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Thursday, January 27, 2005


The Recount Gambit: How They May Have Gamed The Ohio Recount

I was reading a thread on my favorite cyber-pad earlier and came across this story alleging that there was an effort made in a certain Ohio county during the recount process to tamper with ballots. Naturally, this was apparently done in order to assist George Bush's campaign by "manufacturing" more votes for him.

Should this surprise us? Our democracy is dying, right in front of our eyes.

Spread that link around to everyone you know. It might just be the smoking gun we've been looking for.

Monday, January 24, 2005


A Commentary on Commentaries

I didn’t start getting really big into DVDs until a little over two years ago, in the fall of 2002. I was vaguely aware that they existed and that they were an alternative to VHS analog videos. That was about the extent of my knowledge. I probably first heard of them a few years ago and didn’t pay them much heed until they started taking off in 2001 and 2002.

Suddenly, they were everywhere. DVDs had existed under the radar screen for years before I got wind of them; their makers slowly building up the market until it reached critical mass. Enough people had purchased enough DVD players that the studios could start releasing them on the mass market. Once there were a whole bunch of DVDs on the market, more people started buying players for them. The rest is, as they say, history.

I recall being asked by a fellow dorm room resident back in college (this was around the fall of 1984) about compact disks. He and I were talking one day about how CDs were starting to show up everywhere and he asked me if I thought they would take over the market from tapes and phonograph records. I told him it would depend on if the market would reach critical mass. He agreed with that assessment.

As we all know, the CD market did take off. Phonograph records and players went the way of the dodo (except as props for hip hop acts) and that was that. It’s the same thing with DVDs. Once the market took off, it never looked back. VHS tapes are also on their way to eventual extinction. Basically, the first DVDs in the United States came out in 1997. By 2000, there were over 13 million players in the United States and well over 10,000 titles available. That growth rate is continuing to increase. DVDs are rapidly becoming the standard for home video and may eventually replace audio CDs as well.

In the fall of 2002, I needed a new television. So, with a measure of trepidation, I headed on down to the West Fairbanks Fred Meyer home electronics department to buy a 19" television with a built-in DVD player and a VHS player. It cost me about $400 at the time (it was on sale) and nowadays, I could probably get a similar model for around $300 on the internet somewhere.

I took it home, set it up, and then, over the course of the past two years or so, began building up my DVD collection. I now have a line of DVDs almost three feet long stretching on the floor under my television, with stacks of DVDs above them. I have two or three dozen DVDs by now (I’ve not bothered to count the exact number, needless to say, it is in the hundreds of dollars) and I am sure my collection will continue to grow. Just about every time I go by the West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store, I check their home electronics department to see what new offerings they have in the DVD section. I almost always walk out with another movie to add to my collection.

When my collection started getting bigger, I began to experiment with the Menus section of the DVD. I hadn’t bothered with the supplemental stuff on the first few DVDs I watched, but then I started to take note. There were cast bios, deleted scenes, "making of" featurettes, still photos from the movie set(s), and lots of other stuff to be explored. So, adventuresome person that I am, I started exploring those extra features.

This was my first encounter with DVD commentaries. I was hooked immediately. For an amateur film buff like myself, this was like getting an inside seat at the cast and crew final screening of the completed film. Generally, when a film is finally done, in the can, and completed, the cast and crew will sit down to watch it at the studio theater. A good DVD commentary is like being right there with them as they are watching the film.

There are several different kinds of commentaries, though. The first is the straightforward ones I’ve just been mentioning: the director, producer, writer(s) and/or several cast members or crew members will sit down and comment on the film as it’s playing. Sometimes there will be director’s commentary, often with commentary from the writer(s) of the film and that will be that. Or, there will also be a commentary from the cast, often along with the director’s commentary, sometimes by itself. Then there are the commentaries from the crew, the special effects people, the technical design crew, and the like, which can be very interesting indeed in their own right.

Commentaries are an interesting phenomenon because they are essentially without precedent in cinema. Yes, there have been plenty of “the making of” documentaries, replete with cast interviews, scene setups, explanations of special effects, et cetera, for many years that have provided a very interesting supplement to home videos. But, prior to DVDs, you never had everything in an entire package. Now you can have the movie, with commentary by the director, writer, cast, crew, or whoever else might be interested in commenting on the film. In addition, there is all the other supplemental stuff, the explanation of special effects, lighting design, casting decisions, etc.; all of which add up to a complete package.

I have also noticed that you can watch the evolution of computerized special effects in films over the past 10 or 15 years or so. For instance, the commentary for Shawshank Redemption discusses one particular scene where Tim Robbins is hanging over the edge of a roof, holding on to Clancy Brown for dear life and the film makers note that this scene was one of the first uses of digitally removing something from a scene (in this case, the safety cables holding both actors to the roof.) Then in Deep Impact, there is a sequence toward the end where they are talking about the tidal waves coming up the mountains and how this was one of the earliest uses of computer-generated waves. You can then see (and hear) how that was perfected in The Perfect Storm and see CGI at its highest form in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Commentaries are like the Cliff’s Notes for a film. When they’re done right, they make you feel as though you were there in the film-making process. When the director explains why he or she chose to use or not use a particular scene, you understand that comment in conjunction with the “deleted scenes” section of the DVD. Or an actor will explain why he or she chose to read a certain line of dialogue in a certain way. It’s funny to listen to Kurt Russell and John Carpenter commenting on Big Trouble in Little China. It’s almost like you’re over at one of their houses, watching the film with them. When commenataries are done wrong, they are boring as all hell and contribute little to the film or your understanding or appreciation of the film.

DVD commentaries will be an invaluable resource for film historians and critics yet unborn. This is because the commentaries will provide a priceless insight into the minds of the director, producer, cast members, crew, etc. as they were filming the movie and assembling it.

This brings up another thought about DVD commentaries. Nowadays, movies are being released on DVD and are generally done with commentaries already on the disc. After the movie is in the can, the director, cast, crew, writer(s), etc. assemble one last time and record the commentaries. Then everyone goes their separate ways and that is that.

It is not quite so easily done with a movie more than say, five or six years old, before the major advent of DVDs. If you’re a studio and you want to release a movie from 10 or 15 years ago, you have to reassemble the cast, crew, director, writer(s), or whoever (if you can find them), and have them sit down and record the commentary. If it’s a movie from 10 or 15 years ago, that can be done, but it takes time.

Sometimes only the director and writer can be rounded up to do a commentary. Other times only two or three of the actors can be found and that leaves the studio with an incomplete commentary because every one else who was involved in the movie are now working on other projects. For an actor, that could get very tricky because recording a commentary for a movie you did six or seven years ago means dropping what you’re doing to go fly off somewhere to record the commentary, meaning the director of the movie you’re working on now has to shuffle things around to let you take a day or so off to record the commentary.

If the movie is 20 or 30 years old, many of the cast and crew are dead. Unless you want to have a seance, you’re out of luck. If the movie is 40 years old or older, that’s pretty much the case all the way around. Some studios have been known to have film critics or historians do a commentary on a movie that is that old or older. I don’t know about you, but having a film critic or film historian commenting on a classic movie is like reading a classic of literature, Shakespeare or Dickens, for example, and having some English professor looking over your shoulder, commenting or explaining over some particular passage or why the author chose to narrate this scene from that character’s POV. It would be annoying, in other words.

I suspect there will also be a difference between DVD commentaries from recent movies as opposed to those of movies from 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. That difference is this: the people commenting on their movies from the past have had 10, 15, or 20 years to reflect on a movie, its impact on popular culture, how it affected their lives, etc. They can then bring that perspective to the commentary when they sit down together to record it 10, 15, or 20 years after the fact.

People commenting today have no such perspective. They are commenting from the immediacy of the moment and don’t have the historical perspective that they might have 20 years from now. They are too close to the finished film to have any appreciation for its impact, scope, and place in cinematic history, if it indeed has such a place.

In whatever case, DVD commentaries will make for a great resource for film historians and critics of the future to look back on this time in cinematic history and to gain a deeper appreciation of certain films and how they were put together.

Perhaps when movies are re-released on DVD for their 10th, 20th, 25th, or whatever anniversary editions, the surviving cast and crew will be able to come together again to record their comments on the film after some time has passed.

Commentaries are also interesting from the standpoint of character. Several commentaries (This is Spinal Tap most notably) have had the cast members make their comments either completely in character for the movie or parts of their commentaries in character. This makes for an oblique perspective into the making of the film because you will have one of the film’s characters commenting about what’s happening on screen and why he or she felt that scene or dialogue was important.

The most interesting commentaries are when the director/writer(s) do a commentary separate from the cast member(s) sitting down to record a commentary. Then you get to see both sides of the film-making process and you get to see why the director liked a particular scene and what the cast member(s) felt about that particular scene and why they did or did not agree with the director about it.

The most fun I’ve had with commentaries is to realize that they provide a different insight into the filming process. It is almost like taking a crash course in how to make a movie. You learn something from the process and you learn something about how a film comes together (or doesn’t come together, as the case may be) and you learn something about the people who made the film.

For that reason alone, I like DVD commentaries.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Beyond Clueless

You see quite a bit when you are wandering around online. Some things are interesting, others funny, some very frightening, others just make you scratch your head and wonder what this person or that person was thinking, like this post on a thread in the "Books" folder in Salon's message board.

The person mentioned in that post isn't just clueless. She's downwright dangerous. People wonder why our country is is the state it is in and people like her are the reason. Want to bet who she voted for, if indeed she could even be bothered to vote at all? (Hint: it probably wasn't that guy with the Purple Hearts and combat medals from Vietnam).

OK, lady. It's like this. World War II was a really, really, big event that happened back in the last century, the 1940s to be exact. It involved literally hundreds of millions of people and killed tens of millions of people. There was this really, really bad guy in World War II named Adolph Hitler. He was really, truly bad news and words like "evil" and "genocide" really don't quite adaquately describe what he was all about.

Yes, you can say that Hitler had "something to do with the Jews" but saying that is like saying that Columbus guy you might have read about in school, if you were paying attention (a proposition which I find very difficult to accept, given your pathetic state of awareness of world history) in class, had "something to do with Indians."

Yes, Hitler had "something to do with the Jews." He tried to kill them, not just a few of them, but all of those he could get his hands on. He succeeded in killing six million Jews and around five million or so other victims at places like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dauchau, and others.

Here's a big hint for you. Go to your local library (you know, that building with all the books in it?), go to the catalog and look up the subject heading "Holocaust."

Then go get some of those books and do a little reading. I think even Danielle Steele would approve of you setting her books in order to educate yourself about what happened sixty years ago in Europe.

You see, there are still people alive today who remember what happened then. They were there and they might be a bit, um, 'annoyed' to say the least, at your appalling ignorance about matters like this.

Learning. Try it sometime. You'll like it.

On the picture about the little Iraqi girl I posted yesterday, I got sent a Newsday article in email (which article I can't reference at the moment and don't have the URL handy) explaining a little more of the context of the incident. Basically, the reporter was with a bunch of US soldiers on night patrol when they saw this car coming along toward their direction. So it wasn't a checkpoint, but the results are still the same. Cultures (both military, American, and Iraqi) clashed for a brief, tragic moment, and two Iraqis are dead, leaving behind their children who will now have that much more reason to hate us.

I suspect the soldiers involved with this incident will never, ever, 'get past' or 'get over' this incident. It will probably haunt them for the rest of their lives and possibly one or two or more of them will end up dead, either by suicide or driving themselves to drink (which amounts to the same thing) over this.

This whole thing is beyond insane, and if you voted for Bush, this is what you voted for. I sure hope you're happy about it because I for one am not and much of the rest of the world isn't either.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


The Face of War: What We Have Wrought in Iraq

Ladies and gentlemen. I'd like you to take a close look at the picture below, taken from this link posted on Salon's TableTalk message board on Wednesday the 19th of January.

Click on the link above and there will be a caption for the picture, explaining that the little girl's parents were killed by US troops who fired on their vehicle when it failed to stop at a checkpoint, despite warning shots being fired at it.

I am horrified when I contemplate what this picture represents. I can easily imagine the scene as cultures clashed for a moment and two Iraqis were killed, leaving behind a frightened little girl who is now an orphan, thanks to our troops.

I'm sure the car was just driving along the street, the occupants minding their own business. Perhaps they were trying to get home before the curfew began or perhaps they were rushing their little girl to the hospital because she might have been sick or something.

They come up to a checkpoint, manned by nervous US soldiers, some perhaps as young as 19 or 20; soldiers who shouldn't have been there at that checkpoint in the first place.

These soldiers had orders to stop and search every vehicle passing through the checkpoint. Iraqi civilians, most not familiar at all with military procedures, discipline, and bearing would have to get out of their cars and/or be searched themselves, under the gaze of nervous, fearful young American soldiers pointing guns at them.

Here comes this car. The soldiers hold their hands up to stop the car. It keeps coming. They fire a few warning shots. The car keeps coming because the driver does not understand what's happening, probably does not speak English, and therefore does not understand the orders being shouted at him.

The soldiers almost certainly have orders to shoot any and all vehicles that do not stop at the checkpoint.

They do so and two Iraqis are dead, leaving behind a little girl who, if she has the chance to grow up, will do so hating the American soldiers who did this to her and her country.

Not only that, she will hate America and all things American. This means she will hate you, me, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, John Kerry, Donald Trump, Harrison Ford, Bo Jackson, Barbara Boxer, Howard Dean, and all Americans because we are the infidels who killed her parents.

Her hatred of us will be nurtured by those extremist Muslim fanatical followers of Osama and his ilk who will now spread this picture all over the Muslim world to fan the flames of hatred against us; flames already fanned to great effect with the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal from last year.

This little girl will grow up to hate us and many, many of her fellow Iraqis will hate us even more when they see this picture, as will Muslims all over the world.

Congratulations, George Bush. You have just given Osama bin Laden another recruiting poster with which to use to bring even more angry, desperate young men to his cause. Young men who will now have even more reason in their minds to bring even more death and destruction to Iraq with their car bombs, suicide bombs, and attacks against our troops immersed in this awful quagmire.

There is nothing we can do or say to this little girl that will ease the hurt and anguish she feels right now. We took her parents away from her. That is something that cannot be undone. Words like "forgiveness" and "contrition" are empty words now. Perhaps this young girl may find it in her heart to forgive our country for what our soldiers did to her but probably not. We can only try our best to rectify the situation by getting our troops the hell out of her country so this sort of thing can't happen again.

That's not likely to happen any time soon. We can't do anything to "make this right" other than ensuring that this little girl gets the best possible medical care and is placed in a good, decent home with Iraqis who can raise her as their own daughter.

That's also not likely to happen anytime soon. What will happen is in a week or so, the soldiers will get a wrist-slapping "reprimand" and life will go on.

And in the meanwhile, this traumatized little girl will nurture a cold ball of hatred for us, a seed that will grow into a desire to visit revenge upon us someday.

And this wonderful little episode of American hubris was paid for by our tax dollars.

Congratulations, George Bush. You've outdone yourself with this one.

For all those people out there who seek to assign blame to the troops who did this, I say, "Don't." They were, after all, 'just following orders' and carried out those orders with dispatch and resolve. The result is two dead Iraqis and a traumatized orphan.

It's not the soldiers' fault that this happened. It's the fault of the people who put them there in the first place and it's the fault of those who support those people.

The blood of this little girl's parents is on your hands. I hope you can sleep at night knowing you voted for the man who is responsible for this crime.

For everyone else: as an American, I am sorry that this happened. I will, I must, work to see the day that George Walker Bush and the other high-ranking members of his neocon cabal are sitting in front of the International Court in the Hague, on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What they did is against every fiber of my being as an American. I disown them and urge my fellow citizens to do likewise because what they did excludes them now and for all time from the circle of existence that encompasses what it means to be an American.

What they did was wrong and I am sorry they did it in my name and that of America.

May God forgive us for what we have allowed to happen in our names.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Fascism, American Style

Over the past four years or so, I have seen various articles, editorials, opinions, etc. online that have made ominous comparisons between the situation in Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II and the political situation existing in America in the early 21st Century.

Mostly, what I've read online suggested the very compelling and strong parallels between how Hitler rose to and consolidated power and the manner in which George Walker Bush assumed power and how he has consolidated that power.

I generally take much of that with a little grain of salt, primarily because none of the articles I've read online haven't been written from any kind of personal experience. I have read posts from people with whom I correspond online (on various political message boards, chiefly this one) about friends of theirs who were refugees from Nazi Germany and who have said much of the same sorts of things that the articles I've read have said.

I tend to take that sort of thing much, much more seriously than someone else just writing or posting an opinion about what's going on in America now and making the parallel between now and Nazi Germany of the 1930s.

But people who are old enough to have understood what was happening in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and who managed to flee that nightmare are a totally different kettle of fish.

They were there. They saw it happen. They watched the fascist nightmare unfold and take over their country.

Just the other day, I read this article, posted on Salon's message board. The author of that article grew up in Germany in the 1930s and experienced for herself the horrors of jackbooted thugs, cheering, enthusiastic crowds at book burnings, mass rallies, and in general, saw the face of fascism directly.

She speaks from direct personal experience. She knows about that which she speaks. She is seeing it happen right here in the United States of America, seven decades after her family just barely managed to get out of Nazi Germany with their lives.

America is well on her way to become a fascist dictatorship and unless we do something about it, the United States of America as we know it will cease to exist.

The party of Teddy Roosevelt is no more. It has been hijacked by a small cabal of ruthless, amoral, evil men with very small minds and very black hearts. The men behind Bush are bent on turning this country into facist, theocratic dictatorship in which our "government" will exist only to enrich the coffers of Bush's corporate patrons.

These people are destroying our country and they must be stopped. Our country is on the verge of becoming a fascist dictatorship. All the signs are there, if you care to look:

Would someone like to explain how this is much different from Germany, 1935? Granted, we don't have jackbooted, goostepping thugs marching around, waving swastikas everywhere, but they're here in spirit, at least. Granted, we don't have concentration camps (yet), but they may yet be coming. It's becoming harder and harder for me to deny the eerie parallels between Nazi Germany and the United States of 2005.

In essence, power has been concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Their agenda is not one in keeping with the ideals this country was allegedly founded upon. These people now own the media and are doing everything they can to ensure that Americans remain blind to their true agenda and aims.

Wake up and do something about this. Your country and the world's future are both on the line here. Stand up to this nightmare and do whatever you can do to stop this fascist nightmare from taking over our country.

As a start, I suggest order this DVD and showing it to as many people you possibly can.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


The Tsunami: Before and After pictures

Reading about the devastation and destruction in South Asia due to the December 26th, 2004 tsunami is one thing. Seeing the visual evidence of that destruction, devastation and/or permanent alteration of the landscape/coastlines in the affected areas is something else entirely.

I got this link from a friend of mine who in turn got it from one of his friends. It is eye-opening to say the least. It is a series of 14 before-and-after pictures of some of the affected coasts in Sri Lanka and northern Indonesia.

Before and After: The Tsunami Picture Series

Give what you can to help out the victims of this natural catastrophe. It is the least we can do to help them.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


A New Year: Time for a change

Happy New Year, everyone.

Let's make this the year that all of George W. Bush's chickens come home to roost. It's long past time for him to face the consequences of what he's done and it's long past time for us to stand up to him and speak our minds.

In that regard, we have one last chance to put a roadblock in the way of him and the Republican Party in their march to retain their grip on power.

January 6th, this Thursday, is the day that Congress meets in joint session to certify the electoral vote. Usually, it's a boring excercise in tedious reading of each state's electoral vote, followed a unanimous vote by Congress to certify that vote. Once all the votes are tallied, the winner is announced, to no surprise.

This time it's different. Right now, there are several representatives in the House of Representatives who are prepared to sign the written declaration of objection to certifying Ohio's electoral votes. The election in Ohio is suspicious, to say the least, and almost certainly fraudulent. At the very least, Congress should vote up or down on whether to accept Ohio's electoral votes.

I think they should vote Ohio's electoral slate down. What the representatives need is at least one senator to sign the objection with them in order to force Congress (and the Republicans) to vote on the issue.

Contact your senators now, today. Ask both of your senators to sign the form that will force Congress to face the truth of what we're dealing with:

George Walker Bush and his criminal cabal of neocon nutjobs are destroying this country and have to be stopped.

This is our last chance to do exactly that. Failing that, we can only hope to blemish Bush's aura of "inevitability" and "leadership" with the stain of illegitimacy and hope that will dog him for the next four years.

We have to stand up to this man and the men behind him or else this country is history.

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