the term, and it's been a great term for me to become re-acquainted with teaching. 

I spent last year on sabbatical, working with students down at UCF in Orlando, and I didn't realize how much I missed working with our kids up here at FSCJ. The seven (!) groups I worked with throughout this term did great work and made real strides. Many are moving on to other institutions, some as early as next month, and I'm hopeful they're well prepared to excel at the next level.

I'm hoping to get back to the blog more frequently now that I will have some more time to devote to writing for pleasure. I have my final three courses in the T&T program coming up in the spring, and then it's a full slate of summer courses before taking my comprehensive exams at UCF. 

Time is really cranking by, so I'm looking forward to it slowing down over the next month as I spend time with Jeanne and Lyla--even in the frigid forties that December visits upon Northeast Florida! 


12.06.2013

Feeling Chilly?


Frozen is yours for less than a dollar, for a limited time. Pick up a copy and enjoy some serious crazy, way up there in the Colorado Rockies...

11.06.2013

Oregon down on The Farm!


Oregon invades Palo Alto tomorrow evening at 9:00 EST for a huge game with Stanford (ESPN). 

I respect Stanford. I think it's America's best overall academic institution, and they have a great athletic department. They have a lot of classy student athletes and they represent the PAC-12 well across a whole slew of men's and women's sports.

But man, do I ever hope that Oregon goes down there tomorrow ready to play...let's see this team get a convincing win that really showcases the quality of this Oregon football team. 

DeAnthony Thomas mentioned a few days ago that he thought the Ducks should put up at least forty on Stanford. That's two touchdowns below the season average, and even that might be a stretch. Stanford's defense is big and fast, and they usually bring an aggressive game plan into our matchups. Of course, the Ducks are just a few years removed from dropping half a hundred on them at their place, so anything is possible.

The thing about the Ducks this year that I'm so impressed with is their team maturity. They respond well to pressure, and they seem to feed off each other's energy. If DAT can get loose on a few kick returns, it will make all the difference in the world. I think if he breaks one for a touchdown, or if he consistently flips field position, the Ducks will win comfortable.

But if it's a one-score game in the fourth quarter, Katie bar the door! We don't want to get stuck in another OT game with these guys, that's for sure.

I think Marcus and his connection to Addison, Mundt, and Huff will be the difference. No drops, Josh! 

Ducks 42, Cardinal 31


10.08.2013

Assessing College Readiness...

Sweeping changes in national standardization will soon come to bear on the American K-12 educational system. The scope of these changes is not located necessarily in their push for standardization, but instead in the high levels of academic rigor they hope to establish in an effort to better prepare American students for an education beyond high school.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have their origins in the late 1980s, when the National Governors Association (NGA) first took control over shaping the future of American educational policy (Shanahan). Within the space of a few years, systems in all fifty states had designed their own sets of standards--though academic rigor in the fields of math, science, reading, and writing was generally uneven. Some states pushed to enact very high standards as early as 1993, with Massachusetts seeing student achievement levels that have become the envy of our national education model.

 
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Things became complicated along the way, as 2002's No Child Left Behind act tied federal funding to educational progress. As some schools (and entire districts) struggled to meet the federal benchmarks, we discovered that "the result wasn't higher achievement, however. Instead of working more diligently to meet these standards, most states simply reduced their already low criteria to keep the federal dollars flowing" (Shanahan 5).

Fast forward twenty years and you'll find that forty-six states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to adopt all or part of the CCSS initiative. While some detractors have called this movement a corporate approach to homogenizing education (and indeed, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the initiative's most ardent supporters), the National Governors Association insists that teachers will keep their autonomy in the classroom:
  • Fact: The best understanding of what works in the classroom comes from the teachers who are in them. That's why these standards will establish what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards. (Shanahan 5)
Florida has decided to move in the opposite direction, as Rick Scott's administration rejected an adoption of the CCSS initiative, pushing instead for a more "Florida-centric" set of measurements. This comes at the same time that the Florida legislature has abolished mandatory remedial classes for students testing below college-ready levels for admission to one of our state's twenty-eight state colleges.

