Thursday, July 20, 2006


2006 Oscar winner for Best Foreign-Language film, South Africa's Tsotsi has repeatedly been compared to the masterful Brazilian epic City of God. I could not explain this comparison to you with any sort of clarity. They both take place in slums Third World nations. They are both shot in a fevered, gritty yet colorful style accented by the occasional use of handheld cameras. Umm...Okay, that's it.

Whereas City of God mashes together a spastic crime thriller and a lesson in the History of the Rio Slums, Tsotsi simply places a familiar, Western, sentimental narrative in a lively, well-sketched South African setting. With a few changes, the film could just as easily take place in South Philly or the South Side of Chicago as South Africa.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Tsotsi has a strong sense of place. The soundtrack overflows with percussive local music, the dialogue melds together a variety of dialects (including Zulu, Afrikaans and English) and the nation's horrific AIDS crisis quiety provokes nearly all the on-screen action in subtle or unspoken ways.

At its best, the film provides a relatively clear, humane and recognizable portrait of how one cyclically impoverished, forgotten neighborhood functions. It's just that writer/director Gavin Hood (adapting a novel by Athol Fugard) falls back too frequently on genre conventions or maudlin manipulation to move along the regrettably familiar storyline. Surely there's some more captivating or telling story out there about the slums of Johannesburg, without falling back on the old "criminal finds a baby" routine.

Alas, that's the long and the short of Tsotsi, which strictly in terms of narrative has more to do with Three Men and a Baby or...ugh...Father Hood than the audacious City of God. The titular nickname, local slang for "thug," belongs to the film's hero (the soft-spoken and effective Presley Chweneyagae) and sums up his character fairly well. In the opening, we see him and his gang rob a man in the subweay, stabbing him in the process. While celebrating the score over drinks, he gets into an argument with friend Boston (Mothusi Magano) and nearly beats the poor guy to death. Running away from the bar, he steals a woman's car and shoots her in the gut, only to discover her infant son sitting in the back seat.

And I think that's about all I need to tell you about the story. Do you think maybe finding this child will have some kind of effect on Tsotsi's outlook? Might it cause him to reconsider the horrors of his own childhood and how they have affected his personality and behavior? When done really well, a quaint formula like this can still inspire an audience. It is possible. But Hood's film is just too simple and straight-forward, the lessons learned excessively easy and obvious.

In the film's best scene, Tsotsi takes his new youthful charge to see a pile of hollow concrete tubes in a field overlooking Downtown Johannesburg. This is the place where he grew up, a homeless child forming a makeshift community with other abandoned kids. Now, other children live there. The sequence makes this sort of endless suffering tactile, really palpable. In an odd way, it closely approximates a familiar scene from American films, including Annie Hall - the return to the childhood home. Here, the idea has been perverted - a hopelessly impoverished young man inspecting the hovel in which he once squatted, passing on some kind of knowledge or experience to another generation of abandoned kids.

I wanted much, much more of that and less changing poopy diapers. I've seen the "hard man has to change gross poopy diapers" thing a million times. Anybody remember Three Fugitives? Thankfully, there isn't a shot of Tsotsi getting hit in the face by stray wee-wee, but there might as well be. And it's not just what Chili Palmer would call the "three guys find a baby and then they start acting like three grown-up assholes" genre material that feels perfunctory. A subplot in which Tsotsi first threatens and then bonds with a single mother (Nambitha Mpumlwana) takes up a lot of time and goes nowhere.

Even the argument with Boston, the conflict that initiates all of the film's action, begins over nothing and is resolved easily through a single conversation. Local color will get you pretty far in this kind of film, which is as much about giving your audience a distinct and immersive sense of place as it is about a powerhouse narrative. But all the authenticity and earnestness Gavin Hood can muster doesn't overcome the faint stink of by-the-numbers predictability hanging over Tsotsi, a familiar narrative skulking around in a strange and unfamiliar world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eddie Murphy to Marry Scary Spice

For real!

Eddie Murphy and former Spice Girl Mel B are reportedly set to wed in September. The couple - who met at a party in Beverly Hills last month - have reportedly booked the plush Roosevelt Hotel, in Los Angeles, for their "dream wedding". Mel, 31, and Murphy - who is 14 years her senior - are reportedly planning to tie the knot in an intimate ceremony attended by just close family and friends.

