2014/12/13

Exodus


Pretty good! Exodus reminds me of Noah, earlier this year. Generally, both movies stick close to their source, diverging now and then to have the story make more sense. Naturally, the Ten Commandments by Cecil B.DeMille, starring Charlton Heston (1956), didn't have Moses engaging in any sort of romantic subplots, so I thought the part of Exodus where Moses marries a woman from Midian (Zipporah was played by Maria Valverde) was an attempt to jazz up the movie for today's audiences. Nope, I went to one of my bookshelves after getting back from the movie, checked my Revised Standard version of the Bible (1952) and, sure enough, Moses escaped Egypt, went to Midian, got married and they had a son. Then he returned to Egypt and started pressuring the Pharaoh to release his Hebrew brothers and sisters. I liked that the movie made Moses the adopted brother of the Pharaoh and an honored aristocrat in the beginning of the movie before he ran off to Midian. Makes sense and makes the whole conflict between hm and the Pharaoh more direct and personal.

And no, it's true that Moses was not historically a white person but he's played here by a white actor (Christian Bale). The director says he needed investment money to start with and needed viewers later, so he needed a “bankable” star. I decided to take the ethnicity of Moses as one of those ”suspension of disbelief” things, y'know, where Superman chats with Green Lantern on the surface of Mars, and where you accept the premise so that you can then concentrate on the human drama, the relationships between the characters, the cool special effects, etc. And I agree that any time is a good time, any time is a bad time, to start introducing diversity into movie casting. There's no reason why 2014 is any better than 2024 or any worse that 2004 or vice-versa.

Saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 last week. Recommend seeing parts 1 and 2 in a reasonably close-together fashion. Mockngjay part 1 will probably come out on DVD or on one of the cable channels when Part 2 is about to show, so it shouldn't be difficult to do that. .




2014/12/09

The torture report


The torture report, well, the redacted summary of the 6,000 page full report anyway, makes clear that the second, subsidiary, justification for torture made during the G.W. Bush Administration is complete poppycock. The first justification concerns morality and is premised on the “ticking time bomb” scenario where a single person can suffer torture now or a lot of people can suffer an exploded bomb within a short time period.

The second justification is one of effectiveness, that torture can quickly and effectively elicit truthful answers in time to prevent terrible things from happening. It's the second justification that's squashed utterly by the report. Even people in the CIA, at the time, could see that the US wasn't obtaining any worthwhile information that couldn't have been obtained just as quickly by using a gentler approach. The Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 claims of torture having prevented a “ticking time bomb” scenario and found them all to be without foundation.

The report demonstrates that the CIA's torture program was out of control and that the CIA frequently lied to superiors and failed to even conduct any sort of internal assessment of whether torture was effective or not. Claims that the program was effective rested on lies and wishful thinking, not on any sort of factual basis.

What does it all mean? A society that tries to become a better society has no use for torture. Torture has a corrupting effect on its practitioners as the report documents. Torture has no benefits to balance or to justify its evil effects, not even if we agree that war in general is justified.

2014/11/21

Interstellar


An okay flick. If I were having a big party and wanted to keep something showing on the TV so that guests could wander by, watch a bit and then wander off, it'd be good for that. The FX and scenery are certainly good and the plot sufficiently long and drawn-out that no one would miss much if they were to get distracted. Certainly an attractive cast, with Matthew McConaughey as the hero, Anne Hathaway as the lone female among all the males in most of it and Jessica Chastain as the hero's grown-up daughter, certainly makes for plenty of eye candy.

My initial idea was to see Ouija as that has Bianca Santos in it, who is the star of Happyland, a series on MTV. But Ouija is only showing once per evening, after 10:00, so I figured I wouldn't see the horror flick after all. No biggie, I saw a few horror movies as a teenager but haven't seen any for many, many years. So I saw no need to break the pattern. Happyland is pretty cool though, a behind-the-scenes look at a Disney-ish amusement park.

2014/11/14

Rosewater.


Quite good. The Jon Stewart movie reminds me of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in the way that it examines what our hero, Maziar Bahari (Played by Gael Garcia Bernal) has to go through. The Iranians who imprison Bahari knew that the brutal methods of SAVAK were worthless in obtaining credible confessions. The somewhat surprising twist is that Bahari doesn't hold out 'til the bitter end, never telling his captors what they want to hear. He does, but the world accurately identifies his confession as worthless because it's so obviously obtained under duress.
Very good look at current Iranian society and the relationship between captor and captive and the limits of what societies can do to oppress individuals.
Daily Show interviews on Rosewater. 
Update: Good review from Salon.  

2014/10/10

A community responds to police abuses


The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” The woman pictured above was caught on camera, apparently wondering why her previously-pleasant evening was being so brazenly disrupted. The fellow beside her, looking up at the balcony, was filmed moments previously, smiling broadly. The St. Louis American piece reports that “Some onlookers were outraged and start spewing expletives. Others stood up and started clapping. Most seemed stunned and simply watched.“

The singing was a response to the Michael Brown killing and its tense and sometimes chaotic aftermath. “On Saturday afternoon, Brown was shot to death by a police officer while apparently walking, unarmed, from a convenience store to his grandmother's apartment in Ferguson, a working-class suburb north of St Louis, the main hub of this midwestern state.” Ferguson police later introduced a videotape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. It initially appeared that Brown stole some cigars, but a look at the whole tape showed he did no such thing and Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot Brown, wasn't aware of what had happened in the convenience store in any event. 

