Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Book Review: The Graves Are Not Yet Full

Book Cover
Originally uploaded by baldman76.
“This book is about evil. Its setting is Africa. The characters are mostly African, with an American narrator and Americans in supporting roles. The time is the last decade of the twentieth century, post-Cold War. But the questions are timeless and universal: How do evil people operate? What accounts for their power? Why do people follow?…(p. 5)

…But what do I mean by evil? The individuals encountered here are not all evil people. What they have in common is not the depth of their venality as individuals but the extent to which, collectively, they personify some of the roots and requirements of large-scale mass slaughter. Each in his own way is a creature of evil, and each has magnified the potential for evil in the arena in which he operated. Each embody a history, a culture, a symbiosis of interests, calculations, and assumptions which, taken together, add up to a catalog of essential elements that can transform latent evil into reality. And each has been a survivor, a well-adapted creature of a malignant environment” (p. 11)

These two paragraphs are from the introduction of The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heart of Africa by Bill Berkeley, and the subtitle really sums up the topic well. Berkeley, using his own research and experiences as a foreign correspondent covering African stories, focuses on many of the most well known cases of violence in modern African history. Yet the long-term history of many of his case studies is not discussed in this book to any great extent, but that is kind of Berkeley’s point: the age old conflicts that we in the West are so often told lie at the root of Africa’s problems- the “ancient ethnic hatreds”- simply don’t exist. Berkeley’s central conceit is that most of the horrendous acts of violence that have occurred in modern Africa are caused by events within the last 100 years or so and are perpetuated by “Big Men” who are vying for power and profit and pitting neighbor against neighbor to accomplish these goals.

Now to be sure, Berkeley knows that the long-term history of Africa is full of violence (but so is the history of everywhere else.) But he makes the case that the current incidences of mass murder and rapes are a modern phenomenon. He sees tyranny and anarchy as the method used by the Big Men, as the two often go hand in hand in African politics, with anarchy not the absence of any control but often the tool of those in power to destabilize any form of threat or opposition to their own control (Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko is a prime example of this strategy). Berkeley makes for a compelling argument, albeit one that is very America-focused. In fact, one of the “Big Men” of the book discussed in great detail is Chester Crocker, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Reagan Administration, and his role in Liberia’s recent history.

The case studies in this book are many of those on the African Violence and Corruption All-Stars list: Liberia, Zaire, Sudan, Rwanda, etc. All are nonetheless interesting cases and, of course, highly debatable. Some points made by Berkeley seem a bit overly simplistic, even to my limited knowledge of African history (ie, violent conflict didn’t just appear between black South African ethnic groups during the 80’s: see the Mfacane) but overall Berkeley does a good job illuminating many aspects of the complex and tragic problems of several African states.

Click here for other reviews (courtesy of Amazon.com).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

X-Men 3: Not Bad, Not Great

X-Men 3: The Last Stand
Originally uploaded by baldman76.
Ok, so we finally saw X-Men: The Last Stand. Paula and Alex, I must respectfully disagree with your “don’t-even-rent-it-it’s-so-bad” assessment. For the most part, I liked it a lot. I do agree that it was a step-down when compared to the previous two films (especially the superb X2), but it certainly wasn’t a bad film and not so terrible as to ruin the series as a trilogy (which, in my opinion, Matrix: Revolutions did. I hated the third one so much it has even spread its taint onto the first Matrix, and it was good.) The action sequences were good, the effects were pretty impressive, the acting not bad (though also weaker than in the other films.)

Now that I have established that I really did like the film, allow me to “rip it a new one” on a few points.

I do agree with Paula and Alex’s critique of the dialogue. The dialogue was pretty uninspired. The first film’s dialogue was not without its flaws (Storm’s poor accent). However, the second film was so good on every level that this movie’s dialogue was notably that much weaker (especially when coupled with the recent excellent writing of the two Spiderman films and Batman Begins). The movie was checkered with your typical “ACTION” dialogue that sounds as if it were written by a bunch of middle-schoolers. No subtlety or any real depth- just the bare minimum needed to convey that action is at hand. You know the kind I’m talking about:

Action Hero #1: My God, what’s happening?!

Action Hero #2: I think you know. [meaningful glance]. But what can be done?

Action Hero #1: I think we ALL know what must be done. And without us, what must be done might not happen. So, are you ready to do it?

