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A Tale of Two Trons [Jul. 20th, 2016|11:23 am]
John Fitzpatrick
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Disney has two "Tron" movies ("Tron" from 1982 and "Tron: Legacy" from 2010).

In the surface, the two movies are quite different. The original uses now-dated special effects to portray a trippy environment inside a computer; the latter version has high-quality effects for a dark and foreboding place. The original tells the story of "David and Goliath"; the remake tells "Frankenstein" in which Kevin Flynn must deal with the flaws of his creation-run-amok "CLU".

The two movies have a number of similarities. Certainly the characters (and actors), the laser that transports a human to the computer world, the constructs inside the computer (identity discs, light cycles, illuminated suits), and the notion that programs may be more than we think they are (and perhaps humans are sometimes less than they could be).

The second movie echoes many of the first's aspects. Both have Flynn (Kevin or Sam, respectively) as hackers, both have big doors, and both have "farm" scenes (a cube farm in one, a server farm in the other).

The two movies also follow similar paths. They both open in the real world, move to the computer world, and then end back in the real world. Most of the action is in the computer, celebrated with special effects. Because that's why we watch!

In both movies, the only appearance of sunlight is at the end. In both "Tron" and "Tron: Legacy", the opening scenes are at night (or in the case of young Sam Flynn, an overcast day). From night we enter the computer world. After challenges, chases, fights, and effects, we emerge back to the real world at night, with a closing scene in daylight. The path in the second movie clearly follows the first, and is intended. The first movie, though, had no model to follow. Did the script writers consciously choose? I like to think that they did.

One final thought. Movies tell us about the age in which they were made. In 1982, the real world is full of people. Flynn's arcade is packed with youngsters playing games. Encom's cube farm, while empty at night, is clearly meant to hold people. The 2010 Tron shows a real world with fewer people. The cube farm has been replaced by a server farm. The arcade is empty, as is the street it faces. A disturbing contrast. Did the script writers consciously choose? I'm not sure I that they did, but I don't want to think that they did -- or that they didn't. Either is saddening.
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The path for conservatives [May. 22nd, 2016|09:26 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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Conservatives have a problem: The Republican party is on its way to nominating Donald Trump. Donald Trump is many things, but conservative he is not. His rise in the Republican party demonstrates that the Republican party is not the same as the conservative cause, or at least that there are people in the Republican party -- a lot of people -- who are not conservative.

The immediate challenge for conservatives is the election in November. How should they vote? Donald Trump does not hold their values. Neither do Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Do they vote for Trump out of loyalty to the Republican party? Do they stay at home in protest?

Such considerations ignore the bigger issue, the political issue: How do conservatives regain power? How do they regain leverage over a political party? (Let's face it, politics is about power to effect change in law and society.)

Conservatives have been pushed aside by a larger crowd, a crowd that cares little for lower tax rates, reductions in regulations on business, or smaller government. Donald Trump has attracted followers with the issues of immigration, the economy, and national security.

The task before conservatives is to grab the attention of the Republican party.

The best thing for conservatives, politically, might be a Democratic victory in November. In the short term, it is a loss -- but November is a loss for conservatives, whoever wins. In the long term, a Democratic victory lets the conservatives apply pressure to the Republicans. It lets them present the message: "You need us". It lets them apply leverage to the Republicans, forcing (or perhaps encouraging) the Republican party to adopt conservative candidates.

Using this logic, staying home and not voting for Donald Trump would give Republicans more leverage in the future. Going along with the Trump candidate would not -- that would send the message that conservatives will follow the Republican party no matter where it leads.

Actually, following my logic, one could argue that conservatives should do whatever they can to defeat Republicans in November. Including -- counterintuitively -- voting for Democratic candidates.
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North Carolina HB2 shows split in conservatives [Apr. 24th, 2016|03:47 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

North Carolina's HB2, the "bathroom bill", has gotten a lot of attention. But while various people are shouting all sorts of things ("It's a reasonable bill!", "No, it's not!") I think we're missing the cause of the bill, which is the fracturing of the conservative movement.