These decisions will have far-reaching impacts for the students we serve at Florida State College at Jacksonville (and our other twenty-seven member institutions across the state). With more than half of our students entering the college in need of some form of remediation (most frequently in math, but also in reading and writing proficiencies as well), I think we will see a reduction in overall student achievement rates as students forgo these important classes that help them build a foundation for success. In a freshman college writing class, for instance, our aim is not to teach punctuation, mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Those are fundamental skills that students should possess prior to admission in order to have success in classes that instead teach rhetorical methods, critical analysis, and professional writing competencies. Educators will not deviate from the traditional curriculum in order to teach materials that were previously offered in ENC 0020 and ENC 0021--a pair of courses on basic writing fundamentals (sentence to paragraph composition, for instance).

FSCJ defines student success as successfully completing a course with a minimum of a 'C' grade or better. I expect, beginning with student groups that we will see in January of 2014, that those aggregate success rates will begin to drop as students opt out of college preparatory classes. The outcome for the individual who does not achieve success at our institution could be devastating, both psychologically and materially. Students that do not pass a course twice must pay out-of-state tuition, more than tripling the cost of attending school.

And this says nothing of their ability to garner financial aid with such poor student progress.

The stakes are high in Florida. In my view, there is more uncertainty in the future about where our educational system is going than at any other time in my eight years here. But what do things look like for the rest of the country and, in all actuality, how prepared are our students for success in higher education?

Educators in American high schools generally believe that they are doing a good job of preparing students for success in higher education, but statistics from the U.S. Department of Education suggest otherwise. In a report filed shortly after the No Child Left Behind legislation went into action, it was found that only "70% of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32% of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges" (Greene and Forster).

When those statistics were revisited two years later, the findings were a bit more positive:
  • Nationally, the percentage of all students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college increased from 25% in 1991 to 34% in 2002. The finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school. (Greene and Winters)

Did increasing academic standards ultimately lead to better student preparation? That's a pretty interesting question if you participate in the system (and almost all of us have a stake in this, from taxpayers to parents to the children attempting to earn an education) and are concerned about America's future... 

Those figures account for students entering four-year colleges, where admissions standards are more rigorous and access to a higher education becomes more competitive than what we see at an open-admissions institution such as FSCJ. I have not yet worked with freshman as an educator at the University of Central Florida, and so I can't estimate with any accuracy the preparation levels of that student population, but I do think that the students I work with in ENC 1101 at FSCJ generally exceed that level. In other words, I do believe that more than 32% of my students come into my English Composition I classroom with a set of skills that will allow them to earn a 'C' grade or better before moving forward with their educations. Many of my current students, however, are hovering at the borderline for student success. Attendance issues, missed or late assignments, and the proverbial "life issues" always play a large role in determining student success, of course.

Influential universities and colleges are now devoting a considerable number of resources to the problem of coordinating our national K-12 education system with our institutions of higher learning:




But as I personally learn more about the CCSS and the changes being made throughout K-12 and higher education, both locally and nationally, I thought I'd like to solicit further commentary on these topics. The poll below is open to all; of course, it's merely an informal poll. I encourage students and parents to participate with comments, but I'm especially interested in what those working in education think about these developments.

Please don't hesitate to leave comments or thoughts in the forum below based on these (or any other) questions:
  • Is adopting the CCSS a good move for the future of American education?
  • Are the students that you are working with adequately prepared to experience success in your classrooms, either at the secondary or post-secondary level?
  • How can America do a better job of preparing students to "gain full access to our country’s economic, political, and social opportunities"?
Please also take a moment to record your views on the survey found here.
Works Cited

"About the Standards." Common Core State Standards Initiative. corestandards.org. 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Caputo, Marc. "Read Rick Scott's Common Core letters, order. A Jeb Bush dis? Not quite. Will Legislature abide? Yes." miamherald.typepad.com. The Miami Herald Blog, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Ellis, Rehema. "Massachusetts boosts academic success with tough standards." nbcnews.com. NBC Nightly News, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Greene, Jay P. and Greg Forster. "Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States." manhattan-institute.org. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Sep. 2003. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Greene, Jay P. and Marc Winters. "Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates: 1991-2002." manhattan-institute.org. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Feb. 2005. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Stanford Graduate School of Education. jgc.stanford.edu. 2012. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Lawrence, Julia. "Gap Between Perception and Reality in College Readiness Remains Wide." educationnews.org. Education News, 23 May 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Ordway, Denise-Marie. "Florida colleges to drop remedial classes for thousands." orlandosentinal.com. The Orlando Sentinal, 3 Jun. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Strauss, Valerie. "Why I Oppose Common Core standards: Ravitch." washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post: The Answer Sheet, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.