[Tense moment of pensive thought and meaningful glances.]

Action Hero #2: I’m ready if you are. Ready?

Action Hero #1: LET’S DO THIS!

[Music swells, Action heroes run out of room. End Scene.]

Criticism #2: Don’t cop-out and write-off a major character is some pansy-ass way. I have no problem with main characters dying. But to bump-one off in the first ten minutes in such a stupid way? It shows a lack of creativity on the part of the writers.

OK, my last critique, and this goes for all movie’s in general: I don’t mind rambling, slice of life films, nor am I incapable of a “willing suspension of disbelief,” but don’t pad your movie with unnecessary sub-plots when ten more minutes of brain-storming could eliminate and give you a tighter/better movie script. The Phoenix? Yeah, she’s really powerful, back from the dead and Wolverine loves her- but she was essentially a sexy-looking but unnecessary plot point. But she’s powerful and can blow up the world! (ie, she’s an excuse for more special effects). But what did she DO, really? Not much. Ultimately, with the character development of the previous two films, the “mutant cure”–as-weapon was all that was necessary to spur the formation and offensive assault of Magneto’s Brotherhood. Presto! Better movie. Eliminate the superfluous, develop characters more. The movie would have been stronger. [It should be noted that the lack of relevance of Phoenix to the central plot line of the film was first observed by my dear wife, Katie.]

Oh, and Guy-with-Wings = Cool-Looking, but also unnecessary.

[Another classic example- Jar Jar Binks. Not only was he terrible and quoted the Olsen Twins from Full House, but totally unnecessary. Next time you see me, ask me how pointless he was (outside of toy sales profits) and I’ll elaborate how he could be totally written out of the story. Of course, the flaws in the newest Star Wars movies are a new topic in-and-of-itself, but I digress.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Trivial Pursuits...

Monday nights are Trivia Nights at the Publick House bar on Devine Street here in Columbia. Normally I work, but due to a training I had this morning (for reading to kids at Storytimes- fun stuff) I was off this evening and came in to help the "Little Lebowski Urban Achievers" try to win some glory. The Little Lebowskis are normally Mike, Matt, Jenny and Daniel, and I believe Chrissy when she can make it. Well, this evening, it was just Matt, Mike and I since the others were AWOL. Eventually we added two random folks named Paul and Lisa, but we did indeed still lose big-time.

However, we all had our moments of glory: Matt knew Ford was served as V-P and President without being elected to either, Mike knew all the sport questions regardless of the sport in question, Lisa knew Tab was Coke's first sachirine based drink, Paul knew the Dept. of Transportation would have jurisdiction over a leaky oil line (though we didn't use his answer and he himself ultimately doubted it), and yours truly knew that the Muppet Show band was call Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. You gotta play to your strengths, right?

Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

[And it is Dr. TEETH, not TOOTH like the judge said. We should have gotten extra points for that!]

Read this Post, You Hockey Puck.

This has been quite a year for a sports fan such as myself. First golf, then baseball- why not HOCKEY? Sunday evening, the wife and I joined up with some friends of ours and went to see Mike “Stekdog” Steketee (#14) slap the puck around a bit. He’s on a league that plays every Sunday at the Iceland Skating Center in Irmo, SC. Joining us were Matt and Chrissy, April Dove, and Mike’s mom, brother Matt, and cousin Christine(?) from Michigan.

Iceland Skate Center in Irmo, SC

Mike Steketee, #14

Well, let’s cut to the chase. Mike’s team lost. However, he did have some superstar moments, AND after some dude smacked against him or somethin’, Mike totally took this dude out and knocked him on his ass in retribution. Sweet.

Mike, post game and shilling for Gatorade

So during the game the goalie, who was of course wearing a protective mask, got nailed in the head with the puck so hard he fell flat on his back on the ice. He just lay there holding his head and the game was stopped until they established if he would be OK (which he was and he finished the game). But when I saw that happen, I thought “Well, there’s one more sport I’ll cross of my list to try” (because of both my extreme dislike of people aiming any type of projectiles at me, and my utter disdain for actually being hit by said object.) And I’m not the only one who feels this way, as Katie immediately made some comment about not having any desire to have anyone hurl objects at her with any formidable speed. That’s why I love her.

