::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Poetry Smells Like Talcum Powder
We like to think that Poetry is dead. We like to believe that the Modern Culture killed him.

We imagine Poetry running breathless down a dark alley slick with rain. A car skids to a stop, blocking the egress. Poetry’s black loafers slide on the pavement and he backs up. The sedan doors pop open and men with guns climb out. Their faces are black masks of shadow caused by the lone street lamp behind them. Poetry, terror etched on his face, turns and flees. But no one can outrun bullets and the lead cuts him down.

Poetry dies, eyes wide open, in a puddle of his own inky blood.


At a fancy French bistro, Poetry dines at a round table draped in a lace white table clothe. She lifts a wine glass by the stem and the burgundy leaves bloody streaks on the imperfections in the glass bowl. Poetry gazes at her dining companion, a twinkle in her pretty eyes, as she takes a long sip. Her eyes widen as her throat constricts. Poetry starts to choke and looks accusingly at her companion as the poison churns through her system and begins to boil her blood. Finally, she dies face down in the lobster bisque.

But Poetry hasn’t been murdered. Few are passionate enough to want her to die with such… well, poetry. Unfortunately, Poetry is alive – a shut-in at the nursing home.

He lives on the third floor in “an assisted living facility” on the edge of a Mid-western city. It’s hot in the summer and the air conditioner is faulty and only spurts out tepid air when its feeling generous. He can’t walk without a walker – propped up next to the front door. When he hacks up the phlegm from his lungs it sounds like he’s coughed up marbles. He spits the wads into a waste can that’s rusty on the bottom. He’s frail, doesn’t remember Frost or Kipling or even Cummings, and spends more time staring at his age spots than reading.

Someday, maybe soon, an orderly with bad tattoos will find him lying in his bed without a pulse, and his adult diaper soiled.

And that will be that.

But Poetry isn’t dead yet. She is simply ignored, forgotten by the many like some ancient god, no longer worshipped, no longer treasured. You can find her in the bargain bin or in some dusty corner of a chain book store.

Oh, there’s a few who deign to visit her now and then. Guiltily bringing her flowers and then sitting awkwardly across from her trying to pretend her breath doesn’t stink and convincing ourselves that we still love her. In fact, sometimes we can see the beauty still lingering in her eyes.

But we visit less and less.

(Hmmm, the last book of poetry we read was “Nine Horses” by Billy Collins and that was more than a year ago – at least. Maybe we can throw in a few Bukowski poems here and there as well. We keep fingering a new edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” at the bookstore, but so far we haven’t bought it.)

Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine Video Games in the same state as Poetry? But Video Games is a strapping, young lad with thick arms and a barrel chest. He wears his baseball cap backwards and shuffles around in flip-flops. So what if he’s got the beginnings of a gut and his hair’s a bit wispy on the crown? He’s got powerful thumbs and a cocky attitude (only wish he’d bathe more often).

Even TV is doing better than expected. Oh, she’s a had a couple of face lifts (and augmented her breasts), but she’s still a looker (especially in candle light). She still dresses elegantly and her smile is white and dazzling. And can anyone hold her attention better than TV?

But neither Video Games nor TV, of course, visit Poetry. Do they even know her? But then again look around at your friends and family. How often do they talk about Poetry? Is Poetry part of their lives? Most people would rather talk about DVD. Even Poetry’s close friends like Literary Magazine just give her lip service these days (hey, let’s publish another free verse poem about sex!).

Maybe Poetry’s stronger than we think. Maybe the old girl will make a comeback – find the Fountain of Youth. It seems to have worked out all right for Comic Book. Look at how fancy he’s gotten since changing his name to Graphic Novel.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008
5 Questions About: X-Files
An Interview About the Greatest Sci-Fi
Series in TV History

(On July 25, the new “X-Files” movie "I Want to Believe" is slated to be released breaking voluntary hiatus that has lasted nearly six years when the TV show finally ended with a whimper rather than a howl. “X-Files” was the last TV show watched by DaRK PaRTY before we gave up idiot box viewing for good. “X-Files” remains one of the best shows in television history – for its groundbreaking mix of science-fiction, horror and social commentary. They went to the silver screen once before in 1998 – to less than stellar results. And the trailer for the new movie has us nervous. We want to believe its going to be a blockbuster because – quite frankly – we miss Mulder and Scully. So in order to help us cope, we turned to Holly Simon (also known as Lone Gun Gal), who runs the web site “X-File News.” This is a site for die-hard X-File fans who continue to need their fix. Holly was good enough to waltz down memory lane with us).

DaRK PaRTY: What do you think was the greatest appeal of the "X-Files" TV show?

Holly: I think generally the greatest appeal for the show would be the relationship between Mulder and Scully - regardless if you're a hopeless romantic or not. However, the fact that this show was the first 'sci-fi-esque' show to actually break into the nighttime lineup with success I believe is also a great factor to its appeal.

DP: Using no more than three sentences for each -- describe the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Holly: Mulder: Believer, who's determined to go to the ends of the world to prove he's right. Described as a loser by choice than circumstance. Downright hot.

