Thought of the Cuba re-engagement

I have been dreadfully busy the last few weeks. The dayjob has hit it peak crush and OT is plentiful. There are stirrings in the writing the department that may herald good news, but it is too early to tell more than that. So my poor blog has been a wee bit neglected. However the news on Cuba is so big I just have to comment.

I confess to being torn on the issue. On one hand Cuba is a brutal, murdering dictatorship.The less we have to do with such beasties the better. That island is no workers paradise. It pretty much flows from the definition of paradise that people would claw to get into one, not out.

One the other hand out five decade policy simply is not working. We have not crushed Castor’s government, and for fifty years the people of Cuba have suffered. The pragmatist in me is repelled that the thought of continuing a policy that doesn’t work.

We engaged with the Soviets, while keeping a strong commitment against their totalitarian rule and in the end they fell. In part because of the seduction presented by the engagement, the people could experience a better life, they could suffer McDonalds and want more. So engagement is not always appeasement and it can help us spread freedom to people who need it.

Yet we have also seen that engagement appears to the failing in China. Those brutal rulers seems to be navigating their way out of communism and into Fascism. this transformation is being fuel my American enterprise utilizing the cheap labor, but the price in the end may turn out to be quite high.

So engagements can work and it can fail. Did the Administration do the right thing?

I don’t know.



Stupid Movie is Stupid

So this past weekend I ended up watching a fairly stupid film with a friend of mine. After watching a documentary on Australian Exploitation movies, I had started seeing how many of these I could get from Netflix or streaming services. (Answer: very few.) However, I did disover a listing for an odd 70’s genre movie called Chosen Survivors.

chosensurv4Ten people, selected by computer, are nabbed by the government and shoved into a shelter 1700 feet underground to survive the global thermonuclear war and restated humanity afterward. Sadly due to an oversight, the caverns that were selected as the receptacle for the shelter is infested with hungry, aggressive, vampire bats. Trapped, the survivors must find a way to contend with the threat.

Now, this looked to be bad. I had never heard of this movie, and I was under no illusions when I had Netflix ship it to me. Sometimes bad movies are their own entertainment.

What did surprise me was the amount of talent in the film. Jackie Cooper, Bradford Dillman, Richard Jaeckel, Diana Muldaur, Barbara Babcock, (that’s two from Start Trek’ TOS) combined with the others for a total count of more than 700 acting credits according to IMDB.

In theory the people were picked for their essential skills and breedability , but the selection clearly makes a hash of that straight away. A wall Street financial guy? (Cooper) a Congresswoman (Muldaur) a novelist? No one would make-up their post-apocalypse survival team from such characters.

So they get nabbed (off screen to save budget) drugged (to save them from the shock and horror of the world’s ending), shoved into an elevator and dropped 1700 feet into a gleaming stainless steel complex. Almost at once the threat appears when the bats manage a bit of birdy-horror by killing all the parakeets in a cage. (It is never explained how the bats got into or out of the birds’ cage.)

Five men and five women they natural pair off into couples except for a few. They squabble and yell exposition at each other, fight over who’s in charge, with Cooper’s character insisting the thing stink of a set up. They make poor choices in dealing with the bat threat and things get worse.

Cooper’s character shows tremendous constitution by finishing off a battle of hard liquor, going around in a drunken rant yelling and insulting everyone, before ending up in Barbara Babcock’s room because he wants to ‘talk’ to her. Yes, you can see where this is going. He attacks her, she can’t fight him off, and in that strange view found only in really bad writing, goes from fighting the rape to participating. This is horrid enough writing, but it’s compounded by the rest of the movie where it has absolutely no effect upon the plot what so ever. You could literally snip out the scene and the film will be unchanged. No one line of dialog would sound out place. It is a small grace that it is shot without nudity and not in a titillating manner.

Sobering up, Cooper’s character then proceeds to destroy the ‘alarm’ that they have rigged to warn about bats, and open up a nice wide passage letting in lots and lots of the flying blood-suckers.

This is too much for Bradford Dillman’s character, whose confesses that he works for the government and that there has been no thermonuclear war, that this was a proof of concept experiment for the shelter program. (Can’t wait for the congresscritter to get back to her job after that.) He tried and fails to signal for an emergency extraction, leaving it to the athlete to climb the 1700 foot elevator shaft and signal for help.

He makes the climbs but the bats kill him after he completes his mission, the bats get into the shelter a couple more die, and then the air force shows up and rescues everyone.

Personally I had hoped that the end of the movie would be that during the week that they were trapped the war had broken out, but no, the final scenes are the character being flown away by the Air Force.

Stupid movie is stupid.


The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of the 1980s

So here am back at my irregular series on the most influential SF films, by decade. The 1980s are a particularly target rich environment for discussing SF and genre movies. After the explosive popularity of Star Wars in the 70’s, a popularity that followed through into the 80s with The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi, studios turned to genre film as the path to the next mega-blockbuster. The decade so film that had big budgets with full studio backing, and small Indy movies that challenged the big boys at the box-office. So picking just two and the most influential is a daunting task.

Neither film that I selected were major hits at the box office, but their impacts far out reached the lack luster initial performances.

220px-Blade_Runner_posterBlade Runner (1982): A dark, film noir SF movie from master filmmaker Ridley Scott, Blade is a rather loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s stranger and thought provoking novel, Do Androids Dream of electric Sheep? The film cratered at the box office, when audiences were in the mood for light escapist fare, and had already been conditioned to accept Harrison Ford as an ‘action hero’ this psychological detective story about the qualities of humanity, love, and compassion, found itself serious out of step with the times. However the filmmaking was revolutionary. The look, feel, and future presented in Blade Runner inspired filmmakers for decades. Christopher Nolan is said to have used it as a touch stone for the look at ‘Batman Begins.’ Later it gained a cult following, and eventually critics noticed the serious thought and themes running through the film, but almost from the start filmmakers fell in love with it and copied it. Now regarded as a classic, and one that prompt endless debates about preferred versions , endings, and character natures, Blade Runner is a film that has stood the test of time.

TheLastStarfighter_quad-1-500x376The Last Starfighter (1984): Star Wars produced a glut of young men leaving home and becoming heroes in the vastness of space stories, and while this one is quirky, fun, and has some tremendous performances, overall the story is not that ground breaking. What marks The Last Starfighter as the innovative and formative movie that it is comes from its production. This was the first film to attempt and utilize photorealistic computer generated imagery for nearly all of the special effects produced in the movie. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan broke ground with the CGI of the Genesis effect, impressive work that holds up to this day, but it was less than a minute of screen-time while the rest of the film used traditional model photography to achieve the shots of dueling starships. The Last Starfighter has no miniatures or models, all the starships exist solely as CGI imagery. While that CGI is painfully dated by todays standards, it is hugely important in the history of film. It proved that it could be done and that audiences would accept the effects. From there we lead into Babylon 5, Jurassic Park, and every genre film made today. They are all building up in the work done in this film.


A Snapshot of the current economic picture

So last night a friend and I were were discussing politics, life, the universe and everything. He seemed incredulous that I thought that from some measurements and perspectives the economy was doing quite well and that from other points of view it was doing quite poorly. I believe that it was his impression that the economy was doing poorly. This morning after having blood drawn I went and looked up a few graphs to illustrate what I was talking about.

All of the graphs come from the same source the Federal Reserve at St. Louis.

So street level, how does this economy look to the person who is working for a living?


So from this graph it’s quite clear that employment, while improving has yet to recover fully from the disastrous financial crisis of 2008. Bad for the working person.

Household Income
household income

Median Household Income has only recently began to recover from the 2008 crisis. As you can see in the graph, the household income continues to fall even after the recession had ended. Bad for the working Person.

Stock Prices

Stock prices

Stock prices have fully recovered are in fact higher than before the crisis. The stock market  is going like gangbusters.

Corporate Profits

Coporate profits

Corporate Profits have fully recovered from the crisis and just as with stock prices are now higher than before the crisis.

I think that this is one of the essential driving forces in the ‘throw the bums’ out mood of the electorate in the 2014 Midterms. The working person isn’t feeling like that they are in an economic recovery, their view is that jobs are scare, the jobs available are not as good as the ones that they used to have and that their incomes are low. Where this leads I do not know, but it will be interesting.



E.P. Review: Without You Renee Olstead

cover170x170First let me say that I have no formal training in music, musical theory or criticism. I know what I like and I know how it makes me fee and it will be from that perspective that disc this recently released E.P. by Ms. Olstead.

Renee Olstead is a singer/actress with a dazzling voice and a love of jazz. I discovered her as I slowly discovered my own appreciation for Jazz and bassa nova music.

Without You a crowd-sourced E.P. featuring 4 covers, all in a airy jazz style.

First up is Blue Moon. Being a cinephile I principally am aware of this song from it’s prominent use in the comedy horror film An American Werewolf in London. Renee’s voice and the arraignment give this cover a haunting dreamlike quality that makes this version stand out as a new take on a standard song.

Next is Leaving On your Mind. Patsy Kline made this song into a country hit back when country music didn’t go around a rock roll’s lesser cousin. Renee’s take on the song is so different that as I listened I had a hard time remembering just where it was I knew the tune from. Again the over all impression is one that is ethereal and nearly spectral in its floating vocals.

Without You a song where I am unfamiliar with the original or other covers, so I can’t compare what has changed, but as she typically does woth Love song, Renee’s fills this rendition with heart, soul, and longing.

The E.P. ends with the song Everything. Another piece where I have no knowledge of the source material, but continues in the floating, haunting vocals.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mini-album and throughout my listened I was repeatedly struck by how well these songs and this performance would have fir onto the soundtracks for either Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks.


The core challenge of our times

I believe that the central challenge, politically, for our age can best be expressed in a single graph from the Economic Policy Institute.

Productivity vs wages

Quite simply, in real dollar terms, wages have been effectively flat for 30 years. This effect has been masked by easy credit, and a real estate bubble, but the underlying core condition is a grave one.

What cannot go on will not go on, House prices cannot rise forever and a consumer driven economy cannot survive if the consumers do not posses the excess money to go out and consume.

I propose no solutions. I know of no magic wand that will reunite these tends but something will happen. Whichever political party or ideology that finds and implements a solution to this will reap tremendous benefits, those that stick their heads in the sand are likely, in the long run, to get their asses kicked.


Movie Review: Interstellar

I was sold on seeing this film in the theter the moment I heard that writer/director Christopher Nolan was doing a space based SF film. I have been a fan of Mr. Nolan’s work dating back to ‘Memento.’ I have found that from that film onward and without except his movies are intelligence challenging pieces that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Interstellar is the story of retired engineer/astronaut Cooper. Earth is racked by environmental collapse and each year more crops catastrophically fail into extinction. Nolan’s supplements this grounding of this opening hour of the film with actual survivors tales for the 1930’s Great Dustbowl.

Led by mysterious unexplained events, Coop discovers that a plan is afoot to save humanity from the dying earth and he is recruited for an interstellar survey mission. Emotionally torn by the requirement to abandon his family, the cruel physics of relativity requires that to his family the mission may take decades, Coop joins a small band of scientists on the mission.

The film explores the limits if human costs and bravery in exploration, and comes down solidly on the side of the explorers. (It even takes a moment to ridicule those who believe that the Moon landings were nothing more than a hoax.)

I was evident to me as I watched the film that Christopher Nolan is a huge fan of the classic SF film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film is very much a 2001 for a new generation, though with less stringent engineering and science, but not by much.

At nearly three hours I think this film is either too long or not long enough, but either way I enjoyed watching it on the big screen.


The Red Election

I can’t take credit for the comparison between this week’s U.S. Mid-Term elections and the disastrous wedding for the Starks in ‘Game of Thrones’ I spotted it on twitter, but the analogy is quite apt.

The Democratic Party, with a coalition that is better suited to presidential elections, found itself thoroughly routed electorally from the contest as the Republican Party, its ranks filled with people willing to crawl across broken glass to cast a vote against Obama and his allies, swept the national legislature.

I would have written about this yesterday but I have taken ill and on Wednesday I was unable to craft sentences beyond ‘tree good fire bad.’

Now that the House and the Senate at firmly under Republican control, but short of veto proof levels, it shall be interesting to see which track the Conservative trains depart along.

When the Democrats held the senate the Speak of the House had no pressure keep back any of the more extreme conservative measures. Passing repeals of the ACA was easy when you knew it would die leaving the House, but with a friendly Senate things get more complicated,

The truth of the matter is killing the ACA would involve throwing millions of their insurance, and forcing the issue through a government shutdown. No simple repeal bill will be signed by the president. Any bill defunding it will not be signed by the president. You can only get those signature by attached it to ‘must pass’ legislation and then refusing to back down as the government shutters in crisis.

A smarter course would be to seek modifications to the ACA and then declare victory, but after selling the evils of the ACA to their base for six years it will be hard convincing said base that now it is acceptable policy no matter how much tinkering at the edges (medical device taxes etc) you have performed.

Of course the Republican now own the budget process. No longer can they pass the Ryan budget confident it will go nowhere and have the actual pain its cuts would cause remain theoretical. It’s true that the Democrats, in a fine display to invertebrate physiology, failed to pass a budget for 4 years, but last year when they did pass one, the Republicans refuse to conference on the matter. Now it is all theirs.

I do not know what is going to happen, but I do suspect it will be interesting.