Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This is a great site that allows you to watch the candidates talk about their positions on issues.

(Hat Tip: Brain Terminal)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Some interesting baseball poll results at gallup.com. While the proportion of Americans calling themselves baseball fans has been steadily falling, gate receipts have been steadily rising. In marketing-speak, it appears the "passionate minority" is fueling the sport's growth, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but you never like to see the general interest in your product declining.
I'm reading a book on the sociological characteristics that define twentysomethings and one could argue it doesn't bode well for baseball. I may expand on that some other time. Right now I am hungry.
Lots here on a variety of topics if you like polls.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I saw them back to back last weekend. They were both entertaining and they make great companion films.

The Bourne movies follow the idea that the American government’s power is so absolute that they can manipulate world events through the use of their mind-altered automatons. The latest Die Hard movie takes the approach that the government is so inept in seeing possible dangers that private individuals like John McClain have to step up to save the country.

Neither idea is new, but using Damon’s earlier quote about “smart” movies, which one is the smart movie? The action in both movies is equally implausible with the one difference that Bruce Willis stops for the occasional punch line.

In the Bourne universe the world is so beaten down by our prowess that they can barely live their own lives. We have these assassins all over the world ready to push the hair trigger on any perceived threat. And we must have hundreds of them, because you can reach one in any decent sized city in the world.

In McClain’s universe, the government red tape and inaction spawned the bad guy angry that no one would take him seriously inside the government. When the madman attacks no one really knows how to respond or what might happen next.

I think the Bournce universe may have been truer during the cold war or it was at least possible. Maybe the CIA held out against the Russians until Reagan could provide the death blow. But the events of 9-11 suggest that the Bourne universe is a total myth today. That’s probably why conspiracy theorists say that American attacked itself. Because if jihadists can destroy the World Trade Center then their vision of obtrusive CIA domination in the world is bogus.

If you accept that Islamists attacked on 9-11 then the Die Hard movie is the smart one jokes and all. Bourne Director Paul Greengrass made the exceptional United 93 last year and that movie suggest a DIE HARD worldview. No one was ready for the attack that day.

I really like the Bourne movies, despite the overused super close up frenetic camera. I like the series because I want the CIA to be that engaged in the world. Bourne wants us to question the validity of CIA power, but I can hate the villains inside the system and still support the idea and goals behind it as a net win. Every organization run by humans is going to have the flaws of humans. CIA abuse is a natural by-product of people having power over people. The best we can do is run the bad eggs out, which happens in every installment.

I think the filmmakers fail to understand their own implications when they attack government agencies like the CIA. If people are abusing power in the CIA, then there is no reason to think that doesn’t happen in every other government organization. And therefore, it would be foolish to give the Federal government any task that can be handled in some other way. If the film makers want to stop government abuse then you have to reduce the size of government, something we all know they certainly oppose. To follow their logic, bureaucrats in other government agencies are heroes there to help, but those in the CIA are megalomaniacs like on Pinky and the Brain. A more simplistic view of government would be hard to find.

Of all the Bourne movies I think this is the weakest mostly because he returns to American and the action scenes in New York City seem a stretch. Would the CIA really order their gunmen to kill people in front of New York cops? At least in Berlin I can rationalize the lack of oversight.

You can’t beat the first Die Hard movie, but the current one is certainly better than the third one. Bruce Willis said a few years ago that he gave up action films. I’m glad he’s back because fewer people can pull them off anymore.

Friday, August 10, 2007


"I think films have gotten better since everything started to go off the rails a few years ago. Suddenly all these people are coming out with things to say."

(Matt) Damon said filmmakers were making smarter movies that grappled with contemporary political issues, including two he had acted in - "Syriana" and "The Good Shepherd."

The historical Hollywood struggle has been a balance between film as art and film as commerce. But these “smarter” movies that Damon applauds strive to be neither art nor commerce, they are more like advocacy. I think what Damon fails to realize that this approach makes movies disposable products locked in their own times. Classics like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane are political, but they aren’t concerned with persuading the audience on a particular point. It makes them timeless in a way that today's "smart" movies won't be.

A few years ago Rod Lurie made a quintessential “contemporary” political film, THE CONTENDER. It was the least subtle dramatic defense for Clinton’s personal shortcomings. If you haven’t seen it, President Jeff Bridges considers nominating Joan Allen to be the new Vice President after the death of the incumbent. We’re introduced to Joan in a pretty lurid sex scene that we later discover was with her husband, but we’re lead to believe that she’s promiscuous. During talk of her nomination, charges of an earlier sexual impropriety surface and they have what looks like photos of a younger Joan Allen involved in an orgy.

