Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Time to Remember Who We Are

Too much trivial information is a useless thing.  I honestly don't care if Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton are separating.  I don't care whether or not Popeye's new cartoon will smoke a pipe or not.  These type of things are unimportant.  Too many of these unimportant things have been used to divide us.  I see far too many people who vote "no" on tax issues, or don't vote at all,  and then complain because the county doesn't have funds to run snow plows  or because schools are forced to put thirty in a class of elementary students in order to  just heat the building.  It is a sad commentary when I see towns, which once would have free hot cider downtown along with carolers, have  to slash budgets because they can no longer pay for the security this event incurs.  Once, Colorado Springs had such an event that drew people to the downtown merchants, but those days are as gone as are the colored lights that were once used to color the steam caused fog at the power plant.

Sometimes, it seems we become too involved in the preparation and forget the reason.  No, there is no war on Christmas. I suppose you could count the fact that retailers have Christmas decorations out before Halloween ends just as they already have Valentines out before Christmas ends.  You see, things change and for many folks change is hard.  I am not one to live in the past, despite the previous paragraph.  It is not the loss of those events, but that we sometimes need a little reminder.  You see, too often do I hear folks complaining about this or that which doesn't matter.  We have to remember to take care of each other and to do it as best as we can without bringing our own petty judgments.  We must remember that we are a community, the human community.  We are not the tools of politicians, the wealthy oligarchs, or an agenda-driven newsgroup.

So as this time of year, be it that you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or Festivus or nothing at all, we need to recall that this is our chance to spread a little cheer, give a little joy, and reserve judgement.  So if Santa comes to your house or you are lighting a Menorah or a Yule log, it's time to remember who we are supposed to be, not what others would make of us.

From me to you and yours, Merry Christmas and happy holidays.  I hope your  gift is joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - The Final Chapter Works

I have joked that if Peter Jackson wants to do more of Tolkien's work he should try doing The Hobbit.  There was also that joke that there would be a new release which edits all the films together, but eliminates all the scenes that are not in the book. This special edition movie will be about two hours long.  Despite all this, the movies all work and are a fun ride.  I have never been quite clear on why we need all the other stuff that Jackson included this second trilogy in the world of Tolkien.  There really is no purpose to the inclusion of Legolas, the Council of the White, the love story between the Tauriel - a purely Jackson created character- and Kili, or the starting of the return of Sauron.  For the movies to work these storylines and characters are actually extraneous distractions and filler for the return of the King under the Mountain story. It seems to me, sometimes, that Jackson has become a little too enamored with his special effects and battle scenes.

All this said, I liked  this movie.  No, it's not the Hobbit, I first read when I was in 7th grade.  It is a strong action, adventure fantasy.  I know many people who do not actually know the story of There and Back Again will be very disappointed that the book has no love story between an elf and a dwarf.  There are no orcs who are secretly driven by the spirit of Sauron.  I  must admit that the attack with dwarves on mountain goats was a bit silly.  Still, Jackson leaves the major story intact including all those who survive and do not survive as it occurred in the original story. The defeat of Smaug is spectacular.

The effects are still strong, although a few of the gags such as giant trolls knocking themselves out by running into walls or other objects got a bit repetitive.  The story is still strong enough to carry themes of the evils of greed and finding one's nobility and courage.  The characters are still clean and even serve well carry the themes.  There is still magic in Jackson's direction.  He carefully draws parallels between the Smaug the dragon and the greed of "dragon sick" Thorin Oakenshield. He doesn't  just mention the sickness that plagues Thorin's mind but introduces vocal similarities between the dragon and the dwarf king.  While the final descent into Thorin's battle between his honor and his greed on a lake of gold is a bit over-the-top, it is still visually masterful scene.  It is really the sort of scene that I wish had been included in the second movie when Bilbo should have found his courage in the Smaug's lair.

There should be enough in the third film for the purist of the novel to those who are experiencing The Hobbit solely as a movie to please all.  Original lines from the novel sparkle through including the final lines of Gandalf to Bilbo, "but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” It is the inclusion that keeps the movie honest.  Even though Bilbo is just a Hobbit, he still has had a great impact.  The movie keeps us attached to the characters so that we feel loss and gain equally, even with characters and plotlines that didn't exist in the book.  I liked The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  It is well worth your time, just try not to take the dwarves on goats too seriously.

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Homage to 2001

Okay. I know Interstellar is almost out of theaters.  I almost went just a few days after it opened, but I just couldn't get psyched up for a long movie.  I'd also seen a couple of posts from folks that loved it, and a couple of folks that hated it.  Christopher Nolan is not known for his deep movies because most people think of the most recent Batman series.  Few folks seem to recall that he also did Inception and, a personal favorite, Momento.  So that said, I was pleased to see a truly hard core science fiction movie.  Yes, it is a bit long.  Yes, it is complicated.  Yes, there  is the time paradox problem.  Interstellar is at its core, however, hard SciFi.

And it is good hard SciFi.

There are plenty of good sites that will help you understand the complex last act of the movie, so I am not going to go into it here.   And since it is almost out of the theaters, I am not going to spend a long time on a review.  I am going to say the film is well acted and tight in its main and subplots which are all intertwined into one overarching idea.  We need to go to space.  There are a few interesting side comments such as a school's curriculum being rewritten so that the moon landing is taught as the silly conspiracy theory that's been around for years.  It discusses a dying Earth without using the words "climate change" or "global warming." It is also clear that is why the planet is dying.

The movie is epic in scale and clearly an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Matthew McConaughey as protagonist,  Cooper, is the explorer in the spirit of Dave Bowman.  Cooper, in a sense, becomes the Starchild that Bowman became in 2001.  At its core, Interstellar is an apocalyptic movie with a hopeful ending.  As Cooper says, "We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."  In 2001, Bowman announces as he enters his own wormhole, "My God - it's full of stars."  Later as the Starchild in 2010 he announces, "I understand how you feel. You see, it's all very clear to me now. The whole thing. It's wonderful."  The parallels and tribute to Interstellar's game changing predecessor 2001 are clear.  Interstellar also maintains its own clean structure and themes without becoming a remake.  It is a movie worthy of its audience.

Maybe, Interstellar will get us to look at the stars.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hunger Games: The Mocking Jay, Part I - Succeeds

A few reviewers have stated that Mocking Jay, the third installment of the Hunger Games series, is a bit slower than its predecessors.  I am okay with this.  While Mocking Jay is not all special effects and action sequences, it is well acted.  I am always amazed at Jennifer Lawerence's skills as an actor.  She is a natural. What is more, she is surrounded by consummate performers. There is Donald Sutherland as President Snow who is now allowing subtle cracks to appear in the sanity of his character. There are also the ever present character performances of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson.  I for one appreciate character development far more than over-blown action sequences and CGI effects. So it is a good thing that Hunger Games has chosen to let its actors work rather than try to 'wow' us with effects.

It is for this reason that Hunger Games: The Mocking Jay, Part 1 succeeds.  It is not that it has a particularly complex plot. It doesn't.  If anything, Part 1 fails to make it clear that many of the events that occur in the movie are weeks even months apart in the book.  Perhaps, the movie relies a bit too much on Lawerence's ability to cry.  The scenes of her with tears running down her cheeks, work well for the movie though and are not over-the-top. So does the character development of other characters such as Katniss Everdeen's once boyfriend, Gale Hawthorne who is played by Liam Hemsworth. Another character who continues to grow in the movies is Effie Trinket, the vacuous escort for Katniss and Peta to the Games.  Effie, played by Elizabeth Banks, grows more and more with each movie to become loyal friend and confidant.

I also must admit I find the theme of the movie to be a truly relevant one if not a bit over-simplified. It is not just a good vs. evil theme. It is a statement not just about an oppressed populace, but a statement about the have and have-nots.  If you will, it is the story of the masses who must oppose the one or two percent who have bought and control their world.  Not to be too political, there is clearly a struggle for democracy. Effie even makes an off-hand remark when she notes, "Everything old can be made new again, like democracy."  There is, in the story, a clear cost that must be paid. A revolution has cost for both establishment and rebel.   The question is what is the price?  Change is never cheap and neither is freedom.  As it says in the movie:

