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Friday, August 31, 2012

Three More Reasons I love Film Noir

1. Rififi (1955)
Rififi means Trouble!
  This excellent film, by American Director Jules Dassin, is a French production, filmed on the streets of Paris.  The tough-guy lead, played by Jean Servais, is le Stephanois, a jewel thief just out of jail who finds out his woman (the beautiful Marie Sabouret) has taken up with a gangster.  In a shockingly brutal scene for the time, he takes her to task for her disloyalty.  Building a team for a heist, including Dassin himself in a key role, Servais pulls off one of the first on-screen silent heists that has been copied and parodied in dozens of movies since.
  I like this movie for several reasons, one of them being the great location shots around Paris.  This was a low budget affair, so the streets are used as much as possible, including the wild finish which I'll only say invovles a car, a wounded driver, a child, and a gun.  It's just awesome.  Servais carries the movie with his solid performance--you have the feeling no one can get the better of him.  He's invincible in the midst of all these killers, despite his internal despair; as if he wouldn't mind taking a bullet in the back of his head, though he knows it just won't happen.  And as I mentioned, this movie is brutal, in a 1955 sort of way.  These guys are not showy tough guys.  They just do what they have to do.  They aren't punk kids.  These are mature men, some of them husbands and fathers, who just happen to live in a very rough world.  Watch for this in Dassin's last scene as the character C├ęsar.
  If there is any sort of moral in this story it would be of the simple crime does not pay variety.  But it puts an exclamation point on it in its own unique way.  Rififi has been rated the number one Noir film by the great critic and Noir film director Francois Truffaut, as well as many others.
Watch Servais and Sabouret in a scene from the Rififi.

2. The Long Night (1947)
The Long Night
  This thriller, starring Henry Fonda, starts out with Joe Adams (Fonda) barricaded inside a hotel room, surrounded by police.  As the backstory unfolds, we meet his sweetheart, played by Baraba Bel Geddes, a slick magician (Vincent Price) and a few others who fill in the story.  There is great atmosphere in this factory town, and the confrontation scenes between Fonda and Price are fun to watch.  Price plays it straight here, no ghoulishness, and only creepy as far as being the manipulative older rival for the young Bel Geddes.  (This is her screen debut, by the way.)

Henry Fonda, Vincent Price, and Ann Dvorak
3. The Big Heat (1953)

    In this crime thriller, we get to see tough guy Lee Marvin as crime boss Alexander Scourby's second-in-command. Glenn Ford is the bad-luck cop who must find a way to take on the baddies when everyone else is afraid of them. Gloria Grahame is in her familiar moll role and steals the show, garning sympathy as Marvin's victim of a vicious attack as well as doling out her own vengence. Ford does his usual job of moping, which I don't always enjoy, but it works well for the story. He just always seems to come off as sleepy sometimes instead of weary. There's a big difference. This busy movie has many great minor roles which fill out the story, but make no mistake, Marvin and Grahame don't need any help.

"I was there, remember?  I'm the girl you left at the bar."  One of Grahame's perfect deliveries.
And Marvin forever earns our jeers for his treatment of Grahame.  Lee, how could you??!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Five Good Reasons to buy the James Bond Stinger Missile Unit for Your Car

The James Bond Stinger Missile Unit is available at all fully licensed Missile Warehouse Outlets.
The makers of the JBSMU remind all buyers that any use of the JBSMU must comply with local, State, and Federal laws governing the use of weapons on public roads.  In no cases will we assume responsibility for those individuals who are incarcerated for the illegal use of any product sold by our vendors.
  All moral and ethical questions regarding the use of our products should be directed to your local spiritual advisor and/or parent/guardian.  Should you become a victim of an attack of conscience or should your patience return, refunds will not be allowed.

