Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What More Can She Do?

Now anyone who has read a few of my blogs on politics will know that I'm not a very big fan of Sarah Palin. Of course some would say that that's putting it very very mildly, but it's true. I just can't understand how an educated person who is being objective can look at Palin and actually consider that she would be a good candidate to be President of the United States. I'm not basing it on her level of education (or lack thereof as the case may be). I'm not basing it on her political affiliation and I'm most certainly not basing it on her looks. No. I'm basing it on how she presented herself to the American people in the run up to the elections in November 2008 and how she has continued to carry herself in the months since. Palin has certainly not shied away from the spotlight and continues to try and remain relevant in the public's eye and I'm afraid it's not necessarily helping to portray her in a positive light.

But I should quantify what I state shouldn't I? Okay. Well let me try to articulate my thoughts as best I can. After all, I'm no speech writer and I haven't been the Governor of a state (not even for an incomplete term like Palin) and I certainly haven't been a Vice Presidential nominee so if my views are a bit simplified, it's because I like to think of myself as a relatively normal person. In the nearly year and a half since President Obama took office, the Republican party has attempted to prevent any of his proposals or legislation that he supports go through Congress. It's part of the reason why the Health Care debate raged on as long as it did. Republicans hope that by showing a united front, they can win back control of Congress and then keep President Obama from enacting anything else. And how do they do that? Simple. By doing the same thing that Palin has been doing almost since Election Day in 2008, spewing vitriolic hatred and falsehoods about everything under the sun while milking a gullible public for all they're worth.

What do I mean by gullible public? Well it's those people who foolishly think that Sarah Palin is the greatest thing to come about since sliced bread. They believe that she has the answers for the future of our nation and while that's a very optimistic assumption, I have yet to hear or see anything from this woman that even resembles a plan. Criticizing the President or the opposition party? That's not a plan; that's rhetoric. That's simply pandering to the crowds that believe that Obama is the worst thing to happen to this country since Bill Clinton. These are the people who believe that Obama is a communist even though they can hardly spell it or even state the tenets of communism.

Since leaving the campaign trail and then leaving the governorship of Alaska, Palin has not really done anything to improve her standing among those who aren't already counted among her mindless followers. She hasn't attempted to propose alternate ideas, she hasn't proven that she's trying to learn more about world affairs or how to improve our national security. Other than railing against the Obama Administration against not having invaded Iran as yet, she hasn't said anything about world politics or the economy. She will spout a catchphrase to tell you what she thinks is wrong with this country right now but not a single word about what she'd do different. You know why? Because she doesn't know and neither do the so-called advisers around her. She now spends her time writing books, flaunting her son Trig (when politically or socially to her benefit) and now she's getting ready to launch a limited series on Alaska on the TLC Channel on cable.

Why? Why should she talk about Alaska? Just because she's a former governor? Or because she thinks America should learn more about the 49th state? Or because the anticipated payday will help fill her coffers for her Presidential run in 2012? Well perhaps I'm being too harsh. Perhaps she truly cares for her home state and wants the American public to know more about it. I mean after all, TLC is the network that showed us the dysfunctional and truly screwed up lives of Jon and Kate Goselin and their 8 children. What are they now but punchlines for jokes? Is that what Alaska wants for itself? Again, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Perhaps the show will do well. That is until Palin decides to leave the show halfway through to prevent the elite media's attention from focusing on how she is exploiting Alaska for her own gains rather than to educate people. At least I'm hoping that we can see a shot of Russia from her yard.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Goodbye Jack

At last it's official. Jack Bauer will no longer have the worst days of his life and no longer will we, the loyal '24' audience be able to watch and enjoy the often adventurous and twisted plots that exemplified life for the characters on '24'. After last season, which took place in Washington, DC, I had somewhat higher hopes for this season seeing as how it was supposed to be set in New York City. I mean after all, New York, the City that Never Sleeps, why would it be boring? But somehow the show managed to find a means of becoming so and now, as ratings continued to decline, the powers that be at Fox decided it was time to pull the plug on the loud ticking clock.

I started catching up on '24' a couple of seasons after it had already been on the air. I used to have marathon weekends where I would not have class or any work and I would watch back to back to back episodes and I managed to get caught up in no time. Since then I have been watching on television alongside the regular audience but I can tell you, I have noticed a few things in all that viewing that led me to believe that such a show couldn't sustain itself perpetually and I'll attempt to explain why. Firstly, while the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) where Jack and his co-horts work is supposed to be a relatively secret organization that operates within the United States, a lot of people know about it. It's location is fairly well known and terrorists often staged strikes against their headquarters. I can't think of a season where CTU wasn't attacked in some scheme to knock it out of commission.

