Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Quotations: It's Funny Because They're Not From Around Here

Volstagg.  I noticed you and the serving wench were getting along verrrrrrrry nicely, Fandral.
Fandral.  Oh, Becky?  Yes, a charming girl.  I suspect she may be a witch.
Volstagg.  A witch?
Fandral.  She attempted to place a curse upon me by making strange marks on a piece of paper and slipping it into my pocket.  Fortunately, I spotted the ruse and burned it in time.

The key to the comedy here is to imagine the immensely fat Volstagg leering hugely as he draws out "verrrrry."  Taken from Thor: The Mighty Avenger vol 1, in which the Asgardian god Thor meets up with a bunch of his buddies to go to a pub night in Britain.  It also contains the best mockery of secret identities I've seen in a while: "Do you think you should check on him?  He has been in the loo a long time, no?" "Mmm?  No, it's okay.  He's Captain Britain.  He thinks his friends don't know, but he's terrible at keeping it a secret.  So we pretend we don't notice.  Another one?"
Thor: The Mighty Avenger was written by Roger Langridge (who also did phenomenal work on the comic book version of the Muppets) and drawn by Chris Samnee. The series was cancelled after eight issues, because people like you and me don't appreciate nice things while they're here.  Well, we'll always have Dunkirk.

Later Days.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Always Something in Philadelphia

I'm teaching a pop culture course this term.  I've taught the course before, so I decided to shake things up a bit this time, in terms of the artifacts.  We've studied Bill Hick's stand-up, 1940s Disney cartoons featuring Nazis, and 1950s government films on what to do in case of a nuclear strike.  Today, though, we watched an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it was the first time I really wondered if I went too far.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show whose basic premise is easy to sum up.  The core plot is 5 people running a bar: Dennis, the owner who is also a conceited narcissist; Mac, the second-in-command who's played by a guy who ate himself overweight because he thought it would make his character funnier (it did, but wow, that's commitment); Dee, Dennis' sister who is desperately insecure; Charlie, who's on the borderline between kind of dumb and outright insane; and Frank, played by Danny DeVito, who is rich, disgusting, and insane.  And from the start, it's been a show that's prized itself in finding humor in disgusting situations.  See, for example, Season 4's "Who Pooped the Bed?" or the Season 7 episode where they host a child beauty pageant.

At the same time, though, there's a definite difference from the early and late seasons.  I remember watching the first season in two or three sittings, and ending it feeling like I had been made a worse person for watching.  And then I stopped feeling that way.  I've joked that it was because some part of my moral sense had died, but, going back to the earlier episodes for my class, I think the show itself changed.  It started with the introduction of Danny DeVito to the cast, but even his character underwent some changes.  He started as a disciplinarian, tough-love father wanting to indulge himself (reminiscent of the father from Titus, actually, another dark comedy) then gradually veered away from that until the Christmas episode a few seasons later where he emerges naked from inside a couch during a party, and unselfconsciously plods his way out of the room. 

Don't think that I'm complaining about the new direction, though.  It was when the show got "wackier" that I started to really like it.  I love the scenes with Charlie's kitten mittens, and his dream journal.  I still sing bits from the musical episode.  Chardee MacDennis is probably the closest thing on television that I've seen to Calvinball, in terms of absurdist rules.  And even though I'm a vegetarian, I am fascinated with the idea of the rum ham.  But I have to admit, the show had a lot more edge in the beginning.  Look at the topics from the first season: racism, abortion, sex with minors/underage drinking, cancer, gun control, molestation.  We are talking about a lot of topics that are taboo for comedy.  And the episodes aren't entirely without heart, either; it's pretty clear, for example, in the "Underage Drinking" episode, that the Gang is just dealing with their own issues from high school rather than deliberately wanting to make out with high school kids, and as a 28 year old, I can relate to still carrying around that kind of baggage (just the first part.  Not the second.  Don't relate to that.  At all.). 

I don't really have a conclusion here, except the most wishy-washy one ever.  I think the show made the right choice by going in a more absurdist direction; the pure dark comedy was pretty depressing, and certainly not sustainable over 8 seasons.  At the same time, though, when I was looking for an episode that was interesting in its own right for a class discussion, it was the early stuff I looked at--those are the episodes that really deal with the issues.

Friday, we're watching an episode of Louie, starring the comedian Louie C. K.  It's maybe the only example of a show that I can think of that's pulling off the balance between biting, sometimes dark, social commentary and humor.

Later Days

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Quotations: And then all the other ponies laughed at her

"No thanks!  I sooo don't read.  I'm a world-class athlete.  Reading's for eggheads, like you. I am not into reading.  It's undeniably, unquestionably, uncool."
--Rainbow Dash, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  

My time is spent in questionable pursuits.

Later Days.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bees. Bees....

Well, one bee, specifically.  I just walked down to the library to pick up a book, then came back to the office.  I sit down, cross my legs, and prepare to work.  That's when I notice, due to my knee now being closer than usual to my head, that I picked up a passenger while outside: there is now a bee crawling slowly up my leg.  I get up, very, very carefully.  The bee seems undisturbed.  Encouraged, I leave my office and start down the hallway to the outdoors.  It had never seemed quite so long.  I imagine I presented an interesting picture for passerbys, as I was trying very, very hard to move quickly, yet do so with the minimal amount of leg movement.  I assume this is how the Monty Python "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch came into being.

I got outside, and took inventory.  One me, check.  And one bee, check.  The latter item, however, had shifted considerably.  While I was busy fleeing, the bee had been occupied with moving to a more advantageous part on Mount PoC.  It had moved upward from my knee, to behind my thigh, and was now taking up position directly on my left buttock.  I had a bee on my ass.  You can imagine the relative sangfroid I employed in learning this fact.  And if I looked ridiculous before when I was walking, you can also imagine the figure I cut when trying to dislodge a bee from my butt without agitating it or putting my naked hands anywhere near the region in question.  I'm guessing it looked something between inventing a poorly thought out dance move, and having a seizure.

The bee eventually decided that there was, in fact, no pollen in my posterior, and flew away.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and offered a silent prayer to any deities with apiarist inclinations that may be in the vicinity.  I trudged back to the office.  It was a pointless gesture; there was clearly no way I was going to do any work today.  I was far too traumatized.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bibliophile: Can't Get No Satisficing

If you're here to read a Heidegger/fantasy literature mash-up, you're fresh out of luck; that was last post. This is Bibliophile. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dual Book Review: Martin Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology" and China MiƩville's "Kraken."

The title alone makes this one of the most pretentious blogposts I have ever, ever written. Still, there are ideas in my head, and they must come out.  Think of this as a sort of mental colonic.

"Any moment called Now is always full of possibles.  At times of excess might-bes, London sensitives occasionally had to lie down tin the dark.  Some were prone to nausea brought on by a surfeit of apocalypse.  Endsick, they called it, and at moments of planetary conjuncture, calendrical bad luck or mooncalf births, its sufferers would moan and puke, struck down by the side effects of revelations in which they had no faith." --Kraken, Chiana Mieville.

"Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology.  When we are seeking the essence of 'tree,' we have to become aware that That which pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all other trees." -The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays by Martin Heidegger.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Quotations: The More Heidegger, the Merrier

"What is taking place in the extending and consolidating of the institutional character of the sciences?  Nothing less than the making secure of the precedence of mythology over whatever is (nature and history), which at any given time becomes objective in the research.  On the foundation of their character as ongoing activity, the sciences are creating for themselves the solidary and unity appropriate to them.  Therefore historiographical or archaeological research that is carried forward in an institutionalized way is essentially closer to research in physics that is similarly organized than it is to a discipline belonging to its own faculty in the humanistic sciences that still remains mired in mere erudition.  Hence, the decisive development of the modern character of science as ongoing activity also forms men of a different stamp.  The scholar disappears.  He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects.  These, rather than the cultivation of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness. The research man no longer needs a library at home.  Moreover, he is constantly on the move.  He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses.  He contracts for commissions with publishers.  The latter now determine along with him which books must be written." --Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and other essays.

And then there's that time Heidegger was told that, yes, he DID have to go to the department meetings.  I mean, I  can understand his frustration.  All I want to do is read stuff and think, but digital humanities is all about the projects and studies these days.  On the other hand, I love the sound of the phrase "research man."  "Charles, have you found out anything about that nasty situation in the colonies?"  "Oh, don't be silly, Gertrude.  That's why we have a research man.  Get the coal man to put another shovel into the furnace, won't you, dear?".  And so forth.

