Anytime there’s a scandal, it becomes a “gate,” reminiscent of Watergate, the hotel/condominium complex in Washington, D.C. where the 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters led to a President’s resignation. My most important memory of the period was spending the night there once, in my uncle’s home, about a week before the dastardly deed was done.
Apple has had a few scandals, though whether or not they were serious is debatable. I don’t recall having any problems with the iPhone 4, although it did lose reception if you held it in a way that covered the external antenna system. Still, “Antenngate” brought enough bad publicity to force Apple to give away free iPhone bumper cases for a while; that move overcame the problem.
The bending issue with the iPhone 6 Plus evidently was first spotted when the unit was placed in the rear pocket of someone’s tight pair of jeans. Call it “Bendgate,” and while Apple and others, even Consumer Reports magazine, claimed that the product was acceptably resistant against such damage, Apple shored up the structure for the iPhone 6s Plus.
Now we have what I call “Throttlegate,” the practice if capping performance on recent iPhones when the battery is determined to have seriously deteriorated. Apple defends the move as preventing a potential shutdown when these units are under heavy load, but maybe they should have been more proactive to explain to customers what was going on. So far, at least three class action lawsuits have been filed, and while claims that Apple throttles performance to fool you into buying a new model don’t pass muster, the failure to provide at least a warning message may be enough to force Apple to settle these cases.
Typical of such legal filings, lawyers will earn millions. Complainants will end up getting discount coupons for their next Apple purchase.
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator/podcaster Kirk McElhearn. Front and center was the ruckus over reports that Apple was deliberately throttling performance of older iPhones. Kirk gave you his unvarnished opinion of the practice; does Apple deserve to lose those cases? The discussion also focused on Apple in 2017, and the costly iMac Pro all-in-one computer, which is now shipping.
You also heard from tech publisher/editor Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who also offered his opinion on Apple’s actions over what Gene calls “Throttlegate.” Gene and Bryan also talked about the value of Apple TV. In offering a brief report on the VIZIO M-Series TV he’s reviewing (see the next article), which comes with Google Chromecast built in, Gene wondered about the future prospects for Apple’s streamer. In pop culture mode, the duo talked about Apple’s reported billion dollar move into TV production, which includes a new sci-fi show produced by Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame. And does Tom Cruise really do most or all of those death-defying stunts in his movies?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Rosemary Ellen Guiley & Michael Brein, co-authors of The Road to Strange: Travel Tales of the Paranormal and Beyond. This collection of 44 true stories tells of travelers around the world who are suddenly faced with ghosts, paranormal phenomena, unusual synchronicities, time slips, magic, visions, past-life connections, premonitions, mystical experiences, mysterious figures, and more. Rosemary, a perennial favorite guest, needs no introduction. Michael is a seasoned traveler and travel writer who has written over a dozen travel guides for those heading out around the world to exotic locals and also has published the Travel Tales Monthly since 2012.
FIRST LOOK: 2017 VIZIO SMARTCAST M-SERIES DISPLAY
I’ve been previewing this column for a while, ever since I worked out a deal where VIZIO provided the set in exchange for my agreeing to review it. But they put no restrictions on how I should rate the product, so I’m free to do what I’ve done for the past 25 years, which is to give my unvarnished opinion about a tech gadget.
This time I ran into a couple of obstacles. Since it was just months after I sustained some back injuries in an accident that took out my car, I asked a neighbor to help me do the heavy lifting, removing my 2012 55-inch VIZIO E-Series and replacing it with the comparably sized 2017 SmartCast M-Series Display.
Not that these sets are heavy. The new VIZIO weighs around 36 pounds with the metal feet installed. The other set weighs maybe 10 pounds more. Carrying either wouldn’t normally present a problem, but lifting it onto the stand required some help.
The old set has a single base in its center. The new set has two legs at the edges of the unit. But my existing TV stand measures just 41 inches wide, while the new VIZIO’s feet are 43 inches apart. I had hoped to use it with a ZVOX Audio Z-Base 580 soundbase, but it’s just 36 inches wide.
Both had to go. Fortunately, I was able to acquire a suitable TV stand, an AVF measuring just shy of 50 inches wide, at a huge discount from a store that was just two days from shutting down for good. VIZIO recommended their highly-rated SB3621n-E8 36″ 2.1 Channel Soundbar, which comes with a wireless subwoofer. Despite selling for $149 or less, this product has received five stars from CNET for delivering surprisingly robust audio quality. The TV lists for $699, but you can probably find a discount if you look real hard.
For a 4K set with HDR, that’s fairly cheap, but VIZIO doesn’t cheap out on performance. The specs specify 32 local dimming zones, built-in Google Chromecast, 4 HDMI ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and an eight-core CPU to process the picture.
So where does VIZIO scrimp to keep the price reasonably affordable?
Well, there’s no built-in tuner; that’s why it’s referred to as a “display” and not a TV set. I suppose VIZIO theorizes that most people are going to use a cable or satellite connection if they aren’t relying on the unit’s smart features, or an external streamer, such as an Apple TV 4K or a Roku. If you need to receive over-the-air stations, you can find a suitable tuner at Amazon for $30 or so. No big loss.
Unlike the 2016 models, VIZIO isn’t providing an Android tablet. Instead, you can use your own iOS or Android device and set up the TV with VIZIO’s SmartCast app.
Instead, I opted to use the supplied remote and install the app later. Other than streaming content, I ran the TV with a Cox cable remote, which can be configured to call up the essential functions of the TV and the soundbar.
Typical of VIZIO gear, the mounting of the ports require you to insert the plugs vertically, rather than horizontally. For the most part, I got it to work without much trouble, except for some difficulty in connecting the optical cable from the soundbar, which required a little trial and error.
Once you turn on the unit for the first time, you’re taken through a setup assistant that allows you to configure basic settings, and connect to your Wi-Fi network. Here I ran into a glitch, where one character in my password would always echo back as the upper case equivalent rather than the correct lower case. I managed to induce it to work by essentially backspacing and reentering the character. After that, the connection was pretty quick.
The onscreen menus are fairly simple to understand and navigate, though you might want to download the full user manual if you plan to manage more than the basic settings; the unit comes with a printed “quick start” guide. The assistant also has several legal proclamations that you are asked to accept. The one that you can refuse is the statement that VIZIO will collect your viewing data. This is something other TV makers do, but VIZIO got attacked for the practice several years ago. Since you’re entering Google’s ecosystem if you plan to use the Chromecast features, it’s something you should expect.
After the setup process was done, I had to wait another 10 minutes or so for the unit to update the firmware and software.
There are several picture presets. At first, I opted to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to use Calibrated, which “allows your Display to deliver the most accurate picture quality for most environments.” Later on, I also turned on the Auto Brightness feature, to accommodate the fact that we watch TV in our master bedroom with lights on and lights off. When the lights are off, the only lighting comes from the foyer and the bathroom, so it’s fairly dim. The automatic setting, which has three brightness options, is meant to accommodate such situations.
For a brief time I experimented with another setting recommended by some reviewers, Calibrated Dark. But as the label indicates, it’s useful if you mostly watch your TV in dark surroundings, so even with a higher backlight setting, with Auto Brightness enabled, I ultimately returned to Calibrated.
I have no doubt that professional calibration will improve the already excellent picture even further, but most people who buy TVs make do with the existing settings. Most never change the defaults. So I wanted to focus this review on how regular people will use a TV such as this, which means sticking with the presets.
I’ll be spending the next few weeks putting the set through its paces with a variety of program material. During the first few days, I concentrated on cable fare, and some 4K content from Amazon and Netflix, such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Stranger Things.”
While TV makers are selling loads of 4K gear, there’s a dearth of compatible content. Cable and satellite companies have made few moves to change that state of affairs, so most of the programming you’ll watch will be scaled up from lower resolutions, and here’s where some TVs fall down on the job. Fortunately, the VIZIO does a creditable job in upscaling, as regular HD shows were clearly sharper, with richer colors. Genuine 4K fare, especially with HDR support, was even sharper and the colors popped.
To really see 4K in all its glory, you need a set with a large enough picture, unless you sit real close. Since our master bedroom is relatively small, a 55-inch display is quite enough to see the resolution advantage.
Even with HD shows, the M-Series is a revelation. On the old set, blacks were usually dark gray. Here even the labels on the set-top box’s TV guide were deep black. The wider contrast ratio was obvious. Indeed, the deep blacks reminded me of my old Panasonic plasma; well, except for the fact that any LCD LED set, such as the VIZIO, will present a more limited viewing angle.
But what about the audio?
Well, it’s passable. You don’t expect much in a TV at this price range. Audio was clean enough, but there wasn’t a whole lot of bass, which is to be expected. Here the SB3621n-E8 made a huge difference.
Setting up the soundbar was mostly plug-and-play, but the subwoofer needed some extra adjustment. Since the walls in this apartment are notorious for producing sympathetic vibrations when bass is cranked up too high, and I didn’t want to annoy the neighbors, I placed the subwoofer next to the front of the stand. At its default setting, there was plenty of thump with content that provided a decent amount of bass; maybe too much thump. In another room, I could hear and feel the thumping through the wall, similar to the effect of being near a car where the subwoofers are running in overdrive.
A properly adjusted subwoofer should enhance the sound, not overwhelm it, so I had to back off on its level with the supplied remote until I reached the sweet spot. Typical of two-channel soundbars, there’s a faux surround sound feature, in this case DTS TruSurround, which expands the width of the soundstage beyond the unit’s 36 inches. It’s not the real thing, but a decent simulation. A crisp midrange means that dialogue is especially clean. I noticed that I could play it at a lower volume than the ZVOX, which will no doubt please the neighbors.