And that's not the only rotating plot point that the show seemed to latch onto. There were many plot and sub-plot points that seemed to carry on from one season to the next. While I'm sure it was based on some survey of what plot elements random audience members enjoyed, it wasn't the best thing to repeat season in and season out. What am I talking about? Well again, you'd assume that since CTU is an elite security apparatus within the United States, the security requirements to get a job there and to gain access to classified material would be difficult. Yet almost every season, the agency has been penetrated by rogue agents or spies from other countries or terrorist groups.

Okay I grant you the first time, it could happen. But after that, don't you think the security procedures and screening would increase to the point that getting a job there would be harder than doing linear algebra without a calculator? I would like to think so but that's not the case. Terrorists continue to infiltrate CTU with reckless abandon and the leaders there seem powerless to do anything. Suddenly don't you think the audience would begin to view CTU as a relatively powerless (and therefore meaningless) organization? I think even the other agencies in the show seem to think that. Like when CTU was hit with an electro-magnetic pulse device recently this season, when Jack Bauer contacted the NSA to request their help, it seemed as if they were completely unaware that an attack had occurred on US soil.

Now perhaps for the sake of cinematic (or television-atic) liberties some elements like these are left in but then you have to wonder, do people really think that it's plausible anymore? After all, the Bush Administration left our country with a legacy of interdependent agencies that are supposed to know what each and every other agency is supposed to be working on in the interest of promoting greater security, so then are we really supposed to believe that Jack Bauer is the only real person on the case (even when he's tried to retire multiple times in the past)? I mean seeing as how CTU is hiring people like Freddie Prinze Jr (who really needs to learn to stop breathing through his mouth all the time) to serve as replacement Jack Bauers? Perhaps it is definitely time to retire the series while it has a shred of believability and integrity left.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Country Is This?

This past weekend, history was made with the passage of the Health Care Reform bill which had been making the rounds in Congress for months now. While not everyone is too thrilled with the passage of the bill for various reasons, it's the reaction in some parts of the nation that has me a bit confused and concerned about the state of my nation. Firstly, while I agree that everyone has the right to protest the actions of their government, I think there's a way to go about doing it. The so-called Tea Party Movement which has been gaining steam since the election of President Obama seems to be at the forefront of the movement afoot to cause as much trouble and raise as much awareness as it thinks it can without much thought given to how it goes about getting the message out.

All weekend there were news reports about the protests and counter-protests in DC regarding the passage of the bill and it was with some surprise that I awoke Monday to hear that the bill had passed, but what surprised me even more were the reports coming in that members of Congress (largely Democrats since no Republican voted for the bill) were being heckled and harassed to the point of threat. Reports started coming in about African-American congressional leaders being called racist names or being jeered about their sexual orientation. Tea Party sites were listing the home addresses of Congressional members who had voted in favor of the Health Care Reform Bill. Virginia Representative Tom Perriello's brother reported to the authorities that someone had come to his Charlottesville home and cut the line to the propane gas grill in his backyard. Now some might argue that this isn't proof that someone is attempting to sabotage or attack his family but it's a bit hard to argue against it when you hear that the address to the house was given out on a Tea Party website encouraging Tea Party followers to go to his house and "express their thanks for his vote".

Now I am all for freedom of speech and freedom of expression but I didn't know that these freedoms also included threatening others and insulting them in public like this. Sure we've had leaders we didn't like but I can't recall a time when there was this much anti-government sentiment being spewed and I can't help but feel that a lot of it not only has to do with what actions the government is taking but also due to the race of the current President. Now I'm sure many people won't agree with my saying that but it's the truth. The automatic assumption that many people make is that whatever decisions that Obama or the government is making is solely motivated by the desire to make the government take control of the country thus promoting socialism. They point to things like the bank bailouts or automotive industry bailouts as prime examples but wasn't this one of the last things that President Bush did before leaving office? If it was acceptable then why do these bitter members of American society now object?

I'm not blindly supporting or standing against the President based solely on his race or his attempts at improving the state of the nation but what I try to do is to educate myself on what these new bills or efforts by the government really mean. For Republicans to stand up in Congress and accuse fellow Congressional leaders of being "baby killers" (despite attempting to argue that they were talking about the bill rather than the actually congressional leader) is really repulsive to me. It seems that many leaders from the GOP are reverting to becoming children and attempting to spread lies and falsehoods in an effort to garner favor with an increasingly radical support base. I'm sure if similar actions had been taken against the Bush Administration in their run up to the war, protesters would have been lynched and hung in order to show that if you aren't with the country then you're against it. So then I ask again... what country is this because it certainly isn't the America I have grown up in.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Younger People Less Apt to Drive? I Think Not

I read an interesting article over the weekend that I don't necessarily agree with but it came to some interesting conclusions which obviously had some thought behind them. The article was about a study that had been conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Department. According to the report, there have been increasing signs that drivers 30 years old and younger are driving less these days and they had a couple of reasons why they believed that to be the case. One of the main reasons was listed as the desire to reduce their 'carbon footprint' and become more environmentally friendly. The other big conclusion was that computer-based and virtual social networking has reduced the time that many young people would have ordinarily spent searching out their friends and socializing in person. Now while these are logical conclusions, I don't necessarily agree with them.

Take for example the fact that the report finds that more and more young people are turning to mass transit for their business and social transportation needs. Perhaps a lot of them are being motivated by environmental concerns and wanting to make the world a 'greener' place but I have an alternate theory behind the uptick in public transportation usage. Have the people on the Council actually driven through normal Washington Metro area traffic? Back up on I-66 can begin as early as 5:30 in the morning and doesn't subside until late-morning or early-afternoon. Elsewhere, getting into the city or around the Beltway can be a trial in and of itself. Having been a commuter in the area I can't tell you how often I have cursed the traffic Gods and wished for a better commute to no avail. But still, given the fact that gas prices are going up and getting into the city isn't getting easier then that's wonderful news environmentally speaking but it isn't accurately indicating why public transportation is experiencing increases.

Want to go to a game or meet friends in DC for drinks? Wonderful idea! Want to avoid getting pulled over at a checkpoint for a sobriety test? Then take public transportation. And speaking of going out drinking, yes, social networking has virtualized a lot of the meeting and greeting that apparently led to a lot of people driving to and fro around the area to meet and discuss the next social plan they wanted to carry out. But now that they can carry it out virtually they can simply decide ahead of time and then use public transportation to get to their destination and back home again so that they can get as sloshed as they want without concern about being pulled over or knowing when to say when. Now perhaps that's a more responsible means of having a good time but I guess that wouldn't look like a very good reason why younger drivers are on the decline in a government Council report.

If the Council truly believes that their conclusions as to why fewer people are on the roads are true then that doesn't explain to me why traffic in the area is still so bad (and seems to be getting worse). Depending on where you need to go and at what time of day, the trip can take up to three times longer than it would when traffic is at it's non-peak time. The Council's report even states that at peak driving times (which is a euphemism for 'rush hour') drivers over the age of 65 are less likely to be on the road. So if we have fewer younger driver and fewer older drivers then is all this traffic being caused by a massive population between the age of 30 and 65? That's a pretty sizeable population given how often I sit in traffic these days.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Change is a'Comin'

If you're a Redskins fan, looking at this picture probably reveals something you haven't seen for a while. A really long while. And that's Dan Snyder (in the center) smiling an honest to goodness smile as opposed to the photos we'd usually see of him around this time of year where he's smiling a "hey-we-just-signed-the-marquee-name-of-ten-years-ago-now-pay-through-the-nose-to-witness-mediocrity" smiles of seasons past. That's not to say that things are going to be all peachy keen swell this season, or even next season but given the way things are going this year, there's definitely some new direction being taken by the team.

Typically, the night when free-agents could be signed usually resulted in some queasiness on the part of fans in this town, largely because most every year of the past decade has seen morning come with the announcement that a big name for a position that was already filled was now to be occupied by a big name that cost millions upon millions of dollars. Most of the time it meant that Washington had signed a player well past their prime, on the cusp of retirement looking for one last major payday during which he'd be able to make some money in order to retire comfortably. And the side result was that just as often, rather than fostering the growth of younger players, they were let go only to go somewhere else where they could prosper.

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote an interesting article today in which he talked about some of the changes he's seen, one of the main ones being how respect is being shown throughout the organization. Now granted, Jason Campbell may not be the next Tom Brady, and the signing of Rex Grossman notwithstanding and the fact that scouts are looking at Tim Tebow, Campbell's been showing a lot of grit given how many times he ended up on the turf last season. He has definitely put out for the team and though he has been potentially tendered for next season, the fact that he hasn't just been let go is a sign that his contributions have been noted and that if there's no sudden revelation that he can be supplanted by another player (potentially with loads of more success) then I think it would be wise to keep him. If anything he's proven that he can learn new offensive schemes. He's done it practically every single season he's been here in DC.

But what about the guys on the team who talk the talk but can't (or don't) walk the walk? Some of them have either been tendered as well or have simply been let go. I was surprised when I heard about ten players on the team that were let go at the start of the free agency period. Most of them were what I would term 'big-name-players' for the team yet they were let go. I think part of it is because new coach Mike Shanahan realizes that he needs to build a team that will suit his needs but not only that, he needs to build a team that won't be a flash in the pan so to speak. Over the past decade there have been moments where it seemed the stars were finally aligning for the Skins only to have a galactic wind blow through and change everything once again. Maybe this time the team will be able to keep things together to find the road to victory. I certainly hope so.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Everyone is Irish Today

The Irish people state that on March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish. And if this photo from South Korea has anything to say about it, I think the Irish are correct. For years now I have celebrated St. Patrick's Day by wearing green, initially to avoid being pinched by people in school but now to take part in the fun. But as is always the case in such festivities, it is easy to forget why the celebrations are held in the first place. I mean when alcohol and revelry is involved, people generally don't need a reason to celebrate (that too to excess at times) but it's good to at least have an inkling of why we celebrate St. Patrick as opposed to many of the others out there. So I decided to do a little research into why St. Patrick is considered important in Ireland and consequently, around a large part of the world.

The story goes that as a child, St. Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Roman Britain and taken to Ireland to become a slave. While in captivity he apparently had a dream in which God came to him in a vision and told him to escape and make his way to the coast where he would be picked up by a ship and returned home. Following through on his vision, Patrick did indeed return to Britain and soon thereafter joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest. Ironically enough, he returned to Ireland many years later to help spread the word of Christianity and to help convert the aristocracy and nobility to the preferred religion. One of his methods? Using the three clovered shamrock to relate to the people the concept of the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Again, a symbol that is often associated with the holiday but for many of us, a complete mystery as to its importance.

As a result of his efforts (which were largely successful), Patrick was considered an important personage in the establishment of the Irish Church and was consequently highly revered among Orthodox-English-speaking Christians from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the United States. Although he was never officially canonized by any Pope, he is still part of the List of Saints and remains an important icon in the Christian religion. As the years went on, in order to honor his service to his religion and their followers, celebratory feasts were held on the date that was commonly accepted to have been his death date, March 17th. Over time the celebrations continued and soon thereafter it became not so much a religious holiday as a holiday in which merry-making and partying became the norm.

Now looking at what all is done in celebration of St. Patrick's Day I can't help but feel a bit disappointed. While it's wonderful to be able to celebrate the opportunity to have a party in mid-week or to wear green without objection for the whole day, I can't help but think about how many people may not know why we celebrate this holiday. Not being a Christian, I wasn't as aware of the importance of St. Patrick to the religion and why he's so venerated. Knowing a bit more now I feel that while we should celebrate St. Patrick's Day not just because it gives us another excuse to enjoy a Guinness (which is always a good thing) but also because it celebrates a person who served his religion faithfully in a country where he certainly had reason to hate given the circumstances early in his life. But I think he took the teachings of his religion to heart and wanted to spread hope to another country. Now that's worth celebrating.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Making Sense of the Census

Well it is time once again for that ten year tradition, the US Census survey. Now there has been a lot of talk in recent years by politicians whereby they have managed to spread fear and misunderstanding about a function of the government that is meant to ensure that the people are given a voice in their government. I suppose there are those in Congress and in other parts of the government who don't really know how government is supposed to function in the first place who spend a lot more of their time continuing to promote fallacies about the census in order to gain political favor with their party or to promote false fears against the government.

So then what is the purpose of the census? Well it is the way in which the government gathers statistics about the population, their location, their ethnicities, etc. in order to figure out how to redistrict and reallocate representation within the government. For example if ten years ago there was a part of Virginia that had a very miniscule population, it would have been rolled under another district. But now ten years on there may be a very sizeable population in that same region which could require the addition of a district on congressional maps and would mean the need for additional representation within the government. What it isn't is a way for the government to track us individually and to keep tabs on the population. Despite a lot of the fearmongering that appears to be going on, the government isn't really going to resort to using a paper census as a means of tracking us.

After all, if we were to believe that the government was capable of keeping such close scrutiny on all of us wouldn't they do it by some other means other than asking you to fill out a paper form? I mean if we want to believe the big brother paranoia that some in Congress are espousing then the government would be watching our every keystroke on the internet, our every phone call via the cell networks of the country, every library book we ever check out. That being said, people like Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has publicly stated that she would only respond by indicating how many people lived at her home and nothing more of the ten questions being asked on the census. She and others seem to want to perpetuate the belief that the government is looking to keep closer tabs on everyone in order to control them.

This is the very same type of paranoia that helped launch the Red Scare during the 1950's and led to a great deal of mistrust of the government during the 1960's and all through the Vietnam War. If people like Bachmann really wanted to be a contributing member of society and of our government then perhaps she should spend her energies educating her constituents rather than attempting to instill them with fear. After all, it's possible that through redistricting, she could be out of a job if it comes to pass that her seat is no longer needed. So what that means is that it's in the interest of most people within the higher echelons of government to promote the census rather than raise doubts about it. After all, it's their job on the line.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Value for the Money

Let's play a hypothetical situation for a moment. Let's assume that you have a choice between two cars. The basic requirements that you have is that it carry a family of four and give you cargo capacity enough to lug around a week's worth of groceries and additional items as needed. These are the minimum expectations that you have for your target vehicle. Now supposing you were to look at two options. The first is an older model car that has been around for a while and meets all requirements in a proven chassis that can carry the required load though not much more than your current vehicle.

Now supposing for a second option (and for slightly more money) there is another vehicle which offers greater cargo capacity and passenger capacity along with a modular design which means you can alter the vehicle to carry more cargo or passengers depending on your requirements. Price wise it isn't all that much more either, plus it uses newer technology and again a proven chassis. Now for the final comparison, assume that the older model is still in the speculative design phases while the other one is already out and available for production should you wish to purchase it. What would your decision be?

This speculative analysis is more or less what the Department of Defense was faced with when it was comparing the bids of Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS for the KC-X Tanker Replacement for the United States Air Force. Looking to replace their aging fleet of tankers that are older than most of the current crop of Air Force officers (and their parents in some cases) the DoD has been looking to get a contract awarded for nearly a decade to no avail. In the wake of ethics scandals at Boeing and complaints that Northrop Grumman/EADS went 'beyond' the quoted requirements in their design, the competition has been languishing. In 2008 it seemed that there was finally a breakthrough and that the decision had been made but once again questions as to the motivation of the decision were raised and the contract was again rescinded.

Now the way I see it, I have a stake in this decision. As a taxpayer, it's my money (in some way, shape or form) that helps fund the purchase of these aircraft. That being said then it makes sense that the efforts by President Obama and the rest of government to bring transparency to some levels of government spending would get so much press time. Unfortunately what is often spread in the media is spun to such a degree that even spiders would be jealous. The reason I say this is because one of the reasons why there was such resistance in some levels of Congress to the NG/EADS award was due to the assumption that this would mean that foreign made products are taking potential jobs away from American workers and that's definitely not the case. While some components would be assembled in European factories, the actual assembly was slated to occur in the United States. Unfortunately that won't happen now because Northrop decided to withdraw from the competition after the latest batch of product specifications came from the government.

According to statements from the company, the decision was made because it seemed that the new specifications were heavily in favor of what Boeing was going to propose and so Northrop decided that it didn't make sense financially to continue investing in something that was clearly leaning away from them. While I agree with that, I think it completely reverses what Obama and a lot of Congressional leaders like McCain had been pushing for in the first place which was an end to the monopoly that certain defense contractors had over certain sectors of the defense industry. The reason this whole scandal started was because there was evidence that no competition was originally held and an under-the-table deal meant money was given to certain officials to ensure that Boeing won the contract in the first place. By constantly playing a shell game and changing requirements, it gave the illusion that change was happening but it clearly wasn't. It was simply business as usual.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sharing the Road Goes Both Ways

Before I was old enough to drive I used to go lots of places on my bicycle. It was fun being out there on the road and riding to and from wherever it was that I wanted to go. I used to work a few miles from the house and during the summer I would ride my bike to the office to get some exercise. It sure beat walking. But one thing I always did whenever I rode my bike was to obey the traffic laws and to share the road responsibly with cars. After all, I may have the right of way but just having the right of way wouldn't save me if I were to get struck by a large moving vehicle. Share the road is a phrase that many communities use in an effort to get drivers to be more aware of cyclists and to make an honest effort to keep them safe. Unfortunately, oftentimes the reverse situation isn't always true.

I raise this point because I read in the news today that DC is considering adding bicycle lanes to certain streets within the city in order to make biking traffic a little safer and more regulated. Now while I applaud the city's efforts to make the city a bit 'greener' and bike-friendly, I am a bit dubious as to whether it will really make any difference or not. The reason I say this is because often on the way to work in the spring, summer and fall, I drive along a road that has a bike path clearly marked a few feet from the actual road. Unfortunately, more often than not, those paths are devoid of cyclists who prefer to ride on the streets.

Now this road is particularly winding and has many blind turns where often, even for cars following the speed limit, it was unnerving (not to mention highly dangerous) to drive around a corner and nearly plow into a cyclist who was in the middle of the lane. Not only that, but in what I can only figure to be ire at nearly being hit by cars, many cyclists often weave in and out of stopped traffic just to get ahead of the pack and then again slow traffic down when cars are unable to pass them by. While I agree that there are plenty of drivers out there who don't drive well enough to share the road with cyclists, that isn't reason enough for cyclists to ignore the rules of the road and weave in and out of traffic with impunity.

If you read the reactions of some cyclists on news websites to the news that bike lanes will soon become a reality they speak with such excitement that it makes one hopeful that they will actually stick to the paths and lanes designated for them. Now I know that some would argue that not all bike paths and trails are maintained with the same efficiency as roads but still, a little bit of common sense is also necessary on the part of cyclists. I mean a few weeks ago when the roads were just starting to clear from all the ice and snow we had, there were still areas where lanes were just not available to drive on and in the midst of all this chaos were a handful of cyclists, looking to get to work in the cold while doing their part for mother nature. As I often state, I think their heart is in the right place but their heads need a little bit of adjustment.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Drawing Inspiration

Every year, I watch the Oscars to see which movies will take home the prize and of those, I will try to see how many of them I have actually seen or will see (thanks to their winning an Oscar). But I also like to listen to the acceptance speeches, not just of the big winners but also of the little guys. Or who I term 'the little guys' because of the fact that they are the people who work behind the scenes and that the Oscar show producers rarely give more than ten seconds to say their speeches. These are the guys who don't have glamourous roles or even get doted on by make-up artists and directors. These are the people who toil behind the scenes and are just as much a part of making a movie as anyone else. These are the production support personnel.

For many years, I paid keen interest to the original score category because film music is something that has been very dear to me for many years. I rejoiced when composers I knew or scores that I loved took home Oscar gold and I enjoyed listening to the music for days thereafter knowing that it wasn't just me that thought the music was good, but professionals in the voting public of Hollywood. Last evening's 82nd Oscar Ceremony was no different and I took particular inspiration from the speech that composer Michael Giachinno gave upon winning for his score for "Up". To paraphrase, Giachinno stated that he hoped to give inspiration to those kids who may not have had the support that he did. He wanted kids to know that being creative wasn't a bad thing and that with hard work and perseverence would pay off. I am a firm believer in that.

Looking back on the ceremony last night, I think that was a common theme that was carried out throughout the evening. I know that almost all ceremonies have winners thanking their inspirations but last night was a little different. Maybe I was paying attention to it some more or maybe I heard it with a different set of ears, but even in montage clips with statements by past short film winners like John Lassiter (I believe he was the one who said it) raised the point that today we are in a state of technological development where a kid with a laptop and an idea can come up with an idea and make it into a movie with a bit of hard work. It's so true.

Today the technology exists that with a little bit of inspiration you can get some of your friends together and you can make your own movie, create your own music or do whatever your creative desires wish. Hearing so many people make statements last night was inspiring. It was heartening to know that people who have such passion really do make it and that they are recognized for their efforts. While I applaud the actors and actresses and directors and producers, I applaud all the more the people who work behind the scenes and actually 'make' the films that we love. I mean after all, if it weren't for the technical wizards behind the visuals and sound effects in "Avatar" it simply would have always remained a vision in the head of James Cameron.


Friday, March 05, 2010

More Controversy to be Brewed

Next Friday, yet another film will be released on the current conflict in Iraq and how US forces have dealt with it. However, unlike "The Hurt Locker" which has been generating controversy over the content and depiction of an Army Explosive Ordanance Disposal unit in Iraq, "Green Zone" (starring Matt Damon among others) will show the actions of a 'rogue' Chief Warrant Officer from the US Army who is working with the CIA to hunt down and find weapons of mass destruction in the early days of the Iraqi war. Now I say that this movie will likely stir controversy as well because it deals with a subject that is even touchier for many people and that is whether the hunt for WMDs was cause enough for the nation to go to war. But not only that, the film is loosely based on the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrashekharan.

Now I purposely mention the fact that it appears to be loosely based on the book because I had read the book when it first came out and I have seen the trailers for the film. Now I know it's not fair to jump to a conclusion on a film without having seen it and I'm sure that it will be a decent film given that it's the third time that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are teaming up, but I still can't help but feel that people will come away from this film with a different expectation as well. The controversy surrounding "The Hurt Locker" stems from the fact that many veterans of the war are worried that the public is going to look on this film as a true depiction of what life was like for many of them in Iraq and unfortunately it is more Hollywood's version of it rather than the honest truth.

I had previously written about how Hollywood needs to fit lots of story into a short amount of time if the audience is going to buy it and enjoy it. That being said, the movie has to have something that will sustain it. Now as the case with "The Hurt Locker", "Green Zone" also appears to be taking some liberties with the story and the source material. That's not to say that it may not be realistic or interesting; but to say that the film is based on Chandrashekharan's book is a bit misleading. I say this because the book dealt more with the transition of the interim government to the Iraqi government and how life changed for the Iraqi people after Bush declared the 'mission accomplished'. While some mention was given to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was not given a place of prominence in the book.

In the film however it seems to take on the role of the central theme. Now again, that's probably not a bad thing. It probably makes for a more interesting film to have a 'rogue' Army officer going out hunting weapons and trying to prove that there either was or wasn't faulty intelligence that led to the US invasion of Iraq. Still, if Hollywood has learned nothing else from the furror surrounding "The Hurt Locker" these days they should at least know that they should make it clear that this is more of a fictional work than a true one. I say this only because the unfortunate thing is that there are plenty of people out there who don't understand that when filmmakers say that a film is 'based on' something, it doesn't necessarily mean it is completely true to its source. I'm curious to see the movie though I know that it will undoubtedly have its fair share of ire too.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Congressional Inaction

The talk through most of the halls of Congress in recent days has been about the stands of various leaders in the fight for health care reform. As an issue he promised to tackle upon taking office, President Obama has been taking efforts to try and effect change for the better in terms of health care coverage and how it is provided to people who are currently out of work or are in need of affordable health care due to other reasons. What has been happening however is a lot of posturing by both political parties in an effort to make the change they want to see and the unfortunate thing is that that means that nothing is happening. Since taking office, Obama has talked about having bipartisan cooperation in an effort to make change that will get this country back on it's feet again. Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who seem Hell-bent on stopping change no matter what the consequences are.

Now I'm not naive enough to assume that whatever Obama says should be accepted without question and at face value. I agree that there should be debate and that there should be open dialogue. However, open dialogue and debate can only happen when all parties having the 'conversation' are willing to hear what their compatriots are saying. What appears to be happening more and more often with Republicans is that they outrightly object to whatever Obama or Democrats propose and simply paint a portrait of a President standing on a bully pulpit backed by his party's leaders and attempting to ram their changes through Congress. I'm sorry, but as I recall, the bill passed through the Senate with 60 votes which means some Republicans didn't exactly feel like they were being forced into something.

Still, it's fine if you don't agree. We don't need a country full of yes men. It's good to have debate and discussion over what problems you have with a proposed bill. But when you do nothing but talk about wanting to 'scrap the bill' and to 'start over' it sounds more like little kids to me than Congressional leaders. People with big egos often talk like that. They aren't willing to hear what others have to say. They often say that it should be their way or the highway and if they don't get their way then there is hemming and hawing like no one's business. Take for example the ever eloquent (and I'm being extremely sarcastic here) Sarah Palin. Sure she'll offer up plenty of soundbite worthy clips degrading the government and the President in particular but I can't help but notice two things. She stepped down from office and gave up leadership of her state which strikes me as being very childish but more importantly, she never offers up any concrete alternatives. I guess she can't write all that much on the palm of her hands.

I think that Obama believes that open dialogue and discussions can lead to compromise but what he has at least bullied to make clear is that health care reform will happen and it's up to opponents to step up and make arguments that will make their proposed changes part of the bill. But like Sarah Palin what I see a lot of in Congress is objection for the sake of objection. They object because the proposal comes from someone they are opposed to. There's no real 'meat' to their objection, its simply because they don't want to agree with the person. Then by misrepresenting why they object ("the bill is being 'rammed' through Congress") they paint a completely different picture. I say stop the words and take action. Object; that's your right as our leaders in Congress, but offer up alternatives that you are willing to compromise on. That would be even better.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On the Job Training

I think it's fantastic when parents want to take their kids to work to teach them about what they do all day. It probably serves better than any other method of getting kids to understand what it means to have a good and interesting career doing something that we like. We already have 'take your daughter to work' day which is meant to inspire young girls to aspire to something more than traditional roles for women but rather to seek fulfillment in the workplace. Similarly, boys have been encouraged to also go visit the workplace of their parents so that they too will get an appreciation for what work actually entails. Of course there are always some parents who don't know where exactly to draw then line and it can have 'interesting' results.

Take for example the recent case of a child who was taken to the control tower at JFK International Airport in New York. The child was not only taken into the control tower but was actually allowed to communicate with several flights. Although an investigation is still underway, what authorities will confirm is that a controller in the tower brought his child to work and then allowed the child to speak to several departing flights, giving them instructions on what to do after take off. If you read the transcripts or hear the transmissions online you probably won't think much of them, but still, I guess it would be a different matter if you were someone actually sitting on those flights. However, once word of this leaked, the FAA immediately stepped in and suspended both the controller and the controller's supervisor for obvious reasons.

Now again, if you listen to those transmission, a naive person would tell you that its no big deal and that the child was being supervised by their parent and was in a room full of other controllers so if something had gone wrong then there would have been plenty of people who would be able to step in and remedy the situation. That's all well and good but doesn't it stand to reason that some would perceive this to be a very dangerous thing to do regardless of how innocent the actual orders seem? I know some parents are of the belief that unless a child actually experiences things for themselves, the concept remains intangible. They fell that unless a child is encouraged and given the opportunity to do something that they have dreamed about and wouldn't normally be able to do then they won't be as inspired. I think that's completely bogus.

But think of it another way; would you let a child drive your car down the highway regardless of whether they can reach the peddles or see over the steering wheel? When put in that context then some people beging to have second thoughts. I'm sure now there will be plenty of reactionary measures taken to ensure that a child can never do this type of activity again regardless of whether a parent authorizes it or not. Don't get me wrong; I think we certainly need to encourage kids but not at the expense and safety of other complete strangers.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Changing the Face of the News

The way most people get there news these days has had a major effect and it will likely have an effect on the way news is delivered to the public for years to come. Recent studies have revealed that an increasing number of people now get their news from the internet as well as from television news outlets than from traditional newspapers. The result has been that circulation is down and print newspapers are on the decline. In just the past year, numerous newspapers have reduced the number of plants they operate and how many printings they make per day. Some newspaper companies have even gone on to close printing plants as they no longer print in such large quantities.

I can understand why. With rising costs for resources and an economy that is not quite what it was a few short years ago, everyone is trying to figure out how to cut costs and save a bit of money. Still, I can't help but feel sad about the fact that a staple from my childhood, the daily paper, will soon be gone. I will admit that when I was younger I had time to read the paper before going to school. At that time, browsing the internet or going online to read the paper at school was not so common. The internet was still coming into its own when I was in high school so using it for research was still quite a new thing. I can remember clipping articles from the paper and attaching it to reports for some of my English and journalism classes in college.

Now it seems that those days are going to be looked upon with increasing nostalgia. Those same studies concluded that web-based media is on the rise and that many people are looking to those sources for the news. It makes sense. These days we have become a society that requires instant gratification about our curiousities. If we suspect something may have happened in the world, we just hop online and in a few short clicks we'll know what's happening and where. Think about it, the internet is often even faster than television in terms of getting the news out there. You can often read more about events on the internet than you will on television. For example, this past weekend, I found out about the earthquake in Chile after seeing the headline on Google's splash page. From there I got access to news agencies and channels from around the world and with having done nothing more than clicking a mouse button I got all the latest information.

It's a powerful thing to have that much knowledge at the click of a mouse or from a few keystrokes. I can't help but feel sorry for the declining number of traditional newspaper sales out there. It will mean that not only will people who work in that industry have an impact on their jobs but also for some of the smaller folks out there who thrive on the newspaper industry. I'm thinking of the young paperboys who view the job as a rite of passage. What if they no longer have to work paper routes, what will they do then? I guess it's a sign of changing times and as with any steps towards progress, there must be change.