Archive for Life in NC

Creating a World without Poverty

Fayetteville readers might be interested to know that Nobel Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus will be speaking at Fayetteville State University’s Seabrook Auditorium on February 5th at 4:30 PM.  Yunus is the author of Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism and one of the chief innovators behind the micro-credit movement.  The lecture is free and open to the public, and the first 200 students with valid Fayetteville State student ID cards will receive a free copy of Yunus’s book.  Check the university website for more details.

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After a somewhat unplanned hiatus, I’m trying to get back in the blog habit.  Visiting family and attending MLA disrupted many of my usual web rituals more than I expected, and I’ve spent much of New Years Day simply revisiting blogs I haven’t read in a couple of weeks while a number of college football bowl games play in the background–the overly insistent pageantry ringing a somewhat false tone in an ear of economic difficulty.  I’m in the process of composing at least two posts, an update on my planning for my upcoming graduate seminar and a review of some of my favorite films, TV shows, videos, etc. from 2008.  But I’d like to use the space of the blog to look back a little bit on 2008 and look ahead to some new goals for 2009.

Like many bloggers, I’m well aware that 2008 has been a difficult year.  As Filmbarin notes in his top ten film list, many of us have lost jobs this year.  Others have lost homes or faced difficulties paying off debts.  We’ve also seen the repercussions of poor environmental stewardship and of combative foreign policies. Certainly the economy was one of the most frequent topics at this year’s Modern Language Association conference (as discussed in this solid LA Times article), as many of my colleagues and I worried about a tightening job market.  Knowing that Barack Obama will be taking over in three weeks is some consolation, even if his choice to invite Rick Warren to lead a prayer at the inauguration is disheartening.

But in the midst of all of these problems, some thing have gone well for me.  Thanks to some long hours this summer and countless pots of coffee, my book has moved much closer to publication.  I’ve also produced quite a bit of work on viral political videos, including one essay already in print with Popular Communication (I also talked about these issues on a New Hampshire NPR show, “Word of Mouth”).  I also completed two half marathons this year, running them only about two weeks apart, something I never really thought I would do, so naturally I’m pretty happy with all of those accomplishments.

That being said, 2008 feels like something of a “lost” year.  In trying to think about favorite movies, books, videos, or TV shows, my mind remains a bit of a blur.  As Filmbrain implies, a weaker slate of films might be partially to blame, and living in North Carolina does provide me with less access to some of the high-profile Oscar-bait films (Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, etc).  But even if I had access, I’m not sure how many I would have seen, in part because I’ve been preoccupied by other things this year.  To be sure, the book has occupied quite a bit of emotional, mental, and even physical energy, but I also found myself reading political news blogs far more often–thankfully I was able to turn that into a research interest–and like many people, I felt almost as if my life was on hold for much of October and early November as I awaited election results that seemed like they would never come.

I mention all of this to say that I’ve only made one significant resolution this year, and that is to relax and reassess, to sort out where I’ve been and where I’d like to go next.  When I joked to my friends at a New Years party last night that I was planning “to be more of a slacker this year,” I wasn’t entirely serious, but I do want to spend more time doing the things that led to the completion of my first book: reading blogs and other writing on film and media, watching movies and TV shows, and providing myself with at least a little space for new ideas to emerge.

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Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

A few months ago, just as I was finishing the manuscript of my book, Sujewa Ekanayake swung through Fayetteville to interview me for his forthcoming documentary, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip (IFBRT). Now, just as I am finishing copyedits on the book, Sujewa has been kind enough to allow me to be one of the first people to screen a rough cut of the film. I won’t pretend to review IFBRT. Obviously, I’m not an objective observer. But I am interested in talking about my experience of being filmed and then watching myself onscreen, as well as some of the questions the film raised for me as a blogger who happens to write about independent film.I’ll admit that the first time I watched the segments in which I appear, late last night, my first reaction was to grimace in discomfort. Do my hands really move like that? Do I really have that big of a gut? I now know why so many actors find it difficult to watch film clips of themselves when they play at awards shows. And I was watching the film alone on the very futon where I was interviewed a few months earlier. But after watching my scenes again, I felt a little better. Yes, my fingers seemed to be twitching madly during certain moments, but not as much as I initially remembered, and I ended up chalking up the appearance of a gut to a bad shirt choice. Not much I can do about that. Wear a more flattering shirt next time, of course. I liked the messy hair, though.

