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December 30, 2015

Pre-Sale Tickets

Our local theater is not the best managed nor the most fully-featured in the land, but it does okay. Since I've been here, they have upgraded the audio and the visual in a number of theaters. They can show digital 3D movies and have the new "AVX" audio systems in some theaters for enhanced sound.

The most recent idiosyncrasy I noticed at the theater, and was likely country-wide, had to do with pre-sales of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Everyone knew this was going to be a big movie, so they opened pre-sales about a month before release. However, when I went online to purchase our pre-sale tickets, the only options for sales were 3D shows, one 3D and AVX and the other just 3D. I waited, and kept checking back in, but non-3D tickets never showed up for pre-sale. I finally called the manager on December 8th, 10 days prior to the release of the movie, and asked him about that.

He said, and I'm not kidding you, that he wasn't sure we were getting 2D reels of the movie, and that I should check back on Tuesday of opening week (so in a week, as I was calling on a Tuesday), to see if they had received a non-3D print and were able to show it.

I laughed, and asked if he was joking. I couldn't help it. He said no.

I said, "You do realize you manage a theater in an older-skewing city, where the older people are conservative with their money and don't want to watch a movie in 3D, right?" He agreed that he did.

"So," I said, "that means that you are saying that your theater is getting the least-wanted versions of this film for your overall audience, or that your company is taking advantage of people's desire to see it by only offering the two shows that have additional surcharges involved with it." If you are watching a 3D show, it has an additional $3 surcharge. AVX movies also have a $3 surcharge. If you are watching a 3D/AVX show, then the surcharge is either $4 or $5. This is per-ticket and on top of the $10.50 regular price for the movie ticket itself.

No response.

"I bet you right now that when, not if, you get a 2D showing, that show will sell out faster and last longer at your theater than the 3D showings, because that is the show that most of the adults and older people will want to go to."

He again asserted that he did not know if, and did not think that, they would be receiving a 2D print to show.

I laughed, "thanked" him (I'm not sure the sarcasm went through over the phone), and hung up.

Sure enough, the following Tuesday I checked the online movie list and there was one 2D showing to go with the two pre-sold 3D/AVX showings. And it was already pretty much sold out, while there were still some seats available in the two 3D showings. Matter of fact, most of the first few days of the 2D shows were already pretty well sold out. My wife and I got tickets for the first Thursday after release, as that was the first 2D showing that had a good seating options available (and was the day before Christmas, so likely not very many people going to the movies). Each day, simply for shits and grins, I checked the online seating chart, and each day the 2D shows were more full than the 3D/AVX shows, except for the approximately 7 pm show -- the one most favored by teens, who would want to see it in 3D.

How is it that a mere customer (although, granted, one that likes and pays attention to the movies), can know the theater's audience and trends better than the manager who works there? Better, apparently, than the corporate people who determined this theater should have two 3D shows and only one 2D show? Do they not look at or understand the audience demographics of this area?

It's frustrating. I sometimes miss the wealth of theaters I had around me in SoCal. There, if one theater treated you poorly, you had 10 others within spitting distance you could go to. Here, we have just the one, and they lord it over their customers. Hell, they still can't even get how to man the snacks and tickets counters to get the maximum movement through the line. One of the last times we went, we spent over 15 minutes in line with only about 12 people ahead of us and three counters open.

My mother has often said she felt I should manage, own, and/or operate a movie theater. I'm starting to wonder if she's right.

October 23, 2015


Marvel and DC Comics are going through some of the worst times financially they have ever endured. They are selling a fraction of the comics they once did, readership isn't picking up and is, in fact, dropping off in large numbers. Even while their properties enjoy some strong successes on the big screen, the companies that gave us those characters are facing hardship.

One of the reasons for this, I believe, is the fact that both companies are cannibalizing their own stars and each other's works.
  • Superman is often referred to as "the Last Son of Krypton." This used to mean that he was the only surviving Kryptonian when the planet exploded. However, he soon gained a dog (Krypto), a cousin (Supergirl), and a whole host of near relatives (Superboy, Mon-El, Power Girl, the Kandorians, General Zod and all of the Kryptonian criminals in the Phantom Zone).
  • Batman now has Robin, Nightwing, Red Mask, Batwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, and even an entire network of pseudo-Batmen/women.
  • Wolverine, for the longest time, was the only one of his kind. Then came Sabretooth, Weapon X, Daken, X-23, and Wild Thing, among others, who were all basically the same character re-hashed.
  • The Hulk, a person who happened to have unique properties that allowed him to survive a gamma bomb explosion, has a number of duplicates. Outside of his large number of villains (Abomination, Leader, Gamma Dogs, etc.) with the exact same powers, there is now a Red Hulk, a Red She-Hulk, the original She-Hulk, Skaar (the son of the Hulk), Doc Sampson, A-Bomb, there was briefly a Hulk virus that turned everyone into a Hulk-like being. Even the Hulk himself has different iterations (Smart Hulk, Savage Hulk, Joe Fixit, Devil Hulk, Maestro, et al).
  • Flash (Jay Garrick), Flash (Barry Allen), Flash (Wally West), Kid Flash, Impulse, Zoom, Jesse Quick, and countless others.
  • Green Lantern (Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, et al) led to there being a Green Lantern Corps and recently to there being multiple colored rings, each with a province over a different emotion or context and it's own Corps of people following that discipline.
I could go on with all the duplication of character ideas and concept, but I think the point is made: the companies are trying to give the public 'more of a good thing.' However, by doing so, they are actually watering down their own products! They are artificially inflating sales in the short term, but they are hurting their overall product line and long-term viability and growth at the same time.

This leads to a serious story-telling problem for the companies. Superman is the best at exemplifying this: a Kryptonian under the influences of a yellow sun is nigh invincible. Having two, four, or a thousand of him makes the original superfluous and means there are now a thousand nigh invincible, god-like beings at once. That's more than enough to solve all of the worlds problems either by helping human beings out or by destroying them (and maybe the planet) utterly, or something in between. It is simply too many. You already have to have incredibly complex and/or powerful things to make Superman's involvement worthwhile, then you add in a Supergirl, a Power Girl, a super dog, a Superboy and, at this point, DC Comic's universe doesn't NEED any other heroes-- these few can do it all. When you add up characters with similar power levels (Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel/Shazam, Martian Manhunter, Captain Atom, Green Lantern, etc.), the world wouldn't need a Batman or any other standard Hero, these Super Heroes would and could do it all... easily.

Each of the other characters is one who had a unique set of backgrounds, predispositions, and events occur to them that caused them to become the fictional heroes they did. Each time one of the companies creates a new version of the same character, they have to either mimic the original accident or situation (Supergirl was also blasted off from Krypton just in time, but was in a slower rocket ship; Kid Flash just happened to be standing in front of a similar chemistry table when another lightning bolt just happened to strike it and him, giving him the same speed-powers as his mentor; etc.) or they have to set out to make the same character in a new way (Daken is the son of Wolverine, so he picked up the original's healing factor and claws, and his hatred of his long-absent father gives him a similar level of anger; Mon-El is a Daxamite, and all Daxamites have all the same abilities as a Kryptonian when under a yellow star (like our sun) and a weakness to lead instead of Kryptonite; et al).

The other issue with uniqueness is that many of these characters inhabit more than one comic book. Currently, Superman can be found in: Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Justice League, Superman/Batman, Superman Unchained, and the soon to be release Superman/Wonder Woman title. In addition, you have the Superboy, Supergirl, Teen Titans (Superboy), and Worlds Finest (Power Girl). All of the biggest stars of the comic book world have this issue: once the fans show they like the character, the comic producer puts them in steadily more and more titles until their line is saturated with the character. The Marvel comic universe would simply collapse if you removed every title that Wolverine and Spider-Man appear in regularly or star in. Same is true of Batman and his cronies in the DC comics universe.

As stated above, Superman and the Superman knock-offs are so powerful that a very few of them could affect life on Earth forever. When you then place him and his clones into so many titles, you have a situation where the over-saturation breaks the reader's immersion in the story. It simply isn't feasible that there are enough threats so constantly that require that level of power that often. Each one of those titles above has to have a threat of some sort in it;

When DC Comics recently revamped their entire line up and "started from scratch" with the New 52, they actually did NOT revamp or restart either Batman or Green Lantern. Both were having successful runs and had movies, so the editorial decision was made to simply renumber and continue with what had gone on. But this bad editorial decision has caused the "revamp" to slowly fail, as some parts were changed dramatically and other parts, anything that had to do with Batman or GL, had to stay primarily the same. The same happens at Marvel, too; you have one writer decide to strip Wolverine of his adamantium skeleton but another is writing an arc that absolutely requires it, and another is writing something that has him in space with the X-Men... which is the real Wolverine? Or are there now three running around the same universe in three different situations? Is Wolverine now Schrodinger's cat??