Scully: Hard hitting scientist, skeptical through and through except when it comes to her devout catholic faith. Thoroughly flawed and imperfect, even through her striving to be the opposite. The hot sexy redhead who can hold her own with the men?

DP: What were your three favorite episodes in the series and why?

Holly: Personally, I would have to say my favorite is “Small Potatoes.” I don't know why - it just makes me laugh and its a fun episode. I also love "Home" for the story as well as the Mulder and Scully interaction; “Momento Mori” - probably one of the strongest episodes they've ever. My favorite scene, that to me defines the partnership between Mulder and Scully has to be the courtroom scene in “Terma.” For others, “Detour” and “Bad Blood” - again, I'm just a sucker for the fun episodes. I don't really have three favorites, but these sum up what I love about the show.

DP: Who were your two favorite supporting characters and why?

Holly: Skinner is always a favorite - the hard nosed boss whom you really didn't know whose side he was on until late in the game. He also had some of the greatest lines of the X-files (“Now this is where you pucker up and kiss my ass” - you just can't beat that!)

Another favorite of mine would have to be the Well Manicured Man played by John Neville - he added class to the dark side of the show, and also showed that the ones who Mulder was fighting against really felt they had their hearts in the right place, but were also capable to admit when they were wrong and do whatever they could do in their power to help Mulder (which, in “Fight the Future,” he gave his life).

DP: In our opinion, the first "X-Files" movie disappointed. What are your expectations for the second movie and do you believe the
X-Files will become a film series like the Bond movies?

Holly: I would just like to see the movie redeem itself from the last two seasons of its run. The first movie for me was okay - not a blockbuster, but at least it added to the original storyline of the show.

Seasons 8 and 9 just took that storyline completely out of control. I think it will be a breath of fresh air seeing the story go back to a “Monster of the Week” story rather than the mythology of the show certainly. I think it will bring back the long time fans of the show back to it if they were turned off by the latter seasons. I would love to see it turn into a series like the Bond movies, however I think its the type of show/movie that won't be able to survive lead changes unless there's a really good explanation. I don't know how accepting the fans of the show would be to a lead change, given the general reaction to the latter seasons.

However, I do feel there should be a third movie - if only to tie up the mythology that the show started, and to me, failed to end with the series finale of the show. The end of the world is coming in 2012? They should really do a movie about that.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008
Watching the "Watchmen"

Revisiting the Breakthrough Graphic Novel 22 Years Later

Writer Alan Moore created “Watchmen” in 1986 because he wanted to push the comic book beyond adolescence into what he called “a superhero Moby Dick.” The 12 edition comic book series – and later the compilation graphic novel – went on to win the Hugo Award and to be named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Best Novels since 1923.

There is little doubt that “Watchmen” blazed a new path for comics – especially superhero comics. But did it really have the impact of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” which was first published in 1973 or even Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin’s “Blackmark” (1971), arguably the first “graphic novel” published in the U.S.?

And did Moore succeed in creating a comic book “Moby Dick?”

First let’s explore the narrative. “Watchmen” is a dark story. It captures the pre-apocalyptic fears of modern American and Western Europe in the mid-to-late 1980s as the Cold War rhetoric between the Soviet Union and United States was at its highest since the Bay of Pigs. The novel is in its essence a questioning of authority – especially of government and traditional institutions. That’s why the question: “Who watches the Watchmen?” appears throughout the novel.

The story centers on a group of masked adventurers in an alternative universe to our own 1980s (one in which Nixon remains president). The “superheroes” are, in fact, regular human beings with no real powers – other than extraordinary physical conditioning and mental acumen. Doctor Manhattan is only character with superhuman skills as a result of a scientific experiment gone wrong.

The novel opens with the murder of the Comedian (Edward Blake), one of the costumed avengers affiliated with the CIA and other secret government agencies. Rorschach, a second costumed hero, who refused to give up his vigilante lifestyle even after the U.S. government outlawed costumed heroes in 1977, investigates the murder.

Through the investigation, the novel enters the lives of the various costumed heroes: Nite Owl (a first and a second version), Ozymandias, Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre (first a mother, then her daughter), Doctor Manhattan, the Comedian, and Rorschach. The characters are all flawed – some of them grossly so. The Comedian, for example, is a misogynist and rapist and Rorschach is a sociopath.

Rorschach thinks he has uncovered a plot to murder all of the costumed adventurers and enlists the help of his former partner, Nite Owl, to help him. Meanwhile, the super powerful Doctor Manhattan, who has the ability to restructure reality and to manipulate time and space, continues to struggle with relating to regular human beings. After rumors that being near him causes cancer, he banishes himself to Mars.

The murders end up being the work of the genius Ozymandias, who has concocted an elaborate scheme to bring the world’s nations together: a fake alien invasion that kills thousands of people. His costumed friend figure out his plot, but are unable to stop it. And, in the end, it turns out Ozymandias is right.

The weakest part of “Watchmen” is the plot, especially the comic book ending. There are so many holes in the logic and execution of Ozymandias’ scheme that it’s difficult to follow or understand. But the plot isn’t really the driver in “Watchmen” – it’s the characters and Moore’s success with deconstructing superhero mythos.