Think about it...This makes sense. We all know Eddie has kind of a thing for men dressed as ladies.

Also, just like a certain former British pop star, Eddie's female companion derives great pleasure from the frequent attendence of festive social gatherings.

That has got to be the most delightfully egomaniacal music video ever. Eddie and Rick James show up at the studio, Eddie sings an incredibly dippy 80's pop hit and everyone dances around with big, dopey grins as if this is the first time in their lives they have actually heard music.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Airing of Grievances

I know I say this all the time, but I think the President is acting like an even more enormous, dim-witted fuck-up than usual lately. I think it started around the time he made fun of that blind guy at the press conference. When I wasn't paying attention, he progressed from a hideous, shameful national embarassment to the political equivalent of Steve Martin's Ruprecht character in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Here's a brief laundry list of his recent gaffes, for those of you who don't pay attention during the Moment of Zen at the end of the "Daily Show":

- Bush deflects serious questions about the devastating violence in the Middle East to focus on the barbecued pig he'll be enjoying later that afternoon.

- In a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, Bush implies that he'd like to see Russia embrace more Iraq. Putin replies that he doesn't Russia to have a democracy anything like Iraq's. Ba-zing.

- During a G8 summit, Bush speaks with food in his mouth, curses, misues the term "irony" and addresses the Prime Minister of Britain as "Yo, Blair!"

- A few days later, at the same G8 conference, Bush awkwardly attempts to give German Chancellor Angela Merkel a neck massage. Who the fuck is this guy? We elected him to serve as our representative to the world, and he's sleazing around this crucial diplomatic event like Schneider from "One Day at a Time."

- Bush's initial response to the Israel-Lebanon conflict was to issue a series of rambling, incoherent statements - statements so meaningless, they seemed to indicate a general confusion about contemporary world events.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this photo:

Look, ma, no brains!

And...sigh...this one:

That's, of course, a still from Universal's can't-miss upcoming holiday comedy, Three Men, A Baby and a Complete Fucking Douchebag.

If we ever plan to restoring any international respect of any kind (if such a thing is even possible), I think we should start openly acknowledging that we all know he's an idiot. At first, maybe slip it in there casually. Have the Secret Service pin a note to his jacket alerting other world leaders that our President has "special needs," and that they may need to repeat important points to him several times and/or bribe him with an extra serving of applesauce in order to gain his attention.

Then, get a little bit more bold. Have him conduct all his public addresses in front of back drops counting down the number of days until he's no longer President. Get him a Presidential tricycle to ride around on, to make sure he doesn't fall off. Dress the Secret Service in "I'm With Stupid" T-shirts. You know, have fun with it...Let these other countries know we're not just a bunch of Rapture-happy fast food and violence junkies, that we have a sense of humor about Our Retarded Deciderer.

Winning is Everything

Not to toot my own horn, but I have won a contest over at Tbogg's place. The challenge? To predict the ending to M. Night Shyamabamahamalan's latest opus, Lady in the Water. You can check out my suggestion, which thankfully met Mr. Bogg's strict standards for snark, right here.

(And might I also add, welcome Tbogg readers joining us here for the first time. Make yourselves at home.)

While we're on the subject of one M. Night, there's a few things I'd like to discuss.

(1) This "tell-all" book in which the guy complains that Disney executives didn't believe in his creative vision

This book comes out next week, written by a Sports Illustrated writer with Night's full blessing, talking about how those fools at the Mouse House didn't sufficiently worship his genius, forcing him to leave the studio for Warner Brothers. It's called, get this, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale. Oh, Christ.

Disney production President Nina Jacobson gets the worst drubbing. Jacobson and Shyamalan enjoyed a close, albeit sometimes combative, relationship. Over six years, she shepherded his four Disney films including "Unbreakable," "Signs" and "The Village."