A little background. HB2 regulates the use of bathrooms. It also does more: it regulates the abilities of cities and municipalities in North Carolina to raise the minimum wage (in their jurisdictions) and enact worker safety regulations. Basically, it strips the power of cities and towns to vary their business rules from the state's rules.

This is an interesting position for Republicans. Republicans (and conservatives) often advocate for locality of governance, stating that "local government is better". The reasoning is that local government (state over federal, and city over state) is more in touch with the needs of the governed. It's a reasonable argument. (The counter argument is that larger governments are in a better position to fund and administer large projects like levees and dams for flood control.)

But Republicans abandoned the "local is better" approach for HB2. Why the inconsistency? I have an idea.

The Republican party is not a monolith. It is not "the Borg" with all members connected through telepathic-like networks. It is an assembly of groups, with two prominent groups being the libertarians and the authoritarians.

The libertarians are for, well, liberty, and they advocate a small government with limited powers and freedom for individuals (along with personal responsibility). Libertarians see government warping society, and minimal government has the least affect. (Libertarians are not anarchists -- they agree that government is necessary for some functions in society.)

The authoritarians are for, um, authority, or more specifically a well-defined social order, and they have no compunction against using government to enforce that order. They also advocate personal responsibility and freedom of individuals, but only within one's proper place.

Thus it is the authoritarians who pushed for HB2, not the libertarians. And that is the fracture in the Republican party. For years, the Republicans have included both libertarians and authoritarians but given more voice to the former. The latter were not driven out in the 1960s by William Buckley, but were merely silenced. Buckley had National Review, the magazine that defined the conservative party and its readers. The authoritarians had nothing comparable.

The internet, web pages, FaceBook, and talk radio (free of the "equal time" doctrine) let the authoritarians regroup and find a voice. And found it they have. FOX News has played to this group, raising specters ranging from violence to financial uncertainty to illegal immigration to a war on Christmas (and by extension, Christianity).

For decades, authoritarians went along with the Republican party, not happy with the results but with nowhere else to go. When you're alone with your views, you think you are too small to effect change. Now, with new communication methods, they realize that they are not alone, that they are a multitude, and they want change.

None of this helps the "traditional" small-government libertarians. They were content to have the authoritarians on the bus, but not driving the bus. Now, the libertarians are not driving the bus. And they are not happy.

I'm not sure that the differences between libertarians and authoritarians can be bridged. It may be that one of the two will leave the Republican party, to either join the Democrats or form a new party.

And afterthought:

We should be careful of the terms "libertarian" and "authoritarian". People are complex, with some of each. There are very few "pure authoritarians", and very few "pure libertarians". Libertarians will disagree among themselves on goals, strategy, and tactics. Authoritarians will also disagree among themselves. A person who wants a well-defined social order is not evil, or a bad person. (But we should be careful about our social order. Slavery was a social order, based on race. Women were denied the vote, based on gender. Both are now considered inappropriate.)
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Movie review: New Moon [Apr. 10th, 2016|05:19 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sing at us in a movie about revolutionary France. And New Orleans. And Martinique. And a boat. And an island off the shipping lanes.

If you have seen the 1950 "Singin' In The Rain", you know the plot revolves around a movie studio that has been making silent movies of the French revolution.

"New Moon" would be one of those movies -- except that it has sound. Aside from that, it has all of the trappings of the French revolution movies: elaborate costumes and jewelry, a contrived and unbelievable plot (even more contrived an unbelievable than the more recent Twilight-saga "New Moon"), and lots of handsome actors and pretty actresses.

Entertaining, although Jeanette MacDonald's singing is of an earlier age, almost operatic, and an acquired taste for today's ears. Get past that, and the movie is a delight. Put your brain in "park" and try not to think too much, enable the auto-color in your visual cortex (the movie is in black-and-white), and sit with a bowl of popcorn.
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Movie review: Superman versus Batman [Mar. 29th, 2016|10:27 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

A lot of action, a lot of special effects, a bunch of teasers for future movies, and very little of anything else.

