Monday, July 30, 2007

Bridesmaid Revisited

I'd be remiss if I didn't thank everyone for their well wishes on the PIMP tour. All the words of encouragement were very much appreciated. I'll avoid a lengthy recap, since I was only gone for a grand total of about 30 hours. The highlights for me:

- Driving from LAX in the Super Shuttle past working oil fields as I'm reading "The End of Oil," and noticing that one in four pumps aren't operating.

- Passing the actual Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences building on La Cienega.

- Five minutes later, passing Flynt Publications.

- Meeting fellow PIMP Mark Grisar from Westchester, NY, whose screenplay "Bad Rap" has a memorable logline that goes something like this: "A gangsta rapper decides to go 'easy listening' and become a better father to his four kids... and their mothers."

- The salmon burger with avocado at whatever place it was where we went to dinner.

- The fact that I was thousands of miles from Minneapolis, but still within walking distance of Macy's, Marshalls and Fogo de Chao.

- Walking into the L.A. Improv and seeing photos of people like Martin Short and... I don't know, lots of famous comedians.

- The absolutely jaded atmosphere as the M.C. read the finalists' loglines between the five-minute comedic performances.

- The best three words from any logline: "An alcoholic superhero..."

- The performance of Eddie Pepitone, who basically screamed an improvised set, and still put on the best show.

- Hearing the words "you came in fifth" after watching the four winners receive their trophies and checks.

- Remembering that I am, indeed, Bellamy Grant.

- The overall feeling that it's nice to be a wannabe screenwriter in St. Paul, Minnesota, as long as you're in Minnesota. But that when you actually go to a place where your waiter has optioned more scripts than you have, you realize that you're really not that clever, you're really not that original, and while you may not be the scum on the bottom of the barrel, you are what the scum on the bottom of the barrel makes fun of in its five-minute set at the Improv.

- Bellamy

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Is The Post That Goes Like This

After waiting for almost a year, we finally saw the traveling version of "Spamalot" last night. And while I wasn't surprised that the Python references (90 percent of which are from The Holy Grail) were cleverly and (mostly) hilariously executed, I was surprised by a different element of the show: the self-contained satire of Broadway itself, including:

- a discussion about how searching for the grail is really a metaphor for life ("After all, why would God care about a cup, and wouldn't He know where it was?") followed by a sublimely cheesy song called "Find Your Grail"; and

- a disgruntled diva character based on the "Lady of the Lake" from British mythology, who twice during the show sings a romantic duet with King Arthur called, "This Is The Song That Goes Like This."

This is the song that goes like this. Wow. Thank you, Eric Idle. I can't get over the genius of that concept. And the song was, of course, good--in the same way that the songs in "This Is Spinal Tap" are good. Recalling my pit orchestra days playing guitar for "Godspell" and "Once Upon a Mattress," I was reminded that there's a fine line between "good good" and "bad good." This reminded me how much I love "bad good." "Bad good," you might say, is the best good of all.

P.S. I am now the proud owner of a black "Fetchez la vache!" T-shirt and killer rabbit slippers, courtesy of my good friend, John Spencer, who introduced me to Monty Python sometime around the 6th grade and always reminds me that it's very good to be not dead yet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The key to life...


... is having low expectations, so that when good things do occasionally happen, one is pleasantly surprised. With that, I'm off to to Hollywood to fail miserably.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Joe Biden for President


Joe Biden should be the next president of the United States. I've thought it since he informally announced many months ago. I continued to think it even after his official announcement-day gaffe. I still think it after watching the YouTube Debates.

Look at this graphic. Who won the debate? Clinton, Clinton, Clinton. Who seemed to know the most about the issues. Biden, Biden, Biden. Um, hello?

My case for Biden is both objective and subjective, rational and irrational.

On the objective side, the guy is smart in a blue-collar intellect (not blue-blood Bostonian) kind of way. I trust his command of the facts. I trust the fact that he seems to care about the facts. Like Richardson, he's truly experienced. He's been in the Senate since, like, 1852. He's made mistakes, and he's owns up to them. He actually has the nerve to acknowledge that some of the positions he took when he was younger turned about to be wrong. What a concept.

On the irrational side, I like a guy who's been there, done that and still wants the job. This guy lost his wife and daughter. He's had a brush with death himself. He's seen a lot of life. He's already run and lost. He knows he has very little chance, and yet he still wants it.

