Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Just Had A Flashback

In my radical days back in the Sixties during the Vietnam War, one of the big debates was over the question of whether American could sustain supporting both guns and butter. Son of a gun, if the debate hasn't been rekindled. America's economy was in fairly decent shape back then, so I never quite understood the debate, even though I insisted we couldn't have both (I opted for butter).

Unlike the mid-Sixties, the economy today is in dreadful shape, so the guns and butter debate seems much more interesting to me, and much more critical than it was lo those many years ago. Forty-plus years of family, businesses, and budgets have made me a lot more savvy about how money works, but I was still in the "America can afford anything" mode until the issue started popping up all over the net and the print world in modern dress.

It seems to me that the relevant question is not whether we can presently support both guns and butter, but more accurately, can we continue for long to maintain our defense responsibilities while at the same time supporting the welter of Bush and Obama entitlement and social programs? I say no, and if I'm right, then as they say, "something's gotta give." For the Obamists, that's the military (and I am fully aware that Obama said the opposite in the State of the Union address, but you all know my opinion of Obama's truthfulness). For conservatives, it's the social and welfare programs that have to go. Would that it were actually that simple.

A huge portion of the federal budget (perhaps as much as 60%) is already going to programs that long pre-date both Obama and Bush. Even if Social Security and Medicare were to be completely restructured or eliminated tomorrow, the need to protect those already stuck in the system would not change appreciably. Obama's suggestion (I certainly am nowhere near ready to call it a policy) of cutting expenditures across-the-boards while exempting the military defense budget is a good, if modest idea, but it barely scratches the surface. Furthermore, the liberal-progressive wing of the Democratic Party has already gone into open rebellion over the idea of "favoring the military."

Our foreign policy and economic policy are both in disastrous shape at the current time. Don't think of the two policies as separate issues. Those two are inextricably intertwined, and Obama's policies have only made them worse. Both directly affect our military capabilities. We are deep in debt to our so-called trading partner China. We have recognized the need to assist Taiwan militarily to protect itself from the Mainland. See the connection? Our resultant foreign policy is to talk tough but cave in. And that one's obvious. China has many more interests in derailing America than just Taiwan. They laugh at any suggestion we make about meaningful action against the murderous regime in Iran. Meanwhile, the Russians are boldly proceeding with their support of Iran while inexorably bringing Ukraine and Georgia back into the Russian empire.

The portion of the federal budget set aside for discretionary military spending has been rather small for nearly four decades. Yet now we are engaged in two wars that are costing us huge sums of money (if you prefer, you can call it one war with two fronts). We can handle that now, but two years from now, that is certainly not such a sure bet. Even a loyal and realistic military expert such as General Barry R. McCaffrey is unequivocal in his opinion that "we are unlikely to achieve our political and military goals in eighteen months." So even if there are no cuts to the current military budget at all, it will be insufficient to support future operations. The options are to put more money from a weak economy into the military, or "cut and run." Neither alternative is particularly attractive.

We are now at a crossroads. Simple "freezes" on domestic social programs are a band-aid on a quickly-spreading cancer. Massive government spending on government-run and government-owned enterprises are totally counterproductive from an economics standpoint. Green energy jobs have already proven to be disastrous to employment in Spain (9 jobs lost for every 2 jobs created). Current plans for health care from the administration, however toned down and unpopular, still loom. Dependence on foreign energy supplies while preventing domestic production of readily-available resources is another foreign policy/economic policy double-whammy directly affecting our ability to pay for military expenses. This horrible confluence of guns and butter programs is grossly exacerbating the creation of a basic and structural imbalance that will lead directly to fiscal hell.

Conservative economic historian Niall Ferguson says that "if the United States succumbs to a fiscal crisis, as an increasing number of economic experts fear it may, then the entire balance of global economic power could shift." Make no mistake, that includes military power, unless "volunteer army" means the soldiers are going to work for free.

Ferguson goes on: "We are, it seems, having the fiscal policy of a world war, without the war (the current deficit is only slightly larger in relative terms than the deficit in 1942). Total debt held by the public, excluding government agencies, but including foreigners, will rise from $5.8 trillion in 2008 to $14.3 trillion in 2019--from 41% of GDP to 68%. Projecting to 2039, the federal debt held by the public will reach 91% of GDP in the low-end estimates and 215% in the Congressional Budget Office's high-end one, more than double the annual output of the entire U. S. economy." Unsustainable is hardly the word for it.

If we continue on our present course, that inevitably leads to the conclusion that the relative share of national security in the federal budget is already built into the future actions of the federal government. Given the current military "real spending" estimates, it means that our military budget will drop from the current 4% of the total to 3.2% by 2015 and to 2.6% by 2029. That future is impossibly bleak, and would make the U.S. military forces about as effective as a counter-balance to worldwide terror and empire-builders as those of Belgium.

And so Obama and the progressives get their wish. We become more like Europe. The Wall Street Journal sums it up as follows: "Among the Western Europeans, only France and the U.K. spend more than 2% of GDP on defense, supposedly the NATO-mandated minimum. Nearly everyone else is below that. Germany, the continent's largest economy, stands at 1.3%. U.S. defense spending has been above 4% of GDP since 2004, having fallen to 3% after the Cold War ended. No amount of shaming has worked on the continentals." If America's military becomes a part-time, unionized, show-army, who will protect us from the Russians, the Chinese and the Islamofascists? Europe?

The American economy is not a sidenote to military and foreign policy. It is an integral part of them. G. Tracy Mehan III, an official in the Environmental Protection Agency during the administrations of both Presidents Bush, sums it up: "Something has got to give (sound familiar?). If you fail to rein in entitlements and other federal spending, you will either have to raise taxes, squeeze out military and other discretionary spending (no more EPA?), or pile up the debt on future generations. There are a number of alternative scenarios that can play themselves out. But, absent a turnaround on spending, both mandatory as well as discretionary, it is hard to see how military preparedness comes out the winner."

I agree. Give up the butter. Switch to Brand-X margarine. The military is critical to our foreign policy, and the economy fuels them both. We have to get our financial house back in order. We must protect military readiness expenditures and get them back to a reasonable 4% to 6% of our national budget, and I don't care if that means scrapping every single new social program from now until the year 2050. There are perfectly valid arguments at the fringes of how long we should stay in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what our military policy toward them and the entire Middle East should actually be. But the simple fact remains that our military is crucial to our future and we have no way of knowing what future 9-11s are already in the offing.

Social Security reform, Medicare reform, government giveaway programs, and all the plethora of social programs and government-owned and government-run schemes must be put on the line in order to protect our ability to defend our national security and to fight future wars. Otherwise, nothing matters, and you need to start polishing up your Chinese, Russian and Arabic language skills and sweeping out your cave.
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Race for the Senate. . .

You may not know this, but 2010 is an election year. Seriously, I’m not making this up. In fact, 36 Senate seats are up for grabs. Of those, 18 are currently held by Republicans, the other 18 are held by Democrats. Those numbers are going to change. Here is your primer on each race.

Safe Republican Incumbents

The following twelve seats have Republican incumbents and are considered safe at this point:
Richard C. Shelby -- Alabama
Lisa Murkowski -- Alaska
John McCain -- Arizona
Johnny Isakson -- Georgia
Michael D. Crapo -- Idaho
Charles E. Grassley -- Iowa
David Vitter -- Louisiana
Tom Coburn -- Oklahoma
Richard Burr -- North Carolina
Jim DeMint -- South Carolina
John Thune -- South Dakota
Robert F. Bennett -- Utah
Both McCain and Bennett face difficult primary challenges, though neither seat is expected to fall to the Democrats, no matter how the primaries turn out.