I’ll also admit that I was surprised at the answers that Sujewa chose to include. Given that I’m not living in a big city, it made sense for Sujewa to give me room to discuss the fact that blogging allows me to continue to feel at least somewhat connected to film cultures that are geographically distant but remain available, albeit in mediated form, on the web. But for whatever reason, I spent a few minutes talking about the role that blogging had played in organizing documentary filmmakers and artists in protesting new rules instituted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would have severely restricted the right to film in New York City. Now I don’t have any issues with Sujewa’s decision to use the comments, and I think the story is an important one, but it seems like an odd story coming from me, as if I was describing something I read, or maybe saw, not something in which I was a participant.

Which brings up a question for me. I wonder how other interviewees make sense of the experience of watching themselves onscreen, or about the kinds of things that make it into the film. As I mentioned in my original blog entry on being interviewed, Sujewa left my apartment with quite a bit of footage, and while I’m reasonably content with what appeared in the film, it is impossible for me not to think about what else Sujewa might have done with the film–or with the footage that he left on the virtual cutting room floor (we need a better metaphor to describe unused footage in the age of digital filming and editing, but I digress). In short, as I watched Sujewa’s film the first time, I found myself wanting to assume the director’s chair, to retell the story of film blogging in my own way, making my first viewing of IFBRT a rather frustrating experience.

But as I watched the last few minutes of IFBRT tonight, my fully copyedited manuscript sitting neatly in front of me on my coffee table, I found myself thinking about the place of a document such as Sujewa’s film in the current media landscape. One of the questions that seemed to persist was whether blogging would continue as an important cultural form in promoting and consuming indie films, and the consensus seemed to be that it would, in fact, persist. However, as more and more of my online activity migrates to Facebook and Twitter, where I can talk about everyday banalities and have random conversations with friends, both near and far, in 140 characters or less, I’m left to wonder how all of that new sociability will affect longer forms such as blogging–and yes, I realize the oddity of referring to blogging as a “longer form.” Jenny asked a really useful question about this media transition recently: “What’s your social software of choice right now?” I still like blogging and find it to be a useful space for working out ideas, but my recent breathless anxiety about the 2008 election and this semester’s nonstop flurry of activity have left me wanting to write short state of the psyche posts, not long, overly detailed film reviews or manifestos about indie cinema.

At the same time, Sujewa is attentive to the various ways that all of his interviewees are invested in blogging as an activity, even if, as Anthony Kaufman confesses at one point, we don’t always like doing it or like what it has done to film and entertainment journalism. Other bloggers complicate the perception that the indie film community is a completely inclusive, utopian space. As Judy Wajcman observes in her excellent book, TechnoFeminism, “networks create not merely insiders, but also outsiders, the partially enrolled, and those who refuse to be enrolled” (42-43). Melissa Silverstein, for example, took the time to challenge the “all boys club” tendency of many blogging communities, while Armando Valle pointed out that indie festivals often have less room for genre pics such as low-budget horror films. To Sujewa’s great credit, he took great care to ensure that he presented a multi-faceted and diverse portrait of the blogging community, while also acknowleding the ways that we sometimes fail to be fully inclusive. In addition to all that, it was certainly fun to see so many of the bloggers I’ve been reading, in some cases, for several years and to get some history of film blogging from people, such as Kaufman and S.T. VanAirsdale, who have (like myself) been practicing the fine art of film blogging for some time.

Obviously, because I am in the film, I can’t fully distance myself from it, and I have to wonder how it will play for people outside the circle of this specific slice of indie film culture. One of the maddeningly unanswered questions of the film is what counts as “indie.” Another might be what counts as “blogging.” Perhaps because these questions are impossible to answer in any concise way. IFBRT concentrates on what might later seem like a relatively narrow slice of the history of both “indie” and “blogging,” in that many of us, including myself (although my comments about the subject didn’t make it into the film) were relatively fixated on what was typically described as the indie film crisis of 2008, which makes me wonder what it would have meant to do this documentary as a series of impressions, following the ebb and flow of indie and blogging practices as our technologies change, as our social protocols change, and even as the movies themselves change. No matter what, I very much enjoyed being a part of the project and hope that Sujewa has success with it. Even if my hands were manically twitching the entire time I was onscreen.

