Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for June 2011

I think of myself as an early adopter.  I was quick to embrace the debit card.  There’s been a computer in my house since 1980.  If it weren’t for Skype, I might never “see” friends and family from whom I am many miles distant.

Technology doesn’t frighten me.  But, like anything else, I want to know that new devices and programs will move my life forward in some way.  LinkedIn was a no-brainer.  I began ‘Connect’-ing almost from the start.  But there were already four hundred million ‘Friends’ using Facebook before I became convinced that I needed to be among them.  Blog writing?  Who cares what I have to say?  As it turns out, lots.

There’s always something new.  “Cloud Computing is gonna be huge.”  I’ve heard this many times.  But I have yet to hear with clarity how Cloud Computing is different from the many ways I already conduct business on the internet, so I remain on the sidelines.  I’ve dipped my toes into BranchOut, a Facebook app, because I think it has potential.  There’ll be no diving into these shallow waters just yet.

Rupert Murdock’s lone failure, MySpace, was sold today for a paltry $35M.  Presumably its new owners will tempt me into their space.  about.me is new to me.  It’s a social media aggregator.  Do I need that?  And Facebook has new competition from Google+.  I’m all over the internet right now.  Do I need to be even more all over the internet?

An then there’s Twitter.  This is like texting, but less.  140 characters is all you get for the delivery of your message.  What did you eat for breakfast?  Inquiring minds want to know.  You’re enjoying the day at the beach?  I’m jealous.  You just picked broccoli from between your teeth?  Fascinating.

Twitter didn’t make sense to me.  Why would hundreds, thousands, even millions of ‘Follow’-ers care about your dumb boss?  Why would anyone need to know that your flight was late?  And we don’t even want to talk about (insert your own Anthony Weiner joke here).

The 2008 general election initiated a change in my perceptions.  Then-candidate Barack Obama used Twitter as a pillar in his media strategy.  His messages were personal; purposeful.  A rising star was he, and future constituents flocked to sign up to receive his “Tweets.”  This minimalist approach to campaigning was arguably among the assets that won him the election.  Now you can’t find a campaigner — or a sitting politician at any level — who’s PR office isn’t pushing out several Tweets a day in the name of the politico.

Twitter launched only five years ago and has since amassed over 200 million users who produce about that many Tweets each day.  Adults, not kids, are into it.  Companies regard it as an essential component of their marketing strategies.  Governments use it to get important information into your hands.  News entities are sending urgent headlines with it.  Organizations are using it to advocate for their causes.  Professional groups use it to seek solutions.  Revolutionaries use it to organize the overthrow of their crooked governments.  Ne’er-do-well’s use it to instigate “flash mobs.”

Twitter has found a number of both broad and targeted purposes, and I am finally convinced that I should take my place in it.  Already I’m confused, though.  There are Twits with my name in Brazil, the Netherlands, the U.K., and in Utah.  For lack of a more creative handle, then, I will call myself  @fredmarx52.

So, what shall I Tweet?

  • I will tweet messages that strengthen my personal “brand.”
  • I will tweet alerts to new blog posts.
  • I will tweet my joy at becoming a grandfather this October.
  • I may tweet what I served The Princess for breakfast in bed.

And who shall I Follow?  It’s early yet.

  • I will follow my son, Jeremy, the SQL expert.
  • I will follow my old friend, Mack.
  • I just heard that the Pope Tweets.  Maybe I’ll Follow him.
  • I will figure out who and how many others interest me as much.

At a social media seminar yesterday, I noted that Facebook has a number of ways in which a user can manage that beast so as to not be consumed by it.  Then I asked the seminar’s speaker, Angel Guerrero, what controls Twitter had to prevent the user from being overwhelmed.

“Turn it off,” he said.

I’m picking sides on this one.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) picked up his marbles today and went home.  For all the world, it seemed like the ultimate childish play.  Perhaps so.  But the stakes are much higher, and there’s a stench of intra-party intrigue.  I’ll tell you the punchline right now: this maneuver was all about improving Cantor’s already-strong profile with the ultra-conservative right wing of the Republican Party, and weakening the power of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.  The political result could be a Grand Old Party lying in pieces on the Capitol floor.  Worse still, the interests of Americans will not be served at all.  Only Cantor’s.

Here’s what happened: Vice President Joe Biden — on direct orders from a ‘tax-and-spend’ Democratic President, Barack Obama — has been leading negotiations with top political leaders from both sides.  The purpose is to find ways to cut spending.

Democrats want to eliminate the tax breaks being given to special interests, heavy industry, and the wealthiest individuals who least need the favors.  Republicans are saying that this amounts to a tax increase; a tactic they will not brook on its face.  Both mantras sound lovely to the party faithful of both sides until you listen more closely.  These favors are draining the American tax base and have no benefit for the working- and middle-classes who make up better than 75% of America’s citizens.

Here again is a case where unfiltered numbers are hard to find.  In March, the Center for American Progress, a progressive (“radical-left”) non-profit, developed what I believe to be an unfiltered graph.  All the big numbers start with “billion” except for the last.If you jumped right away to the bottom (and who could blame you), that big circled number is $1.1Trillion.  That’s already HALF of what the Biden commission is trying to achieve.

Mr. Cantor’s reasons for ditching today’s talks?  1) “[T]he Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases.”  I think we’ve pretty well identified this argument as disingenuous at least, and as an outright lie at most.  2) President Obama isn’t involved enough.  Really?  You want the president to toss the enormity of his responsibilities to hold your hand?  His vice president isn’t involved enough for you?  Does the president’s lack of involvement mean that you (Cantor) can justify removing yourself from any involvement?

Which brings us to the spectre of political intrigue.  The narration of today’s events will now turn from the merely gut-churning to the downright gory.

One has to ask why Mr. Cantor would be so willing to stage such political theater.  There are two answers.  First, it increases his perceived value to the deep-pocketed Tea Party, and second, it steals power from the slightly-less-extreme Republican House Speaker, John Boehner.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)

How?  If Cantor won’t touch this less-than-Tea Party-standard deal, Boehner would be forced into a position of cutting it himself.  This means that Boehner would have to make the tough decisions, even the concessions, necessary to get the job done.  Having done so, his name would be sullied, not Cantor’s.  Boehner comes out weakened to the point of – perhaps – losing his leadership.  Cantor comes out strong.  He held high the extreme-right brand.

Above all else.

Representative Eric Cantor represents Eric Cantor here.  He takes an aggressive role in the destruction of his own Republican Party thereby weakening our form of government.  He plays a game where the only winner is Eric Cantor.

The loser is the American people.

While the Air Force was good to me for six years in reality, it wasn’t very good to the people of fictional heavy-industry town Lillian Ohio.  Whereas lore has its Area 51, Lillian has its Building 47.  And that, in a nutshell, is what this movie’s about.  But before you turn away from the ticket booth…

Super 8 is more about storytelling — both from the point-of-view of child protagonists, and from that of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams (Producer and Director/Writer, respectively).  These names should give you a sense for how the story plays out.

It’s 1979, and Cold War fears are ever-present for the grownups.  You’ve got a bunch of ordinary kids ranging from gawkish to brainiac to pyromaniac.  Super 8‘s story arc takes them from normal to victim to problem-solver, each using his particular assets to save the day.  In a theater populated entirely by adults, it was interesting to see how we empathized with these kids and rooted for them to come out okay.  All they want to do, after all, is make a zombie movie.  They’ve written a script, got credible makeup, picked an apt location and set the shoot for midnight.

Then disaster strikes.  It surrounds and endangers our young friends and, ultimately, their entire town.  And they’ve got it all on film.  The story percolates for a while before their footage is viewed in what was the most cinematically creative scene of the entire movie.  Until that point, we learn more about the characters, and of the flaws of the adults with whom they live.  It’s all good.  It’s pure Spielberg.

The Air Force plays its heavy hand and we think that they’re the bad guys.  Then we learn about what they’re so intent on keeping secret, and for a while, we think that ‘the secret’ is the bad guys.  Of course, ‘the secret’ is merely misunderstood, and we learn to sympathize with it.  That leaves just the Air Force looking like jerks.  Through it all, havoc ensues.

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney

The young cast’s performances ring true in every way.  The only name you might recognize is that of Dakota Fanning’s little sister, Elle.  Here is an actress who is convincing both as an attitudinal teenager and as a melodramatic heroin in the movie the group is trying to produce.  The contrast between these two roles is stunning and wonderful.  You’ll think of her as you once thought of her sister: ‘this girl’s going to be huge.’

Riley Griffiths

Two of the boys deserve mention.  Joel Courtney is the male lead and the character we most want to hug.  He’s also the guy who bravely leads his friends through the toughest scenes in acts two and three.  And Riley Griffiths is a convincing young film director.  He really knows his craft, building props, capturing images and coaching good performances from his actors.  He’s also a hoot-and-a-half to watch.

The adults of Lillian Ohio are not played like the boob-ish stereotypes used in the early Spielberg movies.  These are real people facing personal challenges and a massive disaster.  Kyle Chandler is the standout here.  He’s the deputy with a tough edge, an impossible job, and a son imperiled amidst the mayhem.

Super 8 tries awfully hard to be another E.T. or Close Encounters.  Maybe if I were 14, I’d say this goal was achieved.  But for me, what this movie is missing – that its forbears had – is heart.  Whereas we like the characters here, we loved Elliot and E.T.

Certainly, Super 8 deserves a place on the top shelf for special effects and character development.  Of the former, only a too-often-used blue laser lens-flare effect merits criticism.  Of the latter, there’s plenty to compliment.  But I’m not 14, so I’ll put this movie on the shelf just below the Spielberg epics.

And what about the movie’s namesake?  This now-extinct film technology looks a bit like an old Charlie Chaplin movie, but in color.  We get to see the kids’ movie in its entirety during the closing credits.  It’s worth staying to watch.

I give Super 8 3 tumbling train cars (out of 4).  It has a big budget and lots of buzz.  It’ll probably win a technical Emmy or two.  You should see it in a good theater (2-D or IMAX), but you don’t need to see it when the lines are long on opening weekend.

There are things in life that you automatically know to be suspicious of: product claims in television commercials; the fine print in a contract; the earnest assertion of a child who’s hiding the candy behind his back…to name but a few.

Politics is a passion for me and I spend a fair amount of time studying the subject.  I’ve learned not to get my dander up over the vast majority of the machinations of our body(s) politic.  There’s hardly anything new under the sun, after all.  But one thing still manages to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck: the mis/use of facts.  Or, more to the point, lies.

Palin aboard the "One Nation Tour" bus Photo credit: FoxNews

We could talk about global warming or about the president’s place of birth.  But I am presently thinking about the economy.  My blood is boiling because Sarah Palin told Fox‘s Greta VanSusteren on Tuesday that President Obama has increased the national debt by more than “all other presidents combined.”  It’s an old canard kept alive by, well, liars.

Facts, even those involving hard numbers, are vulnerable to interpretation.  We are bombarded daily by facts.  There are so many of them.  The cacophony muddies them.  We become confused by them.  We don’t like being weakened by confusion, so we shut them out entirely.  Or, perhaps worse, we select only those facts that amplify our personal perceptions or strongly-held beliefs.

So when Ms. Palin cites the “facts” as she chooses to see them, and Ms. VanSusteren fails to perform her journalistic duty by challenging them, the faithful are being fed their chosen poison.  That’s fine…it’s a free country.

But lies are lies.

It took Google 0.09 seconds to show me the truth.  On inauguration day, President Obama inherited a $10.6Trillion dollar debt from the previous administration.  In the past two-and-a-half years, the debt has been increased by $3.7Trillion mostly resulting from Bush-era policies and some (e.g. the Afghan War; 2009 Recovery Act) adopted or initiated (respectively) by the current administration.

No matter how you choose to interpret those facts, a school child can see that Palin’s assertion is easily $7Trillion wrong.

It’s darned near impossible to find honest, unvarnished information because it’s buried so deeply beneath the noisy informational garbage with which we’re being pummeled.  So what is the truth about our national debt?  Using data from the Congressional Budget Office, the non-profit, non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities developed this graph:

This study’s analysts conclude that:

[S]imply letting the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule (or paying for any portions that policymakers decide to extend) would stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio for the next decade.   While we’d have to do much more to keep the debt stable over the longer run, that would be a huge accomplishment.

This blog post is not a criticism of Sarah Palin.  She’s far too easy a target.  There are clowns aplenty  — on both sides of the aisle — who play the same game.  No, this post is an exhortation: It is incumbent upon us, the citizens of a country we profess to love, to learn the truth and to vote accordingly.


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