Saturday, January 30, 2016

With the return of The X-Files, you can bet there is going to be a lot of interest in the recent Air Force documents known as the Project Blue Book, which contain over 130,000 pages of UFO sightings and other phenomena that have beguiled UFO enthusiasts for years.  The recordings go back to the 1940s, but for some reason leave out the notorious Roswell incident, which conspiracy theorists insist the government has harbored what really happened one summer night back in 1947 on ranch in southern New Mexico.  This incident is the starting point of the re-booted television mini-series that will run for 6 episodes.

Roswell is a mecca for ufologists and fans alike.  It's not surprising strange things have been spotted in the night sky, as Walker Air Force Base is close by.  One of the reasons the Roswell incident wasn't included is because the Air Force has insisted for decades that it was nothing more than a conventional weather balloon that crashed to the ground.  It has already released numerous documents regarding Project Mogul, but the conspiracy theories live on thanks to shows like The X-Files.  Our need to believe is so strong that we often discount the more mundane possibilities.

Chris Carter compressed all his paranoid theories into the first episode with Mulder given a first hand look at the alien technology the Air Force has been hiding all these years.  Something he was never able to establish conclusively during the show's previous run, as anytime he got close the nasty Smoking Man stepped in.  It seems this time around, Chris is going to leave little to the imagination, spilling it all out on the table for all to see.

Too bad as that is what made The X-Files so compelling.  The ever skeptical Scully usually was able to come up with a reasonable explanation that even Mulder had to concede was probably the case.  Now, it seems Scully will become a believer too.

Much of the plot revolves around genetic experimentation of crossing alien with human DNA resulting in mostly failed experiments, but a young brother and sister pair show the most promising abilities.  It will be interesting to see where Carter takes this premise, as genetic experimentation has become all too real.  If nothing else, it helps to explain all the strange characters we met before.  

The only problem is that Mulder throws in everything including the kitchen sink in one of his preachier moments.  He even comes to believe there is an international cabal that is going to use this alien technology to take over the world.  Enter the Smoking Man.

I well imagine the Air Force had long planned to release this information, as they claim it is purely a coincidence that the declassified information has come out the same time as the return of The X-Files.  The Air Force no longer considers these UFO sighting a matter of national security, probably haven't for a long time, as the files date from 1947-1969.  We have John Greenewald to thank for having petitioned the Air Force the past two decades to release these documents under the Freedom of Information Act. He offers it all on his website, The Black Vault.  Careful.  Be very careful!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Who is Megyn Kelly?

Vanity Fair devoted a cover story to the winsome Fox political personality, who has been at the center of Donald Trump's latest act of defiance.  It is hard to think of her as a journalist, as it is hard to think of anything they do at Fox News as journalism.  Still, she has made a mark for herself by refusing to stand down to Trump and other bully boys like Ammon Bundy on her Kelly File.

The funny thing is that Trump seemed to show great respect for Megyn when she interviewed him on her show last May.  However, Megyn blindsided him with her question at the first GOP debate, and ever since then Trump has effectively used her as a foil on his campaign, and most recently as an excuse to duck the latest GOP debate, which she moderated.  The incident has vaulted her to the top of the Fox News show ratings, surpassing mighty Baba O'Reilly himself.

It's too bad Fox isn't hosting the Super Bowl this year, as Megyn Kelly might have gotten a shot at the President.  Last year, NBC sent Savannah Guthrie to do a segment in the White House kitchen, and this year ABC will send Gayle King to interview both him and Michelle Obama.  Baba got the honor the last time Fox had a shot at the President in 2014, which got quite testy at times.

She did have her chance to meet the President at a Christmas Party hosted by the White House in 2014.  It didn't come out very well, which she related to Jimmy Kimmel, but she had to feel pretty good about confronting him.  Obama still has the better part of a year left, so if she's nice he might be willing to come on her Kelly File.

As Evgenia Peretz noted in her cover story, Megyn Kelly is no Walter Cronkite.   The Kelly File is more opinion than news, reveling in the same kind of stories one sees on O'Reilly and Hannity.  She had a hard time letting go of "Ahmed, the Clock Kid," peeved it seems he got a WH invitation out of the incident.  Hardly what one can call hard-hitting journalism.  However, Peretz is positive of Megyn for the most part, largely because she seems to think Megyn strikes the right balance between outrage and common sense.  Peretz further noted how Kelly tends to soften her guests' indignation with humanity and wit, as she is usually interviewing right wing figures.

Megyn has expanded her boundaries though.  Recently, she had Michael Moore on the Kelly File.  He gushed over her like a high school nerd having a chance to dance with the prom queen.  Everyone is so excited about how she has stood up to the Donald, and the charming way she plays it down.  Yet, she knows full well that this incident has greatly expanded her audience.

Fox has been very good to Megyn.  She had a rather uneventful law and journalism career going before Roger Ailes took her on in 2004.  She started out as Baba O'Reilly's understudy, occasionally filling in for Greta van Susteren, before landing her own show, America Live, in 2010.  Ailes knew he had a good thing in Kelly.  Everyone loves a sharp, good looking lady and Megyn has rewarded Fox ten times over in her ability to play the clever vixen herself.

Megyn Kelly has a long way to go to be Fox's alternative to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, but I don't think she has such aspirations.  It's enough to be receiving praise from her peers Katie Couric, Jessica Yellin, and Campbell Brown.  In her own right, Megyn has become a force to be reckoned with, even if her subject matter is often lacking.

If she is serious about journalism, she will take advantage of the first major opportunity to leave Fox, as all she will be there is a television personality that Roger Ailes will continue to exploit.  He isn't losing in this Trump-Kelly feud, as in the long run Megyn will give him him far more shelf life than the 69-year-old bloviating real estate mogul, making what appears to be his final round.  You almost wonder if Ailes is purposely antagonizing Trump to increase Megyn's value.

Meanwhile, Evgenia Peretz appears to be having second thoughts about that glowing cover story she did on Megyn.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The last throes of the Jeb Bush campaign

In many ways it looks like Jeb Bush's campaign is on life support, so it should come as no surprise that he is once again exploiting the Terri Schiavo story for his own political gain.  From the beginning, it didn't seem like the his campaign had any reason for being.  It was clear that GOP voters didn't want another typical establishment candidate, much less another Bush.  In the previous two presidential elections, Republicans had been forced to swallow bitter pills like McCain and Romney for the sake of party unity, both coming up short in the general election.  Along comes Jeb, unable in anyway to distinguish himself from these two or his brother, who many Republicans desperately wanted to disown.

Trump was successfully able to play off the widespread dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment, quickly overtaking Bush in the polls, and has only had to worry about other insurgent candidates like Carson and Cruz ever since.  The nearest establishment candidate is Marco Rubio in the national polls.  Rather than rally behind his fellow Floridian, Jeb's campaign has gone out of its way to discredit Rubio, who at this point is the only viable establishment candidate left.

I say campaign because Jeb appears to be nothing more than a pitch man for a cabal of big Republican spenders who remain determined to put him in the White House, like they did his brother George.  Jeb's SuperPac has gone after all the wrong persons, undercutting its candidate's support.  Of course, it doesn't help when Candidate Jeb has proven to be such a dud on stage and in interviews, unable to hold his own in debates and needing follow up interviews to try to explain what he meant previously, like his position on his brother's Iraq War.