In this household, the family’s TV is a constant presence, so I’ll know soon enough how well the VIZIO works with a variety of program material. As it stands, I’m extremely pleased that I took on this review, despite having to replace the TV stand and audio system. When it comes to a TV’s picture, I’m obsessive about quality, and this system, so far at least, deserves my highest recommendation.
I’ll have more to say about it in these columns, and on my radio show, in the coming days. In the meantime, another neighbor has offered to take my old set, the stand and the soundbase off my hands for a small sum. I gladly accepted the offer.
“Regardless of what branch of government, office or party affiliation, the law applies to each and every one of us!”
Yesterday, while I was drudging through the Christmas season of waiting for it all to be over with so I can get back to work, and while on hold, I turned on the conservative radio only to hear the “same old, same old” when it comes to warmongering to prepare the American people for another war.
I heard a former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney grilling the American people on what they need to do concerning the monster that has been cast into the minds of the American people by the media in North Korea named Kim Jong-Un.
His talking points were far too familiar. Kim Jong’s “weapons of mass destruction” were mentioned and how they will be used against us if we do not respond immediately to the threat from the dictator across the water.
Ever since I can remember, there has been war after war, administration after administration, decade after decade, and generation after generation. Enough of war, I say.
Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to stand with the righteous if there is a justifiable war (2 Chronicles 19:2-3), though I hate violence.
The adviser’s talking points seemed well rehearsed. He seemed skilled in coercing the people into another war (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Furthermore, his talking points sounded like someone pushed the replay button for the war against Iraq (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Then again, he knows that his former boss’ Halliburton made $ 39.5 billion on the Iraq War and he also knows how to speak the language of creating a new war with the same old war tactics.
General Douglas MacArthur said of the United States government back in 1957:
“Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear – kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it. …”
You would think that this is what America was told by the president on Sept. 11, 2001. It was.
This may help many understand as to why Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are also considered war criminals in other countries.
Getting back to North Korea, according to CBS News:
North Korea's envoy in charge of U.S. affairs at the United Nations demanded Washington provide evidence to back up its claim that Pyongyang was behind the WannaCry ransomware attack, an allegation he said was a "baseless provocation" being used to generate tensions.
Pak Song Il told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from New York late Monday that Pyongyang sees the allegation as an effort to create an "extremely confrontational atmosphere." "If they are so sure, show us the evidence," he said.
I agree. Let this be a live conversation between the two countries in conflict in an open televised forum. This will leave it to the people as to what is actually taking place.
How many times has the American government been exposed for self-inflicting attacks and in generating wars, creating political opposition, winning public opinion with approval to attack the opposition that they created?
Let’s go to Vietnam, for an example:
The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ), also known as the USS Maddox incident, was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It involved either one or two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The original American report blamed North Vietnam for both incidents, but eventually became very controversial with widespread claims that either one or both incidents were false, and possibly deliberately so.
On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire. Maddox expended over 280 3-inch and 5-inch shells in a sea battle. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties. Maddox "was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round".
It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead evidence was found of "Tonkin ghosts" (false radar images) and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened. In 1995, McNamara met with former Vietnam People's Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964 in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. "Absolutely nothing", Giáp replied. Giáp claimed that the attack had been imaginary.
Ninety-four percent of the American people do not believe the CIA-Controlled media, who has a long history of lying, defaming, contriving, fabricating and creating war, and putting innocent people into a false light.
In the video below, take a look beginning at the 1:14 mark where a CNN operative is creating a false narrative inside a green room, acting out that the war in Saudi Arabia is inevitable.
Consider that Congress, who as of November 8, 2017 only has the support of 13% of the American people. These are the same people who work hand in glove with the CIA-controlled media against our Republic.
How is it that these two corrupt institutions, who have a history of lying to you, are now telling you the truth when it comes to the crimes of other countries and their leaders?
Remember, liars have a history of lying and in every war the first casualty is always the truth (John 8:44).
The American government and its role in this country have become as foreign to Americans, in many cases, as foreign countries are to us.
Yet, the push for war is relentless. American military brass in this country have now declared war with Korea as inevitable.
Americans, I want to tell you that our Forefathers left us an example when it comes to war. If a war was worth fighting, they were the first ones to lead the way.
"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
These famous words about George Washington come from a eulogy written by Henry Lee.
In the present, the corrupt media, along with corrupt politicians are working together for those who profit from war to convince you to send your granddaddies, daddies, uncles, cousins, brothers, and neighbors to do their fighting for them.
“Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” –American diplomat and Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
Little did the people take the time to know that:
“Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to kill and to die.” Two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler
You have been warned America (Ezekiel 33).
On January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American people about the Military Industrial Complex.
It would be an understatement to say that this past year has been controversial on the political scene. Three major stories dominated the news from my perspective. Obviously at the top of the list was the continuing saga of Donald Trump. Then there was the Alabama Senate race that became the nation’s number one soap opera. And we learned that the government spends millions of dollars running down rumors of UFOs.
And here’s the kicker. 2018 is potentially shaping up to be the most tumultuous political year in our lifetime. The control of congress, more unpredictable antics from our President, the possible reckless actions from that crazy guy in North Korea, America’s deteriorating role of leadership on the world stage, gridlock in Washington and in legislatures across the nation: Hey, what more could a political junkie ask for?
So far, President Trump has not followed in the paths of Reagan, Roosevelt and Kennedy in being forceful leaders who reached out to build working coalitions. Great leaders, in order to govern effectively, extended their tribal base by appealing to people’s hopes rather than their fears. There is a long history of presidents using their office as a bully pulpit to rally support. But do we now have a bully in the pulpit?
Whether you are a Trump supporter or not, he is viewed across the board as an aggressive, abusive, no holds barred president. In the years to come, historians will look back to see if the presidency has changed Donald Trump, or if Donald Trump has changed the presidency.
The president is making a major effort to restructure the federal judiciary and has forwarded some three dozen nominations to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. Only six have been confirmed so far, and for good reason. In a number of cases, Trump has selected grey mice. That’s the name given by court watchers to nominees who lack the scholarship, the temperament, and the learning to be federal judges.
We witnessed first hand several nominees who were over their heads and obviously unqualified for the federal bench in Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearings just a few weeks ago. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy has commendably hammered away at several nominees as to their knowledge of basic judicial terminology. Concepts any candidate for a judgeship should know.
As the Baton Rouge advocate reported: “The questions highlighted (nominee) Matthew Peterson’s lack of courtroom experience. Pressed by Sen. Kennedy, Peterson acknowledged having never made arguments in a courtroom nor having tried a case– and then struggled to define a series of legal terms, several of which legal expert described as fairly basic.” As Kennedy appropriately observed: “Just because you’ve seen ‘My cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.”
So to help out future nominees, I’m offering a few questions and answers that should be memorized before appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing. Any future nominee should give me a call because, hey I’m a lawyer, and I’m admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. So with the aid of Professor Garrett Epps at Baltimore University, I offer these suggested responses.
A Lawsuit: That’s what you wear in court.
Recusal: When the judge takes a brief judicial nap.
Sidebar: That’s of course the liquor kept near the courtroom.
Erie doctrine: The rule that testimony by ghosts is inadmissible.
Bench trial: Shopping for a new chair for the judge.
Judicial review: The number of “likes” on the judge’s twitter feed.
Res judicata: The judges once a year have a race around the courthouse.
Marbury v. Madison: The first matchup for the NCAA national football championship.
For all you judicial wannabes, gray mice or otherwise, I hope this helps in your quest to ascend to the federal bench. For all the rest of us, get ready for a knock down-drag out 2018. Happy New Year!
Peace and Justice
With the Republicans’ tax bill set to become law on Jan. 1, you have just a few days left to prepay your 2018 property taxes before the federal cap on your state and local tax deduction goes into effect. The Republicans’ tax bill will cap the state and local tax deductions on federal tax returns at $10,000.
Thomas Mould, a certified public accountant of Valley Accounting and Tax in Apple Valley, Minn., said the $10,000 cap applies to all state taxes, including income tax. So if you pay a combined $10,000 in state and local property taxes and state income taxes, you’ll probably want to prepay your 2018 property taxes today.
Most people don’t have a state and local tax bill over $10,000, but those who do should take advantage of the uncapped deduction for property tax payments one last time. People living in high-tax states like New York and California should be the first to jump at the opportunity. Oregon, Maryland and Minnesota also have high income tax rates, but some states are still sorting out how they’ll handle pre-payment of property taxes and whether they will recognize the deduction.
Some states have made their intentions clear. Oregon, for example, is not allowing or recognizing prepayment of property taxes. However, New Jersey’s Governor just issued an executive order allowing the prepayment and deduction at the State level.
Mould said three of the four counties he contacted in Minnesota will take a prepayment on 2018 property taxes but wouldn’t tell him whether that prepayment would be recognized as income by the County, ensuring deductibility by the IRS. So states are scrambling to find answers for citizens with just days to determine whether prepaying 2018 property taxes will payoff for them next year. Small businesses shouldn’t be as confused, though.
“If the business itself...is subject to taxation, then there’s no limit on the state taxes. But if all the taxes are paid at the personal level, then the $10,000 cap would apply,” Mould informed.
Translation: if your business is taxed as a corporate entity, then the $10,000 state and local tax cap doesn’t apply to you. But if you run a sole proprietorship, then the $10,000 cap on your state and local tax deduction does apply.
So do your due diligence and determine whether prepaying your 2018 property taxes will save you money come tax season next year, and if you intend to start a sole proprietorship in 2018, keep in mind that your state and local tax deduction will be capped at $10,000, and it might be worth paying your 2018 property taxes ahead of time.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl
I was surprised when I stepped on a scale the day after Thanksgiving to find I had lost almost five pounds in five months. I shouldn’t have been surprised, however, because I had set my weekly target to lose a half pound per week on my MyPlate app by Livestrong. So had it not been for the constant grazing and then gorging of Thanksgiving, I probably would have met my goal of losing a half pound per week, or 10 pounds over five months, because I weighed myself again a week before Christmas and was shocked to see I had lost another eight pounds. (I’ve put five of it back on thanks to Christmas cookies.)
