Monday, April 15, 2019

Backpacker Radio Podcast

Today I'm on Backpacker Radio, talking about my books and the right to roam. A description from their webpage:
In today’s episode of Backpacker Radio, Smiles and I sit down with author Ken Ilgunas. To put it simply, Ken is a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. We talk at length about his time hiking the length of the Keystone XL Pipeline both where it was developed and supposed to be developed, where had to not only trespass for much of this hike, but knock on complete strangers doors for help on many occasions. He shares his take on public vs. private land, why we should have hiking access on private land, the threats to public land, and how this is handled in other countries. Ken also shares about his time living out of his van, before #vanlife was even a thing. We close out the show with a new thru-hiker of the week, some Trek propaganda, and a new segment, two lies and a truth. This is another juicy show. So strap in.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Game of Throne preview (and reviews)

With friend and fellow blogger David Dalton, I'll be, for the next couple of months, co-writing blog posts at the Into the Woods blog to review each Game of Thrones episode for the final season. Here’s our assessment of last season and thoughts on what’s to come. For this week’s entry, our impressions couldn’t be more different.

Monday, April 8, 2019

"Us" is not a good movie

[I watch a lot of movies, and I dislike many of them, but I only feel provoked to publicly review them when reviewers seem to have their heads up their butts. (Us got 94% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.)]

Jordan Peele’s Us was disappointing. *Spoilers*

1. There’s a tonality problem. My take is that Peele, the auteur, wants the film to be deeply meaningful and disturbing (meeting one’s underworld doppelgänger as a critique of modern society), but Peele, the entertainer, wants it to be a lighthearted and entertaining family-horror feast (with lots of comedic relief, none of which works too well). The tonal mismatch prevents it from committing to a proper mood and movie. Because Us doesn’t leave a clear emotional impression, the movie resigns itself to utter forgettability. (Peele’s Get Out found a much nicer balance between eerieness and humor, but Get Out has its own problems, which I’ll get to in a second.)

2. Us is incoherent. How do the doppelgängers feed themselves? (Rabbits will not provide adequate nutrition, and where do the rabbits get their nutrition?) How do the doppelgängers clothe themselves? Why don’t they all climb the escalator and escape? Why does the mom character seemingly have no memory of being switched when she was eight years old? How are the doppelgängers stronger and faster and more agile, despite having lived in dark, confined spaces (without proper nutrition) their whole lives? What is the symbolic meaning of the hands across America performance art? Isn’t the genocide, that the doppelgängers just carried out, good enough? Who would win in a battle of 300 million scissors versus 300 million guns? (You might say, “Don’t be so harsh, it’s just a movie!” but movies with impossible plots, such as The Matrix, take pains to make sense.)

3. This film says nothing. I think it wanted to say something about how privileged Americans are living off the backs of the underprivileged, and I think that’s a good message and an interesting subject to explore. But the film doesn’t fulfill its mission. It seems like all the symbols (rabbits, scissors, pruning gloves, red overalls) were more random than meaningfully symbolic. I don’t know much about Peele, but I get the sense that he truly wants to write good, important, lasting films, but the bulk of Us and the last fourth of Get Out are mindless, silly slashers that take away from Peele’s ideas and his team’s adept cinematic craftsmanship. (I’d say 2/3rds of Us was spent running, hiding, killing, and escaping—none of which was memorable or all that scary.)

I believe this is another artist’s “sophomore slump,” which almost always results from the inflated ego of an artist whose first project was a smashing success, and his benefactors who want to cash in on a hot name. Us could have spent another whole year in the hands of the screenwriters.

Jordan Peele is a good director, but let’s hold back from calling him the next Hitchcock. I think the best thing he could do is go indie. His ideas are fresh and inventive, but they are squandered when he caters to the masses, mixing in the lowbrow with the high.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Spring Semester 2019 Speaking Tour

Student depiction.
Mon. Feb 11: Hamilton College (Clinton, NY), 4 p.m., Kirner-Johnson 127 Red Pit.

Tue. Feb 12: Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY). 7 p.m., Emerson Auditorium

Wed. Feb 13: Lycoming College (Williamsport, PA), 7 p.m., Jane Schultz Room, Wertz Student Center

Thur. Feb 14: Mansfield University (Mansfield, PA)

Thur. Feb 21: Marietta (Marietta, OH), 7 p.m., Rickey Science Center

Feb 22: Cincinnati high school

Feb 25: North Central College (Naperville, IL),  6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in Wentz Science Center, 131 S. Loomis St

Feb 26: Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI), 7:00 pm: 3025 Brown Hall

Feb 27: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, IL), 12 p.m., 1001 S Wright St, Champaign, Illinois 61820

Feb 28: University of Illinois Springfield (Springfield, IL), 6 p.m., Brookens Auditorium

Mar 5: Mount Mercy University (Cedar Rapids, IA)

Mar 6: Drake University (Des Moines, IA), 3 p.m., 
Cartwright Hall, 213 

2608 Forest Avenue

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The 1,000-Year Plan

Plan of St. Gall, from 825 AD
Around 825 AD, at a monastery in modern-day Germany, one or two monks (thought to be Reginbert, the librarian, and Walafrid, his pupil ) drew up a plan for a 40-building monastery on five stitched-together sheets of sheep skin. It's the only surviving "blueprint" from the early Middle Ages, and, ever since it was discovered, it's been a precious artifact to historians. The monastery, though, was never built. The plan was folded up and the backside was used for a biography of St. Martin. For centuries, the plan sat in the library of St. Gall.
Fast-forward to the 2010s: German businessman Bert Geurten has the crazy idea of finally realizing the plan, almost 1,200 years later. He inspires a group of craftspeople in southwest Germany, who have been working on the monastery for the last seven years.
I wonder what Reginbert and Walafrid would say if we could tell them about the fate of their plan? Were they dissatisfied that the monastery was never initiated in their lifetimes? Would they be tickled to learn that it's taken us over 1,000 years to get started? Would it matter to them?
For anyone who's writing/creating/building, here's my takeaway from the story... We ought not be overly concerned with how many likes we get and how many books we sell. Focus on what you produce; fret not on how others consume. Create and leave the rest to fate. A rejected manuscript, a spurned poem, a forgotten composition could take years to find its audience. It might take millennia to come to fruition.

Campus Galli in 2010s, courtesy of