Marvel and DC Comics needs to take a look at their characters and titles and retract. 

Do Unto Others...

The Golden Rule exists in nearly all religions, and many philosophies, of the world -- and is absolutely foundational to the top four religions of the world (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism). However, the news seems filled with stories about people and groups are not following it or are actively ignoring it.
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.
How is it that so many people in politics are making rules that they themselves would not want to live by? How is it that so many get radicalized by religious leaders who ignore this vital part of the religious code? How is it that so many businesses ignore the people in their quest for profits?
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18
In politics we are seeing it from all sides. The Republicans have spent 7 years doing their best to veto anything that President Obama put forth, refusing to help make policy, refusing to seek compromise in any meaningful way. Yet, I’m certain, if a Republican president is chosen in the next election, they will want the Democrats to work with them, not filibuster, and seek compromises. For the brief time that the Democrats had control of Congress, they rammed through everything they could without regard to the opposition’s concerns.
"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."
In Canada, Harper’s government has ignored popular opinion, the will of the people, and the advice of counsel (including most scientists, government oversight groups, and local leadership) in order to promote its agenda.
"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
In the world, you have groups like Al Queda and ISIS ignoring whole swaths of the Quran in order to recruit people to go on jihadist terrorist missions. You have people like the Westboro Baptists who are militantly picketing any military burial, location that performs abortions, and others. But, would they want their own rallies and churches picketed and their own lives disrupted? Probably not.
This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517
In the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar, businesses are ignoring the pleas, safety, and security of the people. They destroy the future (by way of destruction of the environment, disloyalty to local markets and people and favoring outsourcing, lying to employees and customers, etc.) to gain more wealth now.

Historical Perspective

I guess I have to admit that most Americans are stupid. Or, rather, not stupid, but uneducated. They don't pay attention in their History classes and they don't understand why America was founded and on what principles.

The First and Second Amendments to the Constitution are there, and are numbers 1 and 2, for a reason. The United States was founded by people who, for the most part, were fleeing religious persecution in the nations they left. Those nations (England, Spain, Italy, among others) were ruled by a theocracy, whether instituted or de facto. If you spoke out about the religion, if you dared to practice a different religion, if you dared to dissent at all, you could be arrested, held without hope of release, and even killed for those beliefs and actions.

When the founding fathers of America sat down to write the laws of the nation, they knew this. They remembered this. They wanted America to be a place of freedom, where anyone could practice his/her religion freely and without fear. They wanted a place where the people made the decisions, not the government. They wanted a place where, if the government started dictating, the people could rise up and change it.

So, that led directly to the verbiage of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This amendment specifically gave everyone the right to practice what they wanted to, to peacefully assemble, and to express their opinions about anything at all, including issues with the government, without being persecuted for it, like many of those who founded the nation were in their original countries.

In order for the First Amendment to work, however, the founding fathers knew there must be a way to enforce it. For the people to feel safe and for the people to depose the government, if needed. And that led directly to the Second Amendment.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The founders wanted people to be able to fight for their freedoms, both against those who would invade the newly-formed nation and against those who would make that nation into something it wasn't intended to be. They left the amendment vague enough so that it encompassed many reasons and situations. Since then, the Supreme Court has had to rule on the intent behind the amendment on a number of occasions. However, the problem with intent is that any interpretation now is biased by the issues we face now. Now we have problems with a plethora of mass shootings, so we are biased by the end-results we want, so people want to do away with the Second Amendment. But the problems of the First Amendment, and those who want to do away with that, prove that the Second Amendment is still needed.

The separation of church and state that is implied by the First Amendment goes one of two ways: either you don't include any religion in your state dealings, buildings, etc., OR you allow any religion to have equal representation. So, for example, when a group wants to put the 10 Commandments on statuary within a government building, there are actually two responses the people can make: to remove that statue and disallow any religious displays OR to allow any religion the right to put its own, similar statuary in the same building. In this way, the government is neither establishing a religion (by showing preference for one above all others) nor is it restricting the free exercise of any other religion. It just seems easier to disallow the first statue than it does to allow any number of other religions, doesn't it?

I will not deny, nor do I think will any constitutional scholar, that America was primarily founded by people of a Christian background. And yet, the founding fathers still put the First Amendment in place, and made it number one. They recognized that even among Christians there were a lot of differences in beliefs. A Catholic, for example, sees the world and its religion slightly differently from, say, a Lutheran. Both of those religions see things a bit differently from the Adventist, Mormon, and other movements. Our founding fathers, especially such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, among others, were well-read and well-traveled, so they had experienced many other religions beyond the various swaths of Christianity. They wrote the Bill of Rights with intent.

Many people today take the fact that our Pledge of Allegiance and our money reference God as a sign from the founding fathers. Few realize that those were added in the 1950s! They haven't always been around, and were put in place, along with other, similar references, in response to the growing "threat" of Communism. Today, many will claim we have a growing threat from Islam... and they are calling for similar measures to protect the nation. What goes around, comes around.

In the end, the First and Second Amendments are two of the most important laws we have in America. They are first and second on purpose and with intent. And they are forever linked together, as one powers and allows the other. Whenever a leader questions the needs for one or the other, whenever he/she wants to change or abolish one or the other, you should question why and ask yourself if that person understands the history of this great nation and why those two amendments were the first two put into the Bill of Rights by the founders of America. You might just come to the conclusion that either that leader doesn't know his history or that he has some sort of ulterior motive behind his reasoning... and one that can start a slippery slope that ends with America no longer being the free state it was meant to be.

September 21, 2015

Guns and Anti-Gun Rhetoric

I am a gun owner. I was raised in a household with firearms and taught to respect, understand, and properly use firearms. So I am coming from a "pro-gun" standpoint, but I am also a reasonable person who will listen to reasonable arguments from either side. However, I'm not hearing any reasonable arguments at all, from either camp.

Gun violence is often horrific, especially in a mass attack or serial situation. Firearms are a tool that are incredibly efficient and accurate at what they are meant to do. They are often loud and they often do what seems like a disproportionate amount of damage to what they are fired at.

But, here's the thing: There are anywhere from 45 million to 120 million firearm owners in America, depending on what data you use from the Internet. Most that I view seem to come down somewhere around 75-85 million, or somewhere south of 30% of the population owning one or more firearms (which, by the way, is down from previous highs of over 50% a few decades ago).

On average, there are about 500,000 firearm-related crimes committed per year in America. While I wholeheartedly agree that this figure is way too high, when you look at the math of it, that means that less than .01% of the gun owner population is involved. There are about 50,000 gun deaths each year (including suicides) in America. Again, a number that is way too high. But we're now into less than .001% of the firearm-owning population causing the death of another person using a firearm.

Statistics do not assuage the hurt, loss, or fear caused by someone dying from gun violence. Statistics do not help someone who is robbed or threatened at gun-point from feeling powerless and violated. But the country recently had rallies and battle-cries over the "1%" and how things being unfairly distributed was a problem. These conversations continue. When you look at the statistics of firearms in America, you soon see that approximately 99.9% of the gun owners in America are quiet, law-abiding citizens from whom no gun violence is expected or will occur. These calls for banning firearms hurts 99.9% of the people who legally obtained, own, use, and safely handle firearms. Also, ironically, the request for either a ban on firearms or further laws restricting guns rarely targets those who are committing the gun violence, as a majority of reports show that these people obtain their firearms through gray areas or outright illegal means. Or, to put it more simply, more laws are just more laws those who want to commit gun violence will, and can, ignore. It only harms the vast, silent majority of law-abiding citizens.

So, here's my question: What can we do to limit or contain the gun violence in America without taking away the right to own them from the overwhelming majority that use them responsibly?

There are an estimated 30,000 gun laws on the books in America. They cover federal and local concerns, obtaining, storing, using, selling, who can own and who cannot own a firearm. When taken as a whole, they are pretty comprehensive. There is almost no situation that you can think of that there isn't already a law in place to cover. What we are lacking is the man-power to enforce these laws.

My first suggestion is to increase the ATFE and local law enforcement so that they can have more people dedicated to going to gun shows, gun stores, and re-sellers and checking licenses, registration, and ensuring that each is doing everything by the book. This has the side benefit of putting more people to work, once trained.

