Saturday, July 09, 2005

Opening Weekend Film Review: The Fantastic Four

Ultimate fanboy site Ain't It Cool has savaged The Fantastic Four. These guys know from comics, so I almost decided to pass. Late Saturday night the kids were in bed and I decided to indulge even without an authoritative recommend from the fanboys.

The Verdict: The fanboys weren't wrong. They were too severe, but The Fantastic Four is not nearly what it could be.

I don't have the same degree of resentment the professional nerds do because I lived through the many terrible attempts to adapt comics to the screen before the early breakthrough of Christopher Reeve's Superman and the signal event of Tim Burton's Batman, which opened the floodgates for a series of far better efforts than what went before with wretched attempts at portraying heroes like Spiderman and Captain America. Television's The Hulk wasn't bad, but it was an absolute rip-off of The Fugitive and the basic schtick got old fast.

Within the period of reasonably good superhero flicks I have to rank Fantastic Four well below the Sam Raimi Spiderman flicks, below the Batman films except the wretched George Clooney version, and about even with Ben Affleck's Daredevil and Ang Lee's Hulk. (Like how I mix actors and directors? I'm not willing to look up whatever I can't remember about each film. I have to add quickly that Ang Lee's Hulk could have been great, but succumbed to a chaotic plot in the last 45 minutes.)

The problem with Fantastic Four is that it lacks action and takes way too many liberties with the original story. Doctor Doom's handling is particularly egregious. Instead of a man horribly scarred and encased in armor, we have Doom joining the original space incident with the Four and mutating just like they do. He's also no longer a dictator of a small nation, but is instead a business tycoon. No, no, no. It doesn't work. In order to tell an origin story, too many important things end up getting collapsed into more efficient form. Not great here.

There is an upside. Michael Chiklis is very good as The Thing. He looks right both in and out of costume and does a nice job of portraying Ben Grimm's pain at being the one member of the team to be horribly deformed, despite his power.

Again, I have to emphasize that if this film had been released during the bad old days of superhero flicks, I'd be praising it through the roof. But the bar has been long ago raised, and FF trips over it.

Russian Science Director Refutes Warming Claims

Yury Izrael, director of the Russian Academy of Science’s Global Climate and Ecology Institute, issued a scathing indictment of global warming alarmism, published June 28 by the Russian News and Information Agency (http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20050623/40748412.html)

The following are excerpts from Izrael’s comments:


According to 10,000 meteorological stations, average temperatures have increased by just 0.6 degrees in the last 100 years. But there is no scientifically sound evidence of the negative processes that allegedly begin to take place at such temperatures.

Global temperatures increased throughout the 1940s, declined in the 1970s, and subsequently began to rise again. Present-day global warming resembles the 1940s, when ships could easily navigate Arctic passages.

However, man's impact was much smaller at that time. A Russian expedition that recently returned from the central Antarctic says that temperatures are now starting to decrease. These sensational findings are one of Mother Nature's surprises.

The European Union has established by fiat that a two-degree rise in global temperatures would be quite dangerous. However, this data is not scientifically sound.

Many specialists estimate the peak atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 400 PPM.

Our calculations show that carbon-dioxide concentrations would increase by just 800 PPM if all known and produced fuel were incinerated in the space of a few hours. But we will never reach this ceiling. In ancient times the Earth had periods when maximum CO2 concentrations were 6,000 PPM (in Carboniferous period). But life still goes on.

In other words, we must comprehend what will happen while the carbon-dioxide levels will grow from the current 378 PPM to 800 PPM, that will hypothetically occur when all the fuel on earth is burned.

Global temperatures will likely rise by 1.4-5.8 degrees during the next 100 years. The average increase will be three degrees. I do not think that this threatens mankind. Sea levels, due to rise by 47 cm in the 21st century, will not threaten port cities.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Little Clarity For the Masses

Let the record show that the British media, invincible in its sophisticated arrogance, now is using the term "terrorists" (without quoatation marks) rather than "militants," "activists," and other such euphemisms employed when the murder victims are Israelis, Iraqis, Americans, and others less worthy of life. I propose a pool on when the Guardian will revert to form, blaming the Jews for the 7/7 bombings.

Rehnquist Retiring Today?

I just heard it. He may be out within the hour.

The Other Hunter, and John Creasey

I am grateful to Jay Homnick for mentioning Evan Hunter, the bestselling mystery writer who died this past Wednesday at the age of 78.

