Open Letter to the Air

Now nobody knew quite what to make of him or quite what to think, but there he was and in he walked.

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Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

Monday, February 04, 2013

Democratic Despotism

Shortly after the 2012 election, I began to have difficulty shaking off the feeling that the world was ending.  I tried to convince myself that I was over-reacting to the election and that soon enough life would begin to feel normal and everything would be fine.

Then I read a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville that was eerily prophetic about the shape our Republic is now taking.  I encourage anyone to read for himself "Democracy in America".  Since the election, in which Conservatives were run over by a freight train, I've been asking myself how a nation of free-thinkers could elect a government that seems bent on taking away our freedom.  I think Toqueville has really got his finger on the answer.

Living among Americans in the early 1830's, the French historian observes:
an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
How much more accurate can this description be in the modern era of the smartphone and earbud?  We've grown accustomed to tuning out our fellow human beings, content to let strangers remain unknown to us, even if we see them every day.  How are we to have any sense of compassion for our fellow man when we are all so content to not know them or what their needs might be?
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood.
We are each so absorbed with our own lives, we are content to let the government decide what our neighbor needs, unaware of the great cost:
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
As "sheep", men have less opportunity, or desire even, to exercise their own free will.  The "free" choices we do make center on our private whims, but we don't bother with self-governing our appetites, and our morals are dictated by the State rather than the other way around.  We have lost the higher powers of thought that were used to forge our nation in the first place.  We've lost sight of first principles, the ideal of the common good, the virtue of hard work, and the willingness to suffer for these things.  It is a kind of decay Toqueville foresaw affecting the health of our government:
It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.
Toqueville believes that what separates man from beast is his ability to rise above bodily instinct and strive for higher things.  When he exercises this faculty, he rises above the animals in his goods and achievements.  However, if he neglects it, he loses both bodily goods and the art of achieving them, rendering man capable of enjoying life only "like the brutes, without discernment and without improvement."  This is what he predicts will bring about the ultimate demise of the Republic:
It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people...The vices of rulers and the ineptitude of the people would speedily bring about its ruin; and the nation, weary of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single master.
When I hear the words, "single master" some might think of Obama.  He's not it, but I do believe one day the world will face it's Antichrist.  It would seem America finds itself nearer the edge of a crucible inside of which it will be tested by fire.  Of course, I would prefer that "freer institutions" would arise from the ashes, but two things temper those hopes:  the sinking feeling that moral turpitude has rendered us incapable of imagining let alone bring about a better, freer institution, and a fear of the crucible itself.

It would seem that this sense of apocalyptic doom has even seeped into the mind of Hollywood, judging from the surge of new films coming out that depict either the end of America as we know it, or the demise of the entire planet.  If even the heralds of "hope" and "change" can't come up with more optimistic visions of tomorrow, you know the looming dread is palpable everywhere.

If/when America falls, it will be recorded in the history books alongside the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Rome.  That is if the fire doesn't consume the history books themselves.

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

70 A.D.

2000 years ago, a nation enslaved by a corrupt power had a chance for salvation.  In the court of Pontius Pilate, the Messiah was presented to the Jewish people.  "Behold your king!" shouted Pilate.  "We have no king but Caesar!" cried the Jews.  70 years later, Armageddon was visited upon Israel.

There's no one to blame but you, America.  You had the chance to elect a man who could pull us back from the brink of economic collapse.  He may even have been able to stem the advance of cultural decay.  But America has no king but Obama.  Can Armageddon be that far off?  Consider:

Will Israel unilaterally strike Iran?
Will North Korea become a nuclear power?
Will terrorists kill thousands in America again?
Will our military become impotent?
Will gas prices skyrocket further?
Will our income be sapped by egregious taxation?
Will the stock market crash?
Will the national credit rating be further downgraded?
Will we face a national healthcare "death panel"?
Will Catholic clinics and hospitals close?
Will we see "hate speech" legislation that makes preaching Catholic sexual ethics a crime?
Will gay marriage become the law of the land?
Will our media begin to expand its umbrella of "tolerance" over other moral aberrations like bestiality or pedophilia? (hint: it's already started)

Can America be pulled back out of four more years of entrenched Leftism?  Has the "American Experiment" finally failed?  Have we become New Europe?  Is the Conservative movement dead?  Even if it can be said that conservatism works, what does it matter if the voting majority wants a free hand-out?

I know this much - the folks on conservative talk radio have lost all potency in my opinion.  They're in the business of selling a product just like any other business, and I was buying it for a long time.  Now I'm convinced it's a lemon.  All those bright minds - Prager, Hewitt, Ingraham, Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, and a host of others - with their entertaining shows with all their rational apologetics and well-constructed arguments couldn't convince enough people to keep this from happening.  All their forecasts of Romney landslides turned out to be empty hope.

National discourse has been reduced to the soundbite.  Soundbites can't change minds.  Apparently the Republican party needs to start making music videos and learn to give away free cell phones.

Rational thought doesn't rule the land any more, and optimism doesn't win elections.  It takes virtue to make virtuous choices, and America is no longer a virtuous country.  We're a nation of post-Christian nihilists.  "United States" has become an oxymoron.  Reverend Wright must have been a prophet.  America is damned.

Silver linings?  I can't think of a single one.  At least heaven waits for some on the other side of Armageddon.  And there will be more Star Wars films to watch while we wait for the fire.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A New Hope

I haven't been this excited in a very long time.  Oh sure, I've joyfully anticipated upcoming films in the recent past, but nothing comes close to the excitement I have about yesterday's news.

