Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Enrique’s Journey: A trip into an ethical dilemma

Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey is an intriguing tale. Nazario is an effective writer, clear and readable. More importantly, she is an outstanding storyteller. Enrique’s Journey is the common book for Henderson State University this year, and I must say that it is far superior to the last two, although both of those received at least as much (if not more) national and international press. Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize winner and perhaps quite deserving.

I had the privilege of listening to Nazario speak recently. She spoke briefly about the book and some of the difficulties that presented themselves both in the research and the writing. I would be the first to stand up and say that she is one of the braver people I have ever met. Further, she raises to national and international consciousness several issues surrounding the amazingly inconsistent policies and often cruel realities of illegal immigration. I won’t address those here – rather, I commend to you the book itself. I will say that Nazario presents a much more balanced assessment of public policy than I would and a much more centrist view of the problems of illegal immigration and illegal immigrants than I hold. Again and again, I found myself left of the author’s view.

However, one issue that I must address here (to a much more limited audience than Nazario has and had). The issue is one that has faced many in the media. One of the most poignant and powerful cases was that of a photographer in Vietnam and his picture of the girl running toward him, burning with napalm. He received many angry comments asking why he took a picture rather than helping. His response, it seems to me, was right – he saw her coming, took the picture in an instant (almost an autonomic response), dropped the camera and helped her. But, the phenomenon gets to the point. What is the role of an observer?

Here is Nazario’s view as presented to us. In one case, she was doing a story on drug use and abuse and was profiling and interviewing a crack-addicted mother of a nine-month old girl. On a couple of occasions (at least), she witnessed the mother leave the little girl alone in her dilapidated home to go out and score more crack and then, having gotten it, get high and pass out. No other adults or older children were in the home. She didn’t call Human Services or the police because it would have changed the story that she was witnessing and then she wouldn’t have been able to write it.

With Enrique, there were times when she didn’t involve herself in what was happening – for example, he needed to make a phone call and couldn’t come up with the 50 cents for a calling card. Meanwhile she had her cell phone in her pocket. She didn’t offer it to him because she would have involved herself in the story and thus been unable to write it.

One of the students asked a very good question. He said, now that the book is out, have you gone back and helped some of those people you would have liked to have helped but didn’t because of involvement in the story? She said that she hadn’t really, but that when HBO approached her for the rights to the story and when Lifetime had offered to pay her to be a consultant, she had said that some of the money should go to Enrique and his mother. However, while she is in regular contact with them, she hasn’t aided them with money or the like because she may want to write another book.

Here’s my dilemma. I hear this sort of thing from news people a lot. But, let’s misuse the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (or properly use the Observational Interference Principle [yes, there are Prime Directive concerns here too, for my Star Trek fans]). The fact of observation changes that which is observed. This is true in the physical sciences, oddly enough. It is inescapably true in the social sciences. The very fact that Nazario was present changed Enrique’s story. So, it seems to me that the claim that helping out (maybe not with the calling card, but definitely with the nine-month old) would alter the story is spurious because the mere fact of observing altered the story. Further, it’s not that the people being observed didn’t know they were being observed. They did. Hence, the “non-interference” was causal of even more issues. Here, the cell phone issue becomes problematic. Enrique, knowing that she has the cell phone, also knows that she refuses to help. This cannot help but affect the relationship and the interviews and the like. So, I suppose what I’m going on about here is that the notion of non-interference is a figleaf that ultimately fails rather miserably.

Do my colleagues and friends have justifications for “non-interference” that I’m missing?

A Case of Business "Ethics"

So, friends and neighbors, let me pose for you a question. Please respond, if you desire, in the manner required by my Organic Chemistry professor, Dr. Robert Schmidgall. Years and years ago, he required that we write essays about balancing equations “in illuminating detail.”

