Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Overrater, That's Not The Way It Feels

Joe Carter over at the evangelical outpost has been discussing the most overrated films of all time. While I'm not equipped to make the sort of judgements Joe has (such as the "most overrated and underrated German films"--I think I saw "Das Boot" once, and that was about it), I've seen more than my share of American movies in my lifetime.

And for my money, the most overrated film of all time, nonpareil, is "Chinatown."

About every five years I think "My goodness, everyone keeps writing about what a masterpiece 'Chinatown' is. I must have missed something. Surely I'm older and more mature now than the last time I saw it. I'll rent it and finally understand what I was missing."

But the same thing pours out of my TV set each time: a turgid, talky, incomprehensible, plotless period piece about irrigation.

Critics can't stop slobbering all over themselves about this film even thirty years later. Entertainment Weekly ranks it as the fourth greatest film of all time. And I'm here to tell you that it stinks. On ice.

Here are a few of my other personal, annotated selections for Most Overrated:

Actor: Marlon Brando. I understand that in the early 50's, his approach was new and different. But in "The Godfather," his whole schtick was to stuff cotton wads in his mouth. He wasn't bad, but c'mon, a few balls of cotton and a lot of mumbling make him great?

Runner-Up Actor: Michael Caine. Has this guy ever turned down a script? He was recently knighted "Sir Michael" by the Queen of England. Hmmm. I can't figure out what he got it for. Was it "Jaws: The Revenge" or was it "Blame it on Rio"? What it's all about, Alfie, is doing anything that shows up in the mailbox.

Actress: Meryl Streep. She does accents. Great. So did every girl in the drama department at my high school. Quick! Name two Meryl Streep movies you own on DVD. . . . I didn't think so.

Runner-Up Actress: Audrey Hepburn. You're delicate and foreign. We get it. Eat something.

Director: Robert Altman. Give me a plot. Any plot. Ten people talking at once while the camera meanders around aimlessly might impress the film students at NYU, but for the rest of us it's just boring. Which is why each of Altman's critically-lavished films grosses about $22.50.

Sex Symbol: Jean Harlow. Granted, tastes change over a hundred years (or however long ago she was popular), but I still just can't see this. She always looks vaguely like a guy to me. And were people really into dark circles around the eyes back then, or was that just a quirk? She died when she was ten years younger than I am, yet she always looks so old to me. I think back in the 1930's, everybody looked like they were 47 no matter how old they actually were.

Died-Too-Young-Star: James Dean. Did you realize that James Dean made three films? A lot of people think it was a tragedy Dean went out so young. I think it was great for his career. If he'd stayed alive, he'd have been doing "Love Boat" by the 70's. Just because nobody had ever seen a guy act like a hysterical girl on film before didn't make him great.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Deck The Halls

Doug Wilson has a pungent, counterintuitive take on celebrating Christmas:
...[D]o not fall for the lie that the spirit of Christmas is an ethereal kind of thing. This is the celebration of the Incarnation, when the eternal Logos of God took on a material body, which He still has. Do not, therefore, join in the general lamentations about "materialism." This is a celebration of God taking on a material body. It is therefore a holiday that should focus on stuff.

By stuff, I mean ribbons, decorations, fudge, wreaths, cider, presents, feasting, toasts, shopping with joy, putting up a tree, sending cards, learning a Christmas piece on the piano, and more fudge.

Of course, we all know how to sin with stuff--we were living in a pretty earthy state of sin before Christ came. But He did not come to whisk us out of this world in order that we might go celebrate some kind of Gnostic holiday in heaven. We are to honor the Lord Jesus with our stuff...
Of course materialism is a bad thing. But material is good. In its proper place, it's a gift from God.

Every new Christian (and many an old one) goes through a stage of reflective anguish where he reevaluates timeworn traditions. "Should I put a tree up? Is it pagan? Should I still give gifts?" Such reflection isn't bad--we ought to always evaluate our traditions. But don't throw away perfectly good traditions based on some hyperspiritual (and unbiblical) notion that disembodied spirituality brings us nearer to God. It doesn't. God called his creation good, and we honor him when we properly enjoy it.

This Land Is Your Land

It has recently occured to me that the notion of "owning property" in America is now largely an illusion.

I have to replace a fence in my backyard that was blown down by Hurricane Wilma last month. But in order to put a new fence up in my own backyard, I have to first submit a building plan to the city, aquire a set of instructions and codes to which my fence must conform, possibly get another survey done on my property, have the fence inspected, and if the inspector doesn't like it, he can make me tear the whole thing out and start over. This applies to anything I want to build on my "own" property--a shed, a doghouse, whatever.

Also, if the government decides that my trees are a threat (or are near trees that are a threat) to the local citrus business, they can come on my property over my objections and cut them down.

And, if the government decides that it would be better to have a Wal-Mart, or a gas station, or a Sears, or a parking lot on my property, it can force me to sell it to them even if I don't want to.

Somewhere along the line, Americans ceded control of their property over to the government (whether local, state, or federal). It happened easily enough that most people didn't even notice. The result was that you no longer own your own property. You simply posess it at the government's pleasure (though you still have to buy it and pay taxes on it, of course), and when the government's pleasure changes, your title won't be worth the paper it's written on.

It seems to me that the founders of this country really cared about two things: religious freedom and property rights. But it's 2005, so make sure you have your government permit before you display your Diversity Tree in the front window this Celebration Season.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Uh, Yeah...That Is What I Was Doing. Right.

Only a college professor could write something this pretentiously ridiculous: Star Wars Episodes I-VI--the greatest postmodern art film ever.

Quoth the scholar:
Everything about the films, from the opening text crawls to the out-of-order production of the two trilogies, foregrounds the question of plot. As an audience, we grapple with not just the intricate clockwork of a complex and interwoven narrative, but, in postmodern fashion, with the fundamental mechanics of storytelling itself.

As Star Wars works to make us aware of its own narrative structure, other odd things about the films start to come into focus. Most significantly, we start to notice that the films are an elaborate meditation on the dialectic between chance and order. They all depend upon absurd coincidence to propel the story forward. Just what are the odds, in just one of near-infinite examples, that of all the planets in that galaxy far, far away, the droids should end up back on Tatooine, in the home of the son of the sweet (if annoying) boy who had built C-3PO decades before? Throughout all six films there are scenes of crucial serendipity.
Yeah, I suppose all this could be a massively layered, intricate work of planned postmodern genius. Or it could be a guy trying to retroactively fit five other movies around the only one he originally got a chance to make. You be the judge. Just how subtle and crafty an intellect is it who gives his evil characters names like "General Grievous" and "Darth Sidious"?

And millions of tuition-paying parents are shelling out beaucoup greenbacks for this kind of crapola.

Monday, November 21, 2005

This Is Why It's Called "Ramblings"...

  • Fortunately, the tropical storm took a turn away from South Florida late Saturday night, leaving us in the clear. After last month, people were taking it very seriously. A friend of mine even saw a gas station with lines.
  • I looked in today on the progress of the demolition of Busch Stadium in St. Louis. They've made substantial strides in the last week and a half, but it's still no less depressing:

    (Photo courtesy of KMOV-TV)

    Some would say the stadium's only half demolished, but I'm an optimist. I like to think of it as half standing.
  • The Springsteen show Saturday night was quite an experience. I was one of the younger people there, so I felt a little less foolish about being at a rock concert. And it's always a treat to see old guys with headbands on their gray, thinning pates, sporting tank tops under the impression that it's still 1978, escorting their wives who are now old ladies wearing outfits that you just know they changed into in the car on the way over because if they had put them on at home their college-aged kids would've said "Ewww, gross! Mom, put something on, that's disgusting! Look at yourself!"

    But I digress.

    It was hard to enjoy the show at first because there were a lot of rules, which you don't generally expect at these kinds of things. Nobody could be seated during songs and no whistling or applause or noise of any kind was allowed during the songs. At one point, Bruce actually scolded the crowd for being too noisy, which put me out a little bit, seeing as though tickets cost like $75. I felt like I was getting in trouble with dad, and that he might blow any minute. He seemed moody and peevish, which ain't exactly what I'm looking for at those rates.

    However, all of that melted away about halfway through. For those who are not Boss fans (which is probably most of you), this won't mean anything, but this is an acoustic, completely solo tour. Nobody is on stage except Springsteen himself. But halfway through the program, he calls two special guests to come out on stage: Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons. It was a Big Deal, and this is the only show of the eight month tour it's happened on. They did two songs together, and another during the encore.

    At 55 (which is hard to believe), The Boss looked and sounded great. If he takes the band out again next year, I'm there.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Now I Think They're Just Goofing On Us

In the latest forecast track for the newly-(re) minted Tropical Storm Gamma, it appears that the dead center of the projection cone runs roughly across my backyard fence (which I don't have anymore because of the last one of these).

They've got to be kidding.

(UPDATE Saturday, 2pm--The latest forecast now shows the center of the storm probably passing to the south of Florida, which is good news. We are, however, expected to receive tropical storm force winds and a ton of rain--both of which are bad news for the thousands of folks with blue tarps on their roofs right now.)

Growin' Up

One of the things that happens when you finally become a real adult is that you stop going to rock concerts. There's no ceremony, and you never realize when you've finally attended your last one, but at some point in life, it just becomes obvious that you're not going to paint a radio station slogan on a sheet and hoist it down at the local arena because Sammy Hagar or Foghat is in town.

Occasionally, though, something will still bring you back into that world, such as when The Boss rolls into town, as he will here tommorrow night.

Pedantic politics aside, nobody in history has ever put on a better live show than The Boss, which is why I can still be pursuaded to go to a concert. No sheet, though, and I won't be buying one of those black concert t-shirts either. I'm told that on this particular tour, Mr. Springsteen won't even let anyone applaud, so it should be the perfect concert for someone my age--I can sit there and watch it as if it were on TV.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Arising From The Ashes

The inscrutable Discoshaman, now stateside, makes an ambitious return to the blogosphere. Not only has he revived the late, lamented Le Sabot Post-Moderne, but he has launched a second blog, Religion of Peace, dealing with the hilarious antics of the adherents of fundamentalist Islam as they (literally) explode across the globe.

It's good to have him back (hopefully) for good this time. So good, in fact, that Phil Johnson practically proposes to him today.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Oh, I See

Madonna, in an AP story, explains a recent career slump:
Her last effort, 2003's "American Life," trumpeted the star's opposition to the Iraq war, complete with a violent video that included a spoof of President Bush. It drew the usual cries of outrage from her detractors, but for the first time in her two-decade career, sales were lackluster.

"Of course I was disappointed," she says, the bitterness still present in her voice and her eyes. "I sort of knew it already, but if you're an entertainer, you're not allowed to have an opinion. ... if you go against the grain, you will be punished. I thought there would be a lot of people who agreed with me."
Right, that was the problem. Madonna was being punished for going "against the grain." The formerly uncontroversial pop star got pummelled for daring to step out of line.

It's the same anti-war stance that crushed the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Michael Moore (whose anti-war film was the hightest-grossing documentary of all time), Jennifer Aniston (on the cover of every magazine in Christendom), Al Franken (#4 on the New York Times Bestseller list this week), Jimmy Carter (#1 on the NYT list), and dozens of others.

Could it be that Madonna's album simply...er....um....bit? Nah, couldn't be that. If there's one thing the people have always demanded from Madonna, it's that she stay in line.

Most Valuable Pujols

The National League's Most Valuable Player award will be handed out today, and if the sportswriters weren't too drunk when they voted (a 50-50 proposition at best), Albert Pujols ought to be the winner.

But for some reason, the Cardinals, despite being the most successful NL franchise in history, often fall short of the big awards. Chris Carpenter's Cy Young award was the first of the major awards for the Redbirds since Willie McGee in 1985. If Albert Pujols played in New York, they'd have given him DiMaggio's old number and a plaque in the outfield already.

Regardless of the vote, however, there's little doubt that Pujols was the MVP of the league this year. He led his team to its second straight 100 win regular season, despite the fact that, including injuries and personnel moves, they only carried over two regular starters from the previous year. What was the one constant between both of those excellent teams? Albert Pujols.

He's the best player in baseball to never have won the award. His statistics after the first five years of his career exceed the first five years of almost any player in history--including DiMaggio, Williams, and Mays. He's the first player in history to hit over 30 homers in each of his first five seasons. And he's done that without ever hitting below .314. He's driven in over 115 runs every year of his career. He's the only player ever to hit .300 with 30 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBI in each of his first five seasons. Granted, career stats do not apply to the MVP award, but they do at least give us a look at the type of player we're talking about.

His closest competition for the award this year comes from Andruw Jones and Derek Lee. Jones ought not to get serious consideration for first place. He had big homer and RBI totals (51 and 128 respectively). But his batting average was putrid (.263, not even in the league's top 50), his on-base percentage a mediocre .347 (41st in the league), and he won a division title on a team that's won it for the last 15 straight seasons.

Lee presents a more formidable obstacle. His numbers are comparable to Pujols'. He led Pujols by a hit or two in batting average (.335 to .330), and bested him in HR's, 46 to 41. But baseball is about runs, and Pujols drove in 10 more runs, scored 9 more, and had 12 more points of on-base percentage than Jones, all statistics that are at least equally important in run production.

The stats between Lee and Pujols are essentially a wash, taken individually. But Pujols was the only player in the NL (as far as I can tell) to be among the top five in batting average, HR's, RBI, runs scored, and on-base percentage. And he's been the one big constant on two 100 win teams. Without Pujols, the Cardinals may well be a .500 team. Without Lee, the Cubs still probably could have found their way to finishing more than 20 games out of first place and below .500.

If that's not the ultimate measure of value (and it is the Most Valuable Player award), I don't know what is. We'll see what the writers have to say later today.

UPDATE-2:11PM: Pujols wins it, as well he should have. Glad the writers sobered up for a few hours. Suprisingly (to me, at least), Jones actually finished second, and Lee is said to have finished a distant third, according to those who've seen the balloting (to be released shortly).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Smokey And The Speed Limit

Do you suppose cops ever get annoyed that everyone on the road slows down when they're around?

You've seen it happen (or done it yourself) a thousand times: everyone's cruising along comfortably on a major throughfare doing 10-15 miles per hour over the posted speed limit when suddenly they see a police cruiser on the road either in front or behind. Immediately, everyone hits the brakes and slows down to exactly the speed limit, which, let's face it, is probably a lot slower than it ought to be anyway.

I'm wondering if cops ever think to themselves "Oh, c'mon people, I'm on my way home just like you! I'm off duty. This is a big road, and we don't really need to do 40. Can't we pick it up to 50 or so? I've got things I need to do!" The officers know it goes on, because they themselves witness the sudden "oops, there's a cop" slowdown when they're out driving as civilians.

They'd never be able to admit it, which is probably why they don't honk and yell when you actually slow down to the speed limit. If you asked them, I'm sure they'd have to stick to the just-the-speed-limit-ma'am story. But I'll bet at times they secretly hate it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Better To Burn Out Than Fade Away

After three days of swinging the wrecking ball against my beloved Busch Stadium, here's what they've got so far:

(Photo courtesy of KMOV-TV)

It's just so pitiful. As I said to a friend the other day, the difference between this and what they should have done is like the difference between going out in a blazing, full-gasoline-tanker-involved, 15-car pile-up and dying of Alzheimer's, where there's just a little less there today than yesterday until everything's gone.

Hot Gas

I see that Congress is boldly taking on the major oil companies that posted record profits last quarter, bravely risking the wrath of all Americans who enjoy high gas prices.

What the politicans haven't mentioned so far in their heroic hearings is that, while a company such as Conoco Philips netted about 9 cents per gallon in profit on gasoline sold last quarter, the federal tax on each of those gallons was 18 cents. To put it another way, the federal government made twice the profit on Conoco Philips gasoline as Conoco Philips did.

The states did even better. On top of the federal government's enormous profit, here's how a few states did on each gallon of gas sold:

  • Wisconsin: 32.1 cents/gallon
  • New York: 31.9 cents/gallon
  • Pennsylvania: 31.1 cents/gallon
  • Montana: 27.75 cents/gallon
  • North Carolina: 26.6 cents/gallon
  • Nebraska: 25.4 cents/gallon
That means that, in addition to the federal goverment making twice the profit off each gallon of gas as the actual oil company, a state such as Wisconsin is making another 3 1/2 times the oil company's profit.

Think we'll see any bold congressional investigations into government profiteering on gas? Think any substantial number of people will turn their high-gas-price wrath away from oil companies that actually do the discovering, drilling, and refining of oil, and instead redirect that wrath towards government, which hauls in much higher profits for doing nothing?

Me either.

(Hat tip to Sam Kastensmidt for the info.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Honey, I Shrunk The Constitution

Much has (justifiably) been made about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision that parents have no rights over the information their children are force-fed in school, based on a case in which a California school district quizzed seven-year-olds about their sexual feelings.

The decision was authored by Stephen Reinhardt, the most overturned judge in the country on the most overturned court in the country. Many people know that the Ninth Circuit is the most radically liberal court in America and that they're the ones who brought us such hits as the Pledge of Allegiance "under God" ruling in 2002 (with Reinhardt being part of the three-member panel that issued it).

What most people don't know, however (and what the media inexplicably fails to report), is that Judge Reinhardt just happens to be married to Ramona Ripston, the executive director of the Southern California ACLU. I'm sure he's completely objective, though. After all, aren't federal judges imbued with unbiased, divine wisdom which qualifies them to determine the way things ought to be for all of us?

Back To Life, Back To Reality

Yesterday was the first day since Hurricane Wilma that I didn't feel like I live in a third world country. The schools opened again (despite serious damage), most (though not all) of the traffic lights are now somewhat functional, and we had to leave my office out the back door last night because a crazed gunman was firing a high-powered rifle from a nearby high-rise condominium.

All in all, a pretty typical South Florida day.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Farewell To A Friend

The wrecking ball swings on an old friend today, as the demolition of Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis gets underway at 3pm CT.

Some of the most enjoyable days of my life were spent in that building. One time my wife and I even skipped a Lamaze class to go down there, figuring that when the baby was born there'd be a lot of doctors in the room who'd know what they were doing anyway, and hey, the Phillies are in town with John Kruk and Darren Daulton.

It seems to me that the least she (the stadium, not my wife) deserved was a good, spectacular implosion. Instead, she'll die the death of a thousand blows, pulled apart bit by bit in plodding anticlimax.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Is There Anybody Out There?

Back at work this week talking with people around the country, an odd fact has dawned on me: people have no idea what's going on down here in South Florida. They saw something about a hurricane approaching a few weeks ago, but that was about the last they heard of it. They didn't realize there was anything still wrong.

Many people (in the thousands) have been left homeless by Hurricane Wilma. The schools have been shut down now for over two full weeks. Sizeable portions of Broward County (where Ft. Lauderdale is) Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County are still without power after twelve days--tens of thousands of people. Workers are regularly facing hours-long commutes. Tons of businesses are still unable to open. The roadsides are piled feet high with debris, downed trees, fallen streetlights, and heaven knows what else. Many of the major intersections have no working stoplights; as of 72 hours ago, 87% of the traffic signals in Broward County were non-functional. The court system has ground to a halt as the Broward County courts building suffered significant damage. Thousands of insurance adjusters have poured into the area to distribute billions of dollars of benefits. FEMA is writing checks that would make your head spin. For several days, we had gasoline lines that streched on for four or five hours and longer.

And yet nobody outside of South Florida seems to have any idea about it.

I have to admit I find this odd. I'm certainly not looking for any sympathy (since my damage was relatively minor, and I've had my electricity back for a week), but I'm shocked that what's happening here is being entirely ignored by the national media. The Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market is one of the top dozen in the nation (and Palm Beach is number 30-something). It's one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world. It's a major metro area (bigger than New Orleans, I might add) that has been in full crisis mode for much of the last two weeks. I just can't imagine an area of this size going through what has happened (and to some degree is continuing to happen) without anybody knowing about it. They're certainly going to be donating billions of tax dollars to this area--I'd think they'd want somebody to clue them in.

Granted, most people here are calmly going about their business, and there have been no riots in the streets. Nobody has eaten anyone else as far as I know. And things are becoming closer to normal each day. So why do you think it's been entirely ignored? Is the country so burned out on Katrina that it doesn't want to hear about hurricanes anymore? Did you know these things had happened/were happening down here?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is He Or Isn't He?

Many conservates understandably want some idea of how Alito might rule on abortion-related issues.

The liberal Slate magazine has an excellent piece analyzing this question. They're not happy about it, but they demonstrate beyond dispute that Alito is a pro-life judge to the nth degree.

The ominous conclusion reached by the piece's author, University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger:
If Alito replaces O'Connor, both of his crucial abortion opinions in the 3rd Circuit indicate that he will not take her centrist path. But this time, there will be no moderate Supreme Court above him to put on the brakes.
This is a must-read article for anyone concerned about Sam Alito's abortion jurisprudence, especially in light of concerns raised by the Planned Parenthood v. Farmer partial birth case.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

But There's Only One Saxby

Did you know that there are three Chucks in the United States Senate? That seems like a lot. I have a cousin named Chuck, and one of my college roomates was named that. But there are only a hundred people in the entire Senate, so it strikes me as a disproportionate amount of Chucks.

There are also three Dicks. That actually seems a little low. I would've guessed more.