Later Days.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford

"How can SPACE INVADERS and PAC-MAN be classified as art?  How can TEMPEST or MISSILE COMMAND compare with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Michaelangelo's Pieta, or Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms?  Computer games are too trivial, too frivolous to be called art; they are idle recreation at best.  So says the skeptic.
"But we cannot relegate computer games to the cesspit of pop culture solely on the evidence of the current crop of games.  The industry is too young and the situation too dynamic to dismiss computer games so easily.  We must consider the potential, not the actuality.  We must address fundamental aspects of computer games."  --Chris Crawford, The Art of Computer Game Design

It's been a while since we've done a book review.  And yes, this is yet another game on videogame design.  And it's yet another argument that games could and should be considered art.  But this one is a little different from the others, for one simple reason:  it was written in 1984.

Oh, snap.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why You Should Watch III: Dialogue and Characters (yes, characters again, but different)

The triumphant conclusion!  And by "triumphant," I mean "you can really tell I was losing steam, fast."  Join me, then, as I name-drop more stuff I have read/seen/played.  Part I is here, and Part II is here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bibliophile: 21st century Red Letters and Life of Pi with more Dragons

It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's something that could never be logically confused with either a bird or a plane.  It is Bibliophile.

And there's 3000+ items today, so let's get to it, after the jump.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why You Should Watch Avatar: The Last Airbender

I've recently returned to a second viewing of what may very well be my favorite long-running TV series: Avatar: the Last Airbender. This time round, I've tried to sell my roommates on the show, and results have been... poor. They find the show to simplistic, and too cartoonish. They are wrong. But my attempts to convince them that have gone astray, largely because their exposure to the show extends to whatever episode they happen to stumble in on. Spending five minutes explaining why Aang has hair now or why a turtle duck exists is not going to sell anyone (unless you're a very special sort of anyone). So I thought I'd set out a more detailed, exacting argument here for them, and for anyone else who is still missing out on this show. (I'm breaking it into three posts, 'cause it's really long.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Quotations: Digging Heidegger

"Every exposition must of course not only draw upon the substance of the text; it must also, without presuming, imperceptibly give to the text something of its own substance. this part that is added is what the layman, judging on the basis of what he holds to be the context of the text, constantly perceives as a meaning read in, and with the right that he claims for himself criticizes as an arbitrary imposition. Still, while a right elucidation never understands the text better than the author understood it, it does surely understand it differently. Yet this difference must be of such a kind as to touch upon the Same toward which the elucidated text is thinking."
--Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays.

Ironically, I don't have anything to add to that.

Later Days.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Last Haiku Bender

I swear I'm going to do a full post on the subject some day, but for now, I would like to remind everyone that Avatar: the Last Air Bender is the only show containing both a haiku rap battle and a giant six-legged flying water buffalo.

That is all.

Later Days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Click here to suggest this post to Friends

About a week ago, I went on Facebook to post a video on a friend's page (in fact, the very video I used for Friday Quotations last week) only to find that she was no longer on my friend's list. Facebook, as many of you I'm sure know and have perhaps experienced, does not actually tell you when someone else blocks you. It's probably a measure added to keep dropped people from immediately lashing out, and it's probably a good idea; to paraphrase, Hell hath no fury like the Facebook user scorned. In this particular instance, I'm reasonably sure the lady in question has dropped Facebook entirely. And I can understand that. Facebook is hardly a private enclosure, and its chief interests are not exactly its users' best interests. If someone wants to forge ahead without it, power to them.

What caught me a little off guard in this case, though, was the realization that her foreclosure was effectively the end of our friendship. I don't know her phone number, her address, or her email address. We had one connection, and that was done. It was a parting of ways without a goodbye, and in this day and age, a permanent parting, without even a hint of the "maybe talk sometime" seems like something rare. I don't want to overstate the terms of our friendship; she was a person I knew kind of distantly, and we both updated facebook statuses rather regularly, so we exchanged snipes once every two or three weeks. That was it. But then again, that describes about three quarters of my friends on Facebook--and frankly, that frequency rate is probably much lower than most.