On what would have been their fifth collaboration, their bond so eroded that the two didn't speak for more than a year. At a disastrous dinner in Philadelphia last year, Jacobson delivered a frank critique of the "Lady in the Water" script. When she told him that she and her boss, studio Chairman Dick Cook, didn't "get" the idea, Shyamalan was heartbroken. Things got only worse when she lambasted his inclusion of a mauling of a film critic in the story line and told Shyamalan his decision to cast himself as a visionary writer out to change the world bordered on self-serving. But Shyamalan gets his revenge on Jacobson in the book, in which he says he had felt for some time that he "had witnessed the decay of her creative vision right before his own wide-open eyes. She didn't want iconoclastic directors. She wanted directors who made money."

But wait...there's more. He's not just a whiny egomaniac. I think he may have some kind of full-blown mental illness.

"Sometimes Night would close his eyes and see little oval black and white head shots of Nina Jacobson and Oren Aviv and Dick Cook floating around in his head, unwanted houseguests that would not leave," Bamberger writes. "The Disney people had gotten deep inside his head, interfering with the good work the voices were supposed to do and it would be hell to get them out."

Hearing...voices...I thought he meant that metaphorically. Like, "the voices that inspire me to create tepid, overbearing allegories like The Village!" But, no, he means actual voices. In his head. Nice...

Here's the best/worst part:

The book's most revealing scene is the tense dinner of Feb. 15, 2005, and its aftermath รข€” referred to by Shyamalan's colleagues as "The Valentine's Day Massacre." The setting was a fancy Philadelphia restaurant, Lacroix, not far from the farmhouse where Shyamalan, his wife and two daughters live. But from the start, the book says, the dinner seemed doomed. The tables were too close together, and "Night felt that other diners could hear their conversation." Seated next to Shyamalan, Jacobson aired her problems with the script. Criticisms "came spewing out of her without a filter," Bamberger writes.

"You said it was funny; I didn't laugh," the book quotes her as saying. "You're going to let a critic get attacked? They'll kill you for that! Your part's too big; you'll get killed again! What's with the names? Scrunt? Narf? Tartutic? Not working. Don't get it. Not buying it. Not getting it. Not working."

Her words went over like spoiled fish. "She went on and on and on," the book says. "Night was waiting for her to say she didn't like the font" his assistant had printed the script in. After way too many courses, Disney executives walked Shyamalan and his agent to the elevator, and Cook asked to speak to the director alone. "Just make the movie for us," Cook said, hoping to keep Disney's most important director in the fold. "We'll give you $60 million and say, 'Do what you want with it.' We won't touch it. We'll see you at the premiere." Shyamalan said he couldn't do that. He couldn't work with those who doubted him. As Cook and his team left the hotel, Shyamalan broke down and cried.

They offer him $60 million to make a movie from a script no one at the studio believes in. His response? Not an effusive "thank you!" Not appreciation for the vote of confidence. He starts to cry.

What a massive sense of entitlement. It's not enough these people are willing to risk that kind of scratch on you based solely on your past performance. They also have to give proper deference and respect to any fool screenplay you come up with, no matter if they think it's stupid and includes a character named Narf?

Anyway, I already wasn't too hyped for Lady in the Water. But after reading this article, I'm not sure I can ever take this guy seriously again.

(2) The declining quality of his filmmaking

I like Sixth Sense a lot. It's good. Well-made. Tight. Many people have told me that they predicted the ending. I caught on before the actual reveal in the film, but only by a few scenes. It works well the first time you see it, terrifically the second time, when you notice all the small, clever details he worked in there...and then you pretty much never need to watch the thing again.

I love Unbreakable. Love it, love it, love it. I know Tbogg over there has complained about the film, calling it implausible and silly. Well, yes, it's implausible. Mainly, I don't think a guy could reach Bruce Willis' age without detecting that his body's impervious to damage. I mean, everyone (everyone!) hurts themselves at some point during their lives. If you get to 40 and you've never had a cold or might want to look into that.

I still think it's a superior film, however, for two reasons. Technically, the thing is a goddamn marvel. It's beautifully shot and rendered with tremendous attention to detail and care. This is the sort of film that should be nominated for Best Costume Design around award season, because the designs actually enhance the film's central themes and aren't just pretty or ornate. It's also told with patience. There's a calm, a stillness to Night's direction here, in one of the rare modern American films that doesn't aspire to give the viewer a wicked head rush.

