The Infamous Harvard vs. New York Prisoners Debate

debate graphicI know you have heard about it on the television networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC). You may have even heard about it on NPR of all places!

Yes, I am talking about the debate between a group of Harvard students and a group of prisoners from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York.

This event was tailor-made for a great news story in the mainstream media as it sensationalizes one of our democracy’s most esteemed institutions: public debate. This is not surprising in the run up to a presidential election where words like “loser”, “stupid”, and “big boy pants” are thrown out into the public sphere by the current candidates.

I must confess up front that I have been a policy debater, coach, judge, and teacher at the high school, university, and graduate school levels. I have written about these experiences in previous posts: A. Craig Baird Debate Forum: Going Home For The NDT and In “Debate Mode” . I have also coached parliamentary debate in Singapore and help coach the HBU mock trial team. I teach a class in Argumentation and Advocacy here at HBU as well.

Because I have been hearing about this debate event nonstop, I really just want to set the record straight. Continue reading

Politics and Religion in Ridley Scott’s The Martian

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The Martian is good science fiction. It has a hard-edged realism combined with a compelling plot. In the near future, NASA is sending manned missions to Mars, but the Ares III mission runs into trouble. The crew leaves behind astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, because they think he’s dead, but Mark, who isn’t dead, decides that he doesn’t want to die on Mars. He begins working on a plan to get off the planet.

Director Ridley Scott manages to strike just the right balance of humor and tension, and Matt Damon does an excellent job giving us a hero we can root for. Damon’s got most of the screen time, and for most of his scenes he’s acting alone. Pulling off solo scenes successfully proves one’s acting mettle. The rest of the cast does a great job too (though I think an Oscar nod should go to Mackenzie Davis for imbuing a minor role with awesomeness). And let’s not forget to mention the topnotch special effects that are so good that you almost don’t notice they’re there. What a novel concept—effects that serve the story.

And it really is a good story.

Continue reading

Back to Kansas from the Land of Oz

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OK ya’ll. I’m going to travel back in time and to another culture.

The place is Kansas where Dorothy and Toto originally made their way to the magical Land of Oz via a tornado. Imagine that I am Dorothy, but I don’t have Toto the dog (I do have a cat, however, as my colleagues and students know). I clicked my heels and went back home for a high school class reunion and the annual Labor Day Celebration in Hoisington, Kansas.

Certainly a different cultural scene than Houston, Texas.

This, my friends, is a big deal. Hoisington, Kansas has had a Labor Day Celebration and parade for 119 years.

Yes, 119 years! Continue reading

Top Ten Books that Aren’t on Most “Great Books” Lists

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The philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler was perhaps the first to recognize the importance of preserving the integrity of what he called the “Great Books” of the Western tradition. Since then lists of great books from Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon” to The Greatest Books.org have attempted to capture the best and most significant works in Western culture. Like all efforts at preservation and codification, these lists (along with “classics” books series by Penguin, Oxford Classics, etc.) tend to emphasize certain topics, works, and genres, and inadvertently diminish attention to others.

With this in mind, and because I have an affinity for the obscure, I try, when I have the time, to read a stack of books that do not usually find their way to any of the lists. Continue reading