Glaring childhood trauma is what's behind about 90% or so of adult insecurities, and that's certainly the case here. I don't talk about it a lot explicitly, but longtime readers with a gift for reading between the lines won't be surprised to know that I didn't have a lot of friends growing up. I had a few, and I'm still grateful for them, and I don't like to get all melodramatic about the time period, because things got better, to put it simply, but in general, there were some unpleasant stretches. I was small, bookish, and kind of a snarky snob. (In fact, given that I was small, bookish, and kind of a snarky snob, it's something of an accomplishment that I didn't have enemies. And that I made it all the way through high school without getting beaten up. Let's look at the bright side, yeah?) At any rate, that background has made me a little more sensitive towards friendships in general, and given me an appreciation of how fragile they are. Generally speaking, a friendship doesn't fall apart from a big fight or major melodrama, but from disinterest and neglect.

And social media, in a lot of ways, makes things worse. I can't speak for how instant messaging affects matters, since my phone is stuck in the metaphoric stone age, but I think the general experience still holds. In almost all cases, making it easier to contact someone doesn't make contact more frequent. A lot of the time, it has the opposite effect; if it's so easy, if it can be done at any time, why not put it off just a little longer? I recently went nearly a month without phoning my parents, and for the last two weeks of that, I said to myself almost every night, "Well, it's too late to call them today, but I'll definitely call them later." I understand that MMO companies' biggest money-makers are those who sign up for automatic payment, then stop playing without signing out. It's the same principle: you will never go broke betting on the human ability to procrastinate. In life and in Warcraft, procrastination has its price.

The argument could be made that any unfriending resulting from lack of Facebook contact (or similar drifting) is a case of cutting wheat from the chaff; if X was so important to you, you never would have lost contact with X to begin with. And all right, there's some truth to that. At the same time, my favorite 17th century peep, John Donne, famously said, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." I think you can invert that: "I am involved in mankind, and any diminishment in my involvement is a tiny death." Don't keep toxic people around you, by all means, but don't let good people slip away. (And, um, don't be a stalker, but that's a different set of social disorders.)

I don't know if there's a particular conclusion to draw from this set of ramblings. I suppose I could take from it that I should spend more effort getting to know my friends. Granted, that tactic runs the risk of making them annoyed and exasperated. But hey, at least they won't be disinterested.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Shaping an Ending: A Geneforge Retrospective

Let's start off with a discussion of another game entirely, for comparison's sake: Eschalon Book 1 by Basilisk Games. It looks like this:

(And for those who think this looks somewhat familiar, yes, I have a type.) The game bills itself in providing an old school RPG experience, and as those who suffered through Dragon Age Week or this recent post know, I do like my RPGs old school. And yet, I didn't like Eschalon. First off, either I chose a horrible character skill set, or the game's woefully unbalanced. I went with a mage-type character, but I could barely fight a single enemy before having to go off and rest to recover enough magic to fight the next one. When over half of your game time is spent resting, something has gone wrong. Second, the mouse controls left much to be desired. There was no scrolling within the game box, and no selecting a spot on the screen; clicking in front of the character didn't move them to that spot, but moved them an inch in that direction. Moving across an area map was a long drawn out process. And third, the reason I like my old school RPG is, in large part, for the story. Eschalon didn't have a very good story. It barely had a story at all. The best thing about the game, in fact, was the death scene:
Good thing I liked it, because I saw it a lot. No, if this was old school RPG, I was dropping out.

But then we have Geneforge, by Spiderweb Software, first released in 2002. It may also look very familiar (and a bit worse, in fact):

It is also an old school RPG. And to be fair to Basilisk, whereas Eschalon was the first commercial game by a company of one person, Spiderweb is larger, and already had a good three or four games out. And this type of game is their specialty: there's 3 games in the original Exile series, 6 in the Avernum remake, and 5 in the Geneforge series, and they all follow this basic format to one degree or another. These guys have had some practice at the form, in other words.

But generally, it succeeds where Eschalon failed for me. The movement is a much simpler point and click system. Combat is designed to favor three distinct styles. And the story is, well, existent. Let's focus on the fighting for a moment. The big innovation for Geneforge is that you can play as a Shaper, a being capable of creating monsters to fight for them in battle. So a lot of the game is about managing your team of up to 8 different monsters. I, on the other hand, chose to play a solo game, minimizing the shaping magic in exchange for strength and melee superiority. It worked; the experience system meant that instead of sharing my battle points with a team, I hoarded them all for one character, and was rather godlike by the game's end. There were some epic fights along the that I'll remember and curse fondly: the battle against the spawners in the Dry Wastes, the endless onslaught of monsters in the Shaper Crypts, and the Fight Against Pylons in the mines. But mostly, what I'll remember is the ending. Or endings, plural.