I’ve been monitoring my diet with the MyPlate app for six months now, hardly changing any of my exercise habits. Over that time, I’ve gone from 185 pounds to 165 pounds, and my waist has shrunk from 35 inches to 33 inches. I am a 31-year-old male standing five feet, 11 inches tall. My goal: to have six-pack abs by spring. It is the day after Christmas as of this writing.
I’ve never had six-pack abs despite being a gym rat in college. My goal in college was “the Rocky body.” I wanted to be 200 pounds like Rocky Balboa. I graduated high school at 150 pounds.
I worked at the University of Washington fitness center as a freshman in college, so if I wasn’t in class, studying, eating or sleeping, I was probably pumping iron. I started eating a 3,000-calorie diet -- then a 4,000-calorie diet. I was drinking a gallon of milk every two days or so, and burning through more whey protein than any broke 18-year-old should. Most of my money in those days went for protein and movies. I would do handstand pushups in my dorm hallway in the evenings and even stole some exercises from Rocky training montages, like medicine ball, decline sit ups (which probably contributed to my back problems later in life. I don’t do sit ups or crunches anymore, and neither should you.)
I put on 30 pounds of muscle as a freshman in college. People from my high school didn’t even recognize me, but despite eating a diet consisting almost entirely of protein and fats, I could never get my weight above 180 pounds. I had plateaued, which made me give up on my dream of achieving “the Rocky body.”
Once I turned 30, though, I didn’t have any problem putting on weight. My metabolism slowed noticeably, and I found myself buying jeans in a larger size for the first time in my life. I’ve had a 34-inch waist since middle school and was even wearing some of my high school jeans right up until I was 28 or so. Now I have the smallest waist I’ve ever had in my adult and adolescent life.
Now that I have degenerative disc disease that has resulted in one surgery already, “the Rocky body” isn’t a likely or healthy goal for me. Supporting 200 pounds on a five-foot, 11-inch frame would likely result in more lower back pain, especially given the upper body, weight-lifting required. But when I saw a 50-year-old man carrying a glass of wine and his six-pack abs around a pool in Las Vegas this year, I knew what I wanted for my body. I want to be the fittest old man around, and nothing says fitness like six-pack abs.
I’ve changed my diet dramatically. Calorie counting is a lifestyle, not a diet. While other people play games on their phones, I play with my body chemistry using the MyPlate app. I log my meals a day in advance, chasing the perfect day of macronutrient consumption (40 percent of calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein, 30 percent from fats) with what I have in the fridge and cupboards. It’s not easy, and it’s even harder if you’re poor. I typically only get my protein from whey and casein protein powders and eggs. If I’m lucky I’ll have chicken, or in this case, turkey due to Thanksgiving. Very rarely can I afford to eat steak or fish.
I’ve also quit drinking alcohol. Cutting carbs out of my diet proved difficult back when I was boozing. To think that a single pint of India Pale Ale could have up to 280 calories, all of which are calories from carbohydrates, made me move off microbrews immediately. Switching to 110-calorie light beer didn’t help. I just ended up drinking twice as many light beers to compensate for the lack of alcohol.
Then I tried doing 100-calorie shots of whiskey on the rocks or in soda water, but I still struggled meeting my caloric and nutrition goals despite dumping the empty carbs. Finally, I started drinking the lowest-calorie liquor out there: vodka. At 97 calories per shot, vodka allowed me to meet my caloric goals more easily, but I struggled finding a mixer that was low in carbs and sugars. Vodka and soda water isn’t any good, orange juice adds 112 calories from 21 grams of sugars and 26 grams of carbs, and cranberry juice is even worse.
I’ve found a couple of workouts I like on the MyPlate app thanks to Livestrong granting me gold membership status in exchange for me writing these editorials. I do a seven-minute, cardio sculpting workout that burns roughly 141 calories. I try to do that thrice weekly, and fail more often than I succeed.
I’ve also started doing MyPlate’s 10-minute abs workout, which burns just 76 calories, but shreds the abs. I use an ab wheel instead of doing the weighted crunches, though. This obviously isn’t enough exercise to burn my belly fat and reveal my six-pack abs, but my New Year’s resolution is to increase my training and have six-pack abs by March 13 (for another trip to Vegas).
Long-distance cardio isn’t the answer if your goal is six-pack abs. Exhausting yourself running miles upon miles is completely unnecessary and ineffective. You’d be better off running a 100 meters at full speed, resting for 30 seconds, and running another 100 meter dash. That’s why I’m starting an interval cardio training program.
Interval cardio training is a lot like weight lifting -- but for cardio. When I was seeking “the Rocky body” back in college, all I did was interval weight training. Interval training is simply doing an intense exercise for a short period and then resting for a short period.
For instance, on a chest day, I would start doing eight repetitions of bench press, then rest for a minute. Then I’d increase the weight and do six reps. Then I’d increase the weight and do four reps, maxing out on my last set doing two reps of the most weight I could lift. I’d do this for every exercise, eventually turning my weight training into a cardio workout as well. On arms and abs days, I wouldn’t even rest between sets. I’d go straight from bicep curls to weighted, decline sit ups and back to curls. On chest and back days, I’d go from bench press to the weighted row back to bench press. It was exhausting, effective and efficient.
Interval cardio training is exactly like interval weight training minus the weights, and when it comes to effective interval cardio training, nothing compares to the effectiveness of jumping rope. Just ask Mark Wahlberg, whose goal at 46 years of age is to cut his body fat to six percent.
After the filming of his last movie, Wahlberg reportedly had 16 percent body fat, which still allowed his six-pack abs to show. But it gives you an idea of how far Wahlberg has to go. Google says you can safely shed one percent of body fat per month, but something tells me Wahlberg will do it in less than 10 months given his trainer, personal chef and cryotherapy.
I am starting with 18 percent body fat, which has me at the bottom of the average body fat range for men. That’s a good start. Men with 14 to 17 percent body fat are considered “fit.” Since my goal is six-pack abs by spring, I have roughly three months to lower my body fat anywhere from two to four percent. That’s plenty of time if I focus my “weight lifting” on my abs. After all, you don’t need a dangerously low body fat percentage to show off six-pack abs if you build your ab muscles like bodybuilders build biceps.
The key to six-pack abs is constantly using your abs. You can do ab exercises sitting at your desk at work. Just crunch your abs together and hold it for a while. Then release, focusing on your breathing. These core exercises will shred your abs without going to the gym or even exercising.
You can’t just expect your abs to grow if you don’t feed them properly, though. At least 30 percent of your calories should come from protein. Fat isn’t as bad as once thought, either. It’s carbs that are toughest for the body to burn. You can burn fat in your sleep if you consume casein protein before bed. Just have a bit of Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or a casein protein milk shake prior to bedtime, and you’ll burn fat all night. Avoid the carbs at all times except after a workout. It’s important to carb load after workouts, but try to eat healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables. A little sugar after a workout isn’t terrible, either.
The most important thing you can do to achieve your New Year’s resolution of six-pack abs by spring is to commit to an interval cardio training regiment. I’m purchasing a Cyclone Speed Rope -- a jump rope with comfortable hand grips cut at a custom length that makes double-unders easier to perform. Cyclone can even design a jump rope for amputees who’ve lost an arm.
So if you’re determined and dedicated to your body, make six-pack abs by spring your New Year’s resolution, and shock all your friends at the pool this summer.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: America’s Healthcare Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, Good Day Health, Health Hunters, Herb Talk, Free Talk Live
Need a last second holiday gift? Looking for a way to spend that Christmas Google Play or itunes gift card? I have just what you need -- awesome, cheap games for your phone!
Everyone has played Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Limbo (but if you haven’t you should totally check them out) so I went a different route. Normally I play games on a console or PC, which tend to be more story based than traditional point and click phone games. But it occured to me that many of the story based games I love and play are probably available for your phone.
So I checked. And I found some!
Here are a few of my favorites presented alphabetically:
The Banner Saga 1 & 2: I really love this game. It’s a great mix of storytelling and turn based tactical combat. The art is gorgeous and the story choices are sophisticated enough to keep you guessing. From the website of game designer Stoic Games:
“Epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies and enemies as you travel with your caravan across a stunningly beautiful, yet harsh, landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization. Every decision you make in travel, conversation and combat has a meaningful effect on the outcome as your story unfolds. Not everyone under your banner will survive, but they will be remembered.”
Playing time: Approx. 10ish hours to complete the main quest in Banner Saga 1 with perhaps 15ish hours to complete Saga 2. Additional hour can be spent in game play through Survival Mode - a series of increasingly difficult battles! (I just got killed in battle 32 of 40. Must start over. Arggh!)
Repeat playability: High. Adjust game play to a higher difficulty and try a second Saga or play Survival Mode after completing the main story.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: $5 -$10
Beholder: A really fun game set in a grim dystopian future where an oppressive totalitarian State controls every aspect of private and public life. And it’s your job to root out anyone who speaks our or acts against the State! Of course you can rage against the State and hide the on going deeds of your tenants, if you wish -- just don’t get caught. Warning - this game is hard! From the Warm Lamp Games game designer site:
“You are the State-installed manager of an apartment building. Your daily routine involves making the building a sweet spot for tenants, who will come and go; however, that is simply a faced that hides your real mission … spying on your renters! Your primary task is to covertly watch your tenants and eavesdrop on their conversations. You must bug their apartments while they’re away, search their belongings, and profile them for your superiors. You must also report anyone capable of violating the laws or plotting subversive activities against the State to the authorities.”
