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Windmills and Lances

confessions of a quixotic unicorn fanatic

A Little Budgetary Math for Ya
roycalbeck
If Democrats can't sign onto as much as $40B in cuts, the only way we're going to get rid of our $1.4T deficit is to massively raise taxes. For those of you who can actually do math and look up basic budget figures --- without finagling --- you know that this can't possibly be limited to "the rich".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_United_States_federal_budget
"Total requested spending is $3.83 trillion.The CBO projects total revenues of $2.228 trillion"

That's $1.6T further into the hole.

And just increasing tax on the rich won't help:
http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html
"The top-earning 5 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $159,619)...paid approximately 58.7 percent of federal individual income taxes." Note that this is from when Bush and his tax cuts (for the rich, remember?) were in full swing and we WEREN'T in an economic nosedive quite yet.

So what happens if we, say, DOUBLE taxes on the top 5 percent?

Two things: first, they'll do what they did before when upper-scale taxes were so high. They'll take their money and put it into accounts and businesses outside US authority, because they'll save a lot of money that way, and because they CAN. That money won't be taxable in the US because it won't even be in US dollars or American companies. Second, as American capital flees the tax hikes, the economy will run out of fuel and nosedive, reducing revenues even further.

Since the rich pay a little less than 59% of federal income tax as it is, doubling their tax means we'll have 159% of the total revenues, right? Nope. Income tax provides less than half our national revenue. Social Security taxes and payroll taxes make up most of the rest. And the rich business owners have to pay a share of both of those, too.

http://econperspectives.blogspot.com/2009/10/us-federal-government-revenues-by.html

Doubling income taxes on the rich wouldn't even raise total federal revenues by so much as 25%. You could raise their taxes to 100%, wiping them out entirely, and you STILL wouldn't cover the deficit.

So, since the Democrats don't want to cut programs, expect YOUR taxes to go up no matter WHAT happens to all those fat cats we all love to hate.

NetFlix Review: "Six String Samurai"
roycalbeck
I'm a big post-apocalypse buff, have been for a long time. This extends to such ludicrous offerings as (the original) Planet of the Apes and the various Fallout games, so my tastes in this regard don't actually eschew a certain amount of silliness and style in the name of a story.

Problem is, Six-String Samurai (or SSS, or Triple-S, if you prefer) actually SUBSTITUTES silliness and style for story, so it suffers. Also, alliteration agony hereby achieved.

The basic plot itself is silly, but not the worst I've ever heard: the US and USSR had a nuclear war in 1957 and the last bastion of semi-civilization left is Lost Vegas, which for some reason made Elvis Presley its literal King. With Presley's death, the search is on for a replacement.

Enter our anti-hero: one of the many guitar-slinging fortune-seekers heading to Vegas, in hopes of proving themselves worthy to be the new King. For the extra rub-in pun, he looks quite a bit like Elvis Costello. As he makes his way across the tattered landscapes of the American Southwest, the Six-String Samurai does battle with barbarians and theme-costumed-gangsters along the way. He also managed to pick up the one kid in the entire world who for the most part can't speak intelligibly, instead having an annoyingly-pitched cross between whine and howl.

This is where the movie starts to break down under its own baggage.

In fairness, "Mad Max" also had themed road gangs, but they actually looked somewhat convincing in their own way. They had a given style and worked to advance it. Not so in Triple-S, where very little of the style works because there's just not much thought put into it. For example, a gang of Neanderthals has a working truck --- if barely working --- rigged with gear that if it were brightly colored would like like something out of a Sid & Marty Kroft production. Kind of like "The Post-Apocalypse Bugaloos".

And none of this kit is the least bit useful, either, with things like a catapult throwing gumballs and bumper-mounted sawblades that just fold up under even a low-speed impact. I'm sorry, but to survive as a marauder after the Bomb drops, you have to have weapons that are at least SOMEWHAT useful or at least convincing. Otherwise you're just going to be killed rather quickly by another bunch of marauders with actually-functional kit.

