Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stars, Bars, and Symbols of the Past

For me, history is fun. I love reading about history, watching documentaries, and going to historical sites. When it comes to the history of the United States of America, my knowledge base in this regard is pretty broad and pretty deep, owing to both my love of history and my personal background, having been born and raised in Virginia and being able to trace my family's history in America back to the 1600's. And as a true Son of Virginia, both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War loom large in my mind, have impacted my world view in ways I can identify and in ways I most assuredly cannot.

Before getting into the meat of the matter here, namely the current furor surrounding South Carolina's continued use of the Confederate flag in the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings, I think it's apropos to note the relationship of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War in the Southern mind. The Revolutionary War was sold--and accepted--as a war against tyranny, a war for freedom from oppression (the irony of slave-owners going to war for their freedom is not lost on me, nor was it lost on many of the Founding Fathers). After the conclusion of that war and the adoption of the Constitution, the United States of America, the Union, walked a tightrope as it were, because of the very different natures of society in the Northern States and the Southern ones (a difference that predated the Revolutionary War and extends back to who was settling each region, i.e. Pilgrims versus Crown charters, aggrieved Englishmen versus Loyalists and Scots).

The Civil War was, historically speaking, an over-determined event. It was always coming; it could easily have come decades early (the Nullification Crisis). And slavery, economically speaking, was a dead end. It was, in a very really sense, limiting the economic potential of the South. Plus, the outrage over the institution was growing, England and many other countries having already outlawed the slave trade. Despite all the bluster over slave States and non-slave States in Congress that led to Fort Sumter, slavery was bound to fail, certain to end, sooner or later (and the sooner, the better, in the minds of many).

Still, the backdrop of the Revolution remained; it was a recent event. As the Federal Government grew and exerted more and more influence, there was pushback, especially from people who were used to doing things their way. Such things included, of course, slavery and a basic idea of "white supremacy," i.e. the idea that the European settlers of America were naturally superior to the imported African slaves and the Native American Indians. Naturally, such pushback was more pronounced in the South and in frontier regions (which tended to be in the South and West).

I'm not going to go into the specifics of the conduct of the Civil War here, but rather just note the operative mindset in the South: it was truly a war of Northern Aggression that threatened both the liberty and the way of life of people in the Southern States, for better or worse.

But it was such for two very disparate reasons. First, there was the history and divergent natures of the North and South that I just detailed. And second, there was the concerted effort to propagandize the War on the part of the Southern leadership and elites. This is something that began well before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter and something that continued as the War progressed. There was no internet in those days, nor television, no radio. The typical Southern citizen got his or her news from local sources, alone. And primary control over those sources was in the hands of those in power, in one way or another.

Thus, the Civil War was sold to the common man as a war against tyranny, since before day one. And the typical confederate soldier went to war to protect his perceived homeland from invasion, plain and simple, not to protect slavery. The typical soldier wasn't a slaveholder at all (the typical officer probably was, though). At the time of the Civil War, States like Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina had much larger free populations than slave populations and had much lower percentages of slave-owning families as compared to States like Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi. And while all of the South supplied soldiers to the war, it was Virginia and North Carolina who supplied the most. And lost the most.

As the war progressed, the propagandizing by the Southern leadership became even easier, due to the conduct of Union forces and the destruction of the war in the Southern States. I can even relate an anecdote in this regard: my father's family lived in an area outside Richmond--called Sparta--on a number of farms. At the time, they no longer owned slaves (but previous generations had, to be sure) My great great grandmother was a child during the war and told tales of how the Union forces took over their farmhouse for quartering officers, how they took what they wanted for food and supplies. She, her sisters, and mother were relegated to one room on the second floor. And they would peer out the window and sometimes try to spit on the Union officers coming into the house, they hated them so much. Can one blame them? Their farm was practically destroyed, their home was looted, and they were treated shabbily to say the least.

The point of this brief history lesson is to note that the issue of what the Civil War was about is not so simplistic as some would try to argue. But there needs to be some clarity in this regard: for the Southern leadership, for the elites in the South, the Civil War was about slavery, end of story. It was about maintaining the power and wealth the institution of slavery had given them and their families. Yet, this was not necessarily the case for the common foot soldier (in fact, it usually wasn't). That common foot soldier might still have believed that blacks were lesser peoples (something no less true for the common foot soldier from the North) to be sure, but that is not why they took up arms. So when someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates says this:
The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history.
Know that they are wrong. Many of those who "bore the Confederate flag" thought they were carrying on a tradition of resisting tyranny, were defending their homes and families, nothing more. They were most assuredly misguided in that regard, had in fact been duped by a power structure concerned only with maintaining the status quo, which of course included maintaining the institution of slavery. And it is a fascinating thing in my mind, how this reality, the actual history of the common man, so often championed by leftist and progressive historians (like Howard Zinn) is minimized in this particular case. But I digress.

The current backlash against the Confederate flag is understandable and justifiable to some extent. South Carolina--and Mississippi--would do well to purge the symbol from official devices of state, like flags. Because there is more to this tale. There is Reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, and the "rebirth" of Southern pride. But first, let's be clear about something. This is not the Stars and Bars:

This--the first official flag of the Confederate States of America--is:

The first is actually a take-off on the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. True enough, it found its way into subsequent versions of the flag of the Confederacy, but as given, it was never an official flag of the Confederacy.

So why is it now the "rebel flag," the Confederate flag" in the minds of so many? Well again, there is what came after the Civil War. The flag, being the one flown by the forces of Robert E. Lee and being simple yet quite distinct from the U.S flag, was initially adopted by people who identified with times gone by, who were unhappy with the changes wrought by the Civil War. There was a racist bent for some of this, no doubt. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan used the flag throughout its history. Still, for many it was just a symbol of heritage.

That's a pretty common thing for many, many people, using symbols like flags and coats of arms to relate to their perceived past. And sometimes, the actual history of such symbols can involve less-than-noble events. It is, in my opinion, difficult and pointless to purge all symbols that might give offense from society at large. From government use? Sure. That makes sense, especially when the offense is widespread among the populace a government supposedly represents. But in general?

I can't say I'm impressed by all of the bandwagon jumping going on with regard to the Confederate flag, with regard to stores like Wal-Mart opting to not carry any merchandise that uses the image in some fashion. I don't know that even all of the symbols of Nazi Germany have received such a treatment, much less the symbols of the Catholic Church and of European powers who engaged in colonialism.

We seemed to be overly fixated on the moment, though, and the current moment involves a flag with a varied history--some of it a very ugly history--but which nonetheless has been a component of Americana for a long, long time. And it's tough to withstand massive waves of change, waves that have no time for the consideration of varied points of view.

To the Confederate flag flying from the statehouse of South Carolina, I say good riddance. To the Confederate flag being waved by racists I say you might as well be waving a Swastika. To the Confederate flag that represents a particular culture and heritage, is neither noble nor base, I say I'll miss you.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Papal warming: strange bedfellows

After ascending the Throne of Saint Peter, one of Pope Francis' first papal communications was an apostolic exhortation, the Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). In it, Pope Francis demonstrates something about himself, his ideology, and his ideological roots. For in this work, Pope Francis argues for a more ethical approach to economics and the redistribution of wealth. As I explained previously, this approach is nothing more than the 19th century ideology of corporatism, wherein it is supposed that society is an organic whole that should be divided into different parts, according to the function served. The long and short of this point of view is not wealth redistribution--which is how many on the Left wrongly saw it--but rather wealth stagnation. It is an ideology, an economic and political system, then necessarily limits economic mobility (again, exactly contrary to where those applauding it think it leads).

