Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"Collusion Isn't A Crime"

The Trump administration has now informed us of a new explanation regarding the ongoing question of whether the President colluded with Russia during the campaign to get Trump elected.

"I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime."
Rudy Giuliani, Fox & Friends, July 30, 2018

This is an idea that has been floated before and a very dangerous one.  Fox news host Neil Jarrett presented this idea just a couple of months ago.  You can even find a log of the developing nature of this idea.

It's a game of semantics.  That because there is no specific crime that mentions the exact word "collusion," the action itself is not criminal.   It looks past the actions and just to the words themselves.  And you have to, because if you look at the actions, the actions could be a crime under several different legal theories.  They could violate the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which makes foreign nationals spending money to influence a federal election and any action by a United States citizen to coordinate, conspire or assist in that spending, a crime.  The actions could violate the laws against fraud, which makes it a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to deprive another of the intagible right of honest services - including an honest election.  It could fall as a crime under laws against public corruption or the general anti-coercion federal election law.  Even if you look just at synonyms of collusion, you get conspiracy which is a crime.  It may not be treason, but it is very likely still a crime.

And beyond treason or a crime, collusion could very likely still fall under the "high crimes and misdemeanors" portion of impeachable offenses.  Impeachments for high crimes and misdemeanors have occurred for chronic intoxication, tax evasion, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and making false statements to a grand jury.  The Presidential impeachments for high crimes and misdemeanors have occurred for violation of the tenure act, perjury, and perjury and obstruction of justice.  With President Trump at 3,251 false or misleading claims in just 497 days (as of May 31, 2018 according to the Washington Post), this may be a more pressing concern.

What makes this even more fascinating is the continued development of the Trump administration's answer.  The Washington Post has documented the continued answer, as such:

1. November 2016: No communications happened, period.
Hope Hicks - "It never happened.  There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign."

2. February 2017: There were no communications, "to the best of our knowledge."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders -  "This is a non-story because, to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place."

3. March 2017: There were communications, but no planned meetings with Russians
Donald Trump, Jr. - "Did I meet with people that were Russian?  I'm sure, I'm sure I did. ... But none that were set up.  None that I can think of at the moment.  And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form."

4. July 8, 2017: There was a planned meeting at Trump Tower, but it was "primarily" about adoption and not the campaign
Donald Trump, Jr. - "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up."

5. July 9, 2017: The meeting was planned to discuss the campaign, but the information exchanged wasn't "meaningful."
Donald Trump, Jr. - "No details or supporting information was provided or even offered.  It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."

6. December 2017: Collusion isn't even a crime (our first indication)
President Trump - "There is no collusion, and even if there was, it's not a crime."
Jay Sekulow - "For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated.  There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion.  There is no crime of collusion."

7. May 16, 2018: Even if meaningful information were obtained, it wasn't used.
Rudy Giuliani - "And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn't matter.  And they never used it, is the main thing.  They never used it.  They rejected it.  If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it."

8. May 19, 2018: There was a *second* planned meeting about foreign help in the election, but nothing came of it either.
Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.'s attorney - "They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy.  He was not interested, and that was the end of it."

9. July 16, 2018: Trump couldn't collude, because Trump didn't even know Putin.
President Trump- "There was no collusion.  I didn't know the president.  There was nobody to collude with."

10. July 30, 2018: Collusion isn't a crime, and Trump wasn't physically at the Trump Tower meeting
Rudy Giuliani - "I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime."

I highly recommend the Washington Post article.   Each of the quotes above is sourced, along with other commentary.

When children keep changing the details of their story, we know they are lying and have not yet revealed the full truth.  The trail above reads like a children's story trying to wiggle out of punishment. 

"I wasn't at Johnny's house."
"OK, I was at Johnny's house, but it was only for a couple of minutes."

"OK, I was there for a couple of hours, but we didn't do anything"

"OK, we did play video games, like I was not supposed to but..."

We're now at the equivalent part where the child generally goes "But Billy's parents let him do it".  "I didn't do anything wrong."

I don't know about you, but that never worked for me, and I don't think it is going to work here.  Maybe I'm wrong; after all, I've understood less and less of this as it has gone along.  Or maybe I'm just optimistically naive.  I still don't think this will work.  We have to see past it, right?

At some point, the truth will out?

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Little Blogkeeping

There's nothing like a run down immune system and a compromised toddler to get you sick.  Surprisingly, the toddler not in day care seemed to have brought a cold bug into the house, getting both me and Jamie sick over the weekend.  The toddler in day care has not gotten sick (yet).  As bugs go, I'll take this one over some of the others that have passed through our household, but still, not a fun weekend.   It's always interesting when both mommy and daddy are sick, but at least one child still wants to bounce off the walls.

So, with this sickness, I let yesterday's blog get out with just the link and without the substance.  That has been corrected, and you can read the updated version here.

Further, it pushed today's blog back, which has led to this housekeeping bit this afternoon.  The planned blog for today will probably hit Thursday.   This did provide a bit of fortuitousness, though, as it has let something a bit more topical be used for tomorrow's blog.

Thankfully, I've also gotten to play catch up today, so everything should be continuing a bit more regularly from here on out.

I do want to thank everyone who is continuing to read these.  I truly am humbled that anyone takes the time to read anything I've posted, even as a one off.  That people are reading on a regular basis is just amazing.




Sunday, July 29, 2018

The 50 Greatest Special Effects in Movies of All Time

The AV Club has published a list of the 50 greatest special effects in movies of all time.  This list is a very interesting compilation, with films dating from 1901 through today, and covering a wide variety of types of special effects.  From costuming, makeup, miniatures, and practical effects, to the seamless integration of animation, motion capture, and digital effects.  The movies listed include some of the most iconic movies ever made (The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane) and some of the most obscure (Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, anyone?).  There is a heavy focus on horror, largely because of the advancements in makeup and prosthesis, whether it is an amazing gill-man suit in the Creature from the Black Lagoon, an amazing transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London, or an iconic alien queen in Alien.

The list does include some of my favorite special effects that I've seen. A rocket hitting the face of the man in the moon in A Trip to the Moon.  The tornado in the Wizard of Oz.  Masterwork with miniatures and matte paintings in Star Wars.  The best integration of live-action and animation put to screen in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Dinosaurs that still hold up (better than anything in the following films) in Jurassic Park.  Photoshopping before it was a thing in Forrest Gump.  And a master class in live stunt work in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Special effects are one of the things that truly make movies special.  It's the magic of cinema that keeps audience's marveling "how'd they do that?."  Even in this day and age of overblown special effects laden action films, quality special effect work stands out.  Particularly when something truly looks real.  It is impressive to note that thirty-one of the movies in the list are there for practical effects, and that many of the digital effects in movies like Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Pan's Labyrinth, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were used to enhance practical effects rather than replace them.

