Sean Taylor

I came Jason Whitlock’s excellent and controversial article on the Sean Taylor shooting.

It’s absolutely worth reading.

We hear a lot of Soulja Boy in our house. We have two young boys, after all. Thankfully, they still have no idea what they’re actually listening to. But the predominance of hip hop in their music collection bothers me tremendously.

I tell myself that they’re young, that they’ll grow out of it, that somewhere along the line, their tastes and interests will broaden. When I was their age I went through a period where I listened to some rap music, and I think I may even have owned an Andrew Dice Clay album (shudder). I grew out of adolescence, and so will they.

I hope.

Some people don’t grow out of it, and as Whitlock reminds us, that can have dreadful consequences.

Update:
It should go without saying, but in case I’m misunderstood, Sean Taylor’s death was a tragedy. A young man, in the prime of his life, was brutally murdered — nothing should minimize or lessen the tragedy of that.

Neither Whitlock’s column, nor my brief comment, make light of the tragedy. Nor does Whitlock blame “hip hop” for Sean Taylor’s death. Nor do I. But Whitlock makes a point about a culture that celebrates violence and ignorance–and it’s that culture that is destroying young black men. And that culture finds its loudest voice in the lyrics and lifestyles of hip hop artists. It’s that culture that angers Whitlock, and it’s that culture that bothers me.

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Thanksgiving

Would it be too corny to say that I give thanks for Thanksgiving? Probably.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s an American holiday and that’s cool. We live in the land of plenty and we know it. It’s also a capitalist holiday (or at the very least, it’s a celebration of the end of collectivist deprivation). Thanksgiving is secular too. Which means there’s no midnight mass, no morning mass, no afternoon mass, and no threat of a mass at any other time.

Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas Season. I know that the malls and department stores have been in full Christmas swing since September, but Thanksgiving is when you can finally pull out your favorite Christmas CD without worrying about violent reprisal. And even though it’s the start of the Christmas Season, it has none of the pressure of Christmas; there are no presents to buy, there’s nothing to wrap, and the afternoon isn’t quite so boring. (One of my favorite lyrics of all time is, “And every day’s like Christmas Day without you. It’s cold and there’s nothing to do .”)

Plus, there’s lot’s and lot’s of really good food. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you can feed the square of the number of people at your table. And really, what’s better than sharing a meal with the people you love?

Thanksgiving has always been good to me. There have been few family fights and lots of good eats. Even when I was away at school or young and on my own, my friends and I would gather and we’d feast on what we could. We’d have Thanksgivings filled with dishes I’d learned growing up with my mother in New Orleans: shrimp Creole, crawfish etoufee, gumbo, and jambalya. The Thanksgiving meal is traditional for a reason; the ritualized menu reminds us of home and helps us remember. Even when I was thousands of miles from home, making a big pot of jambalya or etoufee helped bring a part of my family’s Thanksgiving to my table.

But it’s not always Creole and Cajun. I’ve made vegan mushroom paté, dozens of pecan pies, Thai spring rolls, and once I even made a lavish tortellini pie. It had meatballs, cheese, tortellini, a wonderful ragu bolognese, and a sweet custard. It turned out great and I loved it. Everyone else smiled and swallowed, but no one was as taken by it as I was. That was Thanksgiving in the Brown House in Portland. We called it the brown house because every ceiling, wall, and rail was brown wood. the floors were brown carpet. It was perpetually dark. You needed a flashlight to read in the living room. But it had a great stove.

We had a lot to drink at those Thanksgivings in Portland. They’re my “lost” Thanksgivings–holidays where we’d eat 12 pounds of turkey and drink 20 pounds of Beaujolais Nouveau. But they were all good days. I think. My memories are a bit hazy. We have photos, and everyone’s smiling, but you can’t tell what we ate for all the bottles on the table. One year we rented out the rec room in a friend’s apartment complex. Eric made six gallons of gumbo, and I made sweet-potato dim sum. We also had turkey, potatoes, cranberries and two cases of wine. There were 8 adults.

But I’m older and wiser and considerably more moderate now. I’ll be spending this thanksgiving with my wife’s family. There will be more than 20 of us. The chairs will be mismatched, the tables will be borrowed and crammed onto porches, and there will be games of touch football in the backyard. With any luck there will be a platter or two of deviled eggs. Of course, I’ll only have one or two. Now I drink less wine and worry more about cholesterol. But the dinner will be grand and the company will be better.

It will be my third Thanksgiving with Jamie’s family, and just my second with our kids. I know how much fun I’ll have, but I’ll still miss all of my family and friends that won’t be joining us. I’ll give my thanks and I’ll think aboutholidays gone by.

I remember the year of the bunnies.

My father lives in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. The house is halfway up a mountain with state forest on two sides and very distant neighbors on the others. It’s remote and beautiful and very pet friendly. The fish stay indoors, but the scores of cats and dogs are free to come and go as they please. My favorite dog of all time, Tucker, lived in that house for many years. Tucker was a mutt. He must have been mostly Collie and German Shepherd because he was full-sized, Shepherd colored, and had some Collie in his face. There must also have been a gutsy Dachshund somewhere back down the line, because his legs were only three inches long. He ran like an inchworm and he couldn’t jump into a truck without help, but he was as smart and loyal and loving as any dog ever was.

One year, now several years ago, my father had rabbits. I don’t remember how or why they came to live at the house, but they were there at Thanksgiving. As was I. It was a year I had made it home to family. Tucker had died years prior, and had been replaced by Todd and Chewbaca. Chewy is long gone, but Todd is still alive. Old and fat, he looks like a giant sausage that’s been stuffed into a dog costume.

My father had built pens in the garden by the house, and the bunnies lived very happily. They were, as bunnies must be, segregated by sex and so I presume they weren’t living as happily as they might have wished, but they seemed comfortable. And cute. And large and fat. They weren’t food bunnies; they were pet bunnies. And they were much loved by my little sister and brother.

On that Thanksgiving we had a traditional New Mexican spread: yams, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, and green chile galore. And of course, we had a beautiful turkey. But as Ralphie Parker can well attest, all dogs — including the Bumpuses’ hounds — love turkey. So the dogs had been banished outside as the turkey was cooked, prepared, cooled and sliced.

We all sat down, and had just packed our plates… I’m sure I was just beginning to pour some gravy over my mounded pile of turkey goodness. My father had probably just finished singing along with the full version of Alice’s Restaurant; our meal had barely begun. We heard the mewling cries, and we wondered what they were. Then we heard the shrieks and we knew. Todd and Chewy were having a feast of their own. Apparently driven mad by turkey lust, they had finally found their way into the rabbit pen.

That Thanksgiving went to the dogs. But that’s as bad a Thanksgiving as I’ve ever had.

And I guess that’s my point. Thanksgiving is great because it’s simple. Get together. Eat. Laugh. Nap.

A bad Thanksgiving is spent alone in a box under an overpass. And thankfully, I’ve never been there. I have been blessed with such wonderful friends and such a wonderful family, my life is filled with joy and laughter and love. And that’s what I’m thankful for on the last Thursday in November and on every other day too.

Although I can’t sit down with everyone I love this Thursday, I’ll think of all of you as I say my thanks and pour my gravy.

Thanks to all of you for filling my life with wonder and joy.
May your Thanksgiving tables always be too crowded and your chairs mismatched.
May your turkey be large and brown with crispy skin and may your gravy be smooth and rich.
And may you always have one non-traditional dish–whether it’s a vegan tofu stew or a selection of fresh sushi.
May you drink and eat your fill, and may you nap peacefully after dinner.
May you play touch football in the fallen leaves and finally put on that Christmas music.
May you remember to tell everyone how much you love them.
May you always keep those you love close to your heart, no matter how far away they might live.

And may you keep your bunnies safe and warm.

Movies!

After doing the Book post, I decided to do a movie post. So here’s what I’ve done. I took the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies, and then their 2007 redux of that list. What I’ve seen is in bold. (No Italics, not finishing a movie doesn’t count for anything.) But the AFI list missed some great movies, so I compiled my own list (separated by a line of asterisks) that follows theirs.

The AFI list is in the order of the original list, with the 23 changes following the original 100 (the original list ends with Yankee Doodle Dandy). For my list, some of these are old favorites, some are recent and fresh in my mind. I don’t imply it to be a definitive “best of” list, just movies I liked and remembered. My additions are definitely NOT in any order.

On to the movies.

Citizen Kane

Great cinematography, but not the best movie of all time.

Casablanca

Fantastic. A truly great movie. Bergman is so beautiful and Bogart is the definition of cool. The best movie ever made.

The Godfather

This is a true classic. Great story, fabulous cast. The mob. What else is there?

Gone with the Wind

I don’t have any desire to see it. I know, it’s supposed to be great.

Lawrence of Arabia

I would like to watch this… I’ve rented it twice but I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing.

The Wizard of Oz

ehh… First movie ever made in color, I guess that counts for something.

The Graduate

ehh… very overrated.

On the Waterfront

ehh… it just doesn’t do it for me.

Schindler’s List

It’s very good. Ralph Fiennes is spectacular. It’s ending is contrived and over emotional, but by then the audience needs the catharsis. When I first saw this I watched it with a friend and her student, a little blond Jewish girl with round glasses. The red jacket in the wheelbarrow… it was tough to watch.

Singin’ in the Rain

It’s great. : D

It’s a Wonderful Life

I like it and I hate it. It’s economic message is awful but I love the way Jimmy Stewart refuses to help a naked Donna Reed.

Sunset Boulevard

The Bridge on the River Kwai

So, so, very great. Wrenching. But wow. Such great characters.

Some Like It Hot

Very, very funny. Very funny.


Star Wars

I was four. It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. but Empire Strikes Back is better. Don’t talk to me about the others. They suck.

All About Eve

The African Queen

I actually don’t think the movie is so great, but the performances are magnificent.

Psycho

This is great horror. Modern slasher films are pathetic.

Chinatown

Jack.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack, Nurse Ratchet and a big Indian.

The Grapes of Wrath

pure awfulness

2001: A Space Odyssey

The best space movie ever made.Yes, the ending is bizarre, but it’s a good movie.

The Maltese Falcon

Bogart is so, so cool

Raging Bull

Joe Pesci’s greatest role. DeNiro is Jake Lamotta.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

oh so very, very treacly bad

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers. Also the first toilet flush in cinema history.

Bonnie and Clyde

Not just bad, but Warren Beatty bad.

Apocalypse Now

It’s overrated.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

very very good. Treacly, but very good.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!

Annie Hall

Good, but not Woody Allen’s best, not by a long shot.

The Godfather II

Best. Sequel. Ever.

High Noon

Gary Cooper rocks.

To Kill a Mockingbird

So, so great. Gregory Peck is just awe inspiring

It Happened One Night

Midnight Cowboy

The scene where the coconut falls out the window may be the saddest moment in film history.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Double Indemnity

just darn good movie making

Doctor Zhivago

So I finally rented this about a year ago. I put in the DVD and it starts on a train, and I’m watching, and I can’t figure out what’s supposed to hook me, and I don’t get the characters, and there’s no development, and I don’t care about anyone… turns out I put the second disc in first. Oy.

North by Northwest

just darn good movie making

West Side Story

ehh… Shakespeare is actually better. (Hard to believe, I know…)

Rear Window

Stewart’s only creepy role.

King Kong (1933)

Yeah, it’s OK. It doesn’t move me the way it moves other people. Although there is that topless Faye Wray scene…

The Birth of a Nation

talk about evil movies…

A Streetcar Named Desire

Vivien Leigh as Blanche. Brando as Kowalski. Greatest. Casting. Ever.

A Clockwork Orange

Freaky, freaky, freaky. But great.

Taxi Driver

DeNiro is so weirdly strange…. When he takes Cybill Shepherd to the movies… such a painful scene.

Jaws

“I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Yes, it’s good. But nostalgia aside, Pixar’s stuff is better.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

It’s really not a great movie. It’s ok, but not great.

The Philadelphia Story

Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant. It’s everything a romantic comedy should be.

From Here to Eternity

Amadeus

The stage play is better, but the movie is still good. Although I really, really wish they had kept Tim Curry as Mozart.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Damn good war film.

The Sound of Music

Yes, it really is very good.

M*A*S*H

Overrated. The TV show ended up being better.

The Third Man

Fantasia

The soundtrack is great. The movie is an irritating distraction.

Rebel Without a Cause

This didn’t speak to me the way it did to some people.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

From Han Solo to Indiana Jones. Wow. Making Archeology cool and sexy is no mean feat. Only Indiana Jones and George Bey can do it.

Vertigo

Outstanding.

Tootsie

A truly remarkable performance.

Stagecoach

Good. The Searchers is better.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Overrated. Although every time I have mashed potatoes I think of this movie.

The Silence of the Lambs

Hopkins is overrated — Foster’s was the real performance.

Network

The Manchurian Candidate

A great, great movie. Who knew Frank could be such a good actor?

An American in Paris

Shane

It’s ok. There are much better Westerns.

The French Connection

Good, but not all-time great. Started the cop/buddy genre.

Forrest Gump

I’ve seen so many clips, I think I’ve actually seen the movie.

Ben-Hur

WOW. But renting it is wrong, unless you have at least a 15 foot television screen.

Wuthering Heights

The Gold Rush

Dances with Wolves

A wrenchingly stupid movie.

City Lights

Really, really great. Magical.

American Graffiti

Whatever. Boomer nostalgia run amok. Lucas should stick to action.

Rocky

It really is good. The sequels (except for the last) all stink, but the first is really very good.

The Deer Hunter

The Wild Bunch

They’re not good people. They’re really, really not.

Modern Times

Giant

Platoon

It’s a very good movie.

Fargo

One of the all-time greats? No.

Duck Soup

I just don’t get it….

Mutiny on the Bounty

Very good.

Frankenstein

It’s OK. Bride of Frankenstein is the better movie.

Easy Rider

Boomer narcissism at it’s nadir, apex, whatever

Patton

Good, but too far too long.

The Jazz Singer

The first movie with sound.

My Fair Lady

Oh so very good. So very good.

A Place in the Sun

The Apartment

Goodfellas

Not Liotta’s, nor Pesci’s, nor DeNiro’s, nor Scorsese’s best.

Pulp Fiction

Fun. : D

The Searchers

Morally ambiguous. Obsessive. Great movie.

Bringing Up Baby

Hepburn and Grant again. It’s a romp.

Unforgiven

One of the best Western’s ever made. Truly great.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Oh, so amazingly fantastically wonderful.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s really one long movie, and it should probably make the top 25, if not the top 10.

Saving Private Ryan

It’s really not that great a movie, but it has a great opening sequence.

Titanic

The word is synonymous with expensive, spectacular, disaster. So is the movie. I know it made more money than the mint could print, but it’s a BAD movie.

The Sixth Sense

One of the greatest twists of all time.

The General

Intolerance

Nashville

ehh…

Sullivan’s Travels

Cabaret

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

The Shawshank Redemption

It’s so, so fabulously great. This is a wonderful, wonderful movie. I’ve never cared so much about a killer.

In the Heat of the Night

Poitier rocks.

All the President’s Men

More Boomer narcissism

Spartacus

Homo-eroticism at it’s most refreshingly innocent.

Sunrise

A Night at the Opera

12 Angry Men

An acting tour-de-force.

Swing Time

Sophie’s Choice

To say this is a great performance is like saying the Nazis were bad.

The Last Picture Show

Hot.

Do The Right Thing

It’s a very, very good movie.

Blade Runner

Best Science Fiction movie ever made.

Toy Story

Good, but The Incredibles is better.

*******************

A Room With a View

Truth! Beauty! Love! Mr. Beebe, Lucy, George, Cecil…. I love it, I love it, I love it. I really, really love this movie. : D

Groundhog Day

It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it, rent it. Bill Murray and the worst day ever.

The Princess Bride

It’s one of the best adaptations ever made. Andre the Giant and Mandy Patinkin steal the show.

A Lion in Winter

Razor sharp dialog, Peter O’Toole in the performance of a lifetime alongside a riveting and amazing Hepburn. Plus Timothy Dalton when he must have been about 12 and Anthony Hopkins looking very, very young.

Beckett

Such a good script.

The Incredibles

So much fun. : D

Notting Hill

I love this movie because the way Hugh Grant feels about Julia Roberts is the way I feel about my wife. : D

When Harry Met Sally

A sentimental favorite from High School. I still think it’s very funny.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

It’s a great thrill ride. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Little Miss Sunshine

A recent fave. The metaphor of the bus is so apt.

Blazing Saddles

Maybe the funniest movie ever (it’s in the running), it just could not be made today.

Young Frankenstein

Worth watching just for the Puttin’ on the Ritz scene.

Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen’s best movie.

Manhattan

Spectacular cinematography.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

If the AFI can put shlock like Easy Rider on the list for the Boomers, then Gen X can have Ferris.

The Breakfast Club

Judd Nelson’s flaring nostrils, Molly Ringwald’s pouty lips, Emilio Esteves’s blank stare and Anthony Michael Hall as… The Geek. It’s a bad movie, but it’s OUR bad movie.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

John Candy’s best performance.

A Christmas Story

Who doesn’t love this movie?

Sabrina (both versions)

Lifestyles of the Rich and Beautiful… both are very good romantic movies.

A Fish Called Wanda

I don’t really like Jamie Lee Curtis, but Michael Palin, Kevin Kline, and John Cleese are outstanding.


This is Spinal Tap

On a scale of one to ten, this one goes to eleven.


Raising Arizona

Nicolas Cage’s best role.


Animal House

A classic. Belushi is just grand.


Big

Tom Hanks does a wonderful job. It’s a great fairy tale.


Harold and Maude

Sex between a teenage boy and a very old lady. It’s a fantastic, beautiful, wonderful, joyous movie. It really, really is.


Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy when he was funny.


Caddyshack

What’s the greatest movie ever made? Caddyshack. What’s the worst movie ever made? Caddyshack 2.


Victor/Victoria

Mary Poppins shows her boobs and everyone is gay. But it’s a great movie.


Stripes

Funniest training camp movie ever. A blast. Incredible. Turn it off after they leave basic training. Seriously. Turn it off.


Beetlejuice

Michael Keaton is so brilliantly over the top.


The Jerk

Also in the running for funniest movie ever made. All I need is this chair. That’s all I need.


Bull Durham

Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.


Hunt For Red October

Jack Ryan and Sean Connery. Under water. Classic cold-war thriller.


Apollo 13

It’s a great and it’s true.


Glory

It’s even greater and it’s still true.


The Color Purple

Whoopi Goldberg in one of the greatest performances of all time.


Barbarians at The Gate

Gotta Love Big Tobacco! : D

Thank You For Smoking!

No, really. Big Tobacco rocks.


A Raisin in the Sun

What happens to a dream deferred?


Searching for Bobby Fischer

Makes chess and obsessive parenting thrilling.


Witness

A gritty Amish cop drama, a barn raising, and Kelly McGillis. Now that’s good movie-making!

Frantic

A taut suspense-filled drama. Harrison Ford does a great job.


L.A. Confidential

A throwback movie — it’s an homage to tinsel town, and it’s very, very good.


Alien

Scary. Very, very scary.


Marathon Man

Lawrence Olivier as the penultimate dentist. I hate dentists.

Little Shop of Horrors

Speaking of dentists… Steve Martin is grand, and it’s a riot of a movie.


Gaslight

Very creepy. A great psychological thriller.


Cash McCall

John Galt is named Cash McCall. James Garner was a stud.


Braveheart

Gibson’s Epic. It’s moving and bloody and funny and very, very well done.


Full Metal Jacket

Charlene…


Clueless

The best Jane Austen movie ever made.


Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp in the role of a lifetime.


As Good as it Gets

Nicholson in a romantic comedy. And it works.


The Remains of the Day

It’s painful, it’s slow, it’s wrenching and it’s depressing. But it’s also very good.


Cousins

Ted Danson and Isabella Rosselini in a wonderful romantic comedy.


Four Weddings and a Funeral

Andie McDowell is bad, terrifyingly awful. It’s still a very, very good movie.


Rushmore

An odd little movie, it’s quirky and great.


The English Patient

A spectacular movie with a moral: Don’t leave the woman you love to die alone in a cave.

Wings of Desire

A beautiful film. Transcendent.


City of Angels

It’s a kind of a remake of Wings of Desire. Very, very good in it’s own way.


Life is Beautiful

Beautiful. Just beautiful.


Shakespeare in Love

I think Stoppard’s screenplay is delightful.


Sliding Doors

I’m a sap when it comes to romantic comedies with a British flair. But I think this one is very good.


Cyrano De Bergerac

A classic.


Casino Royale

The new one. Bond the way he should be. Best Bond movie ever.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt is the best double fictional character ever.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Farrell in an absolutely lovely movie. Maggie Gyllenhall is great.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

…saved from almost certain temptation.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Every sperm is sacred.

Stand By Me

Based on The Body by Stephen King, it’s a great coming of age movie.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

An absolute riot.

A Man for All Seasons

Integrity. Integrity. Integrity.

Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s best work. Magnificent.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Quirky, wierd… refreshing and riveting.


Henry V (Branagh)

A great movie. A great play.


Chariots of Fire

They run. It’s still great.

Trainspotting

Heroin is not cool.

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray in a quiet, subtle, wonderful film.

Cinema Paradiso

Oh so wonderful–a joyous movie.

Tampopo

A Japanese Western with a Japanese John Wayne and the quest for the perfect bowl of noodles. : D

Amelie

Lyrical, magical, wonderful, moving, touching… it’s a delight.

The Full Monty

Laugh out loud funny, a classic “feel-good” movie

The Commitments

Irish Soul. Great Soundtrack — a great music movie.

My Left Foot

Daniel Day Lewis in a performance that defies description. Unbelievable — and inspirational too.

Educating Rita

It’s not often a movie can successfully dramatize the joy of learning… this one does.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Steve Martin and Michael Caine in a romp.

The Sum of Us

A very young Russell Crowe as a gay man with an adoring father. A great movie about finding the joy in life.

Les Enfants Du Paradise

Made in secret during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this movie is breathtakingly beautiful.

Jean De Florette

A movie about property rights… and a French one at that!

Red, Blue, White

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy (the colors of the French flag) Each movie is excellent.

The Piano

Holly Hunter in the role in of her life.

Flirting

A brilliantly funny and charming coming of age movie, this is fantastic.

Like Water for Chocolate

A great example of magical realism, this movie will make you hungry.

Strictly Ballroom

An absolute classic, this is one of the best Australian movies ever made.

Shall We Dance (Japan)

Inspired by Strictly Ballroom, it’s very Japanese, and very tender.

Belle Epoque

What a summer….

Finding Nemo

Very funny. Pixar is very good.

Armageddon

I know. It’s awful bad. But it’s so cheesy… I love it.

Austin Powers, Man of Mystery

Surprisingly funny and witty, Mike Meyers does a great job. Dr. Evil is an inspired character.

The Elephant Man

Tough to watch, but a good good movie.


The World According to Garp

So much was cut from the book, but it’s still a fine movie.

Ocean’s Eleven

So much better than the original…. it’s so much fun.


The Last Temptation of Christ

I never quite understood the religious objections to this tender and very loving portrayal of Jesus on the cross.


Driving Miss Daisy

Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy are both great actors. They’re so good, they got Dan Akroyd an Oscar nomination.

The X-men

One of the best comic-book adaptations. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was perfect.

Spiderman

Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker… it’s a fun movie.

Walk the Line

The Man in Black. Cash. Great music, great movie. Reese Witherspoon is outstanding.

Cast Away

Tom Hanks and a bloody volleyball. It’s still a good movie.

Chocolat

Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche… what else do you need?

Almost Famous

Kate Hudson is very, very attractive.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The special effects are breathtaking. The ending is very Chinese, and very irritating.

Shrek

Very, very funny.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Russel Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey. It’s a good adaptation. I wish they’d make more.


Sideways

It was oversold when it premiered, but it stands up well over time. It’s really a coming of age story.


Cinderella Man

Another Russell Crowe movie. He’s the next Mel Gibson. A great feel-good movie.

The Simpsons Movie

It’s a two-hour long episode. Well done.


Howards End

Snooty brits destroy love. Lavish and well done, it’s Forster’s counter-point to A Room with a View.


A Few Good Men

We all know the quote…. But for me, the real joy is watching Demi Moore and Tom Cruise on screen together. At times you can’t tell which is which.

The Harry Potter Movies

They’ve all been good. If you love the books, you’ll love the movies.


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

A breakthrough performance by Leonardo Di Caprio, but Johnny Depp steals the show.


Good Will Hunting

Affleck and Damon deserved the Oscar for an excellent script. Van Sandt deserved an Oscar for getting that performance out of Affleck.


Joe vs. The Volcano

It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie you haven’t seen. A lovely fairy tale.

You’ve Got Mail

Predictable, formulaic, obvious, and utterly charming.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Delightful and original. A real pleasure.

The Addams Family

Raul Julia as Gomez Addams… it’s a truly great movie. Great.


The Truman Show

Jim Carey in his first serious role. Peter Weir directed… it’s a good movie.


Knocked Up

Surprisingly tender and serious. A very good little movie.


Edward Scissorhands

Johnny Depp in a fantastical fairy tale. Anthony Michael Hall as… the stud?????

Hamlet (Branagh)

Uncut, the movie is long, but Blenheim Palace is so gorgeous and the acting so exact, this is great Shakespeare


Romeo and Juliet
(The DiCaprio version)

Zefferelli’s version is good, but it lacks bite and style, which the play clearly has. Despite its shortcomings, this is the better Shakespeare.

The Causes of Terrorism

There’s an interesting article up at The American debunking the myth that affluence reduces terrorism, or that terrorism is a response to poverty.

“The evidence suggests that terrorists care about influencing political outcomes. They are often motivated by geopolitical grievances. To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means? Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it.”

Krueger, the author of the article, suggests that rather than likening terrorism to crime (where there is a strong correlation with poverty), it is more instructive to liken terrorism to voting and political protest. Krueger’s research suggests that, as with voting and political protest, terrorism is more likely to attract the affluent: those people who can better afford to spend their time committing themselves to abstract political ideals. The author therefore suggests a stronger correlation between political oppression and terrorism than between poverty and terrorism. He argues that relatively wealthy, but heavily oppressive societies–like Saudi Arabia–would tend to generate more terrorists.

That certainly seems plausible to me. I have long wondered if the whole exercise in trying to determine the “root cause” or “root grievance” of terrorism isn’t a little misguided. As Krueger points out, terrorists have diverse motivations. Assuming that terrorism is simply a response to poverty is a project that smacks of simple materialism and has a tendency to obscure issues of moral responsibility and moral agency.

The choice to embrace terrorism is a political choice. It’s the result of accepting a particular ideology, committing wholeheartedly to political and philosophical abstractions and then reifying those abstractions. Terrorism is result of a commitment to dogma, and dogma, as I’ve mentioned before, only thrives where political expression is curtailed.

I know this all sounds a little academic, but this debate matters because it directly affects how we choose to combat terrorism.

If we take the simple materialist stance and imagine terrorism as another version of class struggle, then we’ll be inclined to pursue policies appeasement and wealth transfer. Appeasement because materialism only allows the wealthy the luxury of moral agency, and wealth transfer because redistribution is the only response to the inequities of class. In practical terms, that means offering terrorists gross concessions, like making them part of the government (as in Sierra Leone and Palestine), deliberately ignoring their moral atrocities (as in Rwanda), or conceding to their demands (as in pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan).

But if we take the opposite view, that terrorism is the result of a dogmatic ideology and that the war against terrorism is ultimately ideological–science and reason pitted against fundamentalism and ignorance–then the final battlefield is free public discourse. Dogma withers and dies in light of free inquiry, and free inquiry is only possible in a free society. If we want to win the fight against terrorist dogma, then we must ultimately liberate the people who would be most affected by it.

This is not necessarily to say that America should invade and liberate every oppressive regime in the world, but it is to say that military intervention must remain a valid option in foreign affairs, and it is to say that it should be the avowed policy of US foreign policy to work–through many means–towards the dissolution of oppressive and tyrannical regimes.

Books, books, and more books

I got this meme from the Philosophy Blog.

Directions:
1. Bold what you have read.
2. Italicize what you started but couldn’t finish.
3. Add the books that should be on the list, but aren’t.
4. Add lots of comments.

OK, so I added those last two rules. How can you have The Silmarillion and The Hobbit on the list but not include The Lord of the Rings? It’s absurd. I added a bunch. A short line of asterisks follows my additions.

Possession (Beautiful, gorgeous, moving, lyrical… I love it)

The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein created a genre. Aside from Homer, how many authors can claim that?)

Harry Potter (1-7) (I’m still sad it’s over.)

The Wheel of Time (The author died last month, so the end of the series is in some doubt.)

To Kill a Mockingbird (The greatest American novel ever written.)

The Great Gatsby (I read it in school with predictable results; I hated it.)

A Room with a View (One of my all-time favorites. Truth! Beauty! Love!)

The Princess Bride (Wonderful. Funny and heart warming and intelligent.)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (It’s the standard bearer for libertarian fiction. I think that says it all — both the good and the bad.)

Smilla’s Sense of Snow (I really like this, despite it’s rather weird ending.)

Animal Farm

Gone With the Wind (I’ve never seen the movie either.)

Lord of the Flies (This is one of those books that I’m sure I’ve read, but I can’t remember actually reading it…)

A Passage to India

Heart of Darkness (watching Apocalypse Now doesn’t count)

The World According to Garp

The Cider House Rules

A Prayer for Owen Meany (I loved Garp, and I finished The Cider House Rules, but Owen left me cold.)

Stranger in a Strange Land

The Stand (The ending sucks, but the journey is amazing.)

It (Freaky clowns scare the beejepus out of me.)

Carrie

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Monty Python in book form.)

On the Beach

The Sun Also Rises

Women in Love (For a long time I really wanted to like D. H. Lawrence; I don’t.)

The Trial (Another school assignment. I rarely finished those… even when I liked the book)

As I Lay Dying (School strikes again)

The Tin Drum (School strikes again)

The Tropic of Cancer (as with Lawrence, I really wanted to like Miller.)

Fahrenheit 451

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Judy Bloom rocks)

Naked Lunch (“I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.”)

The Big Sleep (Another author that created a genre.)

The Maltese Falcon

Never Let Me Go (I liked it… very soft and VERY creepy, but moving.)

Remains of the Day

The Red Badge of Courage (I know I read it, but it was so long ago…)

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Hunt for Red October (It’s better than the movie, and the movie is great.)

The Dark Knight (Batman like he’s meant to be.)

Watchmen (Gotta love Rorschach)

Invisible Man (I was 14. I thought it was science fiction. I should pick it up again.)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (I know, I know…)

The Stranger (Existentialists don’t make for easy reading.)

Bonfire of the Vanities (Ugh… I thought it was irritating)

The Right Stuff (I love it.)

Things Fall Apart

The Way of All Flesh (I bet it’s not as sexy as I hope…)

The Wizard of Oz (Saw the movie)

Little Women (I’m a guy.)

Tom Sawyer (I read it when I was eight or nine… something about Becky and Tom in that cave excited me.)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Wow. Maybe it’s tie with To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Charlotte’s Web (I read it maybe 12 times. Cried every time.)

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (I HATED this book. I’m using the word “hate” here.)

James and the Giant Peach (the bugs creeped me out)

Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh

The Little House Books (I’m a guy.)

Remembrance of Things Past (I’ve never tacked Proust, should I?)

Tom Jones (It’s not unusual…)

The Wings of the Dove

Brideshead Revisited

Candide

The Hound of the Baskervilles

*****************************

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (What? Who?)

Anna Karenina (Ugh.)

Crime and Punishment (I hated it. I’ve never liked Tolstoy or Dostoevsky even a little bit. Chekov, I liked. He was funny.)

Catch-22 (One of my all-time favorite, laugh-out loud funny books.)

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion (It’s like a SNL skit that goes on WAY too long.)

Life of Pi: a novel

The Name of the Rose (It’s a hard slog, but it’s very good.)

Don Quixote

Moby Dick (Sad, I know. Call me uncouth.)

Ulysses (I didn’t understand it, but I read it!)

Madame Bovary

The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice (I always get this, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility confused)

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies

War and Peace (Nobody’s actually finished it. Nope. You’re lying.)

Vanity Fair (no, not the magazine)

The Time Traveler’s Wife (A beautiful, moving, tender book.)

The Iliad

Emma (See Pride and Prejudice, above)

The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner (Wrenching)

Mrs. Dalloway (Who?)

Great Expectations (Nobody should ever read this. Even for school.)

American Gods (Overrated)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (How can it not be overrated?)

Atlas Shrugged (What can I say?)

Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books

Memoirs of a Geisha

Middlesex

Quicksilver

Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West (It got tiring, and let’s face it. We all know how it ends.)

The Canterbury Tales (Who’s read ALL of them? What’s the point? My high school English teacher only did the bawdy tales. It led to a classroom discussion on oral sex–at which point the school chaplain walked in. Good times…)

The Historian: a novel

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World

The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum (It’s literally impossible to read all of it.)

Middlemarch

Frankenstein (not as good as you hope it is)

The Count of Monte Cristo (What a book!)

Dracula

A Clockwork Orange (saw the movie though…)

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath (Assigning books like this in school is why people don’t read.)

The Poisonwood Bible: a novel (I’m a guy)

1984 (Orwell was a stud)

Angels & Demons (It’s really not good.)

The Da Vinci Code (This isn’t good either.)

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility (Which one is this again?)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (I read this when I was 12. Freaked me out.)

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables (I can’t believe I read the whole thing…)

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Not as good as it keeps promising)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (I’m intrigued)

Dune (The first is great, they get progressively worse very quickly)

The Prince (It’s not as evil as people want you to think)

The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes: a memoir

The God of Small Things

A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present (Awful, awful book.)

Cryptonomicon (what about the Necronomicon?)

Neverwhere

A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Dubliners

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Beloved (Oy. Is there anything more irritating?)

Slaughterhouse-five

The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves (I didnt Finnish because i no possession the book]

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake : a novel

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Cloud Atlas (I’m reading it right now. Slow going though…)

The Confusion

Lolita (One of my favorites. Creepy, but the language is great.)

Persuasion

Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye (I hated it.)

On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Man Who Laughs (Still trying to find a translation)

Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values

The Aeneid

Watership Down (Bunnies!)

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

White Teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers

Diversity Matters

I’ve been thinking a little bit about diversity lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the value that real diversity can bring to an organization, whether that organization is a school, a magazine, a major corporation, a shoe store, or the U.S. Senate.

We hear about diversity all the time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen standard stock phrases that extol a companies commitment to “diversity in the workplace.” Or notices that “Minorities are strongly encouraged to apply!” But racial, sexual, and ethnic diversity is ultimately a pretty shallow kind of diversity. It very rarely makes any difference to me whether my co-worker, boss, senator, plumber or teacher is a straight Catholic Asian man or a gay Hispanic Jewish woman. What usually matters most to me is whether or not the person is competent.

It is true that in some cases, there’s more at stake than mere competence. I certainly want more than a detailed knowledge of parliamentary procedure from my senator, and I’d like my child’s teachers to have a greater commitment to truth than to mandated curricula. In those cases, a person’s basic ideology makes a difference. A conservative senator can be equally as “competent” a law-maker as his liberal colleague, but the laws they enact can be markedly different.

Ideology doesn’t–or shouldn’t–matter in every occupation or circumstance. I don’t care what the ideology of my plumber is, so long as my pipes don’t leak. In fact, I’d be alarmed if I had cause to know my plumber’s religious beliefs. But ideology does matter in some cases. An art teacher committed to representation and life-drawing and an art teacher committed to abstract expressionism, for example, may be equally competent educators, but the effects on their students will be markedly different.

In many cases, access to different ideologies can be enormously beneficial. In an art department it helps to have faculty with different emphases and inclinations. The scientific community benefits enormously when scientists test competing hypotheses. Likewise, a polity benefits from a certain amount of ideological diversity in its politicians. Different ideas and different points of emphasis can help hone arguments, winnow fiction from fact, expand opportunities and helps to prevent tyranny and despotism.

But that’s ideological diversity. The extent to which racial, ethnic and sexual diversity has value is the extent to which race, sex or ethnicity is a determining factor in an individual’s ideology. (And I would think that we’d all hope to see those kinds of correlations diminish over time.) Too often, a commitment to “diversity” is a sham–a commitment to a simple racial/ethnic/sexual diversity can mask hard, ingrained prejudices that serve to keep organizations ideologically homogeneous.

Take for example, the two highly visible struggles that The New Republic has had with false journalism.

I don’t mean to pick on TNR, nor do I mean to pick on their bias, or suggest that a liberal conviction necessarily implies poor judgment or an abandonment of critical thinking skills. There are slavish dogmatists across the political spectrum. But both the Stephen Glass affair and the Scott Thomas Beauchamp debacle point out the dangers of an ideologically homogeneous environment.

In both cases, reporters for TNR fabricated stories that confirmed the ideological bias of the magazine’s editors, staffers, fact-checkers, and owners. In both cases, the factual evidence for the stories was flimsy and largely unsubstantiated. Had TNR committed itself to rigorous fact-checking, the articles in question would have been discarded before they were published. But the articles benefitted from confirmation bias. It’s not that the editors or fact checkers at TNR were dupes or rubes or dishonest, they simply trusted people who told them what they already believed: that soldiers are crass and uncouth, that republicans are boors, that corporations lie, etc….

Whatever commitment TNR makes to “diversity,” they make no significant commitment to ideological diversity. Of course, they’re not alone. The National Review makes no significant commitment to ideological diversity either. And to a certain extent, these magazines exist as participants in a broader collection of opinion magazines, and there is ideological diversity amongst the magazines. In that sense, a dedicated reader can pit the competing positions against each other within the “marketplace of ideas.”

But if a broad spectrum of journalists are biased in the same direction (as many people believe), then the overall debate will become more and more homogeneous over time. And as it relates to journalism, we do seem to see a trend in that direction. The major media coverage of the Duke Rape Case, the Jena 6, and of course scandals like Rathergate all contribute to a growing sense that journalists are increasingly less likely to rigorously check their own assumptions and instead accept the narrative that best fits with the prevailing ideology. Hence statements like, ” the facts were wrong but the narrative was right” or “ fake but accurate.

This problem, unfortunately, is not limited to journalists. Ideological bias and homogeneity is also a growing problem in American education . The faculty at American colleges and universities overwhelmingly self-report as liberal as opposed to conservative. And they do so in such stunning numbers that even some self-described liberals have begun to wonder whether there isn’t some institutional bias against conservative faculty members.

But it’s only a growing problem to those who recognize that some degree of ideological diversity is a net social benefit. To the dogmatists, ideological homogeneity is a sign of virtue and pride–but that way lies folly. In the absence of sustained criticism, people have the tendency to reify their beliefs. When a mass of people begin to think alike, they begin not only to casually dismiss alternative views, but they more easily dismiss the people who hold different beliefs as ignorant, lazy, stupid, or ill intentioned. This is what happens to people who immerse themselves in dogma; they tend to dehumanize nonbelievers. It’s easy to see when the dogmatists are religious fundamentalists, but it can happen with any ideology, from environmentalism to domestic policy, from foreign policy to privacy rights. The idea that your political/social/scientific opposition must actually be morally corrupt simply because they hold differing views is inherently dangerous.

Now, I’m not a relativist. I don’t think that we should tolerate any and all ideological positions, regardless of their merit, simply for the sake of a healthy debate and vigorous ideological criticism. Some ideas are actually wrong and some ideas are actually right. But the point is that we can only really be sure of which ideas are right and which ideas are wrong by examining those ideas in critical detail. And that examination is impossible without some oppositional position.

It is true that while some belief systems and ideologies will wither quickly away, and some others survive far longer than most people would wish. But for a truly pernicious ideology (like Aryan supremacy) to survive requires that large numbers of people get together to reify their absurdities and actively suppress oppositional ideas. The only way to effectively counter genuinely perverse ideas is to bring them into the light, subject them to criticism, and watch them wither and die under scrutiny. Open and honest debate is what drives the scientific quest for truth, and it’s what drives political, social, and spiritual quests for truth as well.

The hallmark of a crippled belief system is an aversion to criticism. Anytime you hear an advocate ridicule his opposition simply for having the temerity to disagree with “accepted” conclusions, you’re hearing the voice of a dogmatist. It makes no difference what side of the aisle the dogmatist is sitting on, nor does it matter how many people the dogmatist can rally behind his banner–or how pretty and exciting the banner might be. Dogmatists can’t stand dissent, criticism, or sunlight. Dogmatists thrive in homogeneity, but they wither in a ideologically heterogeneous society. And they know this, which is why they’re the first to crucify the heathen, the first to crucify the heretic, and the first to try to silence their critics.

The essential answer to dogmatism, of course, is free inquiry and free speech. But in addition to free speech, society requires a certain level of ideological tolerance–a real commitment to real diversity. Many talking heads have bemoaned the current political strife in America: the degree to which political disagreements seem to have “divided” America. To a certain extent I agree. Although the viciousness in political discourse is nothing new, there seems to be an increasing amount of vitriol from the rank and file, and that smacks of dogma. But there is also a sense in which a society with less political division is itself more averse to change and challenge–and more likely to reify it’s worst tendencies. The biggest problem is not that the Democrats and Republicans don’t get along, it’s that they agree on so many issues and conspire to marginalize criticism of institutional flaws (log rolling, pork barreling, corruption, scandal, fiscal irresponsibility, and general sleaziness). It’s bipartisan agreement that’s the real threat.

So let’s bring on the diversity! But let it be meaningful diversity. I don’t really care how many Transsexual African Mormons there on the masthead or on the faculty, but I would like to see more ideological diversity among the reporters at the New York Times and among the faculty at Brandeis University.