Pace Jay, I don't think Hunter was Jewish—his birth name was Salvatore Lombino. And like so many prominent writers who started in the '40s and '50s, he appears to have had no more religion than a lump of coal. (Think Bradbury, Asimov, Highsmith, etc.)

Hunter was certainly a talented writer, however, and his books sold in the tens of millions, especially the mysteries he wrote under the name of Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct series, set in the fictional city of Isola, was his most notable achievement. He wrote some non-genre novels under the name of Evan Hunter, including The Blackboard Jungle, and about 75 screenplays, the best of which was probably the script for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, freely adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier.

The ideas Hunter held were far from original or deep, and I would add that his story lines were likewise. In addition, he was not the creator of the police procecural genre (which Jay did not claim for him but others have done).

That distinction goes to John Creasey, the English author of over 500 novels in a variety of series, most of them in the mystery and suspense field. Creasey's books are well worth reading. How he wrote so much so well, is a mystery in itself, even if the use of formulas did help a good deal. Creasey's Gideon series, written under the pseudonyn of J. J. Marric, established the police procedural novel as a form, and they are excellent (within the limitations of the genre, of course; we're comparing him to Hunter/McBain, Dell Shannon, Joseph Wambaugh, K. C. Constantine, and the like, not to Dostoyevsky).

Creasey's Baron series and his Toff books approached the genre from the rogue/adventurer side, with Saint-like characters at the center. Great fun, and some very good insights into human character along the way. I highly recommend that readers seek out some of Creasey's books. His tales are also free of politics (the ones I've read, anyway), at least on the surface. The stories have serious implications, but Creasey is content to let the readers find them for themselves if they wish to do so.

Over on this side of the pond, Evan Hunter was a first-rate writer of mystery genre fiction, with two huge, overriding gifts. One was that he worked very hard. Those of us who write much, know that the courage to forge ahead is a more important and valuable characteristic than most people can imagine. Hunter was blessed with great self-confidence, and he wrote for ten hours a day nearly every day. That is truly impressive dedication to a craft. In fact, it would surely be classified as pathological had it not been for Hunter's other great advantage as a writer.

That is that he was a born storyteller. Hunter knew just how much to tell the reader and when, and could intuitively push a story forward at just the right pace and the appropriate depth of scene-setting and characterization to keep a reader enthralled. Again, this is a rare talent.

In addition, Hunter had good taste in how far to push his subject matter into various areas of human behavior, was a fairly thoughtful person (though by no means deep, as noted earlier), and truly cared about people. He clearly wanted to be more than he was, which was a talented genre writer, and I do not think that there is much reason for many of his books to remain in print for very long after his recent death, but he was a highly talented, caring, and dedicated storyteller who wrote a lot of books that sold well for the right reasons.

People will continue to read Cop Hater and one or two others, and Hunter will have a legacy as the author who brought the police procedural to the U.S. audience. That is rather less than what he sought for, but it is a worthy achievement nonetheless.

Al Qaeda Kills Brits and Loses the War

The Al Qaeda freaks have zero political acumen. They should have just kept trying to destabilize Iraq and left the West alone. Eventually, our weak-kneed, no-policy-but-an-anti-GOP policy lefties would have managed to turn Iraq into another Vietnam and we'd be out of there just in time to welcome in a Hussein clone or even the man himself. Instead, they hammer the U.S.'s biggest ally. Error. More dead westerners with whom Americans strongly identify will simply mean a new infusion of determination.

This action looks like an unforced error. Why not let America's left-wing nuke the enterprise through constant agitation? The answer is that the error may not be unforced. The Afghan/Iraqi projects may be going well enough that Al Qaeda had to introduce a desperate gambit like this one. If they could make Britain "do a Spain," then America would truly seem alone and would be harder pressed to continue. Won't happen, fellas. You've given us what we need to marginalize the "hate America" Americans and the Bush-hating Eurofashionistas.

As S.T. Karnick would say, "Many thanks."

Evan Hunter, RIP

We have been speaking of detective novels these last few days. One important writer of mysteries, often credited with being the creator of the police procedural genre, was Evan Hunter, who wrote regular novels under his own name and mysteries as Ed McBain. He passed away tonight.

His 87th Precinct books are almost always excellent, although in recent years his Liberal politics had grown tiresome - and gratuitous insertions of same were not enhancing the books. Still, one of the greats. (He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds.) And yes, another Jewish guy.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

I gave Brian Williams a pass last week. When, in response to the rumors that Iran's newly "elected" president was a former American Embassy hostage-taker, he opined: What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today: The first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries... and might have been called "terrorists" at the time by the BRITISH CROWN, after all... I chalked up the resulting furor to our tendency to forget that Brian Williams is not a sooper-genius political scientist, he's a pretty boy who's spent a bundle on elocution lessons so he can get paid to sit in front of a teleprompter reading the news out loud.

Sitting here with one window open on video of a red metal wreck that used to be a double-decker bus, and another streaming audio of Tony Blair (shaken, but somehow stirring) I'm not so generous. What does it matter? George Washington didn't pay the Sons of Liberty and the Green Mountain Boys to blow up Thames pleasure boats and Cheapside hackney coaches full of women and children. Iran, through Hamas and al-Quaeda, does the 21st century equivalent. George III was a nutty old coot, but I'm pretty sure even he could have discerned the difference.

Bernard Goldberg Is Back!

The author of Bias does the neocon turn by explaining why it became impossible for him to remain a modern liberal:

Over the years, we grew tolerant of all the right things. We grew tolerant of civil rights, we became more tolerant of women’s rights. We became tolerant of various kinds of rights, and it was a good thing that we did. But over the years, we became indiscriminately tolerant. We became tolerant of crap! To tell somebody, to make a comment about this crap is to be judgmental somehow. And somehow, being judgmental of crap has become a bad thing.

Preach it, Bernie. Certainly fits with S.T. Karnick's desire to remain in the classical liberal fold.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

People, People Who Breed People....

...are the LUUUUCKIEST people. Oh. Sorry. Got carried away. That happens sometimes when you're a natalfascist who wants to enforce the six-child rule on the enslaved women of AmeriKKKa.

The reality of the coming demographic collapse of the major developed economies is a settled issue. And this isn't just about whites. India and most of South America are now where the US was thirty years ago. Very soon they will be below replacement as well. I could slather the blog with seven paragraphs of total fertility rates and negative rates of natural increase, but there's not a lot to be gained, because the people who are still insisting that there is a global overpopulation problem are immune to facts.

The issue of per capita resource use (I guess it's trendy to call it footprint now?) is just another diversion. Suppose you'd told a resident of New York City circa 1880 that in 100 years his city would hold about four times more people than it did currently. He probably would have wondered how on earth the resource base could bear such a load. Where they would put all the horse manure and how on earth they could build enough five-story buildings to hold all those people? Is there any reason to believe we're any more prescient about the future than the poor schlub who couldn't foresee the internal combustion engine and the hydraulic passenger elevator?

Liberals used to be optimistic about the future and conservatives used to be the fuddy-duddies who moaned about the good old days and couldn't adapt to change. Now it's the people like me who see every new human as a new creative force, born into the world with two hands and a brain, and people like Tlaloc who look at a new human as just another mouth, if not actually a useless eater.

Gray Eerier

"Do me a favor," my friend tells me today. "Don't write about me anytime soon."

His reason for teasing me is this: I wrote an article in today's American Spectator about L. Patrick Gray (and W. Mark Felt) and by the end of the day Mr. Gray passed away. Well, I know that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I doubt that he had a chance to read my essay before departing these earthly precincts. Rest in peace.

Hammett Time

Hunter Baker's thoughts on Dashiell Hammett, posted earlier today, are interesting and well expressed. Hammett's Continental Op is an excellent character that brought something fairly new to the genre, a realistic sense of the largely mundane and tawdry nature of the private-investigation racket. (But we should not pretend that even this was entirely original—right after the Sherlock Holmes stories became popular, British author Arthur Morrison explored this mundaneness of detection in his excellent Martin Hewitt stories, as did other authors of the prewar period.) The Op stories are largely believable and have a strong narrative drive. In addition, the characters of Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles are highly distinctive and memorable. The latter two are quite likeable, as well. The Thin Man is in fact my favorite among Hammett's books.

The Maltese Falcon is his best, in my view. It is a powerful story driven by the difficult moral choices the protagonist, Sam Spade, has to make as he pursues his partner's killer. Spade himself is far from perfect (though by no means a monster), which makes the twists and turns of his quest more interesting, as the reader is continually invited to guess at his true motives. In this way, the book is as much of a game between author and reader as are the most artificial of puzzle mysteries. Nonetheless, the events of the book always seem real, and Hammett's greatest authorial asset may well be his ability to convince the reader that his highly melodramatic romances are in fact entirely plausible and true to life. They are, of course, nothing of the sort, and that is what engages our imagination so strongly. They are romances we can believe—the most enticing romances of all.

