Friday, June 24, 2005

Batman Begins with an Apology

I must admit that I've always been a fan of the Batman concept, and having seen it destroyed by the Burton/Schumacher combo after its strong opening act, I was a bit unsure of what would happen with a new Batman movie or more I should say, skeptic of it. The trailers had been promising, as well as the Oscar cast assigned this brand new vision of the comic book legend's origin, but that has also been deceiving in the past. So, I'm calling this Batman movie, like other franchises with strong starts, disappointing serials and a comeback film, Batman Begins with an Apology.

It was certainly apologetic to those audiences who followed the Burton/Schumacher series faithfully despite its declining quality and increasing campy and pointlessly ridiculous writing and directing. The series seemed like it could neither be saved or redeemed contrary to the actors' best efforts. An actor is only as good as the script and director, so Batman & Robin's disastrous act was preordained in its writing, something already in steep decline since Batman Forever. Yet, Batman Begins redeems the previous failures by providing audiences with that dark, thrilling awe seen in 1989's Batman despite the Michael Keaton controversy.

This new beginning shows the origin of the human, non-super powered Batman, in a fantastical, yet logical and realistic display of man turned one man fighting machine to save his decaying society, bringing justice to his world. Finally, we get to have Jack Nicholson's question in the original Batman answered, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" It would never have been believable that Alfred built everything himself, no matter how skilled an engineer he may be.

As it turns out, and had been previously though indirectly explained, Wayne Enterprises has research divisions that develop some very cool technologies, and being Bruce Wayne has the perk of access to these "wonderful toys" even though they're prototypes. So, with a few modifications like black paint and the Batman logo, they have Dark Knight written all over them. This film shows a bit of the reality of the Batman operation; It can't ever be the sole work of just two people, one for the suit and one for the toys. I mean come on, who would ever believe that Alfred built the cave, the plane, the boat, the car, the suit, the weapons, the belt, and add to that the smarts to anticipate every single situation Batman could ever face…ever, all by himself or with Bruce Wayne for that matter. Of course, it's not believable the way it looked before, but in this one, it's much more real and believable though obviously fantastical.

Being the origin of Batman, the future commissioner Gordon is shown in his role before reaching that post. It establishes his close relationship with the Bat, something that in others wasn't properly explored, particularly considering that Batman is acting above the law. Gary Oldman plays this role beautifully and up to his usual high caliber. The other roles are decently written and played brilliantly by the masters who portray them, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine. It reads like a night at the Oscars. Even Rutger Hauer, who throughout the years had fallen out of favor with his roles in low budget "B" movies, is in full form, more to the quality seen earlier in his career, though the role is small and secondary.

Katie Holmes reprises what I like to call her standard role, but does it very well and serves both complement and persistent driving force throughout the film, though there are one or two scenes with her that are slightly pointless and would have been better served with more relevant content. Also, the continuing portrayal of women as strong, yet damsels in distress is getting tiresome and it would be nice to see a more active role for women in this genre. Some might mention characters like Elektra, but they forget to see how Elektra was easily disarmed by the stereotype placed upon women of the relationship desire dependency and motherly instinct as displayed in the movie that carries her namesake. Still, there was nothing disappointing overall, and in fact, being the only real female role in the film, it was simply great to have her.

My only real criticism of the film is in regards to the fight scenes. Yes, there are some good ones, particularly during Bruce's training, but overall they simply lacked enough detail to be truly enjoyed. It's too fast to really see what's happening, and though it adds a bit to the tension and keeps the pace, it just isn't as enjoyable in my opinion when you don't really see any of the actual skill involved. I keep going back in my mind to movies like Last Samurai with Katie's soon to be husband showing his skill in a realistically choreographed action sequence. That one in particular is a brilliant example as most of the scenes don't look like they're choreographed, and the combination of showing both slow and fast motions gives an even more realistic feel or evidence. Another example is the fast lightsaber work of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen despite the utterly unrealistic settings chosen by Lucas in Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

The few scenes that suffer from that dizzying motion are minor shortcomings for a film that overall has everything going for it. It was engaging, entertaining, had good moments of tension, great acting, and cool action sequences. The art direction was excellent with many of the shots perfectly reflecting the classic, comic book frames embedded within the fans’ minds. The sound and the music were appropriate and well placed, keeping the pace and the mood. Overall, it was money well spent, and I feel comfortable recommending the film to most anyone.