Dinner at Tio’s (by Miyo’s) followed, and Mike’s mom pulled a fast one on us and paid the tab for the whole table. And Katie pointed out that the cute waitress (who I was trying to get a certain someone to flirt with) was evidently making eyes at ME (and I had noticed that myself, honestly). Katie was thrilled and said she loved the fact that her man was a “catch.” However, I don’t think I’m much of a looker, as this candid photograph of me in my skivvies will show.

Also, giraffes evidently hate carrots (but love giraffe-crack).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Erica and Fuzzy Got Married!

So this last Saturday, July 29th, my little sister Erica became Mrs. Erica Gerdes and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. The whirlwind of days surrounding the event were fun, stressful, exhausting, joyful- the list of adjectives could go on and on. But before I delve into my observations of the whole event, I want to regale you with my latest travel misadventure:

[So, this post is REALLY long, so if you don’t want to plow through it, you can just click on any of the photos of simply click HERE to jump straight to the pictures. There are more photos than the one’s I have included in this post.]

Part One: The Ordeal

Wednesday, July 26th- So here’s the long and short of Day One: I was scheduled to leave Columbia at 9am via a Northwest flight, have a layover in Detroit, then arrive in Chicago around 12:30pm, just in time for some lunch and an afternoon to relax and visit with the folks before the really intense part of the week began. Katie dropped me off at 7:30am (way earlier than necessary for our little airport, but I didn’t mind) and 9am rolls around, we board, get settled, the plane cranks up and we roll a little before we stop and idle on the runway. In no time at all, I am asleep. Sometime around 9:30 I awake to an announcement about a malfunctioning hydraulic and paperwork. Yes, we are still sitting on the runway. At about 9:45 we are informed that our plane has been officially grounded and that they would do their best to rebook everyone on flights to get us where we are going ASAP. As a humorous aside, this little Asian lady had also immediately fallen asleep next to me on the plane and had slept through all the announcements. When she awoke, she assumed that we had made excellent time to Detroit. I had to gently bring her down…

I’ll be the first to say that as annoying as this situation may be, I’ll never begrudge an airline for taking precautions to prevent my untimely death. It’s much easier to fix a problem on the ground that at 30,000 feet in the air (especially if it involves gremlins on the wings) However, before we even had the opportunity to deboard the plane, another announcement informs us that all the network computers are down and there’s no way to access our flight info or to rebook us. Essentially, we’re SOL and there’s nothing they can do but to give us the 800 number for NWA reservations. Lots of payphone calls later (because I have no cell phone), I am informed that the next available flight for me is 4:15 that afternoon. I’m pissed, but I opt to just wait it out in the airport rather than bother Katie on what was to be a very busy day for her. But this is OK, because the airport has tons of stuff to do, such as looking at all the other non-broke-ass planes that are actually taking off or sitting around in the shitty food court. It ROCKS!!

So from my arrival at the airport to when I actually leave Columbia, I waited around for about 8 hours. However, as annoyed as I was to be missing time with my family, I hooked up with two other stranded travelers and we became fast friends. Tim was a machinist who builds custom machines for different companies and Tanya was in the Air Force (and was trained to kill, my friend. TO KILL). I couldn’t understand why with their combined skills, they didn’t just volunteer to fix and then fly the original plane, but they seemed to think they couldn’t do that. We spent the time bitching, complaining, and making fun of everything. It was a lot of fun. We FINALLY made it to Detroit, where we were delayed yet again due to weather, but finally we each parted ways for our respective destinations, undoubtedly never to see each other again. We didn’t swap emails or anything (though Tim did go to my blog, so Tim may in fact be reading this post). I really enjoy those random moments in life where strangers are thrust together to spend just a few hours of their lives together. It really does make life more interesting. Completely unanticipated but a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

I got to Chicago that night at 8:15-ish, and was picked up by Erica, Fuzzy, and my mother. I stayed at E & F’s place that night to help Erica’s “frame of mind,” which was a little stressed out to say the least.

Part Two: Uh…Everything Else

OK, from this point on, I’m going to describe some of the major points because the whole thing just flew by so fast (in fact, the following week did, too, because as I write this, the wedding was already almost a week ago). This is the observations and shout-out section:

Thursday was the day when a lot of family was coming into town. It was a pretty stressful day in and of itself, because, well- there was a lot of family in town. In the Reid contingent were my mother and father and my two grandmothers. My grandmothers were stressed about how much effort it took for them to get around in Chicago (even with public transportation, a wheelchair, and a rental car). My folks were stressed out at how much effort it was to do anything with the grandmothers in tow. Erica was stressed out about the fact that everyone else was stressing her out (and if that sounds silly, you’ve obviously never planned a wedding). And I was- well, I was stressed because of all of the above. But that being said, it was good to see my family. Hey- we’re stressful; we’re Reids.