Playing time: Several hours to finish the main story with an additional 20ish hours in order to unlock all possible endings.
Repeat playability: High.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
Heart’s Medicine: Time to Heal: A super charming point and click time management game -- that happens to be a touching medical based drama. What sets it apart from many point and click games is the tender storyline woven between game goals.
Game designer Blue Giraffe says:
“Heart’s Medicine - Time to Heal is an intense medical drama tied into a casual game this is moving people to tears. The game has a gripping and unique storyline, original singer/songwriter music, highly detailed artwork and animation, cool addictive gameplay and an insane amount of heart … Become a doctor in a romantic medical drama and join the life of aspiring surgeon Allison Heart as she works her shifts at Little Creek Hospital. Experience love, intense action, realistic drama, crazy funny moments and the beauty of celebrating life!”
Playing time: Approx. 20 hours.
Repeat playability: Medium. Once the story is over you can repeat gameplay but without the darling story it becomes a standard diner dash game.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
The Silent Age: A clever little point and click drama that bounces back and forth in time. This game is more story driven than game driven. Solving the puzzles won’t be much of a challenge for most savvy game players but the story writing is strong and the plot becomes more compelling as it moves forward. The game is downloaded as five separate chapter so make sure you get chapter one!
Game developer House on Fire says:
“Help Joe as he travels between the groovy present of 1972 and the apocalyptic future of 2012 to discover the truth behind humankind’s extinction - a quest entrusted to him by a dying man from the future. Use your portable time travel device to solve puzzles that bring you closer to answers and saving humanity. Winner of the 2013 Causal Connection Indie Prize.”
Playing time: Approx. 6 hours.
Repeat playability: Low. Once you know the story -- you know the story.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
This War of Mine: This absolutely gorgeous black and white shaded game is a gut wrencher. A survivalist war game unlike anything I’ve played. After several times (about ten hours game time) I’ve yet to survive to see the end of the war. I’ll let the folks from 11 Bit Studio, the game designers, explain it for you:
“In This War of Mine you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle .... The pace of the game is imposed by the day and night cycle. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout: crafting and trading and taking care of your survivors.At night, take one of your civilians on a mission to scavenge through a set of unique locations for items that will help you stay alive … Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them for longer-term survival. During war, there are no good or bad decisions, there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.”
Playing time: The game is won when the war ends which is randomly decided each time you load a new game. I would say approx. ten-ish hours to finish the story once.
Repeat playability: High. Each play through will bring completely different challenges.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: $4-$14.
GCN proudly welcomes Michio Kaku’s long running radio program Science Fantastic to our weekly line up! Professor Kaku probably needs little introduction but introduce him I must. And so, from Wikipedia:
Professor Kaku is a Japanese American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science. He is professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. Kaku has written several books about physics and related topics, has made frequent appearances on radio, television, and film, and writes online blogs and articles. He has written three New York Times best sellers, hosted several TV specials for networks around the world and since 2006 has broadcast his radio program Science Fantastic -- previously syndicated by Talk Radio Network and now, beginning at midnight on Saturday December 30th will be nationally syndicated by the Genesis Communication Network - that would be us. =)
The Science Fantastic show page will be up on the GCNlive site ASAP with more program and affiliate information to follow.
We’re very excited to have Professor Kaku join the team and we hope you’ll tune in to -- Science Fantastic!
“Regardless of what branch of government, office or party affiliation, the law applies to each and every one of us!”
Last week, I wrote that there must be consequences when it comes to false accusers, and this week I want to show you that there must be consequences when it comes to those who are guilty.
We all must keep in scope that the purpose of government is to “restrain men from sin” (breaking the law), enforce God’s standard of “right and wrong” and to “maintain order.” Knowing this, how does one accept what is happening in American Government in the present?
Recently, Al Franken (D-MN) simply chose to resign after being accused of inappropriately touching multiple women before and after he was a senator and photos are easily accessible. An Ethics Committee investigation was already underway.
Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) simply chose to resign as Congresses longest-serving member Tuesday, becoming the first lawmaker to step down as Capitol Hill grapples with allegations of inappropriate behavior by lawmakers.
Conyers, who represented the Detroit area for 52 years, yielded to mounting pressure from representatives to step aside as a growing number of female former aides accused him of unwanted advances and mistreatment. He has denied wrongdoing.
Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks announced in a statement Thursday night that he will simply resign from Congress at the end of January, after the House Ethics Committee said it would investigate allegations against him of sexual harassment.
Wow, they are uncovered (Luke 12:2) for their offences toward our laws and when found out, they simply choose to resign without fear of the consequences (Proverbs 29:15).
A mere slap on the hand is a signal of encouragement to the next violator of law in line to do the same in their criminal endeavors (Luke 22:48).
The last to resign amid a scandal was Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), in 2011, who quit during an investigation by the Ethics Committee into his affair with a former campaign staffer who was married to a Senate staffer.
Before that, Sen. Robert Packwood (R-OR) resigned after being recommended for expulsion amid accusations of sexual abuse in 1995.
Going even further back, Sen. Harrison Williams D-NJ) resigned in 1982 after being recommended for expulsion after a bribery conviction. This list of criminals is only the tip of the iceberg.
Where have the American people accepted the notion that public servants, who have been placed into public trust and have transgressed American laws, must simply resign after their criminal violations rather than face justice as to the laws they broke, as if to suggest that this will somehow appease the crime? It only encourages more crime.
There is a higher trust placed in the individual that serves “We the People.”
Therefore, if they violate that trust by breaking the law, then there is a higher consequence that they must pay for their transgressions.
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. – Article 2, Section 4 US Constitution
Asking them to resign is like hiring a banker that turns out to be a bank robber, and then after their crimes are discovered, you ask the bank robber to simply return the money and go find another job. He will merely go to another bank and then repeat the crime all over again.
You do not ask for a resignation. You fire him and call the police and have them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for the crimes committed. We should be deterring the crime, not encouraging it (Proverbs 16:6).
Americans need to understand that where justice is left off, it will create repeat offenders and so it has and will continue to do so unless the remedy is applied (Isaiah 26:9).
If this is not done, it will destroy this country, regardless of wh0 the guilty party is, for Justice guards American liberties (Isaiah 51:4).
The Minnesota Timberwolves were fourth in the NBA’s Western Conference after a comeback win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Minneapolis on Monday, but there are glaring problems with the wolfpack that could derail its playoff hopes.
Tom Thibodeau, unsurprisingly, is overworking his starters. All five of his starters are averaging more than 33 minutes played per game. That’s right, Taj Gibson is averaging 33 minutes a night because he has the highest on-the-floor/off-the-floor plus/minus of anyone on the team (+23).
In Thursday’s 23-point win over Sacramento, which was a 24-point Timberwolves lead entering the fourth quarter, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins played 36, 35 and 34 minutes, respectively. That’s just one minute less than their average for the season. With two minutes left and a 20-point lead, Wiggins and Towns were still on the floor. That’s just creating risk where there is none.
It’s not as if Butler, Towns and Wiggins are playing more minutes than anyone ever has. But all three are in the top 15 in minutes played per game this season. No other team has three players in the top 15 in average minutes played.
The result has been multiple collapses late in games. The Timberwolves were torched by Ben Simmons back-cuts over and over again in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia on Tuesday at Target Center. A nine-point lead with 6:06 left evaporated in less than four minutes.
The Timberwolves led by 13 over the the Wizards at home with 9:51 to go in the third quarter. By the end of the third quarter it was a one-possession game. They lost. They led by six with 9:04 to go at Phoenix and lost by eight. And they led by 11 with 9:57 to go against Detroit at home and lost by three.
All told the Wolves have lost three games by one possession, one in overtime, and one more by four points. This was a big problem for Minnesota last season. The Wolves logged a .391 winning percentage in close games in 2016-17, fifth-worst in the league. They’re 14th with a .545 winning percentage in close games this year, so things are looking up. But as the minutes add up, the fourth quarters get tougher and tougher.
How to fix it: Give Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng more minutes. Thibodeau finally played Crawford in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game against Portland, resulting in 23 minutes played. Crawford played all 82 games for the Clippers last year, averaging 26.3 minutes per game. He’s averaging 17.7 minutes per game this season, and his numbers don’t indicate a falling off. Both his offensive and defensive ratings are actually better than they were last year. The legs of Minnesota’s best defender, Butler, would be grateful for Crawford’s minutes in the fourth quarter. Butler also benefited directly from Crawford’s presence on the floor in the fourth.
Dieng has seen his minutes nearly cut in half from last season, from 32.4 to 17.7 per game. He hasn’t been quite as effective, but he was playing power forward last season. He’s still capable of more than 17.7 minutes per game at center, which would keep Towns fresh for the fourth quarters.
The Timberwolves finished five of 29 from beyond the arc against the 76ers last Tuesday, and had made five percent of their shots from beyond the arc until Jimmy Butler hit consecutive threes late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Wolves to force overtime. They were missing their best perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica, though.
Even with Bjelica, the Wolves are 20th in three-point percentage and third to last in three-pointers attempted. They lack shooters, and given their defensive struggles, keeping up with the Rockets and Warriors will be a challenge. Scoring 107.7 points per game just won’t cut it against the West’s best.
How to fix it: Trade for Tony Snell. This should thrill Thibodeau, who has been trying to get the Bulls band back together. Snell is fourth in the league in three-point percentage, ahead of Klay Thompson, but he’s missed time with left patellar tendinitis. Assuming he’s healthy and his 70-point increase in his three-point percentage from last year is no fluke, he’s exactly what Thibodeau and the Wolves need, but the Bucks will want a lot in return. Snell would likely require a player and a draft pick.
The Bucks need a center and the Wolves have four on the roster. Dieng could end up being one piece they seek, which would clear some money for the Wolves, but leave them with 17 minutes going to Cole Aldrich, unless Justin Patton is ever able to play. A backup center can be had for less than $14 million, though. Kyle O’Quinn and his $4 million salary could be brought in from New York for a second-round draft pick, or Dewayne Dedmon of the Hawks could be a short-term solution at $6 million.
The Wolves’ bench has been atrocious. Only the Pelicans have been worse, so it’s not as though Thibodeau needs to make up a reason for giving his starters minutes. Luckily, adding depth prior to the trade deadline is always a possibility. Besides Crawford, the Wolves don’t have bench players who can create their own open shots. Tyus Jones is barely a facilitator, and Bjelica is a spot-up shooter.
How to fix it: Adding a guy like O’Quinn would be a boost given his box plus/minus of five points above average per 100 possessions, and that’s mostly due to his defense. Dieng’s is .8.
Acquiring Ersan Ilyasova from Atlanta would improve Minnesota’s bench, too. His offensive and defensive ratings per 100 possessions this season are the best in his career and would be even better if he was playing fewer than the 23.5 minutes per game he’s currently averaging.
So while there are many problems with the Minnesota Timberwolves, they can be fixed through trades. Acquiring bench players at the deadline will at least give Thibodeau options that will save his starters’ legs, but Thibodeau still has to be convinced the team would benefit from his starters playing fewer minutes.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
The work holiday party is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Free food, free drink and for 4-6 hours you can be in the same room as your boss without any risk of being told “you’re fired”. But…..many of us make mistakes, HUGE mistakes, while tipsy and letting our guard down could be the biggest career buster ever. Plus, there are some missed opportunities the office Holiday party offers to make your overall work life better. So let’s get right down to it.
Your superior in any office setting should be the last one you try to cuddle up to. Good management knows there is ALWAYS someone watching and, these days, recording on their phone, so they do not want to be seen in an uncomfortable situation, appearing to be flirting with you. You can complement them, sure, but hands off!
This gets us all into trouble. Yes the alcohol is usually free and a flow’n but this will lead to your downfall. Your guard is down, you become flirty, you blurt out secrets, those that the whole team knows but would be never caught dead saying……and sometimes the clothes come off on the dance floor. Please drink in moderation.
Never, never, never plan on driving that night if you plan to drink. Car Service, Uber, Taxi, designated drivers are a must.
The next morning will be full of regret as it is, no need to cement it in infamy.
Holiday season is swarming with good parties. And chances are there are two other parties calling your name that same night. Make sure you hit the office party FIRST. You can get too distracted or drunk at the other parties such that you never make it across town, safely. Again, don’t drive if you plan to drink.
This is where I take a fall (as you can see above). A microphone is sitting up on the stage, waiting, just waiting for someone to grab it and spout out some one liners. I fear getting close to it until the head boss makes opening remarks. Then I feel the need to interrupt him and “take over from here”. Let your boss have the mic. He/She’s the head honcho, let them have their glory. They’re paying for the party……
Never, never use this opportunity to gossip. That’s what the staff lounge is for. It’s a positive night. Don’t bring negativity.
You may feel protected with all your work peeps surrounding you but one day he/she will get you alone and ….payback. Instead wishing them some holiday cheer…..may bring out the good in the jerk.
Everyone is watching you so your hopes of secretly hooking up is already circulating social media. If you want to begin a relationship that’s fine, but hoping it's on the down low will never happen. People at parties pretend to be distracted, but someone is always watching.
Never, never, never discuss work at the office Holiday party. And please don’t ask for a raise!!! Will never happen. Even if your boss is drunk, he will forget about it by the New Year.
Being antisocial is not the way to go either. Mix, mingle and look like you’re having a good time. Even if you’re not. If you have to leave early due to boredom, blame it on diarrhea. This may be the only party you EVER get invited to.
Even though they may roll their eyes at you as you compliment them (since anyone volunteering for a planning committee in the first place probably isn’t your best bud at work), they secretly enjoy the complement.
This is the only time your boss and team will see your other talents. Sans beer bonging, show off your talents….dance moves, pipes, even fashion sense…. if you’re good.
Don’t kiss up, but as you thank him, let him know you love your job. This will be a take home message that can go a long way.
This is a no brainer.
It’s the holidays! Let’s celebrate!! Truly the most wonderful time of the year!!!
This week I heard a surprising announcement from a regular guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. So we presented tech commentator Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Finance, Consumer Reports, Wirecutter and other publications. During this episode, Rob put the FCC’s decision to abandon net neutrality into perspective, and I’ll have more to say about that shortly. The main question, of course, is whether ISPs will begin to prioritize net traffic, or will the possibility of negative publicity and potential lawsuits postpone — or prevent — any changes for the near future? Rob also discussed the end of AIM, and how this pioneer instant messaging app influenced an entire industry? And do we really need lots of messaging apps to stay in touch with our contacts? Gene laughingly referred to Rob as a turncoat as he explained why he, a long time Mac user, recently purchased a PC notebook to replace his aging MacBook Air.
So why did Rob switch?
Well, his response was reasonable. He didn’t want to spend more money for a MacBook Pro, and the recent pathetic upgrade to the MacBook Air didn’t appeal to him. He chose, instead, an HP 2-in-1 notebook. And since, for the most part, he could use the same apps and services on both the macOS and Windows, it wasn’t so big a deal, at least so far. But will he feel the same a few months from now? He laughingly suggested turning it into a Hackintosh, by following the online instructions to induce it to run macOS. But that process may not work on an off-the-shelf PC notebook. Usually, it requires picking and choosing parts tested and found to be compatible, and outfitting a custom-built PC with them.
You also heard from tech journalist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. As the segment began, Jeff complained that his copy of Skype 7 for the Mac was upgraded to Skype 8 without his approval, and he doesn’t like the all-new interface. In an extended discussion of net neutrality, Gene pointed out that more and more cable companies are embedding Netflix into their set-top boxes, perhaps as a move to help reduce cord cutting. As the pair moved into pop culture mode, Gene mentioned the latest reported move by Apple to add original TV content, with a direct-to-series order for a new sci-fi series from producer Ronald D. Moore, whose previous shows include Battlestar Galactica. Jeff explained in great detail why the fabled Star Wars lightsaber would be impossible to use in a real world setting. Gene suggested that the DC Comics super heroes on TV are better than their movie counterparts. And what about having different actors portray such characters as the Flash and Superman?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Alejandro Rojas of OpenMinds.tv for a 2017 retrospective and a preview of the 2018 International UFO Congress and Film Festival. Alejandro is the host for Open Minds UFO Radio show, and emcee for IUFOC. He is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. As a UFO/Paranormal researcher and journalist, Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating anomalous phenomena up close and personal. Gene and Chris will also talk shop with a focus on UFOs. There will also be a pop culture-related discussion about what both regard as the sad state of pop music.
GETTING IT WRONG ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY
Part and parcel of our polarized society is the feeling that, if we accept the other side’s approach, it may be the end of the world as we know it. They wish us ill, and are doing foolish and/or evil things to take us all down.
Now I’m not going to dwell on my political viewpoints about the crazy things that are going on in Washington, D.C. except for one thing, and that’s the promise — or threat — that net neutrality is ending soon.
As is often true, the facts are more nuanced, and whatever does happen can be overturned by a future FCC, and we start all over again.
So this past week, the Republican majority of the FCC decided to undo a move by its predecessor that, among the things, prevented ISPs from prioritizing Internet traffic. What this meant is that these companies could not demand that a high-traffic service pay extra to enter a fast lane.
Those who opposed net neutrality, including FCC chairman Ajit Pai, claimed that putting restrictions on ISPs would somehow prevent them from improving and expanding their services. Being forced to allow online traffic to flow freely was somehow an impediment to growth.
I’m not sure I see how, or any evidence that this could happen. But it’s unfortunate that the cable TV talking heads who interviewed Pai — or at least the ones I’ve seen — simply allowed him to repeat his unproven talking points without questioning the logic. There was no request for evidence that what he said was true.
Supporters of net neutrality also maintain that it’s not just about getting miserable performance from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with constant buffering even on a fast connection. What about the streaming startup, a company that wanted to someday compete with Netflix? If they had to pay extra to achieve good performance, it’s likely that they wouldn’t be able to attract venture capital to cover their costs.
This, too, may be an overwrought conclusion if we assume things will return to the way they were before the concept of net neutrality ever arose.
A key reason for government regulation is not that regulators just need something to do. It’s often in response to a need, to address abuses by private industry. That explains why there are rigid controls covering the approval of a new drug by the FDA in the U.S. It means that pharmaceutical companies have to subject new drugs to a rigid set of tests to make sure they actually perform as advertised without seriously endangering one’s life in the process. Or at least disclose the dire side effects so you know what you’re in for.
Net neutrality was a response to something the ISPs did, which was to slow down such services as Netflix, largely because they sucked up huge quantities of data.
As of now, Netflix consumes nearly 37% of all Internet traffic, and when you add all the streaming services it’s 70%. That also includes such services as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Dish Network’s Sling TV and DirecTV NOW.
That leaves 30% for the rest of online traffic.
From a business point of view, I suppose it made sense to focus on the worst abusers and see if there’s a way to manage the load without inconveniencing other customers. Back in 2014, there were reports that such ISPs as Comcast and Verizon were putting the brakes on Netflix. In turn, Netflix reportedly paid extra in order to deal with the situation, with reports of mixed success.
During that period, you may have experienced constant buffering from Netflix. Loads of complaints from customers and tech companies helped influence the previous FCC to reclassify an ISP as a Title II communications service, thus preserving net neutrality. Prior attempts were blocked in the courts.
Despite the new regulations, there were recent reports that Verizon, particularly through its high-speed FiOS service, was once again throttling Netflix and even YouTube. So it seems peculiar that the FCC would believe that ending net neutrality was a good idea.
But what’s also happening is even more interesting. It appears that Netflix is taking a “can’t beat them so join them” approach, which is to strike deals with some ISPs, so their app appears as just another premium channel on a cable set-top box, similar to HBO and Showtime. What this means is that the ISP would, in exchange for offering Netflix without speed restrictions, get a piece of the action. By being part of their regular cable service, the load on broadband bandwidth would be sharply reduced.
By including Netflix — and I suppose Hulu and other services can be offered in the same fashion — customers are being offered more attractive cable packages that might help stem the tide of cord cutting.
While an experiment with Netflix and DirecTV appears to have ended, you can get it on at least some cable boxes from Comcast, Cox, Verizon and other services. You’ll have to check with your cable company to see which hardware it’s offered on, and how much it costs.
Now when I checked with the cable company I use, Cox, it appears Netflix is available on their Contour 2 box, but is limited to HD. If you have a 4K TV, you’ll have to still depend on a smart TV or a streamer, such as an Apple TV 4K, and certain models from Roku and other companies. As it stands, the cable and satellite companies are only testing the 4K waters. Higher resolution means there is less space for other channels, so it may be a juggling act until capacity is boosted.
In any event, despite the FCC’s vote, net neutrality isn’t going away tomorrow. There’s a comment period, and the attorneys general of a number of states are planning to file lawsuits. So this matter may not be resolved for months or years, depending on court rulings and potential appeals. I suppose it’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will get involved.
After all is said and done, I doubt the ISPs are going to act hastily, knowing the political winds may likely change with the next administration. In the meantime, if more cable and possibly the satellite companies strike deals with Netflix and other services to offer them premium channels, that might sharply reduce the load on their systems.
So they wouldn’t have any motive to throttle anyone’s traffic, and it would also provide an additional revenue stream. Assuming Netflix’s 4K service comes to your cable box, would that influence your decision about cord cutting?
So it’s possible that the ISPs and streaming companies could work out reasonable solutions without harming anyone, assuming the price you pay doesn’t change too much. That said, net neutrality offered more than a few ounces of protection against the worst offenders. The suggestion that it may have stifled innovation is absurd. The move to embed Netflix on cable boxes clearly disproves that claim.
As a long time Star Wars lover I honestly believe there are only two terrible Star Wars films. The first: The Star Wars Christmas Special, which remains the holocaust of television. It’s technically not part of canon but it’s so bad I have to mention it.
I’m ignoring the Ewok films because they are not canon. Besides, I've only seen them once and I was a kid so I remember nothing about them.
The Clone War animated series is technically canon Star Wars but it's five seasons long. Perhaps one day I will get around to watching them. Today is not that day.
So it really just comes down to the other Star Wars movie that I think is terrible. A film so awful I will go out on a limb and proclaim it to be one of the worst ever made, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Aside from that one film, most Star Wars movies are -- well, mediocre. Which means I am splitting hairs deciding that one mediocre film is better than another. You know what, I’ll assign letter grades to help with the process. I mean, we all understand that a C + is better than a C, which is better than a C -, despite the fact they are all average. This also means that my opinion of them is so close that I could easily shuffle a lot of those C movies around, but for today, here's where they stand.
But how can I claim to love Star Wars and then say the majority of the movies are -- "Meh, they're okay." It all about the execution, man! So, the SW universe continues to enchants me. When they're good, they're great. When they're mediocre, they're still - set in the SW universe (and they probably feature light sabers!) =)
To be fair there is plenty to like and dislike in most Star Wars films. And while going to the movie theater can be an experience it's sometimes hard to separate that experience, from the movie itself. I mean, seeing Star Wars in the theater when you are five years old is AN EVENT. And from there it's hard to create an objective analysis of what works and / or does not work in the movie itself.
But I’ll try. Though, Luke is probably right -- “This will not work out that way you think.”
As a final note, I am fascinated with the Star Wars Ring Theory and, if it’s one hundred percent accurate, it means that the directing sophistication of all six of Lucas’s SW films are staggering to comprehend. If the Ring Theory is not one hundred percent accurate then, well -- George Lucas still remains an incredible producer and a very skilled director. Regardless, neither one of those things make Lucas a better writer. And that's always been the pratfall of the execution of Star Wars films. I honestly believe that George Lucas creates great stories. But when it comes to transforming his broad story into a day to day detail of what characters say and do -- well ...
Take Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope (which I will henceforth refer to as, “Star Wars”). A lot of George’s dialogue is clunky and hamfisted and it’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they pull it off with any sort of believability. Harrison Ford is famously known for making fun of George Lucas’ dialogue, he shared this story in a GQ interview while promoting The Force Awakens:
“George usually sits near a monitor, far removed, so I had to convey my impression…or my feelings…about the dialogue across a great space," the actor recalled. "So I did shout it. ‘George! You can type this shit, but you sure can't say it! Move your mouth when you're typing!’”
Later, Ford was asked if he thought he offended George by making fun of the dialogue and Harrison replied, "He sold the company for, you know, $4 billion. He doesn't give a shit what I think."
Maybe. But it is true that Star Wars has always had ham fisted dialogue. And when you cast well, your actors can absorb it and make it believable as Ford, Fisher, Liam Neeson, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guiness did. If you do not cast well and / or end up with child actors, like Jake Lloyd and CW-esq. over emoter Hayden Christensen -- then dialogue issues become exacerbated.
And that’s it. Dialogue. Acting. Adventure. Entertainment. Tone. That’s Star Wars for me. That's what I watch for - though, not necessarily in that order. And finally, if you’re going to make a SW film -- it better have a lightsaber in it. Just sayin.
My Star Wars Feature Film List Ranked Worst to First:
WORST: Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. Director: George Lucas. Writers: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales (w/ rumored uncredited script “doctoring” by Carrie Fisher and Tom Stoppard). It’s very easy to trash bad movies, but Episode 2 is so staggeringly bad it defies -- well -- it kind of defies words. Attack of the Clones is, frankly - completely incompetent. The poor actors in Clones are saddled with a specifically brutal level of hamfisted sentences and each and every one of those inglorious lines are mangled beyond acting comprehension by Hayden “fucking” Christensen. Natalie Portman suffers with the same dialogue that Christensen does, but she is clearly the more talented actor of the two and is at least tolerable to watch on screen. Christiansen is so bad in every scene I can’t actually blame the actor. It’s the director's exact responsibility to notice when an actor needs help finding acting choices that work. Lucas is clearly just couldn’t do it. Lucas uses the same two directing phrases over and over, “Say the lines faster (or slower)” and “Yes, but better next time.” If you’re Liam Neeson, you can work with that level of non-direction. Hayden Christensen is not Liam Neeson. Nothing about Clones works; from the ridiculous over the top droid factory scene, the soul crushing amount of actors trapped in CGI hell (as in, an actor “acting” to an empty green room which does nothing but create wooden performances) and / or Hayden Christensen just flat out ruining scene after scene with the mind numbing dialogue. Can you imagine all the other humiliated actors who read for teenage Anakin Skywalker and did not get the part? I wonder if each and every one of them saw Attack of the Clones and thought, “Wait, Lucasfilm casting department thought THIS GUY was better than me? I should probably go kill myself now!” I honestly believe if Attack of the Clones was not a Star Wars film it would be widely regarded as a Battlefield Earth-esq disaster of a movie. Sadly, the SW moniker creates too many apologists. Episode 2: Attack of the Clones: F
Epispode. 3: Revenge of the Sith. Writer / director: George Lucas. And here begins the run of mediocrity. There is not much to hate in Sith. Instead it's is more like a film of giant missed opportunities. Nothing in Episode 3 is as good as it should be, no moment as satisfying as it could be. Much like the action sequences in Clones, they are equally over produced. The drama plays exactly as you expect it to. Christiansen, a bit older, isn’t as awful as his blisteringly bad Ep. 2 performance. To be fair, Christiansen evilly hams it up to the degree Lucas probably directed him too. Ewan McGregor remains the minimal heart and soul of the film, in that - he’s fine. He’s no Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or Princess Leia but his Obi Wan is -- well, fine. He’s a little too bitchy and harsh in Ep. 2 and I never warmed up to him as a lead in Ep. 3 I think as written, Kenobi is flat and hollow and McGregor doesn’t do much to wake the character up. I certainly take issue with a few questionable script choices; the Darth Vader -- “Nooooooo!” probably could have been handled better. Or that fact that, once again, the Jedi totally forget they have powers that they have actively demonstrated to possess - over and over again. I’m specifically thinking of the opening space battle over Coruscant where Ani and Kenobi should both just use the bloody Force to knock the buzz droids off each other’s ships instead of the ridiculous and dangerous flight stunts they perform. It’s just one of those moments where “the screenplay says it happens this way” despite the fact it ignores all of the rules SW has created in the previous five films. Revenge of the Sith, much like Ep. 2 completely abandons the oft used “less is usually more” rule, Lucas directs scenes of lifeless, mediocre action & emotionless, predictable drama. Finally, I know this actor was in the previous two movies but Sam Jackson is totally miscast and should not be in the SW prequels. Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith: C -