On the deficit side, however, I find it rather annoying when people claim that Hammett originated the hardboiled genre. That honor belongs to Carrol John Daly, whose "Three Gun Terry" appeared in Black Mask on May 15, 1923, five months before the same magazine published Hammett's first Op story. Hammett has been more widely acknowledged as an influence on the many writers who followed in the hardboiled style, but Daly deserves credit for getting there first, and what is more, I think he deserves more credit as an influence that most critics have been willing to allot to him. Daly came up with an essential element of the hardboiled detective tale, which is the translation of the Western story into modern, urban situations. It was an ingenious idea, and it is surely the real foundation of the hardboiled form. In addition, Daly brought in the emphasis on political corruption as a major theme right from the start, another important element of the form.

Hammett, however, was a much more convincing storyteller. Daly's tales are frankly fantastic and just good, crazy fun. As greatly entertaining as they are (and they really are a treat), they do not involve the kinds of moral dilemmas Hammett's stories did. Race Williams, Satan Hall, Vee Brown, and Daly's other detectives are right, and whatever they do is therefore right. They have no doubts about that, and neither does the author, and neither does the reader. And that can be fun, and even sometimes rather inspiring.

It can never be very intellectually or morally insightful, however. That was the essential element Hammett added to the genre, and it is what makes his tales occasionally reach levels of real drama and insight.

Another Nero Wolfe Note . . .

S.T. mentioned a fan site in one of his comments, but I've found something better. Check out the Nero Wolfe Pack.

They happen to have the good taste to include Mr. Karnick's National Review essay on the A&E television series, too.

By Way of Introduction . . .

I'm delighted to announce that the lovely and talented Kathy Hutchins has consented to become a regular writer for this august forum. Ms. Hutchins is an economist by training, a dedicated wife and mother by present profession, a staunch Catholic, and a wonderful writer whose personal blog, Gathering Goat Eggs, is well worth visiting on a regular basis. Kathy will be writing about whatever she darn well pleases, and is certain to raise interesting points and the hackles of our many enemies. Please visit our comments section to make her feel welcome as she begins her tenure here. Welcome, Kathy!

Hard Boiled: Dashiell Hammett

I recently posted on Nero Wolfe, so I'm going to have to write about someone who is really starting to fascinate me which is Dashiell Hammett. I read his tale of gang warfare in Red Harvest featuring the short fat detective, the Continental Op, really liked it, and have since been working on The Continental Op, a series of short stories. Hammett does for crime fiction what Hemingway did for literary fiction which is to write very efficiently while maintaining emotional punch. The Op is a hard man working for The Continental Detective Agency (a thinly veiled fictional clone of The Pinkerton Agency where Hammett once worked). Though he's not physically impressive, he wins through sheer cussedness. He can't be bought or dazzled by a pretty face. On the other hand, he can booze with the best of them. Personality-wise, he reminds of Bruce Willis' character in the underrated The Last Boy Scout.

Based on what I've read so far, I can't wait to check out the Hammett books featuring Sam Spade and The Thin Man. Should be great stuff. Sadly, Hammett's productivity tailed off after he hooked up with commie/radical Lillian Hellman. He didn't write anything of note post the commencement of their stormy relationship.

Stephen Carter and the Supreme Court

Stephen Carter has a nice piece in the NY Times about confirmation battles and why they threaten the independence of the judiciary.

As for me, I'm thinking Carter would make a pretty good nominee in his own right. In fact, I'd take him second only to Michael McConnell.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Karnick, Kahn, and Cold War

The shadowy figure of S.T. Karnick once lurked in an organization founded by a mental superstar. The genius: Herman Kahn. The organization: The Hudson Institute. It was there that Karnick founded a magazine that combined ultra-high quality content with a low profile. See, it wasn't how many people read it. It was WHO read it. Kind of like the Reform Club.

In any case, Kahn, who was once supposed to be the highest IQ on record, lived an amazing life and produced a fascinating body of work, primarily on nuclear war. It seems he put his talents to better use than the person now claimed to have the highest IQ, one Marilyn vos Savant, who answers trivia questions and brainteasers in the pages of Parade Magazine, a Sunday newspaper insert. (Get a white coat and go cure cancer, Marilyn.)

Read all about the amazing Kahn here.

Mystery Corner: Nero Wolfe

Being a "man of the heft," I've always been a big fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, the brilliant detective who weighs "a seventh of a ton," cultivates orchids, and solves crimes by passively taking in data acquired by his leg man Archie Goodwin. You might notice that "Nero Wolfe" contains the same vowels in the same order as "Sherlock Holmes." Rex Stout created Wolfe after making a fortune with a school bookkeeping system he invented. About 50 million books sold later, one might imagine the Nero Wolfe fortune was a bit larger.