Oh yeah, did I mention Erica was sick as a damn dog and had lost most of her voice?

My newest In-Laws are all very nice. There was a lot of Fuzzy’s family in town, but I really only spoke to the most immediate members. Fuzzy’s brother Disco is cool, his folks are very nice, I hardly spoke to his sister Heidi and maybe not at all to her husband, but their kids Jake, Amelia, and baby Luke. We bummed around with Disco for a while and went to the Threadless office (pretty rad). That night we went out to eat at this tripped out restaurant named Paradise not far from E & F’s place. I thought the food was good, but the rest of my family didn’t seem to like it so much. But there was great crazy Indian dancing on the TV (as well as some quite delectable belly-dancing footage), so it was a lot of fun.

Paradise Restaurant
Paradise Restaurant. Bizzarro.

Friday, things started happening. Lots of prep for the rehearsal that night. My lovely wife Katie arrived. The rehearsal was held on the back patio area of E & F’s place, and once we were done we had more people over and had a cookout. Lots of fun. Click HERE to see one of Fuzzy’s Flickr sets of the day.

Rehearsal #2
The rehearsal. And Fuzzy is showing everyone his “Where’s my Leg?” trick.

Saturday of course was the big day. Being in the bridal half of the wedding party (the patron –of-honor, if you will), I went with Erica to a salon after attending a brunch with mom and Erica at E’s friend Mel’s apartment. A flurry of activity as the event begins to take shape, suits and dresses on, photos on the roof, and here it is 2:00pm and the wedding is on.

What an Entrance!!

The Ceremony


Man, this was not a reserved ceremony. I felt like a rock star even in sidekick mode. There was 200 or more people there and as the wedding party entered everybody was clapping, cheering, and hootin’ and hollerin.’ Kate, the “Best Man,” and I looked at each other in a little bit of shock at the noise. We just laughed as we came out because it was a big, rowdy crowd. Then the bride came out and the place went wild. During the ceremony there was a place when the whole crowd got to yell out in support of the union. The ceremony was short but very sweet, and everyone was crying. , Being the rugged, manly man that I am, I myself even shed a tear or two. When Sara, the officiant, announced them married, they had a big old kiss, turned to the crowd, and Erica said “That’s it!” And Fuzzy said “We got married!” And off they went down the aisle to screams and clapping.

It's Official!!

The rest of the afternoon was dancing to live music (courtesy of the band Ruth Buzzy) and lots of photos, food, visiting, and fake moustaches).

Wedding Party

Katie, E & F, and Moi

First Dance

At about 5:30 clean up began. E & F stayed to help a bit but eventually retired to their hotel for the night. Katie and I got back to E & F’s place about 8pm and hung out with Jeremy, Adam and Sarah, Kenner, and Kate. It was a nice counterpart to the chaos of the day- a nice, chill evening of simple conversation with friends, old and new alike.

Sunday was again an event day, with a picnic that ended up happening in E & F’s apartment, lots of folks and more food. Katie and I had to take off to the airport around 3pm, so Jeremy left with us and rode the train a while until we also parted ways (though, in pure Jeremy fashion, we later saw him just boppin’ along in the airport, nowhere near his terminal, so we hung out another hour or so.) The ride home was fairly uneventful, and we collapsed into bed.

A few comments more:

My sister Erica is my oldest, dearest friend. Little sister, the wedding was wonderful, thank you for letting me be a part of it. I wish you and Fuzzy the best. You are a beautiful person in every way. And you’re a dicknot.

Big Bro and the Sis

Fuzzy, welcome to the family. I can’t put into words how happy I am that you are with my sister. This last weekend, there was a moment when my sister was really stressed and sobbing. You patiently and lovingly swooped in, calmed her, and helped get everything back together again. You could see how much you loved each other, and at that moment I knew you were the perfect match for my sister and that I could rest assured that she would be happy and safe with you. Thank you for that.

To my folks, I love you both (and the grandmothers, who do not read blogs). I know it was stressful and we had a few moments, but when we think back on this event, will we even remember the stress?…Well, Mom will. (And thanks for all those kind words on your blog. Just doin’ my job, ma’am.) [Click the following links to read some of mom’s comments about the wedding: Post One, Post Two, Post Three]

There were so many awesome people at the wedding, many of whom I do not get to see enough, two of which are Hanson and Rine-Stone (Scmooches, ladies!Y’all did so much to help!) And we made new friends, too, one of which is “Best Man” Kate O’Leary, our new bad-ass illustrator rock star friend.

Others of note, the wedding pirates: Yes, there were wedding pirates. Erica L. and Sara were actually designated “the wedding pirates” in the program. They each had fake tattoos, eye-patches and plastic swords during the ceremony. Who knew eye-patches could be so sexy?

Adam and Sarah, great to see y’all. Sorry we crapped out on ya Sunday. And a good contingent of the old Vicksburg crew was there: Alex, Melissa, and The Cap’n.

Ah yes, Cap’n Hardqore (AKA Homeskillet)is a total pimp. He’s flashy with his grille and a mix-master with a blender. Yeh!

OK, so that’s enough of that. I’m sure I forgot someone to give a shout out to, but forgive me. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WHOLE PHOTO SET ON FLICKR. There will be plenty of other photos showing up from numerous sources, so I’ll post some as they come. (The wedding photographer alone took over 800 pictures on Saturday!) If you made it to the end of this entry, then you have my utmost respect.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Steptoe, Sanford, and their Respective Sons

Did you know that Sanford and Son was a remake of a British sitcom??!! The iconic show set in Watts and starring a cast of predominately African-American actors was based on the British TV series Steptoe and Son about two “rag and bone” men (AKA junk dealers). Totally blows my mind.

From Wikipedia:
Steptoe and Son was a British sitcom written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about two rag and bone men living in Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd's Bush, London. Four series were aired on the BBC from 1962 to 1965, followed by a second run from 1970 to 1974. MORE HERE…

With All Due Respect to Julia Roberts...

...THIS was my best friends wedding.

What an Entrance!!

More to come...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Return of the New and Improved

Yeah, yeah, yeah…So I haven’t posted in a month. There are reasons for this, to be sure.
1) I really have been busy. I started my new job and all that goes along with it have taken up a lot of my time. Katie also has a new job, and that has kept the house busier as well (as she is VERY busy).
2) There’s been a substantial exodus of friends this summer (Paula, Adam and Tricia, Dr. Greg Plagens, PhD (big ups!!)) that are leaving Columbia for various new academic posts or future studies, and we’ve been trying to be social and spend as much time with those folks (and others) as possible.
3) My sister’s wedding. MUCH more to come on that later.
4) I just didn’t have it in me to post anything after my Africa post. I mean, it was such a life changing experience, how can I top that post?

Here’s my attempt:

Blowie the Blowfish

Yes, dear readers, this is Blowie, the mascot for the Columbia Blowfish, named after Columbia’s own Hootie and the Blowfish. Since I am such a sports fan, as was previously discussed, it’s only appropriate that Blowie has the honor of ushering me back into the blogosphere.

This evening, Katie and I went to a Blowfish game (Blowfish vs. TeamUSA, a team of college all-stars), courtesy of the Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands. There was a laid-back, decent crowd and several of her co-workers in attendance. I met the new crew (several of which I know from my CIS-M days) and found myself enjoying the game much more than I was anticipating, though I had not a clue what was happening in general.

Katie and I hung out until about 9:30pm before we headed out. We left at the 7th inning, and the score was something like 9 – 0 in favor of TeamUSA. Oh yeah, Blowfish = Not Really that Good. But it was a good time. And whether you like Hootie and the Blowfish or not, they really do a heck of a lot to help out South Carolina.

Here’s a few more shots of the stadium and some random, slightly disturbing “Grease Monkey” sponsor mascot that was like ten feet tall. There was clearly a real person inside it, but there’s no visible air-holes, or eye-holes, or anything. Which leads me to believe it is, in fact, space-age technology.

Columbia Blowfish, 8/1/06

Columbia Blowfish, 8/1/06 #2
TeamUSA at bat

Blowie the Blowfish, 8/1/06

That's right, Blowie. I'd run, too.

DB and the Scoobs