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In my second ever half marathon this weekend on the Outer Banks, I shattered my previous best time in last year’s Atlanta Half Marathon by over forty minutes.  I’ll admit that I’m ecstatic (and a little surprised) at the results.  To be fair, this particular race was far less difficult than my previous half marathon, in part because the running conditions–clear sky, temperature in the 50s–were just about perfect (not to mention the fact that I was better prepared).

The course itself is pretty cool–running alongside some sand dunes and weaving through a number of residential neighborhoods before crossing the Washington-Baum Bridge (probably the steepest and most intimidating part of the course) before finishing on Roanoke Island, near the location where English colonists first landed in a sleepy little village called Manteo.

For those who live nearby, the race is well-organized and includes a reasonable number of runners.  In keeping with the maritime setting, the race’s pirate theme is a lot of fun (you can even get a post-race picture taken with a pirate or two), and you can even celebrate completing the race with a free beer or two (or more).  Of course, the race was even more fun because I ran with several friends and colleagues (all of whom were happy with their times), but the race offered just about a perfect break from a long (if rewarding) semester.  Now back to some belated teaching prep.

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I took some time out this afternoon to attend the Barack Obama event at the Crown Coliseum here in Fayetteviile. It’s a little difficult to know what to say about these kinds of events, but it was certainly a lot of fun to hear him speak live and to watch and interact with others who are so enthusiastic about his campaign. The Coliseum itself was packed to capacity. I’m unable to estimate crowds, but according to this report the Coliseum holds over 10,000 for hockey games, and virtually every seat in the arena was full with several hundred others standing in front of the podium (I’ll try to add attendance numbers when I get them). In addition, there were at least 2,000 others who were turned away because of fire code violtions, although many of them stayed and listened to the speech on speakers set up outside.

According to the Fayetteville Observer, people began arriving well before 9 AM–I’m told that some people showed up around 5 AM–but the parking lots were not opened until 9. A friend and I arrived at about 9:45 to an already long line where we had the chance to chat with others while waiting for the doors to open at 11 AM (trying to put a positive spin on being forced to wait for so long). After a beautiful performance of the National Anthem and introductions from a couple of local politicians, Obama arrived, I believe to the tune of “Beautiful Day” by U2 while Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” was playing* and proceeded to announce to the crowd the news that Colin Powell had endorsed him for president on Meet the Press to raucous cheers. Obama used Powell’s endorsement to emphasize the criticism of McCain’s heavy use of negative campaigning, including McCain’s extensive use of ominous robocalls and fliers (I got this one, tying Obama to Bill Ayers, a couple of days ago here in North Carolina). Much of the rest of the speech was Obama’s standard stump speech, but his discussion of health care, the economy, and education was a healthy reminder of why I became so enthusiastic about an Obama presidency over the last year or so.

In some ways, however, I may have been just as intrigued by the orchestration of the event as the event itself, the sheer amount of labor and planning that goes into orchestrating a single campaign event. The Obama volunteers were clearly well-prepared, and the event was smoothly run (although traffic after the event was a nightmare). More than that, however, I enjoyed getting a sense of how carefully stage-managed these events are. This is, of course, something I know as a scholar of media studies; however, it was difficult not to be aware of the presence of the news cameras–and there were a surprisingly large number. More than anything, though, I can’t help but think that there are only sixteen days left until this thing is finally over.

Update: Melissa Garcia already has photos. I’ll link to others when I get them (sadly, I still don’t have a digital camera).

Update 2: Forrest was there, too, and he also has pictures.

Update 3: Thanks to techsassy for the song correction (via Twitter).

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Obama in Fayetteville Again

Details such as exact time and location are forthcoming, but The Fayetteville Observer has the scoop. This time, it’ll be a public event.

