Saturday, June 27, 2015

Inside Out

Now that Ben's back from Guatemala, tonight we belatedly went to see Pixar's latest, Inside Out.

If there was any thought that Pixar had lost its way with Cars 2 and Brave, Inside Out should end that. Director Pete Docter of Monsters, Inc. and Up, is probably Pixar's best at telling emotion-centered stories and Inside Out is wildly successful. It's also Pixar's funniest film, filled with funny moments from, among others, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Lewis Black.

I loved it. It will be listed among the pantheon of Pixar's best films, and that's saying something. Pete Docter really seems to understand the human condition and conveys complex emotions in a mature, wonderful and absolutely entertaining way. I can't wait to see it again.

Equal at last

A few years ago, after gay Californians briefly gained and then lost the right to marry, I added the symbol below to the right column of my blog page.

The symbol represents support for marriage equality. I first adopted the No H8 logo which represented the California fight, but then changed to the marriage equality logo in support of ALL gay Americans. I decided that I wouldn't take it off my page until all Americans had the freedom to marry.

California was only the second state to allow same-sex marriage, but they lost the right and it was a long five years until Federal courts intervened and they regained equality. By that time, seven other states and the District of Columbia had become marriage equality states. Ignited by California, state courts and legislatures started expanding equal rights for all, until my state, Maryland, became the first in the country to grant marriage equality through a popular referendum. Within the past year, more than half the states joined us.

And now, here we are only two years since California was resolved, and the United States is a marriage equality country. No one thought it would happen so fast. But state by state, rights were expanded, until marriage equality seemed inevitable. The only unknown was how long it would take.

Obviously this is a historic day and if you have any sense of history, you know that universal same-sex marriage will quickly normalize with no ill effects. We have years of experience with the early adopter states and there have been zero problems.

Of course, there are those in our country who are less attuned to history, and would rather enforce their own morality on everyone, even if it means denying fundamental rights. In America, we call those people Republicans. Let's hear from some of them.

Normally you expect the wingnuts to own all the crazy talk. But this event was just so special, even some smarter chaps you would hope would be above such nonsense have come out of the closet.

Chief Justice John Roberts (from his dissent):
Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens — through the democratic process — to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept. […]
Indeed, however heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause. And they lose this just when the winds of change were freshening at their backs.
Rats! Why didn't he say that before gays went all out and got equal rights? Sheesh, now they won't have the awesome fun of being discriminated against while they try to convince bigots that they shouldn't be.

Justice Clarence Thomas (our only Black Justice) (from his dissent):
Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in same-sex relationships. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace. They have been able to hold civil marriage ceremonies in States that recognize same-sex marriages and private religious ceremonies in all States. They have been able to travel freely around the country, making their homes where they please. Far from being incarcerated or physically restrained, petitioners have been left alone to order their lives as they see fit.
Yeah, gays! It's not like we constantly beat you up and call you names. We let you travel and don't throw you directly into jail! You should just be happy about that. Why do you have to be so uppity? (Oops!)

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity)because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
Slaves had it great! They had dignity and humanity. Why can't you gays just be like those slaves and take it?

Well enough of those eggheads. (I'm not going to touch Scalia's ravings). Let's hear from some of the most powerful and prominent Republicans, the Presidential candidates!
Ted Cruz: Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history.
Sean Hannity: I ... I couldn't say it more eloquently.

Yep, today is some of the darkest hours. Who can argue with eloquent grammar like that?

Hmm, Mike Huckabee seems like a nice guy. Let's hear from him.
The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice...I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.
Oh. Um, okay. 

How about Scott Walker?
"I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake. Five unelected judges have taken it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage."
But if those unelected judges want to take AWAY your rights, then it's okay. Amiright, women?

Here's the thing. I grew up in the conservative Midwest. I went to college believing that being gay was wrong and that being gay was a choice, a bad choice. I believed that they were responsible for the problems that society was causing them.

I was the one who was wrong.

And I came to that discovery by just thinking through the issues. By considering "Teh Gays" as people.

When you finally grasp that their natural feelings are not a choice; that who they are as people is not wrong, but a part of the human experience, then the idea of punishing people for being born who they are is an injustice. (It also works for people who don't look like you. Try it!) You realize that gays deserve the same rights and privileges that I get without question for being born a white male. That is, basic human rights. Not through an accident of birth, but through the existence of a fundamental set of principles that apply to every single human being on this planet. Extending those rights to everyone makes others happy, makes us all better people, and makes the Earth a better place for us all to live.

I will close with the quote below from Justice Kennedy's great opinion that settled this issue.

This weekend, I'm taking the Marriage Equality logo off my page. Rest in peace, logo. Your task is done.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Obamacare saved

I am of course thrilled that the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act today. From a legal standpoint, this was a stupid, stupid case that shouldn't even have been heard, but now that it has, the ACA is safe for the foreseeable future.

