Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A different perspective on BP

Tiger Hawk has this interesting perspective to add on the Gulf Oil Spill:
Somewhere within BP true heroes are working night and day to stop the gusher and clean up its consequences. These people -- everybody from petroleum engineers to the rough men and women who work in oil fields in the world's most challenging environments to the machinists and welders who labor around the clock to build the next solution -- are not, in the main, responsible for the disaster. They are responsible for ending it. They are not known to us as individuals. In the current climate, where liberal activists intimidate the families of corporate executives to gain leverage, they no doubt hope to remain anonymous. They are working around the clock, to the point of exhaustion, in conditions, both physical and emotional, more stressful than most American employees (including many who complain about all the stress they are under) can possibly comprehend. They will eventually solve this problem they did not create. At the moment of their success, which no doubt will come, these men and women will have prevented staggering incremental damage. Their only reward, though, will be relief and the satisfaction of a job well done.
Always good to remember before vilifying any company. There are very, very few organizations (even including Congress) that are corrupt from top to bottom. Most companies are full of honest, hard-working people, who do their best for their employers, their families, their communities, and their country. In our rush to blame someone--and surely there are plenty of someones who should take the blame on this--let's not forget that there are good people out there trying to clean up a very bad situation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Does Peter Jackson hate Aragorn?

I've been watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers extended edition lately. I've never been entirely comfortable with their treatment of the character of Aragorn in the first place, but seeing all the other cut scenes has nearly convinced me they had it in for him. Something about the character made them start sharpening their scalpels to do a major makeover.

Aragorn in the books was not this conflicted slacker they show in the movies. I can understand their taking some liberties with the character. After all, other than their particular roles, there's not a lot of difference between Gandalf and Aragorn in the book. They both are strong, noble, and have a full sense of purpose. They are like two sides of the same coin, determined to see the business through come what may. I can see them making them more different for sake of the movie.

But the way they purposely change significant events in the movie to fit their new narrative really grates on the nerves. Aragorn was able to wrest control of the palantir away from Sauron, not give up in the attempt. And I certainly don't recall him going "all wobbly" at Helms Deep. The Aragorn Jackson builds up is such a wuss that it's actually jarring when he actually suggests they go assault Sauron's gates to draw his armies away from Frodo. What?! Did Aragorn actually suggest something brave? Or is he just wanting to get himself killed so he doesn't have to face Arwen dying? The scene fairly clangs with disconnect between a character that has gone so far afield that he hits a corner and the original intent of the author.

Perhaps that is why my favorite characters in the movie remain Theoden and Eowyn. Gandalf is done well, but he's Gandalf--aloof and unfathomable. Sam is played well, but his character is too simple, as are the characters of Gimli and Legolas. There's no depth to appreciate there. That leaves the only really interesting and heroic characters to Theoden and Eowyn. They are the strong characters that Aragorn is not. What Eowyn sees in Aragorn I have no idea.

To be sure, Viggo does his best with the character given him. I end up liking him in spite of what is done to him. Mortensen imbues the character with a strength and nobility that is not born out by the script itself. Even then, it took me the better part of the first movie to get it straight that Sean Bean was Boromir, not Aragorn. Sean Bean fit the image I had of Aragorn so much better.

But ultimately, just what does Jackson's Aragorn actually do in the film? His character is important to what happens in one instance only--walking the paths of the dead to raise the army that wins the Battle of Minas Tirith. Other than that, he's a throw-away character. Well, that and make it a bit more believable that the hobbits escape the Ringwraiths and make it to Rivendell. After that he becomes Aragorn, Tormented King of Angst, and doesn't surface again until the last half of the third movie. His character could have been left out altogether without much impact on the plot until that point. And after that point as well. He's a buff-studly fighter amongst a group of buff-studly fighters, nothing more.

The ironic thing is that in trying to avoid a static character that starts and ends the movie the same person, Jackson turns Aragorn into exactly the same thing. I don't see any real growth in Jackson's Aragorn. He starts and ends the movie as a man hiding not comfortable in his own skin, but who happens to be good at fighting. He's just going along with the flow, and that's really all he does for the entire movie. He doesn't become anything. He waffles his way from start to finish. At least if he was going to be a stereotype, they could have left him a strong, brave, noble stereotype.

It's enough to make one think that Jackson and company (for he had help in his character assassination) couldn't bear the thought of a character that was noble, just, and true, possessed moral clarity and a strong sense of purpose, and who would see things through to the bitter end because that's just what people do. Did they think that Americans today wouldn't be able to relate to such a character? Well, if that's the case, then why film Lord of the Rings at all? Because that's what the movie is about! How did they read the book so closely and miss that?

To be sure, Jackson's Lord of the Rings will remain one of my all-time favorite movies, because he got so many other things right. He captured the epic scale of the novel, and portrayed so many scenes so much better than even I had envisioned them. He captures many of the crucial themes and does them respectable justice. And he tells a good story. I'm only afraid he told it so well that no one else will ever try it and show how it could and perhaps should have been. There remains much about the books that Jackson never tapped into, and would benefit from better treatment than was given. I hope to see it done in my lifetime.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ideological purity is counterproductive

I read a sad-but-amusing blog post over at The Watermelon Blog tonight. The writer's claim is that only atheists can be green. He believes (rather wrongly) that people of religion do not care about the planet because they believe they can get their imaginary friend (God, in his open, inclusive, accepting parlance) to fix everything if they screw it up.

Pardon me, sir, but your ignorance is showing. But even if his assertion was true, what good does it do the green cause to insist that people must first give up religion before they can care about the planet? How does that encourage anyone to even try to reach a compromise in their beliefs? On the contrary, it is an exclusionary, self-defeating tactic that will accomplish nothing.

I am a vegan, and I have learned that people can be vegan for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I don't care what their reasons are--the end result is the same. If everyone became vegan then no more animals would need to be harmed. So if someone wishes to go vegan because of their health, because of environmental concerns, or because the locked chest in their attic told them to, I don't care. If we can come together on something like that, great!

So why should this writer wish to throw down the gauntlet and insist on ideological purity in the green movement? I would think that he would welcome anyone that wishes to go green, whether they believe in the divinity of God or, like him, believe in the depravity of man. How does it help the planet he claims to care so much about to refuse to let anyone one try to save it until they renounce religion?

On the contrary, this person has revealed himself to be just as prejudiced, small-minded, and misguided as he feels religious people to be. He has denounced one religion only to take up another. I fail to see how he has improved himself in the process. He has proven himself the very model of the depraved human race he despises so much.

I, as a vegan with at the very least some green tendencies, who also happens to be religious, believing that God expects us to be good stewards of this planet and everything on it, have little use for people like that. The green movement has no use for people like that.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obama is now a Luddite? Uh huh.

Quite a few pundits and bloggers are making quite a bit of Obama's commencement speech at Hampton University, in which he seems to declare war on modern technology:
"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank all that high on the truth meter," Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.

"With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

He bemoaned the fact that "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction," in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.

"All of this is not only putting new pressures on you, it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."
I'm not going to worry too much about his trying to get rid of iPods. That is pretty much ridiculous. His much-lauded youth support would turn on him in an instant. They may anyway, since he seems to denigrate some of the most popular forms of entertainment around while in the same breath claiming he's never used them. Few things rankle youth than adults criticizing their favorite past-times without having given them a fair try.

But frankly, I think Obama is being less than truthful. This is, after all, the same president who had to fight to keep his Blackberry. You're telling me that he wouldn't know how to use an iPod? And while it's possible that Sasha and Malia don't have an Xbox or PlayStation, I'd be very surprised if he's never used one. In any case, such an admission is hardly becoming of the president everyone once lauded as the most tech-savvy president ever.

What is also sad, though, is Obama's apparent lack of historical perspective. While it is certainly true that modern media isn't always reliable as a source of truth, and that crazy ideas can spread like wildfire, this is nothing new. In the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson there were rag-sheets and tabloids spreading a constant supply of information not just of of questionable veracity, but out-right libel. Nor was is confined to one side of any issue. While they may not have been spread across the country within seconds, they certainly spread quickly enough to be difficult to combat.

So for Obama to start complaining about this now either shows that he is completely unfamiliar with the history of American political discourse, or that he just doesn't like it when it's used against him. Heaven knows he's benefited from it when it's in his favor.

Welcome to real life, Mr. President. My advice is to start telling the truth yourself. If you and your administration would actually live up to the promises of openness, clarity and disclosure you offered in order to get elected people might actually listen to you instead of going to all of these sources your disparage. We were all hoping for a president who could talk straight and resist the urge to ding everyone who disagrees with him every time he opens his mouth. But it didn't happen. We got another bully pulpit. After awhile we stop listening and look for information elsewhere.

Might I suggest, Mr. President, that you might be better served by learning how to use an iPad yourself? Get out there and see what is being said and what the American people really want rather than barricading yourself in your Washington echo chamber. Perhaps you might begin to understand just why it is you're beating your predecessor to the bottom of the presidential ratings. It's not because people have iPods and PlayStations, Mr. President. It's because they have brains.