Monday, February 28, 2005


I did see the film Sideways, which was decent, the most we can ask for this year really. The story follows two emotionally stunted, middle-aged men on a wine-tasting tour of the California wine region before one of the two is to be married. Paul Giametti is the lead character, and we can tell this because he is wimpish and emotionally crippled.
That was a running theme this year, eh? Hollywood must be responding to the war by having a real problem with masculinity. Spiderman was an emotionally-crippled wimp. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, played an emotionally crippled wimp. Howard Hughes was overcome by his emotional and psychological problems. Jesus Christ was tortured for two hours. Ray Charles was literally crippled, and apparently tortured by a drug problem. The hero in Constantine is not only emotionally crippled, but has cancer. David Carradine showed up, only to get easily killed by Uma Thurman. Tom Hanks was a wimpish immigrant who can't go home. Men were really helpless this year. I mean, our only hero, aside from Will Smith in I, Robot, was Michael Moore, who looks to be one donut away from a heart attack.
Anyway, Sideways is very funny and the audience does begin to care about these two hopeless screwups. Giametti is a very talented actor, and I imagine he will eventually win an Oscar. The two female leads, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, were great, although honestly their characters were a bit one-dimensional. Mostly, women exist in this film as mommy figures for the emotionally-stunted males to be succored by. Director Alexander Payne still indulges in his arrogant need to make average people, here a fat waitress and her fat husband, look repulsive. But, the theme of the dawning disappointments of middle age strikes a chord, and there are some very funny scenes. Giametti has this constant sense of disappointment to him that gives his alcoholic character a bit of grace, especially when he does anything kind or selfless. He seems soulful, even while the movie itself is amusing, bordering on tepid.



Would it have been crass to suggest that Natalie Portman was dressed as the Greek goddess Anorexia?


And the Oscar goes to...

Well, we made it through another Academy Awards show.
A roundup:
* Martin Scorcese didn't win, and really he should have won a Best Director Oscar by now. I mean, he didn't even win for Raging Bull. Then again, The Aviator is supposed to be lesser Scorcese, so maybe next year. Hopefully, he won't follow up his dreadful idea to do a sequel to Taxi Driver.
"You lookin' at me? Are you lookin' at me?! No, seriously I'm asking. I think I might be developing cataracts..."
* Jamie Foxx won, like everybody expected. It would have made Claire happier to see Johnny Depp win, but Fox's portrayal in Ray was apparently brilliant. I don't know; I didn't see it. Actually, I didn't see The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby either, but neither did most people. From what I hear, Hilary Swank and Jamie Foxx should have won, and they did. But, seriously, was there anything worth getting excited about this year? I think my favorite movie was Spiderman 2, to give an idea how boring movies were in 2004.
So, on to the show!
* Chris Rock was relatively boring, but had a few funny lines. I liked when he mocked the Academy's irritating attempts to speed the show up by suggesting they would eventually hand out awards in a drive-through line.
* Seriously, what was with the firing-squad lineup on stage of nominees for technical awards? Didn't the academy think that might look a bit disrespectful? Next year, they're just going to pitch the technical awards into the crowd.
* Cate Blanchett's dress was much derided for matching her hair, but I liked it. The belt was lame, but she still looked good.
* Morgan Freeman looked like a priest, or perhaps like Nelson Mandela. Is it just me, or does everyone else get a warm feeling whenever Morgan Freeman wins anything? He seems like a friendly grandfather. I imagine that, if I saw Morgan Freeman at McDonald's, and he got good service, I'd think, "Well, good! He deserves it!"
* Samuel L. Jackson wore the same suit as Morgan Freeman, and looks strangely like an older version of Todd Bridges.
* Natalie Portman's weird Greek goddess dress made her look like a little boy. A little skeletal boy. Don't they gain the freshman fifteen at Harvard?
* Kate Winslet's dress was stunning. If I was her, I'd go to every Academy Awards show after losing for Best Actress (for Titanic) in a cheap tee-shirt with "Helen fucking Hunt?!" printed on it, but that's just me.
* Spiderman 2 got Best Visual Effects, and that really does make sense. I, Robot looks really fake in the ads, and I can't imagine it gets better on screen. It's like Will Smith is fighting the older brother of those scrubbing bubbles. Eeek!
* Clint Eastwood reminds me of my grandfather as well. Claire's uncle, cinematographer Roger Vernon worked with him on Unforgiven and has claimed that he has the best visual instincts of any actor he's ever met. Eastwood apparently always knows where to put his head for every shot.
That's about it. I do have to wonder what they were thinking getting the generally unfunny Chris Rock as host. There must be some push to capture black viewers there; not only did Chris Rock host, but Beyonce sang just about every song and every other crowd shot was of Jay-Z. And what was with the bizarre connection they asserted between hispanic actresses and Sound Editing? Selma Hayeck and Penelope Cruz are certainly gorgeous, if indistinguishable, but what do they have to do with sound editing? And wouldn't it be quicker to get presentors who have a firm grasp on the English language? "There... are... many... aspects... to... sound....edit....ting..."
I mean, I'll always love the Academy Awards, but they really did have a hard time this year. The award winning movies were boring and nobody saw them. There was really no Graduate this time. Not even a Schindler's List really. Seriously, maybe we should chalk this one up as a write-off.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Job Talks