"Superman versus Batman" certainly delivers the action scenes, with a kryptonite-armored Batman fighting Superman. But it delivers little else, except for questions. Why does Lex Luther want Superman to battle Batman? How does Lois Lane know to ditch the kryptonite spear (and retrieve it later)?

Superman has some semblance of humanity, first being told by his mother that he owes nothing to Earth, and then told by Lois Lane that he is the only hope for some people. Bruce Wayne has no sympathy for others whatsoever.

The movie serves as an introduction for Wonder Woman, although the technique is clumsy. Other superheroes are introduced, including The Flash, Aquaman, and someone else (Wolverine maybe? or was it the Lucky Charms leprachaun? I forget.)

The movie suffers from multiple flaws. It tells multiple stories, when one should suffice. It has action and special effects and little exposition -- and no moral, no meaning, no redeeming social values. I identify more with Lex Luther, the only character who thinks and who understands philosophy. When one admires and roots for the villain, something has gone terribly wrong.

Ultimately, the movie, like Batman's lair, is more complicated than it needs to be. Perfection is not achieved when nothing is left to be added, but when nothing is left to be removed. And this movie has a lot that can be removed.

Four cans of spam out of a possible ten.
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Republicans are dreaming [Feb. 20th, 2016|09:26 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

Republicans have been calling for President Obama to defer the nomination of Justice Scalia's replacement. Whether this is a constitutional issue is not important right now. What is interesting is something that people have overlooked: The confidence of Republicans.

Republicans, in calling for the deferral of a nomination, have failed to think things through. They assume, quietly, that the next president will be a Republican.

While this is *possible*, it is by no means *certain*. The country if divided, almost evenly, between conservative and liberal, between Democrat and Republican. The next president may be a Republican, but there is a good chance that the next president may be a Democrat. If so, it will be either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Do Republicans want Clinton or Sanders nominating the next Justice? Do they want to "roll the dice"? (Or would it be better to allow Obama to nominate a Justice?)

The prime objective of the Republican party has been, for the past seven years, to oppose anything proposed by Obama. It's a simple strategy, and one that wins support from the base, but I'm not sure that it is effective. Obama may nominate a moderate candidate; he does not have a majority in the Senate to push a liberal one. Clinton or Sanders may have more support in the reconfigured Senate.

And even if a Republican in elected, that president may be Donald Trump! Do they want *him* nominating the next Justice?

From what I can see, Republicans have this dream of a conservative, Republican candidate winning the election later this year. They are not thinking about alternate scenarios -- and perhaps not thinking at all. That's a dangerous state of mind. If they lose, Republican voters will be quite upset.
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Football stadiums and conservatives [Feb. 4th, 2016|09:54 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
The NFL Rams team has announced that they will leave St. Louis and move to Los Angeles. That is unhappy news for St. Louis, on several levels.

Not only does St. Louis lose the prestige of having an NFL team, it retains the stadium -- and its financing payments. St. Louis built the stadium and the Rams simply played there. St. Louis also maintains (note the present tense) the property and pays for the debt incurred when building it. The city pays 6 million per year, the county pays an additional 6 million, and the state of Missouri pays 12 million (per year).

The Rams paid $500,000 per year to use the stadium.

Such awkward funding leads me to wonder about the conservatives. Are they not concerned about such deals? State and local governments, spending tax dollars to support one specific industry -- I can think of several conservative groups that should be complaining.

First, the originalists. They focus on the U.S. Constitution and maintain the view that the federal government should do what is explicit in the constitution -- and no more. Yet such logic can be applied to state and local governments: States should do what is specified in their constitutions, and nothing more. Cities and towns should do what is specified in their charters, and nothing more. I'm fairly sure that no state constitution and no city charter mentions "football stadium".

Second, the small-government conservatives. They believe in small governments; the smaller the better. What business does a city have in subsidizing a football team?

Third, the tax-rate conservatives. They strive for lower tax rates at every opportunity. Paying for such stadiums is a a drain on city resources (the economic activity surrounding football games does not offset the costs) and therefore requires higher tax rates.

Fourth, the anti-moocher conservatives. They object to government handouts. If the (relatively small) amount spent on homeless shelters is "unjust wealth redistribution", they should complain all the more at the (relatively large) subsidy to football.

Fifth, the free-market conservatives. They object to government intervention in markets. Subsidizing a football team's stadium is quite an influence in the market.

Yet I do not hear objections to football teams, or more specifically, the subsidies that they receive.

If you consider yourself a conservative, help me understand. Am I missing something?
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Hiring a president [Jan. 28th, 2016|09:41 am]
John Fitzpatrick

In the commotion surrounding the primaries, caucuses (cauci?), and election, I try to focus on the task at hand and what it is not. The task is hiring a president for the country; it is not winning a contest or proving the "other side" wrong.

Hiring a person is a rather mundane task, sometimes with no perfect solution, many times with several solutions that are all acceptable.

The job description for president is long. A president must be knowledgeable in many areas, including: law (constitutional law and law enforcement); budgeting and national spending; domestic issues such as farming, disaster recovery, energy (oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, wind, and solar), transportation (automobile, trucking, rail, and air), social security and medicare, and environmental issues; international issues such as trade relations (China, Canada, India, Japan, Germany), conflicts (the Middle East, Russia), end economics. A president must meet with other heads of state, and appear at ceremonial functions within our own country. He (or she) must prepare an annual budget and present it to congress.

Such a list is too long for a single person, and the president appoints members to his cabinet to advise him. Beyond the cabinet, there are offices with lawyers, analysts, and other folks to assist in the job.

So when electing a president, the real question is: which candidates can assemble an informed cabinet and effective support team?

This is a very different question from the typical election-period questions, yet probably more important. Our government is built to be slow and deliberate; we elect a president and not a king. The president must work with congress and develop solutions jointly.

In this light, let's review our current candidates:

Martin O'Malley: My favorite, so he goes first. I've spoken with him; he is intelligent, knowledgeable, and capable. As mayor of Baltimore he implemented (or his team implemented) programs to collect and track data for issues in the city (from crime to potholes) which let him hold district managers accountable. (Previous administrations used a casual, who-knows-who system that saw repairs and initiatives handled inconsistently.)

Hillary Clinton: Certainly knowledgeable of national and international affairs. A Democrat in good standing and capable of obtaining cabinet members. Will have strong opposition from Republican members of congress (as will all Democratic presidents).

Bernie Sanders: Knowledgeable and experienced. Will have strong opposition from Republicans. May have resistance from Democrats.

Ted Cruz: Experience as senator, yet no accomplishments. His experience is limited to blocking legislation. Has poor relations with other members of congress, may have difficulty reaching agreements.

Marc Rubio: Experience as a senator. Better relations with members of congress than Cruz, which is an advantage in achieving goals.

Jeb Bush: Experience as governor of Florida, a large state with both urban and rural areas. Knowledgeable of domestic and international affairs. Family will help with ties to folks for cabinet and staff.

John Kasich: Experience as governor of Ohio, a large state with both urban and rural areas. Probably the least repellent to Democrats; good possibility of reaching agreements.

Paul Rand: Experience as senator. Strong knowledge of international affairs. Knowledge of budget and spending. Libertarian leanings may make it difficult to find cabinet members who share his beliefs and almost impossible to draft new legislation that will appeal to Democrat and Republican congressmen.

Chris Christie; Experience as governor of New Jersey, a small state (geographically) with large population split between urban, suburban, and rural areas. Willing to compromise. Seems to have no friends or allies, but also not beholden to extreme groups.

Donald Trump: Businessman, no experience in politics. May try to run the government as a corporation, a sure formula for failure. Expect strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans. Not beholden to extreme groups. Seems to be an opportunist, which means he will compromise when necessary to obtain his goals. Not sure that this candidate is looking out for the best interests of the country.

There is a long list of candidates. The ones I have listed, in my opinion, have a chance at the job.

So the question is: which of these candidates are acceptable? Which will be an effective president? I keep in mind that our union has survived many presidents, good and bad. The object here is not to pick the best and vilify the others, but to list those that would be "okay".

So here is my list of acceptable presidents:

Martin O'Malley
Hillary Clinton
Jeb Bush
John Kasich
Chris Christie

Any of these, in my opinion, can get the job done. The other candidates, should they win, will have a very difficult time.

I'm not going to get emotionally wrapped up in the primaries and election. I'm not going to be happy at "winning" the election. (I didn't win, the candidate did.) Nor will I be depressed if my one candidate loses, for I have multiple candidates that I consider acceptable.
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Movie: Strike Me Pink [Jan. 24th, 2016|04:13 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

I recently watched the vintage movie "Strike Me Pink", which I found on VHS for free.

I found it entertaining and imaginative. It's a 1930s musical comedy, with Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman. If you like those sorts of movies, you will probably enjoy this one. (If you cannot stand old black-and-white movies, you will probably find little to like.)

Being a Depression-era movie, its job is to entertain and distract (from harsh reality) and it does the job. The (unbelievable) plot revolves around the main character (Pink) and his desire to be a man and not a mouse.

He becomes the manager of an amusement park, and eventually becomes the hero as he beats the mobsters who are trying to put slot machines in the park. He also wins the girl.

I enjoy these movies not only for the comedy (which is good natured) but also as a window into a bygone era. There are some scenes filmed in the amusement park (called "Dreamland" in the movie) which look like it was in an actual amusement park of the day. I find it interesting to see the actual buildings and signs.

There is also a scene shot in a Ferris wheel cage, and looking in the background one can see the George Washington Bridge. It was a stock shot, shown on a screen behind the actors, but it is there. (The shot was taken at Palisades Park.)

There are a number of action scenes at the end, including a chase on a roller coaster. Depression-era movies had no computer graphics; everything you see actually did appear in front of a camera -- although tricks could be used. These tricks include the "film behind the actors" and interspersing shots on scene with close-up shots in a studio.

Worth the price (zero cost and two hours to watch).
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National Review is disturbed by Trump [Jan. 22nd, 2016|09:47 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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The folks at National Review let loose this week with a multi-article barrage against Donald Trump's candidacy for president. Their attitude should surprise no one; they have opposed Trump since the beginning of his campaign. The volume and intensity of this week's columns indicates that the normally staid National Review has become nervous.

Other conservative media opposes Trump (RedState.com comes to mind) but the shrieks from National Review indicate terror if not panic. Such rants have not been seen from the organization that "stands athwart history and yells 'stop!'".

I believe that there may be something bothering the folks at National Review, something that distresses them more than a Trump presidency.

National Review sees itself as the leader of the conservative movement in this country. The problem, just beginning to enter the minds of the editors, is that they are not leading.

Trump, or rather his followers, are the proof of the problem. They attend rallies. They call in to talk radio shows. They make their presence known.

Trump is not a conservative -- a point on which conservative and liberal media agree -- yet he has appropriated a large portion of the conservative following. "How can this be?" the editors must be thinking. "It is as if they have not been reading our magazine!"

That is the thought that begins the trail. Trump's followers are not dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. They may have voted for Republicans in the past (and they may in the future) but their votes are probably cast against Democrats and against liberals, not necessarily *for* conservatives or conservatism.

Such a thought can only mean that the conservative movement is smaller than the editors of National Review imagined, and -- worse -- their influence on the public is smaller than they thought. They are less important than they considered themselves.

At least, this is the chain of thinking. I believe that only the first few links have entered the minds of the editors, yet the idea is there, and the conservative ego refuses to acknowledge such a humbling notion. They are in denial.

The next few weeks will enlighten us. The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primaries will (quite likely) be favorable to Trump. How National Review reacts will be interesting.
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