For more details, readers are free to follow the above link and see my analysis in full. But I need to note one element of the Evangelii Gaudium and corporatism that I really did not address. Namely, that both assume an expertise on all matters economic on the part of the state in general. In other words, there is a strong technocratic thread running throughout the piece, though almost always just below the surface. Note that the idea of technocratic control is explicitly at odds with the fundamental assumption of corporatism, the idea of an organic whole that functions as it should naturally. Of course, this is one of the reasons why corporatism is both antiquated and unworkable: no one actually has the knowledge base for total economic planning and control, a reality that the old Soviet Union learned the hard way, to put it mildly (it was communist, not corporatist of course, but a centrally planned economy is a feature of both). This same kind of conflict, between ideology and the means of achieving a goal of that ideology, appears in the latest papal communication from Pope Francis, his papal encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be To You).

The difference between an encyclical and an apostolic exhortation is technical, really. Suffice it to say that the former carries slightly more weight than the latter, insofar as Church doctrine is concerned. The subject matter of this latest encyclical is global warming/climate change and in it, Pope Francis stakes out a very clear position for the Church: climate change needs to be taken seriously and addressed fully by the Faithful and everyone else. He quotes a letter from the bishops of South Africa in this regard:
Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.
The encyclical is very long, and in it Pope Francis delves into other things, like pollution and waste. But the central thrust of it is that climate change needs to be addressed immediately because it's very real, it's been caused by man's activities, and it's very dangerous. That and the fact that the poor will be the ones who suffer the most if we fail to act (thus bringing the discussion back to inequality). There is also a rather pathetic attempt to justify (for obvious reasons) unfettered population growth.

Through it all, Pope Francis speaks with a fair amount of certainty, with regard to the climate, scientific aspects of processes, and economic/social consequences of climate change. In this regard, I want to focus on two passages in the piece:
A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.
Again, it is important to note the certainty here. While I could go into the fact that both the global climate and the global economy are open, complex systems and that we lack the capabilities and knowledge to actually model either in full (especially if one takes it as a given than man's activities can have a significant impact on the global climate), that's not really where I want to go. Rather, I want to note that what we see here is Pope Francis assuming certainty because of the supposed expertise of others, because of a "very solid scientific consensus." This from the Vicar of Christ who supposedly speaks with infallibility on matters of doctrine.

In a very real sense, Pope Francis has subordinated Church doctrine to the current crop of technocrats. Think about it. Pope Francis is not recommending that the Faithful simply be better stewards of the Earth for the sake of the Earth itself (which I think would be completely fair and even laudable). Instead, he is trying to direct everyone--not even just the Faithful--to accept the scientific consensus and to follow its prescriptions, not by virtue of his understanding but by virtue of their supposed expertise. To me, that is a simply amazing thing for the Pope to do in an official communication. Pope Francis started down this road in Evangelii Gaudium, but he never went all the way, he never completely surrendered his own perceived authority to powers beyond the control of the Church, to a cadre of twenty-first century technocrats.

While many are congratulating the Pope and the Church on this communication, part of me can't help but wonder if this sounded the death knell for the power of the Church. For instance, how will Pope Francis--or any member of the clergy--be able to maintain the Church's position on the sanctity of life if the consensus of expert opinions is at odds with that position? I submit that he will not be able to, not if he wants to be consistent.

Pope Francis, in his eagerness to curry world favor, enhance the image of the Church, and justify its role in the current world, is demonstrating why the power structures of the Church are outmoded, and why the fundamental ideology he imagines for the Church is hopelessly anachronistic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why I struggle with Race

If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!

So goes a traditional Zen kōan. Kōans are used to provoke students of Zen into some sort of response, as a means of testing their understanding of the principles of Zen. Now in theory, there is no set meaning to a kōan: different people can understand it--correctly--in different ways. But there most assuredly are wrong ways to understand them. And in that regard, some kōans do have generally accepted meanings, or impart a specific and agreed-upon understanding. The one above is such a kōan.

It's meaning is easily understand, once one realizes it is all metaphoric. There is no road and there is no Buddha. There is nothing to actually kill. The road is the journey, the path to enlightenment. For a practitioner of Zen, it is a never ending journey. True enlightenment means recognizing this; knowing oneself and the relationship of that self to the universe is a goal that cannot ever be truly reached. If one on that journey believes that they have in fact reached the end, that they have reached the state of the Buddha--i.e. have met the Buddha--they are wrong. The solution? Recognize the mistake, wipe away the false conclusion to the journey, kill the Buddha.

What does any of this have to do with Race? Simply put, every time I think I understand the concept, I discover that I don't. It seems to be something impossible for me to pin down, no matter how hard I try.
Meyers b11 s0476a" by Hermann Rudi Julius, son of Joseph Meyer

One can examine any number of supposedly authoritative tracts on the issue and find just as many definitions of Race. Ask someone "what is Race?" and you will get all manner of responses. Race is presented as a consequence of genetics, of lineage, of culture, of ethnicity, of geography, or as combination of some or all of these. As is the case with many kōans, however, there is some truth in here, insofar as some of the answers one hears are wrong. For instance Race is not genetically determined, with regard to the racial groupings generally in use.

And like the concept of Race itself, there is no set answer for the number of races, of racial groupings. For the sake of simplicity, let's use the groupings of the U.S. Census. When identifying one's Race, there are twelve specific options, along with "other Asian," "other Pacific Islander," and "some other race." Looking at these options relative to the entire world, it's blindingly clear that the entire populations of Europe and Africa--and the diaspora of each--have each been assigned one basic Race: White and Black. In contrast, Asia and the Pacific islands have been divided up according to geography and/or nationality:

If ever there was proof positive that Race isn't generally being used with genetics in mind, this is it. Why do I say that? Simple, from a genetic standpoint there is more variation in the peoples of Africa than there is in the remainder of the world. In other words, two people born in different regions in Africa are likely to share fewer genetic traits than are, say a White European and a Korean.

Of course, most demographic questions on Race aren't this extensive. For instance, the public schools in my neck of the woods have just six options: White non-Hispanic, White Hispanic, Black/African American, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander. For the sake of even more simplicity, let's just stick to these as the Races of the World. Again, genetics has little to do with these distinctions. They are, first and foremost, geographical, but actually with respect to one's heritage, where one's more distant ancestors come from.

And as a standard, that's somewhat workable. Though it becomes problematic when any sort of limit on the heritage is suggested or imposed. For instance, I can trace my lineage--by my surname--back to the 1600's in North America. Prior to that, the tree goes to Scotland. Prior to that, I don't really know. The Caucasus region? Northern India (the Indo-Aryans of the Vedic period)? East Africa (the birthplace of homo sapiens)? The point is, people have been moving across the globe for millennium. At what moment can it be said that they were separated into independent Races? Geography cannot answer this question.

Which brings us to culture as a determinant of Race. One could argue that a sufficiently homogeneous (in appearance) population that develops its own unique culture constitutes a Race. Many, in fact, do argue this. But of course culture is a changing thing; with non-sedentary populations, cultures mix, as do Races within such a paradigm. The consequence? Appearance becomes the determining factor. Thus, someone who appears Black is Black, someone who appears White is White. Culture, though the basis for Race with regard to the parent, becomes the secondary determinant. Thus, President Obama is Black because he looks Black, because his father was Black by virtue of his culture.

It is, to me, a strange and difficult standard. In fact, I would call it a toxic standard as well, because it goes from an assumption of cultural ownership to what is essentially racial profiling without missing a beat. A person's Race is determined by how others see them, nothing more. If given the opportunity to correct this, they can of course, provided they have parents of different Races. They can say they are of a "mixed" Race (often an option on some demographic questionnaires) or even pick one over the other, though many will not accept the latter, if they don't look like they are members of the race they have picked (in the eyes of others).

And as a consequence of the above, the shortcomings of the various determinants of Race, a new standard seems to be emerging: that of self-identification, as evidenced in the current topic du jour, Rachel Dolezal. Born to White (as is commonly understood) parents, with typically White features, Ms. Dolezal reinvented herself and presented herself as a Black woman, having fully immersed herself in "Black" culture, including altering her appearance, teaching African American studies, and heading a local chapter of the NAACP.

The essential questions arising from her situation: can this be done? Can someone actually change their Race? When is Race determined? And if so, what is the basis for determining Race? She modified her appearance, but was that even necessary? If one can choose to self-identify as any Race (which is what the defenders of her actions are claiming), how could it be? Ditto for the issue of cultural immersion. If Race is a matter of self-identification, culture cannot be a determining factor, since culture is not static in the least, temporally or geographically.

From this, the only conclusion I can logically draw--if what Ms. Dolezal has done is legitimate--is that Race is a wholly arbitrary label. And frankly, from my personal perspective, that's okay. I don't like talking about Race. It's not that it makes me uncomfortable, it's that I don't like using it to divide people up into groups, for one reason or another.

I don't have White friends, or Black friends, or Asian friends (granted, I don't have a lot of friends), I just have friends. I don't care what color they are, what Race they are, I never have. And I've raised my children--or at least tried to--the same way. They don't say "so and so is my Black friend," or "my Asian friend said this," at least not around me. I want them to treat people as individuals, I want to treat people as individuals. Always.

This doesn't mean I don't recognize and appreciate different cultures. I do. Nor does it mean I ignore or want my children to ignore the history of Race and Race relations in the United States and the world. We don't. Understanding those histories is a vital part of understanding the human condition, of learning acceptance and combating racism and discrimination.

But I often find myself on an island in this regard. No one seems to want to let go of Race as a means of labeling and judging others. Some are doing so with the best of intentions, some are doing so with the worst, most are just not really willing to think deeply on the matter at all. And because of all of this, I struggle. Daily.

If you see a White/Black/Asian person on the road, kill them!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Bond Films: Worst to Best

My teenaged daughter and I share a love of movies. And we spend a lot of time talking about them, especially with regards to the ideas of "classic" films, "cult classics," and "must-watch" films. And she often comes to me to talk about such things after becoming exasperated by the opinions (or lack of opinions) of her friends or becoming intrigued by articles she's read on the 'net. Most recently, she discovered this piece--from 2012--by Peter Travers at Rolling Stone. In it, Travers does what I'm about to do: rank the Bond movies from worst to best. My daughter enjoyed the piece very much, as it has a number of funny takes on some of the lamer parts of the various films. Still, she didn't agree with it and was pretty sure that I wouldn't either. And she suggested that I should do my own list, since she knew I'd get it right.

Travers lists Quantum of Solace at the bottom and Goldfinger as the top, choices which I can understand and are defensible, but are quite wrong. There's another list at Rotten Tomatoes, as well, based on some formula using the "Tomatometer," the number of reviews available, and the year of release. It comes off okay, spitting out the 1967 Casino Royale at the bottom (which Travers didn't include in his list), followed by A View to a Kill (which Travers has at number seventeen). At the top, Rotten Tomatoes has Dr. No (which Travers has at number six). Again, these are defensible choices; I understand how one could make them. And they're still wrong.

Incidentally, Rotten Tomatoes has Goldfinger--Travers' number one--at number three, and Quantum of Solace--Travers' number twenty-four--at number sixteen. So the two lists are obviously quite different. Both tend to put some of the same movies near the top or bottom, as the case may be, but there are a few that receive vastly different places in the lists. Read them both through, See which one you agree with the most. See where your favorites Bond films are in each.

Done? Okay, now here's my list, the quintessential one. But first, a few housekeeping items. Like Travers, I'm not including 1967's David Niven farce, Casino Royale. It's not a Bond Film. It just isn't. Also, I'm including both the Travers ranking (PT #) and Rotten tomatoes (RT #) ranking for comparison purposes. The methodology of my list is simple: I've watched them all, multiple times (and I've read all of the original books), and I've determined the rankings based on how good each movie is as a Bond movie. So...Here. We. Go.

24. Octopussy (PT #16, RT #23)
Look, the problem with this movie is that it's stupid. Also, both the villain and the love interest are weak. It's overly campy as well, but then tries to switch to overly serious. Moore should have called it quits before going here. And even worse, the title of the movie is from an Ian Fleming short story on Bond, but the movie itself has nothing to do with that story. Ridiculous. For the life of me, I can't see how Travers rates this movie higher than eight others.

23. Quantum of Solace (PT #24, RT #14)
Travers is right on this one. The problem with this move is that it's not a Bond movie. Not even close. As he says, it's more of a Jason Borne movie, but not a good one. It's hard to watch, it doesn't flow at all, and there just isn't any Bond in it.

22. Tomorrow Never Dies (PT #21, RT #20)
Everyone is close to the same place on this one. While the exact ranking may be in dispute, there's agreement that this is one of the worst Bond films. Once again, there's a weak villain, Even worse, Michelle Yeoh is wasted in this movie. She could have done so much more.

21. License To Kill (PT #23, RT #11)
Tough call here. There are some serious positives in this movie, from Robert Davi to Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto. And of course Wayne Newton. But like Octopussy, this one tries too hard to flip from serious to silly and it fails, largely because Timothy Dalton's Bond can't exist in such a world.

20. A View To A Kill (PT #17, RT #24)
The flaws of this entry into the franchise have been heavily explored. Moore himself thought he was too old for the role, given what he had to do. Plus, there's the psychotic rage of Walken's character, out of place in a Bond film. But I have to admit, I find it watchable, which is why I have it at the top of the bottom five.

19. The Man With The Golden Gun (PT #14, RT #22)
There's just not enough here. Not enough of anything. Yes, Christopher Lee is awesome, but Britt Eckland is completly forgettable. Ask me to name all the Bond girls and I will almost always forget her. Plus, the fight scenes really are lame. It tries to evoke an Enter the Dragon feel and fails miserably. Still, it is Bond.

18. Die Another Day (PT #10, RT #19)
For the life of me, I don't know how Travers gets this one in the top ten. He complains about product placement in Tomorrow Never Dies, but it's worse in this one. Yes, that's partially offset by Halle Berry and by some great action sequences, but the plot is all over the place.

17. Diamonds Are Forever (PT #18, RT #16)
Once again, general agreement. Connery's last Eon film as James Bond and also his worst. But remember, that's relative. The movie is completely watchable, even with a rather predictable plot and rather typical (for a Bond film) characters.

16. For Your Eyes Only (PT #12, RT #12)
This movie and the ones that follow indicate why I am right and the other lists are wrong. We're getting into completely acceptable Bond movies now, movies that are fun and have what we expect in a Bond move. This one fits that bill, but just barely. The ending is not satisfactory at all and Lynn-Holly Johnson as apparent jailbait is just wrong for a Bond film. Still, not a bad flick.

15. Never Say Never Again (PT #13, RT #18)
Travers has this one a little too high, Rotten Tomatoes has it a little too low. Connery returns as Bond in a non-Eon film, a little older but still very much Bond. The villain is strong, as are the Bond girls (Kim Basinger and Barbara Carrera).

14. The Living Daylights (PT #22, RT #10)
This is not a top ten Bond movie. But it's also not from the bottom of the barrel. Dalton's first appearance as Bond is strong, evoking the original, more serious archetype. The plot is fine here, as are the actors, especially Art Malik. If Dalton is the worst Bond, this movie is not evidence of that.

13. You Only Live Twice (PT #7, RT #13)
Once again, Travers is out in left field. While this is most definitely a decent Bond film, it's nowhere near one of the best. The plot is full of pointless elements, like Bond's surgery to look Asian, and the movie itself is exceedingly loose. But again, it's Bond.

12. The World Is Not Enough (PT #20, RT #21)
Sorry, but no way is this one of the worst. It's most certainly better than what's above. The plot is outrageous (in a good way), the women are memorable, and Brosnan plays Bond the right way. Okay, yes, having Denise Richards play a nuclear physicist is beyond the pale and the villain's inability to feel pain is overdone, but beyond that the movie works. It's easy on the eyes, has great action sequences and some truly Bond moments.

11. Goldeneye (PT #19, RT #8)
Like The World Is Not Enough. this one works. And it works especially because of Famke Janssen and Sean Bean. Brosnan's first and best Bond film, hands down. Also, the best video game based on a Bond film, hands down.

10. Moonraker (PT #15, RT #17)
"This is in the top ten? Are you crazy?" I can hear people saying that as they read this. Yes, it has some campy moments. Yes, it has a weak--though still memorable--lead Bond girl. But be honest. This is, without a doubt, one of the easiest Bond films to watch and enjoy. It's never slow and Moore is in great form, never missing a beat, as he moves effortlessly around the world and into space. When this film came out, many critics actually thought it ranked right near the top. In today's world, it's over-the-top-ness is muted, but that's no less true of some of the older Bond films, like Goldfinger. This one needs to be better appreciated for what it is.

9. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (PT #3, RT #7)
Number three? Are you kidding me? Regardless, George Lazenby's lone role as Bond is a good one. The movie itself is full-bore Bond and doesn't disappoint. The only quibble I have is with some of the fight scenes, obviously sped up to make them look more impressive. They don't.

8. Skyfall (PT #5, RT #5)
It's a helluva flick, made for a helluva lot of money (though a helluva lot less than was its failure of a predecessor, Quantum of Solace). I don't have any complaints. It's just not as good as the ones that follow.

7. Thunderball (PT #9, RT #6)
More vintage Bond. Again, a movie without any real problems. The villain here--Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi--is one of the best in the franchise. And Claudine Auger as Domino is just about perfect.

6. The Spy Who Loved Me (PT #8, RT #9)
Okay, we all have this one in the top ten. I have it higher. Why? Well, compare it to the three above. It's villain is right there with the others, Barbara Bach leaves a trail of smoke across the screen (come on, you know it, be honest), the locales are great, it has the best car of the franchise (the Lotus that turns into a submarine), and it has the first appearance of Richard Kiehl's Jaws. This is where it belongs.

5. From Russia With Love (PT #2, RT #4)
The second Bond movie is undoubtedly one of the best. In it, Connery really developed the Bond character, not only for purposes of the movie, but as a starting point for the franchise. Bond was just a one-off hero after Dr. No. In this film he was defined as an archetype.

4. Casino Royale (PT #4, RT #2)
Daniel Craig's first Bond film was a masterstroke, insofar as it brought the franchise back to it's roots. It tries hard to follow the original novel, with spectacular results. The opening sequences are frenetic and fun, but the casino sequences are vintage Bond to the nth degree.

3. Goldfinger (PT #1, RT #3)
Sorry Pete. I know you know your stuff, but you're just wrong here. This is not the best Bond film...but it's close! Hey, Pussy Galore, naked women painted gold, and a plot to rob Fort Knox. There's nothing missing here and Connery is never better.

2. Dr. No (PT #6, RT #1)
It was the first and I know some would say the best. There is no doubt, Ursula Andress set a standard for all future Bond girls, a standard that only Honor Blackman and Barbara Bach can even approach. Then there's the villain himself, Dr. No, and his lair. These are the stars all Bond villains try to reach. Few succeed.

1. Live And Let Die (PT #11, RT #15)
Let me very clear about this. I don't want any misunderstandings. Live And Let Die is the best Bond film of all time, it's top-o-the-heap, cream of the crop, end of story. Is Roger Moore the best Bond? No. He's probably number three, if not number four. Is Jane Seymour--as Solitaire--the best Bond girl? No. She's in the top five, though. Is Yaphet Kotto the best Bond villain? No. He's in the middle of the list, no doubt. None of that matters. Live And Let Die is the best because it perfectly encapsulates all the things that make Bond films so great. The attitude, the action. the villains, the unexpected twists, it's all there. And it's never done better, across the board. Plus, there is no Bond film that is more entertaining from start to finish than this one. That's why it's number one. Oh, and it also has the best title song of the franchise...