I suppose maybe it's supposed to be funny, and maybe it would be, if it weren't so blaringly obvious that one in the film takes their situation seriously either. Not the main characters, not the supporting cast, not even the extras. Everyone is a comic-book caricature of themselves. You know how when a comedian is constantly making bad puns and then following up with "gettit? GET IT?!" right after, they're not good at what they do? The actors in this film do that nigh-constantly, with the annoying kid presenting the only semblance of seriousness out of the entire lot.

That just doesn't work for me. Yet, this film was highly recommended by people I otherwise consider to have strong chops for moviegoing taste.

Forty minutes in, the only characters I actually found interesting were the main villain and the on-air radio voice of Wolfman Jack. Death and his cohorts I found at least somewhat engaging and believeable, as they roamed the wasteland killing off various pretenders to the throne.

Really, this movie is a comic-book --- without the budget, acting, and directing skills necessary to make a comic-book movie NOT SUCK.

Admittedly, that's hard to do. One can very easily visualize the set pieces in this film as panels from a comic book, and maybe that's how it was pitched to the producers, but comics can make for much more colorful and dynamic action than is possible in real life. You have to invest in post-production, special effects, and a good director to make that sensibility pop out in a film, where otherwise the simple realities of physics, light diffusion and everyday drabness will inevitably bleed away what made the storyboard concept so engaging to start with.

Although initially intrigued by the backstory given in the opening narrative scroll, I likewise found that sense bleeding away as well, because none of it was built upon by anything that appeared or occurred in the film. I did not get a sense that the world had ended in 1957, or that any but a few of its survivors had developed since then in any fashion, except to become parodies of themselves.

Top this off with various scenes which are literally non-sequiturs --- they have nothing to do with the story and often take place in media res, such as when we cut to a scene where a midget who appeared earlier in the film is suspended in midair by the wrists.

There is absolutely no reason he should be there. He has no connection to the main or even secondary characters. He makes enemies with no one. We never see how he got strung up, never learn a motive for why someone would do that to him. Why did the producers even waste the film and time to shoot the scene?

A great example of poor direction is how in one long battle scene, the archers who otherwise never seem to miss their marks CAN'T HIT A GUY EVEN WHEN HE'S STANDING STILL. Which would be bad enough, and isn't itself the mark of a bad director, except that it's immediately followed by a sequence where the same guy is going through acrobatics to dodge another series of arrows from the same archers in order to retrieve his sword.

The director should have cut the first part, at least the bit with the man standing still, because the effect was to destroy any sense of peril during the acrobatics. Why should this guy even BOTHER with the leaping, rolling, spinning and dodging when it's been strongly established not thirty seconds ago that he could just stroll over and pick up his sword with the same lack of risk?

The end result is a movie that's more about being pretentiously artsy than being about a post-apoc gallivant. If you took "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and did nothing more than set it after a nuclear holocaust, you'd...hm.

I think you'd actually have a much better movie.

NetFlix Review: "The Hurt Locker" (HEAVY SPOILERAGE)
roycalbeck
The movie opens, with stentorian bass, on a quote:

"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug --- Chris Hedges"

As a Gulf War veteran, and as a person generally given to logical dissection of most things he hears on a daily basis, I found myself pausing the movie not thirty seconds in. The quote struck me as poetic, but claiming a truth based on logical fallacies which I could swear I'd heard before. And the whole movie was kicking off with it.

Then I remembered: this is the same essential argument used to attack VIDEO GAMES. It's the same claim that there is a reliance on the "rush of battle" (i.e., adrenaline) to be addictive, that games "train to kill", they "desensitize children to violence", and "are creating a generation of casual murderers". Hedges, here, sounds like a more poetic version of Jack Thompson, the notorious sleazebag lawyer who's spent most of the last two decades trying to sue companies that create video games.

I also had no idea who Chris Hedges was, so I wiki'ed his name. And that was an eye-opener.

One of the earliest anti-war activists, he used his pulpit at the New York Times to castigate the rest of the press for what he considered "cheerleading" in FAVOR of the Iraq War. He quit his post after being reprimanded...apparently for being delusional? Because I never heard any member of the press talking about how wonderful the war was. To the contrary, some reporters in the actual war zone got caught fabricating anti-US claims and lost their jobs over it.