So, in the end, I say to Warner Bros., "Apology accepted."
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Sunday, June 19, 2005

The dirt we dare not tackle

Considering my last post was of feature length, and therefore, longer than I know some of you would prefer, I decided it was time for a slight change of pace, so, I dug a bit into the recent past to find a poem to share with you that would be free of its previous engagements. And here it is for your reading pleasure:

The dirt we dare not tackle

there was a little girl
playing in her room
cleaning with a broom
the inner chambers of her doll house

a mini mop would swirl
should a spot appear
or there exist a smear
within the well lit space

therein lied the problem though
since she never cleaned the corners
and that is where the mourners
chose to leave their pain

in the darkness of the shadows
the protected space of old
does the hidden truth unfold
of the doll now gone, forever dead

I'd love to read what it means to you, so happy commenting.
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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The words written by the forefathers of the North American nation known as the United States of America were something that attracted people from the world over. For the longest time, it was the place to go, the place to prosper. What better place to live than a country that celebrated freedom and opportunity, that protected your right to live in peace and free from the violations of abusive governments, be they monarchies, dictatorships, or totalitarian democracies. It was the envy of the world, a democracy with checks and balances built in to protect minorities, in fact a democracy built by minorities.

That time has faded now, and has followed a steady and silent decline for a hundred years. Though many might claim that it began with the way the U.S. constitution was written, and how the faults could be and have been exploited, the truth is that it was written over two hundred years ago, for a particular time and circumstances. The forefathers were visionary in taking that into consideration, and designing a system to amend and correct those faults, allowing the constitution to adapt to future circumstances and developments maintaining the basic spirit of "We the people" well into the future. Two such developments were communication and education.

The Undemocratic Democracy

When the constitution was written, communication was difficult and a very slow process. Education amongst the people was poor, with a high illiteracy rate. They took these factors into consideration when writing electoral law, providing a system that would be efficient in expediting the selection of the people's representatives in government, while at the same time protecting citizens with a safeguard that would not allow the uneducated into positions of power that could disrupt their newly formed haven. It was not as democratic as it could be, but it was functional, practical, and protected the people's interests.

Unfortunately, that same electoral system hasn't been amended since, and what were once necessary safeguards, have become major flaws that have reared their ugly face time and time again, most recently in the 2000 Gore vs. Bush elections. In those elections, the people voted for Democratic Party candidate, Al Gore, and yet, due to the constitution's electoral provisions, democracy was not possible, giving Republican Party candidate, George W. Bush, the presidency. In the age of information, where the entire world is highly informed and communicated, where the illiteracy rate in the U.S. is less than 10% and the public is well informed of candidates, their stance on different issues and foreign policy, the people were unable to select and have the candidate they wanted.

This exploded in the media, with news channels reporting the issues and problems with the archaic system, and congressmen speaking about and promising electoral reform to better reflect the current state of affairs, technology, and the need to set a democratic example to the world, particularly in view of the "America's" position as the banner for democracy around the planet. Five years and another election later, the world's leading democracy continues as the least democratic of all democracies. Corruption and electoral discrepancies aside, this is an issue whose resolution is not only nowhere in sight but the process is in danger of becoming even more disconnected from the people and the checks and balances necessary to guarantee a fair outcome.

For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to, I'm going to touch a bit on the U.S.'s electoral process a bit. In the U.S. constitution, when voting for the President, each state elects a number of electors, or electoral representatives of that state, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives of that state in congress. Those already serving in office cannot serve as electors. These electors are the ones who choose who the president shall be among the available candidates in accordance to the wishes of the people of that state, but an elector is supposed to but doesn't have to vote for the candidate the people of the state wanted, which is problem number one. Also, because of the number of electors assigned to each state and the fact that you only need a one-vote majority to win all the electoral votes of each, a candidate can lose the election and still end up as President. This is the example of the 2000 election.

The reason I mention that the process is in danger of becoming even more disconnected and possibly even less fair to the people's wishes, is that the age of computers is taking away the accountability of having physical evidence of a person's vote. In the 2004 election, a number of electoral colleges adopted computers for the vote. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this issue for a number of reasons. One was the fact that there was no accountability. Second and in many ways more worrisome was the fact that the company producing the software and terminals for the vote was active in the ruling Republican Party and very vocal about wanting to ensure their party won the election. This was seen as a major conflict of interest, but the cry went to deaf ears. The end result was an election that had major discrepancies between the votes and the exit poll reports. This is something that in any other nation would have been investigated and possibly invalidated the electoral process.