The danger is over-saturation.  With nearly every film being CGI filled, it becomes harder to identify certain stellar special effects.  Makeup is a category that can still be easily recognizable and impressive.  Gary Oldman's transformation in Darkest Hour is jaw dropping at times.  He disappeared into the role.  In other areas, the good special effects are designed not to stand out.  They are designed to not draw attention to themselves.  Like the digital recreation of San Francisco in Fincher's Zodiac.  If you did not know, you would never guess how much of the setting was digitally recreated to restore San Francisco to a time period appropriate look.

If anything, bad special effects are much more noticeable today.  It's easy to talk about movies with bad CGI.  Or perhaps, easier to identify films where the special effect is just not quite there yet.  Like the digital anti-aging makeup Marvel is so fond of using, or the digital resurrection Peter Cushing in Rogue One.  They are attempts that are still at that uncanny valley point.  Technology that is so close, but still unnerving, particularly in regard to how the mouth and eyes move.

Looking over the list, I tried to think of the last special effect that really impressed me.  The Shining sequence in Ready Player One is pretty neat.  As mentioned before, Oldman's makeup in Darkest Hour is incredible and the stunt work in Mad Max: Fury Road shows why stuntmen and women are amazing.

I'd love to hear what has impressed you.  What are your favorite special effects of all time?  What did the AV Club miss?  What have you seen recently that made you still wonder "how'd they do that?"

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Disney's New Century

We'll it is official.  Both boards have approved the acquisition, just a month after the Justice Department approved the merger with certain caveats.

It looks like The Walt Disney Company will be able to acquire 21st Century Fox with limited hurdles.  This makes Disney the largest of the remaining Big 5 film studios.  Think about it.  This gives Disney seven of the top ten highest grossing films and twelve of the top twenty.  Twenty-five of the top fifty.  That's amazing.  One company accounts for half, the other studios combined share the other half.

There will be a few points that will be key to watch over the coming months:

  • Will Disney secure the approval for the acquisitions for the remaining international governments or will there be any that try to hold up this deal?
  • Will Disney go forward with Fox's planned acquisition of SKY International?
  • Will Comcast succeed in its acquisition of SKY instead?
  • Will Disney and Comcast reach some sort of agreement regarding SKY?  If so, what will be the cost?  Will Comcast trade its portion of Hulu, Marvel theme park rights in Florida and Japan, and/or its film rights to the Hulk and Namor for SKY?  It sounds crazy, but Disney traded Al Michaels for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  
  • Would Disney likewise throw in the Regional Sports Networks it must divest and/or the Simpsons?
  • What becomes of New Fox with Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Sports, and the Fox Broadcasting Network?
  • Will Disney re-brand 21st Century Fox to minimize the association with the New Fox?  21st Century Films or 21st Century Pictures, perhaps?
  • Will Disney keep Blue Sky Animation or sell it as being a redundant acquisition?
  • Who will ultimately get the regional sports networks?
  • If Disney does not trade (or sell) Hulu, how will it interact with Disney's own planned streaming service?
Very, very interesting.  

Developing...


Friday, July 27, 2018

The Traveler's Report Part 2 - Dresden

Part 2 of the Traveler's report, from Jamie:

Our second stop on the tour led us to Dresden, the capital of the German State of Saxony. Dresden sits on the banks of the Elbe river and is luscious with gardens the citizens can rent and grow whatever you want. This little day stop had some wonders of its own to display. This extended lunch stop proved to have some amazing burgers with pomme frites as well.

Dresden Castle served as the Royal Palace for almost 400 years to the Saxony line of rulers.

Zwinger Palace
Walking inside the Zwinger Palace you can see the Baroque style architecture. It once served as a fortress and now it’s the residence of a museum.

F├╝rstenzug, the Wall depicts all of the Saxony rulers of Dresden and is made of 23,000 porcelain tiles making it the largest porcelain tile artwork in the world.
Dresden Frauenkirche, The Church of Our Lady completed in 1743 this once Catholic Cathedral became Protestant after the Reformation and remains Lutheran to this day. This church had withstood several attacks from Prussia during the Seven Years War in which the dome is said to have been hit over 100 times with cannonballs. The sandstone dome took the hits and bounced the cannon fire off its shell frustrating the Prussian army. It wasn’t until the bombing of Dresden in WW2 that the Church was destroyed and its stones preserved as a memorial for over fifty years until the reunification of Germany brought about its reconstruction. Every stone in the reconstruction came from the original making it a truly remarkable site.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

More On What I Do, or Why There Was No Blog Yesterday

I knew it would happen, but it doesn't mean I like it.  I've been working hard at keeping this going on a daily basis.  Writing and planning blogs in advance, setting them up so they can post automatically and using IFTTT to automatically post to Facebook.  Trying to make it all look seamless.

But I knew there would be a bump in the road and it happened yesterday.  Or rather, the effects were felt yesterday.

It relates to my job.  I've written about it before and explained it in a little more detail, but generally I'm a project manager in the legal field.  And projects have deadlines.  Generally, they are known, but sometimes you are caught off guard with a unexpected change in the date.

Further, we generally try to staff and prepare for our projects in such a way that we can work consistently and steadily at a reasonable pace.  But we always know there will come a time where everything goes out the window.  "Crunch" time as it is affectionately called.  And make no mistake, we feel the crunch.

This has been one such time.  It's also why I'm still in the office, with work still to do.

Generally, I like my job.  I like the flexibility it affords.  This, though, is the cost.

Thankfully, this time is not nearly as bad as last October.  That was a time that we were expect to perform a miracle.  One million documents, plus, reviewed and through privilege review, in six weeks. We worked long days, we worked every day.  A team of thirty.  I worked every day, except two during that entire six week period, and well into the nights.  There were a couple of times I was finalizing a log element up to 2:00 am, turning around and waking up at 6:00 am to drive back in.

That was rough.  It was challenging, but it's what I do.

Thankfully, this will not be nearly as long.

Hopefully.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Navigating Media Bias and Its Effects

This is a blog that I've been trying to put together for a while.  I had the what and how, but did not have the why beyond a very esoteric idea.  Then I ran across an article recently that put the why into perspective.

We all know the problem.  In this day and age, in the era of 24-hour news stations and the rise of opinion news, hot takes by nearly everyone on the internet, dis- and mis-information campaigns, "fake" news, clickbait headlines, trolling and bots, it is very difficult to find news and information sources that are reliable and trustworthy.  Even more difficult to find news sources that will give you facts alone that are not overloaded with opinion.  News sources that allow the viewer or the reader to reach their own opinions, instead of providing them for you.

