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Friday, November 22, 2019

Farewell, And Thanks

The professor that taught my two favorite classes during my undergraduate days--L. Marvin Overby--taught his last undergraduate classes for Mizzou today. I have very fond memories of those 2 courses: Congress and Legislative Policy/Politics, and Politics of the American South. It was a memorable experience. I'm not sure he knew he was my favorite, because quite honestly, he scared the crap out of me at the time. It was like something out of a movie: the scary professor who'd shut you down if you weren't prepared, like an edgy, off-color John Keating. I can't really explain what that was like, except to say this: I never missed a lecture, and I never wanted to. This dude is a throwback to the days when a university and the exchange of knowledge was for its own sake. It was good, because it was the truth, and no matter how indirect, it's for the good of others. He's good at playing the roguish cynic, but really, some pretty high ideals are lurking behind the presentation. I'll never be anything close to a leftist, but Overby planted the seeds of the destruction of my arrogant pseudo-libertarianism of the time. And somehow, he did it without expressing any overt opinions.

Every time I see Senator Schumer (D-NY) I remember Overby, and I have to smile. I was complaining about the senator holding up some Bush judicial appointments (those were the days) before one class in some pretty harsh terms, and Overby said, "Hey, Schumer is a good man who does well for his constituents." I'm not sure why this stuck out to me, but it did. I don't think I've been angry at Schumer since.

One day, in the legislative policy/politics class, Overby was lecturing on the so-called "Matthew Effect," (see Matthew 25:29) in context, the idea that our system grants significant and actually useful amounts of power with fairly small shifts in electoral outcome. I had demonstrated some facility with the Scriptures in a class full of probable heathen, and he got around to saying--after a digression into the Puritans--"Mr. Kettinger, why don't you give the class a brief outline of Calvinism?" I tried to demur, because Reformed election isn't the sunniest topic to talk about, and he wouldn't let me! So there we were, discussing theology in a politics class. I hope people were uncomfortable, in a way. Young adults are so specialized today; they don't read things you don't make them read, and even then. I'd like to think he liked me, because I'm one of those people who absorbs information because it's there. The day I stuck up for Calvinism, after class, as I recall, he mentioned that his sister was a Methodist minister. An odd contrast, that. But that was another small lesson: However he'd chosen to live, we don't treat religion as trivial or unimportant. I appreciated that.

I enjoyed his class so much, I told my advisor Donna Hanly, (RIP) that he was the best lecturer I'd ever heard. Donna replied, "You're about the 150th person to tell me that."

So now he's off to Penn State University, and they are fortunate. Hopefully the bigger and better will include some undergraduate teaching again. People who can instruct and inspire aren't so easy to find.

Thanks, Professor Overby.

Serious Films Are Pretentious And Boring

I don't mean to say they don't have a place. They do. Drama is good. And sometimes a longer running time is just necessary. But I think Serious Films are like beer or kale: we're all pretending to like them, because nobody wants to break first. It's like a game of chicken, over dumb things.

Wes Anderson makes weird movies. They're comedic, in a sense. You're not allowed to laugh like at a comedy show. You chuckle awkwardly, and salute the irony. It's some kind of surrealism, but let's be honest: if you met these characters, you'd call the cops, or some doctors.

The longer a movie goes, the more Serious it is. It can't win an Oscar, unless someone is black, brown, and/or gay, unless a white person learns a lesson. In which case, the underrepresented characters will be utterly ignored in terms of development.

Under no circumstances will a Serious Film be popular with ordinary people. If a film is popular with ordinary people, it must be simply bad. Any heartfelt emotion is simply maudlin, because it's not an Approved Story with Approved People.

No one is allowed to be happy in a Serious Film, unless a character or characters is breaking Oppressive Rules. Oppressive Rules are anything that people agreed on as obviously true 30 years ago.

A Serious Film gets bonus points if some character previously a Rule Follower commits adultery on an exotic vacation, and/or stops being a Christian, especially in favor of something that sounds vaguely spiritual, but which allows them to do what they wanted to do.

The music in a Serious Film must either be sad and classical to reflect the Seriousness, or it must be indie rock that only 500 people have ever listened to. The indie rock reflects the youthfulness and righteous correctness of some Rule Breakers that are about do something stupid.

Speaking of that, "coming of age" means sex. Every single time. Young people having sex (or genital contact, let's say) whilst breaking Oppressive Rules. If the 1950s are portrayed, the hero will be breaking Oppressive Rules, and encouraging others to do so. If somehow the hero does not openly subvert all social convention, the hero must be a persecuted homosexual.

If any happy, normal, intact family with children is portrayed positively, and the parents do not die, the parents in a Serious Film will lead the children into breaking Oppressive Rules, probably in regard to sexuality.

If the central hero in a Serious Film cannot endure the Oppressive Rules, and cannot quietly subvert them, the hero will commit suicide. This must never be portrayed negatively. If the other characters struggle with the new reality, they must either curse the Oppressive Rules, or come to terms with it, along with their friends, by celebrating the dead person's life. Also, they must recommit themselves to breaking Oppressive Rules in honor of their dead comrade.

Far and away the prototype Serious Film of my generation is Dead Poets Society. Though I oddly love this film, it is the most pretentious, preachy, incorrect film I've seen. It was pretty popular with ordinary people, I guess. Oh, well. I can't be right about everything.

In 2002, it was decided that Dead Poets Society would be re-made with young women. It was not in strict terms a reboot, so you may have seen it under the title, "Mona Lisa Smile." In addition to being preachy and false, it lacked the mesmerizing acting of the original, so it added the additional sin of being soul-crushingly boring.

All this has only gotten worse.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Kicking Off A New Tag

I'm going to start a new tag called, "Observations." It's going to be what some call, "observational comedy." I could use a few laughs, and so I'm sure could you. The Editor is sure to make a few appearances. [What?! I mean, yeah, I wasn't paying attention. I was at the fridge.--ed.]

Anyway, have you noticed that a standard-size water bottle contains precisely 16.9 ounces? Not 16. Not 17. An integer would make too much sense. Can you imagine that marketing meeting?

"OK, people. We obviously don't use metric here in the US. How many ounces should we sell at the price we determined?"

"12!"

"16!"

"18!"

[pregnant pause]

"How about 16.9?"

"Genius!"

--
Now, some enterprising soul has noticed that 16.9 ounces is precisely 500 milliliters. So we've caved to our European betters after all. I have a couple of questions here, though. Does anyone know why we don't just go metric? Moreover, did someone study how much water people like to drink, and conclude that 500 mL was appropriate? Why not 503? We have 12 ounce, 16 ounce, and 20 ounce sodas. No one there worries that the volume in mL is not round. Why water?

Speaking of soda, the powers that be will sell them in any size you want, and oddly keep the serving size (1) the same, for the most part. That's not very helpful, really. They do it for the calorie and sugar watchers among us. But it's kind of insulting sometimes. Once I get to 80 percent or so of something the government says is "bad," I've left the compound. No one is buying Hungry Man or Banquet frozen dinners with a deep commitment to "healthy eating."

It's all garbage, anyway, those numbers. I sometimes laugh out loud. It probably would anger a cardiologist somewhere. Look man, I'm not trying to deface this temple, per se. But honestly, I think some of these "clean food" types are lying. You have not learned to appreciate kale, and I know it. Pizza Hut and Doritos taste good. You might be able to convince me to eat something else, but I will never say I don't like them.

On the other hand, I've become a foodie in some ways, a real snob. After a few dishes with words like "demi" and "reduction" in them, going to McDonald's is like buying a salt brick and eating it like a popsicle. I wonder if you can get that in the 16.9 ounce size?