His SuperPac is like a life-support machine keeping Jeb in the race long after everyone else has given him up for dead.  So, here he is again pointing to how he fought so hard for Terry Schiavo's life, when no one wanted him to, least of all her husband who had spent six long years finally getting a court order to pull the plug, only for her evangelical parents to launch a last ditch appeal, which Jeb supported and even had his brother step in to reverse the decision.  Appeals for review by the Supreme Court were denied four times before Schiavo was finally allowed to die in 2005.

One has to ask if Bush really wants to dredge this case up again, but this is a desperate man, looking for anything to cling to in the final days of his campaign.  He is polling a dismal 3.7 per cent in Iowa and 9.4 per cent in New Hampshire, well behind Trump and also behind Rubio and Kasich, the closest establishment candidates to Trump.  All it does is reinforce the impression that Jeb will say anything and do anything to get elected.  He has no core set of beliefs or ideas.  His greatest political claim to fame is that he is a Bush, which is what got him elected governor in the first place, thanks to a well-financed campaign.

The maladroit Bush never accomplished anything to speak of as governor, but was affable enough to win re-election.  There was even talk he might be the next NFL commissioner after his tenure, but the NFL couldn't wait until 2007 and named Roger Goodell in Paul Tagliabue's place.  Since then, Bush has stumbled around the country pushing one idea or another.  At one point, he even cozied up to Obama to pitch education reform, as Jeb was a big supporter of Common Core, which he later chose to disown.

Throughout the campaign, Bush has looked like a throwback to the 90s, completely out of step with the pace of this year's campaign trail that has left him far behind.  In that sense, he probably best represents the GOP establishment, which seems unwilling to admit its political base has abandoned it, still trying to pitch its odd combination of supply-side economics and social conservatism that no longer has any resonance with its electorate.  At this point, he's a presidential candidate only a mother could love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rough Day for Fox

It's two biggest ratings grabbers -- the Bundy Brothers and Donald Trump -- have pulled out.  It was the Bundy Brothers ill-fated decision to attend a rally that led to their arrest.  There was a brief shootout.  How could it end otherwise, but unlike the television show Fargo there was surprisingly very little blood.  One of the gang is dead and Brother Ryan took a bullet in the shoulder for the cause.  All were apprehended in separate raids.  This brings to an end the month-long standoff that had most conservatives perplexed as they weren't sure how to address it.  Trump remained surprisingly quiet, as did all the GOP presidential candidates, waiting to see how it played out.  No doubt, LaVoy Finicum will be made into a martyr for this lost cause.

Trump shockingly pulled out of Fox's Thursday GOP Presidential Debate, citing "wise guy press releases" on the part of Fox.  It seems the Donald doesn't like to be taunted and that is what he felt Roger Ailes was doing through his surrogates.  Trump had renewed his attacks on Megyn Kelly when it was learned she would be moderating the debate, and this erupted into a full fledged twitter war, which the Donald usually regales in.  However, with the Iowa caucus just around the corner it is clear he is protecting his lead in the polls.  No need to be forced into answering unwanted questions that might puncture his electoral balloon.

Happier Times
For Fox News, these are two big blows, as it had been milking the Bundy gang for television ratings and was relying on Trump to give them another big ratings boost in their next Presidential Debate.  Now, it seems Fox is part of the "establishment," with over 50,000 persons signing a petition to have Megyn Kelly removed so that Trump would participate in the next debate.  Fox stood behind Megyn.  Anything less would have been seen as capitulating to Trump, who has been pretty much running the GOP primaries since he announced his candidacy back in June.  Ailes has been reduced to a periphery figure, with Megyn as his proxy in this war of words.

The good news is that it opens up a podium for Rand Paul, who was in danger of being left off the main stage again.  He was quite upset the last time around, feeling he had been wrongly diminished in stature.  Needless to say, his boycott didn't generate anywhere near the same anxiety at Fox as does the Trump pullout.

It just shows what a farce the GOP debates have become.  It has looked more like a political version of Celebrity Apprentice with ratings determining who participates from one week to the next.  A format that very much favored Trump.  The question have not been particularly hard hitting, aiming more at personal issues than national issues, such as when Megyn Kelly accused Donald Trump of being a misogynist, which is what got this Trump-Fox twitter war going.  When Trump later made a reference to Megyn's menstruation, many thought this was the end of the Donald, but as it turned out his support grew.  Seems Megyn wasn't quite the darling of the conservative right wing that Fox thought.

Many blame Fox for the rise of Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, the Bundy Gang and other right wing persons and factions, as they have actively promoted them at one time or another.  Now, it seems they are coming back to haunt them.  Fox fired Sarah back in 2013, but she's back and as unruly as ever, thanks to Donald Trump.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Donald embrace Cliven Bundy at this point, whose two boys are now in FBI custody.  This is the same type of right wing fringe group the Trump campaign has been reaching out to, hoping to create as much political unrest as it can on the campaign trail.  It turns out Trump is better at it than Fox News, and no doubt this irks Roger Ailes.

I think they have all been watching too much House of Cards, making a mockery of this Presidential election year that makes Frank Underwood look good by comparison.  With Season 4 around the corner, there well may be a petition for Underwood for President.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hillary's New Groove

The "Anti-Establishment" Candidate

I suppose it is hip to be "anti-establishment" these days, but it is a bit of a stretch for Hillary to now be running as an "outsider."  After all, this is the same woman who was first lady in one Presidential administration and Secretary of State in another, not to mention an 8-year Senate tenure in between.  But, on CNN the other day that is what she projected herself as.  I guess sitting out of politics the last four years makes her "indie."  She even has some new dance moves to go along with her new look.

Don't get me wrong, I like Hillary, but come on, does she really expect us to buy this?  Bernie may have served in the Senate longer, but he was always a maverick, serving as an Independent all these years as he doesn't think the Democratic Party is liberal enough.  This is certainly the case with health care, as he pitches a single-payer system, which Hillary regards as "risky and irresponsible."  Yet, this was exactly what the House first proposed before the more "responsible" Senate sliced and diced it to pieces, giving us what amounts to little more than a hybrid version of health care with so many gaps that it has been sharply criticized on both the left and the right.

Of course, that is the nature of politics and we are fortunate we have any kind of health care reform.  The exchanges have done much better than anyone expected and even the private insurance companies are happy because it made little dent into their client base. In fact, it expanded it a little, which Hillary has been paid $3 million to point out.  However, this is nothing more than a stop-gap solution.  There are still millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans, and premium rates keep rising.

Bernie may be projecting "Happy Dreams," according to Paul Krugman, but if we don't think outside the box nothing gets done.  In this sense Hillary is all too establishment, as her ideas fit snugly inside that box, especially now that Obama made it a little bit bigger.

Hillary wants to have it both ways, a kind of pragmatic dreamer.  Unfortunately, she comes across as dear old mom telling you why you can't do this and that, and only if you work really really hard can you achieve your dreams.  The funny part is that she makes the 74-year-old, wild-haired Bernie Sanders look like a teenager by comparison, and here in lies his appeal.

