Friday, May 30, 2008

You cut the pizza, and I'll choose which slice you get

A day before the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee is set to determine how to seat the delegations of Florida and Michigan, the Clinton campaign's chief lawyer said the committee is compelled to seat both delegations fully and not award Sen. Barack Obama any delegates from Michigan. Link.

You have to wonder, would Clinton's campaign lawyer be insisting Michigan and Florida's delegates should be counted if it meant Hillary wouldn't get the nomination?

Michigan and Florida were told their votes wouldn't count before they moved their primary dates, but they did it anyway, so guess what? Their votes shouldn't count. Period. When broken, rules are designed to have consequences or there's no point in having rules at all.

Not to mention that if Obama knew the DNC might rescind back the rules, he wouldn't have taken his name off the ticket in Michigan. So if the DNC goes back on their word, how is that fair in any way to Obama?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ex-Press Secretary pulls the trigger

I'm a little shocked that a ex-Bush employee would slam his former boss as brutally as Scott McClellan does in his book coming out June 1st. This isn't typical from a President who surrounds himself with loyal followers, is it?

McClellan draws a portrait of his former boss as smart, charming and politically skilled, but unwilling to admit mistakes and susceptible to his own spin. Bush "convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment," McClellan writes.... He also faults Bush for a "lack of inquisitiveness."

Some of my friends rail on Bush as ineffably stupid, even mentally unbalanced, but I feel that's disingenuous. Bush purposefully affects a folksy speech style more appealing to the common folk, which hints at a sensibility to the political landscape beyond the reach of your average nimwit:
[Kent] Hance's opponent in the general election [in 1978] was a young Republican businessman from Midland, George W. Bush. Hance portrayed Bush as "not a real Texan" because of his privileged upbringing and Yale education. Hance later said in an interview that after that election, Bush vowed that "he wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again,"and developed the folksy image that eventually carried him to the White House. Hance is the only person ever to have defeated George W. Bush in an election. Link.

So Bush isn't just any dumb politician... he knows how to get elected into the White House, and that in itself ought to be the ultimate benchmark for not being be dumb or mentally unbalanced.

However, one can still have savvy in some areas and be remarkably wooden-headed in others. I speak specifically, of being open to new ideas... an area in which Bush seems deficient to a catastrophic degree, as the war in Iraq has proven.

I value those who stand by their ideas and "stay the course", but only if the data exists to justify their plan. If new ideas come along, better ideas, one would be silly to not examine them. And that's the most severe drawback to a "lack of inquisitiveness" and being "unwilling to accept your own mistakes"—you cannot adapt as circumstances change. It's fine and patriotic to back up your leader because he's your leader, but how far into a burning building are you willing to go before you question, and even refute, your leader's ability to see the surroundings as what they are?

Bush's legacy will be centered around that one foible: not seeing the world as it is, and being unwilling to admit he could be wrong about it. If there's one lesson I've learned, it's that we all need to be humble in the world, to examine all the data, to voraciously suck up as much information as possible before making any decisions, and be willing to change those decisions if credible contradictory data emerges... too many things are changing too quickly nowadays and deciding things will only be one way, forever, is a questionable strategy... and even a dangerous strategy for some.

This last bit by McClellan also caught my eye:
Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan ... "blames the media whose questions he fielded, calling them complicit enablers' in the White House campaign to manipulate public opinion toward the need for war."

To me, this is a perfect example of why liberal bias in the media is a conservative claptrap. To claim the media has such a liberal bias implies they'd be hypercritical of the Bush presidency, but then how could the "liberal" media have been enablers, too? You can't have it both ways.

Full article below:
Former press secretary's book bashes Bush

WASHINGTON - Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that President Bush relied on an aggressive "political propaganda campaign" instead of the truth to sell the Iraq war, it has been reported.

The Bush White House made "a decision to turn away from candor and honesty when those qualities were most needed" — a time when the nation was on the brink of war, McClellan writes in the book entitled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

The way Bush managed the Iraq issue "almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option," the book contends, according to accounts Wednesday in The New York Times and Washington Post.

"In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president's advantage," McClellan writes.

The White House had no immediate comment on the book.

In a surprisingly harsh assessment from the man who was at that time the loyal public voice of the White House, McClellan called the Iraq war a "serious strategic blunder."

"The Iraq war was not necessary," he concludes.

McClellan admits that some of his own words from the podium in the White House briefing room turned out to be "badly misguided." But he says he was sincere at the time.

"I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be," McClellan writes. He also blames the media whose questions he fielded, calling them "complicit enablers" in the White House campaign to manipulate public opinion toward the need for war.