This is what separates him from Obama in my mind. Obama has all the idealism, and he can even sound pragmatic when talking about his ideals, but he hasn't been there. You can trust someone to effect change through great disruption, or you can trust someone to do the same thing without disruption because they already know the system and how to work with their opponents. Maybe I'm getting old, but I trust the experienced navigator (a trait Bob Dole brought to the Senate) a little more than the New Kennedy, who, like Clinton in his first term, inevitably overreaches and faces a marketplace correction that wastes everybody's time.

A bonus: Biden has a real sense of humor and is naturally self-deprecating. I don't trust anyone, especially a leader, who doesn't have both of these traits. And finally, I'll admit it, the same words coming from a guy who looks like Joe Biden vs. a guy who looks like Dennis Kucinich... I'm sorry, it has an effect on me.

Biden-Richardson 2008.

P.S. I saw Biden in person at Notre Dame in 1988, just coming off his plagiarism scandal. When he was done speaking, you didn't care. He answers the questions that are given to him, and he answers honestly. He's the only person I've heard truly speak eloquently on abortion, and his position infuriates both sides in the bumper-sticker wars. He should be elected for that fact alone.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thoughtapalooza

"Plate" is not a verb. You cannot "plate" my meal any more than I can "Visa" your bill.

Medellin will turn out to suck. I'll bet you $20. E is never wrong.

As of today, Dunn Bros. coffee is still the world's finest legal drug.

My four-year-old son is the sweetest, most arrogant person I know.

If conservatives think we should put people in charge of government who don't believe in government, then I await the day when ExxonMobile hires the head of Greenpeace as its new CEO.

Some people rented hotel rooms just to be able to read the new Harry Potter book in one quiet sitting. I'm not sure if this is a sign of sickness or hope.

If you actually believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, how do you explain the petroleum-based product that runs your SUV?

Halogen lighting is more aesthetically pleasing than standard lighting. It sucks that it uses way more energy.

The moral line on sex should be consent, not sexual preference.

I have heard many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians decry homosexuality. I have never heard one rail against rape.

Jon Stewart looks frighteningly ashen without makeup.

We have reached the point where a name like "Wolf Blitzer" no longer shocks anybody.

There are no mosquitoes in Minnesota this year. Are they in a suicide pact with the bees?

Racquetball is due for a comeback. It needs a new name, a fluorescent court, and a movie starring Will Ferrell.

Is glue really made from horses?

If Al Gore's motivation is money, why didn't he become an energy industry lobbyist?

Bright Eyes is a horrible name for a fabulous band.

I don't know about that Fred Thompson. He's so... ambitious.

The most dangerous country to America is still Pakistan.

I can only express anger to inanimate objects, and their passive resistance infuriates me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Who are these people?

So I'm having a great Minnesota day. Being all creative and sh*t at my Warehouse District marketing agency. Walkin' over to Kieran's Irish pub for a pint of the black stuff with my old man. Hittin' the Twins-Tigers game at the Metrodome. Takin' the pimped out Light Rail after the game.

All was good with the world and my favorite state until I arrived at my car in South Minneapolis at 10:30 p.m. and found, stuck to the window of my Honda Civic, a Post-it Note handwritten in pencil. You can't read it from my poor cell phone photo, so let me transcribe it for you:

It's hard to imagine that you avoided bumping the cars around you when you squeezed into this spot. Please try to be a little more considerate. Thanks.

Let me break this down. One of the truisms of life is that all of us are convinced of two things about ourselves: We don't watch very much TV, and we're good drivers. Both of them are generally false. But I am a good driver, and I can be a very good parallel parker. Yesterday morning, rather than park within the same zip code of the stop sign in my usual area and get another ticket, I opted to park farther away and parallel it.

This was not even in the top 10 of the most difficult parallel parking jobs I've attempted. I was careful not to touch either car, and as Zeus is my witness, I completed the task without allowing one electron of my Civic to touch one quark of the other two cars. I even parked with perfect symmetry between them, allowing the maximum maneuverability for my neighbors, remembering the winter beratement I endured from a nearby homeowner who missed half a day of work trying escape the tiny space I left him.

What exactly went through the head of the person who left me this note? Perhaps he was just walking by, saw my excellent parking job and decided to postulate a thesis on its unlikeliness. Perhaps he was the owner of one of the other cars, who upon seeing a scratch on his bumper from 1999 decided that it MUST be attributed to today's miraculous appearance of the insidious Civic. Or perhaps he was a true scoundrel and, in an effort to distract attention from his own poor parking skills, he employed psychological projection to blame the criminal act on moi.

Forgive me, wonderful residents of a place I love, but this can only happen in Minnesota. This state invented two things: passive-aggressive behavior and the Post-it Note, and I just experienced the merging of the two. This person actually took the time to look at my car, piece together a story about how it was parked, assume that the cars in front of it and behind it were the same cars present when I parked, perhaps look for scratches on either car, formulate a theory of criminal intent, and--this is the element of passive-aggressiveness that truly redefines the form--scold me in the future for an act I never committed in the present, and end with "thanks."

I am breathless.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Intelligence vs. Masculinity Redux

Two months ago, I warned about the real culture war: Intelligence vs. Masculinity. I forgot to document how this theory was brilliantly demonstrated last week.

After Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from my home state of Indiana whom I greatly respect, gave what a fellow Republican termed "one of the more thoughtful speeches I've heard in the Senate in a long time," House Minority Leader John Boehner proceeded to refer to Senate Republicans who have begun to favor a change in course in Iraq as “wimps.”

Mark Twain famously said that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel. The real scoundrel is the schoolyard bully who reacts to indisputable facts by challenging the masculinity of the truth-teller.

In a related story, a Brit swam the North Pole on Sunday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Under-Appreciated Actors

I don't know why this topic came to me as I was on the treadmill over lunch, but I'm rolling with it. Under-rated actors. As rated by me. A totally random list. Mostly the old, some of the new.

#5: Kristin Wiig

Maybe there's more buzz about Wiig than I'm aware of living in Flyover Land, but as someone who's seen SNL in every incarnation since the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, I think she's got something. Everything I've seen her do... she has that Will Farrell quality of selling it completely.


#4: Delroy Lindo

Based on what little I've seen (Spike Lee's "Clockers" and "Cider House Rules"), Lindo is my favorite still-largely-unknown movie actor. Intensity. He can do it all with his face. I don't know why he's never been nominated for an Oscar.


#3: Max Gail

Remember Sergeant Wojohowitz ("Wojo") from "Barney Miller"? In a great cast on a first-rate show, he's the one that sticks out. He showed a combination of repression and vulnerability I don't think I've seen since.


#2: Shelley Long

Maybe it's inappropriate to nominate a lead actor from one of the most successful TV shows in history, but have you watched a "Cheers" rerun lately? The show holds up pretty well, but the early ones with Sam and Diane... no one else could have played that character.


#1: Edward Winter

At one time, I remember being able to watch M*A*S*H three times a day in syndication between South Bend and Chicago stations. Getting a Col. Flagg episode was like finding an Easter egg. On a show filled with great writing and good acting, he stole it every time. In my book, with the possible exception of Ricky Gervais' David Brent on the original British version of "The Office," Col. Flagg is the greatest character ever invented for TV (although, come to think of it, he was probably based on Sterling Hayden's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove").

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Difference

Introducing another feature here on BBS. This one is designed as an outlet for my obsession with trying to pinpoint the real differences between those who skew liberal vs. conservative.

No, this isn't going to be a total political hack job. That's too easy. What I've been trying to do for a long time is create an evolving list of objective differences between the two philosophies. The purpose? To bridge these differences and create a world of peace and everlasting harmony.

Just kidding. Liberals will always think conservatives are selfish and judgmental, and conservatives will always think liberals are weak and lazy.

Introducing Difference #1:

Conservatives believe in the American myth. Liberals believe in the American promise.

That probably doesn't sound too objective, because of the word "myth." But hear me out. Conservatives love their country and want to protect its tradition. That tradition is based on a story that goes like this: Columbus discovered America. People came here for a better life. They settled the land from east to west. They established democracy and defeated every enemy who got in their way. America is the land of freedom and opportunity, where you can forge your own destiny and succeed if you work hard. It's all about a self-sufficiency that goes back to colonial times. If ask for a handout, you fly in the face of that tradition.

Liberals don't derive as much pride from this American myth, because they know it's a myth. Columbus didn't discover anything; there were already 10 million people living here. We "settled" the country through war, smallpox and broken treaties. We established a democracy that said only white men who own property have the right to vote. We built an economy through a system of free labor called slavery. But despite all this, we did dream up (with help from the ancient Greeks) the idea--the promise--that "all men are created equal." We've never lived up to it, but we've probably done it better than anybody else.

The interesting thing is that while liberals are often seen as negative, the liberal view is the forward-thinking one. They're always trying to reach an ideal. They see progress over time, and they don't want to go back.

Conservatives are usually painted as positive and optimistic, but they're the ones who want to go back in time to an older American "ideal" that sounds nice until you realize that it also brings back the things we've managed to transcend, like segregation, slavery and inequality at the ballot box.

One position is complicated but more truthful. The other is simple and a lot easier to market.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

God Is Not Great

L.A.P. WARNING: Long-Ass Post.

For the last six weeks, I've had a small obsession (if there is such a thing) with the new Christopher Hitchens book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. First I moved through the audiobook (which, because it's read by Hitchens himself, can be hard to follow); this weekend I finished reading the actual book.

This is new territory for me, as I've only recently read any books on my own concerning theism and religion. I started with The Thomas Jefferson Bible after reading a Harper's article about how strikingly similar that book is to the more recently discovered Gospel of Thomas. Jefferson, a Deist, edited the New Testament to only the passages that he found credible. He believed that the gospel writers were largely unreliable, and he shunned any belief in miracles, but he found many of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to be "sublime." Thus, no resurrection, no healing of the sick, no turning water into wine, no virgin birth, etc. Just the teachings.

I thought that this study would add validation to my somewhat tongue-in-cheek claim (prompted by the rise of the religious right in this country) that "Jesus was a liberal." After all, in my 13 years of Catholic school instruction, I never once remember being taught that homosexuals deserved fewer rights than heterosexuals. But I do remember--and we're not talking tree-hugger Catholicism here; we're talking Notre Dame and the nuns and brothers of St. Joseph's Grade School--tales of helping the poor, not judging sinners, embracing prostitutes and tax collectors, and casting the first stone when you yourself are without sin.

In short, The Thomas Jefferson Bible proved the insanity of applying political labels to Jesus. He purportedly preached all of the above, but also said that thinking about adultery is the same as committing it (imagine how I would react if John Ashcroft had said that). When I looked to the Gospel of Thomas for further illumination, I was struck at how absurd many of the "sayings" attributed to Jesus are. For example: "He who doesn't hate his father and mother cannot be a disciple of mine. He who does not hate his brothers and sisters and bear his cross as I do will not be worthy of me." In addition, even the editor is sometimes puzzled by Jesus' use of agricultural metaphors that show a stunning ignorance of agriculture.

Bottom line: Nobody knows if Jesus of Nazareth even existed, let alone what he said, let alone what he might have meant by what he said.

Then came Hitchens. He begins by relaying an anecdote about an elementary school teacher who taught separate courses on nature and scripture. He loved these courses separately, but then grew alarmed on the day when his teacher tried to merge the two. When she said, "see what a great designer we have, and how he has made the world green, which is precisely the color that is most pleasing to our eyes," Hitchens knew inside that she had it exactly backwards. The eye has adjusted to nature, not the other way around.

Hitchens comes at religion not as a fallen believer, but as someone who instinctively never possessed a belief in a god or religion in the first place. And there's something about this particular viewpoint that I found compelling. In short--and this is paraphrasing quite a bit--his views are the following:

- Religion is entirely and obviously man-made.

- Any belief that there has to be a "creator" of the universe simply begs the question "who created the creator?"

- Belief in God or gods is a product of the human species' fear death (and thus wishing for an afterlife) and need to explain what it does not (yet) understand.

- As our understanding of the world increases, the need for gods and religion decreases.

- Just as astronomy replaced astrology and medicine replaced alchemy, so should philosophy and ethics continue to replace religion.

- Not only does one not need religion to act humanely, but to act humanely not in the name of religion is more meaningful.

- We are one species of life in a universe that has existed for billions of years. We are mammals. Our distinctive feature is our brains and our ability to reason, but this capacity is still evolving.

- Religion represents "the childhood of our species," and contrary to popular belief, religion and reason are fundamentally incompatible.

These are his tamer assertions. The more aggressive include:

- Religion is inherently dangerous because its most ardent believers cannot rest until everyone either believes as they do or ceases to exist. The three prominent monotheisms continue to kill in the name of their God and their beliefs.

- Religion is totalitarianism. It purports to know the truth instead of seeking it. It mandates belief in an all-knowing and infallible force. It is based on the idea that one set or race of people are separate and superior. Totalitarianism, whether religious or secular, is the real enemy.

- The Pentateuch of Judaism, the Bible of Christianity and the Koran of Islam are collections of hearsay upon hearsay of illusion upon illusion, written hundreds of years after their events occurred and based on the "eyewitness" accounts of illiterate people. They are not "dictation from God." Stories in these books are shockingly violent, strange and obviously contradictory at best and immoral at worst. ("Thou shalt not kill, now go out and kill.")

- These books are obviously manmade as they all borrow from each other, and many of their stories (including my beloved "he who is without sin, cast the first stone") were added later.

- Religion does not lead to better behavior, and secularism does not lead to worse behavior. In fact, it's the other way around. Taking the Civil Rights movement as an example (which is often cited as a case where Christianity was on the side of justice), the number of people who supported racial justice in the name of Christianity was dwarfed by the number of people who opposed it on the same grounds.

- Religious shaming of the sexual impulse is laughable at best and immoral at worst. Hitchens cites genital mutilation of African women, condemnation of homosexuality, Islam's promise of sex in paradise as a reward for martyrdom, and Christianity's preference for having African children die of AIDS rather than providing condoms to mitigate its spread.

- If you could actually quantify it, those who have done great deeds in the name religion only mitigate a small amount against those who have done horrific deeds for the same reason (Crusaders, Inquisitionists, Apartheid supporters, Hindu nationalists, Islamist terrorists, Zionists, etc.).

- While millions of people have done billions of great deeds in the name of religion, the fact remains that you do not need religion to believe in doing great deeds.

Hitchens is an equal-opportunity attacker, and he has no (pardon the expression) sacred cows. He's highly critical of those who claim that Mother Theresa performed miracles. He thinks very highly of Martin Luther King, Jr., but not so much of Gandhi. He has nothing but contempt for the orthodox Jews who perform bloody circumcisions. Mormonism is the work of a well-known shyster, Joseph Smith. Fundamentalist Islam is the scourge of our times. And the trendy refuge of "Eastern" religion is no refuge at all.

(As someone raised Roman Catholic, I was most disturbed by the accounts of Papal spreading of and complicity in anti-Semitism, including treaties with Adolf Hitler, aiding in the movement of Nazi war criminals to South America, and only recently changing its position that the crucifixion was attributed, not to "some Jews," but "the Jews.")

What is one to make of all of this? Many have praised the book; many have bashed it, that's to be expected. All I can say about it are four things:

1) Hitchens' case for the man-made nature of religious texts and practices in general is precise, effective and basically indisputable.

2) His case for the intrinsic insidiousness of religion is more problematic. As an economist might say, when it comes to the relationship of religion and violence, Hitchens proves correlation but not causality. Using the term "man-made" begs a second question: Why has man made religion, and if something in his nature has caused him to make it, then isn't that thing the root of the problem, and religion merely its symptom?

3) On the subject of God, I find his view compelling yet lacking something. While he's right about god-worship historically relating to ignorance and mortal fear, he ignores what I can only insufficiently encapsulate as "gratitude." The need for explanation and the desire for immortality are one thing; but the need to assign one's gratitude for possessing life and experiencing its profundities is, in my view, quite another. The fear of death, which I wholeheartedly agree is our primary motivator, does not and cannot exist without its opposite, the love of life. This force by no means proves the existence of God or gods--especially the anthropomorphized version of Western monotheism. In fact, it proves absolutely nothing. But I can't help but believe that this element of humanity exists, that it is somehow spiritual in nature, that it does not change with advances in science and knowledge, and that it begs expression.

4) This book (as well as others) has opened an attractive intellectual door for me that is now leading toward the works of Thomas Paine and the philosopher Spinoza. Hitchens' call for a New Enlightenment truly is a breath of fresh air. And this quote from Gotthold Lessing from his last chapter is the one that will stay with me.

"The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand."

Friday, July 6, 2007

Make-A-Wish Foundation

A little public service announcement here. ASI does a lot of pro bono work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota--including a program we're working on to get the general public more involved.

I'm starting the ball rolling by embedding this little homemade video I found on YouTube (partly to show some of the excellent people at Make-A-Wish Minnesota how a) people are already loading their own Make-A-Wish videos to YouTube; and b) how easy it is to embed user-generated content in a website).

Once we have our real concept going, I'll be strong-arming people to sign up for "Club Wish." Thanks... stepping off soapbox now.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Low Culture Confessions

I watched Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" last night, but rather than launch a tome on how good it was (with the exception of Lyle Lovitt), or talk about how much I enjoy Raymond Carver short stories. I'll offer a one-sentence review: It was what "Magnolia" wanted to be.