George Lucas sold Star Wars.

It's as though the Emperor himself just handed over the keys to the Empire to the Rebels.

Episode 7 is now in the early stages of development for a 2015 release.  I'm awash with wonder about who will direct, who will write, who will score, and most importantly - what story will they tell?  After all, the first six films were the story of Anakin.  Where do they take it from here?  I have some ideas, but I'm too uncertain to put anything down here about that yet.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, I will share a little fun project I did back in 2005.

Ever since the Episode1 trailer included a clip of Obi-Wan screaming, "NO!" thereby revealing to all in advance that something horrible would happen to Qui-Gon during the climactic duel with Darth Maul, I have detested movie trailers for giving away too much plot. For that reason, before the theatrical release of Episode 3, I decided to put myself on a media blackout for all teasers, trailers, posters, etc. The only thing I allowed myself to know was the name of a new character Grevious that was being introduced.

Inspired by a challenge from a friend, I decided to try to guess what the movie would be like by attempting to "connect the dots" between Ep2 and Ep4. I summarized each character's story arc from 2 to 4, then wrote my summary of how the movie could seamlessly weave these things together.  I'll let you be the judge of how this compares to the real deal.


For three grueling years, the Jedi have engaged the enemy in numerous battles but never seem to get the upper hand in the war.  Anakin has grown stronger in the Force and ever more headstrong against his master’s instructions.  Tensions mount as Anakin subtly challenges the balance of power between Master and Padawan.

Palpatine has been waging war, pitting different sides of the galaxy against each other.  The years of war have drained the resources (and the resistance) of the entire galaxy.

Ever since Dooku told Obi-Wan that a Sith Lord named Sidious had infiltrated the Senate, the Jedi have been quietly observing the actions of the Senate for signs of a hidden threat.  Over the years they have grown confident that the Senate has been compromised.  They have a name: “Grievous”, but they don’t know the culprit’s true identity.  The Jedi have been combing the galaxy for news that will lead to Grievous.

Anakin has kept his marriage to Padme a secret, knowing that disclosure would ruin his chances of becoming a member of the Jedi Council.  Because of this fear, Anakin trusts Obi-Wan less and less.  Meanwhile, Anakin has continued to build a relationship with Palpatine who has been filling Anakin’s mind with the poison belief that he should be recognized as the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy.  Palpatine gives Anakin a secret mission to prove this once and for all.  Anakin is sent to end the Clone War by destroying Count Dooku.  Anakin leaves without anyone’s knowledge.  When Obi-Wan discovers Anakin is missing, he takes Padme and the droids in pursuit.

Anakin finds Dooku right where Palpatine said he would be - on the volcanic planet Mustafar.  When confronted by Anakin, Dooku tells him that Palpatine is really a Sith Lord.  Dooku encourages Anakin to join him in defeating Darth Sidious, but Anakin is too enraged at the Count for the loss of his arm years ago.  Fueled by his anger and tempted by Palpatine to prove his supremacy, Anakin lashes out at Dooku.  Dooku falls just as Obi-Wan and Padme arrive.

The death of Dooku fills Anakin with such delusions of grandeur that all semblance of pecking order between himself and Obi-Wan is lost.  Anakin is now fully convinced that he has rights to the claim of Master of the Jedi Order.  Obi-Wan insists that Anakin is still a Padawan, still has rank over him, and orders him to submit and return to Coruscant.  C-3PO (trying to talk some sense into Anakin) tells him that he should stop this nonsense and return home with his wife.  The cat is out of the bag.  Obi-Wan now knows that Anakin has willfully betrayed the Jedi order with his clandestine marriage and can no longer be a member of the Jedi order.  Enraged by this, Anakin slices Threepio in two and the climactic battle between Master and Padawan begins.

Anakin is violently proficient, and Obi-Wan nearly loses the battle.  Just as Anakin is about to finish Obi-Wan, Padme intervenes and distracts Anakin with the announcement that she is pregnant.  The shock distracts Anakin long enough to give Obi-Wan the upper hand to "dis-arm" Anakin.  Anakin falls and is nearly consumed by lava, but is saved by Obi-Wan.  The damage is too severe however, and Anakin is moments from death.  As Anakin lay dying in Padme’s arms, he bequests his saber to his unborn child.

Grievous emerges from the shadows.  Obi-Wan recognizes Grievous as none other than the elderly Master Sypher Dias – the Jedi responsible for ordering the clone army from the Caminoans a decade before the start of the Clone War and presumed killed.  Grievous admits to faking his own death and working with Darth Sidious to undermine the Senate’s actions in the Clone War.  He has been monitoring Anakin’s movements on the behalf of his master.  Obi-Wan tries to attack, but Grievous critically wounds Padme.

Obi-Wan rushes to her aid allowing Grievous to steal the dying Anakin away.  Obi-Wan races back to Coruscant and places Padme and the droids under the care and protection of Senator Antilles.  The Senator enlists the aid of a local Wookie mechanic to reassemble C-3PO.  In the end, Threepio gets a new golden exterior, but his memory is wiped clean of all knowledge, including that of his origin, his relationship with Obi-wan Kenobi, and his time on Tatooine (although he maintains fluency in over six million forms of communication).