  
Cartoons of course, routinely present situations in exaggerated and hyperbolic ways, as the one pictured here does. But the line between hyperbole and real life becomes blurred when other police officers in the same geographical region demonstrated a similar police response to another citizen. “Cops say [Vonderrit Myers Jr.] fired a gun.” Problem is, non-police eyewitnesses, who saw Myers beforehand, maintain that all he had in his possession was a sandwich. There has been no independent confirmation that Myers ever had a gun. Police Chief Sam Dotson, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claims that a 9mm Ruger handgun was retrieved from the scene and ballistics tests are being run on it, but Myers was already wearing an ankle bracelet for a charge of gun possession and both the mother and pastor of Myers say he absolutely did not possess a gun. 

A piece from Popular Resistance adds details that cast even more doubt on the charge that Vonderrit Myers Jr. posed any sort of threat to the off-duty police officer who shot him. The piece also goes into the question of why our police seem to be getting out of control lately and apparently now pose a greater threat to unarmed citizens than to criminals. Privatization seems to be a real driver of this new unaccountability. Privatization changes the mission of police forces so that what the public needs is no longer important. What the private interests who pay the salaries of police need becomes the new priority. A very disturbing case was that of San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and his pregnant girlfriend. She called for police assistance as he was beating her, public policemen showed up, but a private policeman was already on the scene. “In the case the first officer on the scene worked for the 49ers and represented the interests of Ray McDonald.. What was said? Not said? Was the victim intimidated? Was evidence hidden, destroyed? Was McDonald prepped by his employee as to what he should say or not say?”

Another problem was pointed out by The American Prospect. Exactly how are brutal, out-of-control police punished for bad behavior? The answer isn't comforting and goes a long way to explain why police feel invulnerable. If cases are won and civil penalties are assessed (Hard to do as the public is very supportive of police departments generally), then steep payments are made. But payments generally come out of city funds, and by extension, they come from city taxpayers, not by the particular police department that behaved badly. As police operating budgets are rarely affected, there's no reason for police to avoid bad behavior. 

So how do we judge the response of the St. Louis region's black community to police abuses? The US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues, or a “full-court press” as basketball players would say. It's good to use street demonstrations and a peaceful demonstration is always better than a violent one, but getting involved in voting and long-term organizing is a critically necessary element to achieving long-term success. That's just what the black community of the St. Louis region is doing. “...3,000 Ferguson residents (total population is 21,000) have registered to vote. And that’s good. Certainly some of the problems that led to Brown’s killing have to do with a political system that is not representative of the citizens it is charged with governing. In a town that is two-thirds black, only one of its six city council members is also black. If more than 6 percent of the black residents had voted, there would likely be a different mayor, and perhaps a different police chief.”

Actions like the singing at the St. Louis Symphony and more routine, less photogenic actions like registering new voters, are both necessary elements in making progress towards a more fair and inclusive society.


_______________

The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” When the office who shot Brown was identified, the Ferguson police muddied up the issue by introducing a tape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. The full tape showed that Brown did not commit a crime. Is the cartoon here an exaggeration of police-citizen relations in the area? Unfortunately, not by much. The later shooting of Vonderrit Myers Jr. appears to be even less defensible than the Michael Brown shooting was. Why are these shooting happening? Privatization of police and the lack of any direct connection between penalties and the misbehaving police departments both appear to be factors. What to do? Well, the US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues and the black community of Ferguson appears to be taking that approach as it's getting lots of voters registered.


2014/10/07

Tech support companies

I was getting very frustrated with my Windows computer ( My Linux one was working fine) as the browser (Chrome) kept opening up new tabs and windows and giving me a "warning" about websites that I knew weren't problems. It kept urging me to call a particular number (Which I had absolutely no intention of ever doing) and finally got to the point where it interfered with the operation of the browser that the whole thing was becoming useless.

I took the computer to a tech support service and they fixed it up some. They improved the speed and reduced some of the clutter that I had been experiencing. I used Internet Explorer as my browser for awhile as that's the Windows default browser, bu eventually opened up Chrome again. %$^#@!! The problem that I brought it in for was still being a problem!!! As the problem hadn't occurred in Explorer, I decided to go to the tech support site for Chrome.

Boo-yah! With three exchanges, the problem had been identified and solved! My experience with the tech support company was not a waste, but it brought back to me how many times I and the data tech people in the Navy and I disagreed. Yeah, they were smart and informed, but I often knew just as much about certain aspects of computers as they did.

2014/09/27

The Equalizer


The Equalizer reminds me of Machete in that the hero appears very physically formidable and can take and dish out lots and lots of physical abuse. Liked the relationship between our hero and the sweet young woman he sets out to avenge. He also relates well to the ordinary folks he works with during his day job.   

2014/09/17

Double Indemnity


Finished watching the 1944 movie “Double Indemnity” today. Quite good! Barbara Stanwyck has two big challenges, both of which I believe she passes with flying colors. The first is that she has to make us believe that she's so incredibly sexually desirable that Fred MacMurray (Yup, the dad in My Three Sons) loses all sense of reason and proportion and is actually willing to kill for her. Not only that, she does so while staying within the highly restrictive Hays Code, a code that states: “Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown” and demanded, among other things, that couples couldn't share a double bed, but had to sleep in two singles.