Hedges also identified himself in a 2008 column as a "socialist" in contrast to what he sees as "ruthless totalitarian capitalism." Does the guy have any idea what the terms "ruthless" and "totalitarian" mean? This nutter's also authored a number of books...such as "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" and "Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians".

Seriously? No, SERIOUSLY?

Was he high when he wrote that? It makes me wonder what the guy thinks about the Second World War, when we were in fact deliberately carpet-bombing civilians (following in the footsteps of the RAF) in order to "de-house the industrial working population" and other such euphemisms. And when we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does Hedges think that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were heading up "America's War Against German and Japanese Civilians"?

* * * * *

Wow. All that from just the opening quote.

But now I think I have a very good idea of the take this movie is meant to project, and the reason it won Oscars from the folks in Hollywood.

Let's move on, shall we?

* * * * *

We open onto Baghdad, 2004: an American Explosive Ordnance Detachment group has found a 155mm artillery shell stuffed by insurgents into a load of garbage. The area is cordoned off and secured by other American units, the shell is examined and prepped for a controlled detonation, and then deliberately stupid things start to happen.

First a wheel comes off the wagon the remote-controlled robot is wheeling over to the bomb site. The staff sergeant in charge suits up in full bomb kit, walks out to the disabled cart and picks it up. Does he take the cart and wheel back to the safety zone so they can be fixed?

NO, HE DECIDES TO CARRY THE WAGON OVER TO THE ARTILLERY SHELL AND BEGINS MANUALLY SETTING UP THE CHARGES.

There is absolutely no real reason for this. After putting the wagon down near the shell, his job in the blast zone is DONE. They have a robot on site. The whole point of the wagon was to carry the charges so the robot could then place them, instead of endangering a human being. The whole scene is a setup to kill someone through sheer stupidity.

And of course, when the bomb is inevitably detonated, it's by a guy who simply argued his way through the cordon with a cell phone, and when spotted, the two guys who are supposed to be covering their buddy out by the bomb itself just start yelling and running at the guy with the phone.

Giving him plenty of time to key in the number and set it off.

*facepalms*

There is absolutely nothing these guys did right...so of course their buddy dies, it's gruesome and tragic and the tone of the movie is set as presenting this sort of thing being "just another day in Iraq".

* * * * *

We then get to see the idiot staff sergeant's replacement: a guy whose first move on arrival is to take down anti-shrapnel coverings over the window so he can have some sunshine...and his argument is that "it won't stop a mortar round coming through the roof". Well no shit, Sherlock, and what're the odds of a direct hit by a mortar, as opposed to a near-miss which that covering is there to stop?

What a dumb-ass. I don't know this guy's name or rank yet, and I think he's an idiot replacing an idiot.

Very next scene, we've got another guy calling Humvees and APCs "tanks" (an insult to both the infantry that ride 'em, and the tankers who actually HAVE tanks, none of which are in the shot), and smartassing about how they'll be great to have "in case the Russians come, we can have a big tank battle". He bitches about how useless they are, and that "pretty much, if you're in Iraq, you're dead". Then smartasses about how he's "just trying to scare the new guy".

Same scene, in packed Baghdad traffic, the car ahead isn't moving fast enough (mainly because there's no place for the car ahead to GO), so the same guy throws a water bottle at it and yells at the locals. Apparently this took three tries to get right: there are three water-bottle impact marks in the dust on the car's rear window.

We're also given a countdown about how it's just 38 days until their outfit, Bravo Company, rotates out of Iraq.

* * * * *

Okay, so, not ten minutes into the film and we have a stupid death, a new guy who blows off basic safety in favor of sunshine, another moron who like to get rises out of his own team-mates and throws things at civilians, and Stock Foreshadowing 101.

So far, I'm very much unimpressed.

