Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bridges Too Far

In what could be a signal of changing tides regarding the hateful rhetoric of the extreme right, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed House Bill 2230 which sought to modify the Arizona 911 Memorial by removing panels that contained 11 phrases considered offensive by AZ Rep. John Kavanagh (R), the sponsor of the bill.

The Memorial features a shiny steel circular band engraved with 54 phrases selected (with public input) from the 9/11 commission report, news reports and articles, and other sources at the time. Conservatives didn't like the choices. In 2008, Len Munsil promised to tear it down if elected Governor, joined by Russell Pearce and others in condemning the work as containing “left wing statements.”

Among those slated for removal:

“Erroneous U.S. air strike kills 46 Uruzgan civilians”
“Terrorist organization leader addresses American people.”
"You don't win battles of terrorism with more battles"
"Feeling of invincibility lost."
"Fear of foreigners"
"Congress Questions Why CIA and FBI Didn't Prevent Attacks"
"Middle East violence motivates attacks in the US"
"Foreign-born Americans afraid"

In what has attracted national attention, the “fear of foreigners” plaque includes the murder of Singh Sodhi, a turban wearing Sikh who owned a Mesa gas-station and was gunned down four days after 911. Further, the bill specifically instructs that the panels be removed prior to the 10th Anniversary of the attacks and that they be sold to a scrap metal dealer.

Scrap metal.

Of course others were incensed, in particular Sodhi's family. Kavanagh apologized to the family once he realized he didn't know what he was talking about, saying (my words),”Well, uh, I really meant the other stuff.”

The Birther conversation has been beaten to death, so I'll skip it, except to note that it was that veto where Brewer used the “bridge too far” expression. She was right.

Two bridges down, many to go.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cinema Shrugs

(The John Galt Line) In what has to be one of the longest awaited disappointments in the history of cinema, the anticipated for decades effort to bring Ayn Rand's opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), to the big screen finally happened Friday. Rand's 1000+ page novel represented the pinnacle of her career and influence, permanently engraving "Who is John Galt?" into the wall of a particular conversation.

Ayn Rand's earlier and also impressive The Fountainhead (1943) was made into a motion picture by the end of that decade (1949), and a good one at that, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. When Atlas Shrugged overtook The Fountainhead as the national Ayn Rand favorite, everyone believed it would be made into a film and simply speculated on who and when.

Some kind of curse seemed to attack efforts to film the epic story of Dagny Taggart, heroine of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, Henry Rearden, masterful business tycoon and owner of Rearden Steel, Francisco D'Anconia, the brilliant genius and heir to the D'Anconia fortune, the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, Ellis Wyatt, and the rest as they struggle against the slime of Orren Boyle, Wesley Mouch, Bertram Scudder, and a host of looters. Arguments over content control, acquisitions and mergers, personnel changes, all contributed to derailments of project after project. Ayn Rand herself worked on a screenplay, getting about a third of the way into the story before she died in 1982. Recently, an effort almost succeeded in making what would probably have become one of the greatest cinematic atrocities ever produced, with Angelina Jolie playing Dagny and Brad Pitt playing Rearden. (Note the inane, idiotic poster with Angelina and Brad donning pistols, which have no role in the story.)

(Dagny wearing the Rearden Metal bracelet) While God or some set of benevolent forces spared us the above fiasco, the picture released Friday, intended to be the first of a trilogy, offers its own version of painful cinema, suffering the malaise that can inflict a film attempting to replicate a voice it does not genuinely possess as its own.

This situation can produce excruciating dialog as actors speak words without adequate grounding or context, leaving the viewer with the unpleasant realization mid-scene that these are actors reciting lines. Sometimes the lines themselves seem to come out of nowhere, not fitting into the conversation taking place. The contextual vacuum can also produce scripts that fail to sufficiently frame what is occurring. Individuals watching this picture without having read the book will miss so much as to render the experience frustrating if not just plain boring. Roger Ebert blasted the film and gave it one star, which is rare under his generous system which hands a couple of stars to even the unimpressive and uninteresting. Rotten Tomatoes matched his opinion.

(Francisco D'Anconia with Hank Rearden) Ever since reading the book in 1978, I pronounced Wesley Mouch as "mooch." The film uses "mowch" as in "mouth." Considering what is typically associated with the word "mooch," I was quite surprised to hear it pronounced differently. The film wisely nixed the smoking in the 1957 novel, but the prevalence of alcohol proved distracting for characters who were not heavy drinkers, including D'Anconia. While I'm poking little holes, the actors for Dagny, Rearden, and D'Anconia were entirely too young and older performers would have enhanced credibility.

Wisely (or more likely, out of necessity) the producers shot the film on a tight budget of about $10 million, which is nothing for a Hollywood feature. Ayn Rand's following and the Tea Party bunch who have heard of her should insure the picture's ability to recover this modest investment. Barring a game changing event, the second and third installments should be able to operate with comparable budgets, so despite brutal reviews and marginal box office of the first film, they might get made.

Some of the Tea Party types so fond of Ayn Rand and her libertarian philosophy will no doubt delight in the production of the picture and enjoy notions that it will help spread the libertarian message. It won't. Those having read the book have already reacted to its message, and the film will have no impact on their sentiments. Those seeing the film without having read the book will be unmoved and unconvinced by a disjointed story that offers no real arguments or sense of cause and effect to explain why the events are taking place.

At the end of the day, so to speak, the film rights to Rand's extraordinary epic of remarkable characters and thought provoking content ended up in the hands of one with a bare bones budget and no time. Her masterpiece was shot "at the last minute" for a song. Should parts two and three make it to the screen, it's possible they will demonstrate considerable improvement. Odds favor they'll serve more of the same. All of that now said, I have to say that the way the Rearden Metal glowed blue in the film was way cool.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Not Intended

Everyone here has heard of Jon Kyl's ridiculous assertion that 90% of Planned Parenthood's funding went to provide abortions (false). When confronted with data (3% total and 0% federal), Kyl's office responded that his remarks were “Not intended to be a factual statement.”

Stephen Colbert has reacted by inviting the nation to submit its own set of remarks not intended to be factual at a Twitter account. They have:

Jon Kyl removes all of the tags on his mattresses.
Legally, Jon Kyl cannot be within 100 yards of Helen Mirren.
Jon Kyl does not close cover before striking.
Jon Kyl sticks his gum under the table.
Jon Kyl steals food & water from families in Africa.
Jon Kyl likes to put cell phones in his body.
Jon Kyl wears depends when he's on the senate floor.
Jon Kyl doesn't floss.
Jon Kyl's favorite dish is spam with sour cream.
Jon Kyl enjoys giving enemas to his Rottweiler.
Jon Kyl has a thing for Nancy Pelosi's feet.
Jon Kyl looks like he does because he enhances his spam diet with broccoli and children.
Jon Kyl's NCAA basketball bracket had the Scientologists winning the championship.
Jon Kyl can unhinge his jaw like a python to swallow small rodents whole.
Every Halloween Jon Kyl dresses up as a sexy Mitch Daniels.
Jon Kyl sponsored S.410, which would ban happiness.
Jon Kyl let a game-winning ground ball roll through his legs in Game 6 of the '86 World Series.
Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car.
Jon Kyl doesn't know bananas should be peeled.
Jon Kyl doesn't like bananas.
Jon Kyl likes to tell first graders that Santa Claus is a lie told by bad parents.
Jon Kyl once gutted an aardvark so he could eat the half digested ants.
Jon Kyl liked the Partridge Family in his 20s and has a poster of David Cassidy in his bathroom.
Jon Kyl's wife never liked David Cassidy, Larry Craig, the Rottweiler, or Pelosi's feet.
Jon Kyl is responsible for the wardrobe malfunction.
Jon Kyl sings hideous karaoki after three drinks. Before three drinks, it's worse.
Jon Kyl doesn't understand Harry Potter.
Jon Kyl didn't understand Charlotte's Web.
At the grocery store Jon Kyl grew confused when he wanted more groceries than he could hold.
Every time Jon Kyl held a shovel, hammer, wrench, rake, ruler, he was posing for a camera. When he held a screwdriver, it was orange in a glass.
Jon Kyl never changed a car's oil, tire, battery, spark plug, belt, filter, hose, wire, bulb, wiper.
Jon Kyl never heard of the things he hasn't changed and thinks a vacuum cleaner cleans vacuums.
Jon Kyl has never washed a car – he has never driven a car.
Jon Kyl is still afraid of his parents and doesn't trust his children. Neither parents nor children are concerned.
The Society for the Provention of Cruelty towards Animals has filed an injunction preventing Jon Kyl from unsupervised contact with animals domesticated or undomesticated.

His Rottweiler is relieved.

Now that Kyl's so easily tagged disregard for the truth has become a symbol, he has chosen to retract his deliberate distortion from the Congressional record. Kyl is not running for re-election next year. Perhaps he wanted to clarify the nature of his character before he makes his greatest contribution to the US Senate by leaving it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Black Presidents

150 years later, the Confederacy still hasn't figured out that it lost the War.

Anonymous Comment
Repealing Reality, March 24, 2010

Since Obama's election I've written a few pieces noting how his becoming President has caused certain elements of society to stoke the flames of sentiments tracing back to the Civil War. Others have noticed this as well, and last week CNN featured a John Blake piece noting these themes, including a poll detailing the ways in which Southern sentiments remain.

The conversation continues to spread. This week Rachel Maddow picked it up and noted that some have been writing on the subject for years, in particular Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic (1999) which discusses how certain groups of society just can't let go, can't move on, can't join the progress of civilization towards a world that works for everyone. It should be no surprise that such energies would approach fever pitch with the election of an African American President.

The irony of the thematic links between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln is rich. The cast of characters that demonize Obama are essentially the same set of folks that despised Lincoln during his presidency. For the same reasons. In fact, during Lincoln's presidency these individuals contemptuously referred to him as "the Black President."

Literally, and while words like "socialist" and "fascist" were not around, the same rhetorical themes existed with "tyrant, dictator, despot..." towards Lincoln. With it came the resulting noise about nullification, secession, and the like. (The 1863 cartoon refers to Lincoln as "King Abraham.")

A certain, 150-year déjà vu itches the national psyche as we see over the top vilification of Obama and rabid attempts to undermine his legitimacy. It's not hard to find the 1860 version of the same sentiments towards the first president referred to as "black." Unlike then, these days everyone appears afraid of offending those behind the vitriol. We see efforts to lie and/or sugar coat the ugly reality underneath the animosity, including attempts to re-write history regarding the Civil War and what it was all about, lies and deception piled higher and higher on what these folks are and were.

The lies are old and have changed little. The Confederacy lied back then. This included ludicrous assertions such as that the slaves liked slavery (not kidding). Of course, when John Brown raided Harper's Ferry, the South went ballistic, because in truth they were terrified the "happy" slaves would join the revolt.

More significantly, the Confederacy lied about the conflict being about states rights. We still hear conservatives pushing this nonsense today. What a crock. The Confederacy was more hostile to states rights than the North. Immediately after it was created, it started imposing its will on states far more intrusively than what occurred in the North, invading both West Virginia and Tennessee to keep them in line. In December 1862 President Jefferson Davis denounced states rights as destructive. In February of 1864, Davis remarked, "Public meetings of a treasonous nature are being held in the name of states rights."

I'll jump to the punch line - the rather simple fact that whites in the South founded the Confederacy on the ideology of white supremacy. Its sole mission and purpose was to justify and protect the institution of slavery.

Occam's Razor, and unlike today's mouthpieces and all of their gobbledygook, back then Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens didn't mince words, "Our new government's foundations are laid, it cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man - that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."

You won't find that quote in a high school history book in this country, not one. That's the snake, and rather than denounce it for what it is, rather than fight it as we did in the 1960s, the GOP has chosen to wine, dine, and dance with it, ironically betraying the first "black president," the very man who founded their party in the first place.

If you want a deep dive, The Truth About the Confederacy provides considerable food for thought and shows how its material is particularly relevant in the current political discourse.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sustainability, Efficiency, and Health being cut

Blog reader K.P. contacted me about the possibility of submitting an article for publication. Naturally, I replied that she was welcome to send me what she had to say. I will let her piece speak for itself, except to note that it lists just a taste of the possible consequences of the current political environment. Under the surface, it points to disturbing questions about what the Republican Party is really about in the 21st century. K.P. has some inside knowledge regarding the Environmental Protection Agency and what GOP funding cuts could jeopardize.

Through the early months of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency has been under a series of attacks from GOP representatives and major business owners. These attacks include a proposed major cut to the EPA budget, as well as the introduction of other acts aimed at cutting down the relevancy and effectiveness of the EPA. With environmental problems continuing, this could be an unfortunate hit to the EPA.

The backlash towards the EPA is stemming mostly from major business owners in factories and power plants. The EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has not only ruffled the feathers of these business owners, but now a number of GOP leaders who are looking to fire back at the EPA for what they see as unnecessary regulations. The problem with the stance of the GOP is that lowering the EPA’s budget and ending these emissions regulations would be dangerous in raising pollution and possible health risks.

Not having any type of emission regulation at all would be a dangerous precedent. It’s basically a green light for these businesses to relax standards as much as they need to stay profitable, increasing pollution and risks to public health. This combined with lower resources for the EPA could put people in affected areas at risk for a number of respiratory health issues such as asthma, mesothelioma, and different forms of cancers.

The EPA’s budget was finally at the level in 2010 where it could run a great amount of programs geared towards making the nation more sustainable and keeping health risks to a minimum. These included working to keep public water facilities safe for drinking. The EPA worked with local and state water systems, as well as water suppliers to enforce a set of standards that would allow for safe water consumption.

The EPA also does a great amount of work in maintaining air quality for the country. The AQMG (Air Quality Modeling Group) is a part of the EPA geared towards helping out local and state officials. The AQMG is setup to give these officials a series of models, diagrams, and programs geared towards helping provide the best air quality possible in these areas. A reduction in quality air could certainly turn into a raised risk of asthma and other respiratory problems.

Asbestos removal is another important initiative of the EPA. Every year the agency works in local buildings, schools, and structures to help remove this dangerous material from places where it could be exposed. Formerly known for its diversity as a building material, asbestos is now known for its connection to health problems such as asbestosis, nausea, mesothelioma, and dizziness. Although it’s not in use today, agencies such as the EPA are working to have it removed from older buildings to prevent dire health risks. For example, mesothelioma life expectancy is extremely severe, usually averaging only a year following diagnosis.

These are just a few of the initiatives that make the EPA a driving force towards sustainability and efficiency in America. With the EPA’s movement to not only increase sustainability, but also cut down on health risks, slashing their budget and cutting their initiatives would likely be the wrong move.

Today's Jim Efstathiou article in Bloomberg Businessweek reinforces K.P.'s remarks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Giffords in Newsweek

For those who have yet to see it, Newsweek magazine has just published a Peter Boyer article regarding the aftermath of the January 8th shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I'm not inclined to comment except to call it to the reader's attention and provide a link:

What's Really Going on with Gabby Giffords?

Those interested in the Congresswoman and what has been happening since she was shot are encouraged to read Boyer's piece.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sarah's Sustainability

Sustainability is the capacity to endure, and only by persisting long term in a particular effort (e.g. a blog, a hobby, a project) does one get a sense of what's involved to build the underlying support necessary to continue indefinitely. A campaign for the presidency also requires endurance, and Sarah Palin's numbers as a politically viable candidate for high office have been eroding and continue to fall as she fails to generate what can pass for gravitas for all but those who don't know what the word means. Simply put, Sarah Palin exploited good looks, a knack for sound bites, and the fame of a Vice-Presidential nomination to embark on self-glorifying publicity tours designed to generate as much revenue as possible.

Pundits on both sides of the spectrum have suggested that for credibility she must aggressively educate herself in the substance of world affairs and economics. But, come on, that would mean she'd have to do things like read books and my heavens, actually study something less readily understood than The Cat in the Hat. Unless we count tourist ventures for photo ops, she has yet to start.

The shooting in Tucson only mildly contributed to what was already happening regarding matters Sarah Palin. The numbers started falling in 2010, and now an NBC/WJS poll shows her negatives at 53% with only 25% positive. The woman is not running for president, and her ego won't have her run for anything else.

For the last year, we have had the refrain:

Obama (blah) Gulf oil spill. Palin blasts Obama's (blah) oil spill.
Obama (blee) Israel and the West Bank. Palin slams Obama's (blee) West Bank.
Obama (blue) earthquake in Haiti. Palin outraged at Obama's (blue) towards Haiti.
Obama (bligh) uprising in Egypt. Palin blasts Obama's (bligh) Egypt.
Obama (bluh) rebel forces in Libya. Palin slams Obama's (bluh) Libya.
Obama (bling) tsunami in Japan. Palin condemns Obama's (bling) Japan.
Obama (blewk) national budget crisis. Palin appalled at Obama's (blewk) on budget.

How long is this interesting?

Soon enough, she will occur as little more than a circus attraction. Granted, she is a fabulously wealthy circus attraction who profited handsomely by ginning up a bunch of excitement among the more primitive elements displeased with the election of “one of those.” Well played, Sarah. Now go buy an island or a ranch or a town in Montana, and stay there. Now that is something that can last a long time.

Well, maybe not.