Safe Republican Seats Without Incumbents

The following three seats were held by Republicans who are retiring. These are also considered safe.
In the race to replace George LeMieux, both Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio are well ahead of their Democratic opponents:
49% Marco Rubio (R)
35% Kendrick Meek (D)

42% Charlie Crist (R)
36% Kendrick Meek (D)
While both Crist and Rubio are tied in current polls, Crist has been losing momentum. He lost ten points against Rubio from August to the present. Crist’s lead over Meek also has lost six points in that time.
There are no polls from Kansas, where Republicans Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt are running to replace retiring Senator Sam Brownback, but the seat is not expected to fall into Democratic hands.
In the race to replace Jim Bunning, both Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, are ahead of both possible Democratic opponents: Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway.
49% Rand Paul (R)
35% Daniel Mongiardo (D)

46% Rand Paul (R)
38% Jack Conway (D)

44% Trey Grayson (R)
37% Daniel Mongiardo (D)

45% Trey Grayson (R)
35% Jack Conway (D)

The Endangered Republican Seats

The following three seats are/were held by Republicans, and they are in the toss up category.
In the race to replace Kit Bond, Republican Congressman Roy Blunt has recently overtaken Democrat Robin Carnahan, the Missouri Secretary of State. Carnahan had a two point lead last month.
49% Roy Blunt (R)
43% Robin Carnahan (D)
New Hampshire
In the race to replace Judd Gregg, Republican Kelly Ayotte, the former New Hampshire Secretary of State and likely nominee, leads Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes. But, two other potential Republican challengers, businessman Bill Binnie and perennial loser Ovide Lamontagne would lose fairly handily to Hodes.
49% Kelly Ayotte (R)
40% Paul Hodes (D)

45% Paul Hodes (D)
38% Ovide Lamontagne (R)

43% Paul Hodes (D)
37% Bill Binnie (R)

In the race to replace George Voinovich, former Republican Congressman Rob Portman holds a slight lead over either Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher or Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, though his lead is increasing.
43% Rob Portman (R)
40% Jennifer Brunner (D)

44% Rob Portman (R)
37% Lee Fisher (D)

Safe Democratic Incumbents

The following six seats have Democratic incumbents and are considered safe at this point:
Daniel Inouye -- Hawaii
Barbara Mikulski -- Maryland
Chuck Schumer -- New York
Ron Wyden -- Oregon
Patrick Leahy -- Vermont
Patty Murray -- Washington

Safe Democratic Seats Without Incumbents

Chris Dodd is retiring in Connecticut. While he had been vulnerable to defeat, the new Democrat, Richard Blumenthal is likely to retain the seat for the Democrats.
58% Richard Blumenthal (D)
34% Linda McMahon (R)

56% Richard Blumenthal (D)
33% Rob Simmons (R)

The Endangered Democratic Seats

The following eleven seats are/were held by Democrats, and they are in the toss up category.
Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln would lose to each of her four challengers: State Senator Gilbert Baker, State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren, businessman Curtis Coleman, and Tom Cox, head of the Arkansas TEA party.
51% Gilbert Baker (R)
39% Blanche Lincoln (D)

47% Kim Hendren (R)
39% Blanche Lincoln (D)

48% Curtis Coleman (R)
38% Blanche Lincoln (D)

48% Tom Cox (R)
38% Blanche Lincoln (D)

Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer leads each of her likely opponents: former CEO Carly Fiorina, Assemblyman Chuck Devore, and ex-Congressman Tom Campbell, though it’s close.
46% Barbara Boxer (D)
43% Carly Fiorina (R)

46% Barbara Boxer (D)
42% Tom Campbell (R)

46% Barbara Boxer (D)
40% Chuck Devore (R)

Incumbent Michael Bennet is being destroyed by each of his three Republican challengers: former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, State Senator Tom Wiens, and district attorney Ken Buck. However, he now faces a Democratic primary challenge from state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who also loses to the Republicans, but not as easily.
49% Jane Norton (R)
37% Michael Bennet (D)

44% Tom Wiens (R)
38% Michael Bennet (D)

43% Ken Buck (R)
38% Michael Bennet (D)

With little Beau Biden bailing out of the race to replace Lying Joe Biden, it appears that Republican Mike Castle will claim the seat. Even though no Democrats have announced that they will run, Castle handily beats the likely challenger New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.
56% Mike Castle (R)
27% Chris Coons (D)

In the race to claim Barack Obama’s seat, the likely Republican nominee, Congressman Ron Kirk, is slowly falling behind his likely competitor, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. However, he remains ahead of the two other potential Democratic candidates: Cheryle Jackson, president of the Chicago Urban League, and Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman.
42% Alexi Giannoulias (D)
39% Ron Kirk (R)

42% Ron Kirk (R)
38% Cheryle Jackson (D)

42% Ron Kirk (R)
39% David Hoffman (D)

Until this week, it appeared that Evan Bayh would have an easy re-election. But new polling by Rasmussen shows that Bayh has an uncomfortably small lead against former Congressman John Hostettler (Bayh actually loses 47% to 44% to Congressman Mike Pence, but he has declined to run). Bayh also leads freshman State Senator Marlin Stutzman.
44% Evan Bayh (D)
41% John Hostettler (R)

45% Evan Bayh (D)
33% Marlin Stuzman (R)

Harry Reid is currently losing badly to each of his three possible challengers: Nevada Republican Party chairwoman Sue Lowden, businessman Danny Tarkanian, and Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. (Apparently, Nevada's Lt. Governor is now thinking of jumping into the race as well.)
50% Danny Tarkanian (R)
36% Harry Reid (D)

48% Sue Lowden (R)
36% Harry Reid (D)

44% Sharron Angle (R)
40% Harry Reid (D)

New York
New York is a disappointment. Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand is unpopular and should be a ripe target for Republicans. But all of the Republicans who outpoll her have refused to run. Giuliani, for example, outpolls Gillibrand 53% to 40%, but he won’t run. Gillibrand also faces a primary challenge from Tennessean Harold Ford, though she is beating him easily. As it currently stands:
39% Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
34% [insert Republican name here]

North Dakota
Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan announced his retirement after polls showed him trailing Republican Jon Hoeven by 22 points (58% to 36%). With no other Democrat announcing, we don’t have any new polling yet, but this seat is expected by all sides to fall to the Republicans.
In Pennsylvania, lady’s man and turncoat Arlen Specter faces both a primary challenge from his left and a strong challenge from Republican Pat Toomey.
49% Pat Toomey (R)
40% Arlen Specter (D)

Last week, Wisconsin was considered a safe seat but new polling by Rasmussen this week, shows incumbent Russ Feingold suddenly in serious trouble, as he now trails Republican challenger Tommy Thompson (if Thompson runs).
47% Tommy Thompson (R)
43% Russ Feingold (D)

Summary: The 2010 Elections

The Senate currently is set up as follows: 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans.

It the election were held today and the polls are accurate, the Republicans would pick up seven seats, making the new count: 52 Democrats, 48 Republicans. However, voter intensity could change these results in favor of the Republicans.

NOTE: According to Michael Barone, if independents turned out for Republicans in the same percentages as they did for Scott Brown, only districts which Obama carried by more than 64% would be safe for Democrats. That would mean that the Republicans could theoretically win 332 House seats, leaving only 103 “safe seats” for the Democrats. Right now, the House stands at 256 Democrats, 178 Republicans.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Film School Follies: Part 12 – The Best of Times II

By ScottDS

In his audio commentary for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, director Nicholas Meyer remarks (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “One works by instinct and intuition. When people ask me why Khan only wears one glove, I tell them, ‘I don’t know. It seemed like the right idea at the time.’” This all leads me to my job as...


There were nine directors on Sanguinity including me. In one of our pre-pro meetings, it was literally a case of, “Whoever wants to direct, raise your hand.” Naturally, mine shot up along with eight others. As I wrote in the comments last week, I sort of missed the forest for the trees and was so hellbent on directing that I missed other learning opportunities that were available. I never worked as a sound tech or camera assistant – two perfectly marketable skills in Hollywood and elsewhere. But to walk in and say you’re a director – “Oh yeah? Prove it!” As a crew, we were allowed two dolly shots (one per day, though I think we broke this rule), 18 shots per day (for a total of 36), eight camera setups a day (16 total). Each day would last for 11 hours with a call time of 7:30 a.m. Each director would only get a certain amount of time in the day in which to work: “time for each director = number of directors divided by 11 hours.” Fair enough.

With these limitations in mind, we all met for a “shot meeting” wherein we would determine how the movie would be filmed. I don’t recall the thought process that went into it but there’s really only one or two ways we could’ve shot the film. There needs to be a natural progression (shot A leads to B and so on) and since we were shooting in such a confined area, we couldn’t get too experimental with the blocking of the actors. Eventually, we divided the script into six scenes: three on the plane, two in the restaurant, and one in Peggy’s apartment. For the apartment scene (which we would see for only a moment in a brief montage), we used the set from another film titled Revenge Again that was shooting right behind us. For the plane, the camera would sit on a dolly track. Actually, I’m pretty sure the camera sat on the dolly track for both days, only being removed to film a shot of the airplane interior for the aforementioned montage.

Claudia (sigh...) was the casting director and she and her people supervised the casting sessions while the rest of us were in a meeting. This gave me butterflies – the thought of working with real actors. The auditions were videotaped and we all gathered at Bill’s apartment one night to watch them. Our wisecracks notwithstanding, there were some good people. Peggy would be played by a nice local actress named Cathi and Carl would be played by a local actor named Craig (who we later spied in some other film shot by Full Sail personnel around the same time). We also cast Peggy’s co-worker (this led to one of the lighting techs having to ask, “How do you light someone who’s, uh, dark-skinned?”) and an “arguing couple” for one of the plane scenes. The actors who played the couple (Ned and Heather) improvised their dialogue – we probably could’ve saved time by having classmates play the roles instead. Claudia also took the actors shopping for wardrobe (I abstained from this part). I made name badges for Peggy and her co-worker (Joanne) and one classmate managed to get some pilot wings during a flight home for spring break. At one point, Dave and I had actually visited a local uniform warehouse for authentic flight attendant outfits but there was no way we’d be able to: a.) get only two, and b.) get them for next to nothing. Thankfully, Claudia was more than up to the task. All of the airplane and restaurant extras would be played by classmates.

We had a table read and rehearsals with the actors. Maybe I was more comfortable because there were nine directors, though I don’t know how the actors felt about that. It was simply a matter of communication – answering their questions, understanding why the characters would perform action A and say line B. During the rehearsals, we’d go through the script in order line by line and each director would step in when it was his/her scene (or shot – some directors only had to film one shot before handing over the reins to the next person). The rehearsals must’ve gone well because we didn’t fire anybody (it’s happened)! I have to say, everyone loved the plane (there’s that ego again) but that sort of thing helps the actors and brings a nice sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings. We rehearsed both in a small room down the hall from the soundstage and on the sets where the actors were able to sit in their chairs, at the table, push the meal cart, etc.

Bill gave me the first two shots for day 1 and I was the only director (or possibly one of only two) allowed to shoot using two camera setups. Both of my shots were dolly shots (there would also be two dolly shots for the restaurant scene on day 2). The first shot starts with a passenger in the last seat of the airplane: he gets up, grabs his bag out of the overhead bin, and walks to the front of the plane where Peggy and Joanne are saying their good-byes to everyone. After the passenger deplanes, Peggy walks over to one of the overheads, closes it, and sits down. Joanne follows, sits down in the next seat, and they have a little chat about Carl. From looking at Steve’s notes, I shot four takes – on the first three, the camera operator accidentally got the stage wall in the shot. The final shot isn’t perfect – it features a jerky movement that shouldn’t be there – but such is life. We had to have the actors sit on apple boxes (wooden boxes used for just about anything) because they were too low in the seats and we couldn’t see their whole faces. We also had to weigh down the seats because every time an actor would sit down, the seat would jostle a little bit, exactly the way real airplane seats wouldn’t! This was all discovered on the first day of shooting – the kinds of things that don’t occur to you until after they happen.

Four takes later and I yelled, “Cut! Print!” The printed takes are circled on the paperwork and used for editing. We were shooting on Super 16mm film but, unlike our 35mm films, we weren’t limited in how much we could use. To give you an idea of how much film we might’ve used, eleven minutes equals roughly 400 feet of film in Super 16 format. We shot the film using an ARRI SR-3 16mm camera mounted on a Sachtler fluid head which itself was mounted on a Chapman-Leonard Super PeeWee dolly. To view the scene, I would simply stand at the monitor that was connected to the camera and mounted on a “beaver board” (basically a 1/8 apple box with a metal “baby plate” light mount attached to it), which was affixed to a C-stand. C-stands are all-purpose metal stands that can be seen on any film set. They are used to mount gels, flags, reflectors... anything a grip can think of. I’m not well-versed in lighting (which is why I skipped that particular blog entry) but most of the interior airplane lighting was provided by two Kino Flo fixtures. Kinos are fluorescent lights and very easy to set up. What was problematic was the lighting outside the plane. In still photos, it looks very good, with the windows properly blown out. Not so much in the finished film. The windows were lined with special material to diffuse the light but I guess they didn’t use enough.

For my second shot – a dolly shot starting from the front of the plane featuring Peggy and Joanne handing out snacks from the meal cart and passing by the bickering couple – I figured it would be easier but, after looking at Steve’s paperwork, I shot five (!) takes: two were good, an actress flubbed a line on one, both actresses started before I yelled “Action!” on another, and the camera was having gate trouble on yet another. I met the bickering couple just five minutes before shooting. I simply told them: “You’re having an argument. It’s serious but you’re in public so don’t make a scene. Improvise!” The script didn’t include any dialogue for them but they performed admirably. As for Peggy and Joanne, they had to push the meal cart from A to B and finish their lines before we ran out of dolly track. One thing we didn’t realize until it was time to shoot: they needed snacks to give out to the passengers! Someone rushed to the craft services table and brought back a bunch of water bottles, soda, and peanuts. Our airline serves Costco–brand water and Albertsons-brand soda! And no one thought to spray some WD-40 on the cart’s wheels so a couple guys had to lay down a blanket to absorb some of the noise.

My shots were filmed between 9:00 and 11:00 and 11:00 and 12:30, respectively, on May 5th, 2004. After lunch (Bill and Dave had taken care of that – catering by Roadhouse Grill!), classmate Ryan was up next – he shot the actress’ close-ups during their initial dialogue scene. He also added a shot at the last minute: Peggy closing the overhead bin from another angle. Bill was annoyed – we had a ticking clock and it would set a bad precedent. And I didn’t think it was necessary. I served as his first assistant director and had no idea what I was doing. I basically had to make sure everyone was where they needed to be and to help Ryan with anything he needed. The order is as follows: 1st A.D.: “Quiet, everyone!” and then “Roll sound!” Sound mixer: “Sound speed!” 1st A.D.: “Roll camera!” Camera operator: “Speed!” Camera assistant with clapper: “Marker!” 1st A.D.: “Background action!” Director: “Action!” and eventually “Cut!” Chris was up after Ryan and shot Peggy performing her routine tasks aboard the plane. Working independently, he produced an interesting sequence, blending four separate shots together, one dissolving into another, while artificially panning right and dissolving into the shot of Peggy in her apartment, sitting in a chair, eyeing her answering machine. Chris produced this on Adobe After Effects and even added in a blinking light for the machine.


For editing, we paired off. Steve and I (along with everyone else) edited the film on the Avid Xpress non-linear digital editing system. One reason why many films today seem so frenetic is that, in the old days, filmmakers manipulated actual film with their hands and had to be very judicious in their editing decisions. Today, one mouse click and you’re done. (I exaggerate, slightly.) Amazingly, Steven Spielberg and his long-time editor Michael Kahn still edit the old-fashioned way, on a flatbed machine with actual film. Our films were developed locally at Continental Film using the cheapest process available. At one point in class, we watched rough VHS edits of all four films. I’m proud to say our film received the least amount of laughter – I almost had a heart attack laughing at some of the other material!

Steve and I still think our edit is the best one, despite accidentally omitting an entire section of Peggy’s dialogue during the final restaurant scene! Very often, it was a matter of saying, “Cut the last two frames.” And it would work. (24 frames = one second.) Much of this is simply instinctual. Steve and I would take turns at the keyboard and I think the final edit is a pretty good reflection of our sensibilities (such as they are). We didn’t use any scoring, though I’m sure we could’ve paid some local musician to come up with something. For the restaurant scenes, we used Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” (how original) and “Eh Cumpari” by Julius La Rosa. Steve contributed some soft rock for the opening titles and montage but I can’t recall what it was. For the end credits (which I typed up on the Avid), we used “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin. A year later, I was browsing the CD selection at Barnes & Noble and realized, “Shit, we should’ve used Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly with Me’!” I also would’ve been partial to “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling” which was used for the end credits of Executive Decision, one of my guilty pleasures. We also added ambient airplane and restaurant sound effects from a pre-existing effects library.

For the opening credits, Chris dug up some home movie footage of New York and put together (on his own time) a nice title sequence. I was very close to driving up to New York City with Chris and few others in tow. My plan was to shoot some random street scenes and an Italian restaurant exterior – literally spend a few hours in Manhattan and then leave. We’d be the first Full Sail film to shoot out of state! But this didn’t happen, though I was totally game. In fact, during pre-pro we had discussed the idea of shooting the opening plane scene with bluescreen behind the windows, then getting background plates from Orlando Airport and compositing that footage into the scene, so you would actually see the runway and ground crew in the shot. This didn’t happen either.


Our informal wrap party was held at a bar called Uptown just a few blocks from the school. We drank, even though many of us were under age (I had turned 21 just four months earlier). Steve even brought along his didgeridoo and a good time was had by all. Bill and Dave’s edit was selected for the class DVD and shown at our graduation film festival at the AMC Cineplex 20 at Universal CityWalk in Orlando. I enjoyed working on the film, despite being oblivious to the damage my ego was doing.

To briefly touch on the other films: Revenge Again was a black comedy about two sisters who avenge the death of their parents at the hands of one grouchy Nazi, Taste of the Past was a post-apocalyptic tale (to the extent that Full Sail could afford it), and Die Todes Groupe was the WW2 movie about ghost soldiers which was later re-shot on a weekend because some students were dissatisfied with the final product. The student who re-shot the film saw it as a metaphor for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and added some opening text to explain his point of view. I have no issue with his interpretation but I feel adding the text cheapened the work and would only invalidate anyone else’s idea of what the film might’ve represented.

For the plane set, I received the Course Director’s Award for Achievement in Set Design – surely proof that the Peter Principle exists! After the graduation ceremony, I told Chris that he deserved it, not just for his set design work in 35mm but for all of his computer-generated legerdemain. Part of me wonders if Chris, as a Christian, simply didn’t feel the need to brag about his accomplishments, unlike me. I saw him a few months ago (first time since 2004) and I told him I still refer to him as a genius. All he could do was shrug and thank me for mentioning him at all. He has a bright future ahead of him.

Sadly, a few months later we found out that another classmate of ours didn’t have a future at all...

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Terrorism Comes To New York City--Again?

For those of you who are not familiar with the landscape in New York City, you are looking at Foley Square, the center of legal activity in The Big Apple. The building on the left is the United States Courthouse where the Obama administration wants to try terrorists from top Al-Qaeda leaders down to the level of the Detroit-bound underwear bomber. Beautiful, isn't it? But how beautiful will it be if those trials actually go forward?

The Holder Justice Department is determined to hold the trials in New York City. Nobody can get a decent explanation of how this idiotic decision was made in the first place, but determined they are. Still, it ain't over 'til it's over. There has been a groundswell of public opinion against holding trials for mass murderers and wannabe murderers within walking distance of the hole in the ground that some of them created on September 11, 2001. And now, there is a growing rebellion against the plan in Congress.

John Boehner (R-OH), the House minority leader, on Wednesday announced that under no circumstances were the American people going to allow the terrorist trial to go forward in New York. "There is not going to be a trial in New York, I guarantee it. There is no appetite for the trials in Congress." He also made it clear that Republicans would make it a high-profile mid-term election issue, and that the people of the city of New York would not stand for it. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has introduced a bill denying Congressional funding for civilian trials for 9-11 terrorists, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said he would introduce companion legislation in the Senate next week.

The nation is beginning to wake up to the issue that conservatives have been hammering at for a long time now. Why are terrorists being removed from Guantanamo at all, let alone removed from the jurisdiction of military detention and military courts and placed in the hands of civilian attorneys? At least part of this answer is attributable to Obama's campaign promise to close the Guantanamo detention facility, and he was still riding high on that promise when the decision was made. Since then, the idea of bringing terrorist defendants onto mainland American soil has lost considerable public favor. That was followed by the Christmas underwear bomber's failed attack on an airliner over Detroit, and finally by a miserable State of the Union Address.

Miranda rights, civilian courts, and terrorists in our midst by invitation of the government have lost their shine. Senate Republicans hammered Attorney General Holder during hearings on the Christmas bomber, and why after a half hour of successful interrogation, the terrorist was suddenly allowed to "lawyer up." Holder was simply unable to give the Senators a decent answer. The line from the Justice Department has always been that they can successfully prosecute terrorists in civilian courts (and point to the Moussaoui conviction as if that were the only consideration).

Terrorists should be held as long as necessary under the rules of war to obtain whatever information can be gotten from them, in as safe a place as possible (Guantanamo, perhaps?), and as far from urban civilian population centers as possible. They have no more legal status than any other prisoner of war, and less in that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to combatants in a battle zone who are armed and not in any recognizable uniform, whether caught fighting or not.

Once the decision has been made that the detainees are of no further use to intelligence services, and a trial becomes necessary, they are not entitled to anything other than a military tribunal, conducted under the rules of those courts (or the rules of the Nuremberg Trials, as far as I'm concerned), not the rules of civilian courts. In no way are they entitled to be brought into the United States proper for trial in a civilian court, whether the government believes it will gain a conviction or not.

The civilian concerns of the people are vastly more important than some political decision made by a very politicized Justice Department. Even if the Obama administration were justified in its decision, the United States, including its territories, is a very large country. Why New York City? Why hold the trial under the very noses of the friends and families of the 3000 innocent civilians who were murdered in the World Trade Center? Why invite the distinct possibility of further terrorist attacks by radical Muslims determined to stand up for their oppressed brethren? Why do it in the courthouse square of the city that is the heart of American commerce, so despised by the primitives? And why do it one of the most densely-populated cities in the world?

And even if moved from Guantanamo into the United States, we still have no legitimate answer for why the case is being taken out of military control and passed over to civilian control. There are military facilities all over the United States where the trials could take place. And if the Justice Department were to continue in its insistence on civilian trials, there is no reason to conduct it as a publicity stunt for Obama justice in New York City. Hold them in some far-flung village in the Nevada desert. Even Governor's Island in New York is not in the heart of urban New York City, and a temporary court could be set up there. There is no law requiring that trials be held in the traditional courthouse. I've conducted trials in makeshift temporary courts made from triple-wide house trailers.

Boehner's announcement came on the heels of a few very bad months for the Obama administration. The "Massachusetts miracle" cost Obama his supermajority in the Senate, and many blue dog Democrats are just as displeased about the Justice Department decision as are the Republicans. Statewide Democratic special election successes are going the way of the passenger pigeon. The House members are not unaware that this could happen to them next. Suddenly, a threat of Congressional action to halt the Holder/Obama decision becomes at least a serious threat rather than a mouse shaking its fist at the approaching eagle.

Though the Christmas bomber has now been Mirandized and placed under civilian rules, there is absolutely nothing to prevent the government from putting him right back into the custody of the Department of Defense as an unprivileged enemy belligerent. It's unlikely that Holder will do this easily or willingly, but now is facing that possibility because of the avalanche of criticism surrounding the earlier Justice Department civilian trial decisions. In fact, anyone who has been determined to be an Al Qaeda affiliate (like the Christmas bomber) has been specifically targeted by the Sessions Amendment to the federal law which makes it clear that any detainee who is "a part of Al Qaeda is automatically deemed an unprivileged combatant." The terrorists already scheduled to be moved to New York City have not yet been determined specifically to be Al Qaeda affiliates, but more than sufficient evidence of their terrorist activities doesn't require the niceties of the Sessions Amendment. The old law will do as well. Get them back to Guantanamo, where they belong, or at least keep them out of New York City.

Boehner's announcement now packs clout, particularly after the attempted Christmas airliner bombing, the Fort Hood massacre, and three three major Democratic electoral losses. The doctrinaire leftist Obama administration now meets public anger and serious political opposition. The very day of the State of the Union speech, Obama and his minions were rumored to be reconsidering their dangerous and mindless move. Though there are no substantiated rumors, particularly about transferring the terrorists back into military custody, there is at lest an inkling that the fools who consider terrorists to be simple criminals are considering conducting the trial(s) somewhere other than in a major urban center, and perhaps closer to a high-security prison.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, there has been a major development. New York Senator Chuck Schumer made a public announcement that the trial(s) would indeed be moved outside of New York City. The New York Daily News reports that the White House has "ordered" the Justice Department to find another venue. As is typical of the Obama administration, the White House has denied that it "ordered" the move, but rather that Senator Schumer and Mayor Bloomberg asked Obama to request the Holder Justice Department to move the trial. Who's in charge here? Nevertheless, the trial venue has not yet been officially moved, and the song-and-dance from the administration will undoubtedly still be going on at the time this post and update publish. If there is any change between now and then, I will do a second update. However, the main theme of the post hasn't changed, and it further emphasizes the point that Republicans, and the voices of the people most concerned with the original decision are no longer "irrelevant" to the decision-making process in Washington.

New York Mayor Bloomberg made a personal phone call to Holder, reversing his earlier agreement that New York could handle the trials, and six Senators from both parties have sent an urgent letter to Holder demanding that he seek an alternative. Even my own Senator Dianne Feinstein, not known for deviating from the party line, has joined in the protests. The New York Post on Friday also says the decision has been made, but still cites no specific White House or Justice Department official who is willing to go on the record. Rather, there seem to be admissions that they are (or may be) reconsidering their decision. This is the typical kind of affair that the Obamists like to drop on us on weekends when the press and TV are least likely to go on the attack.
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Friday, January 29, 2010


Barack Obama is the President of the United States and allegedly a constitutional law expert and former professor of law. He routinely throws the word "unprecedented" around whenever he doesn't like something a conservative does or says. But in the law, that word has meaning, and at the State of the Union Address, he used it again. And as so often happens, he was wrong.

Contrary to where you think this post may be going, it's not going to be an in-depth discussion of precedent or the recent Supreme Court decision freeing unions and corporations to exercise their free speech rights without the constraints of portions of McCain-Feingold (which I find far more unconstitutional than did the Supremes).

What was utterly unprecedented was the President of the United States attacking a Supreme Court decision during a State of the Union Address. Even FDR, when preparing his court-packing scheme, didn't use his office to attack the Supreme Court during the annual address on the state of the nation. He made plenty of those speeches elsewhere, but not in the well of the United States Congress.

Worse than that, the president either lied, obfuscated, or simply got the whole issue in Citizens United wrong. If you're going to take the unprecedented step of attacking a Supreme Court decision on the issue of precedent, you ought at least to know what you're talking about. The annual event is one of those rare times when all three branches of the federal government are present. They are there to hear plans, hopes, an accurate but optimistic assessment of the nation's condition, and ideas for the future of the nation. They are not there to hear a political attack on a judicial decision.

For a more elaborate discussion of my opinion of Obama's ignorance of the law and history as it relates to this post, see my earlier article "Take A Look, Professor Obama", (January 25, below). I'll now add an expansion and a fact that wasn't in my original post, but is now more relevant after Obama's speech. The Citizens United case merely removed the restrictions on corporate and union issue and candidate advertising. It affirmed the legal and very much precedented prohibition on direct contributions that "intertwine" the campaigns and the entities supporting them.

The UAW can't actively coordinate an Obama candidacy with interlocking boards and funds with the Democratic Central Committee any more than General Electric can actively coordinate an anti-abortion election campaign with the Republican party in the same manner. The UAW is now simply free to publish its own "Vote for Obama" campaign, and GE is free to conduct its own anti-abortion campaign. As a side note, Obama was wrong about a related issue. Foreign nationals, including foreign corporations are excluded from participation in or contributions to federal, state and local elections activities under longstanding statues that have nothing to do with the case. If he wants to rid our system of foreign influence, he's got the wrong case.

As for history and precedent, the Supreme Court upset the precedent set in Austin (twenty years old) and McConnell (six years old), and held that ". . . stare decisis does not compel the continued acceptance of Austin and by incorporation, McConnell. The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether." So they reversed twenty years of questionable precedent by returning to precedent that went back to 1789. Justice Scalia added the telling comment that "the Supreme Court did not invalidate a federal law on First Amendment grounds until 1964." Precedent, therefore, is a very shaky ground to be criticizing the Supreme Court on in the first place when it comes to the current brouhaha.

That said, what really irritates me is that the left-leaning mainstream press and TV have found the event unprecedented as well. But not for the same reasons. It was just fine for Obama to politicize a judicial decision during the State of the Union Address (and get it wrong), but the liberal talking-heads and pundits are focusing on the brief shot of Justice Alito in the audience shaking his head and mouthing the words "not true." And what does the left call Justice Alito's reaction? You guessed it--unprecedented. How dare he show disapproval during The Great One's brilliant attack and misstatement of the law? Aw, gimme a break! I would have preferred him to have jumped up and shouted "liar," but that would have been very unjudicial. Alito merely indicated he thought the words were untrue, but he did not call the president a liar. I'll go him one better. The president is a liar, a notorious liar, a facile liar, and a dirty-rotten liar. Now I feel better.
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Top 25: Sci-Fi Films You Should Know

Science fiction is the most agile form of story telling because it allows you to present controversial and complex philosophical, ethical and political issues in ways that people can easily understand without feeling like they are sitting through a class on ethics, and without bringing their preconceived expectations and prejudices. It is also tailor-made for films. And since everybody loves lists. . .

Below you will find a list of the top 25 science fiction movies you should know to be well versed in science fiction. These are not necessarily the best or most entertaining films, but they are the important ones. . . the ones that had the greatest impact on science fiction and on our culture. And don’t worry, unlike some people who toss together horrible lists and then try to claim that they were only hoping to “spark debate,” I stand by this list.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who frets about the completely irrelevant distinction between “science fiction” and “sci-fi,” or who cries when people classify Star Wars as science fiction because “it’s fantasy set in space wah wah” then I have bad news for you. First, no one likes you. Secondly, sci-fi, science fiction, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t a real genre. . . it’s a setting. It needs to piggyback on some other genre -- drama, horror, romance, etc. So get over it.

Here we go:

1. Star Wars (1977): Star Wars is the greatest science fiction movie of all times by many measures. Star Wars made it acceptable for adults to admit publicly they enjoy science fiction, and it single-handedly created the merchandizing industry (plus it created Industrial Light and Magic, which dominates the special effects world). It was also the first film to introduce the public to the idea of “outer space” religions -- interestingly, “Jedi” was one of the top “religions” listed by respondents to the recent UK census. It also spawned numerous sequels and rip offs (including Battlestar Galactica). It’s impact on world culture cannot be over-stated. “Use the force Luke.”

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): This movie tapped into the alien abduction mania of the 1970s and gave us the little gray men motif that has since become a staple for UFO believers. Prior to this movie, aliens were described differently in different parts of the world. Afterwards. . . nuthin' but gray butts and big eyes. Basically, this movie single-handedly homogenized the alien conspiracy theory world, and stoked the abduction mania that continues today. “You can’t fool us by agreeing with us.”

3. Blade Runner (1982): Discussing the question of “what makes us human,” this combination sci-fi and film noir single-handedly set the tone that science fiction would follow thereafter. Hard-boiled gun toting heroes hunting bad guys in dark, depressing and nihilistic landscapes has become the default for science fiction because of this film. The influence of Blade Runner on the science fiction world cannot be overstated. “I want more life f*cker.”

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Ok, truthfully, 2001 stinks, especially the twenty minutes at the beginning and the end. BUT, 2001 redefined science fiction. Prior to 2001, science fiction had become the playground of children’s movies, with guys in rubber suits chasing teenagers. 2001 elevated science fiction by treating the subject matter seriously and introducing adult concepts like human evolution, artificial intelligence and the nature of extraterrestrial life, all done in a relatively scientifically-accurate setting. This movie spawned the realism phase of science fiction. “What do you think you’re doing Dave?”

5. Metropolis (1927): Science fiction films got their start in Georges Melis’ 1902 A Trip To The Moon, but Friz Lang’s Metropolis became the real influence. It’s dystopian view of workers toiling away in a glittering city controlled by sentient machines set the foundations for almost every science fiction movie that followed.

6. Forbidden Planet (1956): Forbidden Planet was one of the first serious science fiction movies to speculate on how man would roam the stars in the future. This film specifically inspired Star Trek, the most significant science fiction television franchise of all time, and it established several motifs that dominate science fiction today, e.g. that spaceships would be military vessels, that scientists and military do not get along, the good scientist who goes too far, and the uneasy relationship between humans and their robot servants. “Monsters from the subconscious.”

7. Planet of the Apes (1968): The late 1960s saw science fiction begin to talk about social issues. From Soylent Green’s worry about over population to Westworld’s worry about our ability to control our mechanical creations. And the greatest of these was Planet of the Apes, which addressed a future in which mankind had blown themselves up and were reduced to serving as pets for intelligent apes. “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

8. Jurassic Park (1993): Jurassic Park spawned a special effects revolution that changed the movie industry as well as the way we watch documentaries. In place of hand drawings or claymation, Jurassic Park unleashed computer generated graphics into the world, allowing documentaries like Walking With Dinosaurs and leading to films like Lord of the Rings which Peter Jackson undertook after realizing from Jurassic Park what computers would let him do. “An Adventure 65 Million Years In The Making.”

9. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): In the 1950s, science fiction was relegated to children’s cinema. But among the fake robots and rubber-suited monsters, a few science fiction films tried their hand at adult drama. In the process, they opened the door to adding limited social commentary to science fiction. Of these, The Day The Earth Stood Still is the one that truly stands out. Warning us about man’s propensity to use violence to settle disagreements, this film reminded us that we might not be the most powerful creatures in the universe. “Klaatu barada nikto.” (Avoid the remake.)

10. The Time Machine (1960): Based on the book by H.G. Well, this film is the grandfather of all time travel films, which would become the most loved science fiction theme. “Which three books would you have taken?”

11. Alien (1979): Besides launching a thousand careers, Alien opened the door for mixing science fiction with modern (i.e. realistic) horror, and for women heroes. It also gave us a gritty realism that had been lacking in prior views of the human future, which were all jumpsuit and sterile soundstage. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

12. The Matrix (1999): The Matrix is a theological/philosophical treatise disguised as a science fiction movie. Nothing you see in the film is there by accident, and everything has double and triple meanings. In many ways, The Matrix is the zenith of several key science fiction themes -- man v. machines, reality v. apparent reality, and the question of what makes us human. In terms of influence, The Matrix has become a code word for altered reality. It also introduced several new visual styles, such as “bullet time.” “What is the Matrix?”

13. Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Based on Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451 fits into the 1960s trend of social, political commentary. But unlike other films of the time, this one didn’t involve catastrophe, it involved people who thought they were perfectly happy. . . except for one man who wonders why books need to be burned. These would become common elements of science fiction: people who voluntarily submit to oppression, the gilded cage, mind control, group think, an oppressive regime, and a lone hero who wonders why. “Fahrenheit four-five-one is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.”

14. War of the Worlds (1953): Based on H.G. Wells’ story, this cross between the adult science fiction of the 1950s and the kiddy stuff, gave us the idea that maybe aliens won’t wear jumpsuits and look like teenagers, and maybe they won’t think twice about exterminating us -- a point repeated recently by Stephen Hawking, who states that the interaction between two civilization of different technical prowess almost always ends poorly for the less advanced group. It also was the first film to posit that, just as ancient people were struck down by diseases from travelers to which they had no immunity, maybe the same would hold true with space creatures. Both themes have become common. “After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in his wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

15. The Andromeda Strain (1971): From Michael Crichton’s book, this is one of a myriad of pandemic movies from the late 1960s and early 1970s. But whereas the others were typically more melodramatic, this film approached the idea with genuine interest in how science would stop a pandemic. Movies like Outbreak and The Stand trace their roots through this film. It is also likely that films like this contributed to the eventual banning of chemical and biological weapons. “Enemy? We did it to ourselves!”

16. Dune (1984): Dune is one of the most influential science fiction books of all time. The movie didn’t take with the public, and that actually hurt the industry for some time, but it has since become a cult hit. (I actually prefer the Alan Smithee version.) Dune introduces the idea of folding space, something scientists now consider possible. “Usul, we have worm sign the likes of which even God has never seen.”

17. Fifth Element (1987): Fifth Element stands as the only anti-Blade Runner which has found an audience. It presents a future that is actually quite positive, if a little odd. It’s also one of the few films to let its aliens develop personality and be anything other than wise or menacing. This is another cult movie that you must know. “Time is not important. Only life is important.”

18. Stargate (1994): This movie introduces the idea of traveling throughout space without a spaceship, and it provides an alternative history of our planet. It also spawned a massive industry of merchandise, television spin offs, games, and online fan fiction. “Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.”

19. Capricorn One (1978): I want to rank this higher because I really like this film, but it just isn’t influential enough. As my review noted, this film is a cultural marker to the beginning of the “vast government conspiracy” movement of today. . . but it isn’t a driver of that movement, it just notes it. Still, you should know this movie. “There are people out there, ‘forces’ out there, who have a lot to lose.”

20. THX-1138 (1971): I debated putting Logan’s Run into this slot, but I decided THX 1138 is just more influential. This Lucas film depicts a world in which the population is controlled by faceless, android police officers and the mandatory use of drugs to suppress emotion and sexual desire -- with a stellar cast to boot. This movie is one of those that all science fiction fanatics have seen and can discuss, and references to it find their way into everything science fiction. “Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses.”

21. 12 Monkeys (1995): Terry Gilliam, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt at their best remake the French short film La Jetée, a story about a man who makes his own future by interfering with his own past. With a plot that is heavily interlaced with multiple timelines and a rare moment of Gilliam-coherence, this is one of those films you need to know. “I'm looking for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.”

22. E.T. (1982): Unfairly dismissed as a kids movie, E.T. presents a different view of aliens than we’d seen before. While they are not human, they also aren’t out to hurt us. Yet, while this movie was huge at the time, it ultimately was not very influential. Still, you should see it. “Phone home.”

23. The Terminator (1984): The Terminator’s influence was more cultural than in science fiction. Indeed, the movie was exceedingly popular, became a franchise, and got everyone mimicking its star for some time, but it had little new to offer the world of science fiction. Still, if you want to know science fiction, you must see this movie. “Sarah Connor?”

24. Tron (1982): Yes, Tron. This was the first film from a major studio (Disney) that used extensive computer graphics. And while this movie lacks the philosophical questions raised by its sibling The Black Hole, this film provides the first glimpse into how science fiction interprets the inner universe of a computer. “That’s Tron, he fights for the users.”

25. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): This is another film that added little to the science fiction world, but struck it big in the cultural reference department. I almost hesitate to mention it, and probably wouldn’t if it wasn’t part of the Star Trek franchise, but you should know it. “Khaaaaaan!”

There are many other science fiction films that I would suggest you watch: Cube, Robocop, The Satan Bug, Pitch Black, eXistenz, Dark City, Outland, The Abyss, The Black Hole, and Contact, just to name a few. But none of these are as important as the 25 listed above.

I take it you agree?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

SOTU: Why Obama Is Doomed

Last night, Obama gave the single worst State of the Union speech I’ve ever heard and the worst speech of his career. There was nothing inspiring or memorable. His canned applause lines stunk, his “off the cuff” jokes were poorly scripted, and the rest of the speech can be summed up thusly: anger, accusation, blame shifting, political payoffs to interest groups and “admissions” that everyone else has served him poorly. This speech was meant to hit the reset button. . . it missed. It also tells us that he is doomed to failure.

Obama has a serious problem. Unlike other presidents whose approval ratings have risen and fallen with events, Obama’s have been on a steady downward course. This indicates a man who has lost the public. Thus, his objective last night was to reconnect with the public, to pull a mea culpa, to assure the public he will change, and to convince the public to give him a second chance. He failed. Instead, last night just highlighted why he lost the public in the first place.
Technical Problems: Lack of Inspiration
Obama is a poor speaker and his speech writers stink. He has yet to give a memorable speech, and last night was no exception. There were no memorable quotes, no incredible moments of truth, no compelling arguments, and no moment where he made a genuine call for all of us to come together. Instead, his speech was bland, with angry emphasis substituting for passion, half-hearted praise for America substituting for inspiration, an abundance of “too-perfect-to-be-true” letters from widows and orphans that felt like blatant manipulation, and “I” substituting liberally for “we.” He was snide, unpleasant, insulting and combative. He read poorly. His self-deprecating jokes were all backhanded slaps at his opponents, and he just wasn’t presidential at any point.

The contrast with Virginia Governor McDonnell could not have been starker.

Obama’s failure, by the way, was obvious in two facts from last night. First, the leftists hired by CNN to act as analysts were amazingly subdued. “He did what he had to do” was about the highest praise they could muster (even David Axelrod was subdued). They questioned his priorities (or lack thereof) and even scoffed at some of what he said. Not one person suggested this was a great speech or a memorable speech or that he’d “hit a homerun.” When your own PR people can’t praise your speech, something is wrong. Secondly, CNN’s instant poll showed a 20% drop in the number of people who gave this speech high marks compared to last year. Given that this poll would likely include a higher proportion of Democrats than last year’s, this was a horrible result for Obama.
Political Payoff Smorgasbord
Aside from poor writing and delivery, the main reason Obama’s speech will not resonate with the public is that it ultimately was not meant for the public, it was aimed at his special interest. As I’ve said before, the Democratic Party is no longer a party, it has become an alliance of tribes, each of whom want their share. Last night, emphasized that:
• Unions: Obama promised a second stimulus, aimed at putting “America” back to work. . . targeted at unionized jobs. Further, while he seemed to talk about free trade last night with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, he never said he would push the free trade deals already negotiated with those countries that are languishing in Congress. Instead, he talked about “enforcement,” which is the same anti-free trade garbage his side has been spewing about imposing environmental and labor regulations on our trading partners.

• Environmentalists: Obama promised to get a carbon tax, i.e. cap and trade, even if he had to bribe a handful of Republicans (like Lindsey Graham) to get it, by offering to include subsidies for nuclear power and limited off-shore drilling.

• Gays: He promised to end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and he promised “increased” civil rights office enforcement, i.e. more lawsuits.

• Feminists: He promised to fight for the feminist panacea “equal pay.”

• Blacks: He promised a national hate crimes law.
The middle class? You get to pay for these promises, and he repeated the silly plan I discussed the other day -- though he shifted the blame on that one to Biden. (FYI, that plan is actually aimed at feminists and college students and the poor, not the middle class.)

To cover his giveaways, he paid lip service to the public’s complaints. For example,
• Obama’s Deficits: He acknowledged the deficit problem, by blaming it on Bush. He then promised a “total spending freeze.” What he did not say was that this would only cover 17% of spending and that Pelosi has already said it won’t get through the House. He then tried to make this sound impressive by talking about the savings this would generate over the next TWO decades. Wally from Dilbert tried this once, claiming his plan would save the company one million dollars. . . over a million years.

• Job Destruction: Obama acknowledged that people remain unemployed, a problem he blamed on Bush. First, he tried to lump the 6.3 million jobs that vanished under his policies on Bush by claiming that the economy had lost seven million jobs in the past two years. Then he blamed lobbyists (which made no sense). Then he bragged about his stimulus bill creating two million jobs -- a well documented lie. (See here and here.)

Now he’s promising targeted tax cuts for small business “for job creation.” No one has any idea what he’s talking about here -- he probably doesn’t even know himself -- but if this is nothing more than a “one time tax cut for hiring” (a new favorite among Democrats) then this is doomed to fail.

• Terrorism: Obama acknowledged that terrorism exists, a big step for him. But he blamed the failure to stop it on Bush, and he specifically blamed the Detroit near-bombing on policies put in place by Bush. Yet, while he acknowledged Bush’s failures he offered no plan to address terrorism other than more of the same. He then, amazingly, made the childish claim that he had “killed more terrorists” than Bush did in 2008. This brought near eye-rolls from the Joint Chiefs.

• Health Care: Obama also whined about the opposition to his health care bill, which he blamed on obstructionist Republicans, corrupt lobbyists, and cowardly Democrats who are worried about elections, i.e. public opinion. Then he said, “I’m no quitter” (another demonstrable falsehood). He then reformulated his plan as “health insurance reform” because no one likes insurance companies, and he challenged anyone who would oppose him to come up with their own plan -- something many have done, though he wouldn’t know that because he refuses to listen. But he waited 27 minutes into his speech to raise this issue, leading one CNN pundit to declare: “he won’t give up on health care, but he’s signaled that he won’t fight for it either.”

• Iran: He acknowledged that Iran hadn’t been fixed yet, which he blamed on the Iranians and prior administrations, i.e. Bush. He then swore that there would be real consequences if they didn’t comply this time. Of course, he couldn’t think of any consequence to mention, nor did he say who would bear them.

• Iraq: He promised again to bring home all of the (combat) troops from Iraq at some point in time, it’s just taking longer than expected because the “three” (formerly “two”) wars Bush left him were such disasters.

• Corruption: Recognizing that most polls put corruption at the top of the public’s concerns about his administration, he (1) promised “to fight corruption”. . . in Afghanistan, (2) he demonized lobbyists and claimed to have kicked them out of his administration -- another lie, (3) he talked about undoing the Supreme Court’s decision that allows corporations to donate money to causes, something recent polls show the public considers a matter of free speech, and (4) swore he would highlighting earmarks to the public. . . as compared to his campaign promise to stop them. He made no mention of his awarding a no-bid contract to a supporter (something he once called “corrupt”) or of the massive amounts of corruption in his administration and in Congress (see here, here and here).
In other words, he paid lip service to the public’s concerns, and he showed that he refuses to accept any responsibility for the public’s concerns and he doesn’t intend to actually address them except with more lip service.
Angry Obama Gives Way To Nasty Obama
Finally, we come to Obama’s biggest problem: his paranoid hatred of “those who oppose.” In a nod to Rodney King’s “can’t we all just get along,” Obama mentioned the word bipartisanship and he spoke of the need to change the tenor in Washington. But then, like a petulant child, he set about settling scores.

He attacked the Republicans over and over, using any falsehood he thought would help him. He tried to blame them for his own failures and then, like a cartoon villain, he incredibly warned them that they would be held responsible for any further failure on his part. He called his own party cowards for trying to hear the message of the people. He blamed Bush for every single one of his faults and failures. And, as noted before, he petulantly tried to sound tough by claiming that he killed more terrorists than Bush did in 2008.

He demonized bankers and lobbyists, in ways not heard since the 1930s -- all the while ignoring the fact that they are his biggest contributors, that they are his closest advisors, and that he appointed them to serve in his cabinet and to run his treasury department.

He even tried to play the self-pity, phony-acceptance-of-responsibility game by taking “my share of the blame” only to twist that into accepting the blame for being stopped by the self-interested and politically motivated acts of others.

Incredibly, he made a highly inappropriate attack on the Supreme Court, in their presence. It is not that he criticized a court decision, but that he attacked the court personally, when he angrily accused the court of destroying “a century of settled law” in favor of special interests (impugning their motives). This caused Justice Alito to mouth the words “not true”. . . giving Obama a second “you lie” moment in as many trips to Congress. And, indeed, it was not true. By the way, as an active attorney, his attack on the Court is an ethics violation and he should be sanctioned.

Finally, he thanked no one for anything.

This man is a child. He knows nothing, and it shows. He out hates Nixon as a paranoid gatherer of enemies and a serial assigner of blame. He out wimps Carter as an effete warrior. He makes the obviously stupid Bush II look like Einstein, and the smarmy insider Bush I look like a zealous reformer. And he makes the dishonest and dishonorable Bill Clinton look like George Washington.

Obama is finished. Not because he doesn’t have time to change, but because he’s not willing or able to change.

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Question: Favorite Era for Movies?

Other than the present, what is your favorite time period for movie settings? Is it a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away? Or maybe 1522? Perhaps you prefer Ancient Greece. . . it is the word after all, or the Twenty-Fourth and a Half Century!? Do tell, and why. [+] Read More...

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

The storms have temporarily passed, the temperature is almost at sixty degrees, and the sun is shining. All in all, a beautiful day here in The City By The Bay. Unfortunately, much of the current fun is being had behind closed doors, in courtrooms, and in the automobiles of commuters traveling across The City's main bridge arteries.

Note: Bay Area commuters are not going to find their commute into San Francisco any less expensive over the next few months and years. The authority which controls all the major bridges into San Francisco (or lead there), including the most-heavily traveled Bay Bridge, now will impose increased fares during peak hours. The bridge tolls go up to $6.00 one way (no toll in the other direction). Only the Golden Gate Bridge is controlled by a separate authority, which has already raised tolls. Bad news for everybody crossing the bridges, but particularly for those using the much-beloved car-pool lanes. The drivers of those cars will be charged the same toll, but now instead of being rewarded for being "energy conscious," they will pay an additional "per passenger" toll. If it moves, charge it a toll. If it merely goes along for a ride, charge it a toll as well.

NOTE: The Proposition 8 trial has now moved into its second phase, and the testimony is now heating up. The plaintiffs rested their case-in-chief, and it's now the defendants' turn. Both lead attorneys are brilliant attorneys, but defendants' attorney was beginning to cause the pro-Prop 8 crowd some nail-biting by asking so few questions on cross-examination during the plaintiffs' case. It has turned out that lead attorney David Boies was using tactical restraint. He had asked few questions earlier, and reserved his cross-examination for matters where the testimony was clearly pure opinion, didn't address the equal protection constitutional argument, or was patently wrong. He left the defense "experts" pretty much alone to hang in the wind on their social issues.

Boies first recalled plaintiffs' witness David Blankenthorn, a current convert to the anti-Prop 8 position, and asked him pointed questions about the inconsistency in his direct testimony relating solely to the social impact of Prop 8 and its prior legal history. That gave Boies an opportunity re-open the touchy-feely aspects of the formerly anti-gay marriage witness who testified about the sociological impact of gay marriage. Boies was able that way to put the purely sociological aspects of the anti-Prop 8 lawyers back in front of the judge (this is a non-jury trial). Plaintiffs were arguing that one's feelings about gay marriage are more important than centuries of law and constitutional precedent regarding marriage.

Blankenship had previously espoused publicly, financially and in articles the position that "'leading scholars' share his view that same-sex marriage would weaken heterosexuals' respect for the institution and accelerate a half-century-old trend of increased cohabitation and rising divorce rates." On direct testimony, Blankenship had failed to mention that in a 2007 book he wrote, he stated: "We would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before." Not only was that inconsistent with his prior positions, but Blankenthorn was unable to explain what had changed his mind other than anectdotal sympathy for certain gay couples he knows of. Lead attorney for plaintiffs, Ted Olson, in his own tactical move not to emphasize the weakness of the sociological arguments, asked only a few short questions on re-direct examination in an attempt to redeem the seeming confusion of the witness.

Then Boies brought on his string of legal experts to counter the few legal scholars that Olson had called on direct. Claremont-McKenna law professor Kenneth Miller testified about the due process arguments critical to the entire case. He pointed out that there is no genuine legal difference between the legal rights of California domestic partners and those of traditional marriage partners. He contends that the word "marriage" is a political definition, not a legal one, and therefore belongs in the political arena, not in the courts. The definition of marriage can be altered by appropriate amendment to the state constitution just as Prop 8 and the subsequent confirmation by the state Supreme Court were accomplished. Miller testified that "California attitudes toward the definition of marriage have been constantly evolving, but that due process arguments are invalid because the plaintiffs have yet to point out where gay marriage proponents are actually denied any access to domestic bliss that is available to heterosexual couples under current California law, the effects of the upholding of Prop 8, and the adequate independent state grounds restraint on federal court proceedings."

Boies then called a series of legal scholars who testified that the definition of "marriage" was a purely political matter, unrelated to constitutional due process and equal protection arguments which will ultimately be the only issue which will be addressed by future appellate courts. Plaintiffs' academic witnesses had argued that allowing gays and lesbians to marry would benefit the couples and their children and improve the status of marriage without affecting opposite-sex couples. Each of the defendants' legal witnesses in some way made it clear that they considered that testimony to be interesting and perhaps even true, but had nothing to do with the due process and equal protection arguments. Those are purely sociological and political questions, not legal questions. Olson again soft-pedaled his cross-examination so as to avoid emphasizing the strength of the defendants' arguments. Some of the defendants' expert witnesses actually support gay marriage, but insist that the courts are the wrong place to be pursuing that goal. That's where the more germane issue resides with the political process, the initiative constitutional amendment process, and the ballot box. If Prop 8 is to be overturned, let it be done by the voters on a superseding ballot measure.

The outcome of the trial may end up being the result of the active participation of Judge Vaughn Walker, who has frequently indicated his pro-plaintiff positions on the record, from granting the original plaintiffs' motions to proceed to trial, to frequent reiterations of the plaintiffs' position in the form of questions to the witnesses. He also allowed testimony from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who gave a teary-eyed litany of his sins against his lesbian daughter by previously supporting Prop 8 which at best had a cumulative effect on the hearts-and-flowers "how do you feel?" therapeutic psycho-sociological approach to the law. The judge is doing an excellent job of convincing himself.

This is beginning to get interesting, and if Olson continues on his current course, he is planning on relying on rebuttal testimony and closing argument (at which he is possibly the best in the country) rather than attacking the defendants' position directly. Of course, Boies is no slouch in this area either, and in civil trials neither side has the advantage in closing argument, unlike criminal trials where the prosecution gets the last word every time. Both sides are merely preparing their record on appeal, where lengthy appeals are both inevitable and will ultimately be disposed of at the highest court levels.

NOTE: On Wednesday, Steve Jobs of Apple introduced his newest product at the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center. Interestingly, the rollout took place at the Cultural Center rather than the more typical rollout out at the Moscone Tech forum. I'm not quite sure what that actually means. Reactions and critical evaluations of the new "I-Pad" have been mixed, and it remains to be seen if it will be successful financially, even after the original estimated cost of the gadget had been halved by the time of the announcement.

NOTE: San Francisco actually has a somewhat serious Republican rival to Nancy Pelosi for the general election in November, though he hasn't won the primary yet. There's a lot of buzz about the self-described libertarian-conservative candidate. He's certainly not the typical RINO put up by the local Republican powerhouse, the San Francisco Republican Central Committee. He probably has the general election prospects of a snowball in hell, but considering our recent frigid San Francisco weather and the wind blowing in from Massachusetts, maybe this snowball actually does have a chance (though I'm not holding my breath). Boston isn't Massachusetts, and San Francisco isn't California.

A Fordham University graduate in Business Administration, John Dennis has founded two very successful real-estate related businesses, and is very savvy in the use of the internet for raising funds and getting his message out. He bolted from the SF Central Committee and became a member of the more conservative San Francisco Republican Liberty Caucus. Dennis is opposed entirely to government-controlled health, care, cap 'n tax, and the Cyber-Security Act which gives the President near-dictatorial power over the internet during a crisis, but grants the administration almost unfettered discretion in determining exactly exactly what a "crisis" is with little oversight from Congress. Let us not forget that the unofficial position of the Democratic Party is to leave "no crisis unexploited" and leftist Democrats have declared multiple crises over the state of America since Obama's election.

Dennis supports health-care reform in the form of free-market competition, with heavy emphasis on private insurance being closely monitored by regulators, but essentially fully free to market across state lines and to be exempt from antitrust legislation. He opposes illegal immigration categorically, and adds that it seriously weakens the American dollar. While supporting much more limited legal immigration, he also proposes drastic penalties on businesses that hire illegals, and wants "guest worker" visas that would eventually allow the fast-track to immigrants who arrive here legally and follow all the traditional paths to American citizenship, including assimilation and disavowal of all prior allegiances.

He is a doctrinaire gun-ownerhsip supporter, who goes so far as to say "I don't even need a Second Amendment to tell me that I have the right to defend myself," and he sees gun ownership as a mainstay in protecting against government tyranny. He opposes Social Security in its present form as a "pyramid scheme," and supports an opt-out system allowing citizens to choose a private retirement plan with corresponding tax equalization consequences with Social Security, and no penalty for the private plan doing better than the government plan. To the best of my knowledge, he has not yet taken a position on those who invest in private plans that fail or produce less than the current Social Security plan, but since Social Security is taking the fast-train to bankruptcy, I'm not sure how much of an issue that really is.

He supports two of my favorite positions. First, he believe the Constitution ought to be amended to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment providing for direct election of Senators, and wants it returned to the legislatures of the various states. Second, he believes that the Tenth Amendment is abundantly clear about the extent to which the federal government is allowed to preempt state decisions.

He strongly opposes federal funding for abortion and fetal stem-cell research, and opposes government-paid political junkets (with special emphasis on Nancy Pelosi as the biggest offender).

Where he may be unclear so far is where he stands on some issues and whose political camp he will sit in. He got his first experience as a Get Out The Vote volunteer in the 2008 presidential race, supporting candidate Ron Paul. His energy policy position is closely akin to the Democratic position that "the key to energy needs is the concept of improved relations with foreign countries because the federal government's only energy policy should be its foreign policy (emphasis added). He has so far failed to express his opinions on domestic energy production, and that will need to be seriouly addressed in the near future. He opposes extension of the Bush tax-cuts but advocates spending reductions to reduce the federal spending spree. It seems clear that right now, he only understand one-half of the Laffer Curve. He somehow thinks that by raising income taxes, that money will somehow mystically be put back in the taxpayers' pocket by reduced federal spending. He wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, and has not indicated any strong reasons for doing so other than it's "straight out of the Communist Manifesto" without explaining why abolition would be preferable to top-to-bottom reform of the Federal Reserve system.

He believes that gay marriage should be a strictly state issue without federal interference, but has not yet discussed how he would feel about a federal ban on enforcement of "sister-state judgments" (without banning banning gay marriage or defining marriage itself) via the constitutional Amendment process.

Until those issues are clarified, I'm not ready to throw my full support behind Dennis, but even if I don't like his positions when clarified, he's still head and shoulders above every other candidate the Republicans have produced. Still, his personal opposition to gay marriage (even though he would accept it if it becomes the people's will) will go over like a lead balloon here. The vast majority of San Franciscans believe that any opposition to gay marriage is a hate crime. And don't forget, he is running for a House seat from San Francisco.
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