Moore has taken stock superhero stereotypes and added depth and complexity. Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan, and the Comedian shine as the stand-outs – loners with a lot of psychological problems trying to cope in a world teeming with misery. Moore has less success with Ozymandias, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre who don’t have the depth or the conviction of the stand-out characters.

The novel is heavy on symbolism (lots of watches and clocks, for example) and mood – but differs from comic books from the time period by providing a straight forward and objective point of view. It’s up to the readers – not Moore as the author – to figure out how to react to the action on the page.

Another interesting device is Moore’s use of a “story within a story” by having a young boy read a comic book about pirates called “Tales of the Black Freighter.” The pirate story – about a man escaping from a pirate ship filled with dead, doomed souls – echoes the action of “Watchmen” and acts as juxtaposition to the main story.

The artwork in “Watchmen” feels like a throwback to the Golden Age of comics in the 1950s and 1960s (in fact, primary artist Dave Gibbons credits Norman Rockwell as an inspiration for “Watchmen”). There’s a cinematic feel to the artwork – especially of noir films with the shadows and darkness. But there’s surprising little movement to the graphics and sometimes the panels feel a bit inert.

So how influential was “Watchmen”? It is generally credited with taking superhero comics from low-brow kid’s entertainment and catapulting into high-brow art. That’s no minor achievement. “Watchmen” also ushered in an era of dark and bleak story lines around comic book superheroes (can we blame “Watchmen” for the death of Superman and Captain America?).

But Moore certainly didn’t attain his goal of creating the “Moby-Dick” of comic books. “Maus,” for example, is clearly a greater literary achievement than “Watchmen.”



But a hallmark of great literature?


Maus Revisited

Ode to "Fight Club"

The 5 Most Addictive Arcade Games

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
"I See Bad Director"

M. Night Shyamalan's Amazing Fall From Grace

It’s an ancient story: one day you’re the shiniest, most magnificent trout in the river and the next day they’re gutting you with a fillet knife and tossing your head into a bucket of guts.

Welcome to Hollywood M. Night Shyamalan.

“The Happening,” which opened last week to an onslaught of gleefully negative reviews, never stood a chance. By most accounts the film is a middle-of-the-road thriller with some spooky moments and a rather mediocre twist at the end.

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis captured the mood perfectly:

“A fine craftsman with aspirations to the canon, this would-be auteur has, in the last few years, experienced a sensational fall from critical and commercial grace, partly through his own doing — by making bad movies and then, even after those movies failed, by continuing to feed his ego publicly — and partly through the entertainment media that, once they smell weakness, will always bite the hand they once slathered in drool.”

The reviews for “The Happening” have been vicious. Here’s Ty Burr, film critic of the Boston Globe:

M. Night Shyamalan has metaphors to torture. Actors and audiences, too. “The Happening” asks what would happen if Planet Earth decided to reject the species bedeviling its surface, and the best it can come up with is a slack, increasingly ludicrous B-movie about people running in terror from... wind.”

Here is Justin Chang of Variety’s scathing observation:

“One might charitably describe "The Happening" as a transitional work for M. Night Shyamalan. In an attempted rebound from the critical and commercial calamity of "Lady in the Water," the writer-director has scaled back most of his characteristic touches -- the contorted horror/fantasy mythology, the "gotcha" twist ending, even his trademark cameo -- instead serving up a patchy, uninspired eco-thriller whose R rating (a first for Shyamalan) looks more like a B.O. hindrance than an artistic boon. After an initial bloom of interest, the Fox release will likely wilt quickly in the summer heat.”

It’s hard to believe that “The Sixth Sense,” the highest grossing movie of 1999 ($294 million), was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best director and best picture. Those were the days when Shyamalan was the Moby Dick of fish swimming in the Hollywood river.

So here’s the question. Is M. Night Shyamalan a bad director? Unfortunately for him there’s plenty of evidence in his body of work that “The Sixth Sense” was an aberration (kind of like Bucky Dent hitting that &$#@% homerun against the Boston Red Sox).

Shyamalan has one good movie (well, one great movie actually) and the rest, well, the rest are pretty terrible. Here’s the roll call (and it’s ugly):

Praying With Anger (1992)

An autobiographical film about a young Indian (Shyamalan) who was raised in the United States, but then returns to India on a college exchange. It’s one of those fish out of water stories that secured mediocre reviews and passed into the dustbin of Hollywood also rans without much fanfare. Film critic James Berardinelli called it “tedious because of its lack of originality,” but found glimpses of promise in the young director.

Wide Awake (1998)

A Rosie O’Donnell comedy vehicle (she plays a nun with a baseball jones). The story centers around a boy who loses his grandfather and then tries to find a sign from God that his grandpa is doing all right in heaven. It’s one of those heavy-handed tear-jerking comedies that don’t know what to do with itself. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it two stars. It says a lot that the film was made in 1995 and wasn’t released until three years later.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

There’s no doubt that “The Sixth Sense” is a brilliant psychological thriller. It stuck to the ribs of American culture to the point where the line “I see dead people” became part of the lexicon. The amazing thing about “The Sixth Sense” is where it came from. There’s no evidence in the two films Shyamalan directed beforehand that he had this kind of taut, spooky film inside him.

Unbreakable (2000)

Shyamalan’s take on the superhero origin story. Ray Pride of Salon called “Unbreakable” a soggy follow-up to “The Sixth Sense.” He’s right. The film is plodding and dense and no one seems to be having a good time. It’s the kind of film audiences want to enjoy (and kind of do because of how much they liked “The Sixth Sense”), but ultimately the film is a let down.

Signs (2002)

Probably Shyamalan’s best film after “The Sixth Sense.” It’s an alien invasion movie at the micro-level – as the viewer sees the entire takeover through the eyes of a small farming family. Yet, the movie remains too small – too micro to please. In the end, “Signs” disappoints because the audience is expecting a better pay-off. There’s too much set-up. That’s why Variety’s Todd McCarthy called it “all smoke and mirrors.”

The Village (2004)

This movie is similar to “Signs.” It is so meager and small – that viewers are left with disappointment. It’s supposed to be a monster movie – but there aren’t any monsters. A.O. Scott of the New York Times said: “It is hard to think of another filmmaker so utterly committed to the predictable manufacture of narrative surprise.” That’s a poignant point about “The Village.” It’s carefully constructed twist feels like it was built in a machine shop.

Lady in the Water (2006)

A disaster. One of the worst movies of 2006 and the winner of two Razzies: for worst director and worst supporting actor (it was also nominated for worst picture and worst screenplay). The plot has something to do with a water fairy being found in a motel swimming pool. James Berardinelli called it “the biggest misfire of M. Night Shyamalan's career.” He’s right – until, of course, “The Happening.”

The evidence in place, we have no choice but to sharpen our own fillet knife and start scraping the scales off of Shyamalan’s hide. The evidence speaks for itself – and we see a bad director.

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The 10 Superheroes with the Coolest Powers

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Monday, June 16, 2008
5 Questions About: Vietnam

An Interview with Professor Christian G. Appy About the Legacy of the Vietnam War

(Christian G. Appy is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is the author of the book “Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides.” The book is an effort to capture the history of the war from all sides and give a final say on the legacy of Vietnam. Some reviewers have called it the only book on the war you need to read. Despite being in the busy season of final exams, Professor Appy was kind enough to answer our questions about Vietnam and how the war is still with us today.)

DaRK PaRTY: Was the Vietnam War a mistake for the United States and did we "lose" the war?

Christian: U.S. intervention in Vietnam was more than a bad mistake. I believe it was fundamentally wrong — contrary to our constitution, international law, our highest ideals regarding democracy and national self-determination, and waged in a way that made the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians inevitable. Moreover, U.S. policymakers privately understood that our policy was failing but
chose to prolong the war anyway. No president was willing to risk being called a loser. Clearly the U.S. lost in Vietnam (though Nixon and

Kissinger tried to sugar-coat the result by getting out before the final

DP: What were the major differences about the Vietnam War from conflicts like World War II and the Korean War?

Christian: Word War II was, in my view, a just war against real and dangerous threats. It had overwhelming support at home and by allies abroad. And it achieved its objectives. However, the means used – firebombing and nuclear weapons – can and should be evaluated separately from the justice of the cause.

Whether the U.S. should have intervened in Korea is much-debated, and the U.S.-backed government of South Korea was clearly dictatorial, but there was sufficient South Korean opposition to North Korea to allow a major U.S. intervention (at enormous costs on all sides) to preserve a permanent, non-Communist South Korea.

In Vietnam, there was powerful support (in the South as well as the North) for the effort to overthrow the U.S.-backed government
and reunify the country. U.S. military power could temporarily prevent a Communist victory but it could not break the will of their opponents to continue fighting for their objectives. Indeed, in many ways, the more we bombed, the more their will was strengthened.

DP: There a sense among some quarters that the U.S. didn't fight Vietnam to win. Where does this thought process come from?

Christian: The idea that we didn’t fight to win in Vietnam emerged even while the war was being waged. Many hawks believed we should have launched an all-out attack on North Vietnam (with a ground invasion and even more bombing). LBJ feared this would result in direct Chinese intervention (as in Korea). That said, we dropped four million tons of bombs on South Vietnam (the nation we claimed to be saving), making it the most heavily bombed country in world history. I do not believe an even more ruthless war would have gained political legitimacy for the South Vietnamese government and that is, I think,
the only meaningful definition of victory in Vietnam (the creation of a self-sufficient, truly independent South Vietnam).

DP: Why did it the United States take so long to realize it couldn't win the war and finally decide to pull out?

Christian: Kennedy, LBJ, and Nixon all believed the loss of South Vietnam to Communism would be an intolerable blow to U.S. (and their own!) credibility and prestige. None was willing to risk the charge of being soft on Communism or the first president to lose a war. Yet some historians believe that any of them might have pulled out without jeopardizing their political futures. Of course that’s unknowable since Kennedy was killed, LBJ massively escalated the
war and then pulled out of the 1968 election, and Nixon continued the war until after his re-election.