Justice Scalia, as befitting a partisan hack, contradicted one of his own dissents in wanting to kill the ACA for what amounted to a typo. He and Justice Thomas can't leave the Court soon enough.

Now maybe tomorrow we'll get nationwide Same Sex marriage.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A modest proposal for the South

Thanks to a racist asshole who, inspired by right wing hate groups, slaughtered nine black people in a Charleston church last week, there has been a growing call for South Carolina to remove the confederate battle flag from the grounds of their capitol. To pretty much everyone's surprise, the call to eliminate this flag of slavery and treason has spread to other states, like Georgia and Mississippi, which incorporate the flag into the design of their state flags. Even retailers, such as Walmart, eBay and Amazon have stopped sales of the flag and products that use its image. 

Most Americans understand that this won't solve the problem of racism, but eliminating this divisive and hateful symbol is a GOOD THING and something that should have happened long ago. Like say, right after the North kicked the South's ass.

The dissenters, those conservatives who believe the flag should continue to fly, have mostly resorted to arguments of Southern Heritage. That is, they argue that the flag isn't representative of the institution of slavery and traitors renouncing their American citizenship to wage war against America, it's a symbol of "Southern Heritage". As if slavery and treason weren't their heritage.

So a couple of days ago, I had the idea of creating a new flag for the South; something everyone there could rally behind. A flag that truly represents "Southern Heritage" and its proud traditions. Sadly, before I could post my idea, The Daily Show made their own proposal last night. But my flag is different, so I'm posting it anyway. My flag represents "The Crossroads of Ideas".

I grant the use of this design to the "South" (aka the former Confederate states) in perpetuity. Fly it from your statehouses! Paste it on your pickups! Wear it on your wifebeaters! Slap it on the stocks of your shotguns!

Whether you do or not, it's how we'll always think of you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Obamacare Repeal Reality

Once President Obama took office, Republicans in Congress, who hadn't batted an eyelash at lavish, unchecked spending during the Bush Presidency, suddenly found austerity to be their guiding principle. They claimed that cutting expenditures was to fight the deficit, but really it was to prevent the President from spending any money to rescue the economy or enact any meaningful reforms. Of course, during an economic downturn, the easiest way to economic recovery is to increase government spending. Austerity does the exact opposite. The principle of austerity delayed the economic recovery and contributed greatly to unemployment and our crumbling infrastructure. But the mantra of deficit reduction is still one of the Republicans' most frequent cries.

So what happens if the Supreme Court kills Obamacare?
Repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by at least $137 billion or as much as $353 billion, a new Congressional Budget Office report published Friday finds.
The report, requested by Senate Republicans, uses two methods to measure the economic effects of Obamacare — one that looks at the provisions of the law itself, and one that looks at how the act's effects will ripple through the economy.
Yes, repealing Obamacare would explode the deficit. And this conclusion was reached by the new head of the CBO, a former Bush White House economist, who was supposed to use Republican math to support the Republicans in Congress.

As Rick Perry would say, "Oops."

And if you think this will make Congressional Republicans reconsider the wisdom of destroying Obamacare for even an instant, then you have not been paying attention.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Take Down the Damn Flag

Supporters of the flag defend it by saying it's a symbol of Southern heritage.

It's a symbol of treason and slavery. That's the Southern heritage.

Why would you want to defend that?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Even more charts!

The deficit is way down and falling (closer to the center line is better).

The number of uninsured in the United States is WAY down (Thanks, Obama!).

Gun deaths in America are obscenely high. American exceptionalism!

Summer Films - So Far

I've seen three "Summer Blockbusters" so far this season. I've already briefly written about Avengers: Age of Ultron. I've also seen Tomorrowland and Jurassic World.

The interesting thing about Brad Bird's Tomorrowland is that it's the one from the series of movies based on Disney rides/locales that doesn't have an obvious plot. Scripts for Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion practically write themselves (not necessarily successfully). But what do you do with Tomorrowland?

For the most part, I enjoyed their choice; a group of utopian scientists create a futuristic city in an alternate dimension to create life-changing technologies. This city eventually comes into conflict with a crisis in the real world. I love retro-futurism and this movie is pretty much built around that idea. I also really enjoyed some of the performances, especially Raffey Cassidy as Athena, who steals every scene she's in.

However, the plot conflict never really makes sense and the needless violent struggle at the end seems like the choice of a standard action film. I don't think the movie fully lives up to its ideals in giving us something we've never seen before. It's not as bad as it's box office tally would indicate, but it's not as good as I had hoped.

Ben and I saw Jurassic World last night. In the pantheon of Jurassic Park movies, I guess I'd say it's better than 2 and 3, but nowhere near as good as the original (duh). The problems are many, including a very rocky first 45 minutes, a bunch of terrible choices made by stupid characters, those same characters acting very implausibly and lackadaisically in the face of a developing disaster, and the expression of the same anti-technology bent that infests all the Jurassic Park movies. The escape of the new Indominus Rex dinosaur made no sense to me at all. Oh, and the fairly awesome Tim and Lexi from JP have been replaced by a whiny, petulant teen, and his pre-teen brother whose parents are going through a divorce. Ugh. Finally, the movie contains several scenes that are clearly homages to previous, better, movies, including Aliens, and doesn't nail any of them.

All of these dinosaurs were killed by one dinosaur.
Did they wait around for their turn rather than flee?
I know they're slow, but come on.

I did enjoy Chris Pratt and Bryce Howard, and some of the action sequences are pretty well done. And dinosaurs are always fun to see. But overall I thought the direction by Colin Trevorrow was lackluster. One of the greatest strengths of the original Jurassic Park was how Spielberg gave a sense of grandeur and dignity to the settings and the dinosaurs. Trevorrow is too busy rushing past everything to get to the next thing to really evoke that sense of wonder and scale necessary to what we're seeing.

I still need to go see Mad Max.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

A few interesting charts of the times

These are pretty self-explanatory.

This week in stupid (abbreviated version)

In response to Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a woman, Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee wishes he had been able to "pretend" that he was a girl in high school so he could visit their locker room.
“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” said Huckabee. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’ You’re laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn’t it?”  Link
No, we're laughing because you're a clueless git and an asshole.

Minnesota resident Jeff Gullickson posted to Twitter an edited version of Obama's famous "Hope" poster, putting the President's head in a noose as if he had been lynched. Not shockingly, he received some blowback, including the loss of his job.
“My only regret is being called racist when my opinion of the president has more to do with [Obama] being a communist as opposed to being black,” he told MPR News in an email.  Link
Yeah, now you've got it.

The President of the Gun Owners of America group wants to put the Second Amendment into the proper perspective.
“The Second Amendment was designed for people just like the president and his administration,” Pratt said. “And yes, if the New York Times and the Rolling Stone, and whoever else wants to have a hissy fit, yes, our guns are in our hands for people like those in our government right now that think they wanna go tyrannical on us, we’ve got something for ‘em. That’s what it’s all about.”
“The Second Amendment,” he continued, “is not about hunting, it’s not about target shooting, it’s about Democrats who want to take our rights.”  Link
He's definitely got the Founders nailed. The whole idea of the Second Amendment is to allow Republicans to kill Democrats. Read the Constitution, people!

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is not only a terrible person, but he's a creationist.
"Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented," he said. "Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were." Link
It's good to know this guy is one of the major decision-makers in our country. American exceptionalism!

And finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't want to even pretend to do his job anymore.
"So far, the only judges we've confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators," McConnell said. Asked if he expects that to be the case through 2016, McConnell said, "I think that's highly likely, yeah."  Link
No more judicial confirmations for the President, ever. That seems reasonable.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Colbeard

Ah, Colbert, how I've missed you!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

First concert

The stage is ready

Tonight's entertainment

Ben and I are at Jiffy Lube Live (worst arena name EVER) for Ben's first rock concert. The band?


Will post some pics. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Kung Fury

This Kickstarter financed short film is totally awesome. Crazy, violent, silly, unpredictable, glorious, WAY, WAY, WAY over the top, this movie clearly goes to 11.

Remind me never to go to Texas

Texas lawmakers on Friday approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation's second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who immediately promised to sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era. Link
Ya know, the image of the Wild West is one of lawlessness and violence. Modeling your 21st century state after that is, oh, I don't know, really, really stupid? And this is a week after nine people were killed in a huge biker shootout.

Who wants to live like that?


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And they never host cotillions

Fading Southern Belle and would-be Presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham, decided last weekend that overt racism is the way to woo Republican primary voters.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister — and how it relates to his leadership style.
"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."  Link

Of course, he's probably right.  (That racism will work with Republican voters, not about the Iranians).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fun find!

As I was leaving work on Tuesday, I stopped in one of the bathrooms on the first floor of my office building. The building is privately owned, and houses a half dozen federal agencies, comprising a few thousand people. There is a pretty extensive security presence in the building, managed by one of the agencies. The guards are friendly, and seem capable and professional.

The particular bathroom I was using is small, with only two stalls. I chose the larger of the two stalls and entered. Sitting on the back of the toilet, leaning against the wall was this:

I presume (and hope) it belonged to one of the guards. I quickly left the room, practically ran down the hall, and reported it to the nearest guard, who happened to be a woman. She alerted two of her male colleagues and one of them hustled down to the bathroom and retrieved the weapon. I can't imagine how horrified the guy who lost it must have been. I hope he didn't lose his job, although I trust he learned a valuable lesson. The guards I dealt with were kind of freaked out.

Me too.

So much for that memory

While in college, I played Harrison Howell in Cole Porter's musical take on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate. One of the most famous songs from that show is "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" which I heard on the radio today.

I never realized it before, but it's kind of rapey.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Well, I didn't vote for you

I just found out that one of my best friends, Jeff, who occasionally comments on this blog, is playing King Arthur in Spamalot this summer. Huzzah! That's fantastic.

In honor of this achievement, here is possibly the funniest segment in the history of film.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Good News

The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.  Link
The sooner we get rid of this superstitious nonsense the better. It would be fine if Christians would just keep their beliefs to themselves, but when they legislate their superstition ( via abortion, prayer, creationism, abstinence, guns, marriage) to affect the rest of us, then the sooner the religion is extinct, the better off we'll be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Good TV - 2015

I just finished watching two "television" series that I really enjoyed and recommend.

The first is FOX's Will Forte comedy, "The Last Man on Earth", created by The Lego Movie's Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

I've been meaning to blog about this show for a while, but didn't, and now the short, thirteen episode first season has run it's course. You can still catch it on Hulu, Amazon, iTunes or on TLMOE is the story of an average guy, Phil Miller, who, through an unspecified virus that wiped out humanity, is (duh) the last man on Earth. The pilot episode is absolute genius, as Phil travels America looking for other people, and, failing that, returns to his home town of Tucson to set up shop in a huge mansion. Will Forte is the only cast member and his efforts to keep himself entertained and comfortable are very funny and sad and touching.

Of course, things happen to Phil, and one of the joys of the series was how it kept surprising me. I won't mention any of the plot twists, but I enjoyed it all the way through it's season finale. The ongoing storyline did bog down a bit in the middle, but even then it still made me laugh. Fortunately, it has been renewed for Season Two and I can't wait.

The other series isn't on television, but is the Yahoo! original series, "Other Space", by Paul Feig, creator of the beloved Freaks and Geeks and the movie Bridemaids.

Other Space is the story of the misfit crew of an Earth spaceship who travel through a wormhole to an alternate universe. The humor is played very broadly, and it's pretty silly, but the show has a very good understanding of the conventions of dramatized science fiction, and how to mock them. Plus, the entire cast is terrific.

One of the standouts is Milana Vayntrub, the adorable young woman from the AT&T ads, who plays the incompetent, erratic, heartbroken navigator Tina. Also aboard, and likely one of the main reasons the show is so smart about science fiction tropes, are Trace Beaulieu and the guy who ate Joel Hodgson (I kid!), both from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Joel plays a slacker and Trace plays a robot, so typecasting, I guess. Both are great.

The first episode gets the action going, but is one of the weaker episodes. As the actors get more comfortable in their roles and the writing gets sharper, the episodes get better and better. There are only eight half hour episodes, so it's easy to binge watch.

The future of Other Space is still uncertain, as it hasn't yet been picked up for a second season. I sure hope it is.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Stuff Happening

Sorry for the lack of posts. Lots of life intervening.

Rachel's junior year of college ended this week and she's now home for three days before returning for a summer theater job. This will be her first summer away from home.

Ben has now taken the SAT and ACT and passed his driver's ed class. Now he just needs 56 more hours behind the wheel before he can take his driving test. This is easily the busiest time in Ben's life so far.

On Friday Carol and I saw the DC flyover and took video. I'll post that once I've edited it.

We saw Avengers: Age of Ultron for the second time tonight. It's a good, but not great, superhero movie. The huge weight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is complicating the storylines and the sheer number of characters is getting cumbersome. This was inevitable, I suppose. Worse, though, while the action in the first Avengers movie was very clean and easy to follow, the editing in this movie was very choppy and the action was difficult to follow at times. It was still a fun ride, but not as good as the first one.

And finally, Happy Mother's Day!  (Especially you, Mom).

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Income Inequality - WOW edition

Here's the "blow your mind" fact for today.
The eruptions in Baltimore have been tied, in complex ways, to frustrations at American inequality, and a new measure of the economic gaps arrived earlier this year:
It turns out that the Wall Street bonus pool in 2014 was roughly twice the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage. Link
The bonus pool, NOT the entire salaries, of a small group of people working in one industry in one city in America, was bigger than the ENTIRE salaries of every single American working full time at minimum wage. And this industry makes its money by pushing around other people's money, rich people making money for other rich people, as opposed to all the waitresses, busboys, retail staff, garbage collectors, security guards and minimum wage jobs that we all interact with every single day. You know, the people who do all the hard work.

If you can't see why this is a problem, then maybe you should study a little bit more before having an opinion on economic policy.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Let the summer movie season begin!

Ben and I are waiting for Avengers: Age of Ultron to start. I haven't been to a movie theater in months. 


Report to follow.