I'm moved to bring him up because I just read my first disappointing Wolfe mystery. The standard formula is that Wolfe stays at home, Archie digs, and then Wolfe gathers everyone to his office for an entertaining explanation of whodunit. Impossible mysteries are thus solved. In The Black Mountain, Wolfe is forced to go out adventuring and it doesn't work. He solves the crime by overhearing someone confess to it. There's an exception to every rule and there is apparently such a thing as a bad Nero Wolfe.

Paul Ehrlich, Call Your Office

While idly reviewing the postings of the last few days and the really enjoyable give-and-take that has resulted on a broad range of topics, I suddenly discovered that way down in the 14th comment on my Royally Flush, our nonpareil kibitzer Tlaloc has referred to something that I thought had long since been laid to rest.

The population crisis! OMG!!! I feel like aliens have abducted me and flashed me back into the 1970s.

What's next, bell bottoms?

Dude, the current crisis is the population shortage in industrialized countries as our societies fail to replace ourselves. Ben Wattenberg was the first to write a book about this a few years ago, but by now recognition of this serious turn of events is well-nigh universal. Perhaps we should chip in for Tlaloc and buy him a see-a-nigh dog.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Blewitt Every Time

If you are morally opposed to all forms of gambling, or you avoid contact with it because it triggers a debilitating addiction, then please read no further.

Belmont Racetrack on its free website alternates articles between two writers, Eric Donovan and Jason Blewitt. They write assessments of the big races later in the day and although they don't specifically predict races, they will lay out their views on which horse is best and why. Although I have not done any wagering based on this, lately I have noticed that Blewitt is a fabulous analyst.

Today, for July 4, these are the predictions that emerge from his article and how well a bettor would have done if he ventured 2 dollars on each prediction.

1) Roman Ruler is the best horse in the 9th race. He won, paying $6.40.
2) Flower Alley is second best. He came in second, paying $3.10.
3) Proud Accolade is third best. He came in third, paying $3.80.
4) The sequence of Roman Ruler and Flower Alley paid $15.80.
5) The three-horse sequence (known as trifecta) paid $60.50.
6) Henny Hughes is the best horse in the 7th race. He won, paying $3.40.
7) Short Circuit is second best. He came in second, paying $2.80.
8) The sequence of Henny Hughes and Short Circuit paid $10.20.
9) These are the only recommendations in the article.

Had anyone made those eight bets, they would have won all (!) eight, and their $16 in would have produced $106, for a cool profit of $90 or almost six hundred percent. Although I did not make any of those bets and I read those articles mainly for sporting interest, I thought that this was an achievement worthy of note. For a free article provided by the track's own website to predict eight winning bets and a return of over 500 percent is absolutely astounding. Kudos to Jason Blewitt.

Rather Nifty Fourth of July Fact

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the Fourth of July, 1826. That day happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as Adams' Vice-President and then defeated him in the subsequent election of 1800.

And you tell me there's no God or that He is an absent landlord.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Saudi Off Shotgun

The news from Saudi Arabia is that they have killed the Number One honcho of Al Qaida in their kingdom. They have now killed or captured 23 of their list of 26 Most Wanted Terrorists. It's getting so the Post Office hardly has any pictures left and now folks have to look at the drab old diamond walls.

The big question is: how much impact does it have when you chop off the head? Do you just get a more terrible, less temperate hothead in his place?

But all of this reflects badly on our rather pathetic inability to stop Zarqawi from operating with impunity inside a country that we occupy. I expanded somewhat on the matter in my most recent column at Jewish World Review.

Pray For Our Lads

It is rather disturbing to see that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan claims to have captured a U.S. soldier from a special-forces unit. Our military has not acknowledged that anyone is missing but that may just mean that this was a top-secret operation with plausible deniability. If so, our boy is currently 'on his own' unless there is some behind-the-scenes negotiation (but with whom?).

Strangely enough, at precisely the same time, some Palestinian groups claim to have captured two Israeli soldiers, while the Israeli government denies that there are soldiers for whom it cannot account. This may also indicate that there was a mission of a clandestine nature. All terribly sad if true.

A flash of memory: when I served in the Israeli Army in 1991 (as a thirty-two-year-old American trying to become acclimated in a new country), my favorite duty was guarding the gate of the base. Many exciting 'nonexistent' missions began with clusters of soldiers buzzing busily near the gate and waiting for their signal to move.