DP: Are there parallels between Vietnam and Iraq and, if so, what are they?

Christian: Vietnam and Iraq are vastly different countries, but there are some extremely important similarities in U.S. policy. Here are some: Both wars were waged on the basis of false premises and grossly exaggerated threats; both wars were fought against relatively small nations that policymakers linked (with false or unconvincing evidence) to a global menace (communism/terrorism); both wars were fought without calls for national sacrifice; in both wars U.S. leaders claimed—implausibly—that the U.S. had no self-interest in fighting; in both cases, military means undermined every effort to “win hearts and minds;” in both wars insurgents were largely supported by, and indistinguishable from, civilians; in both wars U.S. leaders continually proclaimed “progress” in the face of endless bad news; and both wars were prolonged long after they were opposed by a majority of Americans.

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Friday, June 13, 2008
Cracked Back Book Reviews: June 2008

(Machine-gun quick reviews of the tomes that have occupied our time during the last few weeks. A “cracked-back” is what happens to the spine of a new book once you’ve thoroughly devoured it. Please feel free to add your own list of recommendations in our comments section.)

Severance Package
By Duane Swierczynski

I read “Severance Package” on a high-speed train to New York City. The train couldn’t keep up. The novel is one of those vicious, high-octane thrillers that are high on concept, packed with nail-biting action, and a damn pleasure to read. Is it literature? Hell, no and it doesn’t want to be. Here’s the gist: a group of corporate suits are forced by their boss to work on a grueling hot Saturday in August. When they get there, the boss tells them that he’s going to kill them all. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. It turns out the “financial services” company is a front for a top-secret, anti-terrorist government agency. There are lots of blood, twists and turns, and some plot devices about undercover agents and rivalries within the network of lettered law-enforcement agencies in the United States. None of this really matters. What matters is the smart language, the mile a minute thrills and chills, and some dialog and situations that will make you laugh out loud (try not to be drinking milk at the time). It’s like buying a sack of buttered popcorn and a wastebasket size Coke and settling down for B-movie action on a Saturday night at the drive-in. Fun, fun, fun.

Grade: A-

The History of Love

By Nicole Krauss

“The History of Love” is beautiful. It’s a work of fiction so elegantly written, so fully realized and executed that it has quickly landed on my heap of books that I declare my favorites of all time. Reading Nicole Krauss, one can only marvel at her talent – writing with such detail and precision that it is as if you are living the story. On the surface “The History of Love” is about a 14-year-old girl, Alma, mourning her dead father and trying to connect with her devastated mother, who has retreated to her work as a book editor. When her mother begins to translate an obscure novel called “The History of Love,” Alma sets out to find the author. Meanwhile, an elderly Polish Jew named Leo Gursky is at the end of his life living in a tenement and pining for all of the missed opportunities of his life – including the biggest – losing his true love. The story brings these two people together as they struggle to make sense of the lives they have built. The story is terribly sad, hilariously funny, and a reminder of why we read great fiction: to connect with that part of ourselves that touches other people. “The History of Love” should not be missed.

Grade: A+

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)
By Mark Bauerlein

The title is an unfortunate mistake. Blame the publishers because Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, has written a fascinating book about the cause and effects of our dumbed-down popular culture. It’s packed with facts (how test scores, reading comprehension, and writing skills have plummeted in the last two decades) – but it turns into a cautionary essay about the death of culture in a society that has turned its back on the notion of its young people growing up into adults. Bauerlein makes some compelling connections with society’s embracing of adolescence and rejection of adulthood with the rise of technology, especially the Web. He pulls the rug from under the notion that the Internet was supposed to be the dawn of a renaissance in learning and knowledge. In fact, Bauerlein paints a gloomy picture of how kids have used the Web to amp up the volume on youth culture – and tighten the circle and increase the pressure of their own peers. Kids aren’t using the Web to download images from the museums of the world or to read the classics in literature – they’re updating Facebook pages, skimming Hollywood gossip blogs, and bitching about each other on Twitter. “The Dumbest Generation” is a book every parent – every young person – should read, but won’t.

Grade: A-

Stuart Little

By E.B. White

Written in 1945, “Stuart Little” is a children’s book about a mouse born to human parents. Stuart is adventurous, gentlemanly, polite, helpful, and, at times, a bit arrogant. But one can forgive the little fellow for his faults because of his resourcefulness and forbearance. Readers get to join Stuart in all kinds of adventures – getting caught in a window shade, sailing toy boats at Central Park, getting tossed out with the garbage, and saving the life of a pretty young songbird. All of it written in the delightful, matter-of-fact style of E.B. White. This a throwback book that will immediately transport adults back to their childhood – when kid’s books weren’t about lessons and learning. Instead, E.B. White focused on telling a grand tale with the nuance and detail of a classic. I read this a chapter at a time with my daughter and she loved it – but not as much as her father. Tough to go wrong with revisiting “Stuart Little.”

