Friday, February 29, 2008

The Times On Ralph Nader

A couple of posts from the New York Times blog The Caucus: first, one about Nader's running mate, Matt Gonzalez; second, one on the relevancy of Nader as a third-party candidate. The relevancy post has an interesting take on the Nader-as-spoiler theory.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Many Faces Of Jackson Scott Peddie

The Big List #2

This actually made it to a second installment. How about that? Might it actually become - gasp! - a regular feature? You can't even stand the suspense, can you?

Green Piece Indy

It’s not often that letters to the editor in the Star catch my attention, but there was one in Thursday’s (2/21) online edition that did. It mentions Indiana’s “green” ranking by Forbes magazine - 49th, if you did not know - and refers to a website for Green Piece Indy, where you can sign up to get an e-mail twice a week with tips on how to live a greener life in Indiana.

Nader 2008

Ralph Nader is running for President again. I reject the argument that Ralph Nader’s being in the race in 2000 cost Al Gore the election - because Al Gore actually won that election. The Supreme Court cost Gore the presidency when it ordered stopped the recount that would have proven that Gore carried Florida. Throw in badly designed Florida ballots and Florida voters who could not be bothered to vote correctly, and there’s really no logical reason to blame Nader for Bush’s monarchy - except that far too many Americans are simplistic and like easy monosyllabic answers, even if those answers are incorrect. Also, he bucks the two-party system, which is reason enough to support him.

And That Lodge Number Is...?

Having taken up residence in Inrvington, I dutifully signed up for the e-mail newsletter of the Irvington Community Council, which arrives in my inbox every Monday like clockwork. This week’s newsletter has a link to a story in the new entertainment section of the Star about a place called Mosaic Church that recently got itself up and running in the old Masonic lodge just east of Ritter on Washington Street. The days of my going to church without being asked to do so by someone else are...actually, I was going to say that the days of my going to church without being asked to by someone else are over - but I’m not sure that there were ever any of those days to begin with. (I do not at all mind going to church when asked - it's just not something that I would ever do of my own freewill.) But anyway...I don’t go to church, but religion does sort of interest me - which I fully acknowledge as being about as oxy as moronic gets, but there you are. This Mosaic Church has a pastor who wears jeans and a t-shirt and wants to let people know that it’s okay to doubt - and he calls himself a “teaching pastor” as opposed to a “preacher.” He acknowledges that the word “preacher” has some connotations that a progressive church might want to avoid. Now that’s refreshing. Interesting, too, that a progressive new church would choose that particular old lodge buliding. Ever driven by it? Know what its lodge number is? It’s 666, if you can dig it.

Development Planned Around Lucas Oil Stadium

A 24-story hotel with 224 rooms and a 5000-square-foot restaurant just might join Lucas Oil Stadium in an area of downtown that could do with something interesting happening to it. Probably that won’t be the only thing that pops up in the Southwest Quad as a result of the new stadium, either. See how little economic growth is derived from new sports stadia?

How Green Is Your Stuff?

From Newsweek’s Tip Sheet, a blurb about how the “green” language on some products might not, in fact, mean anything “green” at all. Includes links to several independent certification groups where you can check the facts.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I might well have seen this movie long before now had there been anyone to alert me to the fact that reading Oil!, the Upton Sinclair novel upon which it is based, beyond the first couple of chapters would be a pointless exercise with respect to informing a viewing of the film. The novel is the story of how a young man of privilege, the son of an oil man, learns to reconcile the worldview he learned from his father with the much larger worldview of which the first is but a part. There Will Be Blood is the story of the oil man - and the greed and ambition that drive him, animate him, and ultimately destroy him.

Both novel and film and are sweeping epics, with the film spanning nearly thirty years and the novel roughly half that length of time; and both turn on the discovery of oil in a remote area of California in the early twentieth century; but beyond those aspects, they exist as entirely disparate works. Director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have adapted Sinclair’s novel solely for the purpose of giving Daniel Day-Lewis a stage on which to perform and from which to deliver what is, without question, a remarkable performance.

He will win a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar, though there is little real competition in the field. Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd), George Clooney (Michael Clayton), and Tommy Lee Jones (In The Valley Of Elah) are basically filler material. Depp will win an Oscar one day, though it will likely be for the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and not whatever he’s actually nominated for (the same way Julia Roberts won for Pretty Woman but didn’t get her statuette until she did a Soderbergh picture); Clooney’s work has risen to the point that he is likely to get a nomination for any picture in which he plays a character other than Danny Ocean; and Jones is actually nominated here for his supporting role in No Country For Old Men, but there would have been no point in nominating him in that category because his co-star, Javier Bardem, is a lock for that award. If, for reasons passing understanding, the Academy votes for anyone other than Day-Lewis, then Viggo Mortensen will win for both Eastern Promises and A History Of Violence. But that won’t happen.

The Day-Lewis character, Daniel Plainview, is a silver prospector turned oil man, which is shown in the opening scene - and which is almost a throwaway scene, except that it establishes Plainview’s ambition and greed. He falls into his prospecting hole and breaks his leg - but pockets the silver he managed to extract before hauling himself out of the hole and back to the world.

Four years later, he is a traveling salesman, giving his wholesome family man pitch to townsfolk under whose homes he is sure oil is lying there waiting. When they refuse to take the offer exactly the way he wants them to take it, he moves on - he wants the oil and the money it will bring, but he wants the power and control, as well. His speech is well-rehearsed, his tone and mannerisms at once comforting and cajoling. He will build up your little community with roads and schools and churches and jobs, if only you will let him drill there; but it is not those ancillary things he cares about - they are but the cost of doing business.

He gets a tip about a place called Little Boston, underneath which is, he is told, an ocean of oil. What is it worth to Plainview to know where this place is? The deal is struck, and Paul Sunday, the tipster, directs Plainview to the Sunday family ranch, where nothing grows and they raise goats. They also praise Jesus a lot, and Paul’s brother Eli (both played by Paul Dano, though they are never on screen together - and if you think that seems goofy, you’re right - it’s one of the many liberties Anderson takes with the source material to shape and condense the story in his own way) asks Plainview to allow him to bless the first well that will be raised. Plainview agrees - he will say and do anything to get what he wants - and then reneges at the last minute. This is the first in a series of confrontations between the preacher and the oil man - a series that gets progressively more heated and violent as Plainview’s wealth and Eli’s congreation grow.

Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) is as much a lock for the Supporting Actor Oscar as Day-Lewis is for the Actor Oscar - but a nomination for Paul Dano in the Supporting category would have been in order. His preacher, Eli Sunday, is every bit as intense and driven as Daniel Plainview - when Eli lays hands on an old woman in his congregation and casts the devil (read, arthritis) out of her, pretending to remove the demon spirit physically from the woman and hurl it out the front door of the church, you can almost see him foaming at the mouth as he whips those rural folk into a frenzy of faith. He’s just as much of a shyster as Plainview - but instead of building a town so he can steal oil, Eli builds a congregation so he can steal a feeling of self-worth (though the source of his need for that feeling of self-worth, his overbearing father, is muted in the film - an instance where Anderson’s screenwriting sleight of hand does something of a disservice to the source material).

There are scenes with Plainview’s son and his half-brother Henry that I will leave here untreated - they contain plot points that will be more satisfying if you come to them unawares - but which enrich the character of Plainview, when he confesses that he wants no one to succeed but himself, and that he pretty much hates everyone else. Even among family, the men who work for him, and the townsfolk he almost embraces as surrogate neighbors - he is isolated, and this isolation fosters an insidious madness that drives the picture from humble beginnings to an ending that is at once horrifying and oddly comical. Indeed, there will be blood.

And that’s where we’ll leave that. The final scene, though not the picture’s climax, is the payoff. It’s difficult to watch, because it is as pathetic as it is compelling, but if you can reconcile it to all that has come before, you’re probably going to walk away having quite enjoyed this picture. And that is as it should be - it is a very fine film that does what the very best movies should do. It is character-driven, full of crisp, robust dialogue, and it challenges the viewer to see greatness in the otherwise grotesque and perverse.

Having said all of that, however, I must conclude with the opinion that the film is, in a way, fatally flawed; and that is because it feels as though every other element of the film serves to feed the character of Daniel Plainview, as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis. I read an article about the Jamestown settlement in National Geographic last year and there was a quote in the article about how the tobacco plant has “an almost unique ability to suck the life out of the can ruin the land in a couple of years.” That’s not quite what you have going on in this movie, but it’s a little too close for comfort. The very greatness of Day-Lewis’ performance almost begins to marginalize everything else that is very, very good about this picture. I don’t know if I would have had that same opinion if I had not read almost all of the novel before I saw the movie - because so much of the source material is marginalized, as well. Anderson took but a kernel of the novel and parlayed it into a spectacular set-piece for Daniel Day-Lewis. I don’t feel cheated because so much of the novel was not translated into film - but I do think that I would like to have seen a bit more of what I read.

I won’t be disappointed if this wins Best Picture - it would be a very brave thing for the Academy to bestow its highest honor on something as unconventional as this, and might in some way make up for the way the Academy cheated Brokeback Mountain out of the Best Picture award it should have won - but when the last award is about to be announced later today, I’ll be hoping to hear that the Oscar goes to No Country For Old Men.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Photos #2

Even with a better view of the moon and hours more conducive to this kind of work, these pictures still did not come out quite as I had hoped. Lesson learned - my camera has a zoom function. It was by using said zoom function that I was able to get such a good shot for the fourth picture. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson whilst taking the third - and final - batch of pictures.

These first two, though taken about four hours apart, were edited the same way - I used iPhoto to enlarge and then crop them. You can just barely make out the shadow of the earth beginning to encroach on the bottom left part of the moon in the first shot.

7:30 PM

11:15 PM

This shot is the same as the one above, except that this one was not enlarged at all and was only slightly cropped.

11:15 PM

This final shot is the only one that I did not alter in any way. I turned the zoom feature up as far as it would go and brought the image of the moon as close as I could, and then snapped. I took several shots this way, but this was the only one that was any good. The tricky part of the zoom feature is that the slightest motion while aiming causes the image to dance wildly in the viewscreen. Still, for a very amateur photographer, I think these - especially this last one - are decent, and I hope you like them.

11:30 PM

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Birthday Boy

Here are some pictures of Jackson from February 5th, the day he turned eight months old.

Not crawling yet - but sort of inching along!

The Big List #1

Here’s the first installment of what I’m going to try to make a weekly thing - a brief rundown of things I have run across in the course of a week and found interesting. You might agree - probably not - and you might disagree - much more likely - and either one is fine. I find that lots of times I’ll hear something on the radio - usually NPR - or see something while Amy and I are out and about, and think to myself, Hey, I should blog about that...and then I never do. I have tons of unposted blogs that I started writing and never finished, either because I lost interest or they got too long-winded, or whatever. This won’t be a substitute for my usual ramblings but will instead, hopefully, be a way for me to write about things that might not merit a more standard, essay-length discussion. We’ll see how it goes. And now, without further ado...

The Big List - Week Of February 17, 2008

Al Gore To The Rescue?

From Newsweek’s Stumper blog, this is an article by Eleanor Clift that talks about how maybe - just maybe - the delegates at the Democratic National Convention could nominate Al Gore from the floor, if the primaries fail to produce a front-runner and the so-called “superdelegates” fail to cement the nomination for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It’s far-fetched, of course, and DNC chairman Howard Dean is against the idea...but it’s interesting. And, of course, I’m wholly in favor of a tree-hugging enviro-hippie in the White House, if for no other reason than to shake some of the conservative stupid out of this fading republic.

Recycling Is A Waste

I ran across this while perusing Gore-related articles the other day and was sort of stunned. The commentary makes a number of claims about how costly recycling can be (though there are no links to sources and the sources referenced in the commentary are vague at best), but the best part, I thought, was this: “Indeed, the U.S. currently has 18 years worth of landfill even if no new landfills are built. And at current rates of disposal, a single landfill just 100 yards deep and 35 miles square could contain all the garbage generated in the U.S. for the next 1,000 years.” So...we should go ahead and keep making garbage and dumping it into the earth? worries. We have enough landfills for another 1000 years! How is it even conceivable that someone could be so short-sighted and stupid? I’d kill myself. The commentary comes from the National Center For Policy Analysis, a conservative thinktank. Its Wikipedia entry includes this link as a source showing that the NCPA gets quite a lot of funding from ExxonMobil. Gee...

Chin National Day Celebration

This actually happened this past Saturday (2/16), but I wanted to note it anyway. Many of the kids to whom Amy is teaching English are Chin, an ethnic minority from Myanmar. They celebrated Chin National Day Saturday at Perry Meridian 6th Grade Academy. I had to work, or else would have gone with Amy and Jackson. She told me about it today - food and dancing and music, and even some wrestling! - and it sounds like it would have been fun. I don’t know if the print coverage was any better or not, but the Star’s online story was astonishingly awful, even for a bush league quasi-newspaper like the Star. Click here for a photo gallery from Chin National Day - the captions have more informational content than the online story, if you can believe it. A web site called Provocate has a brief blog post that provides more information than the lousy journalism in the Star.

My First Literary Crush

Helena and I were working on ideas for a gift card promotion the other day, and one of the ideas involved finding a head shot of Mark Cuban online, and that led me to a few Cuban-centric sites looking for pictures. (For the record, we did not find any that we thought would fit in with what we were trying to do.) Eventually, I got to his Wikipeida entry and there discovered that he very much admires Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. The source for this information was some goofy sports information site called Deadspin, although it would have been more accurate to use this article from Slate magazine as the source, since it’s used as a source in the Deadspin thing and is, in fact, the original material. I wish that this were not the case, but it never fails to surprise me when I find that people admire the work of Ayn Rand - but it’s always a nice surprise, because it restores, if only briefly, my faith in humanity.

And finally,

Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight

The last time this happened was back at the end of August, and I posted some photos that weren’t very good - but tonight should afford a better opportunity. There will be a total lunar eclipse starting at around ten o’clock tonight and lasting - with the moon completely obscured by the earth’s shadow - for about 50 minutes. Now, if the clouds can just clear off and I can find some place dark enough, I might be able to get some decent photos up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Recruiting Trouble For Kelvin Sampson

ESPN has another report of possible major recruiting violations in the men’s basketball program at Indiana University. According to the AP, the university will make an announcement regarding the allegations later today. This comes on the heels of the university’s announcement in October that men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson had made 100 impermissible calls during a time when he was on NCAA probation for the same type of offense while he was head coach of the men’s basketball program at Oklahoma. According to ESPN, the new allegations may center around the possibility that Sampson lied about the calls he made while he was the head coach at Indiana.

We’ll have to wait and see what the report from the NCAA actually says, and what Indiana’s response is; the NCAA is not likely to rule on the matter until June, which means that Indiana will be able to compete in this year’s NCAA tournament - probably the only one they will get to play in with freshman phenom Eric Gordon, who will probably go pro after this season. (The Hoosiers could miss this year’s dance if they impose a post-season sanction on themselves, but that’s not likely, unless the report is incredibly damning. The Indiana athletic department is still trying to right their financial ship after revenues dipped due to an extended period of lackluster performance by the football team and the men’s basketball team - the two sources of the lion’s share of revenue for Indiana’s athletic department. A self-sanction would probably signal the symbolic end of Sampson’s brief career at Indiana, a move the university won’t take unless they absolutely have to.)

Personally...I’m on the fence. Like signal-stealing via videotape in the NFL, shady phone calls are commonplace in college basketball. You don’t hear about it all the time because it’s hard to track unless the school in question reports the activity - which is what Indiana did. Indiana has one of the cleanest basketball programs in the country - and this is one of those moments where you Bob Knight detractors are going to have to clench your fists and grit your teeth and acknowledge something good that Knight did. He ran a clean program at Indiana, and that has carried over since his uncalled-for firing by Osama Brand Laden in 2000. Well, until now.