To that end, I find it beneficial to rely back to a few sources to determine the particular bias or bent of a particular news source. One resource is the chart below, generated by an interested amateur, who explained and documented her methodology here.


The chart, at the very least, gives a quick overview of prominent news sources and where they fall in terms of depth of coverage and political/social bias.  Most of the news sources on the chart, at least in terms of where they fit in terms of bias should be recognizable.  It's no surprise that Fox News has a conservative bias and MSNBC has a liberal bias.  The question would be one of degree.  And this particular chart gets a little less helpful with nuance, particularly with the sources identified closer to the middle.

For a more in depth evaluation of bias, there are a couple of websites that are beneficial.

All Sides Media Bias Ratings (https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-ratings)

Media Bias/Fact Check (https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/)

All Sides in particular separates out news and editorial divisions, so that news sources could get different ratings for each on bias.  For example, All Sides labes Fox News news division as lean right and its editorial division as far right.  (My comment - recognizing of course, in this day and age, it is getting harder and harder to separate news and editorial divisions).  For comparison, Media Bias labels Fox as hard right.

This can be a little more helpful in pinning down sources closer to the center, as to find a lean right or lean left bias.  There is disagreement among the different services, so it only represents a start, not a conclusion.

What's left is the why.  Why does this matter?  If I have found a news source that I like and feel I can trust, why is it important to know their bias?  And beyond broader calls for understanding across the spectrum, I ran across a study that someone had shared that brings this all into perspective. 

Business Insider ran an article on a study conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University based on a new PublicMind survey to determine the most informative sources of news.  Researcher's asked 1,185 random nationwide respondents what news sources they had consumed in the past week and then asked them questions about events in the United States and abroad.  On average, people correctly guessed answers to 1.6 of the 5 questions about domestic affairs, and 1.8 of the questions about international affairs.  They then broke the results out by the particular news sources relied upon by the participants.  The study seems to reveal that our most popular national media sources - Fox, CNN, MSNBC - seem to be the least informative.  In fact, participants who obtained their news chiefly from Fox fared worse in both sets of questions than participants who admitted to not watching the news at all.  MSNBC did not fare much better, also trailing behind those that watched no news at all in the international questions.

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Now, the study is not perfect and should not be viewed as the ultimate arbiter of the value of these news sources.  We can point to questions regarding the size of the participant population, selection process, other factors affecting news absorption, and potential selection bias in the questions posed.  We can discuss how the study cannot truly point to causation and disheartening that even the highest average for a news source never reached 2 questions out of 5.  Still a failing grade.

But when viewed in context with the bias chart and bias determinations, we see a continuing refrain:

"Ideological news sources, like Fox and MSNBC, are really just talking to one audience.  This is solid evidence that if you're not in that audience, you're not going to get anything out of watching them."  It seems further evidence that even if you are in the target audience, you are not getting enough out of that news sources to keep you truly informed.

So, where to go from here?  The following would be my recommendations; take them for their worth:

  • Learn the current bias - Investigate the bias of your favorite news sources and see if you are comfortable with it.  
  • Read more - Find more than one news source that you are comfortable with.  In particular, find a news source that you like on the opposite end of the spectrum from your current one.  It doesn't have to be hard left to compete with hard right.  Even something that leans left if your typical news comes from right sources can help balance out the information that you are receiving.
  • Look center - Follow agreed upon central news sources like the Associated Press, which supplies news to both sides.  Realize you may be giving up depth in coverage, but generally your giving up depth of opinion or informed opinion, not facts.
  • Get perspective - Find an international news source, like the BBC, for perspective.  It can truly be beneficial to get an outsider's perspective of the events of the day.  Sometimes our news organizations are part of the broader story, which makes it difficult to report.
  • Be charitable - Don't fall for any news source that tries to demonize the other side.  If your news source seems to be constantly blaming the other side, it has an agenda.  I've grown more and more fond of this quote that George W. Bush has shared.  "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions."  Life and reality are generally somewhere in the middle and we should be seeking information that bridges that gap.

The new media landscape we have created can be a minefield to navigate.  As always, be safe out there.




Monday, July 23, 2018

Solomon's Song of Songs - A Quick Thought

I'm continuing my progress through the more lyric books of the Bible and have reached Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon or Solomon's Song of Songs or Canticles).  And the study of the history and interpretation of the book is nearly as fascinating as the content of the book itself.

It's attributed to Solomon, but it is very likely he is not the author.  Most likely, it was written much later and may have referenced Solomon as the groom.  It is presented as a song, but there is debate as to whether it is one unified song through the entire book or whether it is a collection of songs.  It can be interpreted literally as a very descriptive and sensuous love song between a groom and bride or as an allegory of the love of God and His people, or Christ and His bride, the Church.  Under the allegorical view, passages are read on Shabbat before the Passover to symbolize the love between God and His people. There's an apocryphal belief that Jewish men under thirty were not allowed to read it unless they were married, but I cannot find the support for this view.  Similar to Revelation, it seems Song of Songs is very under-taught because of our lack of comfort with the text.

In this study, I came across an possible historical usage of the songs that I had not heard before and find very entertaining. 

The possibility that the book is a compilation of love songs or a singular great wedding song that would have been used repeatedly in wedding celebrations and that were gathered after years of usage, like the Psalms were collected and preserved.  Songs that would have called for a male vocalist, a female vocalist, and the "choir" of attendants.

As someone who has had the very fortunate pleasure of singing in several weddings, all with excellent taste in music, I cannot even begin to imagine how awkward singing something with the equivalent language expressed in the Song of Songs would be.  Especially the call and response with all the gathered guests. 

Really, can you imagine, singing in detail about the beauty of nearly every part of the body of the bride and groom?  Or singing about their continued "celebration" after the ceremonies have concluded?  About as comfortable as trying to make Leonard Cohen fit in worship services.  No matter how much we change the lyrics, I know what the original song is really singing about.

It certainly would bring a new level of appreciation to the wedding singer.





Sunday, July 22, 2018

Top Seven Favorite Books

There's a Facebook series going around about a seven day book challenge.  To post the covers of your seven favorite books.  I'm condensing into the one list.

There's a challenge going around on FaceBook to post the covers of your seven favorite books.  I'm skipping the daily portion and condensing this in to one post.

This is a lot easier to pin down than the movie list.  While I like to read, it is easier to pin down the books that have really impacted me, the books that I will come back to, than it is film.  Perhaps due to the nature of the medium, but a great book sticks with me more than a great film.

And, to me, these are seven great books.

In no particular order:
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck - I said in no particular order, but for this one at least, it's a little different.  This is hands down my favorite novel of all time.  An epic tale of family drama.  A semi-autobiographical fiction based on Steinbeck's own family.  A midrash on faith and determinism.  This is the great American novel.  
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee - The quintessential Southern novel and a great courtroom drama.  A coming of age tale regarding the right questions that should be asked of Southern life.  Especially for those of us from a small town in the South, Lee wrote people you knew. Plus, Atticus Finch remains one of the greatest characters created and perhaps the role model that all attorneys strive for.  One of the books I most enjoyed from school.
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury - This is the second book that I most enjoyed reading in school.  A science fiction novel dedicated to the importance of the written word.  I love Bradbury's use of language in general and this novel is no exception.  A reaction to McCarthyism, Bradbury highlights the need for independent thought and understanding.  It is truly amazing how many visions of the future contained in the book have come true.  Wall sized televisions that can act as communication devices, social media, 24 hour ATMs, earbuds.  And the core message is as much, if not more necessary now than when it was written.
  • The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler - I've taken to reading a lot of noir.  Chandler, Hammett, Cain.  And while there are other books in this genre that I've enjoyed, this is the one that I could not put down.  Chandler's most biting critique of Hollywood and a twisting-turning mystery to boot.
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis - To me the best apologetic book ever written by another master of the English language.  Lewis explores the foundations of faith in deeply challenging but ultimately foundational terms.  Something I feel needs to be revisited every so often. We over-complicate a lot the world around us. We need returns to Happily Ever After, to Common Sense, and to Mere Christianity to center us.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman - I love Neil Gaiman's use of language and story.  How he treats the importance of story.  I can listen to his voice talk about story and mechanics, and I love his comics like Sandman and short stories and novels.  And while American Gods is perhaps the more well known, I adore the Ocean at the End of the Lane.  Another semi-autobiographical novel, this time with a horror-tinged supernatural element.  Another coming of age story, but this time one that has some downright unsettling passages.  Plus, I always like it when he uses the mother, maiden, and crone triumvirate.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster - My favorite book from childhood.  An love letter to learning.  Norton Juster created a version of Wonderland, Oz, or Neverland filled with wordplay and puns, celebrating language and math.  A world in which Reason and Rhyme must be restored?  Yes, please.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Further Warning Regarding Your Digital Life

I've blogged on this topic before, but in light of recent events, it bears repeating.  It is probably a topic I will come back to often, as it is one of the most important reminders that we can give regarding how we live our lives in the modern age.

As an avid comic and pop culture fan, I've been following the news from San Diego Comic Con.  In sorting through the news articles, one of them gave me pause.

James Gunn exits Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after offensive tweets resurface.

For those of you who don't know who I am talking about, James Gunn is an offbeat director that Marvel Studios had hired to helm their Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, to much surprise and success.  James Gunn, at the time, was considered a surprising choice as he previously been associated with work on schlock films for Troma and offbeat cult films like Super and Slither.  And given his association with those type of films, concerns about his type of humor were raisedGunn apologized, and the issue seemed to disappear.  And the movie about a little heard of group of superheroes by an offbeat director went on to be a smashing success.  Its sequel did pretty well itself.  Gunn was fast-tracked to helm Vol. 3, announced before the second film was even in wide release.  The films were a success largely due to the uniqueness of Gunn's writing, direction, and soundtrack choices.  Put simply, they were fun.

The news from Friday reveals that Gunn was let go due to offensive jokes from several years ago (at least six years plus) in Gunn's Twitter feed, which were brought to the attention of the Walt Disney Company.  "The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James' Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio's values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,"  Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement.

Make no mistake, the tweets are horribly offensive. I would not search them out unless you have an appreciation for the blackest humor on pedophilia, AIDS, the Holocaust and rape.  They are attempts to be provocative in the way that only an immature teenage boy would find funny.

It is also important to note that they are attempts at humor, no matter how bad the taste, they are from over six years ago, and they reflect a style of humor that Gunn no longer uses and an outlook on life that he never possessed.  They are things he has already apologized for and sought to grow from.

And while we can argue as to whether these type of jokes are ever really acceptable, we must recognize that this type of humor has existed for ages.  That one purpose of humor is to voice the thing that should never be said.

These tweets were sought out and targeted by alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and his followers, a key figure in the Gamergate and Pizzagate controversies.  (I also would not recommend digging too deeply into Cernovich on the web unless you want to be sufficiently nauseated).  Cernovich targeted Gunn because he believed Gunn was part of a Hollywood pedophilia ring and his tweets were used as evidence of that fact.  Cernovich ostensibly truly targeted Gunn because Gunn was an outspoken liberal and modern ally to the #MeToo and LGBTQ movements.  This is not the first person Cernovich has gotten fired, nor is the last person Cernovich will be targeting.

I mention all of this to remind everyone.  It doesn't matter if Gunn believes the statements or not, if Gunn stands by them, if they were attempts at humor, if they are raised as part of a smear campaign, or not.  Gunn is being fired because they exist.  And they exist in a medium where it is nearly impossible to completely erase them.  Even if he had deleted them in the past, someone could have still had a screen shot, someone still could have re-tweeted and kept a screen shot of that, they could be archived on the Internet Archive, etc.  There are a million ways that these tweets could keep popping up for years to come.  After all, given the date range, these tweets are in the Library of Congress.  Think about that for a while.

And now this current "outrage" will follow Gunn to any new project he may attempt.  New companies or financial backers are going to have to deal with these tweet, their existence and the controversy created around them in determining whether it is worth hiring or supporting Gunn.  Who knows how his career will fare or how long it will take before this scandal is a tempest in a teapot.  Before his apology can be accepted.

This should be a stark warning to everyone.  BE CAREFUL what you post on social media.  BE CAREFUL what you put out there into the world.  And be EXTRA careful who you give access to it.

That joke you think is funny to post now could end your career down the road.  The strongly held belief you have now may be something that you cringe at in the future and could likewise mean the end of a career or relationship.  That act you thought would be funny to video and share today may be something that is actionable in the future.

While these services help us keep a record of our lives, memories that popup in our feed, we forget they are also keeping an evidentiary record of our statements, actions, and beliefs.  And we are seeing more and more that it can and will be used against us.

Be safe out there.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Traveler's Report Part 1 - Berlin

Part 1 of the Traveler's report, from Jamie:

"Berlin, our first stop on tour. One thing you must know about Berlin is they aren’t known for their hospitality as our local guide, Katinka said, 'We Germans have a perpetual grumpiness and are eternal pessimists. We’re great complainers and love a good argument. The age of romanticism and poetry is over.' The personality of the nation had changed since the wars and Soviet occupation. It would be hard to stay positive when all living generations can’t remember a time in the nations history where it wasn’t marked with a stain. One man in history has destroyed the image of this beautiful country. But there is friendliness to be found here."



Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of a city divided has now become one of unification since it was officially reopened on December 22nd, 1989.
East Side Gallery where many artists were asked to create murals of the remains Berlin Wall.
The most famous mural of The East Side Gallery goes to “The Kiss of Death” or more commonly known as “The Kiss.” The depiction of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev giving the East Germany President Erich Honecker a big smack on the lips might look like a joke, but the mural is based off of an actual photograph taken in 1979 in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic–East Germany.

Fraternal kisses among socialist leaders were not unusual, but both were a little more enthusiastic than your average Communist dictator in kissing. A popular joke tells that Brezhnev observed about Honecker: “As a politician, rubbish…but what a good kisser!”





The Berlin tv tower made entirely of chocolate. The chocolate here is amazing I might add.
Observing what little remains of the Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie gave me flashes of Bridge of Spies. A good movie I might add.





Berlin has become an eclectic hipster town know for its love of the Trabants, the little cars used during the occupation and depicted as the “Herbie” of Germany in racing films.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why Adapt Pygmalion?

As I've indicated before, while I started this blog for many reasons, a primary driver was to get in hours of practice just writing.  Jamie is looking to do Pygmalion for one act play, but wanted to have an adaptation to address some of its shortcomings.  I have wanted to try play-writing before, and saw this opportunity as a challenge.

In doing so, the issue becomes why adapt Pygmalion at all?  What needs to be adjusted or updated for the play to freshen it for modern actors and audiences?   In my attempts, I've come to these few reasons:

  1. Agency - The story of Pygmalion is firmly Henry Higgins' story, not Eliza's.  While most people would largely view My Fair Lady, the musical adaption, the other way around, the play Pygmalion hews firmly to the Pygmalion of myth, focusing on a "creator" who falls in love with his "creation."  Eliza, as a character in Pygmalion, is in many ways a prop.  For most of the play, she has things happen to her, not things that she causes or initiates.  This is partly due to point number two below relating to scenes that are missing, but also due to the era and social structures of the time when George Bernard Shaw was writing.  Much time in Pygmalion is spent discussing who is responsible or who will be responsible for Eliza.  Professor Higgins?  The Colonel?  Her father, Alfred Doolittle? Or Freddie, a suitor?  And while we do finally get to peer in to her psyche in Act Five with many great lines that she has, even her discussion of her future is couched in these terms.  Further, her thoughts are largely only revealed to show the impact they have on Henry.  Thus, a goal of this adaptation is to make this much more Eliza's story.  To put her in control of her fate and to show her contribution to her change.  The text is there in Shaw's original script.  It just needs to be embellished.
  2. Show, Don't Tell - one of the greatest sins in visual storytelling is to tell the viewer something instead of showing them something.  To provide an information dump to bring the viewer up to speed on what happened, instead of letting them see it unfold.  This arises in largely missing necessary and desired scenes in Shaw's Pygmalion.  For instance, Shaw has no scene in which Eliza learns elocution.  There are no "Rain in Spain" type scenes in Pygmalion, though these are well remembered in My Fair Lady.  We see the effects and are told that the lessons happened, but we do not see it occur.  Likewise, the original version of the play did not have the ball.  Again, we saw the after effects and were told that it happened, but we did not see the ball itself.  This was added after a 1938 film, but can be omitted in different versions of the print run.  And while these scenes might not be absolutely necessary in the strictest sense, they are desirable for story flow.  So, we are looking to add this type of connective tissue back into the story.
  3. Greater Roles for Women in General - one of the hardest things that Jamie and other school theater teachers often have to deal with is plays with sufficient strong female roles.  Most often in school theater, you have a greater number of female students that participate than male.  Yet, most of the great plays have a higher number of strong male roles compared to female.  Even in plays like Pygmalion which are often considered "female" plays, since the title character (and lead ostensibly) is female.  In Pygmalion, though, only Eliza and Mrs. Higgins could be considered great roles.  Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Enysford-Hill, and Clara are present, but are small roles.  Our goal is to slightly enlarge these roles to make them greater reflections of parts of Eliza herself and to make them more integral to her development.
Hopefully, we can achieve these goals in a way that integrates into Shaw's text in a way that is not too obvious.  It's something I need to finish by the beginning of August, as we'll have to submit the play for approval by mid-August.  We'll let you know how it goes.

It's also a very interesting process, as I'm adapting the full play and keeping at the five acts. Jamie is going to have to take the end adaptation and cut it down into a one-act version.  It does not fully enter into the process as I'm changing and adding, but it is a consideration in the back of my mind.  A unique challenge.

From there, I'm itching to try my hand at adapting the Buckley-Vidal debates into a Frost/Nixon style play.  And who knows, after that, maybe something wholly original.

One line at a time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 14 - Tokyo Disney Resort

"To All Who Come To This Happy Place
- WELCOME - 
Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow.  May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of Joy, Laughter, Inspiration, and Imagination to the peoples of the world.  And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."
April 15, 1983
E. Cardon Walker
Chairman of the Board
Walt Disney Productions
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I want to take a brief intermission in the If I Were Disney CEO series to talk about the one Disney resort and two Disney theme parks that I will not be discussing in depth.  The Tokyo Disney Resort.

The Tokyo Disney Resort is composed of two theme parks (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea), a shopping district (Ikspiari), and four hotels (the Ambassador Hotel, Hotel MiraCosta, Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, and the Disney Celebration Hotel).

And while the Tokyo Disney Resort has fascinated me for a long time, there's a very good reason I'm not covering it in this series:  it's not actually owned by the Walt Disney Company.

The Tokyo Disney Resort is wholly owned by the Oriental Land Company, operating with a license from the Walt Disney Company.  As such, though they do utilize Imagineering to design their attractions and lands and to pitch and propose new ideas, the decisions for expansion and any changes lie squarely with the Oriental Land Company. 

Which brings me to another well-known secret in Disney circles:  it's undoubtedly the best Disney Resort in the world and is likely the greatest theme park resort in the world.

The Oriental Land Company is meticulous in their design requirements and upkeep.  They lavish spending on the parks and demand excellence.  And for good reason.  The company is only focused on the Tokyo Disney Resort.  All of their holdings and assets center around that park.  And with Tokyo Disneyland being the third-most visited park in the world with 16.6 million guests,  they have good reason to demand such quality.