Bernie is the eternal teenager, the guy who has been around the block a few times but never lost his youthful vigor.  He doesn't throw a wet blanket on your dreams.  He tells you anything is possible, much to the chagrin of your parents, or Hillary in this case.  Kind of a "Bad Granpa" who kids think is cool.  How can you not like the guy?

This is what Hillary is trying so desperately to overcome.  Each time she tosses one of her wet blankets, it just makes her look more the condescending mother, so now she wants to be hip too.  She's been busy picking up the support of big time celebrities, and projecting herself as "Cool Mom," who will let you stay out past midnight, as long as you call to let her know where you are.

To be safe, she is rounding up as many Obama cabinet supporters as she can.  You can't have enough endorsements in your back pocket, especially if she doesn't wrap up the nomination by Super Tuesday. There is even talk of a Hillary Clinton-Julian Castro ticket, which would all but sew up the Latino vote, even if Marco Rubio were to win the GOP nomination.  Castro is the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and was formerly the very popular mayor of San Antonio, Texas.  He also gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic Convention.  Clearly, an up and comer.

That's a lot of bling, but Bernie has his fair share of celebrity and political endorsements, most recently everybody's favorite funnyman, Danny De Vito.  There is only one problem -- most of his big name supporters tend to be a bit long in the tooth.  Ronda Rousey doesn't hurt, especially if she scores a big comeback win against Holley Holm.   It's not really his style to have an entourage, like the one Hillary now has.  Bernie can fill all his allotted time on stage.  Still, having some fresh young faces sharing the stage with him wouldn't hurt.

It will be interesting if the "Imagineers" in Hillary's campaign can re-imagine her as "Cool Mom."  She will have to show much more energy than she has shown so far.  Maybe some aerobic lessons will help.  She can get Ellen and Twitch to join her on the stage and lead everyone in the "Nae Nae."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Man in the Wilderness

Barrack Obama wasn't forced to spend the night in an animal carcass like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, but the President learned a few other valuable tips from Bear Grylls on his expedition into the Arctic Circle, the first ever by a standing President.  The episode of Running Wild was made more to highlight the impact of global warming than it was to show how to survive in the wilderness, with the President and Bear exchanging thoughts and observations over bear-killed salmon.

Grylls was pleased as punch to have scored such a huge guest for his show, saying what a down-to-earth guy the President is, something that probably won't sit well with many in his audience, who had petitioned for Bear to make Obama drink his own urine, as others have done on the show.  Bear was a little put off by the all the security and press that came along for the ride, but in the end the President put full trust in Bear, and the two had a great time.

Of course, it doesn't match the real-life exploits of Sarah's exploits into the wilderness, but it does show the President's willingness to put himself in difficult terrain to prove a point.  His excursion into the Arctic was in early September, and he and Bear needed little more than windbreakers.  Bear pointed out the receding glaciers and other signs of global warming, contradicting conservative critics who refuse to acknowledge climate change.

In fact, global warming has received very little mention this political campaign by either side.  I don't think it has come up once in Republican debates, and has received only passing mention in Democratic debates.  Like most serious issues, it has been swept under by Donald Trump's outrageous acts.  Yet, the President is determined to press the issue.  For their part, the Republicans would rather hammer on ISIS, calling the President "naive" to think global warming poses a greater threat than terrorism.

However, many others think that what is driving the refugee crisis isn't so much ISIS as it is global warming.  A three-year drought in Syria probably had as much to do with so many persons fleeing the country as has the ongoing civil war.   Rural farming areas have been particularly hard hit.

Relocations have similarly taken place in Alaska, which the President highlighted on this trip.  Arctic regions are being even more greatly affected by global warming, where temperatures have risen twice as fast as the global average.  Obama visited Kotzebue, offering to provide relief to a town that has been one of the most adversely impacted by climate change.

In many ways, Obama is evoking the same message Teddy Roosevelt made a century ago, calling on America to protect its valuable lands and resources for posterity's sake.  Teddy was by far the more intrepid outdoorsman, publishing his accounts of his ranch life, hunting expeditions and the time he traveled through the Brazilian wilderness, which nearly took his life.   However, you have to hand it to President Obama for staring global warming in the face and calling it to our attention, which I imagine President Roosevelt would have done the same.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If not Trump, Who?

Less than two weeks to the Iowa caucus and he Republican Party seems as lost in the wilderness as it was when it was swamped with all these candidates.  The one thing the Republican establishment can seem to agree on is that it doesn't want Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz) as its nominee.

The National Review gathered together its leading voices to tell its relative handful of readers why Trump is bad for the GOP.  But, what these leading conservative lights fail to do is rally around an alternative, instead splitting among the half dozen other candidates that they feel better represent their values.

There still appears to be some hope that Jeb Bush can unite the real conservatives as Romney did in 2012, surviving a string of early losses to mount a Super Tuesday of Armageddon proportions, wiping out all his rivals with his Super PAC.   However, most political pundits are treating Jeb as a lost cause.

It is clear that there is a seismic shift at the base of the party and the hardcore conservatives want someone new to lead their party out of the wilderness, someone who speaks their language.  Trump has become their unlikely spokesman: a billionaire who literally grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never had to want for anything in his life.  Yet, he has managed to sell himself with his red trucker's cap as the American Everyman.

Like their October Yosemite Sam cover, this special issue doesn't help make the National Review's case, as the conservative everyman loves this unrepentant rebel.  It is an image embraced by so many conservatives, right down to the mud flaps on their trucks.  Trump even has the hair to match.  The Republican establishment is shooting itself in the foot in this regard, as it has throughout this campaign.

The GOP's basic problem is that they didn't take Trump seriously.  They thought he would implode and the party would move on.  But, here we are on the eve of the first electoral battleground and Trump has what many pollsters regard as an insurmountable lead.

It may very well be that the Donald is all flash and no substance, but there is Teddy Boy waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces should this implosion take place, as he best represents these angry voters than any of the other remaining candidates.  The Republican establishment is just as much against Cruz as it is Trump.

Last time around, it was relatively easy to rally around Romney, as he was the one relatively sane voice among a cackle of insurgent candidates.  This year, it is the opposite.  Trump has united the insurgent vote, and the establishment has to decide among five remaining viable candidates which one is the most electable, or in this case anti-Trump.

Those candidates are Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul.  The logical choice at this point would be John Kasich, as he is a popular Ohio governor, and everyone knows how important this state is in the electoral map.  Add Marco Rubio to the ticket and you have a very good chance to take both Ohio and Florida in the general election.  It would be very hard for the Democratic nominee to overcome these two losses.

John Kasich is polling relatively well in New Hampshire.  He's a distant second to Donald.  A strong showing might actually vault him back into the mix, but unfortunately Super Tuesday is dominated by Southern states, including Texas, which may very well come down to Trump or Cruz.  It all depends on their ability to get out the vote.

If the GOP had been smart it would have been making more of an effort to promote Kasich.  Instead, he has pretty much had to lift his own load, getting no major personal endorsements, at least none that light up the press like Sarah Palin.  In fact, you would never know he was second in New Hampshire if you didn't make the effort to look.  Chris Christie has been getting far more publicity than Kasich, and he is a very distant fifth.

Trump is only polling 32 per cent in New Hampshire.  The five establishment candidates are polling a collective 45 per cent.  It's hard to swallow your pride and pull out of the race for the benefit of another, but that is what Rick Perry,  Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker did.  It seems it is time for others to do the same.  By splitting the more centrist Republican vote, the Republican National Committee is essentially handing the nomination to Trump, who only has to score 30 per cent to win, and ensure the lion's share of delegates.

Strangely, you don't find many of these conservative polls and pundits talking about this.  They are instead lamenting the crisis of conservatism or still imagining a Trump implosion taking place around the corner.  They have unwittingly played right into Trump's hands by failing to put up a viable alternative to his candidacy.   As Eugene Robinson noted, they have gotten what they deserve, a toxic mix of demagoguery and fake populism that will most likely leave the GOP in shambles.  Score one for Yosemite Sam.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Incomprehensible Sarah Palin and the Impervious Donald Trump

It doesn't get any whackier than Sarah Palin riffing on Donald Trump, as she gave him her full-throated endorsement.  It was utterly mind-boggling.  Of course, the press is having a field day, re-broadcasting clips from her rousing speech in front of an adoring Iowa crowd with a sanguine Donald looking on.  Some pundits are even predicting that this little show has tilted Iowa firmly into the Trump column, as Ted had been hoping to get Crazy Sarah's endorsement, but had to settle for the supreme Duck Commander's endorsement.

Trump's strategy is to keep feeding the insatiable media such juicy morsels so that they don't stop commenting on his campaign, effectively drowning out his opponents, Republican and Democratic alike.  Hillary had brought Demi Lovato to her rally in Iowa, but she was no match for Crazy Sarah.  What little the media did report on Hillary's appearance was how short her speech was -- barely five minutes -- leaving many Iowa students feeling shortchanged.

It remains to be seen if Trump's circus act will actually translate into votes.  He's got plenty of trolls on the Internet responding to any anti-Trump article or comment, but will it bring persons to the caucuses?  The media still doesn't seem to understand the mechanics of the caucus system, in which you physically have to have your supporters present and accounted for.  It is a laborious process, requiring an army of foot soldiers, not persons clicking away on their keyboards.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see a red-faced Trump come February 2 trying to explain why he lost Iowa, ending in a pig squeal much like Howard Dean back in 2004.

Until then we can expect more brazen acts from the ringmaster, who is thoroughly enjoying the chaos he is wreaking on the GOP primaries and the election as a whole.  He has made this campaign almost entirely about himself, pulling in all the crazies from the fringe of the Republican party, including the old bat Phyllis Schlafly, who anyone that still remembers her probably thought she was dead.  I guess this is an attempt to convince the conservative nonagenarians out there to vote Trump.

More and more, the Trump campaign is looking like the Goldwater campaign of 1964, feeding off disaffected conservatives who believe they were shortchanged by their own party.  Back in 64 it was the Civil Rights Bill that divided the party.  Most Republicans voted for it, including Nelson Rockefeller, who had been pegged to be the party's nominee that year.  The crusty Arizona senator defied all odds, trouncing his GOP opponents in the 16 primaries that were held that year.  However, Goldwater's campaign sank after that and he suffered one of the worst electoral defeats of any presidential candidate.

I'm not sure what has turned conservative voters off this year, as the Republican Party has gone out of its way to block the Obama administration's every action, including most recently his executive order to strengthen the Clean Water Act.  All the GOP candidates have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and roll back his bold diplomatic moves.  Yet, many conservative voters feel the GOP doesn't represent their interests and they demand a man who is not beholden to Super PACS and isn't afraid to speak his mind.

The most amazing part is how Trump has managed to insinuate himself with Evangelicals, receiving another endorsement from Liberty University chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr. who gave a seven-and-a-half-minute intro praising Trump as a modern-day King Midas.  Falwell even suggested a Trump Tower on campus to address housing shortages.  A gleaming Trump delivered an hour-long speech, boasting that his book, The Art of the Deal, was second only to The Bible, which he then fumbled over in quoting from "Two Corinthians" in an effort to find a reference to Liberty.

A speech like that would have doomed just about any presidential candidate, but not the impervious Donald Trump.   Who else would then gladly accept an endorsement from the incomprehensible Sarah Palin, knowing it will only add to his appeal.  A dumbfounded Meghan McCain could only look on in horror and wonder where have all her conservative heroes gone.  Apparently, even the ghost of John Wayne has now endorsed Trump.  How can anyone compete with this guy!

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Spike Lee has spoken out on the whiteness of the Oscars this year, although he says he is not encouraging a boycott.  He simply isn't going.  No reason to go since his highly touted Chi-Raq wasn't nominated for a single award.  I thought this might have been because of its late release, but both The Revenant and The Hateful Eight came out after Spike Lee's movie.

It really is hard to figure why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has such a hard time picking Blacks or any persons of color for the top awards.  Part of it is due to most of the Academy being White (94%) and male (77%).  There are over 5000 members and each has a say in the nomination process.  It is doubtful that many of them even watch the films, going on buzz or leaving it up to their kids to fill out the ballots.  How else does Mad Max get nominated for 9 Oscars?

The Revenant isn't much better.  It is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's depressing ode to the Lost West with Leonardo DiCaprio as a facsimile of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who survived a bear attack and sought revenge against those who left him behind to die.  As far as I was concerned, the bear was the star of this show and should have gotten the acting nod over Leo, who barely managed more than a few grunts and some mumbled attempt to speak an Athapaskan language.  But, it is probably enough to win an Oscar.

Idris Elba played in a far more meaningful film, Beasts of No Nations, but neither the film nor he got any mention.  Seems like Hollywood isn't ready for Netflix productions, much less powerful black actors like Elba, who can fill the screen as good as anyone.

Maybe Beasts should have been
nominated for Foreign Language Film?

This year's nominations are for the most part popcorn movies.  The Martian is just Castaway on Mars with a whole bunch of hero worship thrown in for good measure.  The Big Short relies mostly on shtick to sum up the 2008 stock market crash, with Brad Pitt looking like a caricature of a middle-aged Robert Redford.  Bridge of Spies is Spielberg's Cold War thriller with a script apparently written by the Coen Bros.  Spotlight is a melodrama on child abuse in the Catholic Church.  Room is a thriller about a mother and daughter held captive in what amounts to little more than a walk-in closet.  Brooklyn is yet another nostalgic look of Irish immigrants struggling to find their way in New York, notable mostly for the very talented Saoirse Ronan in her first major role.

It's hard to understand why the highly popular Straight Outta Compton shouldn't be considered among this grab bag of films.  This led Snoop Dogg to opin on the subject in his colorful way.  Not even the affable Will Smith got a nod for Concussion, one of the few timely films this year, which dealt with head injuries in the NFL, albeit met with mixed reviews.  It's not like Hollywood turns its back on black film makers and actors.  Universal Studios bankrolled Straight Outta Compton, and Concussion was produced by Ridley Scott no less.  So why the cold shoulder from the Academy?

