Archive for January 9th, 2007

I’ve said this a number of times before, and today’s results have changed nothing…  If there is a good argument for democratic rule, the Baseball Hall of Fame is not it.

With each successive year it gets uglier, which will continue to be the case for at least another six years (the soonest Barry Bonds will be eligible), thanks to the media constructed concept of the ‘steroid era’ and the ‘holier than thou’ attitude that, for some reason, we are perfectly fine with in our voters, even though our stars are dragged through the streets in shame for such pretensions.  (“Barry won’t talk to the press.  Waaaa…”)

People are moralists.  Moralists are paranoiacs.  And there is no room for either in a meritocracy.

It is time to change the way these elections get done.

In a completely unsurprising turn of events, only Tony Gwynn (a singles superstar in an age of power hitters) and Cal Ripken (the king of unnecessary deification) were elected.  Here are the vote totals.  Remind anyone of the 2005 election of Boggs and Sandberg?  It certainly ought to; it’s the exact same result, after all.

If I’d had less faith in humanity, I’d be several thousand dollars richer right now, because I could’ve called this result 15 months ago.

Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, and Dale Murphy don’t get in, again, because their numbers don’t look that good compared to the sluggers of the last ten years…  But the sluggers of the last ten years won’t get in because all power hitters are now suspected of steroid abuse.  End result?   No one goes in but the creme de la creme, and then only the creme with no ‘negative history’ or ‘bad press’ are actually viable candidates – meaning: singles hitters, slick fielders, pitchers, and people who set records that have nothing to do with homeruns.  (Sort of like presidential elections, isn’t it.  I don’t care if Barack Obama shoved solid rocks of cocaine directly into his eyes when he was 18…  The operative word in the sentence is still the word “18.”)  But this is what we get in a system where the whims of the people are more important than rational thinking.  And right now, we are riding a whim-wave the size of Texas.

So what do we get?

Only 25% of people vote for the single most consistent power hitter in the history of the game – Mark McGwire.  (Better home run to at bat ratio than Babe Ruth.)

Six people vote for Jose Canseco because they’re so angry at Mark McGwire (with no evidence, mind you) that they feel like slapping him in the face.  (Granted, I also have no evidence that these voters didn’t honestly believe that Canseco belonged in the Hall – and he actually probably does – but I’m angry at them and feel like slapping them in the face…  And they set the precedent…so here’s your slap, boys.)

Orel Hershiser, someone who should have been a lock, but whose stats aren’t quite there because he played for crappy teams, falls thru the cracks for not being deified enough and winds up falling entirely off the ballot because he can’t even get 5% of the vote.

Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, Tommy John, Steve Garvey, and Alan Trammel, all of whom deserve at least close consideration for the Hall, lost votes, while Dave Conception, who shouldn’t even be in sniffing distance of enshrinement, actually gained a few votes.

And two men were elected who would’ve gone in on the first ballot even if dogs were voting.  And the dogs probably would have been level headed enough to vote in McGwire as well.

(And, here’s a thought to help dislodge a bit of that moral certitude: when confronted with the fact that no one really knows whether or not steroids help power hitters, the common response is “the most important effect of steroids is that they shrink healing time.”  Who is the king of no healing time?  That would be Cal Ripken.  Are we really so certain he wasn’t doping?  Of course the answer is, no one cares.  He didn’t hit homeruns; just like pitchers, which is why no one cares if they did steroids either.)

We’re damn good at this Hall of Fame election thing, aren’t we?

If we’re going to assume that the baseball Hall of Fame means anything (and every baseball fan on earth, whether they admit it or not, does believe that the Hall at least should be meaningful), then it’s time to change the election process so that the thing actually is meaningful.  Right now, it is nothing more than a popularity contest, and last time I checked, whether or not you were homecoming queen was not the criteria for whether or not you were the most successful student in your class.

Soapbox rant over.


Just to be clear, nothing about this particular rant is contingent on my being a McGwire fan since I was fifteen.  Yes I’m royally perturbed by his treatment over the last few years, and it is indefensible that people are taking it so far as to place McGwire on a black list themselves, regardless of any evidence or anything other than ‘gut feelings’ and moral righteousness.  But I’ve been aggrivated at the Hall since Dale Murphy didn’t go in despite the fact that he was a beast in the ’80s.  (From ’82 to ’87, Murphy finished in the following position in the National League in homeruns: 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 2nd.  If you’re looking for consistent dominance, that’s it.)  McGwire is just the final drop in the bucket for me.


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This is one of that subset of books that truly suffers from having been adapted into a film.  (Which isn’t overly surprising, as Matheson is also credited with the adaptation.)

Despite the many things that this book does that the film does not (i.e. more intricate and ‘expensive’ action sequences, less subdued references to sexuality, a clearer laying out of the idea of a man’s brain in a child’s body, the openly invoked American desire for exploration and conquest, and the telling of the story in two time streams – in the basement and sequential flashbacks), this book simply doesn’t have much lasting appeal when one already knows, and can more quickly re-experience the tale.

For me, it acted more like a compelling essay on the meanings behind the film, than a book in its own right.

In fact, despite being pleasantly (if unspectacularly) written, it actually suffers from inclusion of some of the things that the film adaptation left out – Matheson was terrible at romantic dialogue, which is apparent in the scene with the circus midget; Matheson’s ending is also much less elegant, trying to describe the sights of being zero-inches tall, rather than being an expressive spiritual ending like the film; and some of Matheson’s inclusions, like the ability to fall great distances without breaking bones, seem as absurd as true.  The film is simply more palatable.