Anakin is also “rebuilt” – kept alive with a special life support system developed by Wat Tambor of the Technical Union under the watchful eye of Grievous.  Upon awakening, Anakin is brought before Palpatine who congratulates him for defeating Dooku and ending the war.  Palpatine offers Anakin a choice to either return himself to the Jedi where he will be disciplined and expelled from the Jedi order or he can join forces with the Supreme Chancellor and “restore order” to the galaxy.  Anakin’s thoughts turn toward his bride, Padme and his unborn child.  Grievous announces that he killed them both.  Anakin is shattered.  The rage is too intense for restraint, and he lashes out at Grievous with fury.  Anakin finally succumbs to the dark side of the Force.

Arriving at Coruscant, Obi-Wan meets with the Jedi council who are told of Anakin’s treachery and subsequent “kidnapping” by Grevious.  Mace Windu goes before the Supreme Chancellor to inform him of the news.  When he reaches Palpatine he learns that the war is over and Palpatine has elevated himself to Supreme Emperor of the galaxy.  Windu steps forward to challenge the Emperor and finds himself before a dark figure with a blazing red blade.  Windu falls, and Darth Vader is born.

The Senate is shocked when Palpatine declares martial law.  Weakened by years of war, the galaxy can do nothing to stop him.  Members of the rebellious systems that survive make up the beginnings of the Rebellion against the Emperor.

The Jedi are dismayed as news of Mace Windu’s death reaches them.  Yoda and the Jedi work to formulate a plan to attack the Emperor.   Meanwhile Obi-wan is charged with escorting Padme, the droids and Senator Antilles to Alderaan.  He changes his name to Ben Kenobi as he travels with Padme and the droids to what will become her new home planet where she is nursed back to health.

The remnants of the rebellious clone war armies gather.  Jedi knights come together to join the fight.  They storm the Emperor’s tower and a huge battle ensues.  As the Jedi approach the Emperor’s chamber, Vader emerges, catching all by surprise.  When they demand to know what happened to Anakin, Vader replies that he is dead.  He single-handedly takes the Jedi.  His training completed by the Emperor, he is in full control of his dark powers, and he easily takes the knights.

Yoda, shocked by Vader’s power now knows that he cannot be stopped.  He calls for a retreat of the scant remaining forces and instructs them to go into hiding to prepare for another day.  He retreats to Degobah to hide from Vader & the Emperor.

Padme delivers her twins.  A “beautiful but sad” Padme cares for her daughter on Alderaan under the watchful protection of Senator Antilles (next in line to be King of Alderaan) - who promises Padme that if anything happened to her he would raise Leia as if she were his own.

Ben Kenobi takes Luke to Tatooine to be raised by his only relative – his step-uncle Owen Lars.  As Ben tucks away Anakin's saber hilt, he professes his belief that this child – the spawn of Vader – will be a new hope – the last hope – of the galaxy.


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What Makes A Movie Good?

My son recently asked me what my all-time top two favorite movies are. To my surprise, I was actually stuck for an answer. My inclination was to put "Star Wars" at number one for purely sentimental reasons. After all, it was my childhood love for that movie that led to my love of film as an art form ever since. And so that movie has pride of place.

But number two? I racked my brain and ran through all the titles I could recall, and I found it was really difficult to come up with a clear silver medal winner. My biggest problem was deciding by what criteria my choice would be made.

Genre? Effects? Story? Cinematic flair? Characters? Emotional impact? Ideas? Actors? Directors?

I could pick a winner for each, but in the end, I settled on the one that best embodied all of these: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I would say that Raiders was also great for what it didn't have - something you almost can't escape anymore, namely, a political message. Contrast this with the latest "big summer movie" X-Men: First Class. It's a big action film with fantastic effects, a compelling story, cool characters, and it's doing well in the box office.

In a recent article on, James Pinkerton reviews the film not for its visuals or plot, but rather for its modern take on the subtext of the original "X-Men" comic book franchise.
Back in the early 60s, Lee intended “X-Men” to be a parable about racial prejudice in America. The X-Men (and Women) were a minority of mutants, and, as such, they suffered discrimination and alienation. But of course, they had superpowers, and so while they were sometimes shunned for their differentness, they were also feared for their power.
In the new film, a subtle shift has taken place, and the issue of prejudice has been subtly replaced with a modern idea. "[T]he theme of the film--in between, of course, the stunts and explosions--is tolerance for difference. And so the new X-Men becomes a kind of coded meditation on the related themes of bullying and gay rights" (emphasis mine).

Unlike Raiders, this isn't just the director's views coloring a few character's actions. The dialog has been written to strike certain soundbite chords. Pinkerton illustrates:

[O]ne mutant has been working as a super-smart nerd in a civilian job--when he is discovered to have feet that are like hands, so that he can grip on to things, upside down, like an arboreal mammal. When his feet-secret is finally revealed, he is asked, how did he get away with it? His answer: “Well, they didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell.” That, of course, is a play on the “don’t ask don’t tell” controversy in the U.S. military.
Pinkerton then leaps into the deep end by exploring the possibilities of the speciation of the human race through medical technology, genetic manipulation, and natural selection. He speculates that the film will be a box office smash because it "probes our deepest Darwinian feelings--and fears." Apologies if reading that just gave you whiplash from rolling your eyes with gusto. It did for me.

The reason why the civil rights movement of the '60s was successful was because it rang with the truth that despite our outward appearances, we have a common nature and destiny. We are all created in the likeness of our Creator and endowed with rights that allow us to seek and enjoy Truth. The trouble with the new, twisted ideal of "the tolerance of difference" is that it seeks to affirm the differences in our behavior as being like that of the color of our skin. Worse, it doesn't seek to promote a unifying truth, but holds short, merely asking us to accept that "what is right for me may not be right for you."

Ironically, Pinkerton hits on a key point in the film when he notes that "[m]ost of the major characters have a moment when they discover, to their visible relief, that they are not alone in their mutant-ness--others are like them" (emphasis mine). We all strive for that same relief. No matter what our color, class, gender, or creed, we are alike in both our origin and in our final destiny.

Whether or not we realize it, we all pursue the same happiness. But it can only be found by adhering to a common Truth, and seeking one another's common good. We cannot live with our eyes closed in celebration of a myriad of false or half-truths. That doesn't lead to genuine eternal happiness, but only the sort of short-lived narcissistic happiness that is celebrated more and more by the elite class while their lives publicly crumble on the front pages of the tabloids.

Maybe one day, a small band of rebel filmmakers will band together and bulls-eye the Hollywood "exhaust port", destroying the liberal class' "death star", the Leftist Propaganda Movie. I yearn for the day when movies like Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception are the rule, not the exception. You could say it's my "new hope".


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Listening to Mike Gallagher this morning, he read on-air a letter written by a decorated Air Force serviceman who is awaiting his honorable discharge due to being "outed" as a gay man. Mike Gallagher is asking, "Why is this man being so wrongly treated? What changed after he was 'outed'? Why can't he continue to serve his country?"

As I was listening to him attack callers who were trying to defend "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as gay-haters, I just had to jot down a few of my thoughts on the subject.

When it comes to the debates surrounding the issue of homosexuality, it's really hard to come up with a one-liner response that would stand up to the 5-1/2 second window of time the typical talk show host will give you to say something that contradicts their argument.

I'm certainly not smart enough to claim that I've got it all figured out. I'm not even as well-read as I should be to tackle debating anyone on the issue (as proven in my recent debates) which is why I won't dare to call in to the Mike Gallagher show to attempt to make my argument. But I still have to work this out for myself since these types of issues come up in personal conversations as well. All I can do is take what I do know from what I have read and try to apply it to these issues.

I tried that approach with the gay marriage question by trying to defend the nature of marriage and show how a gay union cannot fit that definition, hence "gay marriage" is an impossible contradiction.

The deeper questions center on whether our society should just accept homosexuality (i.e. "sexual orientation") as another trait on equal footing with race or gender. Should one give no consideration to whether a person is gay when discerning their suitability for a given job or responsibility?

It is the general acceptance of homosexuality as "normal" by our society that bothers me most. This exercise in "tolerance" is masking what I believe to be a real disorder in people who are homosexual. This disorder affects more than their sex lives, but rather impacts their entire lives, including in some cases how they perform in their profession.

As someone who has suffered from chronic depression, I know what it feels like to suffer from a disorder that I did not want. I did not have much control over how it came to be a part of my life, and for a long time I didn't even know I was suffering from the disorder. I had to learn to identify the traits of the disorder, how it was affecting my life, and how to correct some of the imbalanced thought patterns which were perpetuating and at times intensifying the condition.

Depression is something that most affected people keep to themselves, not wanting others around them to know about it. People all around us have depression, and we don't know it. And if someone is "outed", the most common feeling is shame, and the most common response by their loved ones is, "well... just snap out of it!" which is at best not helpful, and at worst a gross misunderstanding that can actually make matters worse.

What if our society had decided that people who suffered from depression were just "born that way" and that they should be allowed to live their lives as depressed people on equal footing as everyone else? To remove the stigma of depression, what if laws were passed to legalize suicide and doctors were forced to provide assisted suicide for depressed people? What if school programs were developed to encourage teenagers to act depressed for a time to see if maybe depression was a "lifestyle choice" they would prefer? What if companies were forced to hire people who were "openly depressed", or the military was forced to accept potentially suicidal men and women? What if more and more television shows and movies included depressed characters who become role-models for our children to imitate? It's all a little absurd, isn't it?

If homosexuality was viewed as a disorder in the same way as depression or other forms of mental/physical disorder, then I think many of the hot controversies would take on a whole new color. As I said in my marriage debate, man is designed (physically, psychologically, and spiritually) to be mated with a woman, and vice versa. The result of this union is a family which is bonded in human love which we call marriage.

Homosexuality is a mental/physical disorder in which a man or a woman is unnaturally drawn to the same sex. This outward unnatural attraction reveals a disordered cognitive process, an imbalance of hormonal chemistry, and a fractured psychological makeup. Needless to say, this does not represent the ideal makeup of a person defending our country. People with this disorder need our help to restore them to a natural state of being in which they can find true happiness which is simply living life the way we were designed to live. (UPDATE 2/11/10 - Here's a great article making this point.)

By creating an environment of "acceptance" and "empowerment" we are perpetuating, and possibly even accentuating their condition from mild cases into extreme cases. People with this condition live broken lives, but most don't know it because they are told by everyone around them that there's nothing wrong with them. It is virtually impossible for them to experience real, true love since by definition this love requires a union of the sexes which results in new life. One of the greatest ironies is that the tolerance movement of our age has robbed homosexual people of living happier (and longer) lives.

While people who suffer from depression can legally have jobs in such industries as sales, police, military, suicide hotlines, etc., it's highly likely that their condition will affect their performance in these fields. Likewise, people with a homosexual disorder will be more likely affected by their condition in certain careers (as evidenced by the scandal of homosexual priests) which would include the military.

Folks like Mike Gallagher who say that the many homosexual men and women who currently serve in the military are being treated unjustly by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy argue that these men and women have served their country well and that this wouldn't change just because they were allowed to expose their homosexual tendencies. However, it is very likely that if a "tolerant" atmosphere were created in the military it would have the affect of intensifying the condition in people who until then were restraining those tendencies.

Proponents of repealing the policy are operating under the false idea that homosexual behavior would not be affected if the limitations on that behavior were removed. If homosexuality is listed as an acceptable "lifestyle" in the military, we would likely see an increase in the occurrence of homosexual activity among service men and women. Military disciplinary standards would probably limit visibility to the public but, there would most likely be an affect on the morale of the heterosexual members of the armed forces which would ultimately affect the effectiveness of our military forces and therefore impact our national security. For these reasons, I am not in favor of repealing the policy.

But I don't like the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for a different reason. I think people with homosexual tendencies should receive treatment and be restored to a heterosexual lifestyle. Those who have been cured say they are far happier than they ever were before. The "don't ask" policy allows those suffering from homosexuality to continue to do so in secret which is a great disservice to them. They deserve to be treated and lovingly cared for so that they can experience life to the fullest. That should be where our compassion for our fellow man and woman leads us. However there is a long, steep road ahead to changing the culture's course towards viewing homosexuality in this light. Until then, the "don't ask" policy is better than none at all.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Musings of a Hopeful Skeptic

**UPDATE** - After seeing Tron: Legacy I am revisiting my blog post below to report whether my fears were unfounded or confirmed.

It's been a while since I wrote here on my blog. Facebook has replaced some of what this blog was set up for, but also I've been too busy trying to figure out what I'm thinking about to write what I'm thinking about. I'm happy to have something to say today.

I recently saw the new teaser (aka "VFX Concept Test", aka "studio trial balloon") for Tron: Legacy, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 hit, Tron. Another friend asked me if I was excited to see it, and I said I was, "...if they don't screw it up." I thought my blog might be a good place to expand on that a bit.

Tron is a lot like Star Wars or even Batman. We fell in love with these shows as kids. In many ways these are the shows that taught us to love movies. They were child-like in their own way, making them easy for children to love them without getting caught up in the "stuff" of more grown-up movies. But now we are grown-ups, and we want to watch grown-up versions of these movies. The Star Wars prequels failed to deliver on that count, in my opinion. Batman Begins succeeded. I just hope the makers of Tron: Legacy learn from those two examples.

Tron had great vision (giving us a sneak-peak of the internet world long before it was available to us) and creativity (light cycles, the Solar Sailer, etc) and visual style that hadn't been seen before. The sequel has to be more than just a CGI-fest. It should also carry the mantle of being a creative visual effects boundary-breaker while also delivering on story, character, style, and performance.

I have lost a lot of faith in filmmakers lately, and unless J.J.Abrams, Christopher Nolan, or Steven Spielberg are directing, I really doubt I'll be completely satisfied with a movie. Tron: Legacy has so much potential, and yet it has even greater potential to get screwed up.

Screw-up Potential #1
The premise of the new film at least sounds interesting: Flynn disappeared 20 years ago and his grown son is looking for him. He goes back to the old arcade where Flynn lived and there gets pulled into the computer world where Flynn has been living all that time. I get the sense that Flynn has become darker and more malevolent after 20 years in the computer world which might explain why his "program" kills the other cycler in the teaser. Has he become a computer-world "terrorist"? The yoga pose, beads, bare feet, and beard all give Flynn a sort of "hippie" look that makes me think of the 60'-era communes. Could it be that Flynn doesn't like how computers have taken over every aspect of our lives and seeks to return us to a simpler time by destroying them from the inside? I'll be curious to know if there's a political message in Legacy. Almost every movie coming out of Hollywood today has a liberal message wrapped inside. If they try to feed us some analogous line that "terrorists are well-intentioned people" or some such junk it'll destroy the movie.

**UPDATE** - It seems like every movie to come out of Hollywood these days has an Evil Corporate Empire (a.k.a. "capitalist pigs") scheming in the background. This one's no different albeit somewhat at a distance from the centerpiece of the plot. I'd say my fears on this screw-up potential were not realized.

Screw-up Potential #2
The "Flynn program" in the teaser video was a much younger looking Jeff Bridges. I couldn't tell if it was a CG face (ala Beowulf) or if it was just a digitally photoshopped Jeff Bridges (as they did for Bruce Willis in the movie Surrogates). Either way, it wasn't convincing. Other than their faces, both cyclers were completely CG from what I can tell. The faces were "projected" into the helmets. That they were so obviously fake made me a little worried about the quality of the CG. Tron was a trend setter and did things that hadn't been seen before on film. Now, 20 years later an action movie without CG is almost unheard of. What could Legacy do to re-establish its role as a ground breaker in visual FX? Transformers and Terminator:Salvation
were more visually compelling than what this teaser has to show. Granted, the teaser is really just a VFX experiment and doesn't show actual footage from the final movie since it hasn't been shot yet. Maybe the budget for the VFX will be better on the final product.

**UPDATE** - Meh. The VFX, while on par for other contemporary films does nothing to push the envelope. If anything, the Clu avatar (and "young Flynn") were lifeless cartoons. My guess is the reason we never see Tron's face is because Boxleitner knew how ridiculous he would look and wouldn't sit with dots on his face for any amount of time. I say the Rinzler character is more interesting because he's faceless. It's the voice that tells us all we need to know when the time comes. They should have done likewise with Clu. It would have been so much more intriguing.
Look how well it's worked for Daft Punk! Yep, they screwed up.

Screw-up Potential #3
There was a quasi-religious tone to Tron. The "Users" were analogous to gods and the Programs struggled with their faith in them. It wasn't the most Christian of analogies (every Program had his own User), but like The Matrix there were some interesting analogies nonetheless. Will the filmmakers be expanding on these religious and philosophical themes, and will they be able to do so with any clarity (unlike the Matrix trilogy)? Speaking of which, the aforementioned Surrogates
shows an interesting inverse of the matrix concept.

**UPDATE** - That we're talking about the existence of an entire universe (the computer world) that is surrounded by en even larger, transcendent, (and more "real") place (our world), there are bound to be quasi-religious similarities in the film. However where Tron fully embraced its religiousity, Legacy seems to want to distance itself from the notion of gods/users and their creations/programs and instead set a course for a computerized Darwinian secularism. You have an excellent opportunity to make a modern Christian story of a creator Father and his Son who enters the creation to bring about renewal. Instead we're learning about creator-less evolution. Again, it's Hollywood, so why am I surprised? Screwed up.

Screw-up Potential #4
Tron got away with a lot because most people didn't know much about how computers worked back in '82. The inner-workings of the computer world were accepted as fantasy. Now that a huge percentage of Tron
fans have such intimate knowledge of computers, the way the computer world is depicted will be under much more scrutiny. One hopes that the filmmakers will give us a great fantasy world without grotesquely divorcing it from how things work in the real world.

**UPDATE** - I don't know much more about computers than I did back in the 80's, but I think this movie's version of the computer world is even more disconnected from anything we could imagine as life in a computer world. At least Tron understood that programs had different purposes, and as anthropomorphized characters, would have different designs and styles. It seems the creators of Legacy were a bit too enamored with the look of The Matrix. Everything is dark, and the background "programs" are all too alike. The intent may be to suggest that the influence of Clu on the computer world has made everything cold and lifeless, but regrettably, it makes the movie so as well.

Screw-up Potential #5
Yes, Boxleitner is back along with Bridges, (sadly, no Cindy Morgan.) 27 years later, they're not the youngest actors on the block, so how the filmmakers will age their "programs" is a good question - repeating my earlier concerns about digital photoshopping. I don't want to see a flabby Tron. Bridges has had the most post-Tron success of the two, but he's no Christian Bale. Despite the 3D aspects of the film, as another person put it: he'll still have 2D acting. Tron was a bit campy in that early '80s sort of way, but that kind of thing won't fly at the box office anymore. The casting for this should be replete with strong actors, but it's a Disney movie so there's no guarantee of that.

**UPDATE** - Old Bridges and Boxleitner did fine, but the CG Flynn/Clu bombed. The "Rinzler solution" was much more creative and should have been used for Clu as well. After all, programs do age as hardware updates make older programs more and more obsolete. How fascinating it would have been to see Clu - masked all through the film - to finally be unmasked and shown to be older than even the "old" Flynn himself? (sigh) Sometimes I think I could out-write any screenplay writer in Hollywood today. Maybe I could, but I wouldn't be able to stand working with those people. Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde did fine I suppose.

If Star Wars Episode I and Batman Begins taught anyone anything, it's that after 20+ years with a huge fan base, a sequel (prequel, reboot, whatnot, whathaveyou) has to exceed our expectations. Yes, people are going to be thrilled to see new lightbikes and other cool VFX, but the story still has to be top-notch, the characters have to be deep, and the acting has to be rich and textured. Batman Begins delivered on every count. Episode I satisfied everyone's desire to see a real lightsaber duel, but it was overshadowed by a bad script, flat acting, midi-chlorians, and Jar Jar Binks. Hopefully Tron: Legacy won't make the same mistakes - but unfortunately there's lots of potential.

Addendum 7/23/10 - The newest trailer for the movie was recently released. Some of my earlier fears are being realized. While it's still too early to tell if the story will be any good, the first big letdown is the shoddy work they did on the Young Flynn/Clu. The doppleganger is about as convincing as Tom Hanks in "The Polar Express", and that technology is 6 years old. Maybe I'm just expecting too much out of the CGI community these days, but they can give better lip-sync to a lion and mouse in The Chronicles of Narnia than what we see when Clu gives his anti-Star Wars line, "I'm not your father." I cringed when I saw that. Please tell me they'll fix that after hearing a collective groan from their fans.

A lot of the other visuals are very cool. A "light-jet" is glimpsed very briefly at the end of the trailer, but "light-cars"? Yawn. It appears they've lost some of the imagination of the first film. Take for example the lightcycles. In the original, when the three renegades stopped their lightcycles to talk, the bikes would de-res and leave them standing free. In the trailer, we see the hero park his bike, some "transformer-ish" panels open to let him put his feet on the ground, and he just sits on it like he would a regular bike. Think of the cool effects they could have had with that bike digitally coming apart around him. Everything looks so real in the digital realm of the movie, that it seems to me the filmmakers forgot that their characters are IN the computer, so they can look more digital instead of looking more real. I mean a bedroom? With a table and lamp? Huge misses in visual opportunity if you ask me. They're trying to hard too have a "Matrix" edge to it. Could Olivia Wilde look more like Trinity?

I want so badly to get excited about this movie, but the more they show us, the more apprehensive I get about it. I think, as others have said, that perhaps Tron was best left as a one-movie show

**UPDATE** - Inception was much more imaginitive and other-worldly than Tron It deserved all four Oscars it won and then some. If only Nolan had directed Tron: Legacy there'd be talk of a new sequel. Perhaps a reboot is in order. Tron: Inception?


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jib Jab 2008 Year in Review

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What "They" Did

I have been hearing some pundits say, "he's done it." Obama has accomplished the unthinkable. I just don't buy it. I don't think "he" did much but sound good in front of a teleprompter. It's the "they" behind him that worries me. What They did is shocking when taken in as a whole.

Here's how it breaks down as I see it:

Obama went to a liberal university where the curriculum is guided predominately by left-leaning professors and the remnants of the Woodstock-era anti-government radicals like the domestic terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

After soaking in this environment for his college years, he settled in Chicago where he came under the wing of powerful, corrupt political supporters like the convict Tony Rezko.

He joined a church headed by "reverend" Wright who preaches black liberation theology, castigating the United States for past offenses and spreading white hatred and a deep antipathy for the nation. He stayed there for 20 years.

He and his wife spent evenings at dinner with Rashid Khalidi - a known supporter of the PLO terrorist organization and outspoken anti-Israel zealot. Obama spoke highly of the man at a dinner celebrating him before he left Chicago for New York.

During this time in Chicago, Obama developed programs that moved money around in a shell game dominated by "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" conniving which robbed the schools they were pretending to help of millions of dollars.

Under the guidance and mentorship of these types of people as well as several other less inflammatory but no less liberal figures, They helped Obama become an Illinois senator. He launched his first campaign in the living room of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. In the Illinois senate, one of his most noteworthy actions was to vote against a law that would provide emergency healthcare to living infants who survive an attempted abortion.

Later, They would help him become a U.S. senator where his only noteworthy accomplishment was a well-delivered speech given at the 2004 DNC that was written by someone else. Following that speech, Obama was quickly targeted to be among the candidates for the 2008 presidential race.

Early in the primaries, Obama pledged to accept public financing in the presidential campaign. McCain did likewise. After gaining the nomination, he went back on his word. McCain kept his promise. Obama's deceit allowed Them to raise more money than any presidential campaign in history. With this money, They mounted a PR campaign that could not be matched with public funding: the Mile High Stadium acceptance speech, the 30-minute infomercial on 7 television stations, the enormous stage constructed well in advance in anticipation of the Nov 4 victory speech.

The rhetoric he was given to read was full of buzz words like "hope" and "change" but lacked anything resembling substance. When he strayed from the teleprompter, what leaked out were the fundamental principles of Marxism and Socialism that were drummed into his head by his liberal college professors. His tax plans sounded like a redistributionist's dream while his new spending programs appeared to be funded out thin air. He opposed energy independence. He opposed a secret ballot in unions. He preferred the good opinion of godless European peaceniks over hard working Americans who "cling to their guns and religion".

His first promised act as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice act - an Orwellian bill that will prevent sovereign states from being free to choose what their own laws will be concerning abortion. He confessed that he doesn't want his own daughters "punished" with a baby they don't want. He favors euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research. In short, he is the staunch supporter of every culture of death issue.

On the verge of nuclear war in the Middle East, Obama promised to reduce military funding, slow the growth of our military, and withdraw our troops from the Iraqi theater nearly guaranteeing increased danger to American citizens and allies. Joe Biden warned the country that Obama would be "tested", suggesting that American civilian lives will have to be lost before the country will know what his response to Islamic terrorism will or will not be.

Above all of this, the print, television, cable, music and film industries all coalesced into a deafening propaganda machine. Month after month after month They saturated the culture with "Bush Lied People Died", dug up dirt (some real, some contrived) on conservative politicians, and hid or concealed dirt (all real) on liberal politicians. Republican gaffes were above-the-fold news items for days at a time while liberal gaffes were buried or never printed.

Republicans in movies and television were always made to look ridiculous, "big business" to look corrupt, and our military to look untrustworthy. In another historical first, a fictionalized biographical movie was produced about the sitting president making him look like a fool. Slogans like "8 Is Enough" were used to suggest McCain and Palin were no different than the "dimwitted" President Bush.

Nightly TV "journalists" professed a "thrill" going up their leg and other less obvious but no less biased confessions of preference in an unprecedented manipulation of public opinion by the media. Foreign media celebrities injected their own liberal opinions into the national discourse, ridiculing McCain and Palin, even pleading with the country to elect Obama. More opinion polls were conducted this year than in the last two presidential races combined. The media selectively reported only those polls that favored Obama. Obama has been featured on the cover of more magazines (and more frequently on some) than any other presidential candidate in history.

When asked tough questions by smaller media outlets or even by "Joe the Plumber" civilians, Democrats kicked them off their planes, conducted illegal background checks of civilians, and black-listed certain news agencies.

Financial policies enforced by Democrats - despite warnings by Republicans including McCain - caused a nearly catastrophic collapse of our national economy. The nation demanded to know who was at fault for this disaster, and the Democrats in concert with the liberal press, achieved the inconceivable. They blamed the Republicans. And - equally inconceivably - the public believed it.

On November 4th, our country - brainwashed by the media, driven by an irrational belief that the Republican party was destroying the country, and in an emotional desire to elect the first black president - put Obama in the White House.

He is a man who does not trust or perhaps even like our country as is stands today, who does not trust our military to act in our nation's interests, who is protected by a fawning media which is willing to attack any potential threat to his credibility, who wants to infiltrate our Constitution with Marxist ideas, who wants to destroy our free market economy and create a welfare state, and wants to appeal to a global community rather than the sovereign nation he wants to lead.

We don't know who he will appoint to fill the nearly 3,000 presidential appointments in our government. We don't know how any of those men and women will affect our schools, our economy, our national security, our healthcare, or our very lives. We don't know if his tax-and-spend plan will throw the US economy into the worst depression since the 1920's or not. We don't know what will happen to the cost of energy, houses or healthcare. We don't know what sort of judges he will appoint to the Supreme Court or what kind of decisions those judges may impose upon the country in the decades to come.

We don't know how he'll respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, or an North Korean invasion of South Korea, a Russian invasion of Poland, or a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. We don't know how he'll respond to the next terrorist attack on American soil. And we don't know how many people will die in any or all of these events. But the chances of any of them happening just increased ... thanks to Them.

Taken together, these things represent a frightening and dangerous precedent to our system of government: the biased control of the media, the manipulation of images for maximum emotional response, the suppression of opposing views, the "punishment" of success through higher taxes, the promotion of an ever-increasing welfare state, the consolidation of the military. These are the marks of the end of our Republic as we've known it for over 200 years.

If the next presidential or congressional race is to be won, the Republican candidate will have to acknowledge what McCain would not - it's not the Democratic candidate he (or she) will be running against, it's Them.

UPDATE 5/3/10 - A blogger in New Zealand has decided to take it upon himself to do the investigative work the Obama Press won't do. He has uncovered the trail of bread crumbs that connects President Obama with all sorts of really bad people - with "Them". The opening line of his most recent article summarizes what I've been writing about in my own blog:
"It is becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama did not create a movement. A movement created Barack Obama."
The rest of the article is here.

UPDATE 8/19/11 - Nearly a full three years into this presidency we now see more clearly the choices Obama has made, the appointments, the legislation, the spending, the agenda. There are many who wish to give the President the benefit of the doubt, or simply assume he's incompetent. This would be more believable if he was acting alone from the White House to do what he has done. This article is a great (and horrifying) pulling-back of the curtain to reveal more of Them working silently behind the scenes enacting their agenda to unravel the fabric of our nation and sow the seeds of their revolution.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Trojan Horse Alert 2

Back in August 2006 I described the Radical Left's agenda for sending America the rest of the way down their hedonistic moral sinkhole. In their own words, the agenda is described like this: "First let the camel get his nose inside the tent - and only later his unsightly derriere!"

Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund summarized the first key principle of this agenda like this: "Almost all behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your acquaintances."

In my first Trojan Horse alert, I noted a growing trend in major motion pictures. Homosexual characters that were once quirky, comic relief characters with obscure lifestyles have become main characters in films like Brokeback Mountain complete with full love scenes. More and more in the media, this lifestyle behavior is depicted as "normal". For example, how many recent action movies include at least a little girl-girl action? It's almost become as common as the car chase. Consider also the upcoming release of Milk starring Sean Penn and based on the true-life story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in (where else?) San Francisco. In the trailer we already begin to hear anti-gay steretypes being served up by white, bigotted men and being trounced by this humble, amiable, and most importantly, infalliable gay man. One must expect that the full-length film contains more than a brief trailer can show. That he was killed and made a martyr for the pro-gay cause adds to the emotional power of the film. Oops! Did I give away the ending? Well, you weren't going to see it anyway.

What has been even more troubling is the fact that the "unsightly derriere" has been coming more into view with the release of a movie about a woman who had a sexual relationship with a dog. Fortunately, that movie didn't do so well, but that ice is broken. I predict we haven't seen the last of animal love. We're already seeing animals in anthropomorphized sexual situations in movies like Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I remember back in the days of my innocent youth I loved the movie Oh Heavenly Dog. In one scene Benji the dog shared a bubble bath with Jane Seymour. Despite the obvious undertones, it was innocent enough because the movie never so much as hinted at anything resembling beastiality. One shudders to consider what a remake would look like today.

Now we need to add child porn to the list of things that are entering the mainstream with the release this year of two movies featuring sex scenes with underage teenagers. reports the movie Towelhead features an 18 year old actress portraying a 13 year old girl who "experiences her sexual awakening on screen". If you think that's bad, consider the movie Hounddog in which a 12 year old actress portrays a 9 year old who is raped. Whether it's a depiction of an underage girl or the real deal, it's a gross sexualization of young girls. This is not the first time, Bastard Out of Carolina, and Lolita being notable examples, but these new films seem to have thrown innuendo out in favor of more screen time.

Of course, young girls have been sexualized by the fashion world for years. I don't know how a young boy in junior high can concentrate on his studies the way most girls dress these days. But Hollywood has a unique bullhorn for making obscure lifestyles appear mainstream. And young girls that age may dress the part, but the vast majority are still innocent and should not be portrayed as sexual objects for lust or abuse.

I am glad that the Concerned Women for America are speaking out. I just hope we can all fight to push the camel back out from whence it came.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Turn Out the Vote!

The message couldn't be more spot on.. and I love the music too. Please watch.