Most of the films nominated were released in December, with the notable exceptions of Mad Max and The Martian.  So, it seems Academy members didn't even bother to look at films made earlier this year, drawing primarily from the holiday season fare.  But, this doesn't explain the snub of Spike Lee's Chi-raq, which premiered during Lenten season.

The Foreign Language category offers the most diversity as usual, with films from five different countries.  The Hungarian film, Son of Saul, is considered the clear favorite, dealing with (you guessed it) the Holocaust.  It makes up for pesky Iranian films like The Separation, which won the Oscar in 2012.

Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor
contemplating their place in the Academy

Maybe there should be a category for Black films at the Oscars since Black filmmakers are so rarely included in the top categories.  A kind of separate but equal category to show that the Oscars at least has them in mind, like the foreign language films.

Stacey Dash argued that's pretty much the way it is now with the Black Entertainment Network (BET) sponsoring an awards program to honor its own.  The Fox television pundit wasted no time stirring up controversy after her two-week suspension by saying that Blacks should give up their own double standard if they expect the Academy or any other predominantly White establishment to take them seriously. She also took another pot shot at Obama in noting that having a Black President hasn't elevated the status of more Blacks in Hollywood.

It seems Black film makers and actors have to make films about the Civil War or Civil Rights if they want to be considered for major awards.  Anything else is too trivial for the Academy.  The sad part is that winning an Oscar doesn't assure continued success.  Lupita Nyong'o, who took home an award for her supporting role in 12 Years a Slave in 2013, has only gotten small roles in Non Stop and Star Wars the last three years.  Compare that to Jennifer Lawrence, who has gotten one plum role after another ever since her Academy-award-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook, and is once again nominated for an Oscar, her fourth time.

Little wonder BET offers a venue for aspiring Black filmmakers and actors, including Stacey Dash, who appeared on The Game, 2009-11, before landing her current gig with Fox.  Chris Rock humorously put the shoe on the other foot, calling the Oscars the "White BET Awards."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Long Run

Glenn Frey's passing brings back an interesting set of memories.  I was never a big fan of the Eagles but Hotel California is one of those songs that is hard to get out of your head.  Don Felder wrote the music, which to me is the most haunting part, but Frey and Don Henley are given more credit for the lyrics.  Felder is a Gainesville native.  He and Bernie Leadon both grew up in Hogtown and helped spawn a music scene that was second to none in the 70s, which included Tom Petty among others.

I remember as a college student "camping out" to buy $6 tickets for a Tom Petty concert, as it was expected to be sold out the first day.  Petty was making his triumphant return to Gainesville, kicking off a new tour, and it was rumored Stevie Nicks would be joining him on stage, after their huge hit, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, the previous year.  Petty may have not been ready for the big stadiums like the Eagles, but he was sure to pack the 12,000 seat O'Connell Center.

When the Eagles came to town in the early 90s it was an entirely different story.  Ticket prices had soared by then and you couldn't get a seat for less than $100.   This was the Hell Freezes Over tour that saw the Eagles come back together, which Don Henley vowed would never happen.   It turned out to be a smart marketing ploy, as they packed the University of Florida football stadium, despite many disgruntled fans who felt they were being gouged.  Some hold the Eagles personally responsible for high ticket prices, as they were the first major band to cross this threshold.

Glenn Frey had tried to go solo in the 80s, penning a few songs popularized by hit movies and TV shows.  He even popped up on Miami Vice in an episode built around Smuggler's Blues.  But, his popularity faded pretty quickly, as did Don Henley's solo effort, which I guess is why the two got the big idea to bring back the Eagles in 1994.  It was clear they would never achieve the same level of success they had in the 70s, but they could cash in on it with a grand reunion.

It worked out perfectly for them as there was a big yearning for these pre-disco era bands that hadn't been forgotten.  The core of their fans were now middle-aged like themselves and could afford to spring for a big concert, unlike the college kids that supported them in the 70s.  There was MTV for the young ones to tune into and see them "unplugged," not that this audiance would be overly interested in their music.  The Eagles would have a hard time competing with Grunge, which was dominating the airwaves at the time.

Don Felder was fired in 2001.  It seemed Frey and Henley wanted to take the Eagles back to their country roots, and there was no room for Don.  He filed a suit against his former bandmates, reaching an undisclosed settlement, but the bad taste lingered for years.  After all, he helped give the band its distinctive sound, never getting the credit he deserved.

Glenn Frey kind of disappeared himself.  The Eagles haven't enjoyed a resurgence like other iconic bands have.  There is no great call for their music on the radio.  You don't even hear young groups drawing on their music in any significant way, like they do other bands from the same era.  There are few persons covering Eagles tracks.

The Eagles continued to play in their diminished form through 2015.  They were due to be honored at Kennedy Center at the end of the year, but Glenn's remaining bandmates asked for the honor to be postponed so that Frey could join them.  Nevertheless, Miranda Lambert offered this version of Desperado, which is probably his signature song.  It will make this year's event just that much more poignant.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Have no fear Erin Brokovich is here

Like a page taken from a Hollywood script, Erin Brokovich has arrived at the scene of the crime to sort out all the particulars in the Flint water crisis, or "poop water" as it has been dubbed.  Actually, it looks more like pee in the pictures, but no matter, it is a serious issue as 10 persons are reported dead since the city dropped the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and started drawing water out of its own river.  Serious mistake.

The city was trying to save money for its residents as the DWSD had jacked up the water rates in an effort to meet its ongoing budget crisis.  Flint's water department tried to use chlorine to clean the river water, but left higher than accepted levels of Trihalomethane, which pose serious health risks.  There are also higher than accepted levels of lead in the water supply.

Of course, the river shouldn't be so badly contaminated.  Governor Rick Snyder is taking the blame for this as it is state department of environmental quality that failed to require needed chemicals to make the water potable.  One of the things conservative governors have cut back on is enforcing costly environmental regulations, figuring enough chlorine will mask anything, but it seems the Flint River is beyond a few chlorine tablets.

Flint's native son, Michael Moore, took to twitter to address this crime against humanity, calling it genocide and demanding the arrest of Governor Rick Snyder, who he considers nothing less than a war criminal.  Moore's excess is well documenting.  Gross negligence is a far cry from a hate crime, which is what he likens it to.

Snyder is under attack from many sides.  He's angry that Hillary Clinton has politicized the water crisis.  Meanwhile, Republican congresspersons are sent a bill to Obama's desk blocking the new clean water rules he decreed last May, which obviously some governors chose to ignore.   To Snyder's credit, he is taking the blame for it.

Fresh drinking water is being flown from all quarters to alleviate the crisis, including a shipment from American Muslims, which no doubt galls conservatives.  It is the Katrina catastrophe all over again, which the Republicans would love to pin on Obama, who was left with no choice to declare a state of emergency.   Yet, it is the GOP that is fighting the clean water act on Capitol Hill, as they see the Environmental Protection Agency as Big Brother.

