A NEW CYCLE OF FOOD PRODUCTION IS COMING
A really big dam has risen half a world away. Its shadow is falling on your kitchen table, warns Evan D.G. Fraser.
Seven thousand feet in length and 610 feet tall, the colossal hydroelectric Three Gorge Dam across the Yangtze River in Province dam looms like a sentinel from another age. It signals that things are about to change, and that includes you.
“The Three Gorges Dam will shape the way we eat for the next generation.” Evan D.G. Fraser, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and co-author with Andrew Rimas of the brilliant book Empires of Food, is not exaggerating when he points to this single civil work as the marker of a new (and troublesome) era of food production. Continue Reading
New Military Studies
A CALL TO ACTION
I am calling for a new school. We really, really need this school.
The School of New Miltiary Studies
First, we are all at war – not just the Pentagon, not just the 3% of our population who actually serves – but all of us. “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.” (Thucydides) We all need to understand all the dynamics of conflict, from economic to cultural to the botany and physics of it. I teach at a military college, yet even here, a battle like Stalingrad is little-known and less understood If we don’t understand Stalingrad, there is no hope.
Second, an entirely new theater of war is coming and I don’t think Generation Y knows how to fight it. Continue Reading
THE CITY OF IDEAS
You have never seen anything like Arcosanti.
It is an experimental city-of-the-future located in the Arizona desert, about 60 miles north of Phoenix on Highway 17. Arcosanti’s main buildings hang over a canyon wall like one of those hooked signs hanging off a bookshelf (zoning in the desert is a little lax). It has domes, giant greenhouses, huge circular windows that capture sunlight efficiently. The residents, who are always building some cool new element of the ever-developing city, are currently contemplating an “energy apron” of inclined terraces and a bridge that doubles as a sundial. It’s a city of new ideas.
Founder and visionary architect behind the city, Paolo Soleri directed Arcosanti’s development with his weirdo aphorisms (“The Lean Linear City … is like witnessing a new branch of the human genome”). Today the community of 7,000 encourages visitors and Continue Reading
A New Approach to History
ANNE KNOWLES AND A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE
Early in his career one of our finest writers, John McPhee, wrote a memorable book about Bill Bradley called A Sense of Where You Are. In it, the writer developed the idea that Bradley, the best college basketball player in the country, succeeded not due to athletic ability but because of his “extraordinary range of vision.” This constant and accurate sense of where he was in relation to the shifting patterns of his teammates, the opposing players, and the basket gave him an edge as important as any physical skill.
It is this same idea that Professor Anne Knowles now takes up in a fascinating new approach to history. Robert E. Lee, she argues, did not have a clear sense of where he was, and paid the price for it. That is, his limited understanding of the battlefield topography was a significant influence on the decisions he made during those three days at Gettysburg. Had he known more accurately where the Union positions were, for example, he might have endorsed Longstreet’s recommendation. “If Lee had looked longer and harder, from more vantage points, at the Union position Continue Reading
Billy Wilder’s Rules
HOW MOVIEMAKERS LOOK AT THEIR WORK
Here are ten rules for writing a good movie, from a series of interviews with a brilliant director you have never heard of named Billy Wilder.
“Treat your audience intelligently,” he says. “What movies can do, at their best, is let us in — they show us things, they don’t tell us.”
Wilder’s most important rule is also the simplest: Don’t be boring. That is a deceptive rule, since many crammed-with-action films are actually really boring (almost all of the Indiana Jones movies, for example). The first Transformers was an action movie which was not boring, although I’m not sure why.
Here are his ten rules, followed by my own interpretations and an example or two.
1. The audience is fickle. I don’t know what this means. How is this a rule?
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
Steven Spielberg is a director who totally Continue Reading
A FINE AMERICAN YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF
A fine American you have never heard of is Sam Mockbee.
Every other semester, I assign my EN 102 classes a research paper on architects. I assign each cadet to an architect, and task him or her with explaining to the entire class why this is the greatest of all modern architects.
They always like Sam Mockbee.
It is hard not to. Sam Mockbee was a gifted architect who turned down a lucrative partnership in an architectural firm in order to build beautiful houses for his neighbors. For free. Everyone, he felt, deserves architecture. In one interview, Mockbee (who looks more like a lumberjack than an architect) says Continue Reading
DIFFERENT FROM DISNEY:
A STUDY OF CHANGES IN ANIMATED CHARACTERS
Do you ever get so punchy that you can’t get a particular phrase out of your mind?
Character study from Pixar’s “Brave”
Yesterday, in one of those marathon end-of-semester days filled with faculty meetings, my colleague Sukalpa kept saying, “It’s all in the numbers” (Sukalpa teaches math). And every time she said it, it was the perfect remark. It is always in the numbers.
Jonathan Decker’s recent dissertation “The Portrayal of Gender in Feature-Length Films of Pixar: A Content Analysis” was written for a Masters in Science degree. He has devised numerical values for cartoon portrayals and concludes what we have all suspected: Continue Reading
ALL NATIONAL HISTORIES ARE CONNECTED
The story of the American Civil War needs to be reconsidered. It is not at all an American narrative but an international story.
In a recent address to the Organization of American Historians, OAH President James Oliver Horton argued that if the promise of America is to be fulfilled, its people must understand its history. He called for a new generation of historians to place America in its rightful context, a global context – to portray U.S. history not as a story separated from the rest of the world, but as part of a vast global narrative. Writers as varied as Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat) and Niall Ferguson (Colussus), Thomas Bender (A Nation Among Nations) and Parag Khanna (The Second World) are calling for a new perspective which views America and American history not as separate but as connected to the rest of the world.
The wide-ranging cast of international characters who took part in the War Between the States includes such unlikely personalities Continue Reading