The Inalienable Rights

The U.S. Constitution was written by some of the same men involved in the Declaration of Independence, men who were quite familiar with the civil rights violations by the British before and during the "Revolution." When first written, it still allowed the possibility of tyranny by the central government, so they addressed these issues by proposing a number of amendments, of which ten were ratified and are collectively known as "The Bill of Rights."

This particular group of amendments is what guarantees "American" citizens the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the founders were so adamant about having. This is the core value of the U.S.'s advanced citizenship, yet throughout its history, the government has often been at odds with these rights, looking to change or eradicate through different means. Congress has passed amendments in conflict with the constitution. They have passed laws that violate your right to live without fear of the government searching and seizing your property without proper cause and due process of law. They have passed laws in direct violation of the first amendment (See Religious Freedom Act) and the fourth amendment (See Patriot Act).

In fact, because the constitutional text is so clear and direct, it leaves no room for interpretation. Thomas Jefferson was more than specific on this subject when he and the other writers sat down to compose the constitution. The limitations are there in simple terms that are not to be interpreted or distorted. I mean, what could be clearer and more direct than, "Congress shall make NO law." It's pretty clear to me. It says no law, none, zilch, zero in regards to religion, freedom of speech, press, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (See Amendment I).

The entire Bill of Rights is being violated today, as we speak, as I sit here writing and you reading. The Republican Form of Government set forth by the founders of the Republic of the United States of America is dying, for, the people, which is the foundation of that government, have allowed their not quite democratically elected leader along with his representatives, to take away the very rights laid down in the constitution to protect their life, their liberty, and their capacity to pursue their happiness (See Patriot Act).

The Terrorist Threat

I'm willing to bet that most people would have never thought Thomas Jefferson wrote about terrorism. Ah, but he did. He was worried of the possibility of the government "opening on our peace of mind or personal safety the sluices of terrorism" and "violating our dearest rights." Jefferson wanted to protect the people and their power in the republic, and knew that the government could easily take advantage and abuse their power by opening the terrorism floodgates, instilling fear and worry about one's own safety and that of the nation. It was an easy path to the removal of constitutionally guaranteed rights.

What Jefferson didn't know is that after two-hundred years, "Americans" would live in constant fear of the colors yellow and orange, (is it ever totally green?), all due to the "war" on an enemy that neither expires or is ever revealed. It is exactly the "sluices of terrorism" as described by "America's" forefather. The waters of terror have made "Americans" color blind to the removal of their basic principles of freedom, equality, and justice. The "war" serves to justify scores of violations, in fact, to question has become a violation.

So where is the freedom so many "Americans" died for throughout the 20th century? If that freedom, if in fact the Bill of Rights no longer stands as the undisputable law of the land, then their death is meaningless, and this ghost of an enemy called "terrorism" has already won. The enemy is not the organizations that fight to protect the constitution. The enemy is not the group that asks the government for accountability, or for a redress of grievances. The only enemy, as Churchill so brilliantly put it, "is fear itself." And in the end, the worst fear "Americans" seem to have is of each other.

One can almost see the ghost, sitting in his cave, laughing at the rainbow of fear, enjoying his victory over freedom, over the republic.

And back to the beginning

You amend only that which can diminish the rule of law and of the people as stated and intended by those who founded the great American nation. That is the basic reason for allowing amendments to the constitution, making sure that the power is in the hands of the people, now and into forever. The end of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is intimately tied to that basic thought.

Only by regaining their rights, their freedoms, their power as a people, will the United States of America regain its previously enviable position as the place to go, to be, to grow. So celebrate and protect the constitution "America," and the Republic for which it stands, with liberty and justice for all.

More Resources for the interested reader (links open in a new window):

The National Archives Experience - here you can learn about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights - this page from Cornell University's Legal Information Institute will list the ten amendments without decor.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - Take part in defending the constitution by supporting the ACLU. Many resources can be found here as well.
Redress of Grievances - this link will take you to a site currently fighting to protect the first amendment right to a redress of grievances. Learn more by visiting or by seeing another effort in 1998 in this link.
The Army's Version of the Bill of Rights - visit this link to see a U.S. Army study guide and find how thorough their knowledge of the first amendment is.
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Monday, June 13, 2005

The Dying Art of Penmanship

It is the age of the keyboard, of the icon, of the visual cue, of a world of beautiful design and wondrous new ways to create and interface with language, with information. While those enamored with the art of penmanship in all its forms will be quick to defend their preferred form of artistic expression, one could easily attest that it is a dying art.