One of the arguments against the JRPG style of game is that meaningful choice only exists on a micro level. You can control an individual fight, but not the course of the story. A game like those of the Elder Scrolls series, the argument goes, offer much more freedom. Geneforge strikes a nice balance between directed storytelling and meaningful player participation. Allow me to demonstrate by thoroughly spoiling its plot and ending. (If you want to play the game, I'd recommend just taking my word that it's good, skip the rest, and go play.) The idea of Geneforge is that in this fantasy world, there is a race named the Shapers, called that because they shape into being a number of creatures of varying intelligence to serve them. The game starts when you wash ashore on a Shaper island that was barred 200 years ago. That means the Shapers got up and left, leaving their creations behind.

In that time, 3 factions of Serviles (the most intelligent of the created races) have formed. There's the Awakened, who want to live with the Shapers as equals. There's the Obeyers, who believe the shapers are coming back some day, and that they should live as they believe the shapers would want. And finally, there's the Takers, who are angered at being abandoned, and plan to wage war against the Shaper people. You wander around, take sides, and gradually learn of a fourth faction: a group of Outsiders, who accidentally landed on the island and now want to reap its mysterious secret, the Geneforge. The game's ending revolves around a number of choices. Do you team up with the Outsiders, and turn against your own people, who have treated sentient beings as slaves for so long? Do you take the Geneforge for yourself, and remake everything in your image? Or do you destroy the forge, so no one can have access to its corrupting power? The choice, combined with choices regarding the factions, determine the game's endings.

It's a good balance. I don't have access to every ending, because some were determined by choices I made much earlier in the game. But I do have access to quite a number of endings, and, having saved at the right time, I got to experience a few. There's basically four parts: what happens to you, and what happens to each of the three sects. There's no single "good" ending either (at least, not among the ones I chose); there's a downside for you in every one. And because of the nature of the factions, there's no perfect ending for all three of them, either. Their differing natures mean that the best case scenario for one is less so for the other two. What I liked most, though, is the balance of the endings. This isn't Deus Ex 2, where the choice comes down to a single button push--you need to make some decisions here. And it's not like Star Ocean 2, where the connection between your actions and the ending you get is so complicated that you can't see how one leads to the other. And it's not like the Fallout series. I love those games, but the endings suffer a bit. In creating a separate ending scene for each area, we often get towns' whose fates seem totally independent from each other: Town Y, for example, is taken over by zombies, but the neighboring town X is prosperous and happy, despite the terrors next door. Not so in Geneforge. Each of the factions endings is very clearly a result (a logical result) both of the actions you took against the faction and of the way you ended the game.

So yes, I quite enjoyed the game. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's another 4 games to the series, so I've got quite a bit of forging ahead.

*EDIT* A quick factual correction.  While Spiderweb Games has a few other people listed for marketing and so forth, the brunt of the designing portion is a single person, Jeff Vogel.  And I should clarify, that when I say the company already had 3 or 4 games at this point, the number is actually much higher than that.  In my defense, fact-checking requires effort.

Bibliophile: Urine, Twitter Baiting, and Racial Insensitivity

Like reading, but sexier. It's time for another edition of Bibliophile. A mere 1300 books this time round, so we'll all be home in time for dinner.

Power of life : Agamben and the coming politics (To imagine a form of life, II) / David Kishik. Stanford, California : Stanford University Press, 2012.
I just finished Agamben's The Open: Man and Animal, so this title jumped out at me. What I liked about the Open (besides its length, at a beautiful 92 pages) was the way it built up slowly. Agamben started with a few seemingly disparate threads that coalesced into an argument about not just Heidegger's stance on human consciousness, but the relation between animal and man. So yeah, he's good people, theory writer-wise. One of my complaints about the book, though, is that it was a little abstract. There were moments where it touched on the implications of his stance, but generally, Agamben seemed to take it for granted that the reader could work this out for themselves. Well, he completely overestimated me, and I'm glad there's books like Kishik's out there to bridge that gap.

Sharks of British Columbia. Ottawa : Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, c2011.
Wait, there are sharks in British Columbia? Have I mentioned how glad I am to have grown up in a completely land-locked province? The Saskatchewan shark population is generally pretty low.