Second, her step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather) describes how Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) carried out a cold and cruel act and then stood there without showing any sign of remorse. Stanwyck does a good enough job building the character of Phyllis that Lola's description of Phyllis comes across as entirely believable.

The description given by Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) of always listening to his “little man” is a hilarious side-note. I also understood why films after the Hays Code felt the need to allow at least a few sympathetic characters to get away with it all and to make their way to sunny resorts.

2014/09/11

New York City People's Climate March Sep 21


How big is the upcoming march going to be? The Green Party of Philadelphia has a number of buses going from several points in town. Normally, buses leaving from the city for out-of-town marches and rallies leave from just one central point. Now the Greens are confident they can fill buses from all over. I was on a conference call last month where we discussed people using the floors of churches to put their sleeping bags on. Even back then, all such space was already booked. 350.org has a section on the march which is our go-to, central point of information. Why is the organization named 350? In order for human beings to be safe, the CO2 in our atmosphere should be at or below 350 parts per million (pre-industrial civilization had around 275 ppm) and we're now above 400 ppm. 

But this issue has been around for awhile. Why is this march now gathering so much enthusiasm and attention? My own thought is that global warming has previously had a direct, observable effect on far-off places, Pacific islands, the Arctic and the Antarctic, etc. Now, Venice, Italy and Norfolk, VA are affected. Both land masses are heavy and weighted down by cities and are thus sinking very slowly into the sea, but that doesn't account for all of the gains that the sea has made on both cities. In both cases, sea levels from global warming are clearly having an effect. Parts of Norfolk, the main US Navy base, are regularly flooding with salt water, so the Navy is very intimately aware of the effect that global warming is having as they can see the sea rising right in their front yard. 

There are many other effects that global warming is having, “Glaciers everywhere are melting and disappearing fast, threatening the primary source of clean water for millions of people. Mosquitoes, who like a warmer world, are spreading into lots of new places, and bringing malaria and dengue fever with them. Drought is becoming much more common, making food harder to grow in many places.” 

Is global warming implicated in violent world events like the Arab Spring? Evidence indicates that warming is a “stressor.” It's not a cause of violence and revolution, but it adds to the volatile mix that causes social upheavals. 

A person prominently featured as a speaker for the march is the reporter Naomi Klein (Author of The Shock Doctrine), who argues that our economic model may not be compatible with human survival.

2014/08/13

Calling “Taps” on PhillyIMC


"Taps, taps, lights out. All hands turn into your bunks. Maintain silence about the decks. The smoking lamp is out in all designated spaces. Now taps."

Navy shipboard announcement sounded each night at 2200 hours (10:00 pm)

Well, PhillyIMC had a really good run from mid-2000 to mid-2014. But we've now been threatened by lawyers to pay for an image that was taken from them without their permission back in 2010. We're busy fighting this off and are hopeful that we might get away with either a reduced payment, or better yet, no payment at all.

Can PhillyIMC be revived someday? Sure, but we're using Drupal 5 as our Content Management System (CMS) and Drupal 7 is available. Certainly, our CMS can be upgraded, but we've published almost 50,000 articles and I went through nearly 700 of them. About one-quarter of those articles aren't worth keeping as they no longer have photos or sound-files or movie files attached. There's a larger proportion of good pieces later, but clearly, there's a lot of stuff that we may as well delete before upgrading the CMS.

Also, in order to fend off the trolling lawyers, we need to make sure that all of the images in use on the site are either photos that were taken by the authors or are otherwise copyright-free images. I believe the site is pretty much free of spam or unsolicited advertising, but I can't guarantee that until a careful, detailed examination of all of the articles is made. Going through the 700 articles, I found about 10 that were just copied and pasted from other sources and contained no reference to their original source. Stories like these should all be footnoted.

In other words, there's lots and lots of work to be done before the site can be re-opened. So yeah, we're announcing “Taps” on PhillyIMC. Will we ever re-open it? Will we ever be able to sound “Reveille” on it? That's an excellent question.

2014/07/22

Gaza 2014


I truly hate the issue of Gaza versus Israel as I have good friends on both sides. It's about the only issue that currently splits liberals from each other.

The fellow here makes a good case for the Israeli side. Essentially, Israel is under siege by a foe that will settle for nothing less than their complete destruction. Hamas doesn't want to simply co-exist with Israel, they want to annihilate the state and all its people.

The case that Hamas makes to the people of Gaza is also pretty straightforward. The people of Gaza are locked into an “open-air prison” that even Pope Francis condemns. They have no seaport of their own, no airport, their border is sealed on all sides, their access to fishing on the sea is very restricted. I haven't heard much lately about residents of Gaza being hungry or having their food supplies restricted, but that certainly did happen in the past, until Egypt had its revolution and partially opened their border with Gaza.

“So, all right, Mr. Smarty-pants, what would you do? How would you square the circle?”

Back during the late 80s, I did a lot of reading on guerrilla war, including several books on the Vietnam conflict from left-wing, middle-of-the-road and right-wing perspectives. My following of the Iraq War has very largely confirmed the conclusions I reached back then.

In every guerrilla movement, there are two components, the hard-core fighters, the ones who run things and compose the propaganda and who promise to take over when the fighting is done. Then there are the people at large. The people are the ones constantly just trying to live their lives, to get out of the line of fire, to raise crops and children as best they can amid all the gunfire. It is quite impossible for the hard-core fighters to succeed without at least the tacit cooperation of the people.

Thousands of South Vietnamese, appalled by Diem’s corruption and brutality against Buddhists and suspected communists, rushed to fight with the NLF. Those unwilling or unable to fight – including women, children and the elderly – gave support in other ways, such as providing food, safety and information about enemy troop movements.

So how does an occupier win a guerrilla war? By allying oneself with the people and thus robbing the fighters of the support without which they can't survive. As Mao Zedong had put it: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” (There's a more comprehensive quote here, on a page where Mao emphasizes that guerrillas must treat the people well, so as to gain their enthusiastic support) so if one “drains the sea” by addressing and solving or at least mitigating the grievances of the people, the hard-core fighters will be left high and dry and will not gain power.

It is of course possible that the Palestinian people in Gaza will still be motivated to annihilate the Israelis after their conditions are softened and mitigated and their existence is rendered to be less than a concentration camp, but people in general tend not be fanatics and if they find they can live their lives, stay out of the line of gunfire and raise crops and children in a relatively unmolested fashion, fanaticism tends to die in those circumstances.

The people of the Middle East have demonstrated this through their attitude towards America over the past decade and a half. They have shown that “The publics in every nation polled in both 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in confidence in Obama compared to Bush--on average 37 points.” Obama was, and remains, much less aggressively in-your-face than Bush was and so maintains a much higher degree of popularity than his predecessor did.

I believe that Israel would do far better to try and separate the Palestinian people from the hard-core fighters of Hamas via policies that lessen the harshness of their lives than through the current policy of collective punishment.

2014/07/07

Glenn Davis and the 190th District

Glenn Davis is the Chair of the Philadelphia Green Party and is running to be the Representative for the strongly Democratic 190th Pennsylvania House of Representative district. His campaign is currently in the process of getting signatures and the real campaign will commence once that's done. Is there any chance he'll be a spoiler and that splitting the liberal vote will result in a Republican Representative? Happily, there are no Republicans running for that district, so a vote for Davis and the Green Party is a free vote.

If he's successful, will Davis be a good Representative or is he just interested in the symbolism of the Green Party winning a seat? Davis has three children, Shyenn (11), Nathenn (8) and Shanenn (7) and he's heavily invested in seeing to it that his children receive the best education possible. He is very interested in reversing the damage that has been done to Pennsylvania schools via Governor Corbett's mindless and destructive cuts.

The 190th Legislative District is largely a one-party district. Just as in the Senatorial race in Mississippi was pretty much done and over with when Thad Cochran prevailed against Chris McDaniel (There are very few votes to be had for Democrats in MS), so Vanessa L. Brown thought she had the had the race for Representative safely locked up as soon as she had prevailed in the Democratic primary. With the Green Party in the ring, Davis can, if nothing else, press Brown to take better positions prior to her winning November's election.
Davis is a veteran of the Gulf War of 1991 (He was an Army Specialist (E4 68J) from 1989 to 1993) and currently makes his living by working at McDonalds. His house is currently, along with those of many thousands of fellow Philadelphia citizens, in foreclosure. He is energized by that issue as pay for a fast-food worker is inadequate to solve that problem. He is also the Vice President at the Shepard Recreation Center and is involved with the Women's Community Revitalization Project and DecarceratePA.

 
Mayor Nutter recently tried to address Philadelphia citizens whose minor legal problems were making their job searches unnecessarily difficult. Davis sought to get a 2009 misdemeanor charge pardoned and found that he was in a group of roughly 3000 fellow citizens who were all seeking pardons for similarly minor offenses. Nutter appears to have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who needed relief, so this is yet another issue that is energizing Davis. He and the Green Party are both trying to see to it that the average citizen gets a break.

The Philadelphia Green Party website is at GPOP.org.

2014/06/09

Ambassadors


I sent a veteran buddy of mine a piece on an official military honor guard joining a Gay Pride march in Washington DC. His reaction:

Fantastic, unbelievable there is a feeling of respect in the gay community
which I originally relayed about gay veterans. I will always say the stereo-type does not
always fit reality. Like I said before it's not always about pink poodles

No, it's not. Pink poodles are certainly part of the gay image, but no, they became a focus because people outside of, and in many cases, people who were hostile to, the LGBT community, made that the gay image.

That exchange reminded me of a book I read back in junior high (Nowadays called middle school). It was about the struggle between Northern and Southern Italians. The Northerners were exploiting the South by extractng their resources, largely farm produce. Southerners launched a rebellion in the 1800s. Northern Italians in Rome sought to understand what was going on and looked around to speak with the only Southern Italians they knew, the aristocrats who collaborated with the North to send food from the South to the North. Naturally, because it was hardly in their interests to truly illuminate how the situation was so bad for Southern Italians in general, the Southern Italian aristocrats gave the Northerners bad advice and the situation got worse.

It's important then, for countries and cultures to have at least works of art to act as ambassadors to the culture that's in a dominant position. I've seen a number of works that have done this. I paid attention to the struggles in Central America that came to my attention as a college student in the late 70s, with conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But it wasn't until the comic book Love & Rockets was put out that I had more than a one-dimensional image of the larger Latino community as doing and being more than just fighting, dying and cursing the gringo. Reading it gave me a more complex picture, one that emphasized both the differences and similarities between them and us white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, both the things that made us all human and the things that made our groups distinct from each other.