Grade: B+

In Search of City Lights: A Bookstore Quest

5 Writers Every Man Should Read

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
10 Things John Wayne Would Never Do

The Duke Takes On Today's Modern
Corporate Guys

“Well, son, since you haven’t learned to respect your elders, it’s time you learned to respect your betters.”
- John Wayne

In the movie “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965), John Wayne’s first appears at his mother’s burial. His three brothers and a collection of friends gather at the graveside and wonder if Big John Elder (Wayne), the infamous gunslinger, is going to show up for his sweet mother’s funeral. They are forced to start the ceremony without him.

The camera pulls back and there is Wayne standing on top of a hill overlooking the cemetery. His hip is cocked to one side with a large revolver hanging off his belt. He’s big, tough, and rugged. The desert breeze flaps his bandana as he squints down at the funeral party.

He isn’t joining them because he isn’t the type of man who wants to share his emotions. He prefers to do his mourning alone.

Later on, he caves in the bad guy’s face with an axe handle.

John Wayne – the actor – epitomized the real man of mid-20th century America (his personal life is another matter, especially his decision to sit out World War II). The Duke died in 1979 around the time sensitive men were coming in a vogue.

So one wonders what the Duke would have thought of today’s corporate man. Guys who don’t mow their own lawns, hire people to paint their own houses, and probably wouldn’t know which end of a hammer was the working end. Here’s our take on 10 Things John Wayne Would Never Do if he were alive today:

Wear a Pink Shirt
Walk into any corporate office and you’ll find executives wearing pink, yellow, orange, and lime shirts. The Duke would argue that pink is the color of princess gowns, baby-girl balloons, and periwinkle flowers and not on the torso of a man.

Walk Around in Flip Flops
Hard to imagine the Duke in anything, but cowboy or combat boots. But let’s face the facts: he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing flip-flops – even at the beach.

Sit on his Leg in Public
The Duke’s eyes would widen at the sight of a grown male who has removed his shoes and inserted his sock encased foot under his thigh. This, he would reason, is how teenage girls sit while twirling a curl of hair around their finger and popping their bubble gum.

Wear Yellow or White Pants
After spitting a wad of chew onto an offender, the Duke would point out that men should only wear trousers in the following colors: tan, black, blue, brown, black, gray or green. Those colors should come from dust, mud, grass, blood, and whiskey.

Real men, Duke would say, bitch, complain, wrestle, argue, sneer, growl, seethe, and shoot at each other. They don’t whine to waitresses about their food, whine to co-workers on cell phones, or stomp their feet when planes or trains are late.

Play Computer Games
John Wayne would not be playing World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy IX. Computer games are toys – and toys belong to children and in toy boxes.

Ogle Young Girls
Is there anything more pathetic than a middle-aged man eyeing a high school girl? Yes, a middle-aged man elbowing his middle-aged buddy so both of them can leer at a new intern? As the Duke once uttered: “Any man who'd make an X-rated movie ought to have to take his daughter to see it.”

Wear Capri Pants
Does this even need to be said?

Strap on a Mobile Phone Holster
Cops and cowboys are allowed to wear holsters – with guns in them. Corporate types should keep their mobile phones, pagers, and Blackberries in their pockets – not strapped to their hips like gunslingers. Besides, as the Duke would point out, they don’t need the extra bulge at their waistline.

Talk Really Loud on a Mobile Phone
Babbling loudly on a mobile phone is annoying. The Duke once said: “Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much.” I think that speaks volumes that the Duke would not be snapping at his administrative assistant on a cell phone in airport lounge.

Read our essay on the state of our environment

Guilty pleasures: Songs you listen to only when you're alone

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Thursday, June 05, 2008
5 Questions About: Generation Y

An Interview with Professor Mark Bauerlein About How Generation Y Is Becoming the Dumbest Generation Ever

(If you’re under the age of 30 you probably won’t read this interview. It’s too long – and there’s no nudity or explosions. It also won’t enhance your Facebook page or get
you more friends on MySpace. So we’ll wait for you to leave so the adults can move on to a fascinating interview with Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” Despite the rather sensational title, the book makes some compelling arguments that the deconstructionist educational environment in high schools and universities are failing to properly educate the younger generation. The trend is exacerbated by technology – laptops, mobile phones, text messaging, etc. – that are unproven to have any benefit in education. Mark was kind enough to answer our questions about his book).

DaRK PaRTY: Don't all "oldsters" complain about how dumb "youngsters" are? In your opinion what are some examples of why Generation Y is the dumbest generation yet?

Mark: Yes, the elders have complained forever about the juniors--and that's a good thing. A vibrant society has the generations in some degree of tension, with elders reminding juniors of their inexperience and ignorance and hubris, and juniors resenting and replying with accusations of rigidity and authoritarianism. Each claim makes the other side a bit more careful and respectful of the many generations before them and the many yet to be.

So, why is Gen Y dumber?

Well, in spite of having more money than any other generation, more access to knowledge (more libraries, museums, historic sites, educational media, colleges, and, of course, the Internet), and more encouragement to know about other cultures, languages, and history (globalization and the Knowledge Economy tell them so), they have actually lost ground on historical knowledge and on reading and verbal test scores. Also, they have never held reading in lower esteem. They have just as much raw intelligence and motivation as previous cohorts, but with all the advantages they have, they should be doing much better.

DP: Other academics argue that video games and multi-tasking to different media are a new forms of learning. Why aren't you convinced?

Mark: I'm happy to accept video games and multi-tasking as different ways of learning. But are they productive ways, and do they build verbal skills and historical understanding and civic awareness? I don't see any evidence of that. They are probably responsible for gains in spatial intelligence, but they don't do anything for writing and vocabulary.

Let me put this another way. When college professors start saying, "Hmm, these recent entering classes seem better readers and writers than previous classes," then I'll back off. Or when employers start saying that the communication skills of recent hires keeps going up, I'll accept the argument.

DP: So they can't read or write or retain knowledge about history, geography, and the sciences. But they are natural entrepreneurs and extremely tech savvy. Isn't that where the global economy and society are headed anyway? What's so important about an old-fashioned classic education?

Mark: I wonder about the tech savviness of the kids. Some studies cited in the book show that for all their superficial ability to access information, they don't know what to do with it or how to judge it when it comes up. Yes, they put enormous energy into their personal profile page, but will that help them complete an application to law school? Or, as for the value of historical knowledge, say that they want to go into the non-profit sector and do environmental work in Eastern Europe. Will knowing something of the environmental record of communism help them? Or, if Africa, a little knowledge of colonialism will go a long way. If they interview for a job with a media firm and over lunch they don't recognize the names Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather, how will the others look at them?

My point is that historical knowledge and civic awareness are a lot more important in many workplaces than the tech folks realize.

Finally, one of the dangers of the Internet is that it makes kids believe that since knowledge is only a few clicks away, they don't need to internalize it. If they can pull up Abraham Lincoln when they need to, why memorize the Gettysburg Address, right?

Well, my answer is, "Is that all Abraham Lincoln is to you--a face, a date, some words? Nothing more than information?" That attitude impoverishes the character of these kids. They don't seem to realize that the great ideas, actions, art works, and personalities of the past are the better materials of their egos. If they don't attend to the best (and worst) of our inheritance, then they build their maturing selves out of the ready materials of youth culture--a meager resource. Who do they want as their heroes? Pop stars, or George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens . . .?

DP: Can you give us few reasons of why reading literature is so important?

Mark: You know, the Founding Fathers could not really conceive of leaders who weren't steeped in classical literature. The Aeneid was deeply important to them (check out our $1 bill), and so were Plutarch's Lives, Cicero's speeches, . . . Literature was, for them, moral instruction.

It was also verbal discipline. The same is true today. Reading builds vocabulary, improves writing skills, strengthens the muscles of memory and concentration, not to mention acquainting readers with the best uses of the language over the centuries.

DP: So you've identified the problems with Gen Y. What are some solutions?

Mark: Solutions? Maybe none, at the macro-level. Digital culture is a tidal wave, and combined with the energies and willfulness of youth, it can't be stopped. The more it becomes a medium of peer pressure, the more it captivates the hours of the kids. Every tool I mention in the book could be a knowledge- and taste-inducing activity, but that's not what kids care about. They want to relate to other kids, not to grown-ups. They want to talk about what happened last week in the cafeteria, not what happened at Leningrad. The best I can say is for parents every day to require a reading hour for everyone, themselves included. Everybody goes into a room and logs off, disconnects, unplugs. Grab a favorite book or paper or magazine and read for an hour without interruption. Then, go back to the games and chats. It's not a matter of eliminating digital technology, but a matter of keeping some balance in kids' lives.

TV Party No More: Why We Don't Watch Television

The Death of Privacy

Broken Down Public Education

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
The 10 Greatest Drunks in Cinema History

(Is there anything more amusing than, well, an amusing drunk? One thing Hollywood serves up well -- funny drunks. We’re going to take a pass at the sobering realities of alcoholism and films like “Barfly” and “Lost Weekend.” Instead we’re going to focus on keg parties and wiseass party boys. So pour a pint, throw back a shot, and join us as we celebrate the greatest booze bags in cinema history)

Arthur Bach

Actor: Dudley Moore

Movie: Arthur

Release Year: 1971

Tagline: Don't You Wish You Were Arthur?

Synopsis: Arthur is a 30-year-old drunk who has never grown up. He’s in line to inherit $750 million if he marries the woman his family has lined up for him. Instead, Arthur falls in love with a feisty waitress and all kinds of romantic comedy fun follows.

Best Drunken Quote: “You're a hooker? Jesus, I forgot! I just thought I was doing great with you!”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “He's taking the knife out of the cheese! Do you think he wants some cheese?”

Best Drunken Moment: When he takes a hooker to dinner and completely forgets that she’s a hooker, but not before he even forgets that she’s with him.

Preferred Cocktail: Martini – served in a bathtub

Frank “The Tank” Ricard

Actor: Will Ferrell

Movie: Old School

Release Year: 2003

Tagline: All the fun of college, none of the education

Synopsis: Three middle aged men tied down to jobs and marriages decide to form their own fraternity and recapture their college days.

Best Drunken Quote: “You tell anyone about this and I'll fucking kill you. I'm kidding, I'm kidding, we'll have him home by midnight.”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “Fill it up again! Fill it up again! Once it hits your lips, it's so good!”

Best Drunken Moment: Frank tears off his clothes in drunken euphoria and streaks down the middle of Main Street. He’s plodding alone stark naked when his wife and her friends pull up next to him in a mini-van.

Preferred Cocktail: Beer and tranquilizer darts

John “Bluto” Blutarsky

Actor: John Belushi

Movie: Animal House

Release Year: 1978

Tagline: It was the Deltas against the rules... the rules lost!

Synopsis: Delta House is the worst frat house at Faber College. Dean Wormer wants them kicked off campus and he enlists the uptight rich boys from Omega House to help him in his plot against the freedom loving party boys at Delta.

Best Drunken Quote: “Grab a brew. Don't cost nothing.”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “They took the bar! The whole fucking bar!”

Best Drunken Quote #3: “Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.”

Best Drunken Moment: On a drunken lark, Bluto and his buddies force the pledges to bring a horse into Dean Wormer’s office. They give the pledges a gun (secretly loaded with blanks) as a prank to make them shoot the horse. The gun fires and the noise causes the horse to fall over dead – from a heart attack.

Preferred Cocktail: Kegs

Bob and Doug McKenzie

Actors: Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas

Movie: Strange Brew

Release Year: 1983

Tagline: The McKenzie brothers beer up under misfortune.

Synopsis: The brother McKenzie – two drunken Canadians – help an orphan girl get back the brewery founded by her dead father. But first they need to defeat the evil brewmaster and his evil henchmen of hockey plalyers.

Best Drunken Quote: “My brother and I used to say that drownin' in beer was like heaven, eh? Now he's not here, and I've got two soakers... this isn't heaven, this sucks.”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “If I didn't have puke breath, I'd kiss you.”

Best Drunken Quote #3: “I gotta take a leak so bad I can taste it.”

Best Drunken Moment: When Bob and Doug are fetching a beer for their old man in their kitchen they drop a bottle and it explodes. They nearly weep.

Preferred Cocktail: Canadian beer

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski

Actor: Jeff Bridges

Movie: The Big Lebowski

Release Year: 1998

Tagline: They figured he was a lazy time wasting slacker. They were right.

Synopsis: The Dude is a drunken loser in LA. When two criminals break into his house and urinate on his rug because they mistake him for the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, the Dude decides to get involved in a messy situation so he can get money for a new rug.

Best Drunken Quote: “Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “Fuck sympathy! I don't need your fucking sympathy, man, I need my fucking johnson!”

Best Drunken Quote #3: “Hey, careful, man, there's a beverage here!”

Best Drunken Moment: The Dude visits the real Lebowski and ends up lugging one of his rugs out of his mansion.

Preferred Cocktail: White Russians

Kid Shelleen

Actor: Lee Marvin

Movie: Cat Ballou

Release Year: 1965

Tagline: It's That Way-Out Whopper Of A Funny Western...A She-Bang To End All She-Bangs!

Synopsis: Catherine Ballou hires a notorious gunfighter, Kid Shelleen, to help her save her family farm from the railroad. The only problem is that the kid in a middle-aged drunk.

Best Drunken Quote: “I smell a water hole!”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “Let's have a drink for old times' sake.”

Best Drunken Moment: There are several scenes in the film where Kid Shelleen falls off his horse and actually rides it sideways.

Preferred Cocktail: Whiskey

Willie T. Soke

Actor: Billy Bob Thorton

Movie: Bad Santa

Release Year: 2003

Tagline: He's very naughty . . . and not very nice.

Synopsis: A drunk con man and his midget sidekick dress up as Santa and an elf at Christmas time so they can rob stores. Things go haywire when an 8-year-old boy teaches them the true meaning of Christmas (see video below).

Best Drunken Quote: “I said, ‘Next,’ goddamn it! This is not the DMV!”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “Why don't you wish in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first.”

Best Drunken Moment: In a drunken rage, Willie kicks a reindeer decoration to pieces while dropping “F” bombs.

Preferred Cocktail: Whiskey

Officer Slater and Officer Michaels

Actors: Bill Hader and Seth Rogen

Movie: Superbad

Release Year: 2007

Tagline: Come and Get Some

Synopsis: Two high school buddies try to survive the last few weeks of high school. The nerds are invited to a party and need to get some alcohol for the bash. They enlist their friend Fogell and get caught up with two drunken cops.

Best Drunken Quote: “Yeah, people have weird names nowadays. Once I pulled arrested this man-lady, and his legal first name was ‘Fuck’.”

Best Drunken Quote #2: “McLovin? Were you violating that young girl? Were you violating her with you penis?”

Best Drunken Quote #3: “Sounds like a sexy hamburger!”

Best Drunken Moment: Drunk and stoned, the two cops crash their squad car and then light it on fire.

Preferred Cocktail: Beer and shots

Save Molly: 10 Great Teen Flicks from the 1980s

The 12 Lamest Superheroes -- Ever

7 Really Creepy Ghost Movies

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