Penny Lane, the director of the documentary "Our Nixon," talks about the complexity of Richard Nixon, and the ongoing battle to define his image.
A week or so ago I began to receive feedback that posts weren't being displayed on my entry "Win Ben Stein's Mind," from Dec. 3, 2008. That was my attack on Stein's film "Expelled," which supported Creationism against the Theory of Evolution. The comment thread, having reached 2,648 posts, many of them hundreds of words in length, was fed up, and wasn't going to take it anymore. I consulted the web gods at the Sun-Times. I was told...uh...ahem...perhaps the thread was growing a tad long, and was maxing out the software? After 2,640 posts and 239,093 words, perhaps this was the case.
Is the universe deterministic, or random? Not the first question you'd expect to hear in a thriller, even a great one. But to hear this question posed soon after the opening sequence of "Knowing" gave me a particular thrill. Nicolas Cage plays Koestler, a professor of astrophysics at MIT, and as he toys with a model of the solar system, he asks that question of his students. Deterministic means that if you have a complete understanding of the laws of physics, you can predict with certainty everything that will happen after (for example) the universe is created in the Big Bang.
All men are created equal. All opinions aren't. Sure, anybody can hold one, and is free to express it. But of what value is an "opinion" that's based on faulty, insubstantial, incomplete, irrelevant or nonexistent information? Answer: None. In Harper's Mark Slouka writes ("A Quibble") about what may be the most important subject of our lifetimes... in my opinion:
A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame -- no longer. [...]
...[We] we feel, as if truth were a matter of personal taste, or something to be divined in the human heart, like love. I was raised to be ashamed of my ignorance, and to try to do something about it if at all possible. I carry that burden to this day, and have successfully passed it on to my children. I don't believe I have the right to an opinion about something I know nothing about -- constitutional law, for example, or sailing -- a notion that puts me sadly out of step with a growing majority of my countrymen, many of whom may be unable to tell you anything at all about Islam, say, or socialism, or climate change, except that they hate it, are against it, don't believe in it. Worse still (or more amusing, depending on the day) are those who can tell you, and then offer up a stew of New Age blather, right-wing rant, and bloggers' speculation that's so divorced from actual, demonstrable fact, that's so not true, as the kids would say, that the mind goes numb with wonder. "Way I see it is," a man in the Tulsa Motel 6 swimming pool told me last summer, "if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us." [...]
Although perfectly willing to recognize expertise in basketball, for example, or refrigerator repair, when it comes to the realm of ideas, all folks (and their opinions) are suddenly created equal. [...]
Ben Stein, whose spectacularly idiotic "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" uses Nazi concentration camps as scenic backdrops for a nonsensical embrace of Intelligent Design, is nominated for a Malkin Award at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, for saying the following in an interview aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network:
When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed ... that was horrifying beyond words, and that's where science -- in my opinion, this is just an opinion -- that's where science leads you... Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.
Right. Just an opinion he picked up somewhere. I mean, when you think about it, what have those murderous scientists (Darwinists!) done about the leading causes of death in the world before the mid-20th Century: tuberculosis, cholera, influenza, pneumonia... ?
The Malkin Award, named after the blogger Michelle Malkin, is given annually for "shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric. A[--] C[------] is ineligible -- to give others a chance." You can vote for Stein, or one of his ignominious fellow nominees, here.
But, really, check that reasoning: God Love = Compassion therefore Science = Murder. That's gotta win some sort of a prize.
Above: Ben Stein on location at Dachau.
UPDATE: He won! And the scientist he was hating on won the equally nasty [Michael] Moore Award.
The interview takes place at Dachau. Ben Stein questions Dr. Richard Weikart (author of "From Darwin to Hitler") with the concentration camp as backdrop:
Was Hitler insane? (no) Was Hitler evil? (yes) Is there such a thing as evil? (yes) Is there such a thing as good? (yes) And evil can sometimes be rationalized as science? (yes) And (Dr. Weikart adds), Hitler probably believed he was doing good, improving humanity.
Therefore, Intelligent Design is science.
According to Stein, "Darwinism" (the label Stein applies to those who have dismissed "Intelligent Design" as unworthy of serious intellectual consideration) has been shown -- historically and scientifically -- to lead to evil and the celebration of death, as exemplified by Naziism, the Holocaust, eugenics, abortion, euthanasia...
And that is why Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory.
Scene after scene of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" repeats this mutant species of illogic, which falls laughably short of basic scientific or mathematical standards of expression. I could quote you a hundred similar examples, but you can't really argue with the movie because it fails to put forth an argument -- any argument. OK, that's not really fair. It doesn't try.
I've been accused of refusing to review Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled," a defense of Creationism, because of my belief in the theory of evolution. Here is my response.
Ben Stein, you hosted a TV show on which you gave away money. Imagine that I have created a special edition of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" just for you. Ben, you've answered all the earlier questions correctly, and now you're up for the $1 million prize. It involves an explanation for the evolution of life on this planet. You have already exercised your option to throw away two of the wrong answers. Now you are faced with two choices: (A) Darwin's Theory of Evolution, or (B) Intelligent Design.
Because this is a special edition of the program, you can use a Hotline to telephone every scientist on Earth who has an opinion on this question. You discover that 99.975 of them agree on the answer (A). A million bucks hangs in the balance. The clock is ticking. You could use the money. Which do you choose? You, a firm believer in the Constitution, are not intimidated and exercise your freedom of speech. You choose (B).
"All the really good suicide bombers are gone," laments a trio of bumbling Afghan terrorists early on in "An American Carol," and that's about the high-water mark for humor in this jaw-droppingly awful political comedy from veteran spoofer David Zucker.
-- Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
After "An American Carol" opened in some cities last week, RogerEbert.com received a few insinuating inquiries from readers asking why we did not publish a review of the film , a biographical musical celebration of the beloved wide-mouthed Broadway star of "Hello, Dolly!". The comedy, directed and co-written by David Zucker ("Airplane!"), is a conservative re-telling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol, with a fat, unscrupulous, bespectacled, baseball-capped, America-hating documentarian named Michael Malone (played by the late Chris Farley's brother Kevin) as the Scrooge figure. Our correspondents suggested that, because the movie's politics reportedly tilted to the right, perhaps the liberal falafel-loving media establishment was deliberately ignoring it. (Meanwhile, the conservative corporate media establishment was evidently off celebrating a lonely cinematic triumph in a quiet place.)
Oddly, we did not receive a single comment or e-mail asking why we did not carry a review of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," the Number One Movie of last weekend, but the reasons are the same: neither "An American Carol" nor "BHC" were screened for critics. That is usually the studios' way of ensuring that reviews do not appear on opening day. If any critic-type person still wants to cover it, he or she can simply buy a ticket to a show on Friday or Saturday and file a notice over the weekend.
RottenTomatoes lists 65 reviews for "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" (27 positive), 119 for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (85 positive), and 28 for "An American Carol" (4 positive), all of which opened the same day.
To help fill in the critical information gap, are some excerpts from the few higher-profile "American Carol" reviews I could find, some of which are kind of funny. The first one is from a review RT.com categorizes as "fresh":