A Star Wars Story: Rogue One. Director: Gareth Edwards. Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. This film, I suspect, many of my SW loving friends and allies will put much higher on their list. Fair enough. I just don’t understand the love. Rogue One wants to be a war film first, a SW film second. You already lost my support. There are plenty of options for filmmakers to create dark and cynical movies with war themes that focus heavily on believable trauma and the horrific toll created by war. But SW has a well established tone and Rogue One wants it both ways. The film wants to be about war, and trauma, and sacrifice but it also wants dopey SW humor & push cuts which creates a massive tone clash. I mean, what’s next? A Superman film that turns Kal-el into a bitter, brooding, cynical jackass who murders people to solve his problems? Because no one would do that! (Suck it Man of Steel). I haven’t even mentioned the fact the Rogue One has like, thirty lead characters. Who are all these poorly drawn characters and why should I care about any of them? Well, I don’t. As a matter of fact most folks who love Rogue One can’t answer this basic question, “Name one of the characters in Rogue One?” I usually get sputtering, “Ummmm” response and of the one or two folk who can name the lead female protagonist, I have yet to meet someone who can name a second character from Rogue One. That is certainly suggestive of something. Even the drama of Rogue One is suspect - The protagonist party goes to a planet. The Empire, coincidentally, happens to be there. Huge fight -- this repeats for two hours. Not exactly the stuff of dramatic legend. For some reason Forest Whitaker and his bulbous mind reading alien have worthless cameos. Ben Mendelsohn who is so, so mesmerizing in Bloodline plays Adequate Evil Villain One and spends the entire movie desperately trying to suppress his southern drawl. Tarkin is CGI thrown in, because the producers want to show us what they can accomplish -- a five minute rewrite could (and should) have taken Tarken out of the film entirely. And Darth Vader should not be in the movie at all! I really like that the cast is super racially diverse but what a wasted opportunity to have thirty poorly realized lead diverse characters with -- um -- well, no chance of a sequel. Finally: no fucking light sabers! A Star Wars Story: Rogue One: C -
Episode 6: Return of the Jedi. Director: Richard Marquand. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I did love this movie as a kid because, well, what else did I have to compare it too? Return of the Jedi has not aged well and I lay blame on the shoulders of its strange choice of a director - Richard Marquand. He had mainly done TV until Jedi. Sadly, it shows. Action sequences are blocked awkwardly - as if Marquand didn’t understand a widescreen format. He does not have an eye for the camera and shoots scenes with seemingly very little concept of how dramatic motion moves forward. Marquand certainly has no idea what to do with puppets, framing each of them perfectly on for the camera, as one would do for TV, which just highlights their fakeness. Compare the cantina scene in Star Wars to Jabba’s palace in Jedi. Jedi has several years of additional technology but looks amateurish compared to the original cantina scene. Marquand is just the wrong guy to be directing. Plus - Ewoks. Okay, I get it. SW is a family friendly adventure movie and kids love Ewoks (despite the fact that Ewoks were totally going to burn Han and Luke alive and then probably eat them!). I was eleven when Jedi came out and therefor too old to like Ewoks but still a bit too young to hate them. At the time I remember thinking they were kind of cute. Later in life I was able to see the obvious primitive technology vs. advanced technology story trope and that Ewoks were clearly designed to sell toys. Jedi is the first SW movie that made story choice less important than marketing, a sad trend that continues through the prequels. Jedi is universally considered the weakest of the original trilogy for good reason but still there things to like, but mostly a lot to - “meh.” None of the character work plays out as well as it should. Ford hams it up too much. But the final Jedi duel between Luke, Vader, the Emperor is very emotionally satisfying and intercut with, probably the best of all the SW space battles but then cut back to - stupid Ewoks fighting on the moon of Endor. Return of the Jedi should have been much better than it was. And to prove there was a calculated, giant marketing strategy to sell Ewok toys to kids, think of this -- in Return of the Jedi, how many times is the word,“Ewok” used? You probably just guessed it -- not one single time! And every kid and their best friend knew what an Ewok was a month before the movie came out because of - stupid marketing. Episode 6: Return of the Jedi: C
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Writer / director: George Lucas. I know, I know. Midichlorians, trade agreements and something about space taxation, blockades and the fact that the drama plays out as a series of meetings (seriously, the Jedi have a meeting with one person, then the next, then the next, then the next…) and finally -- Jar Jar Binks. I hear you. I dislike large portions of Phantom Menace. I will offer only this in its defense -- Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn. I posit that Neeson’s Qui-Gon single handedly picks up The Phantom Menace and carries the entire film on his acting genius shoulders. I am not suggesting Qui-Gon is Neeson’s greatest acting achievement. Neeson, much like actors from the previous trilogy, takes the gobbledygook SW dialogue and makes it believable. In fact, he makes it look easy. Neeson creates the only consistently great and likable character in the prequels. Qui-Gon is the Jedi we’ve always wanted to see in SW. He’s a great combination of Solo and Luke - honorable, wise, heroic and roguish. Qui-Gon breaks the rules when the rules aren’t just. He disobeys orders and, despite having an apprentice -- he’s a solo rogue. But he’s also a good guy. He’s pretty much everything we love in SW characters. Also, he’s played by Liam Neeson! If I haven’t convinced you that Qui-Gon is the best character in the prequels and arguably the best character in the SW film universe, then I haven’t. But The Phantom Menace is eminently watchable because of Qui-Gon. Not only that, but PM gives us the most physically imposing, unexpectedly charismatic and acrobatically dangerous SW villain in Darth Maul. Maul only gets a handful of lines but immediately after his introduction his presence is felt for the rest of the movie - just like all great villains. Yes, there is much to dislike in Phantom Menace, and as it was the first SW movie in almost two decades, it's an easy target and is far from being a perfect movie. Poor Jake Lloyd needed a lot of actorly help and Lucas was not able to deliver. Lloyd is universally hated in the role of young Anakin, his performance mocked as “Mannequin Skywalker.” Fair enough. He’s a kid actor. Most of them suck. Lawrence Kasdan tried to get Lucas to cast older in order to avoid just this problem. Lucas ignored Kasdan. The rest is history. Other things about PM - Padme should have been a stronger character, Jar Jar is half awful - and I will only say he is half awful - because Jar Jar Binks is written to entertain children. And children LOVE Jar Jar Binks (adults -- not so much.) Another thing I dislike about Ep. 1 is that it’s the beginning of “Jedi forget they have Jedi powers” in order to create artificial drama. The main example -- at the beginning of PM the Jedi use the Force to run super fast to avoid battle droids. At the end of film when Qui-Gon is in danger, Obi Wan runs to the aid of his master and forgets to use his super fast Force running power -- because the screenplay didn’t want him to get there in time to save Jinn. Argh! That being said, of all the prequels, PM remains the only one that has exciting action sequences. The pod race is fantastic and has an exquisite sound design. The Duel of the Fates combat between Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul remains the most physically beautifully choreographed of all the SW lightsaber fights, though -- ultimately that final battle between the three doesn’t have much dramatic weight (but that’s another story). Which leads me to, what a shock -- the moment the prequel trilogy kills off its single great compelling character -- it’s all downhill from there. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: C +
Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Director: JJ Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt. The Force Awakens feels like two separate movies. Movie one: the entertaining story of Rey and Finn. Movie two: all that poorly conceived Han Solo garbage. Now, before you say anything -- I adore the character of Han Solo but his return was a mixed bag for me. Who doesn't want to see Solo back to his old shenanigans? But most of the Solo portion of the film doesn’t feel quite right. Characters make choices because the screenplay demands them to make that exact choice in order for the story to continue. Nothing feels organic. The entire scene with Solo, Chewie, Rey and Finn encountering each other on the Falcon was undercut by the dopey gang that tries to kill them all. Then, someone thought it would a grand idea to thrown in silly, rolling tentacled aliens. Because -- funny. The reunion between Solo and Leia wasn’t given enough time to develop. In fact, the Force Awakens does a huge disservice to the character of Leia. Princess Leia, the woman who led the defense of Hoth, and oversaw the destruction of Death Star I, the women who, by herself, strangles Jabba the Hutt to death. In Force Awakens she’s nothing more than background fluff who, when she finds out Solo is killed -- runs to comfort Rey! Rey?!?!? A kid that Leia has known for like five minutes -- instead of going to comfort Chewbacca! (Abrams has gone on record to say this was a huge mistake on his part). And that’s the problem with Force Awakens. For each new scene involving the two young, very compelling characters of Finn and Rey we are subjected to really strange (stupid?) character choices by the old guns. I adore Rey and Finn and want to see more about them. Solo’s scenes deserve better than what FA offers. Leia is under utilized. And for a film about “the search for Skywalker” the characters don’t seem to make a lot of active choices to, you know -- look for Skywalker. And as for resident villains Snoke and Kylo Ren. Well, Snoke (a terrible name) has secrets to be revealed I’m sure, but as presented in Force Awakens he’s just an Emperor knock off. But Kylo Ren, well, I found him more compelling then I expected. A rich, white, privileged young man who has it all handed to him on a silver platter is then tempted with power and wants more and more and more. Seems legit (and kind of scary). Anyway. Of all the SW films this is the one I am most conflicted about. I adore and loathe portions of it in an equal 50/50 mix. Episode 7: The Force Awakens: C +
Episode 8. The Last Jedi. Writer / director: Rian Johnson. It’s certainly a far more complex movie than its predecessor, Force Awakens. Vast portions of Johnson’s SW deconstruction film are rich, beautiful and deeply satisfying - if not slightly heavy handed. Rian's use of color metaphor works well as he stages one grand action sequence (in the throne room) bathing it in front of blood red walls with the heroes fighting red armored warriors and a second decent sequence (the final fight) bathing it in red salt rock powder; mimicking extreme violence, loss of life and blood shed without resorting to showing a drop of gore. The heavy handed deconstruction continues with Skywalker’s off putting “get the fuck off my lawn” attitude. Rey and Ren come off the best as all their scenes are well written and play out far more sophisticated than the trailer suggests. Adam Driver is particularly good as Ren and the film wisely takes his helmet off as an actor's face is way more interesting than costuming or special effects. Carrie Fisher is, again, just like in Force Awakens, underused. And sadly, due to Fisher's untimely death she will continue to remain so in the trilogy end (which is too bad because there is a scene in the movie involving her that begs further exploration) Alas. Finally, all that being said, as much as there is to admire and as much as there is to love -- there are things that I can’t stand. I strongly rebelled against the shocking large amount of really, really awful, dopey “humor.” And I don’t mean, “Jar Jar Binks trying to make the kids laugh” humor. I mean the sheer unbelievable extended jokiness of characters in dramatic situations. The opening sequence with Poe facing off against the First Order is terrible. It is so bad it deserves to be in Ep. 2. As the first ten minutes of the movie played out I literally thought, “I am going to rage hate this entire movie.” I mention above that I can’t wait to see more about Rey and Finn. I will amend that. I can’t wait to see more about Rey. In Last Jedi we get multiple scenes of Finn bumbling around with his new partner Rose both continuously saved via coincidence in the film’s most grating story arc (designed to teach Finn his lesson - which is what this whole dam film is about - learn your lesson - you bloody child!). Yes, yes. We get it. But now I hope to see much less of Finn in the final film. And don't get me wrong - SW needs comedic relief. I mean, I thought the best part of Rogue One was the prickly comic relief droid. Maybe LJ just doesn’t have my kind of comic relief. I suppose Johnson’s writing / directing track record could have told me what I was going to like / dislike in LJ. His best film, Brick, is filled with fantastic characters and drips with beautiful noir drama. His worst film, The Brothers Bloom, desperately tries for chaotic, quirky charm and falls flat on its face more often than not. The Brothers Bloom reminds me a lot of the Finn sequences in Last Jedi. But, as for The Last Jedi - when it’s good, it’s really good - the throne sequence might be my favorite thing in all of SW. When it’s not so good … Finn is probably involved. Episode 8: The Last Jedi: B -
Episode 4: Star Wars (I still refuse to call it A New Hope). Writer / director: George Lucas. To be honest I go back and forth with my preference between Star Wars and Empire. But for now Star Wars is where it is. Also, I have been working on a very long piece about Marcia Lucas, one of the film’s main editors and how she, basically, saves Star Wars from being as dull as THX 1138 (but that’s a different story). Much has been written about this film, I won’t elaborate too much. Perfectly cast, well paced, well acted - well for the most part. Both Hamill and Fisher are very young and inexperienced. Fisher comes over better than Hamill but honestly, we can forgive one performance moment where a certain beloved character whines about power converters, right? Anyway, SW is revolutionary and mind blowing (for its time). Multiple Academy Award nominations. Multiple wins. Adored by hundreds of millions. The movie that introduces lightsabers to the world. The names! Oh the names - Millennium Falcon. Darth Vader. Han Solo. Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker. Princess Leia. Those are names! Hero names. Villain names! I can’t accurately describe to you what it was like being a five year old and being in a theater watching Star Wars for the first time. Perhaps modern day kids feel the same way being five and seeing Harry Potter. As for my five year old self, I remember the day. I sat in that theater and the opening music hit, the text crawls by and then a ship appears and it goes on and on and it keeps coming and coming and coming. You know what I’m talking about. And all I could think of was, “I’m in love.” Now and forever I am in love. Episode 4: Star Wars: A
FIRST: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Director: Irvin Kershner. Writers: Leigh Bracket, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I know Empire is universally viewed as the best of all the Star Wars films and I can’t find a single reason to disagree. First off, listing Leigh Bracket as a writer isn’t entirely fair. She did turn in the first draft of the screenplay but Lucas universally hated everything about it. And then Miss Bracket died. So Lucas decided that, even though he and Kasdan rewrote the entire script, he would forever keep her name on the film. But who’s to say her influence doesn’t remain somewhere in Empire - I don’t know the exact answer to that. The addition of Kasdan as writer seems to, for the most part, clear up a lot of the clunky dialogue bits that plague Star Wars. Any minor quibble I might have is drowned out by the flood of greatness. The directing, the strong character work and the incredible action sequences all flow together. Hamill is a much better actor than he was in SW. Also, the character of Yoda was never better. I watched Empire many times as a kid but then went about fifteen years without seeing it. As an adult I watched it and was not prepared for how delightful those early Dagobah / Yoda scenes are. It made me a bit sad to know he turns into CGI boring old wise wizard Yoda (although Johnson’s LJ remembers what I am talking about). Yoda is a perfect character in Empire. Beyond Empire he becomes more of a storytelling device used mainly to dish out cryptic sounding wisdom. Empire has, arguably the two greatest action sequences in all of Star Wars canon - the Hoth invasion and the Cloud City lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. The stakes are never higher than that Luke / Vader battle leading up to the great story reveal. And finally, Empire introduces the first non white character in the SW universe -- I love Lando! Plus, ugnaughts are way better than ewoks and Lobot is super cool. And, finally -- what a hell of a cliff hanger! Even the silly space asteroid monster that almost eats the Falcon doesn't dethrone the SW big boy on the block. The Empire Strikes Back remains the greatest of the SW films and one of, if not the best space opera movies in cinema history. Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back: A
Republicans across the nation are cheering over the results of the Alabama senate race. No, you didn’t read this wrong. Sure, democrats are celebrating over the election victory of one of their own for the first time in 25 years. But it should be no surprise to learn that key republicans are also pleased with the outcome.
The reason for GOP rejoicing is that they have thrown off the albatross of Roy Moore from around their necks. Republicans will no longer have to answer, month after month, every question from the press that begins with: “Now about Roy Moore?”
Few republicans could even begin to defend Roy Moore’s candidacy. It wasn’t just the issue of preying on teenage girls. Sure, that was bad enough. But Moore, as Alabama chief justice, continually failed to abide by the law. In fact, he’s been removed twice from the bench for disobeying the law. Following and enforcing the law is a bedrock premise for any republican elected official. It should be for all of those in public life. But Roy Moore believed otherwise.
It’s one thing as a judge for Moore to write dissenting opinions and even to publicly disagree and criticize decisions from both the Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court. For those of you who regularly read this column, you are well aware of the blistering criticism I have levied against the federal court system.
But Judge Moore went much further time and time again while serving as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. One of the basic functions of being on the state’s highest court is to follow the dictates of the United State Supreme Court, whether you agree or not. Moore feels otherwise, and has said by his actions that he is above the law.
Not only does Roy Moore have no business being elected to the U.S. Senate, he has no business riding a horse. Did you see him on television riding off to vote? Moore had trouble guiding the horse and didn’t even know how to hold the reins. His horsemanship was as feeble as his senatorial campaign.
So why do I say the GOP is better of without Moore? Simple. They will have a much better shot to regain the senate seat in 2020. Alabama is still a strong red state, and if republicans offer even a moderately qualified candidate, it’s hard to see how the new senator, Democrat Doug Jones, could hold on to his newly acquired seat. In the meantime, republicans across the nation will not have to defend Moore’s past legal actions and personal indiscretions.
And remember that republicans still control the senate by one vote. If there is as tie vote that takes place, the republican vice president casts the decisive vote. The challenge will be to see if republicans can hold on to current seats in the coming 2018 election.
On a much sadder note, Louisiana lost one of its legal giants this past week. Federal Judge Jim Brady, from Baton Rouge, died unexpectedly at the young age of 77. I have known Judge Brady for over 50 years, and admired his tenacity and scholarly competence on the bench as well as his open and friendly demeanor.
The Judge was a regular each Monday for lunch at a local Baton Rouge restaurant, where a number of judges and politicians gathered. Jim would work the room like he was running for office, even though he had a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. If there were ever an election for a federal judge, Jim Brady would win in a landslide. He was a good friend and a great federal judge. We will sure miss him.
Peace and Justice.
Democrats all over America are staking claim to Doug Jones’s victory over alleged sexual predator Roy Moore for Alabama’s Senate seat, Tuesday night. But it was women, and specifically black women, who made the difference in Alabama -- women and a football coach.
According to Mother Jones, 235 calls were made to The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as of 3:24 p.m. EST, Tuesday, reporting all manner of voter suppression tactics common in black neighborhoods, like bringing in police to check voters’ warrants for arrest and incorrectly turning away voters with inactive statuses. Long lines weren’t enough to deter black voters from the polls this time, as 38 percent of Alabama’s registered voters turned out for the special election, which far exceeded expectations of 20 to 25 percent.
Black women accounted for 18 percent of the vote in Alabama on Tuesday, and despite almost two-thirds of white, Alabama women finding a reason to vote for Moore, it wasn’t enough, as another 10 percent of voters went to Jones in the form of white women. That’s 28 percent of the vote right there, and with black men accounting for another 12 percent, Jones needed just 10 percent of remaining white, male voters to choose him to have a majority.
Jones got eight percent of the remaining votes of white men instead, which was enough thanks to Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Nick Saban...probably. We don’t yet know who Alabamians (it should be Alabamans because that’s how Alabamians pronounce it) chose to write-in, but the bulk of 22,777 write-in votes had to have gone to Coach Saban. Many think Saban will finish third in the election.
The Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate was a victory for democracy, not Democrats. Sure, a Democrat won a Senate seat that’s been filled by a Republican since 1996. And sure, the Republican majority in the Senate is down to one seat, which Democrats are likely to win in 2018. But Democrats didn’t win in Alabama because Alabamians are suddenly leaning Democratic. And they didn’t win because Alabamians are fed up with Donald Trump. They won because Alabamians didn’t want to be the laughing stock of America for electing an alleged sexual predator with a specific interest in 14-year-old girls. Jones will most certainly be replaced by a Republican come 2020. Until then, Alabamians will get a chance to see what Democrats will do for them.
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