Friday, April 30, 2010

Film Friday: Terminator Salvation (2009)

Terminator Salvation (“TS”), apparently, was written by machines, because there's little in it to interest humans. Like so much of what comes out of Hollywood’s sequel generating computers these days, TS is a soulless, halfhearted film that squanders a tremendous amount of potential. It goes wrong at the outset, in its basic story, and keeps going wrong(er) with poor story telling, indifferent characters, and wasted talent.

** spoiler alert **

As I’ve mentioned before, science fiction is one of the most interesting forms of story telling because it can touch upon any topic and it can delve into the kinds of questions that fascinate us. Terminator introduced the very cool premise of what happens if a bad guy from the future goes back in time to kill the parents of the good guy before he was born. Can you save the future? Terminator 2 expanded on this premise by asking whether you could change the future for the better now that you know what will happen. Terminator 3? Well, T3 did a “by changing the past, you cause the future” thing, but mainly they just wanted to see Arnold fight a chick in tight leather pants.

TS follows these films with the promise of moving the franchise into the future, after the machines have struck. So far so good. It follows John Connor (Christian Bale), who leads the Southern California branch of the human resistance against the machines. At this point, the Arnold terminators have not yet been created. Still good.

But then the problem starts. The machines have created a terminator, Marcus (Sam Worthington), whose job is to lure Connor to Skynet headquarters so he can finally be killed, because all their prior efforts failed. Yet, at this point, the machines wouldn’t know who Connor is. Indeed, the writers just assume the machines know exactly what happened in T1, T2 and T3, even though, from the machines’ perspective, none of that has happened yet and won’t until after they build the Arnold terminators, until after Connor become the leader of the resistance, and until after Kyle Reese grows up. For all the machines know at this point, Michael Ironside (who plays himself) is the leader of the resistance. So why are the machines fixated on Connor and why do they know how T1, T2 and T3 turned out?

This is a plot hole. But it’s more as well, it’s squandered potential. By skipping the time travel questions and assuming that everyone knows everything, the writers made the story much easier to write, but they also sucked out the very thing that made the first three movies so interesting -- the paradoxes. Moreover, in so doing, they sacrificed the chance to use the audience’s knowledge of Connor's importance, and the machines’ lack of knowledge, to add tension to the scenes. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if the machines somehow made a decision that let Connor survive because they didn’t know his value? They also toss aside the chance to use Connor’s knowledge to tell us something interesting about his character, like how he might struggle with issues like fatalism or cockiness since he knows the future. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see how Connor handles having knowledge of the future? No, not to these writers. . . they just wanted simple plot points that moved the story from fight scene to fight scene.

And what about Marcus? Marcus is a prototype infiltrator terminator, who doesn’t know he’s a machine. This is classic science fiction story telling, because it lets the writer explore what it means to be human. But once again, these writers aren't interested. They just have Marcus move from scene to scene engaging in fights until he finally faces the difficult decision of “do I side with the machines or the humans” -- an "agonizing" decision that takes him 1/10th of a second to make and which he makes without ever sharing his thoughts with the audience. I guess the writers figured the audience wouldn’t care?

This lack of interest in the story is compounded with very poor storytelling. One of the axioms of storytelling is “show, don’t tell.” Yet, this movie has it backwards. Connor is the “prophesized leader of the resistance.” How do we know? Is it anything he does that makes him stand out? No. They tell us. That's it. Connor is married to Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard). How do we know? They tell us. Is there a single scene that makes their marriage real? Nope. Connor is a great threat to the machines? Yep. Does he do something special? Nope. How do we know? We’re told. And they don't even bother telling us that much. Where did this resistance come from? Where do they get their weapons? Why isn’t Connor the leader? Don’t know, they don’t tell us.

Imagine how much better this movie would have been if they’d fleshed out the characters by trying to show us who they are and what they believe? What if they dealt with the time travel question rather than skipping it? What if they let Marcus explore his inner conflict? Naw. . . look shiny!

That’s why this movie stinks. It’s not Bale’s one-note acting (his best work from this film came here (NSFW)). It’s not the effects, which were quite good -- though they heavily ripped off War of the Worlds with their visual and sound effects. It’s not the good actors who were wasted in this film -- I am a fan of Bale, Howard (The Village) and Common (Smoking Aces), but they did nothing. It’s the total indifference to story telling. In fact, TS was so bland I thought long and hard about ditching this article and instead writing about Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video instead, which I found more interesting. Sad.

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Court Of Appeals Nomination Drones On

We're coming down to the wire on the nomination of far-left law professor Gordon Liu to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. I covered Liu in an earlier post (A Perfect Nominee) in case you need to get up-to-speed on Liu's background. But now I'd like to cover some of the circus that has surrounded his nomination hearing.

First, let's visit the hypocrisy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She has spent the past few weeks damning Republicans for daring to question Liu's stand supporting extreme judicial activism. She is particularly bothered that Republicans have criticized Liu's large paper-trail of personal views supporting affirmative action absolutism, consideration of race, ethnicity and social status in deciding cases, and using regulatory agencies to skirt the Constitution.

Not fair, says Feinstein. "His personal views won't affect his judicial rulings." How she knows that when Liu has never served as a judge is a mystery. But she's quite sure of it, and doesn't think Republicans should be considering it. This is the same Feinstein who in 2006 rejected the nomination of future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito by saying: "If one is pro-choice in this day and age, in this structure, one can't vote for Judge Alito." Feinstein, her fellow California crazy, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and an unknown Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, attempted to thwart the majority in the process by suggesting that Alito's personal views were so radical that a filibuster was appropriate. They tried, but failed, to organize a filibuster.

But now the Democrats are the majority and their candidate for the Court of Appeals is far from the mainstream of American thought. Suddenly, personal criticisms of the nominee are unfair. Says DiFi: "Professor Liu's critics are all 'attack, attack, attack,' which is unfair because he is exemplary." So it's perfectly OK for the Democrats to summarily dismiss a nominee based on his legal philosophy, but unfair if Republicans attempt to do the same thing. And so far, at least, the Republicans haven't threatened a filibuster despite having sufficient votes with the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

The Judiciary Committee hasn't completed its vetting of the nominee, but dangerous indicators are showing up that Liu has no intention of being impartial once on the bench. Though I have yet to be convinced that the Senate should do anything other than review the Committee findings and take an up or down vote, I'm beginning to smell some things that might indicate a filibuster would be in order. And the primary one would be Liu's views on the death penalty.

Liu is an anti-death penalty zealot. Liu has made it very clear that he thinks the Supreme Court's decisions on the death penalty since Roberts and Alito joined the Court have been wrongly decided. And his grounds for that belief? Liu decided that the high court upheld death penalty verdicts in such a way as to lead "to a conclusion of racism." Three of the four cases he referred to involved African-American defendants, so that automatically means the affirmation of the death penalty verdicts was, ipso facto racist.

Since Liu has never been a judge (unlike Alito), there is nothing to prove that his personal views would not be intimately intertwined with his judicial rulings in the future. Liu has been evasive in providing background material to the committee, and left out reams of his radical articles until they were produced by investigators who were not in the hip-pocket of the Democrats. And then he claimed it was just a simple error on his part. He also directly contradicted himself on several issues in his testimony that were quite different from what he had written or lectured on at UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law. He was unable to explain the disparities.

This absolutist stand on racism and the death penalty should be thoroughly vetted and pursued by the committee before making its recommendation to the full Senate. Unlike the deaf, dumb and blind Feinstein and Boxer, many of us Californians, particularly any who practiced law in California, are aware of where a death penalty opposition purist can go when there is no judicial trail to follow. Law school professor Rose Bird was nominated and confirmed to be Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court by then-governor Jerry Brown. Both Brown and Bird were rabid opponents of the death penalty, which had recently been reinstated in California to conform to the US Supreme Court standards.

Bird swore before the state senate judiciary committee that she would never allow her personal beliefs opposing the death penalty to interfere with her judicial opinions. But of course, there was no judicial paper-trail to follow. Once she was confirmed as Chief Justice, she ruled in favor of the death penalty defendant/appellant in every single case that came before her. Her creation of all new legal roadblocks and crazed logic finally became too much to continue. Sixty-four capital cases came before her, and in all sixty-four, she reversed the death penalty.

Finally, she once again decided that a death penalty case in which the defendant had put five bullets into the back of the head of a victim who was tied to a chair required reversal of the capital punishment conviction. Her opinion stated "the prosecution had failed to prove the defendant's 'intent to kill' the victim." She and two of her fellow leftist judges were voted off the bench by the California voters (governors appoint the justices originally, but then they are subject to voter reconfirmation every twelve years).

Although Feinstein seems to be getting a bit dotty in her old age, she can't claim she doesn't know the story of the ultraliberal Rose Bird. Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco during exactly the same time Bird was Chief Justice. At Bird's confirmation hearing, Feinstein said pretty much the same things about Bird that she's now saying about Liu. Oh, what a tangled web she weaves.

But somehow, Feinstein and Boxer think the Senate Committee should just take Liu's word, as we took Bird's word, that he will not let his personal views interfere with his decisions on the bench. Pretty risky concept, in my opinion. Liu actually testified that unlike his written treatises and lectures at the law school, "I have no opposition to the death penalty. I have never written anything questioning its morality or constitutionality. I would have no problem enforcing the law as written in this area." Well, he's bold. I'll give him that. To emphasize his fairness, he admitted that his language about Justice Alito was "perhaps unnecessarily flowery." Yes, he actually said "flowery."

Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has studied Liu's work carefully, and concludes that Liu would "overrule death penalty convictions given any excuse, no matter how far-fetched." To this California retired lawyer, that sounds frighteningly familiar. Scheidegger believes that on this issue alone, the Republicans should filibuster the nomination if necessary. I'm not sure I agree yet, but I'm not willing to rule out the possibility. It could be a very close call, and it would only take one Republican defection to turn a principled stand into the appearance of foolish obstructionism.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Immigration Debate

Ever since Arizona passed its immigration enforcement law, the left has gone crazy trying to stop this. They are terrified that this thing might actually work and will, in the process, expose the lie that immigration reform is such a complex, impossible issue that only an amnesty can work. Sadly for them, they have no idea how to persuade the public. Observe.

The first thing they tried was to tell us that this law was written by angry white extremists who hate Hispanics. But that didn’t fly because polls showed that 70% of the public supported it -- even blacks and many Hispanics. Moreover, the governor’s approval ratings surged 20% after she signed it. So much for the white racists.

So they switched to “this is anti-immigrant.” Polls show that the public supports immigration and we all know that a great many of us are immigrants or children of immigrants, hence, this should upset the public, right? But something went wrong on the way to the victory parade. The public laughed this off. That’s because the left missed the part of the polls that said that while Americans like immigration and love immigrants, they despise rule breakers and illegal aliens.

So the left switched to ridicule, as all sour-grapes types do when they can’t win. Don’t you stupid Arizonans know this is unconstitutional? Well, that’s probably true, at least in part. States can’t conduct their own foreign policy, and deciding who can or cannot be in the country is foreign policy. But, the public says, so what? We like the fact that they’re trying to do something. . . when the Federal government won’t.

So they tried the racial angle again: “This will lead to racial profiling of legal Hispanic residents.” Uh huh, except the public doesn’t see “racial profiling” the way the left does. We find it ridiculous that little old ladies get searched when they board airplanes when the only people who blow up plains are Muslims. We also don’t see any problem with anyone asking you to prove that you live in this country legally. I had to give more information to my cable company than the Arizona cops are going to demand. And how come the left isn’t upset when the IRS pulls out the rubber gloves and flashlights on average taxpayers?

As the left continued to strike out, they switched to another of their favorite tactics: the boycott. But leftist boycotts are a joke. No one cares if places like San Francisco are upset at Arizona, in fact, that’s a badge of honor. Arizona Iced Tea? That stuff’s made in New York idiots, so boycott away! Now they’re going to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks, as if anyone still watches baseball, and the Arizona Cardinals, who won’t play a game until August -- and who don’t play in the NFL as far as I know.

For obvious reasons, none of this worked. So now it’s time to call out the big guns: the “unintended” consequences. Suddenly we are being treated to articles that tell us how people are no longer willing to hire illegal day laborers in Arizona for fear of arrest and that illegal aliens are leaving Arizona in droves. Take that Arizona!

And if that isn't enough, they're promising massive rallies in liberal cities all across America. . . rallies with lots of Mexican flags and anti-American speeches and posters. . . just the thing to swing the public to their side.

Frankly, the left should have stopped while they were behind. But they didn't. The more they whine, the more this law spreads. Texas will be next. Even people in California are looking at this too. And when California is considering something rational, you know the left has lost.

So keep whining lefties, you're doing fine. . .

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San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

Pictured: The Chambers of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As the crime rate soars, the physical infrastructure of the city collapses, the debt grows by leaps and bounds, unemployment soars as businesses leave town by the droves, and the transportation system collapses, the Board this day was considering a resolution by Supervisor Chris Daly to support the Free Tibet movement.

NOTE: And speaking of the Board of Supervisors, Arizona's new illegal immigration legislation has the Board's panties in a bunch. How dare those racist primitives declare war on every brown person in an entire state? Since San Francisco never has racial problems or problems with illegal immigrants (see below), it was a simple matter of course that the Supes would be upset with those white people in Arizona reinstating Jim Crow and slavery.

So San Francisco's governing body has decided it would be a very good idea to boycott all things Arizonan (there is still a question whether that includes Arizona Iced Teas, which are manufactured in New York). What this cash-strapped city needs is to offend an entire state and the 60% of Arizonans who support defending Arizona's sovereign borders. They still need to work out the details so they can arrest illegal Arizonans who come to San Francisco for a visit.

At the same time, a less gutsy Mayor Gavin Newsom has the matter under review, but will be ordering that no public money will be spent on city employees traveling on city business to Arizona. The Board of Supervisors made it clear that our sanctuary city will not tolerate any interference with the tide of illegal immigration, gang violence, drug importation and cartel border wars. Newsom, on the other hand, is a little less sanguine about the whole thing since he has openly defied the Board's order that the police not report illegal aliens to the feds unless they have been tried and convicted of a crime first. Newsom was responding to the citizen outcry over a series of grisly murders committed by illegal immigrants who had been released from custody without having been reported to ICE because they hadn't been convicted of their previous felony charges yet.

Arizonans are, of course, shaking in their boots at the concept of San Franciscans not coming to their state. Barry Broome, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council says" "It's a really poor strategy--hypocritical, grandstanding, and a cheap shot." Because of extensive ties between San Francisco and Arizona, an unnamed source within City Hall has said that the proposed boycott could seriously damage as many as 2500 jobs in San Francisco. Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel Corporation points out that Intel has two chip plants in Arizona with 10,000 employees who will be negatively affected by a Bay Area boycott of Intel products coming from Arizona.

SunPower, an Arizona company, has just completed plans, lauded by Governor Schwarzenegger, for building a plant in Milpitas, a San Francisco suburb. SunPower manufactures solar panels, a concept beloved in San Francisco. But if SunPower loses major contracts because of the boycott, it has no reason to stay in California. And of course there's Hewlett-Packard which is developing flexible display technology with Arizona State University. San Francisco-based Wells-Fargo (which took no federal bailout funds) has dozens of branches in Arizona.

But those are mere details about jobs and income, and how can those be important when brown people are being rounded up in droves and sent off to internment camps by a racist state government? If there's one thing San Francisco considers important, it's principle. Just ask the Tibetans.

NOTE: And since you asked, our racial relations are excellent in San Francisco. Beside the sanctuary policy for illegals, we have watchdog Supervisor Chris Daly to keep us on the straight and narrow. At the most recent Board meeting to discuss the City bailing out the Municipal Transportation Agency, there was considerable discussion about the poor performance of Muni, the ridiculously high wages of Muni employees, the nearly total power exercised by the Transport Workers Union over the agency, and the need to preserve present routes and timetables rather than the elimination of routes and reduced service currently planned.

In case you don't remember his name, Daly is the supervisor who vowed to drop the f-bomb at least once during every meeting of the Board. The proposal before the Board for helping out Muni included some strings. Muni would have to reduce its 10% cuts in service by half. It also asked for concession on wages from the bus and train operators who are now the second highest paid transport employees in the nation. The proposal also said that the money from the City cannot be offset by Muni raising fares any farther than they've already done. But Daly put his finger on the real danger of attaching strings to any Muni bailout.

Daly disrupted the debate with one of his classic manic outbursts. "If the city wants to save money, it should look at agreements with all unions, beginning with the police. Supervisor Elsbernd targeting basically what amounts to a largely black and/or African American union not only has the issue of racial undertones . . ." His rant was interrupted by Supervisor Elsbernd demanding that Daly apologize for calling him a racist, and to cut off the race rhetoric. Presiding Supervisor Mirkarimi allowed Daly to continue anyway.