The reason I’m on the fence about Sampson is that there was just no way to replace Bob Knight - arguably the best coach in the history of college basketball. (I said arguably - we can discuss it - I know that a lot of people would say John Wooden or Dean Smith or Mike Krzyzewski, and that’s fine. But any discussion about the best coach in the history of college basketball must also include Knight.) The post-Knight era at Indiana will have to include a number of coaches of lesser ability, accomplishment, and character. I can’t think of very many guys out there who are on par with Bob Knight. Krzyzewski would be one, and so would Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun. Probably Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, too.

The game is just far too competitive these days, especially since David Stern (the worst commissioner in the history of sports, other than Bud Selig) has allowed the National Bonethugs Association to pillage the ranks of college basketball and steal away all the super-talented kids after just one year of college hoops. You can’t do anymore what Bob Knight did during his first twenty-three years at Indiana (1971-1993) - a period when Indiana built a solid senior class over a period of years and won national titles in 1976, 1981, and 1987. But for a couple of fluke injuries and the miracle Christian Laettner turnaround shot, Indiana might well have had three more titles in that twenty-three year span - in 1975, 1992, and 1993. These days, the best kids - and even the ones who are only marginally talented (I’m talking to you, Kirk Haston) - are going pro after one or two (in Haston's case, three) years in college. Coaches have to cast their recruiting nets far and wide in an effort to find the next Greg Oden or Kevin Durant or Eric Gordon - or even Zach Randolph - and it’s inevitable that some will bend the rules as much as they can, and even break the rules when they think they can get away with it. I’m not saying it’s right - it’s just the way the game has changed, and the NBA bears the brunt of the blame.

I’m also on the fence because it’s obvious what Kelvin Sampson can do with talent once he’s corralled it - his teams at Oklahoma were always competitive, he fielded a good Indiana squad last year, and he has a potential Big Ten champion on his hands this year. If this year’s Indiana team can take their game to a slightly higher level in the next three weeks - a stretch that has them playing Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State twice (all three teams are currently ranked) - then they may have a real shot to go deep into this year’s NCAA tournament, and a chance to win their first Big Ten title since 1993.

Bob Knight’s career at Indiana was tarnished because he was a boorish lout who did not know how to control his behavior or his anger and was never told to do so in any meaningful way by the athletic director or the university. Indiana cannot allow the same thing to happen with Kelvin Sampson. I’m not ready to say that the university should fire Sampson - but depending on the severity of these new alleged violations, it could become a necessary step if Sampson, like Knight, is unable to change his ways.

While acknowledging that Sampson is good enough to be the coach in Bloomington for the long term, athletic director Rick Greenspan, with the support of the university trustees, must make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Sampson has no choice but to maintain the high degree of integrity that Bob Knight instilled in the men’s basketball program. To treat this unfortunate situation otherwise would be to damage irreparably the reputation and integrity not just of the men’s basketball program - but of the university itself.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Notes On The Super Bowl

A tip of the hat to Jason L. Maier, for saying something on his blog that did two things: the first was that it made me want to write about last night’s World Championship Of All Football; and the second was that it got me to start thinking about last night’s game, and some of the stupid things I have heard local sportscasters defecate orally regarding said game.

Here’s what Jason said, in a blog post titled “Biggest Choke”:

“Yep...that's right, the Patriots (who went undefeated for the entire season) lost on Sunday night to the Giants. If that game were played 10 times, I would say the Pats win 7 of them, but this is a ONE game championship...and the G Men were the better team last night.”

What it made me think was that the number he gave is way low. I would say that the correct number is closer to 999 times out of 1000 - and it’s not because I love the Patriots or anything. It’s because, quite simply, the helmet completion to David Tyree is a once in a lifetime kind of play.

It’s the deep shot to center field that bounces off Jose Canseco’s head and goes into the stands for a home run. It’s Dave Winfield cracking a monster shot that hits and kills a bird in midair. It’s Keith Smart hitting a baseline runner as time expires (okay, that’s not all that rare, but I had to give a little love to Hoosier Nation, right?)

Eli Manning scrambled away from, I think, all eleven New England defenders, three coaches, the guys carrying the sticks, the line judge, and Pam Oliver - and he does this without getting sacked. If that had been Peyton Manning, he would have been creamed corn. Ashley could have carried him home in a Tupperware container. You want to have some fun? Put Jeff George against Peyton Manning in a scrambling contest. It’d be like watching paint dry.

But I digress. Eli Manning scrambled away, which was in itself amazing, then got off a good throw, which was even more amazing - and then that throw was caught, partially by a helmet - and that was even more amazing still. That set up the touchdown pass to Plax Burress that put NYG ahead for good - and you may never see another play like that again as long as you live.

It probably doesn’t make New England fans feel any better - it wouldn’t make me feel any better if it had happened to the Colts - but that doesn’t make it any less true, and it doesn’t take away from what NYG accomplished last night or what New England accomplished every night prior to last night.

And now to some other thoughts. First, all of this talk about how this was the greatest Super Bowl of all time. Um...what? Granted, I haven’t seen them all - and some of them took place before I was alive - but I’ve seen a few. Last night’s game had a great fourth quarter. Prior to that, it would have been accurate to dub it the Super Bore. It was 7-3 after three quarters - and this from the most prolific offense of all time and a team that contains a Manning. A record number of lead changes in the fourth quarter and handing New England their only loss of the season does not the greatest Super Bowl of all time make.

No, I don’t have many examples of better ones - although last year’s was probably better, and I seem to recall that the Cowboys-Steelers game in Super Bowl XXX (1996) was pretty good, too - but a game in which the first three quarters were boring as hell does not, I don’t think, qualify as the best Super Bowl of all time.

What else...oh yes, the nonsensical ramblings of local sports wonks who, for reasons passing understanding, actually get paid for their verbal diarrhea. If I hear one more of these overpaid twits complain about Bill Belichick running out onto the field before the game was over, I’m going to sell all of my Colts things and replace them down to the item with Patriots gear.

Did anyone besides me happen to notice the game clock after Brady’s last pass? No? You missed it? All you saw was Belichick and then you started warming up the tar and feathers? Time to catch you up. The guy running the game clock was apparently having some sort of fit, because the clock ran down to zero...then went back to one second...then went to two seconds...and kept on like that for a bit. ESPN’s play-by-play record shows that the time remaining when Eli took the knee was one second. And Belichick wasn’t the only one running onto the field, either. There was clearly confusion about how much time remained, and Belichick simply made an error.

First he’s a bad guy because he won’t shake hands...and now he’s a bad guy because he was in too much of a hurry to shake hands? Apparently the poor guy can do no right. You can’t really blame him, though. He’s probably exhausted. It’s got to wear a guy out packing all that Super Bowl hardware on his fingers, you know?

They just had to make sure they got that last second taken care of properly. Arlen Specter just might put together a commission to look into NFL anti-trust issues. Maybe he can bring in Mitt Romney as a consultant - he'll need something new to do after Tuesday night.

Oh, and as for the biggest choke? This was not it. That would be Greg Norman at the Masters in 1996. Or the Colts three weeks ago against the Billy Volek-led Chargers - the Colts choke so much they should get rid of that horse and use a likeness of Mama Cass as their mascot. Or Michael Andretti in any Indianapolis 500 in which he led at least one lap. You can’t call it a choke when you have a play like the helmet catch happen to you - it’s like what happened to the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 NLCS when Bartman interfered with that play. (Granted, the Patriots didn’t help themselves when the DB covering Plax Burress fell down - but by then they had already been served a big plate of goofy, and there wasn’t a lot to be done about it.)

When Cubs fans say “wait until next year,” we don’t really mean it - we know nothing is going to change. Patriots fans can say that and feel good about the fact that they’ll have another shot at the Super Bowl next year - and since Tony Dungy announced that he’s going to continue coaching, the Patriots can relax and know that they won’t have to worry about being seriously challenged by the Colts.