The holes in the plot are also more apparent here, as one has more time to think about them – how does one eat and drink when water and food particles (at the point where they no longer can be shrunk) are larger than your system can digest; how does one shrink and maintain ‘human’ characteristics when fewer and fewer atoms would make up one’s body; how does one go through ‘inversion’ into other dimensions just from shrinking, does that not stand in contrast to the idea of atoms?  And on and on…

Though the book, ultimately, is deserving of being considered a landmark of science fiction, and it’s certainly entertaining to read, I don’t see myself ever coming back to it.  The film is quicker and easier to re-consume, and hits most of the salient points.  I do strongly miss the overt comparison between man and child, as that is one of my areas of study, but otherwise I’ll take the film any day over the book.

Happily put it third on my previously mentioned list of seven books (beneath “Slaughterhouse Five” but above “Watch Below”), but that’s more a mark of its quality as a book than my continuing interest in it…

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Not that anyone cares, but there’s been a gigantic update to the Ralston Research list thanks to the 48 hours of research.

Nothing has been added to the biography because, frankly, it’s detailed enough; that will only expand when I go to write the actual book – if such a thing ever happens.

But the list of links to Google Book Search texts has become massive and split into three segments, and a whole new Edgerly book has appeared in the database!  Someone scanned and upload the “General Membership of the Ralston Health Club.”  So that makes four books now available via GBS.



Check it out. Someone thinks this old postcard of the Weltmer Institute is worth $200.

I respectfully disagree.

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I’m going to back off a bit on my criticism of the film.  Despite the fundamental shallowness of a ‘run from death’ plotline, it has had staying power.  I’ve been ruminating on it for several days (in between research on Webster Edgerly).

I believe that much of my initial dislike of part of the film comes from two directions:

1. The constant comparisons to Orson Welles and “Blade Runner,” though valid and accurate, are also misleading.  One goes into the film expecting ‘Orson Welles does “Blade Runner,”‘ and what one receives is something closer to Michael Bay in the land of Terry Gilliam.  So the initial impression is that this will be talky and high concept, while the actual execution is more visceral with the high concepts played out in background material.

2. As a film scholar, even one who is far more interested in pop culture and B-movies than your average intellectual, I do tend to have a slight predisposition towards disliking films with shallow plotlines.  But, there is nothing inherently wrong with a Michael Bay approach, so long as what one is ‘saying’ about the human condition is still valid.  It can be more difficult to intellectualize the ‘run away’ breed of film, but that doesn’t make all ‘run away’ films un-intellectual a priori.

So, upon further thought, I’m thinking this way.

The characters still seem fundamentally shallow and slightly unrealistic to me.  I still feel that the acting was occassionally ‘off’ and that no one really had any definition – Kee, the pregnant girl, was just ‘the pregnant girl’; Theo the hero was just the ‘morose loner with moral awareness’; Jasper was just ‘the eccentric who evades the world with humor and pot’; etc.

However, this shallowness of character fits the statement of the film.  The world these people inhabit is one of shallow judgment.  It’s Bush’s America taken to absurd extremes.  People are deported simply for being ‘illegal aliens’; a young man is deified simply for being ‘the most young’ (which Fox would probably love to turn into a reality tv series); terrorists are just ‘bad’; non-terrorists are just ‘good’; etc…

So, to have primary characters who interact with respect and interest in each other, despite not moving beyond superficial awareness, is the ultimate criticism of the system; so much so, in fact, that it criticizes an element we all tend to overlook.  Not knowing someone particularly well does not automatically have to equal judgment.  Many stories that attempt to critique cultures of paranoia go at it from the ‘we’re all human’ angle and try to prove that point by showing that ‘we all bleed red,’ or that we all have more to us than our surfaces.  “Children of Men” evades that question entirely and says, it makes absolutely no difference whether or not someone is or is not more complicated than they appear.  ‘Knowing someone,’ or even wanting to know someone’s deeper personality is not a prerequisite for respect, and it is not a prerequisite for doing right.

The film is a criticism of ideology in general.  (Which is something that I’ve had trouble with, as I have a loud mouthed right-winger currently in my midst who loves to claim that he is less ideological that leftists.  So I tend to get defensive about the value of ideology, and the impossibility of being ‘non-ideological’ these days.)  And the humanist position that we need to look beyond stereotypes is as much of an ideology as ‘homeland security’ and ‘terrorist attacks.’  Humanism (in the sense of cultural awareness) is an -ism as well.

It can be equally valid to watch two people we do not know run through hell.

We don’t have to know them to be on their side.

At this point, what I am seeing in the film is still not my brother’s assertion of the film as a vision of fatherhood, I think that’s a bit of a stretch (though a perfectly valid and respectable one) based on his own position in life at present.  However, I am beginning to see it as a far more profound horror at the trend in all ideologies to move towards the fascist than I did at first.

I’m more convinced after a few days than I was initially, that this may be one of the best films in recent memory.  Certainly the best since the “History of Violence,” “Capote,” “Jarhead” troika of late 2005.

Watch it.


PS.  I like the fact that I virtually always resort to using ‘Michael Bay-ing’ as a derogatory term, despite the fact that I actually am a fan of Michael Bay.  Sure, the man makes popcorn films, but damn if he doesn’t mix up a tasty bag of popcorn sometimes.

He may make me fat, stupid, and ‘masculine,’ but he’s really damn good at it.

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