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I must first say that Inception passed a fairly significant test.  After just finishing SALT, we decided to make our outing a double header as we were also intrigued by this movie.  It should be noted that we exited the theater and paid for the next showing.  I’m pretty sure that a desperate hunger for a Wendy’s burger was not the sole reason for doing this honestly.

Still, there remains a hurdle to jump when a movie lasts 2.5 hours and watched (all but) back to back with another one.  Another potential barrier: a nebulous review by my son, who had seen the movie a week earlier.  His succinct critique: “there was a lot of dialogue.”   That’s obviously neither pro nor con, but based on previews of overwhelming computer generated effects, this wasn’t necessarily the feedback I would have expected.

With this extraneous introduction, I’ll point out that the time flew.  One’s mind remains fully engaged throughout this movie.  The basic idea behind the endeavor is that the subconscious is less guarded to keeping secrets secret when we dream… and when we’re connected by a mysterious device that connects others to share/create/design our dream… when the others are taking part too extract or, in this case, implant information into another person.  Sure, the premise asks a lot.  But however unusual, after the first scene settles in, we know that it looks and feels like The Sting before it ventures even further afield.

We all know by experience that a lot can happen in a dream, and the subconscious is a powerful creator of images, people, situations, conversations, and, as regularly depicted in the movie, the unpredictable.  I’ll steer away from the central plot and simply recommend that the movie be watched with as little foreknowledge as possible of its content.

But, of course, I can comment on some aspects.  Inception is not just about the visually mind-bending CGI.   The premise sounds a bit overreaching, but the writers do a good job of taking what is often a very enigmatic and fluid experience (a dream) and interpolating this to a world where much more is seemingly understood about them.  

Such as, you ask?  Consultants (bearing caper cast titles of “the Extractor,” “the Architect,” “the Point,” “the Mark,” and “the Forger”) who train executives to defend against subconscious raids, a variant drugged population who opt to live in dreams so that they experience awakening more meaningfully, an introduction of menace when someone participating in a dream changes details, and, exploring the “what happens should I die within  a dream?”  - that thing we never are quite able to do.  Please understand, death within a dream is a possibility as this is an action movie, despite the inclusion of yet more top graduates from The Storm Trooper Academy of Marksmanship (also seen in SALT).

Inception is a visually appealing and entertaining movie, and while the plot treads carefully around over-complication, the characters handily repeat again and again and again what is going on so that the the audience is not completely lost when scenes and circumstances abruptly change.

The movie can’t stand solely on visual effects and corporate espionage angle, so the motivations of the lead character, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), are neatly inserted and ultimately resolved, one way or another.  This adds some depth to the movie as his issues are not  only personal but also introduce unexpected difficulties into the tasks at hand.  However, despite a spiffy ending and the audience’s response to it, I’m still not certain that anyone actually cared about his character.  Still, it’s enough that all the actors (except an unnecessary throw away performance by Michael Caine) do a great job of making us feel that dream invasions, and all the unreality that surrounds them, are real enough.

4 of 5 STARS

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Robert Randolph & TFB – We Walk This Road

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I’m anxiously awaiting the video release of the third Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival, which was held this June.  The previous two were great viewing for music enthusiasts, with a good variety of artists both well and lesser known.  One of the “I only recognize the name” artists was Robert Randolph and the Family Band, who play blues related songs, often with gospel elements but the ability to go wherever they want.   Visually, Randolph attracts Robert Randolph in Torontoattention as he rips his solos on pedal steel “guitar,” an instrument more often associated with country music.  But on stage with the more traditional body and neck virtuosos, he held his own.

We Walk This Road is his fourth CD.  I haven’t listened to his earlier work, but I understand that they had a more religious focus, as Randolph’s musical background came from playing “sacred steel” in his Pentecostal faith.   It’s clear that Randolph is seeking to translate not only his past to his current art.  The liner notes indicate that “this record is a celebration of African-American music over the past one hundred years and its social messages from the last thirty.”  Lofty stuff.

That may be the purpose, but it might have been a stronger statement had the social angle also reflected African American thought.   John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna be a Soldier Mama” likely hit a social nerve when it was released in 1971, and it’s topical any time when our military forces operate under the weight of policy doubts.  Still, that does not mean that the song is blessed with a tune worth repeating, regardless of how it’s dressed.   Bob Dylan’s “Shot of Love” fares somewhat better (though Dylan purists are likely to disagree) due to Randolph’s powering slide attacks, but still, it’s Dylan, and it doesn’t reflect either of his two stated purposes. 

Despite an apparent intent to cast a wider net than his spiritually dominated back catalogue, the album is at its best when it echoes America’s spiritual traditions.  Ben Harper, another artist prone to tackle gospel rock, guests on “If I Had My Way,” a peppy reworking of a Blind Willie Johnson song.   “I Still Belong to Jesus” is straightforward on its subject matter, but it also has joy in the singing and performance.  Prince’s “Walk Don’t Walk” isn’t a spiritual song, but musically it’s treated as if it was with a choir draping the background.  My favorite, though, is the reworking of “Dry Bones,” a welcome reminder that religious songs can be fun. 