Hunger Games: Mocking Jay, Part 1 is well worth the watch. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Not Voting = Not So Logical

So you've decided not to vote or you're just too busy to do so or just too lazy to be bothered or you don't think your vote will count.  I know some who say, "Until they offer me a candidate, I am not going to vote for any of them." I understand the disenchantment with our current slate of candidates, but your distrust - your dislike - is not a first.  Every generation has had this feeling.  Waiting for a candidate that will be one of the greats is kind of like waiting for that special someone to discover you while you sit in your home.  It's like waiting to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket.  Not voting is not a protest because too many other people don't vote for too many other reasons.  Not voting in protest while waiting for another better candidate just isn't logical.  Historically speaking, we all hope for that one great candidate rising to the top, but it remains a craps shoot.  There really is something to that old statement "some have greatness thrust upon them" especially in politics.

Take for example Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was actually ran by the political bosses not because he was the best candidate, but because he was related to Teddy and carried the Roosevelt name when he first started in politics.  No one dreamed that he would actually become president, let alone be elected to the office four times.  Lincoln, too, was considered a weak candidate.  Truman was supposed to lose to Dewey. Washington, hero of the Revolution, lost most of the  battles he fought. Teddy Roosevelt was sure his career was over when he was nominated and became vice-president. After he was president, he feared that he would never be remembered as a great president because he had no major war.He believed every great leader had a war to lead his people through.  He was told on a regular basis growing up that his life span would be short.

The problem is whether you are voting for Lincoln or Harding, you are never really sure if you will get a great leader or Richard Nixon, who won by a landside, by the way.  Most politicians, be they state or federal,also come and go.  A few are memorable for their leadership, like Daniel Webster or John C. Calhoun or Robert LaFollette.  There are also some who will live in infamy for their abuse of the office like Joe McCarthy or Boss Tweed or Huey Long.

 There is also that in not voting, you aren't just not voting for candidates.  You are also not voting for ballot measures and amendments and the host of people who will effect you on a local level.  No, waiting for the right candidate ignores more than just your disdain for the current crop of politicians. You also ignore those who are counting on your vote to help them make a statement by passing measures that will help schools. Your vote can help to  prevent amendments from taking away the vote.  Your vote may even get one that limits advertising and dark money.

So choosing not to vote as a protest really does nothing.  No change will occur for you. You did not participate.  If your too busy or too lazy or think your vote won't count then guess what? You aren't just ignoring a great gift you are also letting down a bunch of people who need you to vote.  You are actually making sure that the oligarchs win.   The specail interests and dark money are counting on you protesting or believing your vote doen't count. History may be passing you by.  After all, you get the government you don't show up for.

Monday, October 27, 2014

John Wick Is A True Action Flick

When I first heard about John Wick, to be honest, I was a bit uncertain.  Keanu Reeves has always been something of an unknown quantity.  When I heard one of the advertising tag lines of "the best role from Keanu since The Matrix," my first thought was well that wouldn't be too hard.  John Wick is, however, really a good,  classic style action flick.

The key for Keanu has always been not to give him too much to say.  It's not really his skill to deliver lines that hurts his performance.  It is just that for as long as he performs, his voice will always be tagged as a part of Bill and Ted.  I know, it's an unfortunate thing to happen, but it is also the way it is. John Wick is a retired hitman.  He is actually more of a hitman's hitman.  He is the killer according to Russian bad guy, Viggo, that you send to kill the bogey man.

The movie starts with the retired Wick mourning the passing of his wife, the woman who got him out of being a hitman.  From there, of course, a series of events cause John Wick to come out of retirement and go after the very bad people which he once worked for.  It is a revenge story.  The central bad guy Viggo Tarasov is played by Michael Nyqvist.  He has an unruly son, Iosef, played by Alfie Allen.

Into the mix we add fellow killers.  One we are none too sure if he is a bad guy or a good guy.  He is Marcus performed by William Dafoe.  There is also Ms. Perkins played by Adrianne Palicki who is a definite baddie.  The movie has a few twists and will easily hold your attention.

After we spend just a little time  at the beginning of the movie getting the sad and silent John Wick story, the movie kicks off.  The action sequences are quick with over-the-top violence.  It is a continuous shoot 'em up and far away from realistic.   They are frequently juxtapositioned with ironic or funny moments.  The timing of these scenes brought open and delighted laughs from the audience.  It is the kind of movie that you can root for the ruthless anti-hero because he is also the legendary action hero.

 John Wick is rated "R" for violence and language.  I enjoyed the movie. If your looking for a true action movie that hasthe right elements and something that isn't terribly deep but just fun storytelling, then John Wick will easily fit the bill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Party Line

I take voting seriously. I have never really understood why anyone would vote for someone because they have an R or D by their name.    Still, even that is better than those who don't vote at all, especially in a state where every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail.  I also have never understood why the popularity of the president or which party is in the White House during midterms can expect to lose seats.  It seems to go against all logic. You vote for a president whose agenda is something you want and then turn around and vote for a party or allow a party to be voted in that will make sure the agenda cannot be achieved.  Make sense to you? Me either.

I also do not understand why the Republican led house has the lowest favorability rating in history expects to easily maintain its control. Not only will the Republicans maintain control of the House, but they are odds on favorites to gain control of the Senate. The logic of putting the same people in power back into power astounds me.  Never in our history have we had a government do so little to help its people or listen to them.

When I vote, I weigh what the candidates have done.  I must also admit when I see candidates that have catered to extreme groups, it makes my voting choice that much more simple.  I find it fascinating when a candidate who was once attacked by his own party in primaries as too wishy-washy is suddenly a strong leader who has a plan a few years later.

Ad campaigns use a term like "career politician" to describe an opponent. I hate to tell you this, but the guy approving the ad is also a "career politician." It also doesn't really matter if a politician has other members of the family in politics. It doesn't matter whether your father or cousin was a politician or a farmer.  What matters is the record. Politicians will, in fact, say just about any moderate sounding thing to get elected after having said all the correct extreme things in the primary to the base.  I will look to see what positive ads a politician has ran.  If he hasn't ran any or very few, I will probably not vote for him or her.  If he or she can only run against the other guy's record, it actually says something pretty positive about the other guy.

There have also been a few "anti-ads" that have actually made statements that pretty much ensures my vote going for the guy the ad is against.  As someone who has directly witnessed the damage TABOR has caused, announcing you will protect that law means you've probably lost my vote. The same goes if a politician attacks someone for supporting something I support.  I suppose that's why so many of the ads are vague.

I also look at, now, what dark money supports them.  Some groups, I don't have a problem with. These groups, in all honesty, are just trying to support a person who supports their interest.  Others operate through fear and lies. Others want to own the election.  These groups also frequently involve themselves in issues and not just candidates. For example, the group "Don't Turn Racetracks into Casinos," oppose the issue of Amendment 68.  This is the amendment that would give moneys to schools.  Don't Turn Racetracks into Casinos is funded primarily by Colorado Casinos. Gee, I wonder if they have an agenda they are protecting?

The fact is I try to do my research and make an informed decision.  I do not vote a party line. Even if the guy I voted for loses or the proposition fails, I had a say. I never have voted a party line, and I am hopeful others don't either.  I find it amusing when ads announce that Gardner supported Republican agenda or Udall voted for Democratic sponsored bills. Wow. If you are shocked by this, then you might want to try reading a newspaper or cereal box. Imagine a Democrat or a Republican voting with their party most of the time. Who knew such things could happen?

The point is you need to vote.  I am amazed at people who complain about the system but do nothing to change it.  I know.  I know.  You've heard it all. "If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem" or  "if you don't vote, you have no voice."  And on and on... I have no platitudes.  It's not the faithful who don't vote.  The extremes will make sure they exercise their right.  Ignore the ads and the phone calls and the emails.  Even voting by a dart throw is more than sitting there.  There are plenty of folks out there counting on you not voting.  Show them they are wrong.  No poll votes and no poll should control the vote.  So I have one more cliche for you:

Every Vote Counts.

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves-and the only way they could do this is by not voting." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Please vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Education: Going into Battle for Your Child

I taught for over thirty years.  This means not only did I meet a bunch of students along the route, but also I met a bunch of parents.  All of us have again and again been bombarded about how horrible the American education system is.  It is a political ploy.  Hate schools.  Hate teachers.  Hate curriculum.  Hate...hate...hate.

When was the last time you actually saw a positive movie like Stand by Me or Dead Poet's Society or Lean on Me that is not a sports movie?  When was the last time you saw a TV series that supported education instead of one that depicts silly or angst ridden teens with even dumber teachers?  We have moved away from the belief that teachers were someone who is there for kids, was to be respected, and wanted to raise truly independent thinkers.

At the beginning of every school year, many of my former students, now parents themselves, talk about issues they are having with teachers.  They are "battling" the teacher for what is best for their child.  Their poor child is over-whelmed by homework.  They seem to have forgotten that they too did or failed to do homework. They are not working with the teacher, or helping the teacher, or making sure the responsibility is shared by parent,  teacher and  child. No, they are battling the teacher.  Guess what? If you think that your child's teacher is your adversary and you must battle them, then there will be one loser: your child.

Invariably, another parent will chime in with  her horror story about doing battle and protecting the child in the comments on Facebook or publically over a cup of coffee.  The story will eventually end with "I finally had to pull the child out of that horrid school" and move him to the charter school or into a home school program.  I can tell you when such a parent does this, there is probably a relief at the school. Not for the loss of the child, but for not having to deal with a parent who is often more about herself than her child.

Another instance was when George Takei posted an over heard statement. It was one of those dumb things we hear all the time.  It was something like, "What if Canada decides to separate from the United States like Scotland thought about doing from England?" The comment that struck me was that one person  commented, "Another shining example of the failure of the American education system." This is the trained response. It is also terribly wrong.

The fact that Takei posted it means that most people will get how stupid it is, including the one who indicted all US schools everywhere.  The problem is that at no point does Takei say the statement was from an American.  We don't even know if the person went to school in public education.  They could have gone to private school or been home schooled or learned everything they know from Honey BooBoo. They could be Canadian, Irish, or Samoan for all we know.  Mr. Takei is a well-traveled person.  The fact that this person jumps to the position of blame teachers and the schools makes my point.

It's kind of like "Jay-Walking" where Jay Leno would go out to ask easy questions of people on the street.  Humorous? Yes.  We have no idea though how many people were asked that question before the perfect, moronic answer was found.  It is all founded on the premise that schools have failed us, even if they haven't.  Lies do not become the truth if repeated often enough; they become a lie that too many believe is the truth.

So as many of you are now getting ready to go to your child's parent-teacher conferences please keep in mind the vast majority of teachers are there for your child.  The ones that do the job badly are actually in a very small group. If you've run across a bad teacher, remember you must also teach your child that they must work in life with the good and the bad.  There are bad doctors and bad lawyers and bad parents.  There are super lawyers and super doctors and super parents.  There are super teachers, too.  Most though, be they lawyer, doctor, or parent, are doing their best.  They want to succeed.  The only way a teacher can succeed is if you are there for your child, not as your child's warrior knight.  The teacher does not need an adversary; the teacher needs a partner.   We all know that no matter how much testing we do or how much irrelevant junk politicians attach to evaluations, kids are not some inanimate object like a car.  Kids are individuals with needs that they don't even understand.  You see, teachers, like most parents, are doing the best they can.

If you are listening only to your child's story from school, you don't have the whole story.  I am not talking about ignoring stories of abuse but the typical kid stories. I would, on occasion, tell parents in conferences that if they would promise not to believe half of what they heard about me, I would promise not to believe half of what I heard about them.  I am not saying your child is lying to you, although that may be the case.  If you spent any time with a kid, you know the kid's perspective is usually pretty unique.  Remember some of them really do believe that they can grow up to be giraffes. Adolescents, besides having raging physical changes,  frequently see  in terms of a universe that centers on them.  There is no big picture, and time is of the moment not what might occur twenty years from now.  There is a reason that health care calls young people "The Immortals."

Teachers and schools are not the adversary.  No teacher worth his or her salt  wants to battle you.  Hiding history or moving it to reflect your political or religious beliefs proves only one thing, your child will never think and make good decisions.  The loser will be the kid.  If that's what you want...then go into battle, just remember who loses every single time you do.