Sunday, September 20, 2009

What's Roland Emmerich's Issue??

Let us journey now to the year 1996, when Spice Girls roamed the Earth, everybody loved Raymond, and the Nintendo64 ruled the video game world. A commercial aired during the Super Bowl showed the unforgettable image of the White House being spectacularly blown up by a humongous spaceship, eliciting two major reactions from people: "Oh, wow! That is SO cool!", and "Man, I hope Slick Willie was home at the time!"

Yes, this was the year of Independence Day, sometimes inexplicably called ID4, a movie that taught us that strippers have mad survival skills, dogs can outrun firestorms, and that Macs are compatible with alien computers. Produced and directed by Roland Emmerich, the producer, director, and co-writer of the successful Stargate two years before, ID was a big, dumb, chunk of cinematic junk food, where you disconnected your brain and just sat back and enjoyed the pretty explosions. Don't think too hard, just smile and go "cooool". Oh look, there's goes Washington DC! And there goes New York City, including a spectacular destruction of the Empire State Building that features a vantage point that doesn't exist in actual NYC! Oh, and LA gets torched too.

Fast forward two years to 1998, where lovers of good music struggled against the omnipresent wailing of Celine Dion's heart going on, and a chemically-enhanced pair of MLB players attacked Roger Maris' home run record. This year, Emmerich brought us the cinematic crapfest knwn as "Godzilla", and introduced us to the phrase "Matthew Broderick, action hero", which makes about as much sense as "Jon and Kate Gosselin, responsible, loyal, dignified parents". This particular stinkfest showed Godzilla trashing New York, which had just recovered from its alien invasion damage of two years prior. But there was good old NYC, once again pretty much smashed flat.

Two years later came The Patriot, which showed us how Mel Gibson single-handedly won the Revolutionary War for us, but New York wasn't destroyed in that one, nor was Washington DC, for that matter, though I suspect that in the latter's case, it was probably because of the minor detail that the city didn't exist at the time. To Emmerich's credit, at least he didn't depict a frothingly insane King George III piloting a gigantic hot air balloon over Philadelphia, and dropping the World's Biggest Cannonball on Independence Hall. Followed, of course by a fiery explosion.

Four years later, Emmerich set back the cause of environmentalism by several decades by inflicting us with The Day After Tomorrow, where he managed to top Independence Day's unrealistic factor by leaps and bounds. Once again, New York City takes it on the chin. Flooding! Freezing! Wolves! (wait...wolves!?!?!?). Washington DC doesn't do too well either. Oh, and LA gets messed up too. Killer tornadoes, don't you know...

We'll just skip past 10,000 BC, which many people did as well. There was no NYC or DC or even LA at the time, although there's the possibilty that several savage tribes of cavemen did in fact survive unevolved, and became known as New York Yankees fans.

Which brings us to 2009, where Beatlemania once again sweeps the nation (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Checking out the upcoming movies for the fall and winter, and you see the previews for "2012", Emmerich's latest "effort". This mega-disaster movie, based on a long dead culture's idea that 2012 will be a special date of change, contains the usual eye-popping special effects as we're bombarded with scene after scene of mega-disasters. Watch as a tidal wave roars over the freakin' Himalayas! Gasp as the USS John F Kennedy is hurled by a tsunami into the White House (man, I hate when that happens!)! Watch as not only LA but all of California dies screaming as the entire state falls into the ocean! Something happens to New York, but I'm not sure what, but on the other hand, you do get to see the faithful masses in St.Peter's Square, assembled to pray for deliverance from the disasters, get crushed by a falling St.Peter's Basilica (ha ha! That'll teach you God-praying types! Have a church dropped on you! This is the irony, folks!).

Personally speaking, it's gotten to the point with me that I see that preview and just roll my eyes, shake my head, and go "Here we go again" (more on that in a future blog, entitled "My Apocalyptic Boycott").

But it also begs the question...what's Roland Emmerich's issue? This man is continually trashing New York City and Washington DC! I don't think the man has missed a single opportunity to blow up NYC or DC, especially the White House. Oh, and sometimes LA. Is Emmerich a critic of the Federal model of national government, and is more of a states rights advocate? Does he just owe a lot of money to the IRS? And what about New York? Did he get mugged there? Did he contract some kind of STD while visiting Times Square years ago? What's the story?

One could argue that NYC and DC (and LA) are big, well-known cities, and thus can convey the impact of some mega-disaster in a way that the average movie-goer can identify with. To those people I say "Shut up. Don't be a killjoy". Besides, there are other recognizable cities out there, like London, for instance. At least Michael Bay had the good taste to show Paris getting flattened by a chunk of the killer asteroid (Fun Fact: You can see the Eiffel Tower from any point in Paris; movies and tv shows tell us so).

So, that's pretty much it. All of this to just throw out the simple question, "What's Roland Emmerich's Issue??". A slightly less obvious question is, with him destroying the Earth, where does he go from here? Can he keep raising the bar? What's next? "Roland Emmerich Destroys the Entire Universe"??

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Little League Is Better Than Youth Soccer

When Carol and I drive home from work, we take the scenic route through picturesque Hollis, avoiding highways, toll booths, and most of the annoying drivers. This town is the quintessential New England small town, with old slate tombstone cemeteries, a monument in the town square, white-steepled churches, expanses of farmland and orchards, farm stands, real rural New England stuff.

During the spring, when we drive this route to go home after work, we pass the public sports fields. There we see the Little Leaguers engaging in practicing or playing our National Pastime. This always brings a smile to my face. In the fall, we see the Youth Soccer types going through their paces. This always makes me wrinkle my nose, as if I had just trod in something moist and unpleasant.

Being an introspective twit, I wondered why I look so fondly on Little League baseball, but turn up my nose at Youth Soccer. It was more than just the fact that I've been a Little League coach or that I'm a Red Sox fan; something just hit me in such a way that I think baseball for kids is outstanding, while soccer makes me want to gag.

Now, I may not have been a soccer coach, but I've seen three out of four of my kids play it, and have attended many of their games, some practices too. Suffice to say, I got a good handle on what goes on. Let's look at a small sample size of what Youth Soccer is all about, shall we?

From what I've seen, the average kid in Youth Soccer goes out on the field, runs around for about an hour, never touches the ball, then the game is over. But everyone is told "good job!". At the end of the year, everyone gets a medal for the sheer physically taxing task of just showing up and having a pulse. There's playoffs of some sort, so yes, team skill and achievement is indeed recognized on some level.

But for the most part, as a kid, you can just suit up, go out on the field when the coach tells you, run around and flap your arms like a deranged chicken, never be contaminated by the touch of the soccer ball, and you'll be labeled a "winner".

Of course, if you're a goalie, or a really athletic and/or aggressive, you'll get more than your share of ball contact.

Now, let's look at Little League baseball.

You play a set position, and are expected to have at least some degree of skill and/or make an effort at that position. Sometimes, the ball will be hit to you. You will be expected to do something about it. Then, there will come at least one time during the game where the attention will be on you, as you and you alone stride up to the plate, and are expected to make a contribution. And everyone will see whether or not you've done so. You can't just run around the batter's box and flap your arms and cluck like a chicken (well, you can, but you'll look damned silly doing so). You will sink or swim, rise or fall, on your own merits.

Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly declare that Little League does a better job at building character and getting kids ready for what we laughingly call "the real world", than Youth Soccer does.

Youth soccer is this politically correct, self-esteem coddling, warm fuzzy-fest where kids get a medal and a standing ovation for just showing up and not voiding their bowels in their soccer pants or accidentally killing a spectator when one of their cleats flies off during a wild kick.

Little League baseball has this arrangement where everyone gets their chance to be in the spotlight, at least once, probably more. Sure, the kid may fail. But that's life. Sometimes, you fail. Sometimes, you succeed. You know, kind of like real life.

It's what you do after you fail that sets you apart from the crowd. Do you devote more time and practice and actually improve your skills? Or do you mope and quit because you're not getting showered with accolades for the simple act of having a pulse and a uniform that matches those of your teammates?

This is not to say that Youth Soccer is useless. Some kids can certainly get something good out of it. But all in all, when the final math is done, I think Little League builds more character, builds more team spirit, give more incentive for self-improvement, and still manages to be a fun pastime.

And at least Little League doesn't have annoying "baseball moms". A few psycho dads who try to relive their glory days vicariously through their sons, yes, but that's about it (and it's more than enough).

I close with an exhortation that does have something to do tangentally with the subject at hand. During my years of coaching Little League baseball, I saw many instances of a kid who'd hit the game-winning home run, or turn a fantastic play at short, or struck out the opposing team to win the game, then look expectantly over at the stands to find their parent(s), and find none there. The beaming expression of pride would falter, and I could see disappointment replacing it. And let me tell you, it would really rip me up inside. Lord only knows how much more torn up the kid was. Because I tell you, kids remember. Whether it's showing up for a youth sport, a dance recital, a scout meeting, whatever; kids remember. Even if you can't make it to every event (and with so many two-income families and a recession still going on, it surely can't always happen), even attending just some of them means so much to the kids. And it may not always be on a conscious level, but kids remember.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vanity, Thy Name Is License Plate

Call them what you will: vanity plates, initial plates, custom plates, personalized plates, but from this unscientific viewpoint, it seems that there's more of them out there than ever before. I had always heard that New Hampshire was a state of rugged individualists (as well as a state of tax free booze, motorbikers without helmets, and scary people in isolated shacks who married their cousins), and the vanity plate is a commonplace and (relatively) cheap way of flying your flag of individuality. You can't swing a dead pedestrian without hitting a car with vanity plates on the roads of New Hampshire.

The most common question, however, is "What the Hell is this person trying to say with their license plate?" Now, some plates are easy....that's because some plates are complete words. My wife, my oldest son, and myself all have vanity plates and they spell out complete words. Now, granted, the words themselves may be unfamiliar to people who don't have the right context or aren't "in the know", but even the uninitiated can point to a license plate that spells a complete word and say "That is a complete word; it's probably a proper noun, and I don't think I've ever seen it before, but that's definitely a complete word. Time for pie."

No, it's the plates that are made up of what usually ends up being a handful of consonants, clearly for space's sake, that makes some of us scratch our heads and go "What IS that?" The following are the best real-life examples we've seen. While in some cases it may be obvious as to what the owner is trying to communicate, it's fun to be obtuse.

OFFLMT: Obviously, this plate is spelling out "Offal Mountain". It is clear that the owner of this car considers it to be a first-class shitheap.

SWTTHNG: This plate reads "Sweat Hang". This driver must perspire heavily, until beads of sweat hang off the tip of his or her nose. Thanks for sharing.

SNFLWR: This person is obviously commanding people to "Sniff Lower". I can't think of any possible circumstance that this phrase can be used that will actually end well. Really.

SHTNSTR: This one's our favorite. Clearly, this is "Shit N Stir"...sort of like "Shake N Bake", but far, far more disgusting. You probably can NOT find this at your local grocery store.

Do you know any more? By all means, feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why Do This?

Well, when creating a new blog, you have to start somewhere. Somehow, the idea of just jumping in without some sort of preamble seems awkward and wrong. I'm sure I'm not the first blogger to begin their serial ramblings with some introspective, navel-gazing piece about why they're doing it, and I know I won't be the last.

So why do it?

Well, first of all, it's easier than using the Notes function on Facebook. There. That was easy.

Secondly, I believe that bloggers, and indeed anyone who puts any degree of time and effort in their Myspace/Facebook/Whatever profiles, is operating under the impression that somehow, somewhere, some person or persons actually gives a crap about what they have to say. And I guess that includes Yours Truly. And perhaps, yes, I do have some interesting things to say. I just never know what people will find interesting or what they'll find dull. So, I'll just hurl the verbal equivalent of pasta at the wall, and see what sticks.

Thirdly, there's the whole idea of venting. As I believe I mentioned in my Livejournal, when I used to do it, blogging is the electronic equivalent of throwing open a window and shouting at the top of your lungs. Maybe it's something good; maybe it's something bad.

And just what can you expect to find here? Observations, anecdotes, venting, rantings, ramblings, weirdness, humor, weird humor, sentimental hogwash, unasked for advice, reminiscings of what life was like "back in the day", and oh yes, hobbies...stuff like roleplaying games, and baseball.

In fact, the name Obstructed View comes from a sort-of column I did for a Red Sox fan site a while back. I liked the name enough that I'm taking it with me. So don't be surprised if sometimes this space has some bizarre satirical take on the Red Sox and their opponents.

So, brace yourselves, buckle up, keep hands and feet inside the car at all times, and enjoy.

And to start us off, here's some words of wisdom that I've come to incorporate in my life's philosophies. Some of them are from other sources, some are things I've come up with on my own, as I've explored this crazy little thing called life.

"I used to complain about not having any shoes, until I met a man with no feet. Wow. That was gross. It sure made me forget about the no-shoe thing, let me tell you."

"Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then when you do criticize them, they're a mile away, and hey, free shoes. Sort of solves the problem of the first saying, don't you think?"

"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you'll never get him to do any chores around the house; he's too damned busy going fishing with his buddies and drinking beer. Jerk."

"A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a few of them sure have gathered a buttload of wrinkles. Holy crap, have you seen Keith Richards lately? Talk about Night of the Living Dead!"

"If you love something, set it free; if it returns, it's yours forever; if it doesn't, hunt it down and kill it."

"Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, crap is from Uranus."

"You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but why the Hell would I want a bunch of flies in the first place?"

"All work and no play makes Jack want to kill his family with an axe. Redrum!"

"Remember, if a monster chases you and your friends, you don't have to run faster than the monster- you just have to run faster than at least one of your friends."

"Two roads diverged in a wood/And I took the one less traveled by/And promptly destroyed my car's suspension/Guess that's why less people took that road, huh?"