Yesterday was the third in a series of four job talks in the department. We are looking for somebody who can teach post-1945 US History. The way it works is we list job openings on H-Net and recieve a bunch of applications. Then the committee winnows the list down to three or four potential hires. Those people come into Buffalo and meet with the faculty and grad students. Then, they do a "job talk", which means that they present an original historiographical paper to give an idea of their work.
There have been three job talks so far and, as far as I can tell, the third is in the lead with the department. I've seen the second and third and, honestly, they were both excruciatingly boring to me. But, I don't care much about US history or the post-1945 period. To be honest, there are a lot of replicant historians coming out of grad schools. They are certainly very professional and diligent and know their area of study very well. But, they don't exactly take any chances, and their work is a bit soulless. They will certainly lead their fields in the future. But, it's not exactly life-altering stuff.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ward Churchill 2

But, for the record, yes, the knee-jerk radicalism of many in my profession does indeed get tiresome. It's like being in a time-warp much of the time. The rest of us, out here in the real world, have a variety of opinions about political matters. Some things make us happy, such as seeing Iraqis getting the chance to vote, and some things are depressing, such as seeing so many people vote to make the Constitution more... anti-gay. But, more than anything, we still believe in the possibility that things will get better and that we will work towards that.
For some reason, though, academics tend towards these ridiculously outdated defeatist political stances. Like who in the world would actually think that there's any hope left in Marxism? Oh, about half the professors you meet! Or, what would be more productive:
a) Engaging in an open and public debate with a conservative about the goals for the current war effort, or
b) Putting up juvenile "No blood for oil!" posters on your office door while refusing to speak with anyone who is to the right of the Bader Meinhoff gang? Or how about defending the free-speech rights of someone as repellent as Ward Churchill while denying tenure to anyone who thinks differently from you and your department? I mean, what really bothers me isn't these people's politics; it's how unquestioned they are.
And that does get tiresome. Because the academy is made up of leftists and far-leftists, there is nothing approaching productive discussion going on. Just sniping and griping. So, of course, Ward Churchill is a creep; but, more annoyingly to me- he's totally status quo.


Ward Churchill

Here's an article on Ward Churchill, a tenured professor, and wannabe member of the American Indian Movement who has come under fire recently for having written an essay back in 2001 in which he compared the technicians who were killed in the World Trade Center attacks to Adolph Eichmann. The essay, which is here and which, apparently, few people have actually read, is geniunely bizarre. The depth of his loathing for the United States is profound. Unfortunately, the depth of his argument is somewhere around that of a paper-cut. 1) America is an evil empire, 2) People who work in America are supporting that evil empire, therefore 3) They got what they deserved. As Churchill phrases it: "They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly."

Strange, isn't it? The far left seems to have not one drop of sympathy for Americans who are murdered. Sure, they can use the murdered for dydactic purposes, but it's always the same lesson- they got what they deserved. Isn't it odd how the argument behind Bowling for Columbine could pretty much also be boiled down to "They got what they deserved"? Anyway, the essay is pretty much what you'd expect from a fourteen-year old with severe emotional problems.

But, is it unique? Not really. There are plenty of people writing essays just as repulsive as this one. But, for Ward Churhill, the chickens have come home to roost. First, he starting losing speaking engagements, then the Board of Regents began procedings to fire him, and now, it seems that the American Indian Movement is sick of Churchill claiming to be a Native American, when apparently, he isn't.

Okay, so he's a douche. But, should he be fired for this? It isn't as if he made these statements in class, or in a University publication. Also, isn't there some argument for free discussion in an academic environment? Why exactly do students have the right to never encounter anyone whose opinions are repellent? And why exactly does the public have the right to micromanage the universities? Yes, there is an argument to be made that Churchill should not be invited as a speaker, nor allowed to share these noxious arguments with students. But, does the tax-paying public really have the right to dictate to the universities who they can hire or fire? And, how exactly should educators maintain an authority postion when the public insists on treating us like hired help?


Also Depressed

I've been moping too. Typical depression really; lots of stress with grad school, moving, and getting married, and then my favorite relative passed away. So, I assume that I will be in mourning for a bit. I think that this is normal. I've never been one of those people who believes that life should have no suffering in it. So, we will ride this one out.


I'm Sick

I'm sick as usual. I think I get the same flu every year. So, basically, I'm staying inside, reading for class, and taking lots of medicine.