This is a solid CD for those who are interested in blues, pedal steel, or a spiritual lift outside of the boundaries of saccharine Christian radio.  That said, there’s several songs that are as easily skipped to get to the notably better content, and the frequently touted T. Bone Burnett’s production seems to leave the pedal steel a notch or two low in the mix for my tastes.  In concert, though, many of these songs are likely to shine brightly.

Recommended Songs: “Dry Bones,” “If I Had My Way,” “I Still Belong to Jesus”

3 of 5 STARS

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This is not about SALT - Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, but the movie, newly released and starring Angelina Jolie.  But SALT isn’t too far off.  Jolie plays a CIA agent, Evelyn Salt, caught up in a Russian mole – sleeper agent caper that certainly harkens back to the Cold War, and I doubt the character’s last name of Salt was chosen without intending a play on the reference.

This summer’s Jolie outing is yet another action movie for the actress, a genre that she continues to mine with commercial success (Lara Croft, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wanted).  And this movie is likely to continue with her trend, as she remains, for a time, a very watchable action brand.  After all, action movies hardly require the tightest plots, and Jolie, aside from being easy on the eyes, certainly applies herself to the rather energetic requirements of a heroine in the genre.  The action scenes, overall, are good to very good, forgiving the suspension of disbelief which is by necessity included in the ticket price.

Not too much can be said about a simple plot without giving it away.  Salt does not have the literary depth that made the Jason Bourne movies excel, and what little we do know about her is a fairly simple back story that provides context but no clues on who Salt is.  Without continual development, that relegates Salt to solid Saturday escapism, an enjoyable movie that trusts its audience to forgive its over-the-top habits:  the somewhat incredulous leaps between vehicles, the horde of errant agents freshly graduated from Star Wars Storm Trooper Academy, the “attacking out of nowhere” camera angles on the unsuspecting (how to attack a guard in a hallway? Let’s just let her descend into the frame without explanation because it’s efficient and looks cool), and… you get the picture.  

My movie companions afterwards talked about Raiders of the Lost Ark and compared Salt in regards to their non-stop action pacing. angelina jolie salt That’s definitely a true description after the plot is triggered, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.  With Raiders, we usually had a sense of why Indy went from point A to point B while meeting the unexpected, both in terms of confrontations and humor, at every turn.  In Salt, we don’t really know why she’s doing what she’s doing, and, we jump quickly to the next humorless action scene, trusting that some sense will be made of it all later but frustrated that we have so little on which to judge her motivations.  Without the intentional humor of a James Bond or John McClane, the story needs more depth of character to maintain believability in what is presented as a (failed) “this could really happen” storyline.  

It’s fair to say that Jolie has acting range, but in action hero mode, we’re left with the spectacle of a very watchable action figure.  Even though all action movies risk seeming redundant, Salt took on a curious choice of plot in that Cold War spy stories are not only worn out clichés, but they’ve been done better than this time and again.  Only, we didn’t get to watch Angelina Jolie in them.  And that’s why we buy the tickets.  

In short, it’s one of those guilty pleasures of a movie: utter nonsense but enjoyable for both the celebrity and the adrenaline. 

*a laughing matter*

For an anachronistic movie, there is a humorous nod to the present regarding the Swiss cheese security measures surrounding White House access.

*limited spoiler*

The major failure at the end is that Salt’s guilt could easily be judged by asking the President, who witnessed exactly what was done by whom.  The final chapter seemed to short cut this more logical conclusion, either due to lazy writing or a reluctance to end the movie with a section that, by comparison to the bodies-killed-per-minute hitherto, might suggest that the story ran out of gas.

2 of 5 STARS

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Sherlock Holmes

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Sure, it’s a belated review.  And that would be because I saw it belatedly.  I have great affection for Sherlock Holmes.  I find him a singular character in fiction, one that is extraordinarily gifted in his intellect, yet utterly human in his shortcomings: drug addiction, condescension, dismissiveness of women and lack of empathy.  To have such a flawed character portrayed in story after story has been repeated blessing, even if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made the reader wait for the decisive facts until the end of each case.

Beyond the writings, Basil Rathbone did well enough with the character in the 1940’s.  He captured the essence of the literary character, yet his movies suffered in that Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson never seemed a character whose recurring presence Holmes would suffer.

Skip forward to the 1980’s to Jeremy Brett, who nailed the character to perfection, but the show was saddled with two actors who portrayed Dr. Watson that, although truer to Doyle’s character, basically served as a conversation mechanism for Holmes.

Fast forward to just recently. Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes?  Sure, I was completely taken with his portrayal of Tony Stark aka Iron Man, but this seemed to be one of those sad cases where an actor scores a hit and immediately missteps into something built to cash in on his sudden popularity.  It did not help that the action scenes previewed prior to the movie’s release led to an inward shuddering I hadn’t felt since, well… Will Smith’s Wild Wild West catastrophic retelling.  Would a good Sherlock Holmes movie really need all those special effects and action scenes?

So, I waited until the DVD (NetFlix charges extra for Blu-ray…).


Pretty darn good.  Downey, Jr. doesn’t have the aquiline features of Rathbone, or the depressed skin tone of Brett, but he handles the character, and its flaws, well enough.  Certainly there is an over-emphasis on Holmes heretofore untold hand to hand fighting skills, but I suppose it’s impossible to make a major motion picture without more action than… well, than Doyle would have written.   His stories generally remarked on the remaining evidence after a crime or a discussