Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Man-Thing Movie

This is one of those films that you would miss if you blinked. Released straight to DVD, I was lucky enough to snag a used copy in a bargain bin and have never seen it anywhere else. The Man-Thing is a Marvel Comics character created in the 1970s during one of the company's relatively rare weird horror phases. The Man-Thing and DC's Swamp Thing are characters that, to the untrained eye, appear incredibly similar, but to the trained eye appear incredibly similar. (kinda sorta just kidding--the Man-Thing in the comics has this thing about how people who feel fear burn at his touch, but those who aren't afraid will survive unharmed; this concept doesn't make it into the movie). Anyway, the movie is actually half-way decent, and definitely as good or better than some other comic book projects that did receive mainstream release (like Elektra or Catwoman). The movie Man-Thing has an origin related to industrial pollution in the swamp (which I do remember from the comics) and cliche Native American spirituality (which I don't). It's more or less a standard horror flick, as people idiotic enough to venture into the swamp get killed one-by-one until a Yankee sheriff and his blond girlfriend come to save the day (more or less, after pretty much everybody else has already gotten themselves offed). Anyway, for diehard comic book turned movie collectors like myself, it's a fun addition to the shelves.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part V)

After months of leaving tantalizing tid-bits in my epic five-part series, My Teaching Year, I am now prepared to deliver the stunning conclusion!

After several months in Windsor, my sig-other and I finally came to the realization that we really, really missed Toronto and that Windsor (even with her favorite restaurant, the Pitt for Pasta) just wasn't cutting it. It didn't take long for her to get a promotion and raise at the Toronto company she had left just six months before, so we rented an additional apartment in Toronto and I commuted back and forth on the train every few days. The arrangement worked really well, as I got a ton of class prep done during the four-hour train ride and got to keep teaching at Detroit Mercy, while still enjoying my sig-other and Toronto life on Thursday through Sunday.

My decision to leave Detroit Mercy altogether came about when I learned that one of the administrators (not the Director of the J.D./LL.B. program who was great) expected me to submit all my class assignments to her for approval before I gave them to the class. This was something that definitely had not been disclosed during my hiring process, and might have kept me from taking the gig in the first place, as it wasn't something any of the "doctrinal" professors had to do and I felt it was a real infringement on my academic freedom. This low-level admin and I went back and forth for a while and eventually took it to the Dean. I was willing to compromise, by consulting with the admin before giving out assignments (after all, I had usually used assignments that were the same or similar to other legal writing profs, and my student evaluations were always great), but my proposal didn't work--it was either her way or the highway.

Still, the decision wasn't an easy one. After I had been there a semester, the faculty voted to allow legal writing profs to convert over to tenure track positions on a rolling basis--something quite sought after in the legal writing field and still relatively rare among law schools. In addition, I had to make the decision to leave before making sure I could find work elsewhere (something most rational people avoid!). Still, I'm one of those stubborn people who puts principle above pragmatism and I gave notice that I wouldn't be returning for the 2007-2008 year.

The next few months were a bit scary--although my sig-other made enough money that we wouldn't be in dire financial straits if I didn't land another position, I still didn't want to just sit around for a year or more and feel like I had given up a rare opportunity to break into teaching at the law school level. Although I interviewed for a few other teaching spots (and got a free trip to Washington, D.C. out of it), my main desire was to get into either U of T's or Osgoode's Ph.D. program--the "master plan" being to get a degree and possibly a scholarly book out of the deal that would place me in my best possible position for landing a tenure-track job a few years down the line.

I had applied to both programs a couple of years earlier, and had been rejected by both. This time around, however, I was a Canadian permanent resident (thus making me eligible for the "domestic" spots) and spent a lot more time on my dissertation proposal. Still, U of T gave me a quick kiss-off and Osgoode waitlisted me, making for a tense several months. In the end, things turned out nicely for everyone: I got into Osgoode, my sig-other loved getting back to her old job, and Detroit Mercy quickly found a highly-qualified replacement for me. My Teaching Year was definitely a good experience, as I learned (obviously) a lot about teaching, but also how to interact with fellow faculty and administration--most of all, I learned the type of position I do and do not want in the future. And hopefully, in a few years, you'll be able to read a series of blog posts entitled "My Tenure-Track Teaching Year(s)".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Sociology of Religious Movements

I just finished reading William Bainbridge's The Sociology of Religious Movements (1997). The book contains several fascinating case studies of "new religious movements" (I prefer the shorter sociological term "cult", but I understand that the word carries negative connotations to laypersons) such as the Family/Children of God and the Process Church of the Final Judgment, as well as on older fringe religious movements like the Millerites (which kept setting a date for the Second Coming and then revising that date as the old ones came and went). The book alternates case studies with theory chapters, but the case studies aren't integrated especially well with the theory. Indeed, the theory chapters seem more like literature reviews than independent original contributions to the sociology of religious movements. I also would have liked to see more discussion in the "Future of Religion" chapter about how "low-tension" mainstream denominations, "high-tension" cults, and non-religious groups interact. In other words, how does the familiar Church-Sect-Cult process incorporate non-religious individuals? Has the percentage of the population that is non-religious reached its zenith, or will it remain stable or even continute to grow? Still, this was an interesting and worthwhile book.

Blasphemy in New France

My research on the history of blasphemous libel in Canada has led me to some interesting finds in the Quebec National Archives. I've come across several prosecutions for blasphemy in both military and civil contexts in New France as early as the late 1600s. Reading the documents isn't easy (I've often had to rely on the archivists' written descriptions), not just because French isn't my first language but because the writing is an older form of French, is often faded, and is in difficult-to-decipher handwriting. Still, it provides the earliest examples of blasphemy prosecutions I've yet found in (what would become) Canada. The only odd thing is that my electronic keyword searches in the archives brought these very old examples up, but didn't bring up any blasphemy prosecutions after the 1700s; this is doubtless an artifact of the archive's record-keeping system, but I've now got to figure out whether/how I can access more recent prosecutions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Go Ask Malice

Go Ask Malice: A Slayer's Diary

Robert Joseph Levy (2006)

RATING: 5/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Three


MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Diana Dormer (Watcher); Faith's Mother; George Lehane (Faith's Father); Kenny (psychic & boyfriend); Vanity Collins (social worker); Alex (imaginary friend/Slayer soul?)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "Faith has always been a loner. Growing up in a broken home in South Boston, shuffled from relative to relative, her only companion was an imaginary friend named Alex, who helped her escape into a fantasy world of monsters and the supernatural, far from the real-life horrors of the waking world. Now, taken away from her mother by social services and shipped off to a foster home, Faith learns that some nightmares are all too real, that the inventions of her childhood really do haunt the night, hungry for blood. Enter Diana Dormer, a Harvard professor and representative of the Watchers Council who has come to tell Faith of her destiny, to train her, to prepare her for what is to come: Faith is the Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. But she's not alone. When Alex, her childhood companion, returns in her dreams, she warns Faith that someone else is coming to her, a force so deadly and unforgiving that it has inspired fear in the underworld for a thousand generations. Its name is Malice. As memory and fantasy begin to merge, Faith's two worlds collide, with cataclysmic results. A violent battle for the Slayer's soul is staged, winner take all. This is her story. . . ."


The stylistic conceit behind Go Ask Malice is that it is the diary of Faith found in an archaeological expedition of Sunnydale after the end of Season Seven (though the last entry takes place just prior to Season Three). The concept works beautifully, as Faith has a strong first-person voice and seeing events from her perspective offers insight in to her character and background that would be much harder to achieve in normal third-person storytelling. The television show hinted that Faith had a troubled upbringing, but this book really fleshes it out as we encounter Faith's frequently-absent mother (who becomes a prostitute), her incarcerated father, her bouncing around foster homes, and more. We're also introduced to Faith's first Watcher, Professor Diana Dormer and learn much more about the backstory of Kakistos, the demon responsible for killing Dormer and driving Faith out of Boston. Kakistos was polished off in a single episode in Buffy (and probably wasn't handled very well), but here the demon has a nice menacing aura and build-up through prophetic dreams that Faith is having. The fact that the reader already knows that Kakistos kills Dormer lends a pall of impending tragedy over the book that works very well because the reader is constantly kept guessing as to how and when it'll happen.

Suffice it to say, Go Ask Malice is a very dark book--something the too-sacharine Buffy novel line desperately needed. If you only like happy endings or can't stand Faith, this isn't the book for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it (and hope the author can get talked into writing some stories for the Buffy comic).

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Last season, I really enjoyed catching a few productions of the Metropolitan Opera through their HD satellite broadcast at movie theaters. I was bummed this time around not to be able to see Doctor Atomic because of other commitments, so I made the rookie mistake of simply showing up to the next production that fit my schedule: Richard Strauss' Salome. I thought it was so terrible I couldn't even stand 45 minutes, and I usually have the patience of Job for such things. Although the sets and wardrobe were an incoherent mixture of a 30s black-tie gala, a turkish prison, and a medieval village well (simulataneously!) what really drove me was the female lead. The Biblical Salome, of course, is the young femme fatale of such seductive beauty that her step-father lusts after her; Strauss imagined a girl in her late teens in the role. The painting at the left is another representation. But instead of casting a beautiful young singer, the Met chose a 48 year old woman in the role. I can suspend my disbelief in stories involving super-powered mutants or alien empires, but that's just pushing things too far! Her "girlish" mannerisms and "seductive" gyrating were both grating & repulsive. Think me uncharitable? Imagine remaking movie Lolita starring Meryl Streep in the lead role. Streep is a great actress (and perhaps this woman was a great singer) but it just doesn't work. Anyway, a lesson learned on the need to be better informed on what I'm about to see before I trek down to see it . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 5

This was very much an in-between session which served to bridge the gap between the Mongui storyline and the upcoming Ansion storyline (in which the major "myth-arc" of the campaign would begin). For the Jedi character of Tarn Tamarand, it served as one of the many comical times he would try to use his Force powers and fail miserably. And irony will rear its head in future sessions as here the Princess plays the "the Jedi got me pregnant!" line for a distraction.

Episode 2.2, The Ominous Silence, Session 1

The Galactic Civil War continues. The strategic spaceport of Mongui is in flames as a now leaderless droid army continues its surprise attack on the Republic's skeleton garrison of clone troopers. The stalemate on Mongui is just one of the battles raging on a thousand planets.
Yet there is one place the war cannot touch--the void of hyperspace, where a stolen Separatist shuttle has plotted a course for Bothawui, capital of the Bothan people and a hotbed of espionage and intrigue. And on the other side of the galaxy, in a sector called Ansion, an ominous silence continues to spread . . .

[64 AG] Marpa, Tarn, and Arresta arrive in Bothawui, only to find Korg has been clinging to the outside of their ship. He jumps on a Bothan escort fighter and disappears as the ship spirals away. The group identifies themselves as refugees and are taken to an internment facility. Surprisingly, they are released without incident. Planetside, Marpa has dinner with an old Duros acquaintance, while Tarn meets with a Gran Separatist Jedi Padawan named Fallael.

[65 AG] Marpa & Tarn try to infiltrate the Separatist embassy by using Fallael to arrange a meeting with the Separatist ambassador, under the guise of Tarn being interested in joining the Separatist cause. Arresta sends the embassy an urgent message for Tarn (saying that she is pregnant) which succeeds in getting Tarn and Marpa into the communications room alone with the ambassador and Fallael, but Tarn's attempt to create false sounds of blaster fire fails and Tarn and Marpa leave without planting the listening device. Later that night, Delia's Ultimatum arrives. Ycram is unconscious from a blow to the back of the head and keeps muttering something about "Twitch". The crew set course for the Ansion system and notice a minor power drain on the outer hull.

[68 AG] Delia's Ultimatum arrives in the Ansion system and sees the Xoorzi Skyhook under attack by a pair of battered and pitted Cloakshape fighters. Responding to the Skyhook's distress call, Delia's engages the fighters and destroys one while a second one flees. After a standoff with Arresta, Tarn unlocks the encrypted message on the data crystal and learns that their mission is to bring about resumed shipments of the Xoorzi kelp, an exotic substance that is necessary for the war effort because it is becoming increasingly clear that traditional bacta is largely ineffective on a certain batch of clone troopers. A hail is sent to the Skyhook and arrangements are made with Ignatius D'avilos (Arresta's uncle) for the ship to dock.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Monday, November 10, 2008

Terrible Trousers

From Quebec Newspaper The Axe on February 1, 1924:

"Jack Johnson's Pants Peril His Life!--See Page 11"

Page 11 reveals that the aforementioned Jack Johnson found himself in a bull fight and wanted to run, but determined that his pants were too tight and would rip if he tried to climb the fence. "So I just had to stay there and fight that bull. I don't know how many years it took."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

MST3K @ 20

For several years now Rhino Home Video has been releasing Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxsets. Except for the first few sets, the DVDs had pretty generic packaging and little in the way of special features--they were also a bit pricey, at $ 60 to $ 80 for four episodes. Just a few months ago, however, a new op called Shout Factory! took over the license and have released the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Twentieth Anniversary Edition.

I just received my set and I'm extremely impressed--it comes in a cool tin box, each of the four movies has its own jewel case with cute original artwork, and the set has an 80-minute documentary on the history of MST3K, a Crow T. Robot figurine, and (best of all!) the price is the same as the old Rhino sets. This is the sort of thing that makes a great gift, though I couldn't wait until Christmas. I hope Shout Factory! keeps the license and is able tokeep putting out quality products like this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes We Can

CNN has just officially announced Barack Obama will be President of the United States. I'm not at all ashamed to say that I teared up.

Blasphemy Archives

I'm come across some interesting materials while researching Canada's blasphemy law for my dissertation. The Ontario Archives have proven fruitful in looking at old common-law prosecutions for blasphemy as early as 1805, while also providing 1920s Attorney General files that contain memos showing an internal dispute as to whether the prosecution of Ernest Sterry should go forward (the decision was that since religious groups were backing the prosecution, it was too late to stop). The National Library has also had some good material. Debates over J.S. Woodsworth's bill to repeal blasphemous libel show that he didn't understand that if the statute were repealed, the harsher common law prohibition would remain. Perhaps my most interesting find so far is that in the 1950s the federal Cabinet debated sending the blasphemous libel statute to the Supreme Court of Canada as a reference in tandem with a Quebec provincial law that had been used to suppress religious freedom. However, concerns over angering the province led to the idea being shelved. The archival work is time-consuming, but then, I've got 2 1/2 years left to finish the project.