Friday, January 08, 2010

Notes on decline: Orville Schell

Orville Schell provides the barest sketch of what's broken in the United States today:
The federal government, essentially busted; Congress, increasingly paralyzed and largely incapable of delivering solutions to the country’s most pressing problems; state government, largely broke; the Interstate highway system and our infrastructure of bridges and tunnels, melting away like a block of ice in the sun because maintenance and upgrading is so poor; dikes, water systems, and many other aspects of the national infrastructure which keeps the country going, similarly old and deteriorating; airlines, some of the sorriest in the world with the oldest, dirtiest, and least up-to-date planes and the requisite run-down airports to go with them; ports that are falling behind world standards; a railroad passenger system which, unlike countries from Spain to China, has not one mile of truly high-speed rail; the country’s financial system whose over-paid executives not only ran us off an economic cliff in 2008, but also managed to compromise the whole system itself in the eyes of the world; a broadcast media which -- public broadcasting and aspects of a vital and growing Internet excepted -- is a grossly overly-commercialized, broken-down mess that has gravely let down the country in terms of keeping us informed; newspapers, in a state of free-fall; book publishing, heading in the same direction; elementary education (that is, our future), especially public K-12 schools in big cities, desperately under-funded and near broke in many communities; a food industry which subsidizes sugar and starch, stuffs people with fast-food, and leaves 60% of the population overweight; basic manufacturing, like the automobile industry, evidently headed for oblivion, or China, whichever comes first; the American city, hollowing out and breaking down; the prison system, one of America’s few growth industries but a pit of hopelessness.
A fair summary, though as Schell himself points out, this really only scratches the surface.

I used to say that there was nothing like travelling -- and even more, living -- abroad to make you positively reevaluate the United States's capabilities and performance. I no longer feel that way. My last trips to mainland Europe, and even to Latin America (!!), have really underscored to me the U.S.'s relative decline.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Best movies of the 1990s

Since my post on my favorite movies from the Aughties was pretty popular, I though I might also list my favorite movies from the 1990s, again judged by the standard of how much of an immediate, visceral impact they had on me:
  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. Goodfellas
  3. Naked
  4. The Matrix
  5. There's Something About Mary
  6. Short Cuts
  7. American Beauty
  8. Raise the Red Lantern
  9. The Sweet Hereafter
  10. Breaking the Waves
  11. Husbands and Wives
  12. Reservoir Dogs
  13. Leaving Las Vegas
  14. Fargo
  15. Hoop Dreams
  16. Delicatessen
  17. Four Weddings and a Funeral
  18. Ulysses’s Gaze
  19. Strange Days
  20. Thelma and Louise
  21. The Thin Red Line
  22. Before Sunrise
  23. Groundhog Day
  24. Terminator 2
  25. Bad Lieutenant
  26. Silence of the Lambs
  27. The Crying Game
  28. Wayne's World
  29. Being John Malkovich
  30. Menace II Society
  31. The Grifters
Update: I added the four in italics, which I had forgotten about earlier. I should also point out the many movies that I saw and didn't much like, that many others would probably put in their own top list, e.g.: Sleepless in Seattle, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Ghost, Edward Scissorhands. LA Confidential, Good Will Hunting, The English Patient, Enemy of the State, Men in Black, The Wedding Singer, Titanic, Philadelphia, JFK, Schindler's List, Wag the Dog, Blade, Ghost, A Few Good Men, Shakespeare in Love, The Phantom Menace, The Truman Show, Rush Hour, La Vita e Bella, Unforgiven, Boyz in the Hood, Pretty Woman, American Pie, Saving Private Ryan, Basic Instinct, 12 Monkeys, and Sense & Sensibility... to name a few. A lot of those were watchable, but most of them were either sententious, syrupy, simple-minded, or somehow flawed in a way that brought me up short in mid-viewing.