Jul 212012

I was planning to just write a review of the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy “The Dark Knight Rises”, but this will probably be a bit more than that.
After the events in Aurora, Colorado in the early hours of this day, sadly this has become more than just another Summer blockbuster.
But we’ll get to that in a bit.

The reviews for this film seemed to be a mixed bag. There are those that feel it was an “epic for our time”, and those that feel it fell flat. I’m more in the first camp.

What Nolan accomplished here more than anything, was the bringing to life a comic book hero’s world. I don’t mean that he took a hero that we all know and brought him to the big screen; we’ve seen that done a lot of times now. More so that he brought that hero’s world to us in a realistic way. He placed him in a situation that we’ve all become too familiar with…terror.
What “The Dark Knight Rises” is essentially about, is the realization of a terror plot. It’s about the damage that a group of people can cause when they aren’t treated seriously.

At the helm of the terror plot is Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy. Regardless of what Rush Limbaugh would have you believe, Bane is not a cheap shot at Mitt Romney’s shady business dealings. Bane was in fact, introduced into the Batman mythos in 1993.
This version of Bane differs from the original comic book version, but it’s alterations that Nolan is notoriously masterful with, that allow for the characters to be more adaptable to the “real world”.
There’s a menacing evil to Hardy as Bane, that kept bringing me back to the film “Bronson” in which Hardy plays the lead. He displays the same eagerness to engage in conflict that made the Bronson character so intriguing and exciting every minute that he was on screen.
This incarnation of Bane made the character interesting to me in a way that the original never was.

Anne Hathaway portrayed the infamous Catwoman, and I never thought I would say these words, but Anne Hathaway is the best big screen Catwoman I have ever seen. I really enjoyed her in the film, more than I ever thought possible. There were moments were I actually found myself excited to see her. She was just, for lack of a better term, bad ass!

The thing that realy struck me about this was how dark the tone was. This film drips despair. It oozes it from every crack and crevice, and I think that’s the brilliance of it. It takes you so low, that you’re almost aching for a positive outcome. You need Batman to win the day here, more than in any other situation you’ve seen him in.

But the thing I love most, is how this doesn’t feel like a comic book movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a comic book movie! But this is brought home in such a mature way, that it feels legitimate. It doesn’t feel like “Spiderman”, or “The Avengers”…it’s emotional, and you are invested in those emotions!

I don’t imagine there will be anything left this Summer that will top this for me. This was the benchmark by which I will not only measure comic book films, but trilogies.
Thanks, Christopher Nolan, for showing Hollywood how things like this are done. For showing them that these characters and these worlds can be treated with reverence, and that a director can bring them to life in a way that audiences of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

I have to admit however, that it was audiences that were on my mind a lot during this film.

As we walked into the theater, I looked at my son and daughter, and I thought of how many times we’ve walked into theaters together. They’re a bit bigger than they were when we first started, and for the first time tonight, I felt OLD. They were always the two little kids that I was bringing with me to the movies, but tonight, they didn’t look so little anymore.
It seems like it was not so long ago that my son and I were telling my daughter about the “rules” of movie going, upon her first outing with us. My son was qualified to instruct considering he was a seasoned veteran at the time, being a whole two years older than her, and all!
We told her things like how you have to be quiet and stay in your seat so you don’t ruin things for everybody else…you know, the important rules!
There were a couple rough patches, but she figured it all out after a while, and we’ve been to a lot of movies since then.

You see, movies are our thing. It has been, and continues to be, one of the main things we do together.
We watch movies, we talk about movies, we talk about upcoming movies. We talk about actors and their performances. We talk about special effects. We talk about great lines of dialogue…..well, I think you get it at this point, right?

What struck me tonight, as I noticed how long my children and I have been seeing movies together, and as we walked into the theater to see the movie that we’ve waited to see since “The Dark Knight’s” credits rolled in 2008, was that there must be others like us.
Other families that shared movie going experiences the same way.
Other parents sitting with their children as they wait with excitement to see a story they’ve waited for to unfold in a way that on Hollywood Studios can deliver.

And then I thought that some of them were probably in Aurora, Colorado last night.

As I watched each trailer, I thought “These are probably the same trailers that they saw last night as they waited anxiously for the film to begin.”
And then I would look at the side exit door.
And then I would look at the audience under the glow of the screen; all of their faces lit up with excitement, as they chomped away on their popcorn and sipped their overly large sodas.

At a certain point in the film, I realized that by that time at the showing in Aurora, Colorado, the gunman had entered the theater and began his massacre….again, my eyes moved towards the side exit door.
In that moment, he took people from their families. He forever altered the course of the lives of the survivors.
He robbed them of sharing the same feelings about theater going that I share with my children, forever.

At first thought, that seems meaningless, doesn’t it?
That of all the horrors he committed in that theater, the idea that he robbed them of a tradition is miniscule, isn’t it?

But I don’t think it is.

I think in a way it’s the saddest thing of all, because it took that from them forever, and now makes us all aware of one more way in which our loved ones can be taken from us.
One more avenue for a madman to execute his plan.

71 people just wanted to see The Dark Knight Rises.
It could have been me and my family.
It could have been you and yours.
Or just some guy that we don’t know, who just got done explaining to his daughter with the help of his son, that you have to be quiet and stay in your seat when you go to the movies, so you don’t ruin things for everyone else.
Because those are the rules.
I wish everybody played by them.

Jul 162012

With the recent passing of the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, I wanted to take a few minutes to say happy birthday, and thank the United States for some of the amazing accomplishments in recent history that have helped all of us prosper. Yes, the U.S. Government can and has accomplished countless amazing and seemingly insurmountable tasks. And continues to do so today.

The current mainstream conservative rhetoric is that if the U.S. Government would just cut all taxes, and get rid of all regulations everything would automatically be peachy; milk and honey would magically flow, China and radical Muslims would collectively cry in jealousy over our prosperity. Much of this thinking stems from the irresponsible and many times hypocritical comments made by Saint-President Reagan that are still today espoused as the gospel of how to run a nation. His preaching about how ‘government can’t fix problems, rather government is the problem’ has led to a generation’s worth misguided world views.

By the way – on a side note – you can now buy a Reagan.com email address for $40.00 a year; safe, secure and promoting freedom, “just the way President Reagan would have wanted” – LOL.

Recently, the political bloggers, the talk radio hosts and callers and the television pundits have been stepping up this rhetoric. Since the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Affordable Care Act, the pitch has notably increased and the tone has darkened. I have heard some shocking, amazing and sad views coming from the talk radio callers. It seems that is not uncommon anymore to hear talk radio callers to hint at their belief that the time for an armed revolution. In this past week, I heard it said that King Obama is “literally” tearing up the Constitution (we all know that you really meant figuratively, English can be tough for some folks). I heard people claim that the government is enslaving us, that this nation is being destroyed, that we are past the point of return, that radical socialists have taken over the government and that it is now game over, everything is ruined.

Yet, I look outside and the sun is still shining. I celebrated the mid-week holiday with neighbors; I ate some fatty barbequed food, watched some fireworks and drove across state lines – all without asking permission from President Obama or any state or local officials and without requiring any papers. Ok, so can we all admit that ‘destroyed’ may be too strong of a word?

A few weeks ago, listening to the Rush Limbaugh program, I heard a caller who claimed to be a small business owner in Virginia. He continued to state that he was going to have to shut down his small business because of all of the government regulations. You could almost hear Mr. Limbaugh salivating while he asked about the specifics – Sir, what kind of regulations are hurting your small business. The caller responded with the un-thought-out reply, ‘you know just all the regulations and stuff’; with the tone of his voice I was actually waiting for the caller to use the word “icky” to describe the so-called regulations. Now, any responsible talk radio host, any responsible person would have called out this fake claim as pure rubbish. Instead Rush sees this as an opportunity to claim that this is exactly what Obama wants: to kill off the small businesses in America so that everyone is indentured to government in some grand radical leftist, socialist grand plan. The world view is not only skewed, it seems to be an out and out lie.

But, for the sake of argument let’s assume that this view is not a lie. Let’s assume that the Reagan-esque view that everything government is bad and everything free market is good is the prevailing conservative world-view. Is the free market system more efficient than a government run system in almost every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt. Are government run systems more cumbersome and costly? Again, I will give you a resounding yes. So logically we can jump to the next conclusion that the free market is the best and only way to run the world, right? Absolutely not. This is an ignorant, ill-informed, and simply out of touch view of how things really work. The free-market system alone has too many inherent faults. There are many tasks and projects, sometimes monumental projects, which the free markets will never take on, because of their economic viability to the investors. There are thousands of money-losing and, rather expensive endeavors that free-marketeers would never dream of investing in, even as a charitable donation, that add an immense intrinsic value to the nation.

Governments only get in the way of businesses

Take the National Park System as an example: Millions of people each year enjoy our nation’s parks; these peaks, the canyons, monuments are a strong part of our national make-up. Yet they are quite costly to run, they don’t make money; in a strictly dollars and cents view, they are a drain on our national economy. But try to imagine the U.S. of A. without Lady Liberty or Mount Rushmore because they were not cost efficient, it’s a sad image. It is unlikely that the free market system would run these places any more efficiently as cost cutting measures would likely leave the least popular areas unattended and unmaintained, and revenue opportunities would bring in expensive entrance fees and advertising. I can see it now, the big Coca-Cola ad scored into the reddish rock of the Grand Canyon, or maybe this next geyser brought to you by Pfizer, makers of Viagra, may all of your encounters be as hot and steamy.

The park system may be a bad example because of its core nature. A better example might be the Panama Canal: The U.S. government funded the construction of the canal at a cost to the American Taxpayer of $375 million in 1904 dollars. They used French equipment, and Panamanian workers to mount this huge endeavor that no free market firm would have or could have completed. It isn’t economically viable for any single company to invest millions, or in today’s dollars billions to fund such a huge endeavor. This is something that only a government could accomplish, and we are still reaping the benefits of this government run program a century later. Billions upon billions of dollars have been saved in shipping costs over the years – to small businesses and job-creators, the benefits are too numerous to even list.

On another side-note, in today’s political climate this would be seen as shipping American jobs overseas.

The Hoover Dam, the Interstate Highway System, Airports, water systems, Schools are just a few projects that are not profitable enough for the free market to take on, but have proven to be essential to our economy. Every American company you’ve ever heard of, every American worker you’ve ever known has reaped the benefit from, and should be thanking the American government for a government investment of some sort.

Elizabeth Warren has an inspiring stump speech that sums up a lot of what I am trying to say. It can be found here: YouTube link

Government investments have been instrumental in the logistics of all American businesses, but that’s just the start of the story. Government investment into research and development have led to all sorts of technical advancements has created millions upon millions of jobs. Taxpayer money funded the projects that invented the Internet, global positioning systems, and Siri. The government funded the mapping of the human genome, for which we will reap the benefits for many generations to come. The government is responsible for countless of inventions, everything from advanced health care technology to Velcro. For every Solyndra failure out there, there are thousands of businesses that have benefited from American investment.

Less government is always better, there’s too much regulation

Discounting the fact the corporate profits are at record highs, the common wisdom is that excessive government regulations is what is hurting this economy. The interesting component to this argument is that it is just ‘you know, all those regulations and stuff’. Finding specific answers to which federal regulations are hurting business so much is hard to come by – other than complaints about the EPA.

Regulations are cumbersome; regulations add a significant cost to businesses in terms of documentation, time, effort, and simple costs in following regulations. It costs money to dispose of used oil properly. It costs money to provide a safe working environment to employees. Regulations have a cost, period. The regulations also have a definite intrinsic value, like the faces on Mt. Rushmore, that without them we would lose a piece of ourselves.

It is commonly thought that if we drop all of the federal regulations that the free market system is so self-correcting that when quality drops, customers will vote with their dollars; if a workplace is unsafe, workers would just leave; if a product or service is sub-par they will purchase an alternate. Businesses will all strive to put out the best products and services and everything is again peachy in the utopian conservative wonderland. Again this is a naïve, uninformed world view that breaks down when you look at the specifics.

The aircraft industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries there is. All told, they have to watch out for regulations from the FAA, EPA, OSHA, SEC, labor, state agencies, etc. Even with all of these known rules and regulations, there are still some abhorrent aircraft practices, some incredible risks incurred, all in the name of saving a few minutes or a few dollars. ValuJet operated a fleet of old aircraft in the 90’s, and was plagued with safety issues. Poor maintenance practices, improper training and procedures, poor documentation was commonplace. ValuJet had experienced more than 100 emergency landings in less than a two-year period. One report stated that an engine mechanic lacked the proper tools to remove an engine valve, so instead he was using a hammer and a chisel to remove the part; you don’t have to be an aircraft engineer to see the problem here. So were consumers properly voting with their dollars? Was the free market system working to the Ayn Rand specifications? No, because ValuJet was the cheapest out there, the Wal-Mart of the skies. The information about their shoddy practices was not available to the consumers until their crash in the Florida Everglades, when this information came to light. This highlights a major fault with the free market system: it is reactionary, not proactive. Ford Pinto anyone? Free markets can protect future consumers from faults, but not the ones that have already been injured or killed.

Aside from that, in today’s times I find it hard to believe that many workers in the free job market have the means to just quit a job because of safety issues, or poor working conditions. Many, many, many companies that we all know, with brands we love, royally screw their workers every single day and the most of the workers have no other choice but to bend over and say “Thank you sir, may I have another”. It’s those horrible regulations, that many of us take for granted, that keep the job-creators honest. We had much fewer regulations early in the last century, much more of a free market system. People seem to forget history: unfair wages, excessive hours, child labor, workers dying in fires because of locked exit doors, asbestos, workers being fired with no cause, workers fired for illness – possibly caused by the job, women not allowed workplaces, trusts, monopolies…I could go on and on. The pure free job market was a dream. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

Regulations keep our food safe, our water and air (mostly) clean, protects our children from lead in their toys, keeps baby cribs from collapsing, and ensures that labels are clear and honest. I’d venture to say that most of us don’t measure the gasoline that we pump in our tanks every day. It seems to me that it would be pretty easy for any station owner to skim a quarter’s worth of gas and we’d never notice. Thank you government… Regulations are what protect us, We The People, from the cost-cutting efficiencies of the free market system.

Governments just waste our hard-earned taxpayer money

Government inefficiency is always something that can be improved upon. The bottom line behind this argument really lies in where the government chooses to direct funds. Farmers don’t seem to have a problem with farm subsidies or ethanol regulations. In fact most people don’t mind energy subsidies – unless your referring to something green, then it’s probably a waste, right?. The people who squawk the loudest about government waste are probably referring to the sliver of funds that go to welfare. Bill Maher had a great bit on his show a while back, where he had a big plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy dripping over the sides – all representing defense spending and social security spending. He held up the part that represented welfare which the sprig of parsley.

However, this is all a part of living in a democracy, or so I thought. We don’t always have to agree with everything the government does, but hopefully they get it the most right, for the most people, most of the time. And I believe Uncle Sam accomplishes this every day. We live in an amazing country, with an effective government. Look around at other nations and see what ineffective governments bring. Look at most of Africa, Central and South Americas, much of Asia. Ineffective governments, or lack of governments bring chaos, cartels, war-lords who dole out food to their favorite tribesmen, lack of production, lack of recourses, lack of order, lack of everything. I’ve spent time in many nations with ineffective governments and have seen the unstable power grids, the horrid sanitary and living conditions, the disease and the general fear for lack of safety anywhere, even in their own homes.

So with the “Radical, leftist, Marxist, socialist in office, What freedoms have you lost?

I’m going to the beach. Have fun with your rhetoric. Peace.