Movie Review: The Paradise Makers (2017)

The Enterprise is at an unspecified starbase for a little R&R, and to pick up a few new crewmembers. The character development and backstory comes to a halt when new orders come in. The USS Bowfin, a scout ship, was sent off to do an anthropological survey, and they are well past their reporting deadline. Kirk and crew are dispatched to find out what happened.

The briefing en route fills in the details of the Bowfin’s mission. The planet they went to was pretty much uninhabited, except for a large tropical archipelago. Rather uninteresting, except for some oddities that warranted a closer look.

Looks like it’s pretty much a case of Mutiny on the Bowfin. But if that’s all there is, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we.

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Overrated – Underrated 3: Simpsons Guest Star

Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock somewhere, you probably have heard that The Simpsons recently became the longest running prime-time scripted TV series, beating out Gunsmoke for that honor.

Of course, real TV fans know that the honor simply refers to the number of episodes. Gunsmoke was a full hour show while The Simpsons is only half an hour. So it will be a good long time before the latter can produce the total amount of airtime that the previous has to its credit.

Over its many years since it began as a simple cartoon on The Tracy Ullman Show, a heck of a lot of celebrities have appeared on The Simpsons. Some provided the voices for characters (Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob is one of the recurring appearances), others played themselves. With so many guest appearances, there have got to be some who are Overrated and others who are Underrated….

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BOOK REVIEW: The Taking of K-129

The Taking of K-129
Josh Dean
Dutton Books
Copyright 2017 by the author

Those of you old enough to have lived through Ancient History may recall hearing stuff in the early 1970s about mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor. One of Howard Hughes’ companies contracted the building of a huge ship, the Glomar Explorer, to see if these nodules could actually be scooped up in any way that could possibly be practical and profitable.

Years later, it came to light that the mining operation was actually the cover story for collecting something even more valuable and outrageous: a sunken Soviet ballistic missile submarine.

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Baseball’s Other Issue

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few off-seasons about “pace of play” issues. Dawdling during the game has caused the average game time to grow by an excruciating five minutes or so over the past couple of years!

In an effort to speed things up, rules have been introduced that turn the Intentional Walk into a simple “go ahead and take your base”, compel batters to stay in the batter’s box during an at-bat, and limit the number of “meetings on the mound” a team can have.

This is all well and good, but there’s something else that needs attention. As the number of strikeouts continues to rise, it’s not just the pace of play, but the lack of play that’s affecting the game.

Percentage of Plate Appearances Ending Without a Ball In Play:
(strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and intentional walks)

2013 – 29.2%
2014 – 29.4%
2015 – 29.4%
2016 – 30.7%
2017 – 31.7%

2018 (as of the start of play on April 30) – 33.3%

One in three plate appearances ends with nothing happening in the field! The fielders could take naps out there, and very few people would notice. Much of it is due to the significant rise in strikeouts, which is the downside of increased use of bullpens and more “swinging for the seats”. It affects the pace of play too; a study from a few years ago found that it takes 4.5 pitches on average to strike out a player, compared to an average of 3 when the out is recorded on a ball in play.

I’m not sure what can be done about this; tinkering with the strike zone and pitcher’s mound are obvious places to look.

But something probably should be done. Speeding up play is nice – but there need to be actual plays first.

ADDENDUM (5/2/18)

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On the Matter of GQ and The Bible

So the editors over at GQ have started a bit of a kerfuffle by listing The Bible as one of the books you don’t have to read.

People who seem to have missed the point of their essay have leaped to the defense of that anthology (well, they’ve written counterpoints to it), which have gotten responses and comments from anti-theists1 who blame religion for everything that is evil in the world (including how their favorite sportsball team lost their last game).

Rather than a dismissal of The Bible as a boring piece of junk, the GQ essay actually is a version of an “Overrated-Underrated” essay. The writers list some 20 books that they feel aren’t really worthy of being included in the list of “Books You Must Read Or Else You Are Somehow Lacking As A Civilized Human Being” – but also books that they believe are more deserving of being read in their place.

They’re rather on target with their short assessment of The Bible. It’s really boring in spots, and is often confusing and even contradictory. You can live quite well without ever having read it. But one cannot deny its influence on philosophy, the arts, and society – so it most certainly deserves to be listed as one of the “Great Books”.

Having read seven of the books on their list, I do have some quibbles with their reasoning behind some selections. Others, I agree with wholeheartedly. Tolkein really does spend too much time in his Lord of the Rings trilogy worldbuilding instead of telling an exciting story. But heck, it’s their collective opinion. And instead of getting into arguments with anyone over just how racist The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is2, I’d rather be reading a good book.

One other point that they touch on quite briefly in passing is the whole absurdity of “checklists” of Stuff You Absolutely Must Do Before You Die. 100 Books, 1000 Movies, 200 Places – if you spend your time reading, watching, or traveling, you’d never get anything else done – even sleeping! I’m so far behind on the list that I figure I’m going to live forever!

There is actually only one of these “bucket lists” that I’ve come across that seems actually worthwhile. Instead of sitting alone reading books or watching movies, or traveling to a place just so you can say you’ve been there, it’s a list of things to DO.

40 Things Every Drunkard Should Do Before He Dies
By Frank Kelly Rich

I think it a sad sign of the times that, in this age of entrenched nannyism and political correctness, a person is more likely to be judged by what he refrained from doing than what he actually did. It’s no longer important that you climbed the mountain, but rather how many boulders you didn’t “accidentally” dislodge and let roll down on the less daring hunkered in the valley below.

Fortunately, imbibers have historically been immune to popular opinion, so hence this list. If you manage all forty3 before you take a barstool at St. Peter’s Pearly Gate Lounge, you may feel secure in the fact that you’ve lived a rich and full life, even if only the boys and girls down at happy hour think so. And when you do belly up to that big open bar in the sky and the bartender asks: “What sort of life did you lead?” you can look him right in the eye and say, “Pete, baby, I’m glad this is eternity, because I’ve got a helluva lot of stories to tell.”

Notes:

1. An “atheist” is someone who does not believe in the existence of a supreme deity. An “anti-theist” is someone who also doesn’t believe in the existence of a supreme deity, but also believes – often quite loudly – that anyone who does believe in one is an idiot.

2. This argument has been happening since the day the book was published. It’s only superficially racist. Read – and understand – the whole thing, and it’s actually against racism.

3. I’ve done six – so far. And I’m not going to tell you which ones….

Surfing the Blue Wave

With each passing day, more and more corruption in the Trump administration is revealed. And there are more and more examples of Trump’s unsuitability for office. Social movements from student demonstrations against gun violence to teachers’ strikes are all over the news. More and more members of the administration, and Republicans in Congress, are leaving. Those on the Left politically have to be happy about their prospects for the mid-terms.

But Election Day is six months away. That’s a long time. It can be too easy to lose momentum or become complacent, and if one hopes to at least check the worst excesses of the current administration, that could lead to disaster.

What’s a Democrat / Liberal / Leftist to do?

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MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Ghosts (US, 1960)

The Zorba family is in a rather bad state. That day, the repo men came and collected all their furniture. There’s no indication as to the source of their financial troubles, but it doesn’t really matter. That night, while eating dinner on the floor (the repo men didn’t take their dishes or kitchenware), a telegram arrives. The father, Cyrus (Donald Woods), is being instructed to show up at the offices of attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner, in his pre “Adam-12” days).

It doesn’t look good at all.

However, once Cyrus gets there, he’s informed that his eccentric uncle Plato Zorba has died recently, and has left Cyrus and his family his house and all its contents. This is a pleasant surprise to Cyrus; he’d though Plato had died years ago. The family quickly relocates to the old mansion (conveniently furnished, and with a live-in housekeeper (played with suitable creepiness by Margaret Hamilton).

There, they find out that Uncle Plato’s eccentricities concerned the supernatural, and he had developed a method that he claimed would make ghosts visible. That would explain the weird glasses that were the only non-house item left by the will. Uncle Plato also happened to “collect” ghosts – and they shared the house with him….

Haunted or no, the Zorbas really don’t have much choice at the moment….

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The Race to the Bottom

Opening Day for the baseball season is tomorrow – which means all the sports journalists have come out with their power rankings and predictions for the season. It’s pretty easy to choose who the division winners are going to be. With the exception of the American League East (which has two – the Yankees and the Red Sox), each division has just one powerhouse team that should have no problems running away with their flag.

That’s just how the game has turned out these past few years. Sure, a few teams can sneak in to the playoffs via the wild card, but even there you don’t have more than a couple of teams capable of doing that. Most teams are mediocre at best, with no chance of getting anywhere.

And however it happened, the current economic situation has actually encouraged – at least it hasn’t actively discouraged – poor teams from giving up and selling or trading off the few good players they might have in the hope of getting a bunch of good prospects or draft choices.

With the pennant races virtually decided even before the first shout of “Play Ball”, the real races to watch are the ones for last place. Will the crappy teams do the honorable thing and try to win as many games as they can, or make the good business decision to “tank” and hope for the best in the off-season?

Here are my choices for the worst teams in every division (and how they might actually pull off a miracle):

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Now Comes the Hard Part

Congratulations!

You’ve marched and protested and demonstrated. You’ve gotten great coverage in the local and national press, and even international news has noticed.

It might be tempting to just sit back contentedly and watch as your efforts achieve their intended results. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Marches alone didn’t bring integration, as Barry McGuire sang.

There’s a tendency to look at the March on Washington in 1963 as an example of how a march can lead to change. But in that instance, the march was the culmination of well over a decade of laying the groundwork, building alliances, and coming up with a clear set of goals.

By the time people gathered in DC, everything was already in place socially and politically. The march itself wouldn’t have accomplished anything if the ground hadn’t been prepared ahead of time.

Now, you’ve got society on your side (for the most part). Surveys show that most Americans agree on a set of basic laws for reducing gun violence, there are plenty of organizations on your side, and even corporations are starting to take notice. It’s time to get the politicians to come out on your side.

While fighting in DC is what gets the big headlines, that’s also where you’re going to get the most resistance. State capitols, on the other hand, tend to fly under the national radar. And some states have already passed the sort of legislation you’re calling for. Connecticut didn’t wait much after Sandy Hook to pass a package of gun control rules – and they worked. Gun deaths dropped significantly in that state. Get state governments on your side, and the federal government will have to fall in line.

I also see that you’re already being slandered by your opponents. Ignore those losers; they know they can’t win a fair fight.

It’s going to be a long slog over the months ahead. The hardest part will be to never lose faith, never lose hope, and to never give up.