A movie like this has a lot of places to go dramatically, but the singular point of the film is that Joan Allen doesn’t have to answer the charges because her private life is private. In fact, she’s willing to lose the nomination simply because she refuses to discuss the issue. Her refusal is treated as some sort of principle, but it lacks motivation when you learn later that it wasn’t her in the photos and the charges were false.

What person anywhere falsely accused of something takes the stance that it’s a personal matter? In the real world only guilty people say such things. Innocent people laugh it off. Once you learn that Allen was simply grandstanding, the character becomes unbelievable. The better dramatic choice is for her to have done the orgy and confront it. She could have said that it was a youthful indiscretion and she regrets it. She could have said that she doesn’t see anything wrong with the behavior and dare people not to judge her. Either way, she is confirmed not for some phony principle, but because she was genuine.

THE CONTENDER had to be about the heroism of avoiding the accusations because then Ken Starr is the bad guy for bringing the matter up. The movie became dated the moment that pet issue died which happened somewhere around the evening that Gore's team told the press of Bush’s 25 year-old DUI charge.

A couple of funny notes. Gary Oldman played the opposing Senator and blasted the movie when it was released as liberal propaganda by Spielberg and Geffen. On the commentary track, Lurie tells us that Oldman didn’t mean it. He just gets so into the characters that he plays that he becomes them and therefore he was just saying what the senator would say. The commentary is also funny because it’s around the time that Christian Slater was arrested for knocking around his girlfriend and Lurie tells us what a sweetheart that Slater is. I don’t know if that is an endorsement of Slater or an endorsement of knocking girls around since Clinton had just recently been accused by Juanita Broderick of knocking her around. The movie was produced too early to have anything to say about pardoning billionaire fat cats like Mark Rich, but I’m holding out hope for the 10th anniversary edition.

Read this quote again:
"I think films have gotten better since everything started to go off the rails a few years ago. Suddenly all these people are coming out with things to say."

Syriana and The Good Shepherd say exactly the same thing, I saw the enemy and the enemy is us, a groundbreaking idea in Hollywood. A bolder idea we haven’t seen since the monks suggested a prayer before dinner.

These are going to be quick, just to give Biff his fix before I leave town. As always, these are the ten films I have seen most recently, ranked in order of enjoyment. The number ratings come from AllMovie.com:

THE KARATE KID (1984) 4.0
This is one for the ages. There is so much to like here. I loved it as a teen and I got to share it with my kids as they will someday do. The setup takes awhile but it's worth it for the wax on, wax off payoff - an all-time great scene. The only negative is the constant onslaught of bad '80's music.

V FOR VENDETTA (2006) 3.5
Good stuff. I used to love Alan Moore graphic novels and this is him to a tee. He can spin a yarn with panache. The film has a great visual flair and tells a good tale. I am also in love with Natalie Portman who supplants Winona and even Keira as my favorite waif.

ONCE (2007) 4.0
The filmmaking is crude but the characters are winners and the songs are great. The scene in which they duet on Falling Slowly is an all-time great and should garner a nomination for the song.

LOLITA (1963) 4.0
Never seen it, always wanted to, finally did. Very much enjoyed it though it felt anticlimactic in the end when James Mason is ultra-possessive and we already know Peter Sellers is the other fella. Still, has a wonderful slyness to it throughout.

NOW, VOYAGER (1942) 5.0
This may possibly be the first Bette Davis film I've ever seen. She is a dynamic character portrayed with aplomb. Notable as the origin of the trick where the dude lights two cigs and gives one to the lady. Pleasant melodrama from the day.

SURF'S UP (2007) 3.5
Better than expected and much better than Dreck the Turd. It starts out in a fun documentary style but totally loses that motif as it goes. More about relationships than funny sidekicks - something worth watching with the kids.

I enjoyed this more as I was watching it than later when I thought back on it and found it ridiculous. It's an enjoyable fable.

SHORTBUS (2006) 3.5
Lots of sex and not simulated. Everybody's got problems and all the solutions are the same - insert penis/dildo/vibrating egg and watch troubles melt away. First time I've actually seen real gay sex (not for the timid) and only time I will ever see the National Anthem sung into a bunghole.

SLITHER (2006) 3.5
I love horror/comedy. Netflix told me I would love this film. I did not. It was weak. I did love Shaun of the Dead, Tremors, and Evil Dead 2. Rent those instead.

SHREK THE THIRD (2007) 3.0
The first one was good. The second one had me laughing out loud. The third one was a total waste of my time. The kids liked it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


About 15 minutes of shameless pandering to the unions was all I could stomach. That was long enough to see that the Democratic nomination is going to Hillary, everyone knows it, neither the glistening John Edwards nor Black Obama will be her running mate, and the other Senators on the stage have started throwing their support behind her in hopes of payback later. Now the only question is how many more thousands of times Hillary will say "experience" and "hit the ground running" between now and November 2008.

Phils 11, Marlins 1. Harry Kalas was much more interesting than anything being said at Soldier Field last night, and Ryan Howard, unlike the Democratic candidates, was knocking curveballs out of the park.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Not long ago E talked about how you get more credit for talking smart than being smart. Phil Mushnick at The New York Post has been exposing Joe Morgan lately on that front. The article starts with the Bonds/Aaron thing, but it’s actually more interesting near the end.
On July 15, as ESPN was televising the Phils' first-to-10,000-losses game, Morgan spoke a detailed account about how, in his first game, he played a significant role - a game-ending hit - in extending the Phils' infamous 10-game, late-season losing streak, a collapse that cost them the 1964 pennant.

But Morgan's first hit was in 1963, when he ended a game against a Phils' team that was not in the hunt. His historic first hit that furthered the Phils' '64 calamity never happened. The Phils didn't even play Houston during that losing streak.

ESPN, unsurprised by Morgan's latest historical fantasy, said Morgan would issue a correction during his next telecast. Morgan could have said, "My bad, last week. I confused '64 with '63. My first hit was against the Phils, but had nothing to do with that big collapse in '64." End of story.

Instead, when Morgan's solicitous partner, Jon Miller, eased into it - and Morgan knew it was coming - Morgan barely responded; he pretended to not quite know what Miller was talking about.

But he did leave Miller and ESPN's producer out to dry. Three times Miller delicately urged Morgan to explain that his tale, the week before, was incorrect. And every time, Morgan acted as if Miller was talking nonsense, as if Miller had the problem. And that stinks.

On that same telecast, Morgan lent credibility to Gary Sheffield's claim that Joe Torre is a racist by stating that Torre must answer Sheffield's claim.
Morgan might have noted that Sheffield has long been a wild-talker, which could explain why such a talent is with his seventh team, or that Sheffield's integrity is such that while with the Brewers, he claimed to have intentionally made throwing errors.

Instead, Morgan gave Sheffield's claim wings. Go ahead, Joe Torre, prove you're not a racist! But Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, two fingered BALCO suspects and post-prime sluggers, owe Morgan no explanations.

Yesterday he gets Morgan again --
Joe Morgan remains relentless in providing expertly stated nonsense. Last night, during Mets-Cubs on ESPN, Luis Castillo stuck with a windblown popup, making a nice catch. But Morgan explained the play as the result of Castillo being unfamiliar with the winds in Wrigley Field because, “Castillo has played his entire career in the American League.”

But Castillo played 10 years in the NL, all with the Marlins. In fact, it was Castillo who hit the infamous fly that spectator Steve Bartman caught - before Moises Alou could - in the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley. Last season, with the Twins, was his first in the AL.

In the top of the fifth, Morgan’s partner, Jon Miller, noted that Castillo has played before in Wrigley. Morgan said nothing.


(Hat Tip FJM)

Thursday, August 02, 2007


It is hard to know sometimes whether I am reading liberal columnist or conservative parody of liberal columnist. The writer even managed to work the "money being spent in Iraq could have fixed this bridge" angle later in the article. You could have counted in seconds how long it would take before the bridge collapse was Bush's fault.

[The bridge collapse] was avoidable.

That means it should never have happened. And that means that public anger will follow our sorrow as sure as night descended on the missing.

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It's been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase - the first in 20 years - last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair.
"Millions were lost." That damn governor and those stupid voters stole the government's money. A 5-cent gas tax increase would cost me about $145 a year at current gas prices. That's money I'd rather decide on my own how to spend. Watch out for these do-gooders who think that it's okay to tax everyone as long as everyone is being taxed, and don't employ them in your accounting department either.

UPDATE: Today's Minneapolis StarTribune reports on its front page that Gov. Pawlenty, who previously vetoed a 7.5-cent per gallon tax increase, has agreed to break his No New Taxes pledge and approve a gas tax increase to fund infrastructure construction, despite [as reported yesterday by Rush] a massive current surplus in his state budget - which of course means that the state's citizens are already overtaxed, when even the government can't spend it all.