Signs is again well-shot and expressive, and has a few scenes I enjoy, but the entire second half is irredeemably stupid. I don't mind if a movie wants to argue in favor of belief in God - plenty of films have in the past - but it should at least try to make a real argument. "You should believe in God because he makes little girls leave glasses of water around that eventually repel foolish aliens for just long enough so that Joaquin Phoenix can smash the shit out of them with a spare baseball bat" isn't working for me.

And as I said above, I found The Village insulting. Night breaks one of the essential, "unbreakable" cinematic rules...Once you've revealed the big twist to your movie, you can't just keep pretending the audience doesn't know what's going on. We're told there are monsters in the forest, then we're told there aren't really monsters in the forest and then, finally, we're supposed to be afraid of...more monsters. Um...what? There aren't really monsters in the forest, dumbass! Remember? You made the goddamn thing...

(3) His obnoxious American Express commercial

You know these commercials, with popular directors shilling for a credit card company? I hate the M. Night one, in which he sits in a restaurant imagining all kinds of "Twilight Zone"-esque creepy situations, and then pays with an American Express card. But not as much as I hate the Wes Anderson "I'm-a-charming-goofball-whose-movies-are-spontaneous-gems-of-whimsy" entry.

The whole vibe of these spots strikes me as pretty much the exact opposite of what you want from advertising. "Hey, look at us, we just walk around all day and create magic in exchange for millions of dollars! Doesn't that sound like fun? Why not get our same credit card? You won't get paid to just sit around and think up shit, because you're not a genius like me, but at least you'll have a credit card. Now, get out of here! I'm conjuring up some more brain gold!"

(4) The twist ending thing has become a curse

He needs to stop. Clearly, the twists no longer work because we know there's going to be a twist. It's a Shyamalan movie, there's going to be some sort of Big Reveal in the final few scenes. Kind of kills a lot of the initial shock value, which is what makes twists work in the first place.

I predicted it at Tbogg's and I'll repeat it here: I think I've figured out Lady in the Water just from the marketing. It's about a guy who works at an apartment building who finds a mermaid named Story, right? And then there's a wolf that comes through the same other-worldly portal as the mermaid and starts terrorizing people. And the tagline on the poster for the film is: "Some bedtime stories are real."

I think it will turn out that the janitor, played by Paul Giamatti, is telling this bedtime story about a mermaid to someone. Think about it...there's a big bad wolf, water imagery, innocent villagers...All the makings of a classic fairy tale. (It's even in the title of his new tell-all book!) If this is true, and for Night's sake I hope I'm way way off, then clearly the Disney folks were right all along. Such an ending would be shallow and manipulative. Kind of like Signs and The Village!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

For the Benefit of Dr. Rice

I never watch these Sunday morning political TV shows. In part because I am never, ever awake on Sunday mornings, ever, but also because it's soul-suckingly depressing to sit and home and watch Republican blowhards deliver their weekly Rove-approved talking points to the American people.

Shows like "Meet the Press," "Fox News Sunday," all those ridiculous pundit-fests, they're not about news, in that nothing anyone ever says is subjected to fact-based scrutiny. It's about delivering propaganda. This is when we hear the arguments we'll be having all week for the first time - Social Security is in crisis or Iran must be stopped or North Korea must not be stopped or everything Israel does is right unquestioningly all the time and if you don't think so you're a spineless Jew-hater. You know, thoughtful sociopolitical discourse like that.

Occasionally, public figures go on these shows and screw up by saying something that's actually telling or informative. They don't mind to, of course. The goal is to talk confidently while dispensing as little genuine information as possible. But every once in a great while, a tiny wisp of truth sneaks past all the fetid, already-debunked horseshit. This morning, that happened not once but twice! Thankfully, Think Progress was there to document these atrocities (as Atrios might say), so I could get the full 14 hours of rest my body needs each night.

First off, on ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos asked Dr. Condi Rice an interesting question about her colleague Dick Cheney just making stuff up to sound like he knows what he's talking about. Unfortunately, George didn't couch the question in exactly those terms. I'm paraphrasing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But before the war in Iraq many argued that going into Iraq would stir up a hornet’s nest. The administration strongly disagreed and here’s what Vice President Cheney had to say in August 2002.

Here, George shows a helpful video clip of Deadeye Dick:

CHENEY (VIDEO): I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region, extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad, moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli/Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.

At least he said "I believe..." at the beginning of this senseless and woefully inaccurate account of Baghdad's Life After Wartime. You couldn't actually say he's lying, because he's just predicting shit that he thought would happen. At the same time, this is not a guy whose advice on world affairs you'd want to keep taking. He's got a gift for prophecy on roughly the same level as Carnac the Magnificent.

(Okay, to be fair, extremists in the Middle East have rethought their strategy of jihad, post-invasion. Instead of plotting the murder of Americans discreetly over the course of several years, they can now simply walk outside and shoot directly at American soldiers. Think of all that saved time!)

Anyway, back to George:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Extremists now appear to have been emboldened. The moderates appear to be in retreat. There is no peace process. There is war. How do you answer administration critics who say that the administration’s actions have unleashed, have helped unleash the very hostilities you hoped to contain?

To be fair, there's no good answer Condi could possibly provide to this question. Dick was totally full of shit, it's now painfully obvious to everyone who cares to pick up a newspaper or read a website not sponsored by the National Review and now George is calling her on it on national television. She's left without any real quality rhetorical options.

Okay, well, maybe one..."George, you are exactly right. My colleagues in this administration and I have serially manipulated the American public about this war for the past three years and we can no longer hide the evidence of our misdeeds. Therefore, I will resign my post as Secretary of State, effective immediately, and agree to testify openly at any War Crime proceedings the people of the world wish to bring against me or any other member of the Executive Branch." That would be a pretty good answer.

But short of a letter of resignation, there's no satisfactory answer that Dr. Rice could possibly provide. Having said that, the answer she did come up with is a real humdinger:

RICE: Well, first of all, those hostilities were not very well contained as we found out on September 11th, so the notion that policies that finally confront extremism are actually causing extremism, I find grotesque.

Maybe, what with all the pressure and strain of running a failed foreign policy machine, she just up and forgot the meaning of the word "grotesque." Perhaps she thought it meant "captivating." Or "worthy of careful consideration."

So, for the benefit of Dr. Rice, a brief primer of grotesquerie.

NOT GROTESQUE: Women widowed by the September 11th attacks pressuring their government to thoroughly investigate and competely report to the American people the events of that day
GROTESQUE: Implying that these women never loved their dead husbands

NOT GROTESQUE: Gay marriage
GROTESQUE: Anyone actually marrying Star Jones

NOT GROTESQUE: Burning an American flag as part of a peaceful protest or performance
GROTESQUE: Burning an Iraqi prisoner as part of a violent and useless interrogation

And finally...

NOT GROTESQUE: Asking challenging questions to high-ranking government officials about failed wars of choice
GROTESQUE: Implying that it's immoral or disgusting to question authority

Okay, hope that clears everything up for you, Condi...

Did you know that Fox has a roundtable news show called "Fox and Friends"? Isn't that a childish name for a show that's theoretically about the most vital issues of the day? I kind of respect how openly the Fox News Channel courts mental midgets and the illiterate. Like how O'Reilly always reads the words that flash up on screen for the viewers, in case they can't get through two or three simple sentences on their own. It's noble, in a way. Those people need TV stations, too, you know!

This next item doesn't come from "Fox and Friends." It's a clip from "Fox News Sunday." I just think that name's stupid and wanted to mention it while it's fresh on my mind.

On "Fox News Sunday" this morning, one of my personal favorite right-wing nutjobs, Bill Kristol, faced off against Juan Williams. We start with Kristol, responding to the notion that our problems with Iran stem from our own incursion into Iraq:

KRISTOL: No, it’s a result of our deducing from the situation in Iraq that we can’t stand up to Iran. I mean, when we stand up over and over and say Iran is shipping Improvised Explosive Devices into Iraq and killing U.S. soldiers, and Syria’s providing a line for terrorists to come into Iraq and kill U.S. soldiers, and that’s unacceptable. That’s not helpful. And then we do nothing about it.

He never says, but what exactly would Bill like us to do about it? Kill 'em all, most likely. Kristol around here begins to openly call for war against Iran. When will enough ever be enough for this people? And that's exactly what Juan Williams had to say.

WILLIAMS: Well, it just seems to me that you want…you just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war. You wanted us in Iraq. Now you want us in Iran. Now you want us to get into the Middle East, where I think there’s a real interesting dynamic at play.


War, war, war, war, war. It's all these guys have left to go on. Nothing else. They want to keep winning elections in '06 and '08 and they have nothing except keeping voters afraid by entering new wars.

Their domestic agenda is to fuck you over and give money to large corporations. With the money the Pentagon has wasted since 9/11 - not used on supplies for our troops but wasted on planes that will never fly - we could educate, feed and provide health care services for every single American. And maybe even have enough left over to give everyone free Internet!

Their governing philosophy is to do whatever they want regardless of what the Constitution says. Their standing with the rest of the world and level of respect is, um, bleak to put it nicely. All they've got is "national security," which is code for "war against the browns." The rhetoric will only get more insane and fevered as the months wear on.

If You Can Dodge a Wretch, You Can Dodge a Ball

Did you know that Rush Limbaugh has a brother who's also an arch-conservative? It's horrible yet true! And that's not even the worst part. If this David Limbaugh column from Human Events Online (brought to my attention by the absolutely essential World O' Crap) accurately represents this guy's intellect and writing ability, it appears that Rush may actually be the smarter and more worldly of the two! David probably wouldn't have even tried to hide his pseudononymous prescription bottles when going through customs - he'd just hand the nice lady the illegal container of boner pills and ask if he can ride on the baggage claim conveyer belt.

Maybe I just have the SAT Verbal section on the brain this week, but I'm not sure Dave's entire column has a single sentence written in proper, gramatically correct English. Even the headline is awkwardly composed:

Targeting Dodge Ball and Other Inanities

What Dave means to say is that "secular liberals" are targeting dodge ball in public schools, and that his column will attack this and other inanities. But that headline sounds like he's actually planning to attack dodge ball, along with other dodge ball-related inanities. Maybe Human Events Online should hire some Copy Editors Offline.

(I don't want to get too off-topic, but as long as we're talking about publications that could use better fact-checking, do any of you happen to read the free publication LA Alternative? I didn't think so. If you did, you may have noticed the following egregious error from their "Calendar of Events" this week (emphasis mine):

When you think ’70s cool, you probably think of the obvious names-James Taylor, Warren Oates of Hall and Oates, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. And for good reason, too: the three men starred in Two-Lane Blacktop, the drag-racing classic that inspired the Cannonball Run. Taylor, Wilson and Oates are never given names (rather, they’re referred to as “the Driver,” or “the Mechanic”) because the important things in this movie are the fast cars (a ‘55 Chevy and a Pontiac GTO), the hot girl (Laurie Bird) and the open road (Route 66 before the major interstates). Showing as part of a double feature with Cisco Pike, which stars troubadour Kris Kristofferson in his film debut. 7:30 p.m. New Beverly Cinema, 7165 Beverley Blvd., L.A. (Max Read)

Now, okay...They misspell Beverly Blvd...That's not such a big deal. But guys...WARREN OATES WAS NOT THE GUY IN HALL AND OATES! That was New York musician John Oates. Warren Oates is a totally significant, beloved 70's actor. That's not a casual kind of error - someone really really needed to catch that one.

Even worse, I wrote them an e-mail two days ago informing the editors of the mistake, and have not yet seen a response or a correction. If you check online, the mistake is still there. For me personally, I could give a shit less...But you would think a real paper would want to fix such an embarrassing mistake...)

Fortunately, Human Events Online doesn't have to worry about these sorts of issues. As the kind of outfit that will publish rants by Michael Reagan and Ann Coulter, they clearly don't see the publication of facts and accurate information as central to the business of running a news website. Let's face it...That stuff is BO-RING! We could all learn a simple lesson from our President: When you just make stuff up, everything turns out the way you want! It's like being your very own DECIDERER!

Anyway, on to David's column:

There was a time in this country when public school teachers could focus on teaching the basics. Today, unfortunately, they are all too often preoccupied with accommodating the silly concerns pervading our society.

To what concerns do I refer? Oh, those such as banning the innocent children's games of dodge ball, cops and robbers, musical chairs, steal the bacon and tag. You heard me right -- it's not just the allegedly sadistic and violent game of dodge ball that schools are trying to outlaw.

Actually, every time I eat a large, greasy breakfast, I wind up playing "pass the bacon" for the rest of the day...Here's a strategy tip - try and eat some roughage, perhaps some whole wheat toast on the side.

But seriously, folks...That first paragraph perfectly demonstrates the murky, shallow thinking that pervades David's entire piece. Because some school administrators have become concerned with the violent and cruel aspect of dodge ball (a rather large aspect of that particular game), somehow this eats up time that would otherwise be spent on education. How? Are teachers really interrupting class time to discuss the lasting traumatic effects of dodge ball games? Are school supplies that would otherwise be used by children instead diverted to laboratories where advanced experiments calculate the specific effects of dodge ball games on the child psyche? Or do you think David's just talking out of his ass, trying to invent a national crisis when really you just have some concerned teachers and parents?

Call me nostalgic for my childhood if you wish -- for the days of Beaver Cleaver and Andy Griffith -- but I long for the times when cockamamie ideas didn't pass for reasonable.

The sad thing is, Dave feels bittersweet nostalgia for the fictional environments presented to him on antiquated sitcoms. He's whistfully recalling "Leave it to Beaver" as if it was a reflection on his own life, instead of a TV show he used to watch as a kid. Unless your name is Ron Howard, I think I can safely say your childhood was nothing like "The Andy Griffith Show." He's nostalgic for an imaginary past that never was, kind of like Bill Murray in Scrooged. Hey, Dave, that wasn't you who scored the winning run, that was the kid on "The Courtship of Eddie's Father!"

Bring back the days when kids were allowed to have some harmless fun without certain hair-brained, social engineers coming unglued.

Not to belabor the SAT thing, but here's a guy who makes his living by writing and he can't put a simple sentence together. This would get knocked down on the Written portion of the SAT for three reasons - you don't need a comma between "hair-brained" and "social," you don't need the extraneous word "certain" and the use of the slang term "hair-brained" isn't really appropriate for professional writing.

Not to mention the most obvious point: Only a goober this bent out of shape over children playing dodge ball. Who cares? If they can't play dodge ball, kids will just come up with a different technique for identifying schoolmates who can't physically defend themselves as targets for future abuse. They may all smell and look kind of stupid, but some of these kids can be pretty wily.

Dodge ball is an easy target for the sourpusses because it involves students -- heaven forbid -- trying to hit other students with a dastardly rubber ball. And at least once in recorded history, one of those children was hurt.

Dave struggles mightily to miss the point here. As far as I can tell, the risk of serious injury isn't the #1 reason educators worry about dodge ball. I would think it's obvious that the controversial aspect of the game is its inherent exclusionism and innate cruelty. Players are singled out and made into targets and then are pelted by the other team with rubber balls. There's no strategy, it's less than ideal for exercize purposes and rather than fostering teamwork, it requires an aggressive, individual approach. In short, it's probably the worst game to push on children if the ultimate goal is physical fitness or confidence-building.

A reasonable counter-argument could certainly be made. "Playing effective dodge ball requires constant attention, both to the movements of the ball and to the opposing team, which in turn develops focus." Or "dodge ball fosters good sportsmanship, as children discover that it's more fun to play the game working in tandem with fellow players and trying to avoid hurting anyone." Or even just "kids like dodge ball and allowing them to play during school hours encourages physical fitness and keeps students active." I don't really agree with any of these points, but they are at least based on some kind of logical reasoning.

Dave apparently isn't clever enough to come up with any points like these, so he just sputters against invisible foes who want to ban dodge ball because someone could put an eye out.

For the record, we played the game all the time in Coach Russell's PE class at Franklin school, and I can't remember a single injury, even among the girls who played with us boys. Sure, when the ball hit you it stung slightly, but that was part of the fun of it. Real injuries were much more likely to occur in touch football or softball, which ought to tell you how likely they were.

Keep on fighting the good fight, Dave. That fictional person who believes that dodge ball threatens the lives of our young people won't know what hit him!