To illustrate the difference in stateside parks and Tokyo Disneyland, I'll refer to the attractions in the parks featuring Winnie The Pooh.  In the stateside parks, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a quaint little dark ride.  In the old ticket booth language, it would be a "C" ticket.  The figures in the ride are clearly wooden or plastic and are generally stationary or have limited movement.  The ride vehicle moves along a guided track, though it may bump or waddle.  It's a diversion, a ride you do to fill in your day.

In contrast, Pooh's Hunny Hunt in Tokyo is a world-class "E" ticket.  The characters are appropriately skinned with fur and have a much fuller range of motion.  The sets are impeccably dressed.  And the ride vehicles use a location based positioning system to freely move about the room, without guide or wire.  The ride vehicle truly moves on a randomized pattern in the room, leading to thousands of different pathways. The ride is, accordingly, the most popular attraction in Fantasyland and one that people run to first thing (or "rope drop").

In general, Tokyo Disneyland represents a greatest hits combination of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom.  The Oriental Land Company truly went over both parks, picking and choosing options from both parks to fill Tokyo Disneyland.  As such, there are sections of this park that do appear a little dated as they reflect the state of Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom around the late 1970s or early 1980s.  But while they may appear dated in architecture, they are meticulously maintained.  The park is also currently going through an expansion phase that is bringing a couple of the more dated sections into a more harmonized look.  Tokyo Disneyland has the following unique areas and attractions beyond Pooh's Hunny Hunt:
  • World Bazaar - instead of Main Street, Tokyo Disneyland has an entry street, largely similar to Main Street, but with two major exceptions.  There is an open center street that bisects the area leading into both Adventureland and Tomorrowland in the middle of the Main Street area and the entire thing is covered by a glass canopy to help shelter from Tokyo's weather.
  • The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai! - Stitch has invaed the Tiki Room, bringing music from Hawaii and his movie.
  • Western River Railroad - the railroad in Tokyo Disneyland only circles Adventureland, Westernland, and Critter Country.  This includes a forest with animatronic displays of wild life and Native Americans, a trestle bridge, and the Primeval World Diorama.
  • Westernland - Frontierland is called Westernland as Frontier does not adequately translate into Japanese
  • Country Bear Theater - The Bears here still run the overlays, especially for Christmas
  • Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall - a castle walkthrough exhibit on Cinderella.
  • Goofy's Paint n' Playhouse - an interactive house where guests can virtually "paint" on the walls
  • Monster's Inc. Ride & Go Seek - an interesting interactive dark ride where guests have flashlights to shine in the ride revealing different gagas and monsters.
  • Stitch Encounter - a living character initiative show like Turtle Talk with Crush where Stitch can answer guests questions

Tokyo Disneyland will be adding a new Beauty and the Beast section with theater, village, and grand dark ride, as well as a Minnie Mouse design studio for Toontown, and a Big Hero 6 whip ride (like Maters) for Tomorrowland.

Tokyo DisneySea is a newer park, opening in 2001, with an overall nautical exploration theme.  It has seven themed "ports of call":

  • American Waterfront - representing the northeastern seaboard of the United States in the early 20th century including New York City and Cape Cod.  This section contains the large passenger ship, the SS Columbia, in the harbor (that's right, a cruise ship in the theme park), containing the Teddy Roosevelt lounge, a main dining room, and Turtle Talk with Crush, as well as serving as the backdrop for many stage shows.  This area also includes Big City Vehicles, an Elevated Electric Railway, the Transit Steamer line which circles the park, a completely different Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania! in a Luna Park/Coney Island inspired mini-land.
  • Lost River Delta - represents an archaeological site in a tropical rainforest of Central America in the 1930s.  The landmark is an ancient Aztec Pyramid which houses a version of the Indiana Jones adventure from Disneyland and the Raging Spirits roller coaster through the ancient ruins.
  • Port Discovery - is the "Tomorrowland" of the park, home to the fictional Marine Life Institute.  This area houses the Nemo & Friends SeaRider (a larger simulator ride) and Aquatopia, a trackless "bumper" boat ride.
  • Mermaid Lagoon - a combined indoor/outdoor pavilion themed to The Little Mermaid.  Full of small flat rides and an impressive theater show.
  • Arabian Coast - an Arabian harbor combined with an enchanted world from 1001 Arabian Nights, this area houses a double-decker carousel, a flying carpet spinner, The Magic Lamp Theater combining real stage magic and 3D film, and Sinbad's Storybook Voyage, a boat ride that takes the story of Sinbad in a setting like it's a small world on steroids.
  • Mediterranean Harbor - the entrance port of call, which includes the Hotel MiraCosta, this section includes Venetian Gondolas that guests can ride, Fortress Explorations that guests can discover, and various shops and restaurants.
  • Mysterious Island (with park icon Mount Prometheus, a giant erupting volcano) - this section is dedicated to Jules Verne and houses the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride, a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea dry/wet dark ride, and a Nautilus in the harbor.  This section also includes Vulcania, the restaurant in Captain Nemo's scientific base.

Tokyo DisneySea is likewise undergoing an expansion to add a Michelangelo themed Soarin', as well as an entirely new port of call, Fantasy Springs.  This new port will have brand new attractions for Tangled, Frozen, and Peter Pan, and a new hotel. This new expansion is particularly interesting.  It's an expenditure of $2.3 billion dollars, being placed on a particularly interesting plot of land.  Instead of going in the previously identified area for a new port of call (between American Waterfront and Lost River Delta), it's going to have an entrance between Lost River Delta and Arabian Coast, pushing out into the parking lot behind this area.  

Estimation of new area
This placement also has it butt up against the back of Fantasyland in Tokyo Disneyland, leading to visions of park to park gates, something that has previously not been possible in the Tokyo Disney resort.

So while, it's not something that would fit in the If I Were Disney CEO series, it is a resort that I watch closely.   I cannot wait to have the opportunity to visit.  We're hoping to do so once all these additions are completed, potentially around the 40th anniversary of the park.  It remains one of the top goals on my Disney Impossible List.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When?

One sign of maturity, of growth, is to be able to admit when you are wrong.  To recognize the error of your ways and course correct.  It reflects maturity in an individual and in a society.

We as Americans have a very difficult time admitting we've done any wrong.  Admitting when we've made a mistake.

We haven't really owned up to what we did to the Native Americans throughout our history and how we are treating them today.  In the South in particular, we have never really been able to admit that there is no "lost cause" of the Confederacy.  That the Confederate states were wrong.  There are still many that would have trouble admitting that segregation was wrong.  That "separate but equal" is inherently unequal.  We have trouble admitting that we erred in our treatment of the LGBTQ community to this day.  Or that we don't have an immigrant group du jour that is acceptible to hate.  Our scapegoat.

Now, we face a moment where nearly half of the American people are faced with a choice.  To admit they made a mistake in their trust or to double down on their decision.  To recognize that the situation is not turning out as they were promised.  Or to admit that this is what they wanted all along.

The historic summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has come to a close.  And the results are as troubling as could have been feared.

Denying the findings of our own intelligence agencies, President Trump repeated that Putin had assured him that Russia did not interfere, that both countries were responsible for the deterioration of our relationship (despite his tweets yesterday morning), and that the investigation by special independent counsel Robert Mueller shouldered a lot of blame.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would interfere in the election.

"President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial."

"I think the probe has been a disaster for our country.  It's ridiculous what's going on with the probe."

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I'm not sure which would be more troubling:
  • That our intelligence agencies are so inept that they are mistakenly blaming Russia for interference in 2016 or claim interference when there was none?
  • That our intelligence agencies are so corrupt that they would intentionally falsely accuse Russia of interference for some political reason?
  • Or that our President foolishly trusts a strong but untrue denial from Russia regarding their interference for some unknown reason?
The same Russia who used a nerve gas attack in the United Kingdom.  The same Russia who aided in nerve gas attacks in Syria.  The same Russia that shot down Malyasia Airlines flight 17.  And who now has a Russian spy on our soil to infiltrate U.S. political organizations including the NRA.  The same Russia who denies them all.

Our President is for some reason purposefully ignoring the conclusions of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National IntelligenceAll of whom have concluded with confidence that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institution, intended to interfere with the US election process.  This is also on the heels of the indictment of twelve Russian military officials by a grand jury in the District of Columbia for their hacking of Hillary Clinton's 2016 election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Despite where everyone's mind goes to, Trump's actions are not likely treasonous (or at least enough to be charged with treason absent further evidence).  Treason under law is defined as "whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere."  His speech does not rise to waging war, though additional showings may could rise to "adhere to their enemies."  But this seems to be the closest he's come.  When you add continued vocal support of Russia, with a desire to ease sanctions, with siding with them on United Nations/NATO issues, you begin to paint a pattern of "adhering to our enemies."

At the least, this seems to be a violation of his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.  Section Four of Article Two of the United States Constitution states that "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."  This may be Trump's high crimes and misdemeanors.  Alexander Hamilton wrote that high crimes and misdemeanors covered "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.  They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."  To Benjamin Franklin, this was necessary for when the Executive has "rendered himself obnoxious."

Through this candidacy and presidency, I've wondered where the bottom is.  Where the line would be drawn where even his supporters have enough.  And increasingly, we keep getting deeper and deeper.  Line after line.

I feel we're seeing the end and it's not going to be pretty.

Trump is too far gone.  I'm not sure what Putin has on him or his family; if it's the pee tape, if it's true financial records that show that the Trump family has been laundering Russian money for ages, or something far worse, whatever that could be.  There is something driving continued allegiance beyond all reason.

The question is now posed to those who voted and supported him.  Just as every serving Republican in Congress and across the nation is having to decide whether they can support him in this latest infraction, every vocal supporter, everyone who voted for him, must reevaluate and determine if he is still worthy of his support.  This may require backing away from the one news organization that is putting a positive spin on the events on the events of the summit and reading the coverage from the rest of America and the world.

Where is your bar for his performance?
What would you consider beyond the pail?
Are his actions in Russia defensible?  If so, why?
Which scenario of those I outlined above is more troubling to you?  Again, why?
Is he living up to your expectations?
Can you continue to support him?  Not the office, his performance in the role?

Self-evaluation is never a pretty or enjoyable process.  But it's necessary.  We as Americans need to take a real hard look at ourselves and our actions over these past several months and past several years.  It's a hard pill to swallow.

I know he will have his defenders to the end.  Those that will explain away his actions at the summit as exactly what they would have wanted.  I am more firmly convinced that he was telling the absolute truth when he said he could "shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose voters."

He's right.  He could.  So long as it was the right kind of person.

God help us all.

Monday, July 16, 2018

My Radiator Springs Moment

I know it's viewed at the bottom of the Pixar franchises, but I love the Cars movies.  Particularly the first one.  I think you really have to be from a small town to appreciate the underlying sentiment in that film.  One of the strongest emotional beats in the film comes when Sally explains what happened to the small town of Radiator Springs that brought it to its run down condition.  As she explains the decline of small-town America as a result of the rise of the interstate, the film plays "Our Town" by James Taylor in the background.  Written by Randy Newman, the song is a mediation on how society has changed, moving away from the idealized small-town life.  James Taylor was the perfect choice to perform the song, as his voice brings the wistful lament to fruition.

Long ago, but not so very long ago
The world was different, oh yes it was
You settled down and you built a town and made it live
And you watched it grow
It was your town

Time goes by, time brings changes, you change, too
Nothing comes that you can't handle, so on you go
Never see it coming, the world caves in on you
On your town
Nothing you can do

Main street isn't main street anymore
No one seems to need us like they did before
It's hard to find a reason left to stay
But it's our town
Love it anyway
Come what may, it's our town

I had my own Radiator Springs moment on the drive back from San Antonio.  Typically, I would jump at the chance to get on the 130 toll and just make good time on a much less traveled road.  Or to stick to the interstate and head back up I35 to keep traveling at 75 miles an hour.  But this weekend, to avoid the mess that is I35 in Temple, we jumped on 317 to head up through downtown Belton, past Temple, to Moody and Hewitt, before getting back on the interstate at Waco. 

There is something that is missed when we zoom by on the interstate, as it rarely ever brings you through the heart of a city but rather often just off to the side.  What springs up on the interstate is most often the same chains you see in every city you pass through.  You miss the soul of the city, what makes it unique.  Better architecture, new discoveries.

All to often, I'm so focused on the destination.  To get there, to be done with the drive, and to be able to do the checklist of things I have for whatever the endpoint is.

I need to be better at the journey.  About enjoying the moments along the way and finding new and interesting things along the way.  To slow down and allow them to be discovered.

In my daily readings I've moved on from Lamentations in my daily reading to Ecclesiastes.  I'm working through the more lyrical and poetic books of the Bible.  Psalms, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and then Proverbs.  I always had a picture of Ecclesiastes as a bit nihilistic, perhaps from one too many focusing only the "life is a vapor" references.  What struck me in Ecclesiastes is how Kohelet (perhaps Solomon), seems to advocate the opposite of nihilism.  Perhaps it is just my outlook, but I came away from Ecclesiastes appreciating life and time as a gift, to be enjoyed.