Secondly, I recommend that every person who wants to own a firearm must be licensed. The licensing process should include an overview on types of weapons, types of ammunition, general safety concerns, firearm-specific safety issues, hands-on training with representative firearms in the classroom (without ammunition, of course), and a written and practical test. An added benefit to this process is that every license will bring in revenue to local and federal agencies and jobs will be created for those who proctor the tests.

Thirdly, wherever a firearm is being used, at least one person must be licensed. If any unlicensed person is found to be using a firearm in an unsafe manner, those who have the license are fined or imprisoned for the infraction (depending on severity). This makes it important for licensed gun owners to convey the proper techniques for handling firearms as well as maintaining vigilance that safety is the first consideration with any non-licensed individuals in their presence.

Lastly, let's go after those who are actually breaking the law. Rather than making it harder on those who (want to) legally obtain and use their firearms, we need to crack down on those illegally selling, purchasing, and using firearms. Let's make all firearms crimes federal and with minimum standard jail times and fines. Let's make it so that anyone who sells a gun illegally is afraid to do so, and make the penalties severe enough that those who use them illegally are made an example. This will deter some of the population from attempting to get a firearm.

If violence in other nations, ones with very strict firearms laws (Canada, et al), and those which prohibit firearms altogether (China, Japan, England, et al), tells us anything, it is that people will still commit heinous acts of violence. If someone wants to do it, they will find a way. But if we simply make it harder, and make the punishments harsher, we may bring America's gun violence issues down.

Windows 10

I like the idea behind Windows 10 a lot. It is designed to be faster (always good). It is designed to use DirectX 12 (great for gamers). They want it to become ubiquitous, so are providing the download "free" ... for the first year. And, right there, is my problem. What does "free for the first year" mean?

I'm pretty tech savvy. I've built my own machines since the mid-1980s. But there are a few foundational things about your device that you need and Windows 10's approach completely ignores: your OS (operating system) is absolutely required to run 24/7 to make your PC (personal computer; in this article, anything on which you can perform computing) work. It is not a "service." Rather, the OS is like the memory, CPU, or monitor-- without it, your PC doesn't function. At all.

When Windows 7 came out, I purchased the little-known 'family pack' for it, so I could install the OS on my desktop, work laptop, and on my wife's desktop. It was a great edition and it was forward-thinking of Microsoft to make a family pack edition where one installation license could be installed on up to three machines, saving a family money. Yet, they barely advertised it (they wanted everyone to get confused and pay full price for each install) and barely made any of these packs (it is my understanding that less than 1% of all boxes were for a family pack, and once they sold those out, they were not making more).

XP, Vista (yes, really), and 7 have been rock-solid OSs for Microsoft. Yes, Vista got a bad rap early on, but it was mostly caused by third-party vendors claiming that their hardware was Vista compatible when it really wasn't. Unfortunately, many people thought it was the OS that was the problem, and blamed Microsoft instead, causing a lot of negativity. Everyone who did what I did, check the compatibility and upgrade any hardware not compatible with Vista, had a smooth upgrade and user experience. I had Vista run for years without any incidents or issues. Same with XP and 7. I would argue that XP and 7 are the best, most reliable OSs that Microsoft has released outside of 3.2 (preferably with the Norton overlay).

Most of what I read about 10 seems to indicate a great update and good choices by Microsoft. They have mitigated the issues with the OS 8 iterations, sped up the interface, increased its hardware and software compatibility, lowered boot times, and increased productivity in the OS. But then they make weird decisions like no longer including Windows Media Player/Center. They think that most people stream their music, movies, and similar, so no one needs to have a driver for watching/listening to media on a CD/DVD player any more. Really? So, all those CDs and DVDs that everyone inevitably owns are now useless? Oh, no, says Microsoft, you can buy an app for the OS that does that for you! How convenient, you can now purchase something that, I think, most people believe an operating system should do for you naturally -- allow you to properly access your media. Sounds great! *sarcasm Oh, and let's not forget that there are plenty of completely free applications that will do that for me if Microsoft doesn't want to, so why would I pay them for the privilege of doing something my OS should figure out for me as a default process?

The big push, it seems, is that Microsoft wants you to see your OS as a service. While nothing firm has come out about what happens after that first, free year of the OS, most pundits in the tech world agree that they believe Microsoft is shooting for a monthly or yearly fee to keep the OS working, plus apps charges as people complain about all the missing stuff in the OS and ask for it. No mention, so far, of what happens if you don't pay them.

Microsoft hasn't looked around at various business models that tried to move from a one-time pay model to a monthly model, or from free to charged accounts, and seen what that did to those businesses. Just take online newspapers -- many provided their information for free for a long time after instituting an online presence. Then, they switched to a gateway charge for the same information and... their customer base dropped to between 1/3 and 1/4 of their original numbers, as people drifted away to other, free sites for the same information and refused to pay the charge, no matter how small, for their information. Microsoft should look at the huge upheavals in the gaming business world as to what people will pay for and what they won't. The gaming world used to charge you for the game ($50-$75) and then charge you a monthly fee (usually around $15/mo) to play. Now, however, many/most are going with either a one time charge only (example: The Secret World) for content and playing is free, or they are going free for the main content and with micro transactions for any add-ons. This seems to indicate that Microsoft has a shot at the micro transaction model working for them, but, I doubt, people will want to pay both a monthly/yearly fee just to make the OS function AND micro transactions to get apps that make the OS usable.

I was fairly excited about Windows 10 when it was first introduced. As I read more about it, I was really looking forward to updating my system to the new OS. Now that it is (nearly) here, however, I am strongly thinking of just sticking with my rock-solid Windows 7 build and then transitioning to Linux. My OS is NOT a service; it is one of the core, foundational aspects of my PC and too important to open up to all the possibilities of fraud, hacking, and suspicious use that something like Apps on a smartphone or tablet entail. I need my work laptop to function in a safe, relatively secure environment or I won't get more jobs. I need my desktop to be sound and safe so that I can play my games, watch my movies, and listen to my tunes in safety.

I upgraded my main gaming machine to Windows 10. It was problematic, and I had to search many sites online to figure out all of the errors and issues I had with the upgrade process. I now have a steady, stable system again. It works great. I see little improvement to my boot times (but my system was fairly optimized beforehand). So far, all of my older applications and programs work just fine with the new OS. I have disabled the Windows Shop button that installs itself on the task bar, as I have no intention of giving Microsoft one extra dime for anything an OS should do for free. I have also installed a Linux Distro on a machine and I am learning that. If Microsoft chooses to try to make me pay, I have options.

I am also curious what happens if, as a gamer, I upgrade a hardware part on my system. Since Microsoft 10 uses the hardware of your PC and the login you provide in tandem to identify your machine, do I lose access to Windows 10 when I upgrade my RAM, my CPU, or my graphics card? My guess is yes, and I have to call and "verify" everything in order for them to allow me to use their "service."

I helped my father-in-law update his laptop to Windows 10. Again, issues ensued (although not as bad as those I experienced with my gaming PC). Took a few hours, but I got his laptop running on 10 and he's happy. Now, for him to re-learn how to use Windows and get all the settings the way he likes them.

Stupidity, Fear, and Illness

There actually is an axis of evil. The axis comprises three things that keep those in power in power. Those three things are health, education, and fear.

Ill health results in poor decisions. If for example, you have no insurance, you will keep working and ignore those weird pains in your chest until you drop over, dead. If you cannot afford to go to the hospital, you cannot get over that cold you have had for two months as it slowly becomes pneumonia. If your insurance is poor, you cannot afford the best tests and the best doctors, so you do not find out about that lump in your breast until it is too far advanced. Poor health keeps you working long, stressful hours that can make you sicker after your loved one dies from something you couldn't afford... but are stuck with the insurmountable bills.

Poor education results in bad decisions. When you are uneducated, you cannot get better jobs. You are stuck, most often living paycheck to paycheck. And then something unforeseen happens, and you have to take a loan out. Maybe that loan is from a payday loan service, at 150% interest, and you can never get out from under it. Maybe that loan is from a criminal element, that breaks your legs when you cannot pay. Low education means you can get a taste of a decent job, but cannot go higher. So you are stuck living on the edge, never falling behind all the way, but never getting a head. The low-level work means you are always taking order and never giving them. The long hours means you are slowly working yourself to death, as the lack of sleep and constant stress build and build until you have a heart attack. No or poor education often means a person can be preyed upon by those with more education. An online college can promise them everything they need, and the person isn't smart enough to read the contract and see what little they get for all that money and time. Even a good education can sometimes have unintended negative consequences. A good education often means you are saddle with thousands, often hundreds of thousands, of dollars of debt when you need that debt the least... when you are just starting out and need every cent you can earn to start your life.

Fear results in horrible decisions. When people are afraid, they are willing to trade their most valuable assets for protection and security. They will trade their Constitutional rights for the illusion of safety. People will say things and do things things they would never normally do or say when they are afraid. They will listen to anybody who proposes a solution to their fear. Mob mentally often rules when people are afraid.

Does any of this sound familiar?

America has been waging a war on its people for the past 30 years. Those in power, either in the government or in commerce, have been doing everything in their power to stay in power. They have attacked teachers unions, driving educators out of the business and weakening the educational system everywhere but in private schools. They have driven up the costs of education every year. They have made it harder for people to get scholastic loans. They have cut corners in business and government so that more toxins are in the air, water, and foods, making people sick -- often with unintended side effects. They have slowly turned the news into a biased barrage of negativity and depressing stories that keep people afraid. They talk loudly about the "good of America" while voting against anything that actually improves the infrastructure, economy, or wages. They keep us so afraid that we allow them to make laws that subjugate our Constitutional rights and gather unprecedented data about us, all in the name of security -- which we don't actually have, as not one piece of data, not one airport body scan/screening, not one collected phone call has yet to stop a terrorist attack. They pass laws that enact absurd educational systems that keep people ignorant and uneducated. They give the power over the people's health to those least able to keep us healthy and who are most driven by profit -- and our health cuts into those profits.

And we allow them, because we are too sick, too stupid, and too afraid to stop them.

In this coming election, we each need to vote OUT any person who has been in office for longer than two terms. ANY PERSON. Find your representatives' voting record online and review what they say versus how they actually voted -- you might be surprised. After every Presidential debate, not matter which side you are on, go to sites like,, major newspaper fact checking sites, and others, and review what your favorite candidates said and how much of it was actually true. Again, you'd be surprised.

In other words, do everything in your power to educate yourself. Because education will lower your fear levels and help you get healthy. And once you are no longer sick, no longer afraid, and no longer ignorant, your politicians will fear you.

John Basil Barnhill, "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty."

August 11, 2015

Argument versus Debate

I often think I'm having a debate when I'm not. In High School, I took some speech and debate. In college, I had a few more courses. While not professional, I do have a bit of a knack for debating. While I don't now always remember the terms for all of the processes and procedures for a debate, I do understand what constitutes one and the general flow and requirements.

For example, a debate requires evidence or support. You can't just say whatever you want without supporting it somehow, with some sort of evidence. Debates also have limits. You cannot assert one thing, and then assert something else when the first thing is successfully argued by your opposition. In a debate, the one with the best argument, the strongest support, and the most consistent presentation is usually the winner.

However, the rules are different for an argument. In that, all of the above rules for a debate do not apply. A person who argues does not present evidence or support for what they say, typically. If they do, it is often cherry-picked and ignores anything that is contradictory. They do not stick to their main point and accede when it is proven wrong, they instead change the goal, add new limitations, or ignore whole swaths of what their opponent says. And, most arguers assume they have won when the other person just gives up in frustration or accedes that the goalposts have moved and widened so much that the person's argument has reached a point where it must be so generally correct that the other person cannot do anything but accede the point.

You see this a lot with "deniers." They do not, cannot, have a debate, because a debater with any evidence or support at all will crush them easily. Instead, they argue. They ignore data, they bring bad evidence (if any evidence at all), and they talk longer and louder until the person debating them just gives up and goes away. It is the rough equivalent of when children stick their fingers in their ears and say, "nah nah nah" until they get their way.

I have a few friends who argue instead of debate. And I usually get sucked into it either before I remember they don't understand how to debate or because it is a topic that I am passionate about. One person, in particular, uses the phrase "Yes, but..." a lot in his arguments because, frankly, I am usually able to point out the inconsistencies in his original argument fairly easily. When that happens, the goalposts move and they widen. If I don't recognize what is happening soon enough (and, shame on me, I often don't), the goalposts get so close and so wide that anyone can kick a field goal. Something he says must be true. When I accede that much, he generally ends the argument.

The frustrating thing is that, if the argument happens in public or on a public forum (say, via a group email), he and many of the others will think he won the argument, even though I have presented better, provided support, and kept to each topic as they came up. In a debate class, I would have won, hands down. But in the court of public opinion, I lose.

It gets frustrating.

My only recourse going forward is to try harder not to engage with these people. I need to recognize earlier that they are changing the topic, ignoring data and evidence, or speaking to hear themselves talk, and simply disengage from the discussion. I need to let my determination and natural doggedness go and walk away, even if it is a topic I'm passionate about.

July 3, 2015

Trump and the First Amendment

Once again, here's a quick lesson on the First Amendment, since, it seems, most Americans do not fully understand it.

The First Amendment is designed to protect an individual from retaliation from the government when enacting his/her right to free speech. Even that is limited, to some degree, in that you cannot state things that are a form of defamation, that could incite riot or panic, or that are direct threats (among other things).

Basically, you can say what you want as long as what you say is not libel (written) or slander (oral), does not cause people to potentially harm themselves or others, or that is a direct threat toward someone, and the government will not arrest or detain you.

However, one of the huge and important caveats to this freedom is the right for other, non-governmental agencies (including businesses) to provide you with repercussions for what you say. As mentioned above, even the government can issue repercussions depending on what you say. And this is the part that most Americans seem to forget-- that there are repercussions for saying anything you want to. It is where your freedom of speech ends and another's begins.

Donald Trump recently said, in his announcement speech for running for President in 2016, that Latinos were all bad people. He specifically called them rapists. He said they were bringing crime and drugs to America.

Now, it is true that he has the right to say it. However, NBC, Univision, and the people also have the right to be offended by what he said and to react accordingly. I keep seeing people saying that NBC and Univision don't have the right to pull out of their contracts with Trump just because he said something they disagree with. Wrong. Not only do they have the right, it is an exercise of the exact same right he used to offend them! He is feeling the repercussions for saying something that people disagree with. Those people have then acted completely within the law in pulling away, disassociating from him, and issuing statements that show that Trump's opinions do not express their own opinions. Trump can sue all he wants, but it just shows that he simply does not understand the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights.

In the future, try to remember that there are real, tangible repercussions for anyone's use of the freedom of speech. These can be as innocuous as being fired from your job for saying something unseemly or as big as being put in jail and fined for defamation of character, threats to harm another person, or inciting a riot. I cannot state it often enough, but here it is again: Your right to free speech ends where another person's right to free speech begins. There are repercussions for what you say!

Trump talks big. He thinks big. But he simply does not understand the laws of America nor does he understand the Bill of Rights or Constitution. But, then again, that seems to make him a fairly typical American.

June 24, 2015

Marvel's NOT "All-New All-Different" Approach

Marvel Comics is coming out of a series of event specials and will be restarting their comics universe again. This is not really news, as they have done both hard and soft reboots a number of times. What is frustrating is that their tag-line for this new universe is "All New, All Different" yet the evidence screams otherwise.

Secondly, Marvel Comics has been strong in denying that they are altering their comic landscape to be more in line with their cinematic universe. Again, the evidence seems to shout otherwise.

Here are links to the most recent posters released by Marvel Comics relating to this reboot. They show the characters in various levels of prominence. Now, we don't know which will have their own books and which will be a part of a team book, but the characters are pretty indicative of both a merging of the comics and cinematic universe and a less than new and different approach to characters.

Poster 1
Poster 2
By my count, excluding the repeat of Iron Man in the middle of poster 2, there are 27 characters displayed in the two posters. Of those 27 characters, 18 of them have been, are, or have been announced to be featured in a solo or group TV show or movie. Of the 27 characters, 8 of them (including the original) are, in essence, duplicates of an original character idea.

In Poster 1, you have the following movie or TV personalities:

Back row:
  • Doctor Spectrum. No TV or movie news.
  • Rocket Raccoon. Recently featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie with immediate plans for a sequel.
  • Hyperion. While the character has been shown on Marvel's Avengers Assemble cartoon, no movie or TV news has been announced as of today.
  • Daredevil. Displayed in a new costume that is closer to what the character wears at the end of the recent Netflix series featuring the character, rather than his usual all-red costume.
  • Dr. Strange. Recently announced as a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Front row:
  • Citizen V. No current TV or movie news.
  • The Thing. Will be in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. Also note that the character in the poster has a GotG insignia on his uniform -- possible tie-in?
  • Karnak, Infernal, Medusa. Three Inhumans, which have been introduced as an over-all concept in the Agents of SHIELD TV show and are rumored to be getting their own movie.
  • X-23. No current TV or movie news.
  • Starlord. Recently featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie with immediate plans for a sequel.
  • Old Man Logan. Aka Wolverine. The character of Wolverine has been in just about every X-Men movie as well as featured in his own properties.
Center (on both posters):
  • Iron Man. His own movies, the Avengers movies, plus cameos in other movies. Note the prominence of the character in both posters. This is a character that, up until Robert Downey, Jr. made him extremely popular in the first Iron Man movie, was considered at best a second-string character in the Marvel comics universe. His prominence in the movies has made the character much more popular and he is now the most prominent figure in the two posters and has a much-raised presence in the comics universe as a result.
In Poster 2:

Back row:
  • Spider-Gwen. Introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, but no current plans for a movie or TV show.
  • Spider-Man. Seen in his own movies. Recent changes now allow the character to be used in Marvel's cinematic universe, with plans for the character to appear in the next Captain America movie and then his own solo movies again.
  • Vision. Recently introduced in the second Avengers movie.
  • Spider-Man (alternate). Introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon; no current plans for a movie or TV show.
Front row:
  • Phil Coulson. Seen in many Marvel cinematic movies as well as on Agents of SHIELD TV show.
  • Spider-Woman. Introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon; no current plans for a movie or TV show.
  • Black Panther. Future plans to include the character in both solo and Avengers movies.
  • Captain America (Falcon). The character, as Falcon, was introduced in the second Captain America movie and had a cameo in the second Avengers movie. Future plans include more Captain America and Avengers movies.
  • Captain America (old Steve Rogers). Seen in his own movies as well as Avengers movies.
  • Ant-Man. Will be seen in a movie about to be released.
  • Thor (female). The male version of the character has been in his own movie as well as Avengers. There are talks of having the female take over after Chris Hemsworth's contract concludes.
  • Ms. Marvel. No current TV or movie plans. However, the character is an Inhuman, so she may show up in Agents of SHIELD or in the planned Inhumans movie in a cameo (or larger) role at some point.
  • Red Wolf. No current TV or movie plans.
That list serves two purposes: it shows how closely aligned the new comics' featured players will be to the cinematic universe, something that Marvel has either been coy about or has outright denied. Really? Fully two-thirds of the characters listed have been or are about to be in a TV show or movie! Some have been in cartoons on TV (although how closely aligned the cartoons are to the MCU is in question).

Secondly, did you notice how often versions of the same characters popped up? You have:
  • X-23 and Old Man Logan -- both are versions of the character Wolverine. One is the female clone of Wolverine, the other is an older version of the same character.
  • Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man (original), Spider-Man (alternate), Spider-Woman -- in essence, each is a version/variation on the original Spider-Man concept. One is a younger girl, one is the original, one is half-black, half-hispanic, and one is an older female version. Now, each has their own, somewhat unique origin story and version of their powers, but they are all just variations on a theme.
  • 2 Captains America -- one is the original character of Falcon put into the role of CA. The other is an older version of the original character (which, by itself, sounds like a cloning of the Old Man Logan idea!).
  • Thor -- this is a female version of the typically male character. As the original character still exists, just without the Thor power set, this can be argued as another clone/knock-off character.
So, as you can see, Marvel's "all new, all different" line-up, so far, is nothing close. Most of the characters are not new or different, with fully a third of them being, basically, cloned ideas that became popular with fans and which will have a larger role in the new Marvel comics universe going forward. Also, those protestations by Marvel that they are not aligning the comics universe more closely with the cinematic universe don't seem to bear fruit, either, do they?

This is not to say that I am upset by this. The new Iron Man comic looks promising. Some of what they are doing with the alternate Spider-Man (Miles Morales) is quite good. The new Ms. Marvel is telling some good stories. Thor's sales have been much higher since they made the main character female. I am just pointing out that the tag-line of "all new, all different" is completely misleading if not downright wrong.

May 12, 2015

Oh, shit!

Every company -- hell, every department within a company -- has an "oh, shit!" person. The person that gets all the last-minute projects, the projects with a suddenly changed and really close due date, the person who can work under the stress and strain of a suddenly changing working environment and still produce good work.

I am that guy at work, currently. The manager thinks nothing of telling me to drop everything and work on something "quick and dirty" or to assign to me the task that slipped through everyone's fingers and is suddenly due in a day, a few days, or a week.

His willingness to do this tells me that he has confidence in my abilities, shows respect to what I can do and have accomplished for him, and trust in me to learn what needs to be done and do it right on short notice.

However, the fact that lately all I have worked on are these types of projects can lead to quick burnout. Right now, everything I am working on is last-minute, short time frame projects. This leads to a lot of excitement, over time, and stress as I am given each project, work it, and complete it. It means I have to change my daily routine to accommodate sudden changes in the project's dynamics and due dates, which can lead to poor eating and sleeping habits, which further adds to the stress of the project.

I believe in the old axiom, "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." And, while I like to try to live by it as often as I can, the truth is that, as long as you have a boss or bosses above you, the axiom does not apply. If they need you to get it done, and it is their poor planning that caused the emergency, then it is your emergency to deal with.

My current boss, for example, realized that he was going to be overdue on a project because, and he was perfectly willing to admit it, he forgot about it. It slipped through the cracks until the department that needed it reminded him of it. Suddenly, he asked me to drop everything, learn how to do it, and get it done in a couple of days in order to appease the other department. And I, wanting to continue to have a job and get paid, bent over backward, learned the system, did the work, and got it back to him as quickly as I could.

After the last few weeks (months, really) of this level of stress, I may have to ask for an extended time off. I don't want to burn out and do crappy work, or be barely able to get anything done because I'm so mentally exhausted from the grind.

For now, I keep looking at the plus side of things: OT means flex time accrual and extra money coming in. And that's nothing to sneeze at, either.

May 11, 2015

Some Religious Thoughts

There are somewhere around 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today. It is the second largest religion in the world, behind Christianity. So, saying that all Muslims are extremist, or that all Muslims are hate-filled, or all Muslims are jihadists is about equivalent to saying all 2.2 billion Christians are like the members of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan.

I am willing to bet that most Americans do not realize that Christianity actually has more common beliefs with Islam than it does with Judaism.

I keep finding it bitterly funny, and distasteful, how many politicians in America, and the west in general, claim to be Christian and yet every policy and reaction to proposals stinks of a lack of understanding of the Bible, Jesus' teachings, or God's love. God is supposed to be the only one who can judge man, yet I keep seeing a whole lot of judging going on. And, how is taking one small comment out of context and in contradiction to the overall message of the Bible a way to make a stand on any Christian matter? But you are smart enough to use that to oppress, vilify, and condemn entire subsets of people -- how so very Christian of you.

I have a feeling that most Americans do not know or, if they do know, do not understand, that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom by people who were being persecuted in their homelands. And, because of this miss understanding or lack of knowledge, that is why they want more (Christian) religion in politics. If they would just learn this truth, then they would see that the laws of America are the way they are for a reason... and specifically to keep them from doing exactly what they want to do to others who do not share the same belief system as they do.

Just because someone is Atheist, non-Theist, or Agnostic, does not mean they lack morals. Morality can be taught without a Theistic belief system. Concepts like it is wrong to kill, steal, or abuse others are not religion-specific. And when I see/hear a theistic person who says otherwise, I can't help but wonder what their agenda is for vilifying an entire group of people (who make up about 1 billion people in this world, and growing).

As more religions turn more conservative, militant, and fearful of "the other," I can't help but notice an upward trend in non-Theists. Why aren't more religions being more inclusionary?


It's like we have all forgotten how to get along. You are either right or wrong, and there is no middle ground, these days.

If you have a baby and want to breastfeed it in public, you are right and everyone else who does not want to see that happen while they are out enjoying their day are wrong. If you are speaking loudly into your phone, or playing a game on it with the sound on, in public, you are in the right and everyone else subjected to your fun or phone call is wrong... and not only wrong, but why are they listening to your 'private' phone call in the first place?

If you are liberal and want to do something, you are right and the conservatives are wrong. If you are conservative and want to do something, you are right and the liberals are wrong. If you are a politician and you are speaking about some new topic that came up, you are right and everyone else is wrong. If you are shown evidence of the multitude of times you have said the direct opposite of your current stance, you are somehow right each time, and right now, and everyone else is wrong, especially the reporter who is somehow taking your previous comments out of context or misconstruing what you said or did before (even though they are your exact words).

The list goes on and on.

What happened to compromise? Compromise has never meant that you get your way and everyone else is screwed. It means that each side gets some of what they want and each side loses some of what they want. Hopefully, the most important bits are what are kept and everyone has something they can work with.

If you need to breastfeed in public, covering your breast and child allows you to perform the action and allows those who do not wish to witness to both be satisfied. Each side gets what they want, each side loses a little (the "right" to flash your breast and show your suckling baby to all who glance your way versus the "right" of all those who would rather eat their meal, shop, or just be out in public without seeing 'that sort of thing' at all).

If you need to speak with someone on the phone, or are bored and want to use your game for entertainment, going off to the side, leaving the room, or otherwise minimizing the effect of your conversation and game playing on the rest of the public in the area allows both sides to get some of what they want.

Just because you are Liberal and tend toward wanting to help people doesn't mean Conservatives are wrong to want to figure out a way to pay for those services, or make sure they aren't abused. Just because you are Conservative doesn't mean you can axe every program without repercussion or issue or that your constituents want you to. We used to be able to have low taxes and meaningful social programs without breaking the bank, with decent oversight, and while meeting in the middle on the hard choices about how to fund them properly.

If you think before you speak, and speak for yourself, you will often find your responses to media more consistent and without hyperbole. Instead of rejecting outright and being embarrassed when called on the carpet for saying one thing and then voting or doing another, how about you be smart, fess up, and admit when you are wrong? How about living with honor and acting like you care for your constituents instead of looking like you are only in it for the job (and all those perks that come with it).

And, as the public, how about we all try to get along? How about we look up the best candidate, regardless of party, that embodies what we want done in Washington and vote for him/her, instead of just voting for party? How about we walk next door and say Hi to our neighbor and talk with them a bit about what they want from life? How about we all listen to what is being said by those with whom we disagree and see if there is any truth to it that we can work with?

April 23, 2015

Criminal Criminal Minds

(Spoilers; this is entirely about the ending of the Criminal Minds episode, Mr. Scratch)

I enjoy Criminal Minds. I especially like Thomas Gibson's Agent Hotchner. With the exception of the ever-pervasive music that they can't seem to get away from, the show is top-notch.

This week's episode, "Mr. Scratch," was very good. It was eerie and atmospheric. It played on fears and with the mind. It was clever. They discover a bad guy who was always a step ahead and who was using chemicals to make his victims do things by planting suggestions in their heads.

And then they ruined it by having Hotch go, alone, to the last suspected victim's house, enter said house, and get gassed? Really? Really?

This is beyond unbelievable. Hotch knows when to stretch the rules and when not to. He knows his team and he knows his own limitations. He knows the criminal mind extremely well. And, on top of all of this, he's a smart man. Knowing what the criminal uses, the effectiveness of the chemicals and the brainwashing techniques, why in the hell would Hotch ever enter the victim's house without backup? Even if he feared for her life, he would have called the local PD to help out, or called to her from outside and have her come to him.

Then, you have the Hotch versus Unsub battle of wits where Hotch gets a bit of the upper hand (maybe?) and then succumbs to the criminal. At the end, the criminal gives up and makes it seem like he's done something to Hotch.

Well, first, this scene should never have happened because Hotch would never put himself in that position (Derek might, because he often leaps without looking and lets his emotions get the better of him). Second, how strong a suggestion could the Unsub implant in the very few minutes he had with Hotch?

My only feeling is that Thomas Gibson likely wants to leave the series and they are setting that up with this totally out of character instance and its possible side effects.

All in all, this was one of the better, creepier Criminal Minds that they have produced in a while. I'm just so disappointed with the ending. I hope I'm wrong about Gibson leaving.

April 9, 2015

Francis Bean

Francis Bean Cobain is now 22. She has been in the news lately discussing her father, Kurt Cobain (lead singer of the seminal 1990s band Nirvana), and what her father wanted from life, his band, and music. Here's the problem with that: Francis Bean was 2 years old when her father died. Unless she has an eidetic memory, she has no idea what her father wanted. She was simply too young to remember (not to mention that her father likely didn't discuss such weighty matters with a two-year old).

Everything she is saying in these interviews is secondhand at best. She is reiterating what her mother, Courtney Love, or what her dad's friends and band mates have told her over the years. And, while I believe each is trying to stay true to Kurt's memory and life, time changes our perceptions and memories. What they think "Kurt wanted" at the time is warped by their own lives lived since and changing memories. However, as has been proven with the various lawsuits since Kurt's death, Courtney, Kurt's band mates, and others had very different ideas about what Kurt wanted -- enough so that it led to those lawsuits over rights, money, credit, and other issues. Even taking a middle ground between all of what each says leaves you with a much different interpretation of the actual man than who he really was or who he might have been today had he not ended his life.

Francis Bean Cobain is a young woman coming into her own. She has a lot of life left to live, and a lot of decisions to make about herself and who she will become. We should not add her father's legacy onto her, nor should we ask her about it. She needs to make her own path in life and she doesn't need her dad's baggage added to her's. Let's leave that to the rock historians.

March 13, 2015

Random Thoughts, Government

The Republicans campaigned on the idea that they needed to show how well they could govern. In their very first opportunity to show leadership, they fail miserably. Meanwhile, the plans the President was able to push through have caused the economy to stabilize, the job market to rise steadily, and the world's leaders to respect our government again, and he's rewarded with losing the Senate and being called one of the worst presidents in history by his opponents and much of the nation. Hunh?

The Republicans are praying to the ghost of Reagan past, acting like he was some sort of god-incarnate, and claiming to be "Reagan Republicans," and yet, Obama is following Reagan's play-book step by step and the Republicans are doing nothing but blocking him at every turn. Go back and look it up; everything that Obama has proposed is nearly identical to what Reagan did to help pull America up and get the economy humming again. Yet "modern" Republican leadership ignores that, obfuscates, and blocks Obama at every turn. It just goes to prove that modern Republicans have shifted the playing field so far to the right that Reagan would be considered a Liberal today.

Jon Stewart made a comment that I think is insightful. Paraphrased, he said that the Republicans today are not about governing, they are about doing that which protects and projects the Republican/conservative ideals. The more I've thought about it, the truer those words seem. The Republicans are not governing, they absolutely do not care about their constituents' or the country's needs, all they want to do is show their "Republican-ness" or Conservative credentials.

The Republicans are making a big deal about Obama's executive orders. Yet they don't comment on the fact that Reagan passed over 1600 while in office and that Obama currently stands at just 200. They don't comment on the fact that Obama has asked, pleaded, and begged for the Republicans to help him draft laws that make sense, and yet they refuse to govern at all, making executive orders a requirement to get anything done. Again, opportunities to show leadership that the Republicans flush down the toilet.

Don't you find it interesting that the FCC declares the Internet a right, like water, and shifts where it is located under the law to protect its neutrality, and the Republicans that are drawing up a lawsuit to challenge that decision have, as their highest dollar-amount donors, Comcast, Cox, Verizon, et al? Gee, the exact groups that want to charge you as much as possible, put in "slow lanes" and bottlenecks, and stop any and all innovation from happening on the Internet don't like the FCC's ruling? Big shocker. And all the more reason to think the FCC did the RIGHT thing.

The nation is falling apart. The infrastructure for water, sewer, bridges, roads in general, subways, trains, etc. are all crumbling and in dire need of repair. Yet the Republicans have blocked reasonable laws that would fund fixing this mess for over seven years now. That's seven years worth of continued degradation and collapse. Is this the leadership the nation needs?

We need term limits. (See.) Part of the problem is that people are spending much longer in Congress than our founding fathers ever could have guessed. When it becomes an average of a 10-year long career, it creates cronyism and a lack of new ideas due to the lack of turnover. And that leads to further polarization of the groups, including putting people who have seniority but absolutely no idea what they are governing in the subcommittees that create laws and hear the will of the people. Congress needs more turnover, needs new blood, and needs more parties than the main two in it.

I still cannot help but think that America needs a strong independent to rise up, challenge the notions of the bicameral system by winning elections and/or standing strong and making a great showing in a Presidential election (if not winning it), to break the hold that the Democrats and Republicans have on politics and bring things back to the people.

Or we need another revolution. 

February 23, 2015

My Oscars Ceremony

Another Academy Awards has come and gone. Some will say Neil Patrick Harris did well, others will say he did poorly. Someone will complain about the In Memoriam forgetting people. Someone will complain about the length. I don't care anymore. I watch the opening and the first couple of awards, and then I flip away and watch something else, or simply go to sleep.

To keep me occupied, here's how I'd change the Oscars:
  • The host of the show presents all Oscars. No more need for awkward, unfunny jokes and presentations by celebrities. No more "Adele Dazeem" issues (hopefully). Too often while we're watching the host suddenly disappears for long periods of time and you get bad celebrity after bad celebrity presentation. The switching to these also slows things down. The host is there for a reason, use him/her.
    • If the host is a song and dance person, then have multiple short areas where he/she can perform. If he/she is a comedian, then provide time for him/her to tell jokes and keep the audience "warm."
  • Build up to best picture. I know, I know, the argument is that no one will watch the first hour or so of the ceremony of the show if there aren't any of the "big" categories in it. I counter argue that if you make it entertaining, they will watch. Also, by cutting out the celebrity presenters, the show will move more quickly and people will have to watch more of the program to keep up.
  • Have the host tell the audience to save their applause for after the list of nominees has finished. This includes the In Memoriam section.
  • Limit ALL acceptance speeches to 20 seconds. Saying thank you is enough, people. We don't need a political statement, we don't need to hear a list of people read out loud on camera; the people who helped you get there should know who they are and your saying thank you should be inclusive enough.
  • Seat people by category, so whenever a particular award is presented, those people up for it are seated relatively together. If a person is in more than one category, then they are seated with the "most prestigious" award group (say, a writer/director would be seated with the directors, etc.). Alternately, have a section with twenty chairs in it at the very front of the auditorium. As each category comes up, the people nominated and their guest are moved to that section so that, again, they are seated together and so that their trip to get their award is as brief as possible.
  • Decide if you are presenting a somber, serious show or a lighter, funnier show and go with that throughout. Too often the shows get bogged down because they open light and funny, and then turn somber for section on certain movies or the In Memoriam, and then try to go back to light and funny. Pick one. Stick with it.
I'm sure there are more things and I may add to this as I think of them. But these, as a start, would allow me to pay more attention and watch the Oscars.

February 21, 2015

The Hobbit: The Tolkien Edit

I have not been shy about how much I dislike Peter Jackson's overly bloated The Hobbit movies (here and here). Now that all three movies are available, I thought that maybe some enterprising fan would take the movies and re-edit them down to the actual story presented in the book The Hobbit. I quickly found this page with a link to a 6 GB version of the story in film format. I watched it this week and I was blown away.

As suspected, the parts of the film that Jackson made that were on point with the book were quite well done. When re-edited, each movie was chopped down to about 90 minutes and, together, make an approximately 4.5 hour film that follows the book pretty closely. I have some small quibbles with the fan edit but, for the most part, I think it is solid and it is definitely far superior to what Jackson released.

Some points, both pro and con, about this edit (likely Spoilers if you haven't watched the movies):
  • Getting rid of the love triangle took large swaths of the movie out and kept the focus more tightly on the dwarves (and Bilbo), who should be the main protagonists. I'm not sure why Jackson felt the need to force this in, other than he, like most of Hollywood, is under the misimpression that women won't watch a movie without a love triangle in it. Hogwash. Women will watch any movie if it is a good movie. Period.
  • As noted in my other reviews, whenever Legolas was on screen, the movies seemed to grind to a halt. Cutting 99% of him out of the movie helped the flow of the story much more.
  • Cutting back on the "humorous happenstance" and overly bloated fight sequences from most of the movies helps the dwarves be actual agents of their own adventure, rather than humorous victims of circumstance. In the books, they are serious about their mission and they are feared warriors. When they are captured or overwhelmed, they need saving, and Bilbo steps up by "finding his courage" and proving his worth to the dwarves. Too often in Jackson's movies, those scenes were played for humor and he took the scenes to absurd lengths (like the wooden bridge falling with the dwarves on it as they fight the goblins in the first movie). With this edit, they appear to be capable fighters who occasionally get in over their heads and need assistance from Bilbo or Gandalf to escape. It makes it more believable for the end Battle of Five Armies sequence that they are capable fighters earlier.
  • Bilbo comes across as much more of the unlikely hero he was in the book than he did in Jackson's edit. With the humor mostly removed, Bilbo is actively helping the dwarves, actively showing his value, and actively becoming friends with and learning respect for the dwarves he is teamed with. The bonds seem deeper and there seems to be more focus on the company and their relationships.
  • Cutting out a bunch of the 'madness of Thorin' scenes moves the story along more quickly. Jackson beat us over the head with it by having way too many scenes showing Thorin's dragon sickness; the actor is good enough to convey this in a couple of scenes, so that's all the audience needs.
  • Cutting way back on the Battle of Five Armies fight sequences helps this to move along more quickly. Originally, as I commented, it just took so long what with Jackson focusing on every single named person having a shining moment to himself during the combat. Now, I would have kept a little more in than this edit; for example, Kili and Fili's death, if possible, so you know why they are missing at the end. And I would have re-edited the Thorin versus Azog slightly so that there wasn't the (trying to be a) jump scare 'Azog is presumed dead but comes back up through the ice and they kill each other' moment. I would have just had them fight to the end like men.
  • I would have left in, if I could make it work, the dwarves being chased to the tree and the Eagles rescuing them. If no other reason than to bring it full circle when the Eagles come to their aid at the last battle. Also, if I could have managed to keep the Bilbo rescues Thorin sequence that happens during this sequence, I would have. It shows how Bilbo has grown and the respect that Thorin has growing inside for Bilbo.
All in all, though, this edit is vastly superior to the movies that Jackson released. I think that if Jackson had done this (sticking close to the original story) and released it as one longer (3-3.5 hour) or two shorter (2-2.5 hrs each) film(s), he likely would have had numbers more similar to those he achieved with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, each Hobbit movie made less at the box office and, I think, it is because he shed viewers along the way with how bloated and overdone they were.

I have saved the copy of this fan's edit and will, in the future, watch this movie instead of Jackson's when I want to see The Hobbit.

Grade: B+

January 17, 2015

John Wick

John Wick is a lean story about a mob enforcer who has retired but is brought back into the life when some miscreants beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. He then seeks revenge on those who commit these crimes against him.

I love how the story just starts. There is no voiceover. You learn everything you need to know about Wick from both his actions and how other people in the movie talk about him/react to him. The action sequences are equally lean; they feel real, violent, and believable. I was most impressed with how quickly Wick dispatches most of those who get in his way; he shoots nearly every person twice, once wherever and once in the head to make sure they are dead (like a real mob assassin would). Very few individual fights with people last for longer than 10 seconds and the longest fight sequences with multiple people usually don't last longer than a minute or two.

I was similarly impressed with the fact that nearly every stunt was a practical effect. This puts you so much more into the movie than seeing a ton of CGI people and effects (see my recent review of the Hobbit movies).

Another thing that surprised me was the fact the love story is entirely implied; Wick's wife is dead from the outset and you see his love and interest for her in the opening series of flashbacks and in his watching of the video of her on his phone (and, partly, in how the mob leaders talk about him leaving due to the love of a woman). It gives you enough backstory without needing any of it really in the story.

Keanu Reeves, not a favorite actor of mine, is surprisingly good and effective in this role. He is completely believable and at no time did I fall back on saying any of his Bill and Ted or Matrix catch phrases (which I usually do when watching him on screen). It's like this role was tailored to make the most out of him as an actor and action star.

Lastly, the run time is near perfection. At 95 minutes of movie (plus 6 minutes of credits), you don't feel antsy or like the movie is overly long. First act simply introduces the main characters and sets up the plot. The second act brings the main characters together and starts the action. The third act finishes the action and provides a brief denouement. Slam bam, thank you maam.

Is this film art or Oscar-worthy? Of course not. But it is a slick, lean, quality action film with a believable plot and really well-done action sequences. The main character is both likeable and well-defined. As an action movie I'd rate this an A-.

Addendum (May 4, 2015):

Just announced:

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

I previously reviewed the first Hobbit movie here. I skipped reviewing the second one altogether. This review will focus on the third film, but is really a summation of all three movies.

As I said before, these movies are bloated and a little boring. Pretty much every scene with Orlando Bloom bogs down the story and brings the movie to a grinding halt. His "action" sequences are universally ludicrous and mostly done with quite-obvious CGI. I know that Elves are supposed to be special, but a humanoid body simply can't do some of what the CGI has his doing.

Throwing the love story between the elf and the dwarf in also bogged the story down. I guess they didn't trust the source material, beloved by both men and women for decades, to draw women in and had to put something 'lovey' in for the 'girls.' When will people learn that women will watch a movie regardless of whether or not it has a love interest in it if the movie is good. That's most women's major criteria for a movie.

The second movie was mostly "lucky escapes" and a bunch of dialogue to move the plot along. This movie's plot, therefore, goes like this: the battle at Lake Town between the Dragon and Bard the Bowman, Thorin wandering around being swayed by all the gold, battle to save Gandalf from Sauron, Thorin acting like a jerk, the Elves arriving and picking a fight, Thorin acting like a fool, the extra Dwarves arriving and picking a fight, Thorin continuing to act like a fool, the Orks, Goblins, and Bats arriving and starting the war, Thorin finally wising up and joining the war, and then the war, with a brief goodbye by Bilbo. There is more battle and "action" sequences in this movie, more destruction and battle porn, than in Man of Steel, I think!

There are so many individual and group battle moments that I was looking at my watch, taking bathroom breaks, and getting antsy for the movie to wrap it all up. It is so bloated that it becomes cringe-inducing at times. Even the least jaded movie watcher, I presume, would be yelling at the screen the obviousness of the battle scenes, what was going to happen, and when. The battle between Thorin and Azog is particularly grueling; it goes on way too long, has way too many segments, and the big "surprise, Azog is still alive and you have to finally kill him" moment was so telegraphed ahead of time that there is no jump scare or surprise in evidence. Something else that didn't help this movie was having all the villains as CGI. Unlike the LotR movies, where many of the battle sequences were shot with actual people in ork and goblin makeup and prosthetics, this movie had them all CGI'd (whether actual people with CGI elements or simply all motion-captured CGI (like Gollum was), I don't know-- but it little matters). The over-use of CGI took me right out of the action because it didn't look real. The battle in LotR where Boromir gives his life trying to protect the Hobbits was much more meaningful and interesting because real people were dressed as orks and goblins; it felt real and not the least bit "cartoony." The battles here all felt like a cartoon world.

Aside: Another really ludicrous moment is when someone mentions that there are about a 100 goblins coming and two Dwarfs stay behind to take them. This pretty much means that the Dwarves consider 50:1 odds quite in line with their capabilities. And you know that the Elves consider themselves at least equally capable of combat to the Dwarves. Which means that Azog did not bring nearly enough goblins, orks, or bats to the fray, as he has at least 113 dwarves and 100 elves, plus a smattering of men to wade through. It appears he only brought a few hundred. At a minimum of 50:1 odds, however, Azog should have brought at least in the vicinity of 12,500 warriors.

Peter Jackson and company (as there were four people listed as the screenwriters for this movie) also reused a bunch of dialogue from LotR movies so that the audience could have multiple "see how it ties together" or "oh, he said that in the LotR movies!" moments. They become ludicrous because they indicate that no one grew, got smarter, or learned from their mistakes in these films when, 60 years later, the same things happen to them in LotR! It's exactly like forcing Rd-D2 and C3PO into the Star Wars 1-3 and even making one of them built by Anakin, yet we know that the droids were never recognized by Vader later in movies 4-6. It's head scratching.

Now, don't get me wrong -- each individual scene was well crafted and generally well done. The actors (except for Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, and Lee Pace; all actors I generally enjoy, but who provided very wooden, rote readings of their lines (it likely didn't help that each was also CGI'd so that their faces looked 'ageless')) generally did a very serviceable job.

I definitely think this movie is the BEST of the three Hobbit movies, and it isn't even close. I grade it a C+

Aside: I look forward to some enterprising Netizen taking all three films and editing out all the bloat into one movie that sticks with the story of The Hobbit, rather than having all that added Silmarillion and other stuff added in. With the job that Jackson did in directing it, it will probably make for a very entertaining and well-done movie!

January 15, 2015

Another Break

Once again, I haven't been writing as often. The world is in such a state that I sit down to write a blog and then something else happens and I'm left speechless or dumbfounded again. I have probably sat down to write a blog at least 10-12 times since the last missive, only to be unable to focus on any one topic long enough to get my opinions out! There is just so, so much right now.

  • Regarding the cops shooting people: This is not an easy case. Until you've been in the dark, responding to a potentially violent situation, with unknown factors, and a bunch of fear and adrenalin pumping through your veins, you have no idea what it is like for a policeman to intervene in any situation. Do they make mistakes? Of course they do. Do they then regret it and do something (potentially illegal) to make it right, either for themselves or those affected -- quite possibly. They are human.
  • Regarding people being shot by cops: In each case of a police shooting someone (mostly, it seems, black people this time around), the videos I saw showed those people to be acting belligerently, responding with violent comments or aggressive actions when asked to do something by the police, and a bunch of passers by who watched and filmed rather than intervening, resolving, or helping the situation. 
    • When my wife and I were driving to PA from Montreal a few years ago, our vehicle and another one were pulled over by the same cop for speeding. My wife and I sat calmly in our vehicle waiting for the cop to get to us. We kept our hands visible and we spoke in a calm manner with the cop. The other couple were making fast movement, talking back to the cop, getting out of the vehicle and walking up aggressively to the cop as he spoke with us. And, gee, we got off relatively easy, he put our over the speed limit number down to something that would give us the smallest fine possible, and he sent us on our way with a nice anecdote. They got to stay with the cop for much longer, got a bigger fine, and pissed off the cop with their actions. I wouldn't be surprised if he added a few miles to the speed he estimated they were traveling just to give them the biggest fine possible. Moral to this story: HOW YOU ACT TO AUTHORITY FIGURES MATTERS.
  • Regarding cops being shot randomly: When, at any point in history, has violence being met with more violence solved the problem? People taking it upon themselves to shoot random cops as they sit in their cruisers or walk their beat will just make the cops more jumpy when they have to respond to any calls, making the likelihood of another accident or brutality issue to happen. Why can't the calmer heads prevail?
  • Regarding Extremists shooting the Charlie Hebdo staff: The Koran does not actually prohibit depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Just like the Old Testament and Bible (from which the Koran is derived, of course), the Koran prohibits worshipping false idols. This has been stretched to mean images of the prophet in recent times, but originally did not. I mean, there are a bunch of paintings specifically depicting the Prophet Mohommed that have been done throughout history and hang in various museums and are on walls of holy places. This is just a case of Extremists who want to make someone pay for their lot in life and have chosen Islam as their focal point.
  • Regarding judging all Muslims based on extremists: Fox news correspondents have once again been really maligning the Muslim religion and showing their ignorance. I know, I know, big surprise. My response, similar to many others, is this: We don't judge all Christians based on the actions of the KKK, white supremacists, the Spanish Inquisition, or the actions of those who went to the Holy Lands during the Crusades, so why do they judge all Muslims based on the actions of a very, very small minority of those claiming to be Muslim? (And, to boot, of radical sects of Islam that ignore whole swathes of the Koran in order to preach the hate and violence these groups espouse.)
    • Why does Fox News refuse to admit that the majority of Muslim groups denounce these extremists? Their commentators specifically ask that question and then refuse to show or admit that there are dozens of groups with official statements that denounce these acts. Fox News refuses to show the outreach of these Muslim groups as they try to show the other (majority) side of the issue. Yet Fox News refuses to provide fair and balanced reporting when it comes to this. Why?
  • Regarding Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress: For the last six years, the Republicans have gone out of their way to block as much legislation as they could, including their own legislature that the Democrats/President happened to agree with, in order to make this current President look weak and ineffectual. The end result was that the economy has improved, jobs are way up, and the country's standing among the world has improved greatly. The Republicans then told Americans that the President sucked and that they, the least effective Congress in history with an approval rating of 13% should be re-elected. The Democrats, rather than telling the American people the real story, showing the job growth, stability in the economy, and how much their policies had worked, bought into what the Republicans were selling, did not want to be associated with the President, and ran confusing, scared re-election/election campaigns with no focus. In the absence of truth, the American people bought it as well and re-elected/elected the Republicans and gave them control of both houses! What should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats became a solid win for the Republicans. How did that happen?
    • As an aside: Why do the Republicans think that the Democrats, now in the same position they were just a few years ago, won't do the exact same things to them that the Repubs did to the Democrats and filibuster and block everything possible? It worked for the Republicans, so why not do it right back at them? I would bet that is what the minority whip is telling everyone. The biggest thing the Repubs need to prove is that they can govern... well, don't let them. Block everything.
What a lot of these issues have in common is a totally all or nothing view of the world. Why must a select few take this all or nothing stance and then espouse it from the rooftops? How do so many of the disaffected glom onto these idiots and join their cause? Whether it is politics or violence, we should be looking for the calmer voices and helping them to prevail. We need to think and act for ourselves, rather than listen to what the select few say. We need to think before we act. We need to research to help us think. We need to be smarter about everything.