Updated to add that I have to admit that I’m pretty excited to be living in a state that is actually in play this late in the election season. I think the last time I lived in a state this close it was the Clinton-Bush-Perot election in 1992.

Update 2: Here’s more information on the Obama rally, which is scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 PM. Turns out Palin will be stopping by sometime in November, too.  Fayetteville’s going to be a busy place.

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Thursday Links

Counting down the hours until tonight’s VP debate, which I’ll be watching with other Fayetteville political junkies at the local art house theater.  Until then, here are some links:

  • Scott Kirsner has some of the latest digital cinema news, including updates on the conversion of a number of multiplexes to digital projection.
  • Girish points to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article on how the history of cinema during the Bush era might be written, and I’m generally inclined to agree that some of that history will focus on the new screening formats that change our understanding of a film public.  Rosenbaum also traces the rise of the new political documentary, another important Bush-era trend.
  • Agnes has two posts tracing discussion of Peter Broderick’s indieWire article (part one and part two) on the new world of digital distribution.  Broderick’s article deserves a close look, and hopefully I’ll have time to write something longer in the near future.
  • Jette reports that the documentary Crawford, about George Bush’s adopted town, will soon be premiering on Hulu.  I’ve been wanting to see Crawford for a while, so I’m looking forward to this.  Crawford is the first feature film to premiere on Hulu, so I’ll also be interested to see how that works.
  • A couple of political videos for your entertainment.  First, via techPres, Ralph Nader continues his foray into web video with”Nader Meets ObamaGirl,” a nice parody of ’70s-era buddy sitcoms (and much better than his parrot video).   Second, via Tama, “The Dark Bailout,” perhaps the most insightful take yet on the truly awful bailout bill from the world’s greatest super villain.
  • And last, news that Netflix’s WatchNow player will finally be available to Mac users in the relatively near future, possibly by the end of the year.

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Fayetteville Tweets…Live

One of the aspects of Twitter that I’ve come to appreciate most is that it can help to foster a sense of localism by connecting Twitterers to others in their community.  When I first started blogging in 2003 when I was living in Atlanta–and blogging itself was a relative novelty–this sense of localism was a major attraction, but as my blogging practices changed (and after several moves), blogging rarely seemed to serve that function anymore.  Obviously, that potential is still there, but my personal blogging networks seemed increasingly focused on long-distance scholarly connections.  Not a bad thing at all, but a redefinition none the less.

So when I say that I partied like it was 2003 last night at the first ever Fayetteville (NC) Tweetup, I mean that as the highest compliment possible, as the gathering reminded me a lot of my Atlanta blogger meetups back in the day.  We had about a dozen social media geeks chatting about the history of social media, some reminiscing about Usenet and bulletin boards while others of us discussed our different web presences on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.  And, of course, there was pizza.  Melissa Garcia, the Fayetteville Observer’s Tech Sassy blogger has a few more details (via Gregory Phillips, who was also there), including a link to a streaming video recording of the event captured by Wayne Sutton featuring me talking way too much (probably) after a long day of teaching.  Thanks to Tiffani for setting up the whole thing.

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Sunday Notes

More random bullets for now:

  • Tatyana Ali’s talk in support of Obama at FSU this afternoon was a lot of fun.  A solid, enthusiastic crowd, especially for a Sunday afternoon.  I’ve rarely worked behind the scenes at one of these events, so it was fun helping out (even if was relatively minimally involved).
  • Caught Burn after Reading Friday night, the first time I’ve had a chance to get out to the theater in a few weeks.  There are already plenty of reviews out there, so for now, I’ll just say that I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The satire of DC spy culture was pretty amusing, and Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand as a couple of clueless gym workers were very funny.

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Harold Perrineau at FSU

Fayetteville readers might be interested to know that the actor Harold Perrineau (of Lost and Oz fame) will be speaking here at Fayetteville State on behalf of Barack Obama this Sunday. He’ll be speaking from 12 PM to 1 PM on Sunday, September 14 at the Shaw Auditorium in the School of Business and Economics Building. Perrineau is being hosted by the organization Students for Change, and Fayetteville State University does not support or oppose any political candidate or party.

Update: Turns out it’s going to be Tatyana Ali who will be coming to FSU, not Harold Perrineau.

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08-08-08 Links

Just in case you need something to distract you from the breathless coverage of John Edwards here are some links:

  • Amy Sullivan has probably the most thorough coverage I’ve seen of McCain’s “The One” advertisement and its highly dubious use of coded language to associate Obama with the Antichrist, including some insightful comments from progressive evangelical Tony Campolo–by far the most memorable speaker I saw during my days at an evangelical college–connecting the imagery directly to the apocalyptic Left Behind book series. Scott McLemee has some insightful observations about “The One,” as well, as does Maud Newton. I’ve suspected for a while that the Obama as Antichrist meme would resurface from time to time, so I think it’s important to address–and challenge–these messages whenever they appear.
  • As an antidote to “The One,” here is some (incredibly geeky) political humor, McCain Portrait, done in the style of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.” Wonderfully devastating stuff. Thanks to Professor B for the link.
  • I don’t write about music very often here, but I totally dig the new Gnarls Barkley album, and this video is terrific.
  • My North Carolina readers might be interested in knowing about the “Mixed-Tape Film Series” sponsored by the guys behind the terrific The Movie Show, which I’ve had the chance to catch on podcast a few times. Kind of reminds me of Girish’s cool idea of calling for double bills. Off the top of my head, one double bill I’d love to program: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil followed by Jem Cohen’s Chain.
  • Some interesting discussion regarding the state of the box office: Via Sharon Waxman, a WSJ article arguing that people are seeing fewer movies, using as its basis a survey by the group Interpret. Wired, however, did some digging and found that box office receipts are actually up slightly in 2008. That’s probably partially due to increased ticket prices, but as I argue in my book, surveys asking people to describe their moviegoing habits can be unreliable. I don’t think movie theaters are going to be extinct anytime soon. That being said, with the continued emphasis on Hollywood franchise pics, they might be less likely to show the movies that I want to see.
  • Bad Lit has an interesting post about a new player in the online indie distribution scene: IndieRoad. I haven’t had time to investigate the site as fully as I would like, but it looks like a promising new resource for filmmakers and indie film fans alike. I’ll try to write a longer post once I’ve had the chance to check out the site in more detail.
  • While I’m thinking about it, I’ve been watching the documentary, Mardi Gras: Made in China.  I don’t know that I’ve been surprised by any of the revelations in the documentary, but it offers a really powerful metaphor for thinking about the use of underpaid labor in producing US consumer goods.  The film cuts from people literally throwing away the beads they’ve purchased to the workers who make only a few dollars a day, while working shifts that often run twelve hours or more, to make them.  Well worth checking out.

Just wanted to add that I’m finding the nonstop Edwards coverage a bit nauseating.  Yes, it’s got all the makings of a great scandal: sex, hypocrisy, falls from grace, etc.  And I do think it was incredibly selfish for Edwards to risk sacrificing his principles to run for president when he knew that news of the affair would likely come out.  But shouldn’t we devote at least a couple of minutes of the news to the fact that Russian tanks are in Georgia?  Or that Olympians have been banned from China for speaking out on Darfur.  Or even if you want to talk about the election: the dubious contributions that rolled into the McCain campaign from Hess executives.

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Wednesday Links

I’ve got a couple of longer blog posts brewing, including a review of Katrina Browne’s thought-provoking new documentary, Traces of the Trade, which is due to air on PBS’s P.O.V. series in a few weeks (and which I can’t recommend enough), but for now some links:

  •  Eric Alterman recommended Bill Moyers’ interview with Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, about the implications for this year’s presidential election for the Supreme Court, and it is a bracing reminder of the ways in which a McCain presidency could further tilt the balance of the Court in the direction of conservatives for a long time to come, especially given that Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments.  And the recent movie Recount is only one small reminder of the power the Court can have in shaping the future direction of the country.
  • I’d been planning to write a quick blog post about YouTomb, the M.I.T. Free Culture group’s watchdog site, which tracks videos removed from YouTube, usually for copyright violations.  Instead, I’ll point you to Virginia Heffernan’s New York Times column.  I do like their idea of making the YouTube takedown policy more transparent in that a number of the videos that have been removed could qualify as “fair use” under a number of grounds, especially when the videos are used under the auspices of scholarly analysis as they have been in MediaCommons’ In Media Res project.  One interesting example, which I happened to write about, might be this video produced to convince fans of the CBS series Jericho to send bags of nuts to the network in order to convince them to renew the series.  The fan’s original citation of the series might test the limits of what counts as “fair use,” but given that he or she used only about one minute of material from several episodes, it doesn’t seem as if that particular video would have threatened CBS’s ability to profit from the show.  If anything, it served as a form of grassroots advertising for CBS programming and was a valuable document of the ways in which that kind of fan activity operates.
  • The P.O.V. Online Short Film Festival is also worth checking out.  And as someone interested in language, I found Ars Magna, which is about people obsessed with finding anagrams in words or phrases, to be especially entertaining.
  • Finally, Raleigh News-Observer movie reviewer and columnist Craig Lindsey pointed me to news of “The Movie Show,” a radio show on Greensboro, NC’s WUAG (he was scheduled to appear on yesterday’s episode).  The show, and the radio station itself, can be heard online.  Podcasts from the show are available on The Movie Show blog.

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Chicken City

Yesterday evening, if you had driven about a mile from my apartment, you would have seen the following image.  According to the Fayetteville Observer blog and article in the Observer, every time a Chik Fil-A opens, the fast-food chain gives the first 100 adult customers a year’s worth–52 coupons’ worth–of free combo meals (side note: there’s also a short video).  The result: a small tent city camping out in that newly-paved parking lot, which used to be in the middle of a giant a field just over a year ago (now, after the arrival of a certain big box mart, there are a number of chain restaurants and stores instead).  As the article mentions, many of the people travel hundreds of miles to be present at the opening, and regulars even exchange contact information so that they are aware of a new restaurant opening.

Obviously, the people in the Chicken City are enjoying themselves and seeing the opening as an opportunity to break from their regular routines, but as I drive past this new manifestation of sprawl every day on my way to campus, I still feel like something is being lost as these chains seem to crowd out (or maybe crowd in) the local.

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Michelle Obama in Fayetteville

Just a quick note to mention that Michelle Obama will be campaigning in Fayetteville on Monday, probably on the Fayetteville State campus, according to the Fayetteville Observer. More details when the Observer posts them. Unless something major happens, I’ll be sure to attend.

Update: Here’s the full scoop: Michelle Obama will be appearing at the Capel Arena on FSU’s campus on Monday.  Doors open at 12:45 and the program begins at 1:45.  Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis, so that probably means you should arrive early.  Given the time, it turns out I may not be able to attend, after all, but hopefully I can work it out.

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Saturday Links

Doing some late evening revisions on my horror film article before going out for a midnight movie (Ben Stein’s Expelled, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, other than maybe the desire to write a snarky blog review). But just thought I’d mention this interesting Errol Morris interview by Bob Edwards. Morris primarily discusses Standard Operating Procedure, but it’s also interesting to hear Morris discuss the fact that he generally likes the people he interviews, even if he disapproves of their actions. The show also features an entertaining interview with Jeanne Hatch and Stan Goldman from the Young at Heart Chorus and the new documentary, Young at Heart.

Also, in order to build in some public accountability, I thought I’d mention that I’ve identified my next big run, the Outer Banks Half Marathon scheduled for early November. I may use the Outer Banks run as a tune up for the full Atlanta Marathon Thanksgiving weekend, but I’m not sure if I have the time to train for that.

Update: Just a quick note to mention that I always find it odd when someone finds my blog by doing a Google search for the exact same movie I happen to be watching on television.  I first noticed this happening a couple of years ago when I was watching Shattered Glass on IFC, and it just happened again with American Splendor, which I just now realized is nearly five years old.  It’s kind of a weird form of an imagined community. There’s someone else at home, bored on a Saturday night, who happens to be watching the same old movie, probably because there’s nothing else on.  Of course, this may also reflect my own narcissism (or boredom) that I happen to be paying such close attention to my blog stats.

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