* * * * *

The stupid keeps rolling: this crew of four, alone in a Humvee, are to rendevous with another outfit that called something in. They reach the location, no one's there --- so of course they all bail out of the Humvee and stand around, one of them even taking a smoke break. They double-check the coordinates, it's correct, so they move down a little and quickly find the other team's Humvee --- with no one around, and no one responding to shouts of "friendly!".

Eventually, someone sticks a little American flag out of a door and waves it. No verbal response, just waving the flag --- and it turns out there are easily twice as many American soldiers hiding in that area as could possibly have fit in the one abandoned Humvee. They point to where a suspected Improvised Explosive Device is under a pile of rubble, and Mr. New Guy waves off the robot in order to go look himself.

So far Sanborn, the black guy in charge of this squad --- apparently the only black guy in the entire movie so far --- is also the only smart one. He points out when people are talking and acting stupid, and yet no one really listens to him despite his obvious seniority and experience.

So Mr. New Guy pops smoke "as a distraction" (all it ends up doing is cutting off visibility between his support and himself), blows off radio cues, ignores his squad leader, and just meanders on up towards where the bomb is supposed to be.

More idiocy: there's another Humvee with a squad blocking off traffic, but they're so close to the suspected bomb that if it goes off and it's a big one, they're probably dead. They're also useless at their job; a taxi driver runs the blockade easily and stops only just short of running over Mr. New Guy in his bomb squad armor. The aforementioned smoke is doing nothing but making it harder for Mr. New Guy's support, up the block, to even see what's going on and provide cover for him.

There's a standoff for a good couple of minutes while the soldiers shout at the driver, Mr. New Guy is pointing a pistol at him (even firing several warning shots), and he just SITS there. It's literally not until his windshield has been shot out and then the pistol is pressed to his forehead that he decides to back up.

"If he wasn't an insurgent, he sure is now." Yeah, I can see where Al Qaeda would want to recruit a guy who runs armed checkpoints and faces down warning shots without breaking a sweat. Definite suicide-bomber material...maybe he was auditioning for someone with a pair of binoculars. In any case, not an innocent bystanding civilian.

So yes, it turns out to be another 155mm artillery round, and Mr. New Guy simply gets on his belly and starts digging it out, fiddling with the wires, absolutely everything you NEVER do with an IED. Just digging it out: the thing could be sitting on a grenade with the pin pulled. Lift, BOOM. Classic old-style boobytrap.

* * * * *

Just had a conversation with my roomie, who's seen this before --- and he tells me that the rest of the film is Mr. New Guy hotdogging his way through the whole thing.

Okay. I don't need to see that.

Back to NetFlix it goes.

Another of the Furry Greats Passes...J.P. Morgan
Eh?
roycalbeck
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/app/obituary.aspx?n=john-patrick-morgan&pid=147523267

Creator of "Fission Chicken" (http://www.fissionchicken.com/), John Patrick Morgan was one of the earliest contributors to Furry Fandom's lineup of comics and art.

During the Black-and-White Comics Boom of the '80s, the runaway success of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" paved the way for anthropomorphic comic books and this very fandom was born. It had existed for some time as a very small underground phenomenon, but the larger medium of comic books catapulted cartoonists willing to hop on board into the limelight, and John was one of those. His "Sixties Underground" style gave his work a borderline psychadelic quality, contrasting humorously with the title character's hardnosed attitude.

The Chicken of Wrath appeared in anthropomorphic anthology comics such as Fantagraphics' "Critters", as well as legendary fanzines like "Rowrbrazzle", where John rubbed shoulders with the likes of Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo) and a great many of the talents who made up early Furry Fandom. Eventually "Fission Chicken" became its own actual comic book and later an online webcomic (linked above).

With a keen wit and quirky styles of both writing and art, "J.P." will be greatly missed by those who knew him and had the good fortune to enjoy his work. He was a gift to us all...as was his final work, "Armageddon Creeped Out", which he completed and posted to his site just days before he passed.

Check it out. It's well worth reading, and he'd be happy to know that even now he's gone, his work continues to entertain.

Olbermann's Last Night Reverts to "Toxic Rhetoric"
roycalbeck
Specifically, Keith Olbermann had a guest on, and they discussed the idea of a Republican shutdown of government --- an argument going around for the last month or so, based entirely on the statement of certain Republicans that they would de-fund the health-care bill if the Senate and President Obama do not follow the House's lead in repealing it.

Olbermann's guest immediately likened this to taking a hostage, and then stated that "if you're going to take a hostage, you have to prove you're willing to shoot it".

While this is, of course, merely rhetoric, it's the precise sort of "toxic" language that not two weeks ago Olbermann himself made an impassioned plea for all parties to put aside. Not only did Olbermann say nothing against the "hostage shooting" talk, but he nodded and smiled in agreement.


And so it seems that the gloves are off already --- all over again.

Loughner Cleared for Gun Purchase by Presidential Policy
Eh?
roycalbeck
The Army has just stated why the shooter of Representative Gabrielle Giffords was denied entry: he failed a drug test. This would, normally, have been reported to federal authorities and would have been flagged during Jared Loughner's background check (which he passed). Federal law bans the purchase of firearms for one year after someone fails a drug test.

But a presidential memo from William Jefferson Clinton, put in place by then-Attorney General Janet Reno, prohibited the military from reporting certain drug abusers to the FBI. The policy told federal agencies not to report people who had voluntarily given drug tests for fear it would deter them from seeking treatment, federal officials said.

Similarly, Loughner's 2007 arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia was not reported by the state to the NICS, because the charge was dismissed after he entered a drug-diversion program.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/18/AR2011011806555.html

Arizona Killer Confirmed: Pot-Smoking Conspiracy Nut
The Crusader
roycalbeck
Police say the shooter was in custody, and was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner...The suspect's exact motivation was not clear, but a former classmate described Loughner as a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world..."I know who's listening: Government Officials, and the People," Loughner wrote. "Nearly all the people, who don't know this accurate information of a new currency, aren't aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn't have happen (sic)."

High school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, said Loughner seemed to be "floating through life"..."Sometimes religion was brought up or drugs. He smoked pot, I don't know how regularly. And he wasn't too keen on religion from what I could tell," Wiens said.

* * *

Oh hey look. A conspiracy nut who smokes pot, hates religion, and believes that mind control and brainwashing were used to suppress his "civil rights". Nonetheless, folks with a political axe to grind had already declared him a "teabagger" before his name or background was known, and they seem to be sticking to that talking point.

He also lists, on his Youtube page, "The Communist Manifesto" as a favorite book.

EDIT: New info...he "smoked marijuana everyday...Mistrust of government was his defining conviction...He believed the government was behind 9/11"

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110110/ap_on_re_us/us_congresswoman_shot_gunman_11

Ladies and gentlemen...we have a Truther.

EDITEDIT: Confirmed that he was NOT a registered Democrat, but independent, and did not vote in the last election. This from state records.

ZonieCon Has Its Own LJ!
roycalbeck
http://community.livejournal.com/zoniecon/

New info already there, and more as it becomes available!

ZonieCon Update! Hotel Proposal: Block Agreement
roycalbeck
Here's the full details of the Block Agreement. Note that a list of guest amenities is included.

RESERVATION BOOKING PROCEDURE
Individual guest calling for own reservation must guarantee with their own credit card or advance deposit of 1st nights room & tax by cut-off date (one month in advance).

BILLING METHOD
Individual guest responsible for room & tax and incidental charges

COMPLIMENTARY POLICY
Rate includes a full Healthy Hot Breakfast Buffet, a Daily Social Hour (NOTE: includes two free alcoholic drinks, i.e., beer and such), Free bottle of water, Free Internet and WiFi, Free Airport Shuttle, and Free 800 and Local Calls. (NOTE: We have been informed that in the event of high demand, airport shuttle pick-up or drop-off may require up to two hours, guests are requested to plan ahead for this possibility)

CANCELLATION POLICY
* Individual Rooms
72-hour cancellation of individual room reservation prior to arrival date is without penalty. Cancellation within 72-hours is subject to one night charge.

* Group Block
30 days prior to arrival date cancellation of group reservation without penalty. Group cancellation with less than 30 days notice forfeits all deposits.

GROUP BOOKING POLICY
* ROOM RATES: All rates quoted are based upon the group’s sleeping room requirements as outlined in the Confirmed Booking Agreement. At the hotel’s discretion, the original group room rates may be renegotiated if a negative variance of more than 20% (from the rooms originally booked) occurs.

* DEPOSIT/PAYMENT: The specific deposit and payment terms are outlined in the contract. It is understood that all payments must be made in U.S. dollars. If any portions of the charges are to billed, prior credit approval must be obtained from the Hotel.

* DIRECT BILLING: Unless prior Direct Billing has been established a Credit Application must be completed and submitted no later than 45 days prior to arrival. Direct Billing is subject to hotel approval. It is understood that the Group Rooms Booking Agreement remains tentative until the finalization of credit approval. Should Direct Billing be denied, a deposit may be required to confirm booking agreement.

* Each group member prior to departure must pay all incidental charges from the hotel.

* HOTEL ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES: During periods of high occupancy, group rooms may not be available upon arrival. Rooms will be made available for group check-in as soon as possible.

* Standard check-in time is 3:00 pm and Standard checkout time is 12:00 noon.

* EXTRA PERSONS, CRIBS: There is no charge for children 12 years of age or younger, providing they share the same room with their parent(s) with existing bedding. There is an additional charge per person for more than double occupancy in a room. Cribs are provided at no extra charge (NOTE: This appears to be at variance with what I was told on-site --- that there was no specific limit on occupancy, or extra charges --- but then again, the room rates quoted at that time were $20/nite higher, too, and $69/nite is pretty damn cheap as it is).

* The Hotel shall not be liable for non-performance of this contract when such non-performance is attributable to labor troubles, disputes, or strikes, accidents, government (Federal, State, and Municipal) regulations of, or restrictions upon travel, or transportation, non-availability of food, beverage, or supplies, riots, national emergencies, acts of God and other causes whether enumerated herein or not, which are beyond the reasonable control of the Hotel, preventing or interfering with the Hotel’s performance.

ZonieCon Update! Hotel Proposal: Event Summary
roycalbeck
Yeah, they misspelled our name. I'll get that changed ASAP.

All the expenses are listed here. It's in spitting distance of $3500, which is about $500 over what our gracious benefactor is able to cover. The rest of us will have to cover the difference, which fortunately isn't much and we've got most of a year to come up with it. Shouldn't be a problem, and if anyone has any, let me know ASAP.

If we want to lock this in, we need to pony up the $500 deposit. Note that a second entry follows this one, with the Block Agreement itself. Con staffers, please read over ALL details before pitching in with a yea or nay, and if it's nay, tell me what you think needs to be changed.

EVENT SUMMARY
ZonieCon - Arrival 09/30/11 – Departure 10/02/11 (2) Night Stay (3) Day Meeting Room

Room Accommodations:
* (50) Rooms 2 Nights - Each Night Stay @ $69.00 Studio King or Studio QQ – Upgrade to Two Room Suite @ $89.00 * Presidential Jacuzzi Suite @ $99.00 – Based on Availability
* Room rate does not include room tax currently at 13.05% or $2.00 city tax

Meeting Rooms:
* Copper Ballroom with Stage – with the Option to Extend into the (Silver Ballroom – [60] DAYS Prior Notice Based on Availability * HTCC Will Advise Status)
* Buckley Room
* The Mission & Pershing Hospitality Suites – Bottom Floor of Tower.

COST:
Meeting Space *$800.00 X 3 = 2,400++ – Set up Fee – Copper Ballroom $100 – Buckley $50.00 – Mission & Pershing $100.00 * TOTAL = 2,650.00 +Tax @ 9.1% = 241.15 + Gratuity @ 20% - 530.00

* Grand Inclusive Total =$ 3,421.15
* DEPOSIT REQUIREMENT $500.00 ASAP to Secure Reservation
* Balance Due 30 Days Prior to Event