Ad Hoc Review #2

guiness civility.jpg Os Guinness, The Case for Civility {Nonfiction} – In his latest book, Os Guinness offers a modest proposal for restoring civility in America as a way to foster civility around the world. For decades, the China-born British expatriate has been one of evangelicalism’s leading intellectuals in America. Yet as an outsider on the inside, Guinness is able to maintain a respectful appreciation for American ways and values while keeping the distance needed to criticize our excesses and prejudices.
When it comes to “church and state” Guinness believes in both “separatism” and “accommodationism.” He recommends we “Say no to a sacred public square”–a position he associates with the Religious Right–but also “Say no to a naked public square”–which he pins on the secular left. His alternative solution is to develop a “cosmopolitan and civil public square” where every faith tradition (and non-faith tradition) is equally free to enter and engage in public life.
Although this approach is both laudable and necessary, Guinness pushes the idea too far. Indeed, at times he seems have too much faith in the restorative power of civility, implying that the “culture war” would dissipate if only we were able to disagree in a more respectful manner. Throughout the book Guinness puts too much emphasis on method while glossing over our nation’s all-but-intractable problems, including the hostility to religion in public life. Toning down the rhetoric on both sides of these issues is warranted but civility alone will not lead to a cease-fire in the culture wars.
Still, Guinness’s wise counsel is always worth hearing. His solution may not be an ultimate answer but it is certainly a move in the right direction. We would all be better off if civil discourse became more civil. Rating: B+

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PlatinumXL_lt_sml.jpgGroom Mate Nose & Ear Hair Trimmer {Tools} — “An elegant work of craftsmanship” is not the sort of description you expect to hear about a nose hair trimmer. The Platinum XL Nose Hair Trimmer, however, is not an ordinary tool for taming facial hair. For such grooming tasks we men tend to prefer the loud and electrical over the quiet and hand-cranked. But after using the sleek, corrosion-proof stainless steel Platinum XL you’re likely to throw away the whirring battery-powered trimmers. Skeptics who might balk at paying $19.88 for such a utilitarian tool can take comfort in the “Unconditional Money-Back Guarantee” while those of us who are convinced will appreciate the product’s lifetime warranty. Rating: A
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Mark Millar’s Wanted {Graphic Novels} — Wanted provides a nihilistic twist on the old “hero’s journey” monomyth: an amoral loser discovers he’s the heir to a career as an villainous assassin in a world where such villains have secretly taken control of the planet. The only thing notable about the book is that it holds the distinction of being the single worst comic I’ve ever read. The disdain and contempt the author has for his audience is apparent throughout, though he makes sure it is made obvious in the last two pages of the work. I would say that Wanted is excremental but that would be unfair to excrement; dung is useful as fertilizer while Wanted has no redeeming value. [Note: A film loosely based on the comic starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman will be released later this year. Fortunately, the movie is reportedly nothing like the comic.] Rating: F-
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spamalot.jpg Spamalot {Theater} – The plot of this Tony-award winning production is based loosely on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which was based even more loosely on the tale of King Arthur and the knights of the round table) and features “a bevy of beautiful show girls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits and french people (sic).” You don’t have to be a fan of Monty Python movies (or “french people”) to be charmed by the play’s unadulterated silliness. Even people who aren’t fans of musicals (people like me) and who don’t understand the appeal of Clay Aiken (also me) will be won over after hearing the former American Idol runner-up singing “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)”. Now playing in New York, Las Vegas, London, and on U.S. tour. [Cautions: Bawdy humor and mild profanity] Rating: A-
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Josh Turner - EIF.jpgJosh Turner, Everything is Fine {Music} – Just as Randy Travis had done twenty years earlier, Josh Turner ushered in an era of neotraditionlism with his 2003 plantinum-selling debut album Long Black Train. Unfortunately, few other country artists followed his lead by abandoning the “Nashvegas” sound. The South Carolina native has had to shoulder the genre almost single-handily but with his third album Turner proves he’s up to the task.
While Turner’s deep rich bass is fine on the upbeat downhome tunes, the standout tracks are the two slow, wistful duets. On “Another Try” he’s joined by Trisha Yearwood, country music’s best backup vocalist, in lamenting lost opportunities for love. And on the best duet of the year, Turner harmonizes with blue-collar R&B crooner Anthony Hamilton on “Nowhere Fast.” Rating: B+