What was the first artistic ambassador that explained one world to another? My guess would be Uncle Tom's Cabin. It described a society and a way of life that Northerners lived next to, but most of them had no personal experience of. As the University of Virginia concedes, Harriet Beecher Stowe drew an essentially accurate portrait of what it was like to be a slave in the South. The minstrels of the era tried very hard to present their own version of slavery as a benign institution, but their efforts didn't make much headway.

During the Iraq War, an educated young Iraqi woman who named herself River wrote a blog that captured the imaginations of at least the people who opposed the war there. In 2013, she added a post taking a look back. Her writings emphasized both how different the Iraqi culture was (She generally didn't like Saddam Hussein, didn't wear one herself, but was well-disposed towards wearing the hijab, was strongly opposed to the American invasion and documented how it hurt the Iraqi people) and, by adding lots of personal touches and mentions of people she knew (Always as pseudonyms), emphasized the common humanity of Iraqis and Americans.

Probably the most well-known comic that did the same thing for the gay community was Desert Peach. Pfirsch (Peach) Rommel was General Erwin Rommel's fictional gay younger brother, a colonel who was in command of the “469th Half-Track and Grave-Digging Battalion” that generally stayed in the background of the war in Northern Africa from 1941 to 1943. And yes, like the real-life Erwin Rommel, Pfirsch was a complex character who tried to do the best he could in a situation that didn't allow for a whole lot of humanity or decency.

A fellow straight person commented on Facebook on how much he appreciated the TV show Will & Grace that ran from 1998 to 2006. A gay person replied on how that was a show that he never paid much attention to. He regarded it as a bit of fluff that had nothing important to say. I agreed that it probably had little to say to gays themselves, but thought and still think that the show provided a good introduction to gay life for straights. Jack sort of, kind of resembled the old stereotypes, but Will most certainly didn't. I can see Jack walking a pink poodle, at least in his much younger days. Can't see it for Will at all. The effect of that is to assure people that the stereotype is not entirely wrong, it's at least based on truth, but that it's a terribly cramped and limited way of viewing gay people.

Making contact with a larger, dominant culture can be a very useful thing for a less dominant culture to do and no, it's not necessary for members of the less dominant culture to say to themselves “Someone else is doing the cultural outreach, so I don't have to.” You never know what exactly will spark the interest of people in the dominant culture, so it's best to take an "all hands on deck" or "full court press" approach, to just try everything. 

2014/05/31

Godzilla


I got so used to Godzilla acting all by himself and getting stopped by the humans in the end, I was taken by surprise ('Cause I, of course, didn't read any of the previews) by the twist in this one. In this, Godzilla defends humanity against creatures that are far worse and more destructive than he is. Suspense gets high as he's stomped and bitten by the worse creatures and buildings collapse on him. Less than halfway through the film, we're all like “Go, Godzilla! Git 'em!”

2014/05/24

X-Men: Days of Future Past


Very cool! An adaptation of a two-part 1981 X-Men story. Fills in lots of history on the characters and shows what happens when people take paranoid theories too far. Sometimes ya just gotta have a bit of faith in your fellow humans.
Pretty spectacular scenes, but not as much sheer destruction as Man of Steel or Avengers, which is cool. 

2014/05/21

Why some scandals are covered and some are not


Jennifer Rubin, the right-wing WaPo columnist, asks “How different is this [Veterans being treated shabbily by the VA] from the myriad of other scandals that have plagued the White House?”

Good question. First off, we can very much agree that the way veterans have been treated is indeed shameful and that something must done yesterday!

Is it the Obama Administration's fault? Of course it is, to some extent. There's also the refusal of Republicans to allocate the money necessary to fix the problem. The problem is not simply one of doing things poorly, it's also a problem of the VA no having the resources to do enough. Congress could very easily fix that part of the problem by putting enough money into it, but they had the chance to fix it and instead

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation on Thursday that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans, saying the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.

Yeah, we had an extra trillion or so dollars to spend on fighting a war of choice, but a tiny pittance of $24 billion would “bust the budget.”

Let's look at Rubin's ideas of what constitutes a true scandal:

In the case of the Internal Revenue scandal, we now have documentation that targeting conservative groups was not a rogue operation out of a local office, but organized in the D.C. office.

Erm, actually, we have no such thing. The Boston Herald article that Rubin links to is full of weasel words that mean far less than meets the eye. FAIR covers the emails that Rubin thinks are so significant (Starting at the 1:30 minute mark) and shows, again, that the “scandal” is considerably overstated. The IRS “scandal” is also less significant than it appears to be as progressive groups were targeted more than conservative groups were.

Here's an interesting charge:

Funny, CNN covered the partisan Democratic witch hunt about the Bush administration’s entirely legal dismissal of U.S. attorneys.

How serious a scandal was the firing of US Attorneys? As legal as the firings may have been, keep in mind that it took quite a while for non-Bush Administration insiders to even know that the US attorneys were being dismissed on a systematic basis or that the Bush Administration was behind the firings.

The White House's active involvement in the firings, as depicted in the report, can be divided into two broad categories: First, its role in initiating and promoting the overall plan to remove an unspecified number of U.S. attorneys -- traditionally treated as apolitical prosecutors who operate independently from the political agenda of the administration -- deemed insufficiently committed to the Bush agenda. And second, its apparent work in pushing specifically for several of the most high-profile dismissals.

Were the firings “entirely legal”? It's not at all clear that crimes were committed, but why was the Bush Administration so hush-hush and secretive about something they had every right to do? In December 2006 “...seven U.S. attorneys received phone calls from DOJ asking them to resign,“ but in October 2008, “ TPM says the scandal “broke early last year.”

Is Rubin a good judge of what does and doesn't constitute a scandal? I don't see any evidence that she does.

2014/05/09

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Quite good! Really good pacing, plenty of complex human relationships and credible reactions. One of my favorite aspects of the first Fantastic Four movie was the bickering between the team members, it “rang true” to the characters as they were presented in the comics. That aspect rings true again here. Awesome ending! Great way to finish off the movie!

Update:
Someone asked me how Amazing Spider-man 2 (Andrew Garfield this year) compares to Spider-man (Tobey Maguire in 2002). I thought it was like comparing Superman II (Christopher Reeve in 1980) with Man of Steel (Henry Cavill in 2013) where, in both cases, the title character meets General Zod and company. In both cases, the two sets of movies are made with such different sensibilities and the pairs of lead characters are so unalike that the two sets of movies aren't really comparable. 

Probably the biggest similarity between the Cavill Superman and the Garfield Spider-man where both of them dramatically contrast with their earlier versions was in the immense amount of property destruction that the later versions engage in. In both cases, Reeve and Maguire are sunnier, more cheerful characters than their later versions are.

2014/04/18

Noah


Hm, people are complaining about this? Hard to see why. Noah is a perfectly respectable re-telling of the Noah's Ark story. They add in a few elements for good reason, to make the story make more sense. The characters don't refer to God as much as they refer to “The Creator,” but it's not like there's any question as to who they're referring to.

BTW, Saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier the week before last. Good, rousing stuff! The characters are pushed to the limit and are exhausted by the end, just the way a good adventure film should be. Looks like Cap has gotten himself a girlfriend midway through the film. I talked about her with a buddy of mine and we agreed that she's no Lois Lane-type who needs to be rescued all the time.

2014/04/02

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and others


Don't know if I quite agree with the blogger on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seems to me that agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) had a good, supervillain-type reason for acting as she did. She appears to have been acting unforgiving of agent Grant Ward's (Brett Dalton) behavior because she was operating as a covert agent, collecting intel for some nefarious reason, within SHIELD. That would make her feel guilty enough to explain why she smacked Grant, who was acting “under the influence” of the villain Lorelei's spell (That the show makes clear affects all men). Yeah, it's a reason that removes the show from humans acting as humans to humans acting as superheroes, so that may count as a point against the general believability of the show.

Speaking of that particular show, I was interested in seeing Sif's (Jaimie Alexander) familiarity with technology. This recalls Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) statement in Thor: The Dark World:

Loki: [mock salute to Odin] I really don't see what all the fuss is about...
Odin: Do you not truly feel the gravity of your crimes? Wherever you go there is war, ruin and death!
Loki: I went down to Midgard to rule the people of Earth as a benevolent God, just like you.
Odin: We are not gods! We're born, we live, we die, just as humans do.
Loki: Give or take five thousand years.


These two scenes suggest that the conflict between “the gods” of Asgard and “God” is not so irreconcilable after all. That Asgardians visited Earth sometime during our Viking era (793 to 1066), liked the fashions and the culture and decided to adopt those fashions as their own. They have plenty of devices and technology in Asgard, they just keep those mostly hidden and keep the Viking-looking stuff on top. They don't have to fight with swords and hammers, they just prefer to.

Speaking of religious questions in popular culture, I was pretty pleased with an episode of the Vampire Diaries. Elena Gilbert's (Played by Nina Dobrev, who also plays Elena's doppelganger, Katherine Pierce) body is taken over by Katherine and the other characters eventually figure out why “Elena” has been acting so strangely lately. The 500-year old Katherine is killed for good and she has a final conversation with the show's witch, Bonnie Bennet (Kat Graham). Now, during Medieval times, the general understanding was that you didn't have to live a good life as long as you repented at the end of it and were baptized (People were very upset if they got baptized in anticipation of death and lived through it as that meant they had to be good until their final death if they wanted to get to Heaven). Katherine doesn't repent, but she gets morally better near the end of her life, demonstrating concern for her daughter and being a desirable lover to Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). The show takes a Protestant, Puritanical view of where one goes in the afterlife, meaning that The Lord looked at Katherine's whole life, not just the last month of it, and rendered a judgment based on that. The show makes it quite clear that Katherine goes to the not-so-desirable place.

2014/03/21

Wall St. Journal

Had a lengthy email conversation with a right-winger who reads a lot, but really likes the Wall St. Journal and quotes it a lot. Problem is, he doesn't appear to read the original liberal ideas that the WSJ criticizes, nor does he read any liberal responses to what the WSJ asserts.


A real problem with the one-sidedness of the WSJ can be seen in a Media Matters critique. On the surface, the WSJ appears to have a good case. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act sets up a “disparate impact“ test that says that if a practice has the effect of denying equal employment opportunities to a minority, then it must be discontinued. In a case involving firefighters, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio defends the decision by saying “I think the numbers speak for themselves." The WSJ argues:


But the numbers don't speak for themselves. Intent matters. Racially disparate outcomes alone are not proof of discrimination, yet advocates of such nonsense continue to exploit our legal system. "No speck of evidence is required from those who implicitly assume that employee composition would be similar to population composition, in the absence of discrimination," writes Thomas Sowell...”


Slight problem with this (As Media Matters also points out) is that ever since the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s, it's been unfashionable for racists to openly and explicitly use racially derogatory terms or to openly admit racist intentions, so minorities seeking to prove that they were not just discriminated against, but were discriminated against with the clear and explicit intention of disenfranchising them, puts an impossible burden on the minorities.


So the problem is that if one depends entirely on the WSJ for their understandings and arguments (And the aforementioned right-winger does), if one's only source is the WSJ, then one will be unaware of how deceptive and manipulative the WSJ is being. But the only way to realize this is of course to read other sources like Media Matters. Remaining in a bubble has to be voluntary act as it's not at all difficult to find liberal sources that will eviscerate WSJ talking points.




2014/03/15

300: Rise of an Empire

I wouldn't even consider allowing anyone under 18 to even try to get in to watch this film as there are gouts and gouts of blood and the two lead characters (Themistokles & Artemisia) “do it” with each other in a very convincing scene. Did I like it? Well, it was a Navy film, with pretty much all the action taking place onboard ships, so yeah, great stuff! They also make the good guys and the bad guys pretty obvious, with Persian oarsmen chained to their oars and getting whipped and the free Greek oarsmen having their hands free and them able to abandon ship whenever the need arose. It certainly doesn't hurt to have seen the film that parallels this one, 300, but it's not required as this film does a good job of summarizing what happened then.  

2014/03/06

Game of Thrones - Season 1


I've seen a couple of collected TV series and concluded it was a mistake to see them all too closely together, so I watched the first few shows of Game of Thrones close together, but then folded them in with my regular weekly shows. Worked well as there are some scenes that stuck in the mind for awhile, so it was good to have some time between them. And yeah, the first season leans heavily towards being more background and introductions for the rest of the series than drama in its own right. I can see why people have said that the second season is better.

2014/02/22

Conversations with right-wingers


So I had an email conversation with a few right-wingers that finished up on February 10th. One of them proved to be pretty dogged, so I didn't finish up with him until February 20th. Couple of conclusions based on both these and earlier conversations:

1. Right-wingers really, really hate it when they're dealing with straightforward, unapologetic left-wingers:
You can't skirt around the fact that ObamaCare is going to cost jobs (as the non-partisan CBO report clearly spells out (along with many other economic reports), increase costs for many working class people (except the lower-income traditional Democrat voters who receive large subsidies) and not even come close to giving the "45 million uninsured" (a figure manufactured by the left wing) health care coverage. 

Rich, open-mindedness or liberal thought is being open to reading, listening to, or debating other points of view. You have confirmed that you do neither, while I admitted to reading, listening to and watching the left wing-controlled media outlets (MSNBC, PBS, NYT, WP, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc). I also have friends and colleagues who are liberals who I enjoy debating politics with. I highly doubt you found any right wingers in the school where you taught or the Jewish non-profit where you worked - proving that it is you who only consorts with, hears, and are open to one side of the debate. If that is erroneous, prove me wrong. 

I've formed my opinions based on facts about which systems have failed miserably to improve the condition of man (liberalism/socialism/communism) and which have done more to help mankind than any other (conservatism/capitalism/individual freedom). (Think of Lincoln's Republican Party eradicating slavery, and the 1960's GOP passing the Civil Rights Act over the objections of the Southern Democrats). But then, I understand liberals don't look at objective outcomes - because they're ruled by their emotion rather than rational, objective thought processes. 

What feels good isn't always best, otherwise we wouldn't discipline children, right? Regarding your comments on capitalism etc - I believe it needs less regulation, as the stagnant Obamaeconomy is certainly proving, and there already are plenty of non-profits, utilities etc. in our economy. Again, your anti-corporate/capitalism bias comes through loud and clear. Why don't you simply admit to being a socialist?
Tom's view is that because I hold left-wing views, that automatically means I've never read, or listened to or even paid any attention to other views. That's complete nonsense, I simply don't agree with most centrist and right-wing views. (And no, the GOP didn't pass “the Civil Rights Act over the objections of the Southern Democrats.” They helped to pass it, yes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was pushed by first the Democratic President Kennedy and then by his successor President Johnson. Vote totals show that both parties had their anti-civil-rights minorities, the Democrats had more opponents both by numbers and by proportion, but the majority of both the Democrats and the Republicans voted for the Act.)

2. Right-wingers have a funny definition of what “being in a bubble” means: We discussed the charge that the ACA was going to “cost” America millions of jobs on the 18th (Media Matters explains starting on the 5th paragraph that no one will lose jobs. They will probably give up jobs voluntarily because the ACA means they're no longer locked in to their jobs by health care plans that they don't dare to give up.) As of the 20th, Tom had had plenty of time to research the question, but insisted that I “must” be lying as he simply couldn't imagine (or, obviously, research) any way in which his “fact” could have been debunked. He was just astonished to hear something that contradicted what his right-wing sources were telling him and had no way to even begin to research the question.

According to Tom, my belief in left-wing answers makes me part of a bubble, but to my mind, what Tom and I believe is beside the point. The point is that he had no idea that any viewpoint other than the official Wall Street Journal viewpoint even existed and when he was told that such a viewpoint did exist, hadn't the vaguest clue as to how to go about researching the question.

3. Do right-wingers respect people who hold different viewpoints? Ehhh, not so much. “I'm sure Paul Krudman....err....Krugman can spin something to fool...err....keep all the liberal NYT & MSNBC sheeple in the herd!” Uh, yeah, I can see that Tom reads Krugman's column on a regular basis! [/snark] What it also means is that if I present anything written by the Nobel-Prize winning Professor Paul Krugman who was right more often (In 2007 & 2008) than any other pundit, I'm just presenting the views of some crazy far-left wacko. What this does is to greatly narrow the parameters of any possible debate.

4. Do right-wingers really give a rats ass about the little guy? I located Toms' “500,000 people who will lose their jobs” the next day. That's the estimate on what the minimum wage increase will cost us all. Of course, the number of people who will gain the ability to support themselves on just one 40-hour workweek will outnumber that half a million people who will lose those low-wage jobs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a really good run-down on the issue and states that “In addition to raising 900,000 working families out of poverty and increasing the earnings of another 16.5 million low-wage workers...” and goes over a number of other benefits.

No, it's not as good a “win-win” solution as we'd all like to see, but it's not a one-sided picture of just plain loss, either. It would be a wonderful thing if there were more policies that produced only winners with no losers, but those policies exist far more in happy-wonderful-fuzzy-bear-la-la land than anywhere in reality. And yeah, it's interesting how the statement: “The only perceivable downside [of TPP] being the loss of non-knowledge-based, low-paying jobs, to countries such as Vietnam (no great loss for the U.S., or it's citizens)” shows such deep concern [/snark] for low wage workers. Funny how that deep concern disappears once the context changes.

2014/02/10

The Lego Movie

Cool stuff! The message of the movie is a corporate one that encourages the buying of Legos, but it's a pretty cool one that comes out in favor of playing and being creative and being a kid. ThinkProgress has a good deepthink piece on the various meanings of it all and how it messes with and takes off on certain ideas and characters presented in movies these days (Covers plot in detail, so read it after seeing the movie). A blogger covers the hilarious Fox News reaction to the movie. "Mercy sakes, why would anyone ever get the impression that a Captain of Industry could be an evildoer?" 

2014/02/01

Two wars wind down

Looks like the dirty effin' hippies were right all along and that the Bush dead-enders were wrong.

Very few Americans see either the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars as a success. In my view, a view shared by many of my buddies, the problem didn't lie at all with America's armed services. Our fighting men and women did all that they were asked to do and frequently went well beyond the call of duty.

Is the blame with the Iraqis of Afghans? No, there were plenty of both who welcomed their respective US invasions and who worked with the "occupiers" to try and make their countrymen think of Americans as "liberators."

The problem, we hippies saw, was that even before the invasion of Iraq, it was clear that the reconstruction of Afghanistan was being pursued in a very casual, lackadaisical manner. G.W. Bush called for people to go to Iraq after the fall of Baghdad to assist in the reconstruction there, but the right wing couldn't muster it's own Lincoln Brigade of people who were willing to undergo the lack of luxuries that working in Iraq would entail.

Iraqis and Afghans saw that their lives had been made more difficult, not less, after their respective dictators had been tossed out. So here we are, over a decade later, with pretty much nothing to show for it.

2014/01/25

I, Frankenstein

Saw the preview for I, Frankenstein a few weeks back. Very rarely is a preview even memorable, but this looked pretty cool. Sure enough, it was! Frankenstein's monster (Adam Eckhart) survives being in the Arctic, buries his creator Dr. Frankenstein and is then attacked by demons. His rescuers are semi-divine beings who name him Adam. Dr. Terra Ward (Yvonne Strahovski) is the human who befriends him around 200 years later and together they work to defeat the demons. If there are any higher powers in this particular universe, they never make an appearance.

2014/01/19

Frozen

A few weekends ago, I saw Anchorman 2. It was okay. I thought the Ron Burgundy's (Will Ferrell) dumbing-down and over-sensationalizing of the news was spot-on. The weatherman (Steve Carrell) and the girl he falls for were just way too weird for my tastes.
My sister and I wanted to see Frozen as it was getting rave reviews, but last Saturday at 9:00, the showing was sold out. I've long since concluded that total audience size isn't that important for determining the quality of a movie, but the length of time it spends in the theater is a very critical way to measure that quality. It came out a while ago, just before Thanksgiving! 
So we saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. As I told a few people, it was a good superhero-type flick. Alliances made and broken, heroes making strenuous efforts, villains being at least reasonably smart and resourceful, etc. Some pretty amazing coincidences, though. Fairly typical of the film was when our heroes the dwarves, get to the border of the elf kingdom with the elves in hot pursuit. Things are looking bad, but then the Orcs attack! Our heroes get away during  the confusion.
Pretty amazing that the dwarves don't suffer a single casualty the whole time. One would think with all the dangers they faced that they'd lose at least a few comrades along the way.
So I was finally able to see Frozen on Saturday. Quite good! Plenty of silly comic relief in between all the serious drama, plenty of romantic expectation with sensible warnings to young people and plenty of magical stuff and gorgeous scenery!