Jack Reacher

I didn’t like this movie for all the reasons that I don’t like Arrow.

Summarily executing people has become “the right thing to do” in film and television, and it speaks badly for our understanding of justice. It also signals the limits of our constrained imagination: we can identify with and admire the powerful shooter who moves beyond the law when the law can’t get the job done, but we can’t seem to imagine being the grotesquely ugly guy getting shot. Don’t we realize that to a sociopath, we are all grotesque? That outside the law, we are all brutes?

And yes, I do think all of this is a symptom of the moral deadening caused by a decade of illegitimate war and an on-going campaign of assassination through robotic drone strikes. Twelve years on, we’ve convinced ourselves that a sociopath who gets things done is a comforting presence.

But isn’t killing bad guys outside the law is a staple of action cinema and television? After all I’ve praised Justified. How’s Reacher any different?

Well, most basically, Justified fantasizes about The Bad Guy getting what’s coming to him. Often this means jail. When it doesn’t and he’s killed, it happens at the limits of but still within the law. Satisfaction with The Bad Guy’s death remains merely poetic and is tempered by a preoccupation with the shortcomings of Givens’s actions. When Givens shoots someone in Justified he’s investigated. It also affects his personal life. People around him question their opinions of his character. All of this insists that the law still bounds our actions.

Reacher and Arrow fantasize about a world where law is inadequate, lacks authority and is explicitly rejected. Might makes right. Executions look like justice. Violent uncaring machine-people stand as heroes. This is an ugly, dangerous view of the world, and I don’t like it.


SexyA few years ago, a colleague suggested that I read the young adult novel Sexy by Joyce Carol Oates. I did and found it well-done and moving, but also disturbing. However sensitively done, this book sides with the straights in a world divided by sexuality. I jotted down my thoughts about the novel over the course of several days. Those pages are printed uncorrected or revised below the fold.

Continue reading “Sexy”

Emoji, Limitations

The other day I was texting on my iPhone. At the end of the last one I put the purple-smiling-devil emoji. But it’s tone was wrong: not a mistake but false. I was suggesting my message had a snarky lightness it didn’t have.

So why did I send it? Partly because without it my message was “serious” and “serious” is definitely outside of the emotional range of most of texts. The emoji brought things back inside the margins.

So why didn’t I use this moment of seriousness to expanded the emotional range of my texts?

Arrow, pt. II

I had hopes for this show. They have not panned out.

Why is the “hero” killing people? If I grant for the sake of argument that a “hero” might legitimately hunt down and kill the bad guys (which is nonsense), wouldn’t it make sense that there is more justification for the killing than “their names are in a book (origins unknown) and therefore they must die”? I dislike The Punisher but at least he has reasons for what he does. It’s repugnant that a well established anti-capitalist, Robin Hood-figure would be remade in his likeness. Only dumber and less morally conscious.

When the plot compounded the confusion by setting-up a Spider-man v. Green Goblin/Hobgoblin triangle as it’s central drama, I called it quits.

Yet the episodes keep coming. Why doesn’t a season of Justified last this long?


Decent sci-fi. Looked great, and by the end I liked the story. But I spent most the movie annoyed by plot inconsistencies that in the end fed into the twist. I suppose I should have seen it coming but I was annoyed and nothing I was seeing pushed me to care enough to guess about the end.

What should I make of a twist that leaves me wishing that the movie I’d been watching had been the one created by the twist and not the one leading up to it. Is it boring to wish the twist had come earlier and played out over more screen time?

I Don’t Like the Mall

But many people clearly see it as a place to go hang out. Tourists, teenagers, older people with their newspapers or their complicated notebooks of whatever it is they’re writing or calculating in the food courts.

I just don’t have that in me. Shopping is not fun or leisurely for me.


A solitary tree sifting the wind,
Wormy toes wiggling down to stone;
an apple core, gnawed clean, now caramel brown;
Singing bugs, distant call of a bird,
The sun low in the warm dusty air;
Bootmarks and bent grass leading across an open field.
This is a poem.

A New Discovery: Dance

Love Lies Bleeding (1)

The Beav and I went to see the Alberta Ballet’s Love Lies Bleeding. I know nothing about dance and expected to be left behind by the experience. Instead, I was swept up and ecstatic. Art had happened.

What I took away was the way it was a profoundly non-critical experience. I was present for the dance, attentive to it, and it was only itself. There was no need to to translate it into something else, an idea or a message. The thing was the thing and it was beautiful.

Came home and rented some dance films. Flamenco, Flamenco was good, but Pina and The Rain were extraordinary.

Love Lies Bleeding

Course Planning with Tinderbox: Looking Back

In January, I bit the bullet and bought Mark Bernstein’s software Tinderbox to develop and organize the literature classes I teach. I offered my initial thoughts a few months ago. Now as the semester draws to a close, I can say that Tinderbox has changed how I think about course planning.

I had three course sections in a sixteen week semester which meant 90 course meetings needed to be planned. Using adornments I recreated my tried-and-true paper and pen diagrams in map view and used them to layout the semester roughly and quickly. In all the other software I have tried to use for this task this is as far as the process has gone: initial work done, I have always ended up with an electronic document that I could have done as well on paper. In fact, I generally printed the file because a paper document was ultimately more flexible and more useful for the rest of the term.

With Tinderbox, things were very different. Initial rough planning done, I overlaid my adornments with containers, one per course meeting. I created notes for the scheduled readings and began to drop lectures, exercises and quizzes into the readings notes (which automatically became containers for these new notes). I populated my course meeting containers with aliases to the materials I would use each day. As I moved through the semester, I began filling in links, spreading out aliases. By midterm, I had decided to enter my student rolls into the file–one note per student–and was using agents to keep track of who had submitted work, what feedback I’d given on previous assignments and dozens of other small (but important!) details that made teaching easier for me and more useful for my students.

Ultimately I can say that Tinderbox has made my own work better. Just as importantly, it has introduced me to the possibilities of hypertext. I am astounded and inspired and very happy to have found it.


Blog v. Web Site

Blog:  Database
Site:    File system

Blog:  Correspondence
Site:    Book

Blog:  Time
Site:    Object

Blog:  Realtime
Site:    Stable

Blog:  Accumulated
Site:   Created

Blog:  Generated
Site:    Built

Metaphysical Reflection Underway…

I started the blog with fairly defined purposes. Over time these have expanded, and at least twice, this has entailed rethinking how things work and adjusting my conception of the site.

Now, after nearly two years, I’m ready to take what I think will be a major leap forward that will make the creative projects I’ve been nursing in the background possible. But it is a leap and will take some effort. It will also involve letting things evolve and simmer quietly behind the scenes. So little visible action. Maybe not even logs.

Fair warning.