Instead, I want to go in the exact opposite direction. Because after staying up for three hours watching something like "Short Cuts," it's healthy to admit that you're really not a cultural elitist and admit to all of your guilty pleasures. So here goes.

In high school I saw--and enjoyed--Weird Al Yankovich at the Stepan Center in South Bend, Indiana.

I've also seen The Monkeys and REO Speedwagon. And they were good.

I was completely engrossed by Steven Thayer's novel, "The Weatherman." I could not put down Dan Brown's "Angel's & Demons." And yes, I hate to admit it, but "The Da Vinci Code" interested me, too. I know it's horrible writing to end a chapter with, "But she had no idea what was going to happen next..." And yet, I turned the damn page and wanted to find out.

I am now completely engrossed in a very low-budget book about the Glensheen Mansion murders in Duluth. The writing is bad. The graphics and photography are awful. It's fascinating.

I've always liked the band Simply Red.

I've always loved Cheap Trick and make no apologies for it.

My favorite food on the planet is a pepperoni Tombstone frozen pizza.

I think Ozzy Osbourne's first two albums were among the best heavy metal records of all time.

I think "Everybody Loves Raymond" was a very well-written and well-acted show.

I am powerless to nachos and cheese at a baseball game.

I think "Titanic" was a far better movie than "Magnolia."

And finally, the one I couldn't admit to in my MFA program:

Ernest Hemingway was the shit.

(I'm hoping for some reader participation on this one. Come on... outdo me. Confess.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Movie Doodles: "Sicko"

I've been looking for a way to hate Michael Moore. The current trend is to write off anything he says as partisan hackery. Admitting to liking his movies is tantamount to acknowledging that you've turned your brain off (of course, this criticism usually comes from people who haven't actually seen a Moore movie since "Roger & Me").

After reading the negative review of "Sicko" by David Denby in The New Yorker, I knew I had my ticket. I was ready to hate the movie and redeem my credentials as a critical thinker. I did, after all, think that Moore was getting a little weaker with each film (with "Fahrenheit 9/11" resorting to grainy film noir slow motion to make sure we knew who the bad guys were).

And to be honest, there are already plenty of things I don't like about Michael Moore. I wouldn't want to have a beer with his disciples. I recognize that he has a big ego and even bigger savior complex. I know he's an intellectual one-trick pony ("the rich screw the poor"), which is both too obvious and too simple-minded (not to mention ironic since he lives on the Upper West Side). I think he's better at raising questions than answering them. And I think the way he shot and edited his ambush of Charlton Heston in "Bowling for Columbine" was on par with William Hurt's conjured tear in "Broadcast News."

I know all that, and for the first 15 minutes of "Sicko," my wish for license to rip the guy was on its way to being granted. The tone was off. He was overusing that technique of overlaying a sarcastic voiceover with cutesy music and 50s-era industrial footage (while talking about people dying).

But then something happened. The movie gained some footing and got genuinely interesting. In fact, while "F 9/11" benefited from Moore getting out of the way, "Sicko" actually gets stronger when he does enter the picture. By the end, I was left with no choice but to like the damn thing.

He's basically trying to make one point: If you're going to craft an effective and moral health care system in America, shouldn't it start with the idea that if an American is sick, he or she should be treated? Once you see mothers who've needlessly lost children, 9/11 rescuers who've been completely ignored, and poor people not only denied care at hospitals, but put into taxis and dropped off at rescue missions (still wearing their hospital gowns), it's awfully hard to take a moral position by saying, "No, Americans deserve the health care they can afford."

The truth is, Michael Moore is a satirical essayist who uses film to do what he does, and I'm sorry, but he's good at it.

But he only shows extremes to make his point.

Really? I'm shocked, shocked! that a satirist would exaggerate to illustrate a point.

But he hates America!

Are we so wimpy and thin-skinned that we can't be critical of ourselves? I don't parent my kid by praising everything he does. That would be mindless and stupid.

But he's really, really fat!

Yeah, he is. And celebate people teach about the morals of marriage and sexual behavior. Irony's a bitch.

I'll end with one thought that's actually worthy of its own post: accountability.

- In the American health care system, some insurance company medical directors (one is shown testifying to Congress in the film) are rewarded for achieving high denial-of-coverage rates. The ultimate reason is accountability to shareholders. The more "liabilities" you avoid, the more money the company saves, the more money you earn.

- In the British health care system, family doctors are rewarded based on the outcomes of their patients. If they get patients to stop smoking, for example, they get paid more.

Now you tell me, which version of "accountability" is healthier?