A man has a Personal Investment Plan portfolio as part of a 401(k). The method for receiving distributions from this PIP is to fill out the required paperwork and wait 5-10 business days. One day, the man gathers the paperwork (it’s all sent to him, after all), fills it out, places it in an envelope, addresses the envelope, and sends it on its way. The materials arrive and the investment managers remove the paperwork and manage to fail to scan all of the documents into their system. The policy in the event of an incomplete distribution request (and let us assume for the sake of argument that there are 8 pieces of paper in such a request) is to notify the person requesting the distribution by phone or email immediately. Now, add this to the mix. The request is incomplete because one of the eight pieces of paper is not on file. All were sent, but one has gone missing. Thus, it is incomplete. Let us assume that the sender made a mistake and only sent seven pieces of paper. Still, it would be incomplete. So, whether the error was at the sender level or at the manager level, the file is incomplete. Thus, the policy kicks in and the sender should be contacted immediately by phone or email. Time passes……

Time passes…...

Time passes……

Two months pass. The man calls the managers’ offices and asks for an update. He is told the file is incomplete. He receives an email with the paperwork to be filled out attached. He fills it out (and, just so that we have some numbers to play with, let’s assume that the figure is $15,000). He faxes it in immediately (indeed, the same day). Time passes…..

Time passes…….

Twelve days after the call, he notes that the distribution has been made. For $11k. He calls back. The very nice person on the line takes the story and looks at the file. The phone worker at the managers’ offices then becomes very apologetic because the policy doesn’t appear to have been followed. He connects the man with his team leader. She is very nice and is even more apologetic and promises that it will never happen again. This is obvious as the distribution has cleared the account and so will never happen again. The man asks if there is something that might be done about the error to make it right. He gets the following story.

We are very sorry for the error, but there is no way we could rectify it. It really is our mistake and we made a very bad error and we are very sorry, but we can’t fix it. The markets are volatile and we couldn’t go back and figure out how we could change the error so we will try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Now, friends. Responses?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Top Twenty List - Western Philosophers Division

Let the controversy begin… (Okay, so it isn't "Gentlemen! Start your engines." But, it's the best I've got.)
So, okay, here goes. A Top 20 Western Philosophers. In 4-part harmony. With 8 x 10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us….

Let's start with the criteria. In the earlier email, I used "influence" as the primary (read, "only") criterion. However, I've rethought that a bit and changed it up. There are now four.

1. Influence on Western Thought subsequent to his/her contribution. (It would be quite hard to measure influence prior to his/her contribution, yes? Or maybe not. It should be "zero," right? Though, not according to one of my students some years ago who, in response to the question, "What is the Socratic Problem?" said, "Socrates's problem is that he asks too many questions. If he had just accepted Jesus, he wouldn't have had so many questions." For those curious as to the oddity here, check a timeline….)

2. Making/marking a significant shift in philosophical world view – e.g., marking the shift between Ancient/Classical philosophy and Medieval philosophy (e.g., Augustine).

3. Ranking shall not be limited to those known strictly as philosophers (thus, Darwin gets a hearing). For a pretty good place to find a list of potentials, see www.epistemelinks.com. All of those suggested here are found there, too.

4. Left a body of work (this rules out Socrates, for example. And, Jesus, for those presidents who might be interested in philosophical matters… hahahahahaha)

Here's the list.

1. Plato ('nuff said)
2. Aristotle (yes, I know there is much debate here, but I'm leaving like this. Here's the thing… Without Plato, Aristotle is a half-rate collector of flora and fauna.)
3. David Hume (As Roman pointed out in an earlier blog, without Hume, Kant is adrift in a sea of dogmatic slumbering)
4. Immanuel Kant (which doesn't mean that he isn't absolutely and fundamentally important. Indeed, no philosopher since Kant can well make his/her way in the world without responding to Kant.)
5. St. Augustine (This is a bit of a promotion for him, however it is made in light of both of the first criteria. It is hard to argue that Augustine [Plato in drag] isn't the first philosopher of the medieval period – indeed, he is the philosophical tipping point from the classical period into the medieval.)
6. St. Thomas (Aristotle in drag and author of one of the most dizzyingly complex works in philosophy, Thomas is the medieval bookend to Augustine. And, as a Dominican [they who gave us the Inquisition, it is perhaps wise not to demote him further…])
7. Karl Marx (aka, he who makes Hegel something other than a minor footnote in philosophical history. And, as the underpinning of the spectre haunting Europe, I must agree with Roman here, too, and elevate the Karl)
8. Rene Descartes (There was some consternation at the lower ranking of Descartes. As Father of Modern Philosophy, he clearly makes and marks a significant change in the progression of thought. However, much of Modern philosophy is a diversion into a blind and stagnant channel – as the diversion into that channel, Descartes, despite my great affection for him, falls here.)
9. Marcus Aurelius (I still think that Aurelius is the preeminent representative of the Stoic school – especially since Mr. Spock isn't available.)
10. Leibniz (another entry from the Modern period, but Leibniz's contributions to mathematics, science, and philosophy of religion commend him to this place. The immense body of work left by this important philosopher is so vast that it has yet to be catalogued.)
11. John Locke (again, Locke's contributions to political theory [Thomas Jefferson, you get an "F" for plagiarism] and psychology [Blank Slate?!? Really?!?] commend him to this level. Actually, the blank slate bit probably should drop him a touch.)
[James - thanks for noticing the typo]
12. Freud (makes the list because of the influence criterion along with the third – not necessarily known as a philosopher. The thing is, in terms of critical theory, philosophy of mind, and calling the fundamental assumptions about sex and sexuality into question, Freud is definitely deserving. Okay, he was a very poor scientist, but how about this – a rationalist pshrink…)
13. Whitehead (influence far beyond philosophy, gentlemanly but devastating critiques of the Vienna Circle, utilitarianism, and Wittgenstein along with his profound influence on Einstein and the establishment of a framework for comparative philosophy/religion between East and West)
14. John Stuart Mill (Many might put Mill higher - after all, he "strode like a Colossus through the 19th century." Here's the thing - he's not even the best utilitarian of the 19th century - Sidgwick is the far greater utilitarian. Further, Whitehead killed Millian utilitarianism deader than a hammer. Mill's other contributions - The Subjection of Women, On Liberty - keep him in the top 20, but only barely.
15. Kierkegaard (The existentialist representative. Nietzsche doesn't make the list. Sorry, guys. Kierkegaard does some interesting stuff – although, the argument that he's not really even a true existentialist with the "utter dependence/absolute dependence on God" move, but at least he's not a derivative egoist who regularly violates the law of non-contradiction, Mr. Nietzsche.)
16. Epicurus (the hedonist without which we don't get Bentham or Mill)
17. Thomas Reid (with a bullet. The Scot is getting more and more good reviews – and, the thing is, they are completely deserved. Often overshadowed by Hume, Reid may be the most influential philosopher with respect to the Anglo-American developments in philosophy in the 19th and 20th century – particularly, the development of pragmatism)
18. William James (Reid advances beyond James, but James is gaining more and more status in my eyes. "The Will to Believe" has always gotten great reviews. His influence on psychology and philosophy of religion is unquestioned. He's ahead of Russell because he at least recognizes that ethics is part of philosophy.)
19. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (dropping down the list on my view. In fact, not sure he still belongs this high.)
20. Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes may well be the first Modern philosopher, although Descartes keeps the "Father" title. Hobbes has to be higher than Nietzsche – heck, so does Thrasymachus)
21. Michel Montaigne (Only here for two reasons. First, his version of the skeptical challenge can be argued to be THE turning point that marks the move from the Medieval to Modern philosophy. It is possible that he is the Father of Modern Philosophy. Further, his unquestioned influence on Shakespeare is worthy of mention.
Honorable Mention
Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre
Isaiah Berlin
John Rawls

Top Ten List - World Philosophy Division

How about a list blog? A question by a student in American Philosophy led me to contemplate an impossible question. What are the top ten Philosophers of all time? Actually, there are all manner of questions and the topic is fraught with peril. And, it's a pretty meaningless question anyway. So, that's a pretty good reason to ask it. :)

Problems. What are the criteria for such a judgment? Influence? Obstacles overcome? The degree to which the philosopher gets it (what's "it"?) right?
The question wasn't actually about the top ten. Rather, it was whether or not William James, the pre-eminent American philosopher, belongs even among the top 20. My initial reaction was no. But, it got me thinking.

There's a less frivolous issue. My Intro text approaches the teaching of philosophy by using only a few figures and examining their work in considerable depth. Thus, rather than including 100 or more, mine includes 15. Incidentally, James isn't one. How did I make the choices I made? Influence on the the progress of thought. Even if the work is somewhat superceded (hotly debatable) Plato's work is unquestionably influential.

So, on to a top ten. I'd love to have commentary. (Roman, you can make the case for Rorty or Wittgenstein if you must).
1. Plato (this is controversial. Aristotle apologists can make the arguments here)
2. Aristotle (not with a bullet)
3. Hume
4. Kant (another controversial choice - Hume over Kant)
5. Confucius
6. Mencius
7. Lao-Tzu (the Socrates/Plato/Aristotle of the east)
8. St. Augustine
9. St. Thomas
10. The Buddha

Those just outside the 10...
Marcus Aurelius
James (the more I think, the more I am convinced I'm wrong about James - he's top twenty)

And no, Wittgenstein doesn't make the cut. Not even top fifty.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean and Philosophy

A couple of years ago, I taught a philosophy and popular culture course that focused, for the main of the semester, on Buffy, Harry Potter, and The Simpsons. It was a lot of fun, and I’m teaching it again this fall. The focus this year is on Buffy and The Wizard of Oz, with perhaps some Monty Python thrown in for good measure. But, that’s not what this is about – it’s about Pirates of the Caribbean.

That semester, I used Pirates as the final exam. With a full semester of literary critical and philosophical analysis of pop culture texts, the final was a viewing of the first Pirates movie followed by an exam that tested whether or not the powers of analysis of the students had matured a bit. The reason I used that movie was that, frankly, it’s both pretty easy to do the analysis if one has even a few literary frameworks at one’s disposal, and it’s got some very profound philosophical musings as well. Thus, whether one is rather a novice at pop culture analysis or a seasoned hand at it, Pirates of the Caribbean has something to offer.
There are questions of “keeping to the code” or not. There’s the psychological – “This is either madness… Or brilliance.” There are issues of friendship and of fairness and of identity – all tied up in a nice little swashbuckling bow.

Let’s start off with one of my favorites. Just out from Port Royal, Jack and Will have the conversation about Will’s “twice-cursed pirate father.” Will, you’ll recall, refuses to believe that his dad wasn’t an honest merchantman. He uses a variation of a line from his and Jack’s first encounter in Mr. Brown’s smithy shop. There, he accused Jack of cheating, to which Jack replied, simply, with upraised eyebrow as if to communicate the oddity of being accused of cheating, “Pirate!” In that one word, he tells Will that the “normal” rules of engagement don’t apply. Will doesn’t get it. On the Interceptor, he reiterates the “You cheated” and says that in a fair fight, he’d have killed Jack. To which Jack, apparently thinking the boy is thick (and perhaps rightly so) says, “Well, that’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?” Swinging the yardarm around, he catches Will off-guard and tries to set the heretofore naïve Turner straight. Says Jack, “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can't. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you'll have to square with that some day. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can't bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?”

To this point, Will has nibbled a bit at breaking the rules – he’s helped Jack escaped and commandeered a ship of the fleet. His justification would be that he’s trying to save Elizabeth. Jack’s little lecture, however, puts things in stark relief. It’s not a matter of breaking rules – there are only two to begin with. All the others are illusions.