Elsbernd's completely logical argument is that the transport workers are the only ones whose salaries are rigidly fixed by the City Charter at a guaranteed rate of 90% of the highest paid transport workers nationwide. All other union employees, police or otherwise, have to negotiate their contracts from scratch. Only the transport workers have a guaranteed base from which they can only negotiate upwards. Said Elsbernd: "I just want every union treated evenly and fairly and collectively bargain." Board President Chu finally intervened, saying: "I am concerned about the suggestion that any of us are acting in a racially motivated way." I'm sure this will be very instructive for the citizens of Arizona.

NOTE: And speaking of our sterling record on perfect race-relations, Mayor Newsom has offered a $100,00 reward for the arrest of the young gentlemen who were among the roving gangs of disaffected youths who have been attacking elderly Chinese in the Bayview District. There have been injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to serious physical injury. But this case was a little different. Huan Chen, age 83, was beaten and kicked on January 24 while on his way to visit his ailing wife in a Bayview convalescent home. Huan died of his injuries on March 19. As The Chronicle put it: "The youths attacked him from behind and then fled, laughing."

NOTE: A former San Francisco network engineer was convicted of felony computer tampering. Terry Childs was found guilty of denying computer access to the City that employed him. He has already served two years in jail awaiting trial, so it seems likely the judge will reduce his potential five-year prison sentence by credit for time already served. It's another one of those "only in San Francisco" stories. Childs had the attitude so common among public employees that the City's resources were actually his own personal property. He had systematically engineered the system, which included police records, so that if the City ever got rough on him for some reason, he could block them from access. He had the only passwords that could unlock the system.

The jury did not want to impose the full $500,000 potential fine, since they found the city partially responsible in that it allowed any one person to have such singular and unique power over a major city computer network. Can't say I disagree with that. After Childs was fired for not revealing that he had a felony criminal past, he refused to give up the passwords. Estimates are that it cost the city about $200,000 to remedy the problems Childs had created. It could have been worse. Somehow, Mayor Newsom had a meeting with Childs during his incarceration, and got Childs to give up the passwords, which ended the need for further attempts to reconstruct and repair what Childs had done.

NOTE: And finally, speaking of Chris Daly, f-bombing Supervisor Extraordinaire, there has recently been contentious debate between Police Chief George Gascon and Daly over the proposed anti-bum sit/lie sidewalk ordinance. Daly he wants to consider a lying (as in not telling the truth, not sprawling out on the sidewalks) ordinance at the same time as the squatting ordinance. Says Daly, "If we are to determine what kinds of behavior are acceptable on city sidewalks, I'd like to see the discussion extend on how people relate to one another. At question here is how we best can build better relationships and a stronger sense of community."

Rather than say "huh?," which was my reaction, a spokesman for Mayor Newsom said: "If he's willing to amend it to also prohibit using the f-word during public hearings, it might be worth considering."
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Captioning: Obama Fundraiser

Seen below are photos of Obama's most recent fundraiser with Democratic donors. Here Obama either promises to pass "double plus good financial regulation" or he's bragging about the highly addictive taste of Slurm. At least, that's what I think he just said.

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“I Can Only Promise You Defeat”

Believe it or not, I’m on Obama’s e-mailing list. Yep. I’m one of the millions of people he’s counting on to save his sorry rear end. Boy are they in trouble. Two days ago, Obama operative David Plouffe (left) sent me some words that were supposed to inspire me to get out there and support Team Donkey in 2010. The Plouffer’s main (read: only) talking point seems to be “expect a disaster but maybe it won’t be as bad as we expect.” Woo hoo! I’m sold!

Now, I must say that I found the Plouffer’s e-mail less than inspiring. Actually, I take that back -- it was inspiring, but then I’m on the other side. Seriously, who goes into the big game telling their team:
“Team, we’re gonna get our butts handed to us. But if we work really, really hard, maybe it won’t hurt so much when they rip those suckers off! Now get out there and make this less than a total debacle!!!”
Let’s look at what the Plouffer says. First, he starts by pointing out that a total debacle is to be expected:
“Historical trends aren’t in our favor -- the president’s party generally loses seats in the first midterm election.”
Translation: We’re fighting the inevitable.
“And even though President Obama has taken bold steps like the Recovery Act to put us back on the path to prosperity, escaping from a financial crisis like this one takes time.”
Translation: What we did. . . um, it didn’t work. Yeah, that’s right: we’ve got nothing to show for our efforts. But at least we avoided that financial crisis. Of course, you’re probably wondering why we handed over the Treasury to Wall Street if we actually “escaped” the melt down, but I’m betting you’re too stupid to put that together so just keep reading. . . nothing to think about here. Of course, I’m also betting you’re too stupid to know that the Recovery Act is “the stimulus,” or I wouldn’t have mentioned it.
“The prognosticators and pundits are predicting steep losses for the Democrats.”
Translation: You know those right wing witches and fortune tellers on Fox, well, they’re all against us. Of course, I’m making the same prediction, but, once again, I thank God you people are too stupid to figure that out.
“The Republicans are already measuring the drapes for their new offices, saying that anything short of an electoral landslide that gives them back control of Congress won’t be a victory.”
Translation: This is key, put down the bong and listen up idiots. Anything short of the Republicans taking back the Congress would be a great victory for our side. Got it?!! A great victory! A Waterloo or Stalingrad class victory. Epic baby!
“But these are the same folks who said Barack Obama could never become president. . .”
Translation: Ok, this sounded much better on paper than it does reading it now. I was trying to point out how wrong and stupid these “doubters” are, but that kind of wipes out the sense of danger I’m trying to project. Crud. Not to mention that I doubt any of you can think of anyone who thought Obama couldn’t become President. . . except for maybe Hillary.
“. . . the same ones who said we were trying to do too much, too fast -- and that we’d never pass historic health reform.”
Translation: Now those people you remember right? The people who made vague comments about us not doing things right. Dirty traitors. By the way, whatever you do, don’t check out our record of abject failure.

Oh, and I "get" that everyone hates ObamaCare now, especially since none of you got your free medical cards, but it’s the only accomplishment we have. So deal with it. Seriously, what else did you want me to mention? Copenhagen went to crap. Crap and Trade went down in carbon flames. The stimulus only stimulated anger. Gays, no they’re pissed. Immigration? Nada. Financial reform? Yeah, we reformed the line so we could all stand in it and beg for cash again, that’s about all we did there. So thank your lucky stars for ObamaCare. Oh, and somebody tell Boxer “ichtsna on the riticismca of bamaCareOa!”
“They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.”
Translation: Yeah, that must mean we’re right! Go team!
“I believe we can avoid the nightmare electoral scenario that Republicans in Washington have already convinced themselves will happen.”
Translation: I'm trying to be positive, but it's just not coming. We're doomed, and the best we can hope for is that we can ultimately avoid a total disaster.

I don’t know, call me crazy, but this is less than inspiring. And if this is what the Plouffer thinks will excite his base, well. . . let’s just say I like the team Obama has assembled.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Antiwar Demonstrators Develop MSM Envy

My favorite San Franciscan has reared her Medusa head to complain that the Tea Party movement is getting too much MSM coverage. Cindy Sheehan, who reveled in the spotlight she got by exploiting her own son's death in Iraq and parlaying it into national attention for her crazed political views is now beside herself about the political coverage given to the Tea Parties.

Sheehan claims that the antiwar movement don't get no respect. Says Sheehan: "They're being treated with a lot more respect than the anti-war movement was." quoted her in a sympathetic and ironically long article entitled The Tea Party's Exaggerated Importance. They added: "Now, veterans of those protests--covered largely as spot news and spectacle--wonder why they didn't get the weighty, anthropological (?) treatment assigned to the tea parties."

Where to begin. At least in the early years, the Iraq-Afghanistan antiwar protests got what seemed to be 24/7 coverage. Crowds of two or three hundred were framed by news photographers and network cameramen to look like two to three thousand, while the "reporters" added a zero or two to their reports on the size of the crowds. Talking heads talked solemnly about the deep divides in American thinking, made endless comparisons to the Vietnam war, and used the word "quagmire" at least a hundred times a day.

The pictures shown on TV and the major newspapers were carefully edited to look like genuine political disagreement rather than minor riots controlled by the professionals from every left wing, antisemitic, and just plain crazy group in the nation. The accompanying photo was one of the few I could find in my collection that even hints at just how vile the signage was at those mini-riots. And you weren't seeing the violence at all. Here in San Francisco, bystanders and counter-protestors were assaulted and occasionally beaten by leftist thugs and creeps wrapped in keffiyehs, with other crypto-terrorists wearing the usual masks of Palestinian Israel-bashers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage was done. And that doesn't include the expense of cleaning up the streets after these scummy lowlives were finished for the day. Major shopping hubs, including the massive San Francisco Westfield Centre, were closed down for hours on end almost every weekend because of bomb threats. The Muni and BART subways were closed almost as often, and for the same reason.

