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John Fitzpatrick

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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [Nov. 28th, 2016|06:12 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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J. K. Rowling grants us another look into the world of Harry Potter, wizards, and mayhem.

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is probably a good book. The movie, alas is another thing.

"Fantastic Beasts" is a movie packed with plot, action, characters, and special effects. Set in 1920s New York (or possible 1930s), it follows the adventures of a wizard from England. It has a bit of everything from the "Harry Potter" series: references to Hogwarts and Albus Dumbledore, wizards, wands, spells, faux Latin, misguided good wizards, perplexed Muggles, bad guys, an extra-powerful bad guy who has gone missing, and fantastic creatures that exist only the the wizard world.

The problem is in the content, or rather, the quantity. The crew making this beast has forgotten the rule of movies: A movie tells a short story. "Fantastic Beasts" tells not one story but three (possible five) and it does a poor job of telling them. It bounces from one story to the next with little attention to anything other than special effects.

I rate this movie five cans of spam, out of a possible ten.

Warner Brothers missed out on an opportunity here. Instead of one movie, they could have releases three movies all based on the book.

** SPOILERS BELOW **

Here's how I would have made the movies:

Movie 1, "Fantastic Beasts": A wizard visits New York to return creatures to their natural habitats. Several escape and the wizard, aided by local wizards and a perplexed Muggle, chases them and recaptures them. On top of the action, the wizards debate their role with these creatures. Are the creatures malevolent? Should the be exterminated? Or should fantastic creatures be preserved?

Movie 2, "The Beast of New York": Two years after movie 1, the wizard is invited back to New York to investigate strange occurrences which may be the result of a beast. It is not a beast but an Obscuris, a powerful and destructive side of a child-wizard who has not been trained and supresses his magical abilities. This allows for conversations about the role of wizards in the real world -- how much to they interfere and explore to find other wizards?

Movie 3: "Wizards in New York": During the Great Depression there is resentment of wizards, and Muggles (or no-mages in the US) call for their expulsion from the country. Wizards have to prove that they are not a threat, or convince the public that they do not exist. The latter requires discrediting those who call for expulsion.

Movie 4: "The Wizard Battle": The search for Grindelwald leads to New York where good wizards ally and fight the bad wizards.

There you have it. Four movies, made for less than twice the cost of "Fantastic Beasts" -- if they did it right.
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The Prisoner [Aug. 8th, 2016|08:26 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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If you know of the 1960s series "The Prisoner" with Patrick McGoohan, read on. If you do not know this series, go and watch it... now. Right now. Stop reading and go.

The 1960s series was a trippy, fantastical, follow-up to the "Secret Agent Man" series which also starred McGoohan. (McGoohan denied that "The Prisoner" was a sequel series, and the idea has been debated.) The seventeen episodes of "The Prisoner" have been examined closely and are still not fully understood. (One episode, "The Girl Who Was Death", was an unused script from "Secret Agent Man" which adds to the "sequel" debate.)

The 2006 remake (is it a remake?) of "The Prisoner" with Ian McKellen is a puzzle unto itself.

It follows the same premise as the first series: a person is taken from "our" world, "our" civilization, to another place, one in which he is contained and restrained from leaving. The individual has resigned from a large organization, but we don't now the reason or history of that decision. In this new place (called simply "The Village"), individuals are addressed by by number, not names. The protagonist is number 6. Aside from that, the two series diverge.

The 1960s series presented straightforward stories of resistance and rebellion. From the first moments, we understand his feelings and we empathize with him. While each episode results in failure ('6' remains in "The Village"), we understand his reasoning and his desires.

The 1960s series also made it clear that The Village was quite a different world from our own. It was futuristic. It had an otherness, from the phones to the audio announcements to the automatic doors. We also saw some of the inner workings of The Village, such as the control room with its large display screens and see-saw consoles. Technology was used for control.

The 2006 series is darker and emotionally muddled. We know that '6' is the hero, yet I found myself empathizing with '2', the antagonist of the series. But The Village of the new series is quite real, and feels of our own world. The technology is ours. We have not been transported to a different world, just an out-of-the way place in our own world.

The '6' of the new series is confused, and resistant, but not driven to the extent of the original '6'. The new '6' is of our world, a brother and not a role model.

The 2006 remake uses title names that directly recall episodes from the original series: "Arrival", "Harmony", "Anvil", "Darling", and so on, yet the later shows have little to do with the original shows. (Or if they do, the connections are very subtle.)

Remaking a show such as "The Prisoner" is no small task. Yet one must ask: Did anyone involved in the remake actually watch and attempt to comprehend the original?

It may be that the remake is a good show, simply overshadowed by its predecessor. It may take a few more viewings to rate it on its own merits. Perhaps.

Be seeing you.
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Book review: Atlas Shrugged [Jul. 24th, 2016|02:16 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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I slogged my way through Ayn Rand's heralded work.

The book is fantasy, and poorly-written fantasy. From it's late 1950s origin, it describes the decline of the United States. Weak-willed individuals, bureaucrats and government redistribution of assets drives the country to destruction. All of the strong-willed individuals flee to "Galt's Gultch", a utopia free of regulations. This happens throughout the book, causing more and more of the country, and its companies, to fail.

The story is unbalanced. Despite its large scope, the book has no religion, no international affairs, and no politics. The story is confined to the actions and conversations of a handful of individuals. This is more of a pastiche than a painting, a conceit that has expanded to hundreds of pages.

Yet the book has its interesting aspects.

First, it describes the demise of the United States. In 2016 we have plenty of post-apocalyptic stories, but in the 1950s this was a novel concept. The destruction of the United States was a shocking concept, and possibly unthinkable at the time. (Attacks on the US were contemplated, and even made into movies, but we always won in the end.)

Second, "Atlas Shrugged" is not post-apocalyptic but happens in "real time": It describes the decline, and makes it a slow, self-induced decline. This was not nuclear war or a mutant disease or space aliens. It was not a time machine whizzing to the far future or the Stay-Puft marshmallow man attacking New York City. It was ourselves, allowing our own country to collapse in slow motion. That kind of decline is rare in stories. I've seen it only in the film version of "Things to Come" -- and perhaps Asimov's "Foundation" series.

These two aspects make "Shrugged" interesting. But not interesting enough for me to read again.
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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
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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
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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
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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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