Every day you can read about the technological marvels taking over the classroom, taking over the ways in which we do things, changing the world into a more efficient machine. "Snail Mail," which is how we refer to that dying breed we once knew as "the letter," has been replaced by its keyboard driven and electronic equivalent, the e-mail. Children have laptops, and their teachers have retired the nail scratching jolly giants, trading their well-contrasted greenish hues for the electronic, touch screen driven whiteboard.

So thinking of this new, type driven world, ruled by the power of the pre-designed font, I tapped some text in my Palm and on my mobile phone, and wondered, "When was the last time I put pen to paper and wrote something longer than my signature or a post-it note?" The age of portable computing and devices has created a generation of typists. The digital font has redefined the written word.

Writing. What is it? If you look at the dictionary, writing is defined as letters, symbols, or words formed on a surface such as paper with an instrument like a pen. There are other definitions of course, but even those defining the abstract use of the word, often use the expression "set down" which goes back to the original, "as on a surface." So where has writing on a surface and its resulting art form, penmanship, gone?

The written word dates back thousands of years to the earliest peoples who used symbols to represent property or count agricultural items. Through time, the symbols (think traffic signs or icons) began to represent words and later sounds. They helped cultures preserve their knowledge and accounting. These symbols were eventually stylized and became the cute little drawings we associate with Sumeria, better known as Cuneiform, which is considered the first written language. Other adorable drawings as language include the Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Chinese Calligraphy. These types of writing were complex, having thousands of symbols to remember, and you needed a certain level of artistic skill and or care to do them properly. Thankfully for those who flunked art class in school and to summarize a bit, it evolved and eventually became the alphabet system we know today with its flowing style of lines, curves and speedy writing.

A person with good penmanship was someone highly regarded and respected for their beautiful letter art. One could hear a person talk about someone's penmanship. Sloppy writing signified a sloppy person, whereas someone with perfect penmanship signified someone orderly and sophisticated. The study of someone's handwriting eventually became the science of graphology. Today, graphologists analyze handwriting for corporations, law enforcement, etc., in order to better understand the personality of those whose writing they study, be it an employee or a criminal. But if everything's typed, how can you analyze their writing?

Which brings us back to the dying art, today. Calligraphy, which the dictionary defines as the art of fine handwriting and dates back to ancient China, is at least 4,000 years old. Today, it has been relegated to the task of wedding invitations and Chinese tattoos, though even the former is often seen in its generic digital equivalent. We're turning writing into a niche art form.

So what happens to this ancient art and basic form of communication? Cursive is no longer taught in many schools, preferring the simpler "print cursive" which is but italicized print. The 3rd graders already use laptops and keyboards, developing a high skill and preference for typing. At that age they can already type 40 to 50 words per minute and they don't have to erase, check their spelling, or go through the difficult task of proofreading. The computer takes care of those chores for them. When done, just e-mail the teacher.

I'd never go as far as saying the pen is dead or that handwriting will disappear, but it certainly poses a question as to its future and ours. If we've forgotten how to handwrite and it becomes nothing more than a niche art form practiced by the elderly, what happens when the digital devices fail? What will we do, call the wedding invitation girl to save us?
Author's note: This commentary was originally handwritten.
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Monday, June 06, 2005

Apple no longer thinking different

It was announced today that Apple Computer would migrate from IBM's PowerPC platform to an all Intel diet by 2007 starting with their first products in June 2006 confirming rumors published as factual news throughout the past week. With the announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has finally put an end to speculation and rumors going back at least 10 years, "MacOS X has been leading a double life for the past five years. So today, for the first time, I can confirm the rumors that every release of MacOS X has been compiled for PowerPC and Intel. This has been going on for the last five years."

The news has had all sort of reactions from Mac loyalists. For years, the same CEO now embracing the Intel processor has repeatedly touted the benefits and power of IBM's Power PC platform, which has prompted many loyalists to say, "What the?" To be fair and reach a better understanding of the reasoning behind such a monumental decision, one has to look at where things are going in the processor market. IBM's processor roadmap is for more advanced, power and heat hungry applications as seen in the large server market and now in the video console market. These processors are designed for singular applications without much concern as to heat dissipation and power consumption, two things that are important in the personal computer market particularly in laptop computers. The PowerPC 970 used in the low volume Macintosh market hit a development wall when it moved to a 90 nanometer process as did most of the industry, but IBM has been unable to advance that processor further or offer other economical alternatives. This has placed the Mac platform in a difficult position where it can't offer more advanced products particularly in the high end, but more importantly in the highly lucrative and top selling laptop market.

It is the laptop market that is the biggest worry for Apple, for although its products of today have great appeal and are well powered, in one or two years they will be outdated and their performance lagging behind the rest of the industry. IBM’s PowerPC roadmap does not provide a solution to this problem, whereas Intel has the solutions available, TODAY. In truth, IBM has been distancing itself from the PC market and in fact sold its entire PC business to Chinese based Lenovo. They've chosen to concentrate more on specialized markets and on providing software and services.

One of these specialized markets in particular was seen as a boon for Apple, the video console market. The fact that all three major console makers chose IBM's PowerPC for their next generation consoles had moved the rumor machine into high gear as to the possibility of those processors reaching the Mac market, but the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t in Apple's or IBM's best interest to go through the cost of adapting those particular processors to their needs. In the end, the migration to Intel was inevitable and will provide a positive influx of processors, future product advancement, and a greater economy.

For those Mac users still skeptical as to the transition, it is important to note that Apple has had transitions before, from the Apple II to the Macintosh, from the Motorola 68040 processor to the PowerPC, and from MacOS 9 to MacOS X. Although previous transitions have had the negative side effect of eroding market share, the Apple of today is not the Apple of yesteryear. The iPod success has analysts talking about the life of Apple, instead of its death. Apple dominates the portable and online music market with a 76 percent market share for the iPod and 82 percent market share for the music store. This is translating into an iPod "halo" effect, boosting Mac market share. Also, MacOS X has shown itself as the most stable and secure OS on the planet which has prompted scores of users and companies to make the switch.

The process this time, is also simpler. MacOS X runs native on both platforms which is in itself a boon, and translates to not having to run the OS in emulation as happened during previous transitions. Also, most developers are already using Apple's Xcode for MacOS X development which also eases the process by allowing them to easily support both platforms in a native state. Of course, no transition is entirely simple and past transitions have had their negative effects, but overall, this seems to be a less destructive scenario than had been previously envisioned by speculators and the Mac faithful.

The truth of this entire news story is that it will really not affect Mac users as much as some people might think. The OS will look and function in the exact same manner, and the applications will be the same ones you use today. The big difference will be in that iBooks and Powerbooks will not lag behind their Windows toting counterparts, and that everyone will be playing on a level field. Only one thing will possibly anger the Mac faithful, particularly those that remember the "Satan Inside" logos and Apple's Intel bashing campaigns, and that will be the first time they see the Intel Inside logo sticker plastered all over their beautiful, new Mac much like the banner of an army that has just conquered its ancient foe. "The new 5 Ghz Apple Powerbook, now with the Power of M, brought to you by Intel."

Yes, the PowerPC is a better processor, but consumers and power users want more power at lower costs. So in the end, it's Intel inside for all of us. Here's to hoping it works.
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Extremities - based on a true story

The engine roared behind our backs as we sped down the Iturregui Expressway. The city lights fought an arduous battle with the spotlight from above as a small inflatable cruised the dark waters of the lagoon. It was still early for a Saturday night, but my girl and I were already late for dinner.

Devoid of buildings along the waterfront, traffic normally remained light, which in turn allowed for one of my favorite pastimes…speed. It was a fast road with no cops. Seventy-five was the standard, as faster would blow my already balding head to hell. The little sportster handled my demands with no fuss, and this drive seemed designed for it.

This night would be different though, as the gears whined and my right foot found its way to the brake pedal. Something happened. Traffic stopped. An accident? As I drove closer, I spotted the body laid across the road. It had just happened.

My mind raced ahead to the scene. A corpse lay there with its back on the cold asphalt, its guts spewed all over the road. I turned and vomited on my girlfriend, then shunned away in fear as the man appeared in the corner of my eye, my leg nervously slipping off the clutch. The engine stalled. My heart beat faster and faster as I hurriedly attempted to restart the motor to no avail. The headless body walked over towards the car to strangle me with its intestines. I turned the key over and over. Nothing. The body grew closer. My heart beat faster. My girlfriend screamed.

Finally, we were there. In reality, a decapitated biker lay dead on his back. His left arm had been torn away and lay a few feet from his body. The jeans held his legs together, but his T-shirt was no match for the road. Am I disgusted? I thought to myself as I stared intently on the open chest. No. My wonderment lay in his identity. Was the head still in the helmet?

We drove off pondering upon life as one often does after viewing such a scene. The bean cap lay a hundred meters ahead...empty. The night went on, the words unsaid. One question, "Do you think the Harley still runs?"
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