So, the first question is, if we accept Jack’s statement as evidence of a philosophical view, what philosophical view is it that he holds. In one sense, we could suppose that there is an Hobbesian thread here – in a war of each against all, there is but rule (or two, or a rule and its corollary) – what a man can do and what a man can’t do. This is a statement of political and physical limitation. In one sense, it reflects a lack of communal solidarity – there is only what a (single, solitary, alone) man can do. Given the pirate code, as it is presented later, this is not surprising. When asked what the code to be kept to in the case the worst happens, Jack responds, that the one who falls behind is left behind. When Will suggests that this reflects a lack of honor among thieves, Jack defends the practice not by justifying it, but by suggesting that Will, himself, is well on his way toward becoming a pirate. This doesn’t answer Will at all.

One might suppose that it is easy to keep to the code when one is not the one left behind, that perhaps Jack might feel differently if it were he who were left behind. Yet, after the Pearl is made off with by Will and Jack’s crew, Jack reacts consistently with his early view – even though it is now his ox that is being gored. He says, “They done what’s right by them. Can’t ask for anything more.” So, it seems reasonably safe to conclude that the pirate view of the world is indeed an “each against all” world in which self-interest and leverage are the currency of the realm.

As a physical matter, the Sparrow Principle, shall we call it, addresses a sort of Machiavellian “might makes right,” as well. It’s not just physical strength – strength of personality, quickness of wit, etc., count as well. Indeed, Jack is a sort of Loki character, at times (a character sort that Depp was born to play). Returning from that brief digression, we know Jack can’t crew the Interceptor into Tortuga all by his onesies. Will is both deckhand and leverage. It is not clear that Will is much more than leverage for Jack at any point during the tale, but whether a friendship blossoms by the end of the movie or not, at this stage, Will is a pawn in Jack’s powerplay. Will, although significantly more naïve than Jack, learns quickly enough how the game is played and that either by strength of will or strength of body, he is both willing and capable of playing the game. It is a character that continues to develop into the next movies (e.g., rolling the bones with Davy Jones), but the focus here is the first movie, so I’ll say little else about that later development.

This is a reasonably nice segue into the psychological limitations as well. Clearly, there are limits on the quickness of wit, for example. Norrington could no more talk himself out of a dilemma than Jack could give up pirating his weasley black guts out. But, that’s not so much the psychological limitation to which I refer. Jack’s chiding of Will points out a truism that often goes unremarked. It’s not so much in the principle itself as it is in the explanation. Either Will can accept that his father was a pirate and a good man, or he can’t. To what extent is his mind capable of expanding to incorporate new realities and new perceptions of old beliefs? Can he face beliefs revealed to be false and not suffer mental breakdown, or can he not? If the latter, if he cannot face new challenges and obstacles, then helping Jack crew the Interceptor and serving as leverage is the extent of Will’s usefulness to anyone – including himself. However, if he can acquire a certain flexibility of mind and perceptions, then he just might survive, and might even thrive. Jack’s apparently simple observation provides considerable grist for the philosophical mill.

Another of his reflections does as well, although in a different way. What is a ship? What is a person? What defines identity over time? What is essential to a being, and what is merely accidental? Jack’s discussion with Elizabeth over rum about the nature of the Black Pearl is a wonderful jumping off spot for this discussion. You remember the famous line, I’m sure… “Wherever we want to go, we'll go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that's what a ship needs but what a ship is... what the Black Pearl really is... is freedom.”

To some, it would seem that all a ship amounts to is the hull and rigging and deck, etc. Jack makes an important distinction – between a necessary condition and a sufficient one. All of those physical features are what are required by a ship. Similarly, blood, flesh, bone, brain – all of these are required for a human being to be a human being. But are they enough. Sparrow, perhaps a bit romantically, declares that the cold physical realities are insufficient for true identity. The Pearl is not only the sum of her parts, she is also the Eternal Object in which she participates – she is not freedom itself, but she points to freedom, she participates in freedom, it is her telos or teleological cause. Similarly, whatever a person truly is is not solely a matter of physical stuff, but of cause and purpose and aim and telos. It’s an intriguing jumping off point for philosophical rumination as well.

I’ve left off conversation of Governor Swann’s discussion with Elizabeth, where he says that even a good decision, if made for the wrong reasons, can be a wrong decision. I’ll say only this here and mayhaps we can return for further reflection. On a virtue picture of ethics, a person is a virtuous person if, and only if, he does the right thing at the right time in the right way and for the right reasons. So, simply put, if one makes what, in other circumstances and in another time might have been a good decision, it does not entail that it is currently. There is an interesting return to this notion at the conclusion of the movie, again in the words of Gov. Swann. Addressing Norrington, he suggests that there might be certain circumstances in which an act of piracy is even the right action. While Norrington accepts that for the moment, the fact that he later pursues the Black Pearl suggests that perhaps Jack was right earlier – one good deed is not enough to redeem a man, and may be enough to condemn him. However, Swann’s notion that even something that in almost all circumstances is wrong might, at one moment or another, be the right action suggests that a virtue model is what is ultimately at stake here, and, further, serves as an apt criticism of the rigid legalism that might be found in the Gov. Swann of the opening of the movie.

Whatever else the case, it is a fascinating movie with plenty of jumping off points for philosophical conversation. The notion of the code and a Kantian autonomy/heteronomy distinction is ripe for the plucking, for example. I leave with this – there’s what one can do, and what one can’t do.

Harry Potter 5 - Why it doesn't work.

It is rare thing when most of the critics agree about a movie, especially about a summer movie, much less the fifth in a series. Godfather 3 was a disaster after two great previous installments. Episodes 1-3 may very well tarnish the reputation of George Lucas forever. And, after the last installment of the Harry Potter series, one might well enter the theater with great trepidation as the Order of the Phoenix is a tremendously large and complex volume, a darker tome than the previous, and one filled with psychological battles that are the equal of any of those easily depicted in the actual world. For example, it is much easier to depict the Triwizard tests of Goblet of Fire (although they managed to fumble those terrifically) than the feelings of abandonment, rage, and defensiveness that Harry is subjected to in Order. In addition, after the best of the Potter movies in Prisoner of Azkaban, the director of Order is faced with trying to put the series back on a strong footing after the disaster that was Goblet. (Okay, that's a little strong. I rewatched Goblet last night and it turns out that it wasn't the disaster that I thought it was on first viewing, but I still find it to be easily the lesser of the first four movies, and by a considerable amount.)

Back to those critics. Everybody seems to be falling over themselves to praise this movie. I must say, I better understand Plato's view of the "lovers of sights and sounds" as they pranced out of the theater, momentarily having taken leave of their senses by the entertainments of the time. I must say, I cannot agree with the critics from Ebert/Roeper to the New York Times to NPR who have hailed this as the greatest of the Potter movies and a veritable tour de force. Nay, I must relegate it to the dank tarn of Goblet and perhaps lower.
Let us begin with the soundtrack. In Goblet, the soundtrack runs very much amok. The opening track barely resembles the Williams's score of the first three. In Order, the soundtrack is still not up to Williams's bar, but it is not terrible. Colin is my soundtrack wizard, but I can tell that this one will not find itself in his rotation.

So, poison pen in hand (after all, since Rita Skeeter was a no-show in this one, somebody's got to wield it), I disagree with the critics. Here are the points at which this disagreement is held.

1. Beginning with the end. The scene with Dumbledore and Harry in which Dumbledore explains why it was that he has ignored Harry for so long and treated him so shabbily is short and inadequate. When Harry says of the prophecy, "It means that one of us must kill the other," Dumbledore simply says, "Yes." The whole scene takes less than a minute. In the book, Harry is beyond angry - he is devastated. Here, he is put out, but he is not the grief-stricken and enraged young man that he is in the book and has every right to be. Why not? Several reasons come to mind. More importantly, why would people not think this scene was horribly inadequate? Because the Sirius character is not fully developed. The relationship between Sirius and Harry is not fully developed. It is one dimensional. Which brings us to....

2. The fight scene. Excuse me!?! What was that? Because they made the decision to essentially make the scene one of heavy-handed good/evil symbolism with the Deatheaters and the Order swirling around as black and white smoke. It makes the battle difficult to follow. Perhaps this is because they wanted it that way. The battle is a profound one in the book. There is a possibility that Hermione might be dead. When the blast hits her and she gasps a bit and crumples, I can remember feeling an adrenaline shot in my heart. I had heard all the rumors that someone important to Harry would die in Order and for just a moment, it seemed it might be Hermione. That it wasn't was a relief. That the viewer of the movie never had a moment to have such a fear was a disappointment. The battle failed on pretty much every level. Dumbledore was not so much avenging angel, completely in charge of the battle at the end as much as he was an old man incapable of truly matching Voldemort. As I said after Goblet, this is the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared?!? Please. Without Harry, Voldemort couldn't have pulled it off. Which reminds me of a problem in Goblet that resurfaces in Order.

3. Love. In Goblet, Voldemort goes on and on about how it is love that has protected Harry. That's really a revelation that Dumbledore makes and points out that Voldemort can't possibly understand. Even in Order, it is the case that Voldemort can't understand why Harry was able to fight back. Which brings us to the very end of Order. Harry has come to resolution that the only way he can make it is with friends, that friends are what it's all about, and that he has them solidly behind him. This is a way too happy ending. They are about to fight a huge battle, Voldemort is not only back but now we know that death is looming like the sword of Damocles. This is not a happy ending sort of place - it is a foreshadowing place. Order just drops the ball horribly.

4. The story makes no sense. It is a disconnected set of scenes. I found myself, at several points, saying to myself, "Self, it's a good thing you read the book, because you couldn't possibly have followed that transition." With me at the movie were James and Mary. I was quite glad to have them there and to bounce thoughts on them after. As one who hadn't read the books, but one who has quite significant critical skills, it was illuminating to ask how much she caught. Fortunately, quite a lot, but there were questions. And, it was concluded that had one not read the book, it would be a daunting challenge to keep up with the subtleties. For some further thoughts on this, see a blog of a great friend and solid literary critic - http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=84041594&blogID=286721308&Mytoken=1CADCC5E-1533-49C4-99C11571B5BA811279838748

5. This has been hailed as a coming of age story for Harry. It is. Only, why is he so pissed off? Opening as the movie does, it is hard to understand exactly why he is so upset. Especially after Goblet ends with all of the protests of the ways in which Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore will keep in contact with Harry. However, we do not know that those contacts have gone unfulfilled, that Harry has been all summer without news, without contact; that he's been completely cut off from the only place that gives him solace. Harry is abandoned. Even Dumbledore admits in the very moving scene at the end that he has made a terrific mistake (only, that part's not in the movie) and so, the viewer is left completely outside of the true Harry Potter-verse.

6.The taking of the O.W.L.s is poor. There is just the one, administered by Dolores Umbridge. Problem. In the book, the O.W.L.s are one of the ways in which Umbridge gets her comeuppance and further, they figure rather prominently in the next movie. However, they cannot without further disconnect for the viewer. In the O.W.L.s, another mistake occurs - the departure of the Weasley twins. The devastation that the Weasley's wreak upon Umbridge and her ilk is phenomenal. However, the resistance of the faculty is downplayed entirely. McGonagall is completely absent. However, her snide remarks are each little moments of glee heaped onto the head of Umbridge and Filch. In that same vein, the entire resistance of the faculty is absent. McGonagall backs down in her one encounter with Umbridge and Dumbledore just tells Dolores that Trelawney can continue to live on the quarters. His appointment of Firenze, a march stolen on Umbridge in the book, is absent. So, while Umbridge comes across as truly evil (and the evil of banality and blind loyalty), the faculty, including Dumbledore, are nearly collaborators. This is not the Hogwarts of the book. Indeed, it is not Hogwarts of which Voldemort should have fear.