So, under the pretense that dodge ball is too dangerous, there is an increasing trend among school districts across the country to ban it. But this seems more of a convenient excuse, as does the objection that the game provides a poor cardiovascular workout.

Yeah, who cares if PE classes provide children with a good workout as part of a general promotion of robust health! It's far more important we allow them to hurl gymp equipment at one another for an hour each day! Cause, dammit, that's how it was for The Beav if I'm remembering that particular episode correctly!

Reading below the headlines we find that other reasons are motivating those who seek to purge these schoolyard games. One major reason, according to the Los Angeles Times, "is that the game can hurt children's feelings."

How does dodge ball cause this irreversible emotional trauma? Well, it is a contest of elimination where the last player to avoid being hit wins. So, like the perilous games of cutthroat in billiards and the heartless musical chairs, dodge ball is a game of exclusion -- a capital crime in these times of politically correct inclusion.

I recall how sad I was when my elementary school cancelled its long-running Billiards program.

Really, can any one man be so stupid? Dave, maybe the children have hurt feelings because other students are whipping large inflatable balls at their face? I mean, yes, it sucks to lose a game of pool (particularly if you've made a wager beforehand), but when you lose at ythat game, typically, no one maliciously chucks the 8 ball at your face.

(Note the throwaway reference to political correctness. What do concerned teachers and parents trying to prevent children from associating negative feelings with competitive sports have to do with being politically correct? Um...oh yeah, nothing...)

Unbelievably, Dave keeps bloviating for several more paragraphs about the evils of dodge ball bans before finally getting down to the real point:

These ideas are ludicrous on their face, but there is obviously something else at work here. While the secularists are paranoid lest any vestige of Western values remain in the classroom, they are eager to impose their own values at school. much stupidity...Where to begin...

Okay, first off, this name. "The secularists." Meaningless. Wanting to ban dodge ball in elementary schools has absolutely nothing to do with a person's spirituality or belief system. Identifying a lack of enthusiasm for pegging children with fast-moving airborne projectiles as a lack of enthusiasm for organized religion makes absoutely not sense at all. None. Not any. Less, even, than Dave's brother's excuses for fraudulently obtaining all that pain medication.

Next, if these teachers who want to ban dodge ball are from America, aren't their values as "Western" as Dave's? Dave's ego-centered view of Americanism, that his own personal worldview perfectly replicates a standard for traditional "Western" values is...wait for it..."ludicrous on [its] face."

Because there obviously isn't one set of "Western values," particularly when talking about minutae like the game of dodge ball. What are we, 12 years old?

They tell us they want to promote harmony, community and inclusiveness when what they really want is to push the notion of pacifism and discourage our traditions of competition and rugged individualism.

There you have it, in black and white. What this column is all about. Dave is a cruel man who likes the idea of children nursing emotional scars from years of forced participation in dodge ball games. He sees compassion for a child in any situation that's less than fatal to be a sign of personal weakness. I mean, the guy is so bitter, he's upset that teachers want to push the notion of pacifism on their students.

My professional diagnosis: Dave got his ass kicked a lot as a kid and he didn't have anyone to stand up for him or make him feel better. So he grew up associating PE class, and probably the schoolyard in general, with pain and abuse and victimhood. Now that he's older, he resents any attempts to make this situation easier for modern children. Hey, he had to put up with all the bullying and cruelty as a child...Why should the kids of today have it any better?

(Is PE really about teaching "rugged individualism" in the first place? Don't you mainly play team sports in PE class, thus learning about the exact opposite of rugged individualism? I had always assumed it was about instilling healthy exercize habits in people from a young age. If you teach them to love sport and to stay fit at 15, maybe those lessons will stick with them into adulthood. The best way to teach kids to love sports and exercize all the time? Make it fun and don't focus on intense, obsessive competition and cruelty.)

Of course, maybe that's just me. Perhaps I'm simply nostalgic for the days of my youth, a special time when Cliff Huxtable taught us all how to love, Alex Keaton demonstrated the joys of youthful conservatism and Danny Tanner proved to the world that the healthiest environment in which to raise young girls is a suburban home under the watchful eye of a nerd, a failed rock star and a doofus who does "Popeye" impressions.