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun."
Ecclesiastes 8:15

So, I want to enjoy the small towns.  I want to find those unique places.  I want to take those moments to breathe and enjoy the scenery. 

I pray for joy in all things.  To find contentment from the Lord and not from external circumstances.

Especially in traffic.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Thai Hot - A Random Musing

A short one today, but an observation...

We spent the weekend in San Antonio to see family and the sights, getting to check in with more family on the way home.  We of course had breakfast tacos and Mexican food, saw the RiverWalk and the DoSeum (very fun for kids). 

What sparked this blog topic was dinner on Saturday.  We had Thai food Saturday night, a first for some of us.   And it was excellent.  I had laab (or larb), a mined beef dish that was awesome.

What I've noticed and what seems very interesting, is the difference in "Thai hot."  I'm used to Mexican heat.  Jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros, I'm used to.  But heat from the Asian dishes, that's an entirely different ball game. 

And we didn't even get our dishes "Thai Hot".  We just got them "hot".  And that was burn your lips off hot.  It's amazing how something can be that hot, and still not be the hottest level.

Now, I know better than to eat the Red Sauce at Halal Guys.  And I can even still do a dab of it.  But this was an entirely different ball game.  I kept eating because the dish was so good, but desperately needed a milk product to kill the heat.

Thankfully Zantac came to the rescue.  Otherwise it could have been a very rough night.

I'm not going to stop trying new dishes and new cuisines, nor am I going to stop exploring new spices and variations on the Scofield Scale. 

I've just learned my limitation in Thai food.  I may stick to mild (or at least spice on the side).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Top Ten Favorite Films

This post arises from conversations with Jamie.  I believe I've mentioned this before, but Jamie and I continually ask each other questions to continue to get to know each other.  They can be deep and they can be silly.  This one was a tough one.  Trying to whittle down a list of films that I would consider my favorite is a challenge.

The way I worked through this was to create a list of movies that impacted me.  Movies that speak to a specific period of my life.  Movies that I have finish if I see them on.

So without further ado, my list.  Not the best movies I've ever seen.  But a list of the movies that I would say are my favorites.  In order of release:

The Thin Man - Endlessly quotable.  Nick and Nora Charles are definitely couple goals, minus the alcoholism.  Comedy with a touch of noir.  The movie that defined gathering all the suspects in a room to identify the culprit.  I love the book and I love this movie.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - As I've wrote previously, I need this movie every once and a while.  Capra at his finest and a great representation of what our country is supposed to represent.  A standout film from the greatest year in film.

Singin' In the Rain - The greatest movie musical ever.  So many great numbers.  Make 'Em Laugh, Good Morning, Singin' in the Rain.  And Lena Lamount is one of the greatest characters ever created.

Maltese Falcon - Noir at its finest.  A wonderful collection of character actors.  Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Astor.  Truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Summer Magic - This film reminds me of my childhood.  One my mother loved.  The songs are burned in my brain.  Ugly Bug Ball, Flitterin', Beautiful Beulah.  And one of the greatest songs ever written - On the Front Porch.  An anthem to relaxing on the front porch.  To spending time with family and friends.  To unwinding.  To life.   Not the greatest movie ever made, but one always in my memory.

Monty Python and The Quest for the Holy Grail - The movie where I discovered cult classics.  One of my favorite examples of British humor.  Again, endlessly quotable.  And remarkably silly - which we always need every once and a while.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - I saw this at just the right time and it blew my mind.  All those characters together at once.  Interacting in inventive and appropriate fashions.  A touch of noir, and a lot of cartoon greatness.  Still technically impressive.

Se7en - Again one that hit at the perfect time.  It led me to following directors, particularly Fincher.  Neo noir and a incredible hook.

Bernie - Linklater is always an interesting director if nothing else and this is my favorite film that he has made.  Incredibly accurate for East Texas and a master stroke performance by Jack Black.

The Avengers - This was a moment built to that could not be ignored.  The first phase Marvel movies had already hooked me.  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America.  Since the first indication at the end of Iron Man - Nick Fury with those words, Avengers, I had been waiting for this film.  And it did not disappoint.  Great character interaction.  Heroes being heroes.  Avengers: Infinity War came close, but this built it all.

--------------------

Ask me again in a few weeks and the entire list could be different.  But these are the movies that speak to me now and have impacted me in various ways.  I'd love to hear yours.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Traveler's Report: Introduction

Something a little different today...an introduction to a new series, by a guest blogger.

Our love for travel is probably readily apparent from the blog.  There's a great big world out there and there are very few places we're not interested in seeing.  Given that interest, I wanted to create a place for us to report on our travels.  To share in the interesting places we've gone and the interesting things we've seen and done.

To that end, sometimes this series will be my reports from places we've visited together or that I've gotten to go on my own.  There will be a lot that I'm going to repost from Jamie outlining all the interesting places she's been and the great trips she's been on.  She will have much more than me in this realm, thanks to the student tours she puts together.

Her student tours all started back from her graduate school program at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon.  For theater teachers and for practical technical theater, SOU had probably the best graduate program.  For three summers it took a small cohort of teachers running them through the gamut of technical theater aspects.  She also got to take one of her classes in upstate New York for a scenic painting workshop.  Through the program, she made several life long friends, including one fellow teacher who was connected to a travel program through EF Tours (Education First).

Jamie started investigating EF in 2014 and quickly signed up to be a tour leader.  As a tour leader, she plans the location to visit (often planning for two years out), starts looking for students and others to enroll, and then serves as the leader for her group while they are touring.

So far, she has taken students on three domestic tours (New York City twice and Los Angeles) and three international tours (Italy-Switzerland-Paris-London, Ireland-Scotland-England-Paris, and Central Europe: Germany-Czech Republic-Hungary-Austria).  She has also gotten to go on two domestic teacher trips (Washington D.C. during the first shut down and Boston) and one international teacher trip (Spain).

She is already planning for next year (Costa Rica and Nicaragua) and 2020 (Australia and New Zealand).

Needless to say, she has a lot of interesting stories to tell and a lot of beautiful pictures to share.  Over the next few parts of this series, I'm going to start sharing her posts on her recent Germany-Czech Republic-Hungary-Austria tour.  She's broken it down by city stop, so you get a sense of the pace that they were moving at.

I had the pleasure of going on the first international trip and can tell you it was a wonderful trip.  It's definitely not a vacation, but it is a wonderful experience to be able to absorb so much history and culture.  We averaged around eight miles a day in walking to see the sights, but it was definitely worth it.

I'll keep updating this page with links to the various posts in the series, so it can serve as a repository for our travelogue.

Bon Voyage!

Traveler's Reports: