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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Films of 2017

As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot yet write a credible post on the best movies of 2017. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

Again this year, I missed several of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw many late 2016 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year. Again, I'll surely see most of the 2017 Oscar-bait films early in 2018. I tend to discuss those films in my posts about the Oscars.

To make this abbreviated 2017 list (in other words, to jog my memory), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2017. I also consulted Metacritic.

In rank order of my preference, these were the top 2017 films I saw this year, as best as I can recall:

Lady Bird **
Dunkirk **
Baby Driver **
The Big Sick **
Get Out
Wind River

** I saw these films in the theater.

There are some serious Oscar contenders there, I think. I suspect Laurie Metcalf will deservedly receive a nomination for best supporting actress (Lady Bird) and I would not be surprised if Saoirse Ronan (best actress) and Greta Gerwig (direction) are also nominated. It is difficult for a comedy director to receive this kind of accolade, however, which also likely hurts the film in the Best Picture category. Still it is an excellent coming-of-age movie that I highly recommend.

Dunkirk is the kind of war movie based on real events that often does well in the Best Picture category, but the ensemble cast may be hurt in the acting categories. The well-done heist film Baby Driver seems likely to receive technical nominations. It was very entertaining and perhaps the last memorable Kevin Spacey film for awhile.

I also really enjoyed The Big Sick and recommend it highly. Get Out has already been receiving a lot of great press for its comedic and critical use of the horror genre to reflect upon a major social issue (racism, and white privilege, in this instance). That's my kind of horror film!

Did you miss Wind River and Columbus? Check them out! The former is a crime drama set on native land and the latter would make a good double feature with Lady Bird as it addresses similar themes. The female protagonist is coming-of-age, has a complicated relationship with her mother, and is ambivalent about a future away from her local community.

The bulk of the my 2017 list consists of genre films -- comedies, action flicks, and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom.These were all OK, but flawed films:

Logan Lucky
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore
The Lovers
The Meyerowitz Stories
The Incredible Jessica James
War for the Planet of the Apes
It **


 I Am Not Your Negro

Only a couple of these films are doing well in end-of-year critic lists, but virtually all of them are worth watching. Even the ones at the bottom are likely fine for fans of traditional horror and Wolverine.

Logan Lucky has been described as a hillbilly Ocean's 11 and I'm a big fan of heist movies. It was especially funny when Daniel Craig was on the screen. It could have used a tighter edit, however.

The sci-fi Guardians 2 was also over-long and I get bored with comic-book battle scenes (whether involving spaceships or hand-to-hand combat), but the dialogue was a notch above the norm.

Okja was really entertaining and funny until the plot got very serious about the way meat is mass produced in America. That final portion of the film made this black comedy not-so-funny. Actually, a similar point could be made about I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore and Colossal. Colossal's message about gender was less clear than the racial message of Get Out, which is unfortunate because it had a strong hour of entertainment.

The family dramas The Lovers and The Meyerowitz Stories are worth your time, but neither is easy to watch. Jessica Williams showed a lot of promise in The Incredible Jessica James and I recommended this film to others right after seeing it.

The latest Apes film was OK, but it didn't really have an important social message and was mostly a technical marvel. The Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now comparisons seem like a stretch to me.

When I'm physically exhausted and/or mentally tired (and sitting in the dark), I sometimes nod off during even the best documentaries. I'm afraid that happened during my viewing of I Am Not Your Negro. I saw 90% of it, but the film deserves another viewing and perhaps elevation to the upper list.

Here's the annual list of 2017 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2017):

Films of 2017 to see:

1922, Alien Covenant, All the Money in the World, American Made, Atomic Blonde, Ballad of Lefty Brown, Battle of the Sexes, Beguiled, Berlin Syndrome, Blade Runner 2049, Buster's Mal Heart, Call Me By Your Name, Catfight, Darkest Hour, Death of Stalin, Detroit, Disaster Artist, Downsizing, Florida Project, The Founder, Foxtrot, From Nowhere, Gerald's Game, A Ghost Story, Girl With All the Gifts, Girls Trip, God's Own Country, Good Time, Happy End, Headshot, The Hero, Hostiles, Hounds of Love, I Daniel Blake, I Tonya, Ingrid Goes West, It Comes at Night, John Wick: Chapter 2, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kong: Skull Island, Land of Mine (Under Sandet), Little Hours, Lost City of Z, Marshall, Moka, Molly's Game, Mother!, Mudbound, Norman, The Party, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Polka King, The Post, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Quiet Passion, Salesman, Sense of Ending, Shape of Water, The Square, Star Wars The Last Jedi, Stronger, Super Dark Times, Survivalist, Sweet Virginia, T2 Trainspotting, Their Finest, Thor Ragnorak, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, To the Bone, The Trip to Spain, United Kingdom, Wakefield, Win It All, Wonder, Wonder Woman, You Were Never Really Here.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2016 movies from last year's wishlist:

13th, 20th Century Women, Above and Below, All the Way, Allied, American Honey, April and the Extraordinary World, Autoposy of Jane Doe, Band of Robbers, Barry, Bleed for This, Born to be Blue, Captain America: Civil War, Cemetery of Splendor, Certain Women, Christine, Creative Control, The Dark Horse, Deepwater Horizon, Denial, Doctor Strange, Don't Breathe, Elle, The Family Fang, Fences, The Fits, Florence Foster Jenkins, Francofonia, Glassland, Hacksaw Ridge, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hologram for the King, Imperium, Indignation, The Infiltrator, The Intervention, The Invitation, Jackie, Krisha, Last Man on the Moon, Little Men, Louder than Bombs, Love & Friendship, Loving, Maggie's Plan, Meddler, Miss Sloane, Money Monster, Neruda, Notes on Blindness, Patriots Day, The Phenom, Queen of Katwe, Sausage Party, Silence, Snowden, Southside with You, Take Me to the River, Things to Come, Tickled, Time to Choose, Toni Erdmann, Tower, Under the Sun, Valley of Violence, Where to Invade Next, The Witch, and Zero Days.

Virtually all of those films are now readily available -- as DVDs at my University library or as recordings on my DVR. A few are on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Books of 2017

Source: National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies
As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I read a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." The winning 2018 entry was actually a finalist last year, which means I read it in 2016 (but did not list it in my blog entry): Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa by Scott Straus. It's a terrific work, well worth your time. Straus seeks to determine if genocide can be predicted, an essential precursor step to prevention or early effective intervention.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (a few of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari years ago). 


The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Sex, Drugs and  Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Game Over by Dave Zirin

The 37th Parallel by Ben Mezrich

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2017, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. The 2017 book was edited by Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre. I'm already looking forward to the 2018 edition, likely due in February.

The works by Nate Silver and Malcolm Gladwell you probably know. These are interesting books worth your time, though Gladwell's book is a lot less convincing given the author's tendency to select cases on the dependent variable. Silver left me worried that the stock market is overpriced and headed for a disappointing decade, among other lessons.

Hornby periodocally releases his previously published book reviews. He's a very talented writer and fun to read in this format (though his fiction is even better).

The Dirk Hayhurst book is also entertaining. It's always interesting to gain perspective on professional baseball from a fringe major league player. Keith Law's book on contemporary baseball analysis was OK, but I didn't learn much that I didn't already know from decades of reading Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, etc.

Colin Beavan's book is based on a gimmick, but it's quite well-written and credible, especially when compared to the disappointing works by Dave Zirin (which seemed like short magazine articles pieced together haphazardly) and Ben Mezrich (a series of vignettes that do not convincingly add up to anything, ordered almost at random). Chuck Klosterman's book was not especially memorable, unfortunately. 


As I traditionally do, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Echo House by Ward Just

Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry

I didn't read a lot of literature this year, but Sinclair Lewis's classic was the cream of the crop -- if frightening in the age of Trump. Larry McMurtry's last Duane Moore book was fairly disappointing given some other excellent books he produced in the series. This Denis Johnson book is a short and very well-written crime story. It would make a good movie.