It has been a disaster movie in the making for quite some time, as state and city officials ignored warnings that the water had an excessive lead content.  Instead, they forced residents to accept the foul water at their own risk.   Here's where Erin comes in.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hillary get your gun

Politics is largely about momentum, and with the Iowa caucus two weeks away, Hillary badly wanted to wreck Bernie's momentum, as he has been gaining ground quickly in Iowa polls.  She doesn't want a repeat of 2008, when Obama staged a big early victory that put her campaign on its heels for the remainder of the primaries.  This explains her strident tone in the fourth Democratic debate, in which she went after Sanders like never before, attacking him on gun control and surprisingly health care because Sanders was opposed to some of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

This time it was Sanders who looked the most presidential, brushing off her criticisms, notably national health care, which he has been a strong supporter throughout his years in Washington.  Sanders doesn't think the ACA goes far enough.  He wants universal health care like they have in Vermont.  So, one had to wonder where Clinton was coming from leveling a charge like this against Bernie.

Hillary initially planned to run to the left of Obama, staking out her own terrain and hoping to draw the progressive element of the Democratic Party closer to her, but now she seems to be Obama's staunchest defender, as if she is the true heir to his legacy.  This was the same sort of campaign that doomed her in 2008, when she tried to evoke the Clinton legacy.  Democrats are looking for someone who will go further than Obama has gone, not maintain a status quo.  This is why Bernie has chipped away her once formidable lead in national polls and is breathing down her neck in Iowa.

Charleston is a different story.  Hillary appears to have the sizable "Black vote" behind her in South Carolina, the third stop on the presidential campaign train, so she tried to get the partisan crowd behind her.  Still, Bernie wouldn't let himself get off track, sticking to the primary message of his campaign that 98 per cent of Americans are being shafted by a plutocracy to which Hillary Clinton is beholden.  He noted her massive speaking engagements paid by Goldman Sachs, asking the question how someone so close to Wall Street can represent mainstream Americans' interests?

Hillary has had a hard time defending herself in this regard.  From her earliest days as a corporate lawyer she was associated with such unsavory corporations as Walmart.  You can look at it two ways: she tried to reform this company from within as the first woman board member or she is a corporate shill, which she is so often portrayed in the media.  She wants us to think she has made these corporations more answerable to the people.  It's a tough row to hoe when major corporations saw little repercussions from the financial crisis they created due to their profligate ways.

Americans, however, have been presented a largely negative view of socialism.  Bernie has had a hard time explaining his Democratic Socialism, which he sees as the means of addressing the gaping wealth inequalities in this country.  As the recent $1.5 billion Powerball showed us, most Americans dream of being billionaires, buying well over 75 per cent of all available numbers, resulting in three winning tickets.  It is a wonderful illusion perpetuated by those who want us to think that buying lottery tickets is for a greater good, when in reality it is little more than a shell game.  Bernie has tried to cut through this type of thinking, only to find the pejorative "socialist" tagged to him by the media.

Martin O'Malley did his best to make his case that he is the third way, but once again had a hard time distinguishing himself.  He is this election year's John Edwards, a strapping guy with a good legislative record.  However, he is seen as inconsequential in the media.  He took his shots at both Hillary and Bernie, but failed to leave a mark.  Most recaps of the debate didn't even mention him.  Depending on how fractious the primaries become he does present himself as an appealing Vice-Presidential nominee, especially for Hillary.  Bernie would probably need a woman on his ticket to reach a broader electorate.  Elizabeth Warren appears the obvious choice here.

Anyway, we will see how it all shakes out in Iowa on February 1.  Hopefully, Hillary's campaign team has learned how to manage caucuses, which proved to be her undoing last time around.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

New York State of Mind

Everyone knows how obnoxious New Yorkers are!  This is a stereotype that has been perpetuated for decades, largely to provide a sharp contrast to the rural voters Republicans aim at every election with their baseball and apple pie vision of America.  Even to the point that the Abner Doubleday myth was invented so that many persons believe baseball was invented in a cow field in upstate New York rather than at Elysian Fields, New Jersey, where the New York Knickerbockers staged their first games.

But, this election offers something different.  There is actually someone to defend the Big Apple in the GOP primaries, albeit not the best spokesperson you would like to have.  Donald Trump took Ted Cruz's accusation that New York does not represent American values and threw it right back into his face.  This may turn out to be the deciding point of the Republican nomination process, as in one fell swoop, Donald pulled the rug right out from under Ted's feet, his closest challenger.  This right after the feisty Texan had scored one on Trump over the birther accusations that are now dogging his campaign.

No wonder the Republican debates are so much more fun to watch.  Real issues are thrown to the wayside in favor of an us v. them battle royale that has seen Trump survive six staged fights to this point and likely to survive them all, as his opponents have been unable to rattle the Donald.  Cruz may end up winning Iowa, the very antithesis of New York, but so did Rick Santorum last time around, and he proved no match for Romney.

The big problem Trump's challengers face is that the Republican electorate appears to want an obnoxious New Yorker, someone who will voice their complaints loud and clear, and it doesn't get anymore obnoxious than Donald Trump.  Chris Christie is similarly trying to capitalize on his obnoxious Jersey personality to challenge Trump in New Hampshire, the second stop in the Republican ultimate fight championship.

Ted had hoped to feed off Trump's angry mass by cozying up to him, but it seems the "bromance" is over and Ted now has to go toe to toe with Trump, looking like a young unproven fighter looking to land a haymaker and knock out his much more nimble opponent.

Surprisingly, the nomination seems to come down to these two, as the others stagger around in a daze.  Rubio tried to sound like he still had some punch left in him, but it wasn't very effective as Chris Christie literally stared him down.  "Rube Rube" Rubio had been the Republican establishment's last best hope to rattle Trump, but Rube couldn't even score a hit on Christie.

Jeb was virtually a footnote two nights ago, looking as inconsequential as ever as he ducked questions and made the same hollow comments that have plagued his campaign.  At one point, he tried to take advantage of Nikki Haley's rising stardom, especially since the debate was held in her home state, but he fell flat here as well.

For a Republican campaign that was said to offer the best of the best, it is looking a whole lot like a New Jersey used car lot with the only car standing out being that one with the gleaming Trump moniker stamped on it.  Trump upstaged his opponents from day one, using one clever gimmick after another to put them on their heels, and they have been unable to get any footing since.    Jeb Bush, the anointed front runner back in June, 2015, is now polling less than 5 per cent on average, barely qualifying to even participate in the main event.

It looks like the Republicans have no choice but to get into a New York State of Mind as more and more it looks like the nomination is Donald Trump's for the taking.  I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but there seems to be no Republican challenger able to knock him off his lofty perch.   Donald Trump wouldn't be any self-respecting New Yorker's first choice to represent them in an election, but a certain amount of pride had to well up seeing Trump triumphantly defend his city on a national stage.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

13 Hours

Michael Bay, the producer and director who has given us Armageddon, Transformers and The Rock, now presents 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi to once again revive all the conspiracy theories that surround the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Libya.  As you can expect, the conservative blogs have run wild with this movie, and there are no end of personal accounts like this one by Col. Andrew Wood, who says his special teams forces had been removed one month before the attack took place by the Obama administration.  Col. Wood conveniently fails to mention that funding had been cut by Congress for embassy security prior to the attack as well.  Needless to say, Michael Bay doesn't deal with such nuances.  What he specializes in are heavy hitting action movies with little or no nuances, which make it very easy for conservative audiences, or any audience for that matter, to understand.

"Bob" appears to be Michael Bay's stand-in for the Obama administration, as Bay is not interested in all that petty bureaucratic haggling.  He wants to tell the stories of the brave men in charge of Benghazi security and how this ill-fated mission played out.  As such, it is not so much a political statement, like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, as it is a film that exploits Benghazi for Michael Bay's financial gain.  He is purely in the business of making action movies, and knows what most people want to see on the screen, no matter how crass.

This is perfect for the crop of GOP candidates, which has been peddling the same Hollywood cliches on the campaign trail, especially Donald Trump, who deals in politics in the most crass terms.  Not surprising, Trump has chosen to screen this movie himself in Iowa, so that his supporters can get a full dose of Benghazi writ large on the silver screen.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Republican House decides to convene another special committee to investigate Benghazi in light of this movie, bringing in Michael Bay himself to offer expert testimony.  Special screenings are taking place all over the country, as Republicans hope to make Benghazi a burning issue on the campaign trail.

The only problem is that the movie has come out in January, and will be long forgotten, as Michael Bay movies are, by the time summer rolls around.  But, maybe this is another pre-emptive strike, which Republicans hope will sink Hillary's democratic nomination so they won't have to contend with her next Fall?

It is highly doubtful this film will have any impact whatsoever on the 2016 presidential election, as Bay himself seemed to go out of his way to avoid any direct political reference.  He looked at the success of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and probably said, heh, I can make a movie just like that!  The fact that Benghazi has a built-in audience of conspiracy theorists had Hollywood giving him the green light.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Big L

After years of haggling and unable to reach a deal, the NFL cobbled together its own tapes to produce a nearly full length version of Super Bowl I.  For some reason, no one thought to save the original broadcast in its entirety for posterity's sake.  The most complete tape is owned by an anonymous Pennsylvania resident, who when contacted by the NFL wanted a million dollars for the original broadcast.  The NFL wasn't about to be extorted for a tape they believed belonged to them by eminent domain, although they were willing to pay "low five-figures" for it, according to the lawyer of the tape owner.

Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, didn't quibble when he paid $2.4 million for the original scroll of On the Road, which he has been most generous in sharing with the public.  Yet, the NFL and its billionaire owners think the owner of this tape should give it up for the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl.

This is the same league, mind you, that gave owner Stan Kroenke $100 million toward building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, where he is relocating the Rams, and will similarly give Alex Spanos $100 million to cover relocation costs in moving the Chargers up the coast to the Los Angeles area.

The irony is that the NFL probably paid much more for "the exhaustive process that took months to complete" to bring this film to light.  They scoured their archives, splicing together pieces from a "couple dozen disparate sources."  Then remastered the tapes to give it a sharp appearance.  It would have been a whole lot easier to remaster the tape vetted by the Paley Center in New York.

Roger Goodell, the NFL Commish, appears to like to do things the hard way, such as his attempt to punish the defending Super Bowl champions earlier this year for "deflategate," which ended in a court case that he lost, adding further insult to ignominy.   Tom Brady was allowed to play the full season despite the questionable balls from last year's playoff game against Baltimore, and put the Patriots in position to play for the "Big L" -- Super Bowl 50.

Every team wanted a piece of this game, but it is down to eight teams this weekend, including six former Super Bowl champions.  It is possible to have a rematch of last year's nail-biter between New England and Seattle, which literally came down to the last play.  A far cry from Super Bowl I, in which Green Bay blasted Kansas City, 35-10.  Interestingly enough, the first Super Bowl teams are playing this weekend and similarly have a shot at a rematch.  Kansas City is riding an 11-game winning streak.

It was hard to imagine in 1967 that the Super Bowl would grow into the multi-million dollar event it has become with over 150 million viewers worldwide and generating more than $300 million in network ad revenue.  It isn't the World Cup, but it is a huge event that is growing bigger all the time with talks of expanding the league into Canada and Europe, where American-style football is quite popular.

One third of all Americans tune into the game each year.  A commercial spot has gone from $42,000  in 1967 to $4.5 million today.  Plus, there are all the events surrounding the Super Bowl, which have cities vying for it the way they would the Olympic Games.  This is one reason football stadiums have soared in cost and why so many northern cities build domes, as the NFL doesn't want its championship game to come down to a snow ball.

This means a lot of teams give up their edge in the playoffs.  Minnesota nearly beat Seattle last week thanks in large part to the frigid conditions in Minneapolis.  Yet, the Vikings are building a new indoor arena so that they will be able to host Super Bowl LII in 2018.  What would Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, have said about that?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last Go Round

I imagine there are a lot of Republicans happy that this was President Obama's last State of the Union address, but many others felt he saved his best for last.  Rather than offer a laundry list of legislative goals, Obama painted his speech in broad strokes, giving it more color and vibrancy than he has in the past.  He answered his critics by highlighting his many accomplishments, yet criticizing himself for not healing the partisan divide.  At one point, he said that if he had been Lincoln or Roosevelt he might have bridged that divide but history tells us otherwise.

This has always been a bitterly divided nation.  Lincoln faced a bitter hard fought re-election only to be assassinated one year into his second term.  Roosevelt, Franklin I assume, overreached his authority and found himself at odds with Congress throughout his last years in office.  Neither were able to get a Civil Rights bill through Congress.  It would be Lyndon Johnson who would achieve that goal only to alienate the Southern wing of his political party.

But, the President wasn't delving into history, so much as evoking it.  We remember Lincoln and Roosevelt in a far more positive light than they were viewed during their time.  That will probably be the case with Barack Obama as well, as his accomplishments are staggering.  His has been the most proactive presidential administration since Johnson, greatly expanding civil rights, health care and international diplomacy.

He overcame two major foreign policy hurdles this past year in Cuba and Iran, using stealth and diplomacy that I think even Henry Kissinger would have to begrudgingly respect.  Obama has returned America to a foreign policy of containment, in which his administration has re-evaluated our international relationships and isolated the trouble makers using minimal military force.   He has gone out of his way to avoid further conflict, which some may see as weakness, but had long been the cornerstone of our foreign policy until George W. Bush decided to launch his War on Terror.

Of course, Lindsey Graham and other hawks rolled their eyes, as they are part and parcel of the military industrial complex that has become the engine of our economy.  The federal government pours more than one trillion dollars each year into national security, financing defense contracts like that of the F-35 fighter jet that was virtually obsolete the day it finally rolled out onto the tarmac.  These projects aren't about making us more secure, as they are to provide contracts to a myriad of special interest groups spread around the country, mostly in key Congressional states.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration remains notoriously underfunded and troops have seen minimal pay raises as a result of bitter Congressional fighting over the projected 2016 defense budget.

Surprisingly, Obama only made passing references to transportation and alternative energy, two issues which his administration has tried to get Congress to address.  What gains that have been made in this regard have been largely through executive orders, as his administration has failed to get Congress to put forward a meaningful energy bill that would take us into the 21st century.  The Republicans have continually insisted on adding Keystone XL as a rider, which would undermine the President's stated energy policy.

What he did stress was hope in the future, challenging the television audience to stand up and be counted.  He bemoaned the politics of cynicism that pervades Washington and the news media, saying it is incumbent on Americans to demand greater representation in government.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is the optimistic note we need given all the rancor and bitterness we have been hearing on the GOP campaign trail.

He plans to take his reform policies on the road this year, campaigning for a brighter future.  I well imagine this means stumping for Democratic candidates across the country, as all we have heard from Republicans is how they will rollback the reforms that have been made these past 7 years, notably the Affordable Care Act, which is seen as the cornerstone of Obama's legacy.  Good luck, Mr. President, and may the force be with you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

In watching The Martian, apparently the future is no better for NASA than it is now.  Even by its own estimates, we are at least 20 years away from a manned expedition to Mars, assuming they get the funding from Congress.  In this film, it was at least the third expedition to Mars, setting the date sometime around 2050, with NASA as cash-strapped as ever.

Another space oddity is mission commander Melissa Lewis's passion for disco music.  I guess she listened to these albums on her grandmother's old turntable, although her husband at one point proudly holds up an ABBA Greatest Hits gatefold album in a video message, which he picked up in an antique store, with no scratches no less.  It would probably be worth a small fortune by this time given the disco revival.

For the most part, The Martian has received rave reviews.  Even Neil de Grasse Tyson found little to complain about as far as the science goes.  He questioned some of the administrative decisions and the fact that NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena doesn't track astronauts, at least not in the present day.

The oddest part of the movie is that it didn't feel futuristic at all.  In fact, it felt oddly retro as if we were going back to the old Apollo moon missions, which seemed more the inspiration here than some of the fantasies we have seen presented for a Mars mission.   Elon Musk is determined to be the first private entrepreneur to Mars and has some very elaborate plans to make Mars more habitable.  But, in this movie, NASA is still calling the shots, working in tandem with the Chinese space program at one point to resupply its astronauts in space. Time is an essential element in storytelling, and there is no sense of time in this movie.  Past, present and presumably future are all compressed into some kind of black hole, c.

I was kind of surprised Ridley Scott chose China and not Russia in this regard, as Russia has a far more developed space program, which we are currently reliant on to send astronauts to the International Space Station, but I guess Ridley is no fan of Vladimir Putin.  In fact, it is Musk's creation, Space X, that is busily trying to come up with a low-cost rocket to send astronauts to the space station and beyond.  It finally had its first successful launch after several tries.  Jeff Bezos's space program, Blue Origin, had managed to beat Musk's rocket to the punch, successfully launching one of its rockets one month earlier, but Musk was able to deliver commercial satellites into space, which Bezos did not.

It is odd that Scott chose to go solely with NASA in this movie, given how financially strapped it is and is anxiously awaiting Musk or Bezos to be able to have a fully functioning rocket that can deliver its astronauts to the space station.  Both should be able to achieve this goal in the next few years.  At the moment, NASA seems to be pinning its hopes on Musk.

For whatever reason, Tyson chose not to note these things, more interested in the actual science that was explored in slingshotting the Hermes 3 back to Mars to pick up the lost astronaut, Mark Whatney, before his potato supply ran out.

The best scenes for me were those on Mars, where Whatney tries to scratch out an existence in the desolate soil, fertilizing it with his own shit, and drawing water through condensation.  Whatney made it work until some ill Martian winds blew open his improvised greenhouse, instantly freezing his crop.   Apparently, solar panels provided enough energy to resupply his oxygen throughout the roughly two years he spent on the planet.  His body definitely showed signs of wear of tear, but mostly malnutrition, whereas I think his muscles would have all but atrophied by then.  But, I guess there is just enough atmosphere to offer resistance.

One can read Andy Weir's book, on which the movie was based, for more details.  He is a self-publishing hero, having successfully turned his personal effort into a bestseller in 2013.   From what I saw in the movie, it reads more like a rocket scientist's wet dream than Robinson Crusoe on Mars, as most of the focus was on getting Whatney back to Earth.  He could have had much more fun with the story, I thought, but it wasn't without its humor, notably the constant allusions to the 70s disco era.  Not sure if this was Ridley Scott's or Andy Weir's conceit.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The braggadocia of it all

It was an eventful Sunday with Ricky Gervais seeming to want to end his run of hosting the Golden Globes by offering his most acerbic and uncensored comments yet.  He was merciless, but then that's what people love about Ricky.  What can you say about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awards Best Musical or Comedy to The Martian?  I suppose because the soundtrack was principally derived from disco music of the 70s.

No sooner did the Golden Globe awards come to an end than we were dealt the sad news that David Bowie had died.  Ridley Scott actually used Starman in The Martian, when Astronaut Mark Whatney wasn't playing Abba and the Ohio Players from a playlist left by Chief Officer Melissa Lewis.  Not exactly the Mars David Bowie imagined back at the peak of the Glam Rock movement in the early 70s.

But none of this topped Sean Penn's published interview with El Chapo, which has received almost universal condemnation, including that of Marco Rubio, who found the Rolling Stone interview "grotesque," but considered it Penn's "Constitutional right."  How Libertarian of Marco!

Actually, the secret meeting didn't turn out to be so secret after all, as the Mexican police has said that it helped them locate Guzman and bring him to justice over the weekend.  The most wanted man in the world is in the process of being extradited to the US to face multiple charges, provided he doesn't escape from his holding cell again.

Ricky took a pot shot at Sean Penn in his opening monologue, as he is not one to let any breaking story go to waste.  Gervais quipped, "I want to do this monologue, then go into hiding.  Not even Sean Penn will find me.  Snitch."  Yea, one has to think El Chapo is not feeling very good about that interview right now, and either Penn and/or Kate del Castillo, who arranged the interview, could very well be on his shit list.

In the interview, Sean Penn showed a lot of sympathy toward Guzman, which is what has so many persons upset.  After all, this is Mexico's most notorious drug lord, responsible for shipping vast amounts of heroin, meth, cocaine and marijuana into the country.  However, El Chapo says it is all about supply and demand.  He's just a businessman, not a killer.  To which Mr. Penn said, "are we. the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize?"

It would have been best if Sean left the editorial comments aside.  Regardless, this was a big scoop.  Leave it to Sean to upstage events Sunday night with his outrageous act of braggadocio, as I believe Denis McDonough, the White House Chief of Staff, called it, although he might have been referring to El Chapo boasting of all the heroin he has shipped into the country.

The interview was far more noteworthy than the Golden Globe awards, which obviously needs to add Science Fiction to its category of Musical and Comedy.  I'm sure either Matt Damon or Leo di Caprio, who also won a globie for his survival tale in The Revenant, would jump at the chance to star in a movie about El Chapo, but they would have to fight Sean Penn for the role.

For those who might remember, David Bowie did team up with Sean Penn back in the 80s, penning and singing the lead song for The Falcon and the Snowman, in which Penn also found himself running afoul of American interests.  Rest in peace, Ziggy Stardust.  You gave us much more than any of these other persons ever did.