If Rome hadn't fallen : what might have happened if the Western Empire had survived / Timothy Venning. Barnsley, South Yorkshire : Pen & Sword Military, 2011.
The line between legitimate history scholarship and alternate history science fiction erodes a little further. Now, I'd like to see a scholar tackle Harry Turtledove's series, and investigate the biopolitics of what would have happened if the Earth underwent a major alien invasion during World War II.

We've also got an influx of b. p. nichols books. If I knew anything about Canadian poetry, I'd be really excited.

Car guys vs. bean counters : the battle for the soul of American business / Bob Lutz. New York : Portfolio/Penguin, 2011.
Bob Lutz is a senior business leader in the auto industry. Here, he gives his insider perspective on how it failed poorly because it was put in the hands of bean counters rather than "car guys." Quote: "passion and drive for excellence will win over... analysis-driven philosophy every time." It sounds like a gross, even dangerous, oversimplification, but I'll acknowledge that, at the very least, people want to *believe* that passion and drive for excellence trumps statistics.

Why don't American cities burn? / Michael B. Katz. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2012.
Have you tried using more gasoline? Bad joke, but we need some sort of humor, because Katz' book is actually extremely serious. Its instigation is the 2005 murder of Robert Monroe in North Philadelphia by Herbert Manes, over the sum of 5 dollars, the trial of which Katz served on the jury. His question is why, if social conditions have failed to improve, we don't see the race riots or other forms of organized violence escalating. The answer is also disturbing, as he investigates the ways he sees the rage going on each other, rather than on the larger culture and political forces. He concludes with a discussion on how we could fix the problem, in a "politics of modest hope." It's a significant, ongoing social problem, so I'll try to avoid ending on an Obama joke re: modest hope. Oops.

Politics and the Twitter revolution : how tweets influence the relationship between political leaders and the public / John H. Parmelee, Shannon L. Bichard. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, c2012.
Man, I hate Twitter. It's everything I hate about soundbites, but extended to the nth degree. Do I need to say anything else about the book? Oh, all right. The book takes a social sciences approach, interviewing political Twitter users and checking how they interpret the tweets of political leaders. And they apply various theoretical theoretical frames, such as selective exposure, uses and gratifications, word-of-mouth communication. They also caution that Twitter contributes to political polarization. What, you can't deliver a complete, well-argued, even-handed political evaluation in 140 characters or less? Maybe you should use a shorter hashtag.

Media accountability : who will watch the watchdog in the Twitter age? / edited by William A. Babcock. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge, 2012.
Continuing the Twitter focus for some reason, we have an anthology of media accountability in an age where virtually anything can be communicated instantly, and disappear into a void of "he said/she said" almost as quickly. Topics include essays on how the Daily Show holds traditional broadcast news responsible (okay, you're moving in the right direction to win me over) and the ethical implications of anonymous posters. According to the description, the book was originally published as a special issue of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, so you can either subcribe to that, or buy a copy of the book for $125. I'm glad our library made the right choice there.

These posts seem to get more acerbic when I write them after midnight. Also when they involve Twitter. Hey, do you follow my feed? Just look up PersonofCon, our PoC.

America according to Colbert : satire as public pedagogy / Sophia A. McClennen. 1st ed. New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
And continuing on the subject of satirical interpretations of the news, we have this number. I myself have used Colbert in pedagogical ways; his "lunchables" edition of the Word and his "Meta-Free-For-All" both came in handy in my class on analyzing metaphorical rhetoric. McClennan argues that the show combines entertainment with a call for active citizenship, and... well, yes, I agree, but I hope it goes a bit further than that. Judging from the index, we've got bits on Baudrillard and Habermas gets name checked, so at least there's a bit of theoretical depth.

Zendegi / Greg Egan.
This week's random fiction work is a sci-fi book, happening in Iran circa 2027. It imagines a much more liberalized Iran, and the human connectome project, a project to completely map out the neuron-connectivity of the human brain. An Iranian MMO uses the results, crossing the boundary between human and machine. it's got some good reviews. And it's a nice example of fiction speaking to digital media. Hmm. All right, my arm's been twisted. Mental note made, hold placed. ...I place a lot of holds.

Tough guys don't dance / Norman Mailer. 1st Ballantine Books ed. New York : Ballantine, 1985, c1984.
I didn't know Mailer did fiction. The book's a murder mystery, wherein a writer must clear his name, after he wakes up from a black out with a woman's severed head in his marijuana stash. I hate when that happens. It was made into a film directed by Norman Mailer. It had a budget of $5 million, and made $858 250 in the box office. That sounds about right.

Hmm. Done with literature, and there's 800 books left. That's not an encouraging sign.

Gröbner bases, coding, and cryptography / Massimiliano Sala ... [et al.], editors. Berlin : Springer ; [Linz, Austria] : RISC, c2009.
Wait, I know this one! I did a four month long research project on Grobner bases, in the undergraduate summer of 2005. Can't remember a damn thing about them now, but... uh... I remember the name! That's something, right? And I've still got all the notes somewhere, so if I ever wanted to open it back up, the option's there.

Life of pee : the story of how urine got everywhere / Sally Magnusson. London : Aurum, 2010.
This sounds like a book by the author of "Everybody Poops." But of course, that's Taro Gomi, so this can't be that. It's definitely very far on the pop side of the scholarly spectrum, as the book's essentially an alphabetical compendium of interesting facts and anecdotes about the golden fluid. I kind of want a copy for my bathroom, but I guess that's a little on the nose.

Forensic nursing / Kelly Pyrek. Boca Raton : Taylor & Francis, 2006.
I know absolutely nothing about this book or this field, but I'm already envisioning a CSI spin-off. Seriously, you could do a show that combines Grey's Anatomy with CSI. Think about that. Think about how the world just exploded.

And on that note of bold and innovative television, we bring an end to another edition of Bibliophile.

Later Days.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lather, Rinse, and Repeat.

I am not a man bound by the petty restrictions of normative gender behavior. I believe I can remain proud and certain of my masculinity, while at the same time enjoying my episodes of Gossip Girl and MLP. And so, I didn't see anything odd when I selected my current shampoo, Herbal Essence's Drama Clean. It's got a catchy name, it's cheap (a big consideration, since I am also cheap), and it removes the grease from my hair. That's what I look for in a shampoo. Any gendered implications were irrelevant. My roommates, however, saw things differently. They were horrified, not just that I bought it but that "I didn't even try to hide it." I scoffed at them. Literally, scoffed. Scoffing isn't as easy as it sounds; if you do it wrong, it comes off as a sneer that coincides with an ill-timed burp. No, I said, you are mistaken. It is just a shampoo with a mildly amusing name.

And then, today, I read the label. Among the list of polycarbosaturates and straight-chain alkyl benzene sulfonates, there was some advice. If I am feeling blah about my outfit, my shampoo bottle told me, I should consider taking a pair of flats and slacks and adding a sequined top. A sequined top. The last time I wore a sequined top, I was playing an elf in a school pageant. It seems that my shampoo agreed with my roommates: it was not for me. (Or alternatively, I should buy some sequined tops. While I will keep the option open, I don't think I'll be exercising it any time soon.)

In the past, I've audited a course on cosmetics and aesthetics. So I know that, for beauty products in general, and hair care in particular, there is very little difference, chemically speaking, between one product and the next. What distinguishes one shampoo from the next is almost entirely the style it attempts to exhibit. (Not fully true; there are shampoos that target certain lengths of hair. But work with me.) Does it claim that it offers an "organic experience?" Is it for "party girls"? Is it part of the groomed man's repertoire? I look at the taglines, and I despair. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where people didn't care about the connotations of their hair detergent? Where they could choose shampoos freely without having to buy into a corporate image of identity? Where they could buy a shampoo just based on the fact that it cleans your hair?

On the other hand, I bought a shampoo largely based on the pun in its title, so clearly I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Later Days.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shave and a Haircut

My roommates and I have an ongoing disagreement concerning the refrigeration of maple syrup; I maintain that it is an unnecessary use of fridge space, whereas they feel that it is essential to the preservation of fine xylem sap. In both cases, I sense that the real spectre behind our choices is pure unadulterated ideology: we do it this way because our parents did, and warrant the matter unworthy of questioning. Well, today, I questioned it, and I'm afraid the internet ruled in their favor; syrup must be refrigerated, or it goes bad in a year or so. I have only one response to that: If it takes you a year to go through a bottle of syrup THEN YOU'RE DOING PANCAKES WRONG.

And now for something completely different.

I'm exactly the kind of guy who carries a comb up his sleeve, just in case. It's not for vanity, though. I find running finger down the teeth to be oddly soothing.

Later Days.