And now the much longer list of genre fiction:

Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler

Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

Agent in Place by Helen MacInnes

The Seventh by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

From Doon With Death by Ruth Wendell

A Morning for Flamingos by James Burke

The Chill by Ross Macdonald

A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A Most Wanted Man by John le CarrĂ©,

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

 A Savage Place by Robert Parker

 The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald

 Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

Nobody's Perfect by Donald Westlake

Motor City Blue by Loren Estleman

The Ax by Donald Westlake

Inferno by Dan Brown

House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

This proved to be a pretty good year for classic cold war (or even earlier) spy novels. The books by Charles McCarry, Eric Ambler, and Helen MacInnes were well-done and the books by John le CarrĂ©  and Ward Just were fine. All were better than the more famous 007 book I read this year. Literally, Ian Fleming devoted more pages to a rigged game of canasta and to a round of golf between James Bond and Goldfinger than he did to a complicated heist involving a nuclear bomb.

I again read a  prominent science fiction work this year that true fans of the genre probably finished years ago (long before they were my age). Actually, I saw the film for Fahrenheit 451 while in high school, but don't remember reading the book even though I know I read some other works by Bradbury.

11/22/63 was also (historical) science fiction and it was fairly entertaining, so long as one didn't think too seriously about the main plot points. King was making a point about life and love, which almost got lost in the 100s of pages devoted to thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald and his murder of JFK. And the idiosyncrasies of this particular time travel portal.

Hammett's book is a collection of short stories. Some are very good, others are not.  

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Block's Matthew Scudder, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer. All of these were good to very good. Spencer, Archer, and especially McGee are more-and-more confronting their position in life.

I was saddened to learn within the last 48 hours that Sue Grafton has died. She was one of the most famous graduates of the University of Louisville. I believe I met her once years ago in a local park while I was walking my dog. However, at that time, I had not read any of her books.

This year, I read the first books in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series and Ruth Wendell's Inspector Wexler set. I liked both stories enough to read the next book.

Several of the books near the bottom were quite disappointing -- I found fairly weak plots or mediocre writing by really talented writers Donald Westlake and King (the baseball book this time, not 11/22/63).

I read Inferno just as I finished an August vacation. It's a beach read. 

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Friday, December 15, 2017

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Sunday, December 03, 2017


My family and I traveled to Nashville for Thanksgiving 2017 -- meeting my sister and her family there. It's an interesting travel destination and my spouse and I have visited several other times in recent months and years. Because of the multiple recent visits, we did not return to the Johnny Cash museum (which we previously enjoyed) or the bars along Broadway (which we sometimes didn't enjoy)..

This trip, we stayed in a chain hotel near Vanderbilt University and walked Wednesday to the Parthenon in Centennial Park. The large statue of Athena was worth seeing, but odd in some ways.

Friday night, we went to the Grand Ole Opry:

Ashley Campbell (daughter of Glen) sang a nice version of "Gentle on My Mind" and I enjoyed Sierra Hull's bluegrass performance. Charlie McCoy's harmonica playing was simply phenomenal -- he played "Orange Blossom Special," which our wedding band also performed back in 1991. I have never been a fan of final act Restless Heart. William Michael Morgan had a good voice, but needed more interesting songs.

Saturday, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, It held up well compared to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which we visited on an Oberlin trip back in 2012. I was not that interested in many of the most recent exhibits, but the roots section was especially interesting and the video about country musicians on television was quite good. Why didn't Wanda Jackson become a bigger star?

Sunday morning, before we all departed, my oldest daughter ate this waffle:

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Climate change political update

The new issue of Sustain magazine includes my brief article "Global Politics of Climate Change."  I submitted it in late summer, so it includes some analysis  of the remarkable G20 statement by 19 of the member states that vowed to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord even though President Trump announced just prior to the G20 meeting that the U.S. would withdraw.

With that link, interested readers can also view other pieces in the "Political Will" themed issue. The issue includes articles by my colleague Melissa Merry (on framing environmental communication), activist-writer Bill McKibben, Environmental Defense Fund's Fred Krupp, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "young, low level volunteer named George"

The title of this post comes from one of President Trump's tweets earlier this morning.

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

George Papadopoulos is third from left in this picture, seated a few feet away from Donald Trump. Yesterday, it was revealed that Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with representatives of the Russian government. The photo was posted by Trump on his Instagram feed on March 31, 2016 with the caption  "Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC." Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions (then-head of the national security team) is seated at the opposite end of the table.

The FBI guilty plea agreement says Papadopoulos first met with an alleged Russian intermediary on March 14:
...defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for the first time on or about March 14, 2016, after defendant PAPADOPOULOS had already learned he would be a foreign policy advisor for the Campaign; the Professor showed interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS only after learning of his role on the Campaign...
Additionally, Trump mentioned Papadopoulos by name as an advisor in The Washington Post on March 21.  Thus, the picture above isn't some random photo opportunity showing Trump with a campaign volunteer or celebrity.  During at least a few weeks in March 2016, Papadapoulos was meeting with Russians who allegedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton -- and Donald Trump knew him by name and sat with him at a table of national security advisors. He apparently stayed with the team for 7 to 11 months.

On August 14, The Washington Post had a story about Papadopoulos and his efforts to connect Trump and Russia. Lots of people in the story tried to play down the importance of these efforts even as senior officials like Sessions and Jared Kushner actually later took meetings with Russians. For lots of interesting links and assessment amidst some conspiratorial speculation, see this September 22 Twitter thread from Professor Seth Abramson. Continued here and here. All 100 tweets are also on Facebook.


The photo is also here, in case the Trump team takes it down. Fox had an informative news bit about investigator interest in the meeting in late September, 2017.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

2017 B Louisville Sluggers

The Louisville Sluggers are again participating in the World Series in the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League.

I've participated in the OBFLB since 1991. It's a 24 team fantasy baseball online league that plays two seasons during each major league season. The second (half) season begins after the all star break and typically features 9 weeks of head-to-head competition by teams in three 8 team divisions. This year, however, we lost 2 owners at mid-season and didn't have sufficient time to find replacements. Thus, we had 2 divisions of 11 teams. There were not enough weeks to play a complete round robin, as we usually do.

In any case, the Sluggers won the Clarkson division with the best record in the league: 115-65. It was actually 110-60 with 10 ties. We have 10 categories and it is not uncommon to have ties in pitcher wins, saves, home runs, or stolen bases. Two other teams shared the best record, but the Sluggers held the tiebreaker based on better week-to-week performance against all the other teams in the league.

In this league, teams submit lineup cards to prioritize 9 hitters (at 8 defensive positions, plus DH), 5 starting pitchers (minimum 4), and 4 relief pitchers (minimum 2). Through the week, the teams compete in 10 categories, including the 4 mentioned above plus batting average, plate appearances, runs produced average ((R+RBI-HR)/ABs), innings pitched, ERA, and WHIP. We award 2 points per victory, with each team receiving 1 point for a tie.

The winners of the divisions play against a wild card team in an initial playoff round during the next-to-last week of the regular major league baseball season. Then, the winners of those head-to-head matchups play each other in the final week of the regular season to determine the World Series champion for the B season. The Sluggers beat the Arizona Young Guns 13-7 in last week's playoff. Arizona was managed by another long-time owner.

In the World Series, the Sluggers are matched up with the Southern Hemispheres, owned by an emeritus academic from western Australia.  We're both old-timers in the league and met in person once years ago when he was traveling across the States and stopped in Louisville. In fact, this is a rematch of  the 1996B, 1997A,  and 1998A World Series! Southern won the first of those prior matchups, the Sluggers won the next two.

The Sluggers are 8-2 in all prior World Series; Hemispheres are 4-5. Reminder: there have been over 50 World Series titles during the 26 years I have been in the league.

This is the lineup I'm using in the Series, with notes about acquisition of each player (the 8 players retained before the mid-season draft are in red):

C: Ianetta ARI (drafted round 27)
   Hedges SD  (round 19)

1B: Votto CIN 
     Olson OAK (free agent July 24)

2B: Merrifield KC (round 14)
    Escobar MIN (round 20)

3B: Arenado COL
    Escobar MIN
    Hernandez LAD (round 22)

SS: Escobar MIN
     Russell CHC 
     E. Hernandez LAD

OF: Benintendi BOS
OF: Buxton MIN
OF: Kiermaier TB (round 24)
    Phillips MIL (free agent September 25)
    Kepler MIN (round 16)
    Acuna ATL

DH: Olson OAK (injured and presumably won't play)
      Phillips MIL
      Kepler MIN

SP: Archer TB
SP: Bauer CLE (round 15)
SP: Greinke ARI (trade August 28)
SP: Duffy KC (round 9)
SP: Cobb TB  (round 11)
   Gonzalez TEX  (free agent July 17)
   Biagini TOR (free agent September 11)
   Foltynewicz ATL (round 12)
   Keller PIT (minors) (free agent August 28)
   Nelson MIL(mlb and OBFLB DL) (round 10)

RP: Bradley ARI (round 18)
RP: Greene DET (trade August 28)
RP: D. Hernandez ARI (round 26)
RP: Lorenzen CIN (round 23)

Players no longer with the team:

SP Pineda NYY dropped July 17 (Tommy John surgery)
Round 13 M Smith TB traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 17 Renfroe SDP traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 21 Buehler LAD traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 25 Duffey MIN traded August 28 for Greene
Round 28 Choi NYY dropped July 24

I'll post results in a few days. The stats we use include Monday September 25 through Sunday, October 1.

Update 10/1/17: Southern wins 12-8. Sluggers win steals, plate appearances, ERA and WHIP decisively. The team needed 3 more hits to win batting average.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

East Coast Vacation 2017

University of Louisville classes started last week and I already taught two sessions of my senior capstone seminar on "Politics of Climate Change."

Before summer slips away altogether, I'm posting a few pictures of our early August vacation trip -- to Baltimore first for a couple of days, then to the Delaware shore for about a week with extended family.

In Baltimore, an old friend snagged four tickets to the August 2 Orioles game against the Kansas City Royals. The O's won 6-0, unfortunately. We were seated very close to first base, so I snapped this photo of Eric Hosmer. The game was briefly delayed by rain in the early innings, but I still had a great time in terrific seats. Plus, the storm presaged the arrival of moderate August temperatures throughout our visit.

The following day, my spouse and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. It turns out they have a cast of Rodin's "The Thinker." The same statue has a prominent position in front of Grawemeyer Hall at UofL. In fact, the one at UofL used to be in Baltimore, but was sold when Baltimore acquired this one.

The BMA also has a number of Andy Warhol pieces, including a version of the "Last Supper." The city's artistic side is also revealed in its tribute to local native John Waters (pink flamingo, pictured below).

As beach preparation, I also bought six packs of local beers Duckpin Pale Ale (brewed by Union) and Penguin Pils (brewed by Brewer's Art). I loved the Duckpin, but found the Penguin Pils overly influenced by Belgian style. I prefer German or Czech pilsners.

During beach week, we visited the Dogfish brewpub in Rehobeth, toured the Seacrets Distillery in Ocean City, and ate our share of fresh crab -- including some caught by family members. The younger generation cousins used chicken necks and nets to catch a family-record number this year! The first one we caught is pictured below.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Nuclear weapons radio interview

I was recently interviewed by Philosophy Professor Avery Kolers for his "Ethics Forward" local radio program (on WFMP-LP 106.5 FM). The show's topic "Fire and Fury" was about nuclear weapons, deterrence, and tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Now that it has been broadcast over the airwaves, you can listen to the broadcast online at Soundcloud:

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Radio interview

Louisville has a new community radio station, WFMP-LP 106.5 FM "Forward Radio." Today, I visited their station at 4th and Broadway to record a half hour program with host K.A. Owens called "On the Edge."

The topic? "Is terrorism an existential threat to the West?"

If you want to listen, the program will be broadcast locally this weekend -- at 2:30 pm Saturday and then again on noon Sunday. A complete schedule of programs can be found here. 

The station is searching for financial support. 

My friends from UofL Justin Mog ("Sustainability Now!") and Avery Kolers ("Ethics Forward") have their own programs. Justin is UofL's Sustainability Coordinator and Avery is a Philosophy professor who has previously blogged here.

Here's the broadcast range:

I'm actually out of broadcast range this weekend, so if anyone makes a recording, I'd appreciate a copy.

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