Archive for May, 2011

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Trump’s out of the Presidential race; Populism; Charisma

May 16, 2011

I have to say I’m sorry he decided not to run. I thought he would be an interesting addition to the public debate. Rush termed him a “populist” like that’s a bad word; I don’t think I agree with that…

The term populism, like liberal and conservative, has been used to mean different things at different times. The Wikipedia reference above mentions both appealing to “the average person” and the South American-dictator-style appeal directly to the people without going through “parties or institutions.” I suppose using it in the latter meaning is a bad thing, right? (Although US Presidents have, many times, used the “bully pulpit” to appeal directly to the American people, often to force the Congress to follow his lead. And Rush Limbaugh advocated Bush 43 to do this far more often than he was willing to do so…hmm.)

Anyway, most every politician appeals to “the average person” at some point in almost every campaign. The fact that Trump is a Washington outside probably made him more of a target for this “horrible populist label.”

On the other end of that spectrum will probably be Newt Gingrich. He’s a sharp guy, and I think he got a really raw deal in the 1990s, but he’s sort of the wonk’s wonk. He may understand how government works better than all the other Presidential candidates put together, but I will be very surprised if he can explain that to “the average person.” Trump’s appeal was that he voiced the kind of frustrations people had that Washington insiders always talked around, but never really grappled with. He was a plain-talking guy who seemed like he would try to get things done, not finesse the legislation and compromise until the legislation no longer had any teeth.

So, as every pundit will be asking, who’s the frontrunner? Huckabee is out, Trump’s out, Gingrich and Romney have some baggage, Ron Paul is…well…Ron Paul. Pawlenty and Daniels? I don’t know. They aren’t proven yet as national campaigners, or as national fundraisers, which is more important.

Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota

The only two people I’ve seen who really elicit strong emotions in the people are Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann only has six years in Congress, but that’s more experience than Obama had. Palin has a very, very visible presence, but for every positive there has been a negative…I hate to say it, but I don’t know if she’s got what it takes to be President. She has the heart to be a great President, but I’ve not seen if she has the ability to juggle the multiple issues that a real President – not like the current occupant – has to. Maybe she does.

I’d rather have either one of these women as the candidate rather than a bland, centrist, governor. Our country is in a position where it needs strong leadership, and yes, part of that does involve charisma. None of these other guys, including Gingrich, has much of that.

Where is the candidate who will save us? Where is our 21st-Century Reagan?

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Why raising taxes on the “rich” never works

May 15, 2011

There is an article in the online version of Reason magazine that explains, with clear numbers and charts, who pays the taxes in the US. Rather than going into it here, just go to the article .

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Space Nazis!

May 14, 2011

Zepplins in space! Nazis from the dark side of the Moon! April 4, 2012!

To borrow a phrase from Spider Robinson, this thing looks crazier than a basketball bat.

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Seal Team Six!

May 2, 2011

The SEAL Team that doesn’t exist, and isn’t number six, anyway, was apparently dropped into a landlocked area (SEAL teams are supposed to approach stealthily from the water) and took out Osama ben Laden without any injuries to the team. OBL declined to come along quietly and was made to come along quietly, of course, even though he used one of his wives as a shield.

Apparently there was one helicopter lost. It was destroyed on the ground to keep our enemies from gaining access to it. And he was given a burial at sea. I thought at first that was stupid…then I realized it kept everyone else away from the body. Shark food. Who says the US Navy has no sense of humor?

The story has a very Tom Clancyesque feel to it, does it not? Government officials watching it unfold in real time, teams moving in stealthily to attack a compound, shots fired, the good guys getting their man and getting out alive. Almost fictional.

The most interesting thing I’ve heard (and I’ve not heard everything from the 24 hour news cycle) is that information leading to determining OBL’s location came from Gitmo detainees. Really? I thought these guys were useless, and we should just cut them loose. Oh, but wait…they’ve provided information more than once, haven’t they? And every day they are enjoying US hospitality in Cuba is another day they aren’t taking shots at US servicemen and women in Iraq.