So what is Sheehan complaining about? As James Taranto put it in the Wall Street Journal, "Sheehan has a point. The media did not take her crackpot anti-American views seriously and instead caricatured her as a grieving mother. We even called her, on more than one occasion, a 'fascist fishwife,' which is the sort of thing mainstream media reporters would say about tea-party activists if they had our way with words."

It's possible that Sheehan hasn't noticed that one of the reasons that the Tea Parties get so much coverage is the lack of intimidation and genuine violence that characterized the antiwar demonstrations. It takes a lot of air time and ink to work diligently to find an occasional over-the-top Tea Party sign which would "potentially lead to violence." At the antiwar demonstrations all you had to do is look for smashed shop windows and bloodied faces. It takes even more time and ink to find the incidents of violent Tea Party protests since, well, there aren't any.

Likewise, there's a lot of coverage of great intellects like Janeane Garofalo and Keith Olbermann explaining in detail how Tea Partiers are violent racists. And then there's the equal amount of time given to politicians reading the writing on the wall and making lame apologies for earlier intemperate remarks about the Tea Party protestors. Like Steny Hoyer, the growth on Nancy Pelosi's backside. He regretted calling vocal opponents of health care un-American, but still called the language of the Tea Partiers and Republicans "similar to the fiery rantings of a controversial Depression-era priest sympathetic to the Nazis." As Taranto puts it, "Hoyer doesn't think you're un-American. He's the first to acknowledge you're as patriotic as any red-blooded Nazi-sympathizing priest!"

The formerly conservative now turned liberal Christian Science Monitor took a slightly different tack in its quizzical mystification at the coverage of the Tea Parties. The article was entitled: "Are Tea Party Rallies Given Preferential Treatment by Police?" Well--yes, you idiots. Of course they are. The Tea Parties demonstrate peacefully. They have speakers and prayers and discussions. Unlike the antiwar demonstrators discussed above, they don't crack heads and break shop windows. They even clean up after themselves.

And since the beginning, the only violence has been the thugs who beat Tea Partiers up for having a different view and exercising their constitutional right to free speech. In all fairness, buried deep in the Monitor article, in the penultimate paragraph, the author states: "To be sure, permitting rules and police preparedness are often developed based on past behavior at various kinds of protests. With tea party rallies so far proving more orderly, police have given them more latitude." Indeed.
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Obama Sells Out Supporters. . . Again

Perhaps the most corrupt agency in the United States is the Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). From the decades spent pimping an upside down food pyramid for the meat industry, to its attempts to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable to save money on school lunches, to the decades-long fight against food labeling, to Team Bush trying to prevent you from knowing if your food was genetically altered or if your milk contains hormones, to the trillions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to huge agribusinesses, the whole agency has been a blight on America. Fortunately, Obama changed this disgrace. Oh wait, no. . . no, he didn’t.

Over the last 100 years of incompetence and whoring itself to agribusiness, the USDA has done many disgraceful things. One of the worst things it’s done has been to utterly disregard its obligation to inspect our food supply, an obligation assigned to it by statute in 1909. The consequences of that have been an ever increasing number of recalls, though these recalls rarely happen until after enough members of the public are poisoned that other agencies get involved. . . and even then USDA resists the recall for a few more days.

But never fear, because Obama is here and he’ll save us all, right? Obama’s different, right? In fact, the left assumed that Obama would finally clean up the corrupt mess that is USDA. They assumed the days of the USDA doing the bidding of huge agribusiness was over. They were wrong.

Team Obama has just introduced a new rule that will require new inspection procedures for meat (13 samples before processing, 13 sample after processing, for each batch). Sounds good right? Not so fast. These rules will cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and their value is dubious. More importantly, the cost is high enough that it will likely wipe out many small producers. One small producer estimates it will add $500,000 a year to their expenses, which they can’t afford.

But safe is safe right? Actually no. It turns out that the safety risks have been disproportionately linked to large-scale producers. The likely explanation for this is that customers of small producers pay closer attention to the producers, and because small producers have much more to lose from any failure, unlike large-scale producers who have little to fear. Notes Greg Higgins, the founding member of the sustainability-focused Chefs Collaborative:
“[The health scares] are all related to large-scale food production, whether it’s spinach from a massive grower in California or ground beef out of the Midwest, they’re all gigantic, they’re never these little plants.”
Dustin VandeHoer of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship also thinks that applying these regulations to small producers makes no sense. He also worries that this will put small plants out of business.

Over the past few years, small producers have made significant in-roads into the market for specialty foods, locally grown foods, and organic foods. This regulation could be all it takes to wipe those small producers out. If the small producers shut their doors, then the small farms from which they purchase will no longer have an outlet for their products. In effect, these regulations could leave nothing but big players in agriculture.

So why would Obama do this? The suspicion being voiced by many is that Team Obama is doing a favor for the large producers who give generously when it comes to political contributions. When regulations makes little sense except to shut down influence-less competitors, that’s usually the reason.

It is also probably no coincidence that the current Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has been in the back pocket of the biotech industry for years. He actually earned an award from a biotech industry lobbying group for passing a law in Iowa in 2005 that prevented local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops could be grown. His nomination was opposed by the Organic Consumers Association because “Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops.”

So much for Obama changing things. In fact, it looks suspiciously like Obama’s as big a tool for agribusiness as every other President before him. Surprise, surprise.

Personally, I’d like to see the USDA gutted. This agency has been corrupt since its birth and has only gotten worse. They need to be returned to an inspection agency that conducts its own on-site inspections. They need to stop protecting producers at the expense of consumers and stop issuing regulations that do little more than throw up barriers to entry. The inspection of our food supply should not be a political game with the booty going to the highest bidder.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

“Nobody Wins on Immigration” Means Democratic Debacle

I can’t help but laugh. The media loves to talk about problems the Republicans are facing. Whatever the issue, it’s the Republicans who are in trouble. Even Democratic scandals always seem to have a “this could hurt the Republicans” silver lining. But every once in awhile we get an issue where the MSM tells us, this time “nobody wins.” To translate that from MSM speak, that means total debacle for Democrats. The latest example is immigration reform.

Right now, the MSM is awash in articles warning us that “nobody wins on immigration.” The Democrats will have a hard time with this issue, we are told, because they are trapped between a rock and a hard place. But rest assured, the Republicans are in just as much trouble because. . . well. . . because.

The rock the Democrats are facing is the wave of Hispanic activists who are threatening to stay home if nothing is done to grant amnesty to all illegal aliens. And no, that’s not an overstatement. Some of these activists speak in the media about protecting “the rights” of illegals or they try to focus just on Hispanic Americans who they claim will be threatened by “xenophobia” and “racial profiling.” But most activists aren’t as careful. Most talk openly of amnesty -- as anyone who has seen any of their rallies or heard any of their speeches or seen any of their interviews can attest. They want total, immediate amnesty. And like all other Democratic interest groups, they won’t be satisfied with any substitute promises. They want it all and they want it now. Which is why they began issuing public threats a couple weeks back that they would stay at home if the Democrats didn’t act now.

The hard place the Democrats face is the American public. No matter which poll you look at, around 70% of the public opposes amnesty. In fact, they don’t just oppose it, they hate it. And that figure typically includes around 40% of Hispanics.

Interestingly, blacks are even more upset about illegal immigration than the rest of America. A full 66% of blacks support building a wall between the US and Mexico, 60% want to impose stiff penalties on employers who hire illegals, and 56% view this as a major issue. (They see Hispanics as a direct economic threat.)

Thus, the Democrats face this Homerian dilemma of Scylla and Charybdis. If they don’t pass an amnesty, they will lose their Hispanic support, which translates into roughly 9% of the population -- which would doom them in many districts, even in liberal leaning states. But if they do act, they risk alienating 60% of the public, even many liberals, which will doom them everywhere.

What’s more, their usual tricks won’t work. They will be inclined to split the baby, by passing “tough immigration reform” that provides meaningless gestures to both sides. But neither side is in the mood to accept meaningless gestures. Moreover, even if the Democrats include a “stealth amnesty,” Democratic activists have shown that they aren’t smart enough to see what they’ve been given and shut the hell up. They will instead protest that they got what they wanted, just not openly enough for their tastes.

Thus, the Democrats not only can’t satisfy both sides at once, they can’t avoid angering somebody no matter what they do. . . even if they do nothing. Sounds like a total loser for the Democrats.

But what about those poor Republicans. This is a “nobody wins” scenario after all, right? Well, to believe that, you need to pretend that you didn’t read what you just read, i.e. you need to forget that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to illegal immigration. Because the case for the Republicans being hurt is that “the public” will see them as “extremists and xenophobes” and will be turned off by their anti-immigrant stance.

Of course, this stupid argument flies in the face of the one before it. If the public is so overwhelming opposed to illegal immigration that the Democrats are in trouble, then the public isn’t going to be turned off by the Republicans opposing illegal immigration. In fact, the only people this will offend are the Democratic activists (and journalists) who already despise the Republicans. Oh no! Moreover, looking at the numbers for blacks, this issue isn’t even going to resonate with them because majorities of them actually agree with the Republicans on this issue.

Further, the public has shown in poll after poll that they clearly distinguish between the issues of immigration and illegal immigration. Unless the Republicans start bashing all immigrants, which they won’t, there is little danger that anyone outside of liberal news rooms will see the Republicans as xenophobes.

Basically, there is no way this issue hurts Republicans. So when you see the next article that talks about this being a no winner or which tries to find the silver lining for Democrats, just chuckle at the mental contortions the journalist had to go through to reach the conclusion they wanted.

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Question: Cast The Administration

A Hollywood casting agent called us last night. They're putting together Obama The Movie and the agent wanted to know who we would cast. I figured we'd throw this open to you. What do you think? Denzel as Obama? Leslie Nielson as Biden? Hitler's corpse as Pelosi? [+] Read More...

America And Supreme Court Nominations

Quinnipiac conducted a recent poll of how Americans currently view Supreme Court nominees and the issues surrounding them, and it yielded some interesting results. Some are even counter-intuitive. The poll was conducted after Justice John Paul Stevens announced his pending retirement and before President Obama has made any final decision on who the nominee will be.

There has been a great deal of speculation about how Obama will make that decision. Perhaps the poll will help him out. For instance, 53% of the respondents "are very or somewhat confident that the president will make the right decision." I don't know how to square that with his other favorable/unfavorable ratings in the polls from the last few weeks. 42% of the respondents thought the nominee will be "more liberal than they would like," while a mere 8% said the nominee would be "less liberal than they would like." 46% "trust the president's decision," while 43% trust the Senate Republicans. Frankly, I don't trust any of them, but I wasn't in the poll.

60% of the respondents supported Roe v Wade, including 42% of Republicans and, oddly, 39% of self-identified conservatives. The poll failed to ask what percentage of the respondents actually have any idea exactly what Roe v Wade decided. 79% agree with Obama that Citizens United was wrongly decided when it struck corporate and union limitations on campaign contributions. That included 82% of Democrats, 79% of independents, 78% of Republicans and 69% of self-identified conservatives. I can't decide if that result comes from very good public relations by the liberal press, or a simple lack of understanding of the legal reasoning behind the decision, a fine point that even constitutional scholars disagree on.

49% of respondents favor original intent/original words/strict construction judicial philosophy. That figure is up from 40% in 2008. 42% think the court should take "changing times and current realities" into account. That's down from 52% in 2008. Still, 78% don't think "judicial norms" have been the only test, and that political views have wrongfully entered into the court decisions. That percentage includes 82% of Republicans, 72% of Democrats, 80% of independents, 77% of self-identified liberals and 80% of self-identified conservatives. Which sounds to me like nobody is very happy with recent decisions.

It also appears that the Republicans should flex their muscles only if Obama appoints a true extremist to Steven's chair. As with the Citizens United case, there is a 47% agreement that a nominee's views on heated issues like abortion and gay marriage should be part of the vetting process, while 43% said it should not. 48% said that senators who disagree with the nominee's views would be justified in filibustering the nominee, while 41% say that a filibuster would not be justified. It's apparent that Republicans should choose the filibuster battlefield very carefully since an aggressive opposition to the nominee based on one or two contentious issues could look highly political and unfair.

Summing it up, the results of the poll are very hard to reconcile with any clear strategy for the President or the Senate. The best conclusion I can come up with is that since the respondents largely agree that the President will appoint someone about as liberal as Stevens, and don't seem terribly bothered by it, Republicans would be well-advised to vet the nominees very carefully and thoroughly, and vote the nominee up or down. Only in the event that the nominee is, or seriously appears to be, an extreme far-left living constitutionalist who will ignore precedent and regularly thwart the will of the people and their representatives should they pull the nuclear option of the filibuster.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Financial Regulation Shell Game

Nothing demonstrates the sad state of Washington politics more than the financial regulation going on in Washington at the moment. Over the last couple of elections, the American people, both left and right, have said “enough” to special interest influence and government handouts. But like addicts, Washington can’t stop itself.

Everyone agrees that America’s financial regulations are a mess. There are dozens of different, overlapping regulatory schemes, many created during the Great Depression and supplemented ad hoc as problems arose. These piecemeal regulations overlap and conflict, but also, strangely, leave glaring gaps. This has allowed savvy financial institutions to slip between cracks by cherry picking the regulators they wanted and then sliding through those gaps. This was a disaster waiting to happen, and the financial meltdown was that disaster.

The problem, however, with fixing this is fully on display at the moment. Rather than approaching these regulations rationally, as the public demands, or vindictively, as the left demands, Washington has turned this into an orgy of interest group politics. Money is pouring into both parties in record numbers. Obama took in $40 million dollars from the financial sector during the 2008 presidential campaign -- McCain took in $29 million. This year, the DNC has taken in $9.9 million from the sector. The RNC has taken in $5.2 million. Individual Senators and Representatives have taken in even more.

And, of course, you get what you pay for. Republicans and Democrats both have bent over backwards to hand out favors. The Republican Congress and Bill Clinton removed Depression-era safeguards that kept commercial banking and investment banking separate -- this allowed the creation of these mega financial institutions (“too big to fail”). The Democrats, particularly Barney Frank, kept expanding the scope of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the cause of the financial meltdown. Moreover, in 2003, the Democrats, led by Frank and his many connections at Fannie and Freddie, resisted Bush administration efforts to strengthen the regulation of those institutions. And in 2008, Bush and the Democrats passed the biggest bailout in human history.

So now they try again. But once again, the interest groups are running the show. The Democrats talk big about punishing Wall Street to placate their followers, but they have managed to produce regulations that are truly staggering in how interest group friendly they are. When the Democrats introduced the original bill it contained dozens of new provisions that were intended to clean up these regulations. Many of these regulations were quite good. Some were horrible.

Slowly but surely, the good regulations were snuffed out after the “Wall Street bashing” Democrats met secretly with the likes of Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and their friends at JP Morgan. Soon, all that was left in the bill were massive bailouts and some “restrictions” that favored large industry players. It should thus come as no surprise that Goldman Sachs lobbied in favor of these regulations. . . at least until the SEC came after them recently. JP Morgan still lobbies in favor of these regulations, except for the part that would hurt them.

Right now, the regulations create a massive pool of taxpayer money and taxpayer guarantees that are ostensibly intended to allow the government to wind down “too big to fail” institutions that fail. What this really means is that (1) there will be no attempt to break up or limit these huge institutions, i.e. too big to fail can continue, and (2) the government is guaranteeing that taxpayers will pick up the tab if one of these institutions fails. In other words, investors and business partners of these institutions don’t need to worry about getting hurt if they take risky bets that don’t pay off, because the taxpayers will protect them -- all in the name of “protecting the system from the failure of an institution that is too big to fail.”

These regulations also will force small players to sell their derivatives through an exchange, the same kind of exchange that sells favors to the big boys. And they will create a “consumer protection” agency, which will be run by industry friendly regulators that are dominated by the big players. This will effectively put the big banks in a position of controlling regulators who have the power to tell smaller banks what they can and can’t do. Must be nice.

Interestingly, the one group that escapes regulation is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of whom give heavily to Democrats. Moreover, Fannie and Freddie have become a dumping ground for former Democratic lawmakers and their friends who want to earn large amounts of money. Fannie and Freddie, by the way, were at fault for the financial meltdown. . . the rest of Wall Street just profited like mad off of it.

What makes this so disturbing is that this financial regulation is a clear indication that Washington doesn’t get it. The Democrats were elected on a platform of putting the boot to Wall Street in favor of the “little guy” -- a standard socialist trope. But once they were in power, they did nothing more than open the government vaults and let their Wall Street friends plunder away. The Republicans, for their part, mindlessly defend every indefensible practice Wall Street can come up with.

What they should be doing is what the public wants: the public wants an end to influence peddling. They want Washington to do the right things, not the things the people with the biggest checkbooks want. They want rational regulations that allow the free market to work, but protect people from predatory practices. They don’t want the government propping up institutions, guaranteeing their risk taking, or letting these hazard grow to the point that an institutional failure can wipe out our country.

It’s time for someone to take a stand. The Democrats won’t do it, maybe the Republicans should.

Update: The Republicans have blocked the first round of this "reform," after they were joined by Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska).

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Film School Follies: Part 21 – Dancing into the Fire IV

By ScottDS
When the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was awarded the D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award by the Director's Guild of America in 1998, he, naturally, didn't fly to the United States to accept it. Instead, he sent them a videotaped message with his acceptance speech. In it, he said this: "Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling." My friend Mike is proof that this is still true.

The following consists of iChat conversations Mike and I had over the span of three days in February. And yes, I transcribed all of this!

The Cone of Silence: Post-Production and GradFest

We had a wrap party for In the Nude at Uptown. It was karaoke night so a bunch of us drunkenly retuned "Piano Man" and Steve and Mike performed "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." There was also a party at Justin's place (I missed it) where Tony broke out his acoustic guitar and Arnie downed a dozen beers without appearing to get drunk at all. "He had some kind of Mexican alcohol gene or something," Mike told me.

Scott: "Let's talk about the opening montage, which was shot in the photo lab after we wrapped."

Mike: "Obviously, it came into my head after I realized Chris was involved. I realized we probably weren't gonna be able to shoot it during [principal photography] so we'd have to shoot it on 24p and make it match. And it looks fine. So we went to Rob and we asked for permission to do it. We got Disco to kind of babysit us where he said, 'I'm not gonna be there. You can do it yourself but [if you have] any problems, you come right to me. And you have a certain amount of time to do it.' And we got Steve, Chris, Laz, [classmate] Debbie... Justin... I invited Ryan #2 but at that point, it didn't matter but I did invite him to participate. Chris and I had blocked it and storyboarded it so we knew what shots we needed to get but after that, we started doing other things. The tough part was that Chris was switching to another medication so he had been off his meds for a week and was in full-blown ADD mode so it took us several more hours than it should have. We borrowed Kit's Panasonic DVX100A [video camera] and Chris was opposed to shooting with it because he said 24p would mess with his After Effects program. In the end, it did but only on one shot. But we got it off, cleaned up the photo lab, and we also shot [the background images] for the poster."

Scott: "I remember two things from that day, even though I only stuck around for a little while. At one point, we talked about using Claudia's risqué photo for the poster. The photo guys had hung it on the wall [with her permission] and I tried to sneak it out of the room so I could scan it but Rob caught me and implied [in front of everyone] that I had less than pure intentions. The other thing was you sent me to McDonald's but apparently, they had discontinued your favorite combo meal or something!"

Post-production went relatively smoothly. Mike, Steve, Chris, and I went to UCF one night to shoot an establishing shot of the building, though Mike wishes he were able to bring the actors along. Mike and Chris also had a difficult time repairing the film's audio track and, even after they were able to salvage it, thanks to the lab "specialists" who produced the class DVD, their efforts turned out to be futile.

Mike: "[The editing lab groups] were randomly assigned and they put me, Paul, Ryan #2, and Mike #2 in one group and I immediately went up in class and said, 'No, we're switching that around' because I knew I was going to edit with Chris. So it was me, Chris, Steve [and a few others who didn't contribute as much, if at all]. We did have to sync our audio [unlike in 16mm when it was synced for us]. I just remember the first day looking at our dailies and thinking, 'Wow, it looks great.' I always look at editing in the beginning like, 'Ahh!' When I see a big group of [objects] all out of order, my first thought is always panic. Slowly, we started to work it out. I remember bonding with Chris. And Chris, being a much more experienced editor than I was… Chris and I had a lot in common and I think that, throughout the process, he kind of gained respect for me, not just as a person but as an artist, too, because a lot of my editing choices [consisted of] getting around certain little issues that we had and Chris' response was very positive. I don't know if it's because he thought I wasn't any good before or what. Once we had our scenes buttoned down, [the next step] was our f---ing audio problem. Chris edited the whole montage at his house and added all the effects and stuff. Then he brought it in and uploaded it to the Avid's server. But we spent a ton of time boosting the audio levels and what we'd do is repeat audio tracks. We'd copy them and repeat them and if you layer several audio tracks one above the other, they start to get a little more volume without any kind of artificial gain or background noise. This seemed to be the best process to make it work."

Scott: "I remember stepping in once while we were busy with Canadians. I just have this image in my head of the Avid timeline with all those audio tracks and wondering, 'What the hell are you guys up to?'"

Mike: "That's what it was. We couldn't figure out what music to [use]. We did an establishing shot of a UCF building but in retrospect, I don't like that we did it because it [looks like something from an old sitcom]. It works fine [but today] I would've done it a little bit differently. For the music, we got lucky. Someone had uploaded to the server the scores from Cowboy Bebop. One of the cool things about that show was it had this funky, jazz-style music and Chris didn't know [the show] but he really responded well to it. So that was a blessing. "My Angel is a Centerfold" which plays over the opening montage... when Chris heard the song, he said, 'It's perfect!' So it all worked till the final moment when we were finishing up and you begrudgingly typed up the credits and I was getting all the company logos (Avid, Chapman-Leonard, etc.). We didn't have more advanced audio tools. There are other advanced audio [programs] that might've helped but we didn't have access to that. To have a film that you knew was great ruined by poor sound was a tough pill to swallow. We also spent a lot of time trying to fix the 360 shot because Tony dipped the camera at one point and you could see the dolly track so we had to reframe the shot, frame by frame."

Mike #2 had put together a closing montage of outtakes and set it to Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" from the James Bond film of the same name. Ironically, when I showed this movie to some co-workers at MGM (Bond is their cash cow) during my days as a temp file clerk, the boss walked by and asked, "Did you guys pay for that?!"

Mike: "The Avid was on a network so we had access to everyone else's edits. I just wanted to do one more gag at the end and Mike #2, in his boredom, had done a montage of outtakes with credits on them. I thought it would be funny [but if] I had to do it over again, I would've taken the credits out of it and just shown the montage with music as a goofy bonus thing. I didn't tell Mike #2 that [we included it in our edit]. Chris [also] thought it was funny. We wasted so much time on the audio and it made what happened after even more disheartening. We did our final mixdown. We did everything right. We get to GradFest where we premiere the film and [...] apparently, whoever handled the DVD transfer f---ed it up and almost all the work we had done to correct the audio wasn't there. It's like he took it and rendered it only using the first audio track and completely ignored [everything else]. I was very upset and right away, I noticed it. I was proud of the film and I was listening to the laughs but there were some places people didn't laugh because they couldn't hear it. It was very, very disheartening and [we] trusted that these idiots would get it right. It taught me [yet another] lesson at Full Sail: never trust anyone with your stuff. I probably should've asked to see the final [copy] before they put it on the DVD. We were [just] so exhausted at that point so it's not a big surprise."

Scott: "The two biggest problems I remember from GradFest were: a.) Taste of the Past (16mm film) wouldn't even play. It froze up! And b.) Shooting for the Moon had that weird distortion at the beginning (it's technical). I felt bad for Paul who wrote that film. The unit production managers introduced the 16mm films but writers and directors introduced the 35mm films. Since I co-wrote one and co-directed another, I was the only student who got to speak twice. Do you remember what you said?"

Mike: "I remember the strangest thing happening. I got up to the podium and I kind of froze up. I'd been on stage before but I [ended up] saying this generic 'It was great working on this movie. Thank-you all!' [speech]. I just remember it wasn't what I wanted to say, which is weird since I'm not one to hold back my words. I remember Ryan #2 talking right after me: 'I think this is funny so if you don't, then that's your problem.' It was a good day. I was very proud of what I'd done. I remember when we were in the theater lobby afterwards, Zeb and [yet another Scott], the two 'intellectuals' of the class, they walked up to me and told me how happy they were with what we'd done. [I told them about the audio and other issues] but they were like, 'But you can tell you guys did something real and it looked like you really tried and cared.' So that was great."

We were able to invite our family and friends. My mom and dad drove up, as did some of Mike's family. I had already shown my parents a rough cut of Canadians and, needless to say, other than seeing my name in the credits, they were less than impressed!

Mike: "I remember seeing Derek and all of his little brothers and thinking, 'Oh, there's kids here?!'"

Scott: "Other than a couple of light profanities, none of the films are really that objectionable. And Full Sail wouldn't have let us do anything higher than a PG-13 anyway. I remember at FSU seeing a student film that featured a scene with a topless woman. It wasn't a sex scene, it wasn't meant to be titillating... but I could never imagine doing anything like that at Full Sail."

Mike: "I could've pushed In the Nude further but it didn't need to be."

The Special Edition...?

Scott: "Anything you'd do differently today, in terms of post-production? And any parting thoughts?"

Mike: "I would change some stuff in the middle. When we went to UCF for that night shot [of the building], I probably would've tried to get the actors back to do a couple of things outside. I had this idea of them running up to the building but hiding behind things. Other than that, I guess… no. My parting thoughts are, for me, it was the best experience of my life. I would do it again a thousand times if I had to. There are some improvements [they should make to] the program as far as education and I think they're doable: an audio post class, film music, and maybe a little more on theory, which is always important to learn in any film program. I made lasting friendships that I'll probably have for the rest of my life."

Scott: "Sucker!"

Mike: "For better and for worse, it's still the best thing I've ever done."

A few years ago, Mike and I seriously considered re-editing the film. During post-production at Full Sail, Steve had made a personal copy for himself on digital videotape but we would've preferred getting access to the original film elements. Unfortunately, no one knows if they even exist anymore. Mike was prepared to dub Kit's voice himself to compensate for the shoddy recording quality and we would've enlisted Chris and Justin for help as well. But it's not happening anytime soon. All that survives is the class DVD. Mike and I also talked briefly about writing a feature-length version of In the Nude – the idea being anything we write at first will be crap so we might as well get it out of our system – but that fell by the wayside.

To view the "final" DVD edit of In the Nude, please click here. Mike has adjusted the contrast in certain scenes to improve picture quality. The audio is sourced from Steve's DV copy so what you will hear is actually superior to the version that played at GradFest. And it should be noted, much of the film's, uh, "stupid humor" was added after I left to work on Canadians.

Next week: graduation!
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Illinois - The Tax Us (or Else) State

Now I've seen everything. I thought people in New York and California were the teeter-totter of liberalism, equally balancing the coasts so the country doesn't tip over and slide into the ocean. Well, now the fulcrum of that teeter-totter has been revealed - Illinois. When the following clips were posted on yesterday, I thought they were going to be just more of the hundreds of clips cobbled together of crazy Tea Partiers acting all Constitution-y.  You know, those wild-eyed conservatives waving "Don't Tread On Me" flags and signs demanding smaller government and fiscal responsibility.

Oh, no, this was something all together different. As we all know, whatever President Obama does is deemed historic and a "first" for any President, but the following clips illustrate events that are probably the first of their kind in all of human history. This rally was held on April 21st in Springfield, Illinois...well, just watch...

Oh, there's more...

Well...hmmm...I just don't know what to say. Not only are they demanding MORE taxes, but they are going to hunt down their legislators and force them to raise taxes...or else. It defies logic.

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South Park Gets A Fatwa

South Park recently aired another episode which was, shall we say, not particularly kind to the alleged prophet Mohammed. The most recent version disguised him as a big bear, but that was not Trey Parker and Matt Stone's original version (see picture). Last week he was disguised as Santa Claus. The first time they blasphemed, the Mohammed character was not even in the final cut. He was a disembodied voice outside the door.

The original Mohammed episode was also censored by the Comedy Central execs, and the Santa Claus version wasn't originally intended to be that way, either. Parker and Stone are angry, but positively sweet compared to what the current original version produced from the jihadis. Having found the original version of the recent episode online, a Muslim organization made it very clear that Parker and Stone are now subject to death for insulting the prophet. Abu Talah Al-Amrikee wrote on that "We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably end up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."

Regardless of the disclaimer, this was a threat pure and simple. Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered and nearly decapitated by Muslims who didn't like his tone when discussing Islam. What is any reasonable person supposed to think this was? Whether it is a threat that would qualify as criminal is a separate discussion. It is likely a "conditional threat," protected by centuries of English common law and 220 years of First Amendment guarantees. But a threat is a threat is a threat.

For the third time, the South Park producers caved in to the pressure. They have allowed truly offensive caricatures of Jesus Christ, the Scientologists, liberals, conservatives, and pretty much everything in-between. Only one group succeeds in getting them to censor Parker and Stone. And it isn't those darned Christians who are lurking everywhere prepared to do violence. Nor is it the Scientologists, threatening to sic Tom Cruise on them. It's not even Barbra Streisand threatening to sing "People Who Need People." Nope--it's the purveyors of the religion of peace. Only they threaten to behead those who show disrespect for their god or his prophet, and with some regularity carry out the threats.

OK, all sane people can agree that it was a threat, whether prosecutable or not. But nobody in his right mind says the mainstream media are sane. Ever since the controversy began, the usual suspects have been downplaying the seriousness of the threat. And who better to point to than the New York Times? Following the MSM mantra of "thou shalt never find anything reprehensible about the practitioners of Islam," columnist Dave Itzkoff at first simply wrote that the internet post about Parker, Stone, and the South Park producers "compared the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who was killed in 2004 by a Muslim militant, CNN reported." No mention of the actual threat, let alone the fact the fact that many of these threats actually get carried out. It was just a "comparison."

When the ship really hit the sand over the self-censorship of the South Park producers, Itzkoff felt compelled to expand on his theme. "South Park, the Comedy Central series, is an animated show that tries its best to push buttons and the boundaries of free speech by mocking every high-profile target in sight, from Hollywood celebrities to religious figures." Never mind that in the same week, South Park, uncensored, showed Buddha snorting Coke and Jesus as a compulsive consumer of pornography. But somehow, those didn't offend those dangerous Buddhists and Christians enough to cause the producers to censor the episode as a result of threats.

Itzkoff manages to dance around the Muslim death-threat and defend the Muslim writer of the internet post as having merely stated a warning. "The next day, the South Park episode was criticized (emphasis added) by the group Revolution Islam in a post written by a member named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee." Get it? It was one individual who was just criticizing the depiction of Mohammed. No threat there. Then, channeling the exact same words used by the Islamic extremist in his own defense, Itzkoff repeated the phrase from the post: "We have to warn Matt and Trey . . . ." Wasn't that nice of the jolly Muslim to warn Parker and Stone that they might, maybe, possibly, arouse some negative feelings.

Well, that's par for the course. The Times previously refused to actually print the Mohammed cartoons that brought on violence all over Europe and the Middle East, and criticized those who did. The Times is very sensitive about the feelings of religious folks, so long as they're Muslim. All others, particularly fundamentalist Christians and Catholics, are fair game. Just like the Obama administration, the Times believes in free speech, but only if it's the correct free speech. It's a combination of lack of respect for the true meaning of the First Amendment and pure cowardice. They can go after Christians and Jews, but if ever is heard a discouraging word about Islam, they know they could end up, as New Amsterdam governor Peter Stuyvesant once said, "a few inches shorter at the top."
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Liberal Tolerance At MSNBC

It seems that MSNBC applies a "purity" test for its commentators and hosts which we've warned conservatives about doing on this site. Apparently, it applies to towing the liberal line, but also to the MSNBC sacred cows. Thou shalt not speak evil of Keith Olbermann, lest thee be gagged.

First, I realize that Mr. Olbermann attended a fine Ivy League agricultural college and would point out that I mean "sacred bull." But he will just have to forgive my ignorance from having attended one of those West Coast state universities. Be that as it may, MSNBC host Donny Deutsch was suspended from his duties for a segment he did on Wednesday in which he questioned whether his fellow hosts Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz weren't stirring up "America the Angry" just as much as favorite targets of theirs such as Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.

Oh, the heresy! How dare he? There are no innocents here. When Florida senatorial candidate Marco Rubio first started making headway against RINO Gov. Charlie Crist, Deutsch himself referred to Rubio as a "coconut." That's a liberal insult for anyone who is "brown on the outside, white on the inside." It's both an ethnic insult, and an expression used to deride any Hispanic candidate (or citizen) who does not kowtow to the liberal Democratic powers-that-be. There was quite literally zero reaction from MSNBC management or their audience regarding that remark.

It's OK by MSNBC management to insult any conservative, any Republican, and any moderate Democrat in the crudest possible terms. But when Deutsch pointed out on his show that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, he was quickly gagged. Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, had made some pretty strong statements about the MSNBC hosts, and in February he went after Schultz particularly. When the issue was brought up several times on Deutsch's show, he was rather flaccid in his defense of Schultz and his criticism of Hewitt. That sent up the early-warning flags in the executive offices of MSNBC.

But this week, Deutsch went a bridge too far. In his continuing series America the Angry, he showed examples of conservative rabble-rousing with clips of Rish Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, but he balanced it with similar rants from liberals Ed Schultz, and dangerously, Keith Olbermann. The first clip showed Olbermann venting about a criticism of The One: "You have embarrassed your district, embarrassed your state, embarrassed your party, embarrassed your nation. Shouted at the President like he was a referee at the ball game and you were a drunk in the stands. And you were wrong!"

In the interview, he continued to be very soft on Hewitt. He agreed with Hewitt that Beck is an entertainer, and not a politician to be attacked as if he held public office. Ditto for Hewitt's comments about Limabugh. But he went off the cliff when Hewitt put Deutsch, Schultz and Olbermann in the same bag as the conservative commentators. Said Hewitt: "At the end of the day, don't we kind of elevate you guys too much by saying that you're anything other than just another person on the street spouting off just like there's a guy at the end of the bar and spouting stuff, you just kind of turn the other way." And then the clincher: "When you guys [referring to MSNBC] get rid of Ed Schultz and Keith I'll start thinking that they're actually serious here. Because they are the biggest hate mongers in television." Bingo!

Deutsch made the fatal mistake of replying: "I'm not taking the side of either one." Oops. Then he rubbed salt in the liberal wound. "I could line up 1,000 guys in the room and you can always have guys that are outrageous and over the top. But, why are we even allowing America to believe that these people are really kind of informing our brains? And I'm clearly a guy who's a little farther to the left. My kind of, whole, thing is, like, we've got to calm down a little bit. Forget whether you're a Glenn Beck guy, whether you're an Ed Schultz guy, whether you're a Keith Olbermann guy, whether you're a Bill O'Reilly guy. Just say 'Let them all scream at the wind.' So what?" And then, to add insult to injury, he apologized for the "coconut" remark about Rubio.

Hewitt then came back on the microphone and said: "I didn't say Olbermann or Schultz should be off the air, Donny. I don't hate them. I think they're a joke. I spend my time talking to people like E. J. Dionne . . . and Jonathan Alter. I spend my time talking to smart lefties. I just know Ed's not."

To which Deutsch replied, tying the noose around his own neck: "I guess my point is who are you or anybody to judge where the intellectual high ground is. These are all entertainers in one form or another (emphasis added). Deutsch eventually offered a defense of both Schultz and Olbermann, but the damage was already done. The hammer came down from the MSNBC executive offices. Deutsch is now suspended, and it's not yet known if he will be returning. He is, in his own words, a lefty. He attacks most of the viewpoints of the right as expressed by personalities on Fox. He has not suddenly become a Reagan/Goldwater Republican. But he made the mistake of failing to be "liberal enough" in his defense of Schultz, and particularly Olbermann. Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, Mr. Deutsch.
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Why Hollywood Loves Corporate Bad Guys

Ever notice that almost all bad guys in Hollywood these days are corporations? I know a lot of people on the right think this is an expression of socialism, an anti-capitalist instinct, but it’s really not. You’re reading too much into this. What it is, is lazy writing. Corporate villains are a crutch for unimaginative writers.
Corporations Are Not Your Friends
Before we delve into the reason Hollywood uses corporations as villains, let me point something out: there is nothing inherently “conservative” about corporations. In fact, the opposite is true. Conservatives believe in free markets economics. That means that we trust the decisions of millions of buyers and sellers to allocate resources. Thus, conservatives oppose anything that separates buyers or sellers from their natural incentives, because those separators distort the incentive system that makes markets work. Government support is a classic example of this because it reduces the risk to the person receiving the support and therefore distorts their incentives in favor of taking risks they otherwise wouldn’t.

Corporations are a form of distortion. Corporations separate owners from the costs of their actions, because of their limited liability feature. A normal person will bear the full cost of any harm they cause. But an owner of a corporation doesn’t. They are only liable up to the value of their investment. Moreover, the corporate structure, which provides decision making power to concentrated management teams, distorts decision making because managers and owners do not share the same incentives. Thus, corporations are not acting in the owners’ interests so much as they are acting in the managers’ interests.

Therefore, conservatives should be wary of corporations and should not be knee-jerk defending them. But that is neither here nor there when it comes to Hollywood because Hollywood doesn’t grasp anything about corporations or incentives, and it doesn’t care. Its only interest in corporations is that they are easy to use as villains.
Why Hollywood Writers Love Corporations
Hollywood uses corporations as villains because corporations have certain built-in traits that make them ideal for hack writers to use as villains. Consider this:

1. Inoffensive Villains. If there is one thing film producers don’t want in a blockbuster, it’s something offensive. They want everyone to see their “masterpiece.” Corporate villains are not offense. Why? Because corporations don’t instill loyalty in the public like countries, governments, ideologies, or even people do. If I make the United States the villain, then Americans will be angry. If I make the Pope the villain, then Catholics will be angry. If I make The Happy Bunny Munitions Company the villain, nobody gets bent out of shape. Indeed, the use of corporations is the easiest way to avoid offending anyone in the selection of your villain.

2. Easy Motives. Corporations also let you avoid the whole messy motive thing. Why does your villain want to blow up the moon again? If you choose religion or ideology, you’ll offend people. If you choose “because” or something that makes no sense, you’ll lose your audience. The use of corporations as villains lets you skip this problem. All corporations are motivated by money, everyone accepts that. So if you can somehow mumble enough words to make people think the plan will result in an improvement on the corporation’s bottom line, then you’re good to go.

3. No Troubling Back Stories. Best of all, corporations are born fully formed; they require no back story to explain how they got the things they have. Where exactly did Goldfinger (a noted sole proprietor) find all those henchmen? Heck, make him a corporation and you don’t need to worry about it. We all know that corporations all have military contracts, which will put them in contact with ex-military killers and give them access to high tech stuff. Right? Seriously, all the hack writer has to do is make the villain a corporation and they suddenly no longer need to explain (1) how the conspiracy formed, (2) how they got their facilities, (3) where they get their henchmen, (4) where they get their money, or (5) how they get all that cool stuff they use throughout the movie.

Indeed, because all corporations have secret “military divisions,” they can have access to the same sophisticated military hardware that the US military has and no one thinks twice about this. In fact, we’re even ready to believe they have stuff that even the military hasn’t seen before because they are developing it for the government. Problem solved without a word of explanation.

4. Easy Twists. Corporations have murky structures, thus they are rife for twists. Because corporate structure are malleable, it’s easy to create conspiracies within corporations where some people are aware of the evil activities and others aren’t. That lets the writer pick and choose who in the corporation is part of the plan and who is an innocent pawn. This allows the writer to place an unsuspecting person inside the organization who can help the hero at a critical time (usually with a computer code) without having to explain why one of the henchmen would suddenly change their minds and help the hero.

This also allows the writer to pull the old cliché of having people run to the boss, only to discover too late that the boss is in on it! Oh my, didn’t see that coming! Or it allows the cliché twist that the boss really is unaware of the evil under their nose and will now work to stop the bad guys. Again, no explanation of any sort is needed to explain the boss’s motivations in either direction except to note that they did or did not know about the conspiracy. Heck, this here movie almost writes itself!

5. Ease of Destruction. Finally, even a hack writer will need to end their movie. Sadly, this can be very difficult when you don’t know jack about the world and your characters are a mess. But using a corporate villain can solve this problem because anything can kill a corporation. Indeed, using a corporate bad guy gives you a maximum range of solutions from killing the right person, to exposing the entire corporation, to exposing just the right person, to bankrupting the corporation, or even just hitting the right delete key (because people never back up computers).

This comes in very helpful when you don’t have a clue how to plot your way from the initial discovery to an actual ending. Instead, after you blow some time, you just arrange a quick scene where the hero does the thing that will defeat the bad guy(s) and then let the credits role. Basically, by making the villain a corporation, the writer can tack on any sort of mindless ending and people will believe it.
Those are the real reasons Hollywood loves corporate villains, not ideological opposition to corporations. Corporate villains are nothing more than a fool proof crutch for hack writers that allow a movie to run from beginning to ending in 98 minutes with little or no depth or explanation, but with easy believability. Corporate villains don’t offend, they require no back story, they require little discussion of motive, and they are rife with ready-made clichés, not to mention that they require no careful plotting to be undone. It’s like a hack-writer’s dream!

It’s not about ideology, it’s about lack of imagination.

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