Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Economy, AIG, Socialism, and YOU (American execs)

I'm just having some thoughts boiling up about the whole "government bailout" and "economic stimulus" spending, and how it's all coming to a head with the news about AIG. I'm no macro-economics master, but I'll share my political opinion. These are trying and extraordinary economic straits the world is in - never in my lifetime have I heard of businesses seeking, even demanding, assistance from the government. And why? The heart of it is free-market capitalism vs. realms of government regulation. I refuse to go so far as to say capitalism is dead, but this clearly shows the biggest gaping weakness of the system : how utter, blind greed can take hold and dictate unethical, imaginary business practices. (To say nothing about how the US $$ are being paid out to foreign banks).
The biggest outrage, and rightly so, has been sparked by the news of AIG executives taking tens of millions of dollars to pay out 'bonuses' to themselves. AIG execs make ridiculous claims, 1) "these contracts were in place before we got the stimulus dollars", and 2) "this is how the free market system works - we need to compensate our leaders appropriately, or risk losing them." Allow me to address each of these, and hopefully in doing so, exemplify the whole gov't stimulus argument.
1) - If you didn't get the stimulus dollars, you would have no money to pay out obscene bonuses anyway! They claim that if they didn't get the gov't charity, they would need to file for bankruptcy. How in hell would they pay out the bonuses then??
2) - to quote the NPR show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" : "If we don't pay adequate salaries to our executives, they'll leave their jobs & go into other businesses... and destroy them, as well." Funny, but sadly true. I, as a believer in capitalist philosophies & libertarian freedoms, agree that business leaders can be rewarded for doing well. But, let's be honest - if they cause such mayhem & disaster as they have the last few years - they must own up to it & take a greater share of the blame and hardship than even their employees. (This thinking is in-line with my disgust about how GW Bush betrayed fundamental Conservative values in his imperialist, dishonest reign as Prez). Consider theJapanese airline CEO who, when business is suffering, will take a salary well under 6-figures, and eat in the cafeteria, and give up his private SUV and jets.
Bottom line - the rules have changed, and you can't have it both ways. You can't slither on your serpentine stomachs to suckle at the teat of the federal government, then dictate how that assistance is doled out. You can't weep & whine and claim your world is crumbling, only to patch it up with funds given to you, then claim your world is fine and should work the way it always has. You can't be greedy with your ill-gotten gains which are evaporating in the harsh daylight of reality, and also be greedy with the money that belongs to the American public, which must be accounted for. This is like going broke & needing to move back in with your parents, then demanding to them "how things will be run around here." I don't want to say this is socialism, but if the government's paying for it, government (ideally, in the purest form, as a 'voice of the people') gets to say how it works. (OK - the argument about how this will balloon the federal deficit has some merit, but I won't go into here)
That's why I support the New Deal-like guidelines Obama has decreed for how the federal dollars can be used at the state and local level - and I have deep respect for those Republican governors and mayors who are declining the payments, because they don't want to be obliged to the gov't rules. They are walking the walk - they are not taking the 'charity', then moaning about it. It's called integrity, not hubris - pay attention, all you bloated American CEOs, you might learn a little something.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Watchmen, the Movie - my take

I caught a (slightly) advance screening of Watchmen on Thursday - it was a benefit for the Cartoon Art Museum. Just wanted to share my thoughts after seeing this movie, hopefully not too many spoilers in here. First of all - I'm a huge fan of the book, I've been eagerly anticipating/quietly dreading the movie adaptation... When I heard Zack Snyder was adapting it (after over a decade of it changing hands, and even starting pre-pro with other helmers), I was encouraged - "300" faithfully adhered to the graphic novel, and had good action (though too much frame-speed ramping). Then, I read interviews where he had such intense respect for the work, and all the trailers, art, etc. seemed fair to awesome. Anyway, when this movie came up, I delightedly threw myself into the fray.
Oh my god, what a ride. Yes, it stuck very very closely to the story (omitting many scenes for time and redundancy - and the movie was still 2.5 hours). And the action was "bone-breakingly" brutal, and deftly executed. The stunts & VFX were amazing, especially Dr. Manhattan (OK, a few mentions i'll say at the end of ths post, since I'm in the biz and must be critical). Performances and casting were all spot-on (especially pleased with Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, and how Jackie Earl Haley *IS* Rorschach here, on the level of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Heath Ledger as The Joker).
As I watched, I was probably WAY too connected to the comic - nearly every scene I could envision each page, and analyzed how it all looked. And that is perhaps the movie's biggest downfall. The comic jumps around regularly , which is perfectly acceptable for the more non-linear printed work. In the film, this comes across as rather disjointed and distracting. And some scenes play out too long, and have an odd rhythm compared to the book (especially Dr. Manhattan's flashbacks).
But in my overall experience - wow. I realized even more how dark, brutal, and misanthropic this story is. It's quite a depressing and hopeless treatise on human nature, and their capacity for violence and arrogance. The ending is changed slightly (in the contrivance, but basically with the same plot outcome) - with all due respect to Alan Moore, the climactic event in the movie makes more sense than in the book. Anyway, I found myself 'enjoying' this movie far less than I expected, but I coming away with a lot more thoughtfulness than I expected. It is a difficult movie to experience, but highly rewarding and offers a depth very few movies at this level can.
NOTE: I'd be very interested in hearing back from people who saw this without knowing the comic. What did you expect, how were those expectations met, how it compares to the Superhero genre, and what your ultimate opinion is.
OK - a few critiques. I said, amazing FX & the way syn-thespian Dr. Manhattan holds up is shocking (in closeups, and even down to the subtle cloud of particulate which follows him around). Not perfect - some of the longer tracking shots don't hold up, and I disagree with how they treated his interactive glow/arcing. And the compositing was inconsistent - how the scenes were layered with elements/fog/smoke & fire/snow. And goddammit, Zack Snyder - give up your love affair with the slo-mo!! But kudos to him & all involved.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Portland/Eugene trip

We took advantage of my 3-day weekend (President's Day holiday) and Valentine's Day, to take a trip up to Oregon. We've never spent time in Portland (which we've heard so many positive things about), and we wanted to visit old friends in Eugene. It was a pretty 'whiz-bang' trip (as my mother would say), but exciting and worthwhile. Our weekend (after my going to a party Friday night at the Bus Stop Co-Op, and me delivering Bonnie's Val-Day card on the plane ) :

SATURDAY, Feb 14 : Arrived in Portland around 9 AM (saw light snow as we walked to get the rental car!). We drove through downtown area (the "Pearl" district). Then checked out the historic Powell's Books , which was amazing (I actually found a book on Spontaneous Human Combustion. We checked out a couple other neighboorhoods (Belmont, and Hawthorne)- shopped at the awesome indie music store Anthem Records, had lunch at the "Bread and Ink" Cafe. Then, we made our way down to Eugene (about 3 hours travel) , to visit Shane & Missy. We got in late afternoon, went for a walk along the Wilamette River walk. On the way home, stopped at The Wandering Goat for coffee. OBSERVATION : TONS of coffee shops in Portland area. Then made it back, had dinner - with a couple of their other friends. Later, dessert & coffee & stirring conversation into the night.
SUNDAY, Feb 15 : Started with breakfast at the house. Then went out to visit an organic farm (run by the couple we'd had dinner with). It was really astounding - to see the details of how farms work, and much appreciated. From there, a short skip & hop to the King Estate Winery. Very nice surroundings, and a great meal. Drove them back to their house in Eugene, dropped them off and hit the road heading north.
Got back into Portland, and checked in to the White Eagle 'rock-n-roll' hotel. Part of the McMenamin company's historic buildings renovated into hotels. A very neat little place, very cheap & no-frills (11 rooms, common bathrooms). The quirk to it is that it's above a bar/stage. Our evening kind of fell apart here - mostly my fault, we had a plan for a few things we wanted to do, and we could've done it all but I screwed up the schedule. We should've stayed at the White Eagle for a bit, then gone off to the bookstore (Bonnie needed to return the book she'd bought), then made our way to Dante's, the goth club, for their cabaret; then hit the 24-hour Voodoo Donuts on the way out. Instead, I pushed to go out to the store & the club, so we missed singer-songwriter night at the White Eagle, (which was the main thing Bonnie wanted to do), and got stuck watching a crappy non-local opening band & Bonnie unprepared for such a night out. So, our short time there was marred by our disagreement, which left us both a bit disappointed (Bonnie more so than me). And I missed connecting with pal & former co-worker Ben in the area. But, in general, we were left with a very positive impression of Portland, and a thirst to visit again sometime (considering it's almost the same distance as a flight to the O.C.).
MONDAY, Feb 16. Since I had the day off, and Bonnie doesn't work until the afternoon, we had the morning to leisure our way to the airport. We drove around a bit, and settled on Smokey's for brunch. Very tasty, and great staff. Ran into a snag at the airport - firstly, we overestimated our path, and time was a bit tight when we arrived & dropped off our rental. Next, we had printed our boarding passes the day before, as convenience dictates these days. But they were printed on re-used paper, and the security officer denied mine, saying he couldn't read it. Yikes. I was ready to give up the ghost at this point, but Bonnie rushed us over to the kiosk, I printed up my pass again, and we got through security in about five minutes. The plane was almost finished boarding when we got to the gate, but we made it... :>.
As I said, I had the rest of the day off - my old college roommate/bandmate Andy, & his wife were in town for the long weekend as well. Monday didn't sync to meet up with them - so, I worked around the house. Tuesday, I drove up to Sonoma to meet them for dinner, we went to Maya. Had a great time catching up, and regaling in tales of MSU & the band of old.
Back to the routine for the most part after that... That was a couple weeks ago, more's happened since (including participation in the Tree Spirit, in San Geronimo), our quasi-annual Oscars Party, and a day at Wondercon 09!