The book is scheduled to go on sale June 1. Quotes from the book were reported Tuesday night by the Web site Politico, which said it found McClellan's memoir on sale early at a bookstore.

McClellan draws a portrait of his former boss as smart, charming and politically skilled, but unwilling to admit mistakes and susceptible to his own spin. Bush "convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment," McClellan writes.

He also faults Bush for a "lack of inquisitiveness." Link.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Motion Sketches

Yesterday, I heard about Celtx's Motion Sketches series, care of Elver. Here are some gems I gleaned:

We like movies because we like to worry. The story can be comedic or dramatic, but the principle is the same.

Dramatic action is when a character wants something and takes action to get it. Conflict is when an obstacle or antagonist gets in the way. The clearer and more focused the obstacle or antagonist, the more acute the conflict will be.

Drama is conflict in the present. Tension is conflict in the future.

The episode on sound, which I've embedded below, should be required viewing for all filmmakers. What I liked was how the Sound Designer preferred being involved in casting to help choose actors based on how they sound together. This is a nuance of filmmaking overlooked almost all the time and thus raises the caliber of filmmaking to a whole new level.

You can find the rest of the episode links on Elver's post.

A hole in one from 300 million miles away

This is from the superb IMAX documentary Roving Mars, which shows NASA's probe actually landing on Mars about halfway in. For anyone who thinks NASA has become blasé about space travel, just study the looks on Mission Control's faces. Very, very tense!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Da Vinci had it right after all

He just wasn't going fast enough:

"Yves Rossy, known as the 'Fusion Man,' zips over the Swiss Alps with a jet-powered wing. The first public demonstration of the homemade device capped five years of training and many more years of dreaming." Link.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Attention Bush Supporters and/or Global Warming Doubters

Read this yesterday:

[President Bush] said more is known about global warming than when he first took office in 2001. Asked if it was real, Bush said, "Yes, it is real, sure is." Link.

Bush is the champion of many on the evangelical right, who also feel global warming is nonsense. So when President Bush—in theory, the most well informed man on the planet, but whose track record for obstinancy is Guinness-worthy—reverses his position on something as major as global warming, you would have to imagine it took a gargantuan stack of evidence to change his mind.

Again, I ask you: now that an oil man like President Bush has admitted his former position on global warming was wrong, how can anyone comfortably refute that?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2nd Row, Far Right

Thanks to my geeky friends, we now have a Wii Urban Tribe, too:

Monday, May 12, 2008

1.8 miles & 14 minutes

A supertanker can carry up to 300,000 tons of crude oil and at a maximum speed of 18 miles/hour, its inertia is so strong that it can still take 14 minutes and 1.8 miles to perform a "crash stop" maneuver (from "full ahead" to "full reverse").

I think of supertankers on days like this when I hear that Obama has finally taken the lead in superdelegates, and everyone knows now that Hillary Clinton won't win the Democratic nomination... but here we are, watching the shore approach only a half a mile away and knowing a crash will be coming very soon.

Prediction: Clinton will drop out of the race on June 15.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Taking Notes

You write your script. You measure out each word. You get the flow just right. Finally, when the spell check comes up clean, you scan everything to make sure each page contains a delicate balance of colons, semi-colons, em dashes and ellipses. You're done. Your script is a masterpiece.

You print and bind the crisp white pages, present them to the director, who has them forwarded along to the actors.

And then the lead actor throws your script in the trash.

As a writer, you like to believe you have grokked your characters better than anyone. And as a screenwriter, you're especially sensitive to lesser-than feather merchants trying to improve on what already works. Unfortunately, because the film business is political, you will usually have to choose your battles. But when a lead actor throws your script in the trash, it's time to pay attention because—guess what?—the actor has to say the lines you've written and, nine times out of ten, probably groks your character even better than you think you do.

This happened on Iron Man, in fact:

Q: Robert, is it true you threw the script against the wall a lot?
Downey Jr.: Sometimes the writers wrote stuff that was smart and cool and perfect, and other times I would go to them with ideas. By the time we got to act three I was like, I can't have this confrontation scene with Pepper: "But Pepper, can't you understand that I've changed? I've got to do right!" Unh-uh. We rewrote the scene, and I was scribbling it out on cue cards.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Robert would saunter in with his 88-liter coffee and his sunglasses, take the [pages], and literally ball them up and whip them against the wall and be like, "This is the worst scene I've ever read. We're not doing this." Robert cannot say something that he doesn't feel.

Q: How did the writers react to all that?
Downey Jr.: My thing is we should all feel free to ball each other's junk up and throw it against the wall because we're not here to serve a legal document, if you ask me. I don't care who you are or what you just won or what you just wrote. I don't think "genius" and "superhero script" belong in the same sentence. That said, those guys are awesome, and I really learned a lot. Link.

That's the right attitude, in my opinion (albeit it might have been done more diplomatically). As a screenwriter, your master is not the director, producer, or even the financier—your master is the audience. Your duty is to do the best work possible and if that means rewriting something on the fly by collaborating with a lead actor, so be it.

Anthony Simcoe, the actor playing Ka D'Argo on the sci-fi TV show Farscape, once asked series co-creator David Kemper if he would mind if Simcoe changed a line in the script. Kemper smiled and said, "Only if you make it better." Simcoe was impressed—in most TV shows, any line change would have to have been approved up and down a network's hierarchy. On Farscape, Simcoe's suggestions were approved 7 out of 10 times and when you watch the series, Simcoe's character is by far one of the most entertaining.

The point is that the (screen)writer doesn't/can't always have the best ideas, and writers should always be open to others' suggestions as opportunities to improve upon the initial concept. If you don't like the "stupidity" of outside interference, you might be happier self-publishing novels, writing for the theatre, or creating machinima.

Superdelegates, the horseshoe nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The results after yesterday's Indiana and North Carolina primaries:

And here's where the delegate count was on February 12, the first day Obama substantially overtook Clinton in delegates:

I remember back in February how far-fetched it still seemed for Obama to win the nomination. His superdelegate count was still down by 78, a significant number. Since then, a change in the wind has moved things around because today, Clinton's superdelegate lead of 78 is now down to only eight. Not including Florida and Michigan, there are 795 superdelegates being tallied in the democratic primaries, meaning 277 superdelegates have remained undecided... and Obama is within only 189 delegates of winning the nomination.

On May 1st, longtime Clinton ally and Superdelegate John Andrew defected to Obama. As he switched flag colors, he loudly explained why:
At a news conference Thursday, Andrew said Clinton's support for a federal gas-tax holiday over the summer was symbolic of a poll-driven candidacy proposing something "politically expedient to give a quick pander to Hoosier voters," in contrast to what he called the "principled" campaign Obama has run. Link.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair became frustrated with Bill Clinton because he felt he could never get Clinton to commit to anything, and was relieved when George Bush was elected because when Bush said he would do something, he always followed through. So it seems there was a valid reason why Bill Clinton earned the term, "Slick Willy".

Can we really expect Hillary to be radically different than the man she married?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Stop complaining

In the United Kingdom, gas goes for $8.38/gallon and in Boznia-Herzegovina, it's $10.86/gallon—so keep in mind that the U.S. is ranked 111th for the most expensive gas. You might want to read what I wrote about oil prices two and a half years ago... because things could a hell of a lot worse.

Full article about U.S. gas prices here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iron Man: 94% Tomatometer!

Thanks to Josh for bringing the Rotten Tomatoes review to my attention:

I credit Downey and Favreau. Can't wait to see it!!

And while we're on the topic, here's a look at the real Iron Man:

Friday, May 02, 2008

Big Dog: Inching towards The Singularity

Over the years, footage has surfaced showing robotic quadpeds stumbling along and bumping into a wall and falling over. However, "Big Dog"—developed by Boston Dynamics and funded by DARPA—is the deft descendent of those clumsy machines. Wait for the big finish:

Dave first told me about The Singularity about a year ago, noting that his brother was the real enthusiast. We all know about The Singularity because we've all seen The Matrix and The Terminator—it's the point when machines become smart enough to replicate themselves... and improve upon their own design.

Wiki's entry on Technological Singularity says:
The technological singularity is a hypothesized point in the future variously characterized by the technological creation of self-improving intelligence, unprecedentedly rapid technological progress, or some combination of the two. Statistician I. J. Good first wrote of an "intelligence explosion", suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. Link.

Of course, films like The Matrix like to paint a grim view of The Singularity, but that's how Hollywood ups the stakes to make good drama. In real life, it's possible the coming Singularity could be more benevolent than that.

It's hard to imagine how anyone can think The Singularity won't happen since a review of technological and evolutionary trends points to no other conclusion, especially when you plot the data with a log function:

The Big Question is when. As the expression goes, you can teach a horse to sing, but you need a million years to do it. The Singularity might happen within my lifetime, but it almost certainly will happen within my daughter's lifetime. The more pressing question is, can one of these Big Dog mules bring me my beer without spilling it?