9.30.2013

Heading into the October Country...

We're just a few hours away from that special time of year, folks. Yep, we're mere hours from a complete government shutdown the first of October, that wonderful month of cool evenings, rustling leaves, dark stories, and delicious thrills.

In years past, I've attempted the task of looking at thirty-one horror movies in thirty-one nights. I'm not sure if I'll have the stamina to keep that up this year, but there are a few classics in my Amazon watch list that I'll definitely look at this weekend.

I took my little girl to the zoo on Saturday and they were just beginning to get set up for Spooktacular. My gracious how that lit a fire under her! There's something uniquely magical about being four years old and knowing that you have a whole month to revel in the excitement of trying on a brand new exterior. Lyla wanted to be Applejack at first, and then it was Rainbow Dash. I think the latest vacillation is actually toward Rapunzel, and I fully expect that to change a few more times between now and the big day.

We've been reading from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. We're planning a camping trip with some smores and the requisite campfire tales for later in the fall. We're going to watch some child-appropriate movies this weekend and start making some decorations for the front window. All of this while cooler air is blowing into Duval County and the sun is setting a few minutes earlier with every passing day.

I love all of the seasons. Each has its own special charm, of course, but October is my favorite month of the year. In fact, I just spent a few minutes down the rabbit hole of researching Moloch for a story. Looking into those materials shot a surge of creative energy right through me, and I'm pretty excited about getting back to the story in the morning. It's just the perfect time of the year to write something a little bit darker... 

 

9.24.2013

When Writers Attack

That little corner of the Internet occupied by we the bibliophiles has endured a few minor explosions in the last forty-eight hours in light of Stephen King's comments on the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises. I agree with the man, and I appreciate his candor. I read the first book in the Hunger Games series, and I didn't keep going after I was finished. It seemed to meander in places, and their were way too many easy fixes--rules changes and character flip-flops and things of that nature that just frustrated me. I only read a few chapters in Twilight, just to test the waters, before I knew it wasn't for me.

Is that an indictment on the writing? Sure it is, but that doesn't mean those aren't decent books. They just aren't for me. Anyone who has ever had a one-star rating (and I've had my share) on a creative work understands that not every story will resonate with every reader.

Fans of Meyer and Collins need not become so rankled by King's comments. Taste is personal and subjective. My favorite film of all time is Dumb and Dumber, by the way, so you probably see where I'm coming from...

King's view on horror not entering some contrived "golden age" is also well taken. I see fewer and fewer major horror releases and, even though I know there is good work being done in the genre (Ludwigsen, Ford, Barron, Sarah Langan), it seems like we've kind of hit a period of creative stagnation. I'd love to see something like an Ira Levin horror tsunami take place--a smart, well-written horror novel for adult audiences that doesn't pander and sweeps across the reading populace. Bring on the psychological horror that unsettles and inspires chills, but doesn't mine the schlock... 

When I read that book, I'll be sure to light the beacons, by the way...

I also really admire the man's discussion of speed in writing. His prolific nature is pretty inspirational:
King wrote The Running Man in a week's holiday from his teaching job, while also minding his young children. Books, he says, came in a "gush" to him: "It was like somebody yelled 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre and everybody's trying to crowd through the door at the same time – that was ideas and work."

It's a short interview, but interesting food for thought, to be sure... 

9.17.2013

Elysium



A vision of our apocalyptic future from Neill Blomkamp's Elysium (2013)

"Do you think I like breathing the air down here?"

Those are the words of military industrialist John Carlyle, a slimy one percenter played by the consistently excellent William Fichtner in the entertaining Elysium. Blomkamp does cluttered and depleted very well. The visuals here recall the slums from his superior effort District 9. Elysisum actually borrows quite a bit from that film. The droids are very similar to the aliens, and the action sequences and mechanized augmentations come straight from that earlier film.

Still, there is much that feels fresh here. The short interaction between Matt Damon's Max and the robot parole officer is priceless. More of that speculative satire would have been great.

The visuals of Elysium are great. Picture Rivendell in space and you're getting pretty close. Jodie Foster is excellent as a slimy minister of defense. She grimaces and sneers through the whole thing, and it's easy to forget how great an actor she is. I hope she does some more lead roles very soon...

Damon is good, but the script doesn't give him much to work with. Mostly, this is a plot-driven action flick. We learn a little bit about the characters in some brief flashbacks, but not nearly enough to fully invest in the story.

And Sharlto Copley gives a turn as Kruger that is pretty memorable. Kruger, from his creepy demeanor, accent, and high-pitched voice, is one of the better villains in recent memory. Dude exudes menace...

So it's a good movie, and I enjoyed it on the big screen. It works on an allegory on financial isolation and elitism, and it works as a decent sci-fi flick. Solid "B" for me, and worth your time and ten bucks...

8.28.2013

Modernism and Postmodernism

In Kenneth J. Gergen’s The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, the author does a fine job of outlining and delineating an understanding of the various historical, artistic, and philosophical periods that populate the spectrum of western humanities. I read the text in a history course last term and was thankful to have done so, as a decade outside of the classroom as a graduate student had blurred the hallmarks that seem to define these eras. Teaching so many composition classes tends to create a little bit of atrophy when it comes to discussing these frameworks, so I was happy to see the opportunity for our class to touch base with these ideas again as we work toward our collective Wikipedia project.

I really appreciate Gergen’s approach to thinking about modernism. The second chapter of his text, titled “From the Romantic to the Modern Vision of Self,” positions modernism as a philosophical view of life “in which reason and observation are the central ingredients of human functioning” (19). Gergen situates modernism as the natural response to romanticism. He views the movement as the rational delineation from a focus on the “deep interior,” or the romantic idea that “the material world of the senses is far less significant than the immaterial and unseen” (Gergen 26). Instead, the focus of modernism is predicated on measurable phenomena and realistic presentations of truth.  

At the end of the nineteenth century, such elements as industrial mass production and global conflict repositioned thinking away from the introspection of the romantic era and into the practical purview of modernism. Gergen points to progress in the sciences as the foundation for modernism, citing improvements in medicine, sanitation, and working conditions as catalysts for a western view of culture that moved away from artifice and style and toward practicality and sincerity. Indeed, Gergen refers often to the qualifiers “utilitarian” and “earnest” when he discusses how modernism differs from both romanticism and the postmodern condition.

As support, he discusses music, architecture, dance, and literature. He states:

In the domain of dance, classical ballet was scorned for its decorative formalisms, and the interpretive dance of the romantics seemed self-indulgent. Dance turned “modern” when, in one critic’s words, it aimed to “externalize personal, authentic experience.” (31)

I must pause here to provide full disclosure. Gergen’s text champions the emotional and artistic attributes of the romantic tradition, and he deeply admires the qualities of practicality and sincerity that he views are the hallmarks of modernism. Indeed, his text and its discussion of shifting personal identity views postmodernism as a cultural threat that might “extinguish the validity of both the romantic and modern realities” (19).

There are elaborate, methodical definitions for what we commonly call postmodernism, and there are also some simplistic views:
Somewhere in the middle, as is often the case, lies the truth. I think of postmodernism as a direct reaction to the relatively staid tradition of modernism that preceded it. It is exemplified by experimentation, reconstitution (what some scholars have come to think of as remix culture), and adaptation. In his text The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts, theorist Richard Lanham provides an example that capably illustrates these traits.  Lanham discusses technology as the great facilitator of postmodernism. Like Gergen, he views “clarity” and “authenticity” as the defining characteristics of modernism (25). He then proceeds to discuss Marcel Duchamp’s mustachioed Mona Lisa (one of the artist’s “readymade” artifacts), making the argument that Duchamp’s postmodern artistic efforts destabilize the aristocratic limits of modernism:

What will emerge finally is a new rhetoric of the arts, an unblushing and unfiltered attempt to plot all the ranges of formal expressivity now possible, however realized and created by whom (or what-) ever. This rhetoric will make no invidious distinctions between high and low culture, commercial and pure usage, talented or chance creation, visual or auditory stimulus, iconic or alphabetic information. (Lanham 24)

Lanham views postmodernism positively, as an expressive and philosophical movement of the masses. Postmodernism, in his view, levels the critical playing field and allows greater participation via the various conduits of technology.

For visual purposes, I can delineate between the movements by comparing the prairie-style architecture of prominent Jacksonville, Florida, creator John Henry Klutho (a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of organic architecture) with that of noted postmodern architect Robert Venturi.








To further illustrate the point, consider the following portraits. Richard Barsam uses these paintings in a discussion of form and content in his excellent text Looking at Movies, but I think the lesson is applicable here as well. The Matisse portrait illustrates the transition between Fauvism and Modernism, and the latter is well represented by Edward Hopper’s work. The third work, a populist, minimalist piece, shows the human figure as I imagine a postmodernist would view it.




I believe the generalizations outlined in the textual and visual examples above have come to manifest themselves (to a material extent) in our present rhetorical situation. Obfuscation and artifice seem more in line with the argumentative and persuasive impulses of our politicized, postmodern present, while I personally cleave to the more authentic, sincere ethic that Gergen associates with modernism. Where modernism seems a movement born out of practical necessity, postmodernism seems more a product of “play,” a concept Lanham delves into with great precision in his text. There is room for both within the modern rhetorical tradition, of course, but the modern view strikes me as more useful in a philosophical consideration of reality. 

Works Cited

Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic, 1991. Print.

Lanham, Richard. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Word. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1993. Print.


   

8.19.2013

Sweaty Swamp Hobos Drinking Miller High Life and Eating Mudbugs...



The first time I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), I was taken with the stylish framing and the intriguing mythology of the aurochs. After watching it again yesterday with my daughter, it left me with much stronger feelings about the things it chooses to show and say.

My daughter asked me why Hushpuppy isn't in school, and telling her that life in the bathtub was like perpetual summer just didn't seem like a reasonable response. The lack of access to a formal education is just one of the many abuses this poor girl must suffer--some physical, some emotional, and some mental.

The more we watched, the more the trope of the noble savage emerged so explicitly. I did a little checking around and found some good scholarship that pretty much mirrors my most recent reaction to the film. Would Hushpuppy choose this life for herself if she knew what life was like on the other side of the levy?

I doubt it, but filmmaker Benh Zeitlin sure seemed comfortable romanticizing a bunch of swaying drunkards living in filthy shanties. At one point, Hushpuppy's father, Wink, decries the people getting their food in grocery stores.

Really?

That scene where he shouts at Hushpuppy to "beast it" when she shatters the crab and slurps it down is the film's most memorable anti-mainstream culture moment. It's effective, in the sense that it can definitely be taken as a father attempting a real teaching moment with his daughter as he lurches toward his death. But it's also the most overt denial of the things his little girl needs most: access to decent food, a clean environment, healthcare, and schooling. 

I still like the movie, generally. It's visually very pretty to look at, and I liked the way it was shot (both technically, and with the collective efforts of the filmmakers). For a first feature, Zeitlin did a nice job. But the way he depicts the "Southern Wild" was more than deplorable on second look. These people were slack-jawed yokels.

Here's to hoping that Hushpuppy found a way off that water-drenched levy after they sent Wink to the great beyond and that she found a set of clean clothes and a desk in a school that will allow her a better chance to capitalize on that imagination and vocabulary of hers...   

8.12.2013

Patience with Blaine Gabbert...



Everybody calling for Blaine's head needs to chill out. First off, he didn't look good in the preseason game last week, but that pick was not his fault. If the ball hits the back in the hands, as it did in the game against Miami, that needs to be a catch.

Blaine needs to get Maurice, Blackmon, and Cecil Shorts back. They need to protect him (he had the ball out of his hands in 2.1 seconds on Friday!) and give him time. 

Of course his results have been disappointing. Of course we have expected more from him. But he has the physical tools and we've seen him make all the throws. He really needs things to click for ten or twelve quarters in a row--get that confidence way up--and he'll be fine. If he has a very good four-game stretch, he'll save his career.

Our options in town aren't great, but give Blaine some time. Here's hoping he surprises us... 

8.07.2013

The All-Time Oregon Football Squad: The Offense




I've been following U of O football since coming of age as a sports fan in John Day, Oregon (middle 1980s). When Coach Brooks got the Ducks into the Rose Bowl in 1995, that feat was really a turning point in the modern era of Ducks football. By that time, I was reading about Oregon in the Eastern Oregonian every evening. This was back in Pendleton, Oregon.

Ah, the good ol' days of daily news delivered in the evening!

With the exception of a downer 2006 campaign, these last fifteen years have witnessed the Ducks' ascendance to a place of national prominence. With back-to-back BCS wins (including the 2012 Rose Bowl over Russell Wilson and a game Wisconsin Squad), unprecedented alumni support, a push to expand Autzen Stadium (where rain has yet to actually fall during actual game time), an exciting roster of young athletes, and a new coaching philosophy that has been engineered by an Oregon native, excitement has never reached this level in all the years I've been watching. Oregon is built around speed, and with Thomas Tyner and the Robinson twins joining the team this fall, the future looks even brighter at Oregon.

I thought, in light of all the success the Ducks have enjoyed in the last two decades, it would be fun to take a crack at compiling an all-time squad. I thought it would be interesting to see how the guys I came up watching (Philyaw, Musgrave, Akili, Loville, McCullough, O'Neil, Howry, J. Stew) stacked up against the all-timers (Renfro, Moore, Fouts).

What follows is one Duck fan's subjective opinion, of course. My caveats are that I wasn't alive to see many of the great Oregon athletes of the past play, but I can make sense of their contributions through looking at Oregon's comprehensive media guide.

Feel free to offer a dissenting opinion in the comments section. I love talking Oregon football!

To begin, let's get a look at the quarterback position.
 

Best: My heart wants to go with Dan Fouts, but my brain insists on Bill Musgrave. Oregon's all-time leader in passing and total offense was also the most important catalyst of the big turn in program fortunes.

My Favorite: I've always enjoyed the play of Kellen Clemens. Part of my love stems from the circumstance of another Eastern Oregonian making good, but the majority of it was Kellen's all-around game. He could pass and run with the best of them, and he had a knack for making big plays when the game situations called for them. Marcus Mariota has some of those same qualities, but he seems to be more athletic and have a stronger overall skill set. In time (and if he stays two more years at Oregon), I see Marcus taking this slot, as I really enjoyed watching his play last year. He seems to have the size and smarts to make his mark in the NFL when it's all said and done.

Fan Favorite: I still think Joey Harrington is the all-time fan favorite. That's saying a lot for a team with so many quarterbacks that have gone on to play in the NFL. Fouts, Miller, O'Neil, Graziani, Musgrave, Clemens, Smith, Feeley, Dixon...sheesh, that's a lot of accomplishment. Joey was personable and athletic. He's a really smart guy and a native Oregonian, now living in Portland and doing some good things in the state. His NFL career didn't pan out the way we all would have expected, but he played on some terrible Detroit teams. In light of those rosters around him, he actually didn't have horrible NFL stats.

Running Back

Best: LaMichael James. In just three years as a starter at Oregon, he put his mark at #14 all-time in the list of top NCAA rushers. LaMichael has the best burst I've ever seen in college football, and his lateral quickness and ability to cut in tiny spaces is jaw dropping. He worked hard in his last two years at Oregon to become a better pass catcher, and I think he'll do a lot of good work in that facet of the game in the NFL. He's driven, and he's a good person that has represented the U of O well nationally (he finished third in the 2010 Heisman race, and attended the ceremony in New York) while coming back to Oregon often. 

My Favorite: It's LaMike for me as well, though just by a hair. Back when we were lucky to get the Ducks games on television out in Eastern Oregon, I remember watching Saladin McCullough tearing up the Pac-10. I have soft spots in my heart for J-Stew, Jeremiah Johnson, Derek Loville, and Maurice Morris. I know Bobby Moore was the goods before he changed his name and dominated in the NFL.

Fan Favorite: Again, it's LaMichael. He might be the most popular Duck of all time. He's certainly in that discussion with Moore, Fouts, and Harrington.

Wide Receivers

Best: I'm picking three here, just because I'm not going to add a true fullback in this analysis. The Ducks play such a hybrid offense (they ran two h-backs against Auburn in 2011) that finding a lot of commonality among the various generations is kind of difficult.

WR1: Bobby Moore put up great numbers as both a running back and a pass receiver. He did a little bit of everything for Oregon and caught 131 passes in an era that featured fewer plays than what these teams are doing now. He's an iconic Duck and former All American who had good success in the NFL. With his versatility, he'd flourish in a modern college offense like the one Oregon is deploying on Saturdays.

WR2: Jeff Maehl is tied with Samie Parker for the all-time lead in catches at Oregon (178). Samie could electrify the yard and break a game wide open, but he also put some balls on the turf. Jeff was the opposite. Even though he did run away from the secondary from time to time, he was always more of a possession receiver. He went over the middle and caught everything. His hands were so sticky, and I think he's the most clutch receiver the Ducks have had since...

WR3: Keenan Howry was so much fun to watch. 173 catches in his career, and more than 4,000 all-purpose yards. He always played well in big games. That punt return for a touchdown in the 2001 Civil War is one of the great Ducks plays of all time. Played on Sundays for a few years in Minnesota, but boy was he a playmaker in Eugene.

My Favorite: In order, I'm a fan of Howry first, then Maehl, and then Demetrius Williams. Not sure why Williams didn't shake out in Baltimore in the NFL (or here in Jacksonville, where he had a brief stop last year), but he was nails as a Duck. He was football fast and caught everything close. I always enjoyed watching him work. A close runner-up is his media guide neighbor, Cristin McLemore. McLemore was exciting and dependable, and player that did some great things when the Ducks were ramping up toward respectability.

Fan Favorites: Moore, Howry, and De'Anthony Thomas. DAT is probably the best pure athlete the Ducks have ever put on the field. A sprinter who ran a 10.08 100m dash in high school, he now runs for the perennially championship-contending Oregon track team. He has explosion like LaMichael (maybe more explosive, though LaMike could hit a seam and be gone) and is a really fine receiver (after he put his first game behind him, of course). DAT could ultimately re-write the records in a few categories. I think he's hard to classify as a true wideout because of how Oregon uses him, but he needs to be on here somewhere and I think of him more as a useful wideout than a primary ball carrier.

Tight End

Best: The Ducks have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at this position over the last few decades, if the number of Ducks that have played in the NFL is any indication. I think one has to give it to Ed Dickson in this case, even though he made his mark in such a pass-happy environment. Guys like Weaver and Peelle and Wilcox were great all-around ends (read, blocking), but Dickson made the greatest impact on the games. It'll be interesting to see his numbers this year in the NFL with Dennis Pitta out for the season. Between 2008 and 2009 he had three 100-yard receiving games. He caught more than 100 passes in his time at Oregon, in addition to 12 touchdowns.

My Favorite: I loved the deceptively athletic George Wrighster. I remember heading down to the stadium here in Jacksonville when he was playing for the Jags. He caught a pass in the flat and made a quick move up field and then hurdled a guy the way LaGarrette always used to. Really soft, sticky hands and a pretty good run blocker. 

Fan Favorite: Probably Dickson, though I'd love to hear from some Peelle, Rosario, or Wilcox fans.

Offensive Line

I won't pretend to know the intricacies of this highly technical (and probably most important) component of the offense. Nor do I have the all-22 tapes on any of these guys, so I can only go on proximity and name recognition here. In this case, I'm taking Gary Zimmerman, Mark Asper, Geoff Schwartz, Max Unger, and Hronis Grasu. 

So there you have it. One Duck fan's look at the all-time offense. If it seems heavily weighted toward recent athletes, I'll just refer you back to my brief introduction: Oregon has been to four consecutive BCS games. This program wasn't always this good, folks...

Any thoughts on the Ducks are always welcome here in the comments section!

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....