All in all, the cuts from the book are poorly made and the result is a glorified slide show that can serve as a visual companion to the book, but truly nothing more. It is a magical visual moment (with a couple of notable exceptions) that is poorly conceived, poorly executed, and unfaithful in powerful and irrevocable ways to the book.

Indiana Jones Jumps the Shark and Lands in the Temple of Doom

Would someone please take George Lucas's typewriter/word processor/computer away from him before he really hurts someone? Please? The man who almost single-handedly ruined Star Wars and the memory of Episodes 4, 5, and 6 with those horrific reshoots and then with whatever that was that passed for Episodes 1, 2, and 3 (only Samuel L. Jackson escaped unscathed and since he went on to do Snakes on a Plane, that's not a sure judgment either). Please, George, let someone else write – you just keep coming up with cool ways to do special effects and we'll all be better off.

The primary writing credit for Indy 4 is George Lucas (not surprising). Actually, I think Lucas is a very good story imaginer – that is, he comes up with amazing yarns to spin. It's just that he can't write dialogue to save his life. Okay, neither can I. I'm about the worst dialogue writer ever. Every time I've tried to write fiction, it turns out to be half-baked mystery novels with hackneyed dialogue. But, see, here's the thing – I don't write dialogue for a living, nor do I foist it off on an unsuspecting public (yeah, okay, so we should be the "suspecting" public by now, but still…). Lucas was the primary writer for Temple of Doom and we saw what a disaster that was. Frankly, folks, thinking back to Star Wars, it wasn't just that Mark Hamill couldn't act (well, he couldn't, but that's only an exacerbation of the situation), it's that the dialogue was weak. The story managed to thrive in spite of that, but the dialogue was poor. So, when the story doesn't have the punch to save the dialogue, the whole thing becomes a mess. Crystal Skull, my friends, is a mess.

Usually, in my reviews, I try not to ruin the movie by not revealing things. But, friends, I can't ruin this dog. It's ruined now. Whether or not you've seen it already or not, trust me, it's dreck. Playing the role of the bad guy Nazis from 1 and 3, we have the Russians. Only, they are cardboard cutouts. There's nothing there that really fires the animus, even as they chop through the rainforest with no regard whatsoever for it. There's the psychic mumbo jumbo from Temple of Doom; there's Area 51; there's Roswell; there's yet another "here's where the aliens are from" bit. It's all derivative and uninteresting. The things that weren't stolen from the Indy franchise and rehashed were stolen from Independence Day, X-Files, hundreds of bad Saturday morning cartoons and fevered fanfic about what lurks in the desert. That the lost city of gold of the Mayas or maybe Aztecs or maybe Incans turns out to be a space ship with thirteen crystal alien skeletons, all but one with heads (how did the one head go missing?), guarded by aboriginals who break out of the walls (how did they get in there?) and which sits in a chamber that includes stuff from every ancient civilization (that was already done in National Treasure, George) and departs to leave a huge crater lake is just several too many sharks jumped. Indy 2 was a shark jumping bonanza. If anything, this one was even worse. There are so many times when disbelief is supposed to be suspended that it becomes impossible to count. I should remind Lucas that the phrase is the "willing suspension of disbelief," but even if willing, I'm not sure it is possible. For Lucas, Raiders and Last Crusade were great; Doom and Skull were disasters. Hopefully, he will figure out something original, get someone who can actually write dialogue (Joss Whedon, perhaps), and turn out something to save the Indy legacy. It has been cheapened with this dreck. It ought not be so. Unless Indy 5 is in the same league with 1 and 3, I shall treat 4 the same way I treat the Matrix sequels – they simply don't exist.