The James Bond Stinger Missile Unit is completely
undetectable, as seen in the image above.
(Car and driver not included in JDSMU package.)
Purchase your James Bond Stinger Missile Unit and take advantage of these benefits today!
  1.  For those trains that insist on blocking a crossing before coming to a stop.  Who cares if laws passed one hundred and forty years ago gave the railroads the right to block traffic for thirty minutes.  They are no longer the sole mover of goods in the nation.  Get. Out. Of. The. Way.  (The heavy duty Iron-Horse Warhead is an ordnance option and surprisingly wallet-friendly.)
  2.  For the individual that insists on installing those blue lights in place of the traditional yellow headlights.  Night driving is already hard enough on those drivers who do not have the eyes of an eighteen-year-old.  Fortunately, the Blue-Seeker Guidance System is included in the JB Stinger Missile package.
  3.  For Motorcycles that zip between the lanes when everyone else is stuck in place.  (This requires the QuickDraw Mini Round which must be preloaded before entering traffic jam conditions.  An optional motion-detector triggering device is still in the experimental stage.)
  4.  For those brainless individuals who insist on driving all the way to the far end of an empty lane after the other conscientious drivers have merged in anticipation of a lane closing due to construction.  Such line-jumpers require no specialized ordnance, guidance systems or triggering devices since these bone-heads can be seen coming a mile away and there is a clear lane of fire as they pass dozens of cars in their quest to outsmart everyone else on the road.  (We urge restraint, recognizing that while there is usually ample time to fire a second missile for the sheer satisfaction of a double-tap to the trunk, this is unnecessary and a waste of ordnance.)
  5.  For those thoughtless individuals who drive pickup trucks, whose lights are already elevated and shining straight into a driver's eyes because said pickup truck is only six inches from said driver's back bumper.  (This requires the Rear-Fire option only available with the Premier JB Stinger Missile Unit.)

  For the bored yet irritated driver who is tired of driving in one lane, passing miles of orange and white barrels that block a lane for no reason whatsoever, we do not suggest using the JB Stinger, since it would take a prohibitive number of missiles to effectively clear the roadway of the offending plastic barrels.  We do suggest, however, that you check into another great weapon we offer-- the Rainman Repeating Minigun, which pedantically fires three thousand two hundred and sixty-five rounds a minute.  That's three thousand...definitely three thousand two hundred and sixty-five...sixty-five a minute.  The Rainman Repeater has been known to clear five consecutive miles of useless construction barrels before jamming or requiring a reload.

Hurry and order your JBSMU today before the product is pulled from shelves due to the angry protests of a small minority of law-abiding citizens who object to the sales of such practical, logical car accessories!

(The above post in no way endorses violence on the roadway.  Instead, it is intended to remind readers that they are not alone when they think dark, angry thoughts while surrounded by what constitutes the bulk of the driving hive that infests our highways today.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My View of Moneyball

(Moneyball of Wikipedia)
  I used to be a pretty big baseball fan.  TBS was on all the time whenever I wasn't working so I could see each and every Braves game that came through the cable wire.  This is hard to believe, since there are one hundred and sixty-two games in a season.  For those of you think Baseball is boring, I'll just say that if you get to know the players, learn the pitching game, and keep up with it nearly every day, it is really quite fascinating.
  But I quit watching years ago, mainly because I just had too little time to keep up with it all.  And if you don't, then it really is a bit boring.
  I do, however, like to watch a good movie now and then about baseball, because it is really a sport that can be full of drama, sacrifice, passion, and heartbreak.  Yes, there is triumph too, but there always seems to be so much more heartbreak.  Sounds a little like life, doesn't it?
  Recently, true-to-life baseball movies like The Perfect Game, and The Rookie have done a great job of showing how ballplayers can overcome incredible obstacles to become champions, or at least reach personal goals.  There is always a guaranteed emotional moment when tears well up in the toughest sports fan's eyes.  Music swells, the crowd cheers, and we know that even though it is just a game, this moment was special, and makes all the foolishness of sports worthwhile.
  Too many of these movies are far too contrived to ever achieve this.  Even if they do, one too many of them can dull your response to them.  So I try to avoid most of them.  They really become a bit too corny.
  When I saw the trailer for Moneyball,  I couldn't get too excited.  For one thing, while I think Brad Pitt is a talented actor, I'm a bit tired of Brad Pitt doing his Brad Pitt thing--the crazy, manic guy who slips in and out of being either nuts or charming.  Added to this was the implication (by title mostly) that this was a movie that was going to complain about the evil business of Major League Baseball.  Say what you will about the greedy owners, but I do not fall for the line that players should be pitied.  I work for a living, and it is tearing my body up to do so.  So does everyone else.  Ballplayers may have to deal with more injuries, but the fact of the matter is, they are being paid big bucks to play a game.  Hard to feel bad for them.  So I was prepared to pass on a professional-sports-are-evil type of movie.
  But for some oddball reason, I happened to record Moneyball on the DVR a few weeks ago and I put it on yesterday so I would have something to watch while I hit the treadmill.  I assumed it would be mildly entertaining.  If it wasn't, I had planned to switch it off and turn on The Viking Queen, which I'd also recorded, a 1960's Sword-and-Hairspray epic which, according to the poster, stars Don Murray and Carita, who apparently swings a sword and rides a chariot with very little...body armor.  Brad Pitt was going to have to work hard to keep Carita off the screen.
   As the movie opens, we learn that back in 2001, the Oakland A's just missed advancing in the playoffs in a very close best of five series.  In the aftermath of this, they lost their three star players, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen to larger, better funded ball clubs.  The set up for Brad Pitt here is that his character, Billy Beane, the General Manager for Oakland, must rebuild his team with a mere forty million dollars, while the Yankees and other ball clubs of their ilk are spending upwards of one hundred and ten million dollars a year, give or take a few million.
  Enter Jonah Hill, a Yale Economics graduate who has some peculiar ideas about how to scout and recruit baseball players.  Pitt, desperate to shake things up, climbs aboard Hill's Moneyball express, and the viewer gets to ride along this seemingly crazy train of computer-analysis-non-traditional team building experimentation.
  If you know the story, keep your mouth shut, and don't ruin it for those who either never saw what happened in real life, or have such poor memories that they don't remember how it turns out.  As plots go, this movie is fun to watch.  You'll think you see where it is all going, but you'll find a few twists that leave you surprised and pleased by the end.  Even if you don't like baseball, it's a good story, because it is not a baseball story.  It is a business story.  It is a story of friendship and commitment.  It is a story of believing in your plan and sticking with it to the end.
Pitt has firmly filled Redford's shoes both as
an actor as well as in appearance. 
  My fears about Brad Pitt were quickly laid to rest.  What really works here is Pitt's acting, since he is not just playing Billy Beane, a man intent on succeeding honestly in a crooked game, but Pitt is actually playing Billy Beane as portrayed by Robert Redford.  Think The Natural, and a few other great Redford roles like maybe his Bob Woodward role in All the President's Men, even throwing in a little of Johnny Hooker's naive earnestness from The Sting, and you'll get the idea.  I don't say this as a negative.  Pitt has said he idolizes Redford, and it shows.  He has surely studied him, you can see it in his facial expressions.  And the hair and makeup crew has studied Redford as well, going to great lengths to make Pitt look the Redford part.  The end result is a real treat.  Pitt pulls off the role with great aplomb, making what could be a dull character into a three-dimensional person about whom we end up caring a great deal.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  There is great chemistry between Pitt and Jonah Hill as well.  I know little of Hill, but know that he does mainly gross-out comedy schlock.  (I think.  Maybe I have him confused with another one of these younger guys, but that's my fault, I don't pay much attention to them these days.)  But in Moneyball, Hill shows off his acting chops with a reserved character who is smarter than everyone else in the room but is too shy (terrified really) to admit it.  His gradual growth in confidence and savvy is fun to watch.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman shows up to add a touch of dignity to what could have been a caricature role as the A's manager.  Hoffman always carried a smoldering fire that seems capable of erupting into rage, and he keeps this well controlled, allowing it to show just a little now and then, while at the same time, letting us know that he's really more a tired old man than an angry one.  Hoffman is capable of great passion and energy, but his understated disgruntled performance works perfectly against Pitt's eagerness to succeed.
  The screenplay is sharp enough that I thought I was watching real people, not actors reeling off canned lines.  (A favorite of mine is when Beane tells the team "I hate losing more than I want to win.  And there's a difference.")  The highlight of the dialog is a private conversation between Billy Beane and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry (played by Arliss Howard, who shocked the heck out of me.  I was nearly convinced they had really snagged Henry to play himself.)  For fear of revealing too much, I can only say it is a real gift to be able to eavesdrop on this conversation.
  Far from vilifying Major League Baseball, Moneyball does a great job of depicting the game as a business, to be sure, but only that.  Not an evil business, not a sham or a travesty.  It is merely a game of professionals where certain things must happen to promote the success and welfare of your team.  And this business is worthwhile in the end because, as Billy Beane says, "it is hard not to be romantic about Baseball."
  I have to agree.  After the many seasons of watching kids at the local park play recreation league baseball, it is hard not to get caught up in the romance of the game, no matter what is going on off the field.  And that's what makes Moneyball hold together as a film.  In the midst of showing us the business of baseball, director Bennett Miller reminds us that it is still a game worth watching, a game worth playing, and a game worth teaching our children.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My View of Saint Patrick's Cemetery Number 2

"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire and then transfer to one called Cemeteries...”--Tennessee Williams.
  At the foot of Canal Street, where it terminates at City Park Avenue, you'll find fourteen cemeteries clustered around this neighborhood. One of them, lying within the acute angle created by these two thoroughfares, is Saint Patrick's Cemetery Number Two.  The Saint Patrick Cemeteries were built by the Irish community.  Number Two was built in 1841.    

  Though this cemetery is not surrounded by wall vaults, this society tomb, dedicated to St. Bridget, resembles one on the boundary separating the cemetery from the smaller Odd Fellows Rest cemetery.

  Iron is a common material found within Saint Patrick's Number Two, though this is uncommon in most New Orleans' cemeteries.  These were usually painted white, but time and the constant humidity will not allow them to remain so.

  Here is a plot whose original iron fence still stands, though the crypt, or coping walls, have been removed, probably due to extreme decay.

  A detail of a crypt.  The depiction of Christ on the cross, with a mourner at his feet, is not uncommon, though the trees that surround it caught my attention.

  There are more coping tombs (where the body is buried in soil that is raised and protected by a cement wall, as seen on the right side of this picture) than the traditional brick and plaster crypts.  Here is a modest crypt with a particularly sweet statue of a mourning woman above the stele.

  A fairly well preserved relief of Jesus or an angel.  There are no markings to indicate which one it might be.

  As I mentioned at the beginning, Canal Street runs beside one end of Saint Patrick's Number Two.  And there is no crypt wall, just a short, iron fence.  Though Streetcar service was discontinued to this point many years ago, it once again reaches to the foot of Canal Street.  If you are ever in New Orleans, take that streetcar named Cemeteries for a trip to the Cities of the Dead.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My View of the Dark Knight Rises by Proxy

  For the first time at Room With No View, a guest blogger has supplied today's post.  I'm proud to introduce my son, John Reeser, a student at Louisiana State University.  Enjoy his review of The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises or How Nolan Completely Missed His Own Mark

by John Reeser


   To get this out of the way, I did not enjoy The Dark Knight Rises. It was the greatest cinematic disappointment of my young life and I resent it for that. The story was all over the place, the characters didn't offer any kind of emotional investment, and in some cases had no real reason for being in the film at all. Most of all, the ending of the film totally spat on the entire point of the first two films of the trilogy which I think is the worst of it all.
   However, after seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I went home and began reading as many reviews on it as I could. I was trying desperately to validate my absolute distaste for the film, because I sorely, sorely wanted to love it. Whilst wading through reviews, one writer mentioned that it shared similar pitfalls with Nolan's previous film Inception as far as plot-holes and character development/motivation.
   This got me thinking. Inception was surely flawed, but the flaws could be overlooked for the most part. Was TDKR any different or was I putting an unfair expectation on it? The Dark Knight Trilogy obviously carries more weight than Inception does, sure. Inception wants us to suspend disbelief, for obvious reasons. Going into that film with a ruler and calculator will yield a lot confused faces. So I love Inception, regardless of the plot-holes it may have. Why can't I love TDKR?

   I figured that of all of the things it had going for (or against) it, the most important was the overall theme. I hope I'm not spoiling anything when I reveal that the main theme of the first two movies was “Batman isn't a man, he's a symbol that can't be killed.” This is all over those first two movies. The deal with Ra's al Ghul being more of a force than a man (psst, after Bruce went to go find himself, he was trained by Ra's al Ghul, so that's kind of a big deal), the whole “let's inspire Gotham not to be so stupid and terrible” plan (which hinges on providing an ideal for the people, not a bodyguard), and the Joker's recognition of Batman's plan to revitalize the city (and his subsequent counterattack which targets the foundations of Batman's justice by being chaotic and evil with no reason).
Christopher Nolan's Last Batman Film
   But then along comes The Dark Knight Rises, making explosion noises with its mouth as it rolls up to the past two movies on its Big Wheel, and proceeds to spit all over these well-developed themes. Let's do a little bit of a brain-head experiment: if Batman is a symbol (not a man), stands for something that can't be killed, and comes up against a villain that is famous for breaking him in half, what should happen? Maybe... maybe he should die? Maybe Bruce Wayne should sacrifice himself for Gotham, knowing full well that Batman cannot be killed? Maybe someone else becomes Batman? Would that tie up the main theme well? Because it would. The Dark Knight Rises? Rises like... how about like a phoenix being reborn after a fiery death? Or a faceless citizen dutifully rising up to don the cowl in support of an ideal?
    Wait. I have a better idea. Let's have Wayne magically heal from a broken spine, climb out of the Sarlacc pit unaided, punch some guys in the face, save the city from a bomb like Superman tossing a nuke towards the Sun, and then retire in Europe with a smug sense of satisfaction, knowing that it was all him. Not Batman; not the ideal; Bruce Wayne. Yeah, that ties things up pretty well, but more like a noose than anything else.
   Nolan built this great Batmobile of a trilogy, put it through its paces, got it up to speed and then ripped out the wiring just before it had a chance to come full-circle. TDKR has a sappy ending and it is entirely dissonant with the rest of the trilogy. If Nolan had simply stuck to the entire point of Batman, he could have filled half of TDKR with Sprite commercials and it would still have been a better film than the one he decided to make.
   But hey, at least there's a lot of scenes with Batman face-punching guys in broad daylight.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My View of St. Roch's Campo Santo Cemetery

  To continue my series on New Orleans' Cities of the Dead, we'll take a look at a lesser known cemetery in the Big Easy.  St. Roch's Campo Santo is a little off the beaten path for the tourists, and is unique among its companion cemeteries.  The two cemeteries dedicated to St. Roch are directly across the street from each other.  The first was dedicated in 1875.  Its unusual patron is a Saint that very few American Catholics outside of New Orleans are familiar with.  This French wayfarer is linked to a great outpouring of miraculous healings back in the early 1300's.  The stories center mostly around epidemics such as the Black Plague.  Father Thevis arrived in New Orleans during a Yellow Fever outbreak in the 1860s.  He dedicated his life to caring for the sick and led a campaign to build a chapel and its subsequent cemetery to St. Roch.

  Here you can see the much larger chapel built in the second cemetery.  The first chapel is famed for its "Threshold of Healing" room, just off the side of the chapel, where pilgrims bring plaster copies of anatomical parts, called ex-votos, which represent the healing they received while calling upon St. Roch to intervene for them.  This oddities room draws the few tourists who are willing to step off that beaten path.  Again, there are warnings about the neighborhood around these cemeteries and I would only suggest that as with any big city you visit during the middle of the day and be aware of your surroundings.

  Also in the second cemetery, you'll see this larger section of coping tombs.  All of St. Roch's is far more rigidly designed than most of the other cemeteries, and it is well cared for.  It is said that it is one of the busiest cemeteries on All Saints' Day, which is the traditional time for families to visit and perform maintenance on the crypts.

  This picture here is another example of the orderly design of the cemetery .  The avenues are wide, and the monuments are not only clean and free of wear, they are also intact.  You'll see almost no evidence of grave-robbing.  The site it known to have had several long term caretakers who dedicated a great deal of their time to the care of St. Roch's.

  In the original cemetery, the wall vaults are interspersed with these alcoves wherein you'll find life-sized statues imported from Italy, which depict the fourteen stations of the cross.  Here you see the 14th station depicting Jesus being laid in his tomb.  I hope to return to St. Roch's one day and photograph each of the stations.  If I do, I'll be sure to post them for all to see.

  This is the central courtyard of the original cemetery.  The Gothic design of the chapel is based on the Campo Santo de'Tedeschi, a church and cemetery beside Saint Peter's which was built for Germans living in Rome.  The statue of the child in front of the cross was once rumoured to be the first corpse interred in the cemetery wrapped in plaster, though this was not true.  It is a full body ex-voto that a mother donated in thanks to St. Roch for healing her sick child.
  St. Roch's does not offer the same atmosphere as the older, more worn cemeteries near the French Quarter, but its room of plaster body parts has a touch of the macabre that ensures this cemetery its membership in the mysterious world of New Orleans' Cities of the Dead.  What is clearly evident here is the care and love which has been poured into these grave sites throughout the years.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Residents Protest New Science Bowl Stadium

Louisiana (Ironee News Wire,)--Just when you thought it was going to be another dull back-to-school season, some residents of Lowgrade Louisiana have startled the High School world by rising up in protest against the proposed new Science Stadium.  According to Stum Dullard, Lowgrade's fourth-term School Board member, it was "just the right time to stand up against this sort of foolishness."
  This sort of foolishness being a $111.2 million stadium.  Next month, in this upper middle class suburb, ground will be broken on a modern, whiz-bang, 10,000-seat facility that will include a fully encircled grandstand, a 4DTV scoreboard, six restrooms and as many concession stands . It is scheduled to be ready for use by the spring Science Bowl Season.
  "There's nothing foolish about it," Lowgrade Principal Thurston Solly says. "The Science team has done a great job of bringing in revenue to our cash-strapped budget.  To focus on the fact that this money is being spent on our Science Program is missing the point.  The Brain Surgeons are more than just a bunch of guys out there having fun while playing games.  This is tough competition, they work very hard.  And as much as ten or fifteen per cent of the revenue they generate is put back into the school."

 Solly is technically correct.  Last year, ten and a half per cent of the excess revenue from all Brain Surgeon ticket sales and concession sales went into the High School's general fund.  This did not include a percentage of monies raised by the parent run Lab-Boosters Club, which has no School Board oversight.  Though the numbers are undisclosed, a former office holder from the Lab-Boosters says prior years have seen as much as $11.9 million raised during a full school year.  With last year's State Championship run, that number is expected to easily pass the $15 million mark.
  Olga Wistchky, a School Board member for over forty years (her first year was 1981), thinks Dullard has a valid point.
  "How do we look our kids in the eye and tell them we are doing our best to provide them with a full education when we have this imbalance in our priorities?  Is Science a good thing?  It can be.  But not if it teaches kids that you can become a star at the Science Bowl while you ignore the importance of healthy exercise.  The numbers of kids trying out for sports has dropped dramatically.  Before you know it, our kids will just be little weaklings with jelly for muscles.  Is that what this town wants?  Jelly Kids?"

  Though the argument is hardly new, it is an appropriate debate to revisit with the looming expenses of the new stadium project.  Melvin Twoless, the City Engineer who chaired the Stadium Building Committee, disagrees, saying the 100 million plus price tag will not be a burden to the community.
  "The project has been on the books for a number of years and a majority of people in this Parish voted for the bond . We look forward to completing this project in time for the first game of the season."
  Twoless failed to mention that the bond passed by the slimmest margin ever in a vote over a bond issue for any Parish in all of Louisiana.
  But a new stadium is hardly the issue.  No one will deny that it will be used to its fullest potential.  The current stadium, which only seats 6,000, has been overfilled for years.  One of the side benefits of the project is the extra parking lots being installed.  Residents in this Science-crazed town have been parking in yards and ditches as far as six blocks away from the school.  The new parking lots, fully paved with extensive lighting, will be a welcome sight to Brain Surgeon fans.
  The new project may also just be another version of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.  Some of Lowgrade's biggest rivals have recently built new, state-of-the-art complexes.  River Down's Astronauts, Saint Euclid's Supercolliders, and Chipaltoulouskis' Medicine Men have all seen increased revenue from their new homes.  (The Medicine Men's success is particularly inspiring, considering the public relations battle they endured to keep their traditional mascot in the face of stiff PC opposition.)
  Principal Solly also pointed out that the stadium benefits more than just the Science Team.
  "As we've seen at River Down, these new complexes can be used for Quiz Bowl, Spelling Bees, and even the occasional Chess competition.  It's really a win-win for the whole school."


 Not so fast, says Dullard.  "All of those activities still point right back to academics, except maybe the Chess Club, but that's not really a sport either, so I don't know where they fall into.  But all this focus on academics is embarrassing.  Not every kid can stand in the middle of an arena and recite names off the Periodic Chart.  Heck, I couldn't name four of them.  Can my kid help it that I didn't pass down the genes needed to get him a spot on the Brain Surgeons?  What am I supposed to do, hire a tutor for him and tell him to forget about sprinting?  What's he suppose to do later in life when he suddenly finds himself being chased by an alligator?  Should he shout out the definition of mitosis?"
  The real question Lowgrader's have to ask themselves is why so much interest in the Science team?  Why do they spend $40 a ticket every Friday night to see their kids flex their scientific prowess?  Why cough up $35 for a soda and a little paper bowl full of nachos and processed liquid cheese composite?  How can an entire community gather once a week to deify kids who can spout the latest mathematical theorems under the pressure of overflowing stands and local television cameras?  Are these not the same kids who used to corner the dumb kids behind the cafeteria at lunch and make them recite their times' tables?  I can assure you even this reporter can remember the shame from being caught more than once by the Spelling Jocks.  And for the record, while I know how to spell immolate now, I couldn't back then, certainly not with an imminent wedgie waiting for me if I got it wrong.
  "It's not just about the kids who are simply at school to pick up an average education balanced with a solid physical background," says Coach Rip Backer, one of the few teachers at the school willing to question the Science program.  "I'm really concerned about many of the Science team members who have been lied to, who have been told they stand a chance at getting into college, make it on a college team like LSU's National Championship team.  Even if they get a shot at playing for the Electrons, they'll never make it to the professional level where they can actually make a living at it.  The best they can hope for is to end up as a doctor, or a physicist at someplace like JPL.  And who wants to be stuck in that kind of work?  I've talked with so many former students who just wish they learned to strengthen their bodies enough to handle hard labor.  The competition out there for jobs that use your brain is getting out of hand.  At least my kids, the ones ignored by the Science department, the ones who have to endure the embarrassment of spending their time playing football and soccer, at least they're fit enough to handle a job digging ditches or swimming pools.  I can at least feel like we didn't fail them, though their numbers are getting smaller every year."
  Whether you agree with Principal Solly or School Board member Dullard, you can bet that this renewed protest will force us to look at Science programs under a microscope, and we'll be forced to use the scientific method to analyze just what our priorities should be.
  And as any Brain Surgeon can tell you, you need data before you can make a complete analysis. 
  • The cost of the stadium will exceed the total cost spent on repairs and upkeep for the school over the past twenty years.
  • Lowgraders have refused to pass a bond for repairs to the local elementary school's playground, where monkey-bars and slides have rusted beyond usability. 
  • The money for the project raised to this point, according to the School Board's own by-laws, cannot be used for sports of any kind.  The Sports budget was separated from the Education budget decades ago when sports like football and basketball ruled the campus.  At that time sports programs were happy to keep their own money for themselves. 
  • The public stigma of kids who spend too much time exercising and engaging in physical activity cannot be ignored.  Some parents who have pushed their children into such a lifestyle have been called out as unfit to raise a child in today's world.  Though no intervention has actively taken place, Social Services has begun to collect data on this issue.
  •   No one is actually suggesting we rearrange our priorities and start pushing kids to succeed physically instead of academically; it would be political suicide for any member of the School Board.  But while a reasoned call for some balance might not be politically destructive, it could certainly be frustrating for members like Dullard who have to interact with Brain Surgeon fans in the community on a daily basis.
      "Yes, a few of my customers have voiced their displeasure with my stance," he admits.  "But I think this is too important for me to worry about the bottom line.  I think the worse thing that could happen would be if everyone just ignored me.  Treated me like the local crank, and just kept on like I hadn't said anything.  That would be worse."
      "Oh, I think he means well," Solly told me in a follow-up interview.  "Stum's an old friend.  He and I go way back, and we'll remain friends.  He just fails to understand that the stadium will be a benefit for the entire community.  And perhaps he even forgets that in his time, he could prove a theorum faster than any of us in District play."

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    My View of St Louis Cemetery #2

      New Orleans is famous for its Cities of the Dead.  Because the city is below sea level, one of the difficulties encountered by residents was burying their dead.  You can't dig a hole without it filling up with water.  So above-ground burials were the only option.  Saint Louis Cemetery #2, dedicated in 1823, just a few blocks north of the first Saint Louis Cemetery, once outside of town, is now surrounded by the city.  This picture of the wall vaults in the center section shows how close Interstate 10 is to the site.

    To the west, you can see that the University of New
    Orleans looks down over the tombs.  Just off to the left of this is a housing project, a low-income project that usually provides fodder for the warnings from tour guides who say you should not visit the cemeteries alone.  However, on the day I visited, there was a neighborhood fair going on in this project, and kids were running everywhere.  Should you be careful while touring the cemeteries?  Of course, as you would in any big city.  I have wandered many of the cemeteries alone and never seen anyone who even looks threatening.
      I did stop and talk with a policeman near Saint Louis #1, and his only advice was that you should not wander around the outside of the cemetery walls.  Tourists walking around the walls, their cameras and personal awareness focused on the sites, are often inviting targets.  Again, this is common sense.  As you can see in the shot on the left, many of the older tombs are in poor repair, even unto collapse.  Family members have the responsibility of tomb upkeep, unless perpetual care is paid for.  But oftentimes, families move away, or die off, and no one is left to patch the cracks and whitewash the stone.

    The Caballero crypt is in magnificent shape.  Its grand, Gothic design
    is evidence of money and a keen desire to make an impression.  These chapel designs are reminiscent of what one might see in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

    Most of the statuary originally placed on the lintel of the tombs are
    long gone, broken, fallen, or stolen.  However, in the center section, there is a wonderful family crypt with five statues still standing.  Some heads and hands have been cut off, but the image, as a whole, has survived.  The effect takes your breath away.  Along each side of the crypt are long handled torches, with the flames down.  Two of the angels are holding the torches upside down as well.  This is a symbol that usually denotes the death of a child.

    In 1849, the steamboat Louisiana exploded when a boiler over pressured.
    Within ten minutes, the boat sank in the Mississippi river, just at the foot of Gravier Street.  Though no one is positive, estimates are that one hundred and fifty to two hundred people died in the tragedy.  One of the Berelli children was on board and lost.  This memorial was erected in the child's honor.

    Though it has been reported that the pirate Jean Lafitte is
    buried at Saint Louis #2, this is not correct.  Lafitte was buried at sea after dying in battle as he tried to take two Spanish ships.  However, Saint Louis #2 does have Lafitte's Lieutenant, Dominique You.  You is a Louisiana legend, having fought with Lafitte, distinguished himself in the Battle of New Orleans commanding an artillery company, and later as a city councilman.  He was laid to rest in 1830, under these words:

    "Intrpide guerrier, sur la terre et sur l'onde,
    Il sut, dans cent combats, signaler sa valeur
    Et ce nouveau Bayard, sans reproche et sans peur
    Aurait pu sans trembler, voir s'crouler le monde."
    Translated as:
    "Intrepid warrior on land and sea
    In a hundred combats showed his valor
    This new Bayard without reproach or fear
    Could have witnessed the ending of the
    World without trembling"