I would love to know who the heroes were who did this job, but we can’t, and may never know. It’s for their safety and that of their families.

Speaking of safety, I completely understand why we need to be at a higher state of alert right now. I think that Al Qaeda has been dismantled over the last ten years, by attrition if nothing else, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few sleeper agents, or worse, home-grown terrorists, waiting for the go signal. Keep your heads up, friends, and stay alert. I’m as happy as anyone that the evil bastard is dead, but I know it’s a Whack-a-Mole game with terrorists nowadays.

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My review of “Atlas Shrugged – Part 1”

May 1, 2011

I finally had the opportunity to see the film yesterday, two weeks after it opened. I actually bought tickets online twice, and was ultimately unable to go both times; I consider those tickets a contribution to the cause!

First: I am not a Randian Objectivist. If you don’t know what that is, it would be enlightening to find out. There are elements of Rand’s objectivist theories that I agree with, and some I do not; I consider myself conservative politically, leaning toward libertarian, though not as far as going to “Capital-L” Libertarianism. That’s not to say I won’t get there eventually, however.

Second, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged three times, and listed to the audiobook twice. I’ve studied sections of the book in greater detail, and mentioned parts of it here on the blog in the past. I’m not a Rand scholar, but I’ve been acquainted with the book for over five years and I think I have a pretty good idea what it contains. I like a great many of the philosophical points Rand brings up in the novel, but I do not agree with all of it.

Still, as you know if you have read my previous posts about the film, I had concerns about setting it in our near future, about doing it on a very limited budget, and with a very limited shooting time frame. Some of those concerns were, in my opinion, justified in the final result; but I was very pleased with the amount of Rand’s story and philosophy that made it to the screen.

Some of what is here includes spoilers for those who have not read the book or seen the film. Proceed at your own risk. There are no surprises in the book or film so great that finding out about them earlier would destroy your appreciation of it, however.

I’ve broken my review down into sections, and the teacher in me thought I should give grades. Some people hate that. My apologies to those folks. Here goes:

Casting: A-

I understand from interviews I have read that most of the actors worked for minimums because they believed in the project and wanted to see it made. That’s wonderful, and I don’t believe a lack of a “name” actor made a difference here. We didn’t need to see Angelina Jolie play Angelina Jolie, we needed to see Dagny Taggart. John Wayne always was John Wayne, Clint Eastwood was Clint Eastwood; films were written to fit their personas, not the other way around. That’s why the Tom Clancy films starring Harrison Ford didn’t ring true to the books…Harrison Ford was playing Harrison Ford, not Jack Ryan.

Taylor Schilling was as good a pick for Dagny Taggart as I could imagine. She could bring off tough without being bitchy. She had a very difficult job. About a quarter of the book, or more, is inside the heads of the characters, especially Dagny’s, and there is no opportunity in the film for 250 pages of backstory and thought process. By virtue of her personality Dagny doesn’t talk out her feelings much, so it is difficult to communicate those to the audience. I felt Schilling brought it across at least without mixed messages, which was what I feared.

The casting of Rebecca Wisocky as Lillian Rearden was genius. She is Lillian, and I can’t wait to see how her evil, self-serving schemes are carried out in Parts 2 and 3. Similarly, Graham Beckel was delightful as Ellis Wyatt. From what I’ve seen of him, I’ll be he would have done it for free; he’s a staunch conservative and would do it just to aggravate his big brother, liberal nutjob Bob Beckel.

Michael O’Keefe as Hugh Akston is too young, but his part so far is small. He will be much more important later. I hope he can pull it off. Edi Gathegi plays Eddie Willers tougher than Eddie was in Rand’s book, but the backstory of he and Dagny being childhood friends is of course lost in the film, and Eddie’s character can take on a somewhat different and necessary role of gadfly to Jim Taggart. Matthew Marsden as Jim Taggart is not crazed enough, but hopefully he will be, soon…his destruction is one of those things most awaited by readers of the book.

Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden: he’s too short, he’s too young, but he’s fine other than that. He tends to deliver important lines too quickly and without enough emphasis. I don’t know if that was him or the director (Paul Johannson, who also is the semi-invisible John Gault). He plays unyielding well, though, and should be excellent should the trial scene be included in Part 2.

Here’s the big miss: Jsu Garcia as Francisco D’Anconia. He could be fine. He has absolutely no accent, which is unfortunate; a bit would give his character some depth. Again, without the Eddie-Dagny-Francisco teenage years backstory, we do not see Francisco as a good person, just as this silly playboy. The book makes it clear this was a remarkable transformation and descent for him, and we see none of that development. How could he have played it to bring that out? I’m not sure, but the scene he has with Rearden at the anniversary party should have given the director the opportunity to make the change in him more obvious, to show that the playboy is a shell persona. Otherwise, Henry has no reason to be interested in him at all. I don’t think it’s the actor, though it may be.

Script: B

Could I have done better? Hell, no! Still, a few things bothered me. No mention of Eddie, Francisco and Dagny knowing each other when they were growing up I feel made it difficult to show the characters’ changes. The only thing Roger Ebert ever said that I agreed with was that you have to care about the characters, no matter what the film. This movie has to cover so much ground, and give us so much, that character development is very hard to pull off. I think in the long run it’s going to happen, but it’s tough to see right now.

Galt’s motor: I agree it’s important, but the hand-waving of the science is even worse here than in Rand’s novel. It might as well have been cold fusion. And the term they were hunting for was zero-point energy, I think, which is generated by the Casimir effect. The terms kept changing. That’s not what’s most important yet, anyway. Don’t dig a hole for yourselves with goofy syfy channel talk, guys!

Orrin Boyle’s character is never really explained. That will make those who never read the book scratch their heads.

Galt contacts Midas Mulligan on September 2, 2016, at the beginning of the movie. Yet in the book he and Galt are co-founders of the Gulch. Hmmm.

Production: B+

Gorgeous interior sets of the places where the rich live. Depressing street scenes, as required. Pretty decent CGI on the John Galt Line sequence, and the bridge was truly excellent! The laying of the track of the JGL was a nice touch, showing how it was updating old, worn-out track. The stock footage used for some exterior shots was incongruous. The communter train shown in one shot was a Chicago Metra train, with the name digitally erased. It was too easily identified, though.

The Wyatt Junction Bridge

The exterior of Rearden Steel was a CGI matte painting of what looked like a 1940s steel mill. The interior of the offices, and the interior shown behind the office windows, was state-of-the-art. Huh?

Camera work was generally excellent, Taylor Schilling is pretty dang photogenic, so she was easy to shoot, I would expect. The film was shot digitally and edited that way, but it doesn’t look cheap or thrown together. It has far better production values than a cable channel miniseries.

The Wyatt Oil fire sequence was cleverly shot to make maximum use of minimum extras. Good job there.

When Rearden and Dagny enter the 20th Century Motors factory, Rearden is recounting why the factory closed. It’s difficult to hear because it is too soft and he speaks too quickly. Please fix that for the DVD – it’s such an important point!

Music: C

I admit, I’m prejudiced. I wanted this to be EPIC! I wanted Halley’s Fifth Concerto! Apparently Halley is not in the film at all, which is too bad…it was his music that gave Dagny the first clue something was going on behind the disappearances. The music was mundane. It didn’t detract from the film, but it didn’t help it much, either. Elia Cmiral is probably best-known for scoring “Ronin,” but most of his other work has been small-scale film. I suppose he worked for less money. Perhaps he too believed in the project, and in that case I salute him, However, his music was pretty forgettable. Luckily, there was no underscore under most of the dialog and so rather than taking it in a wrong direction, the score was neutral.

Overall, I liked the film very much. I think it was a very ambitious effort, and I applaud all those who worked so hard to bring it to completion. I hope they can complete the other two sections of the story, so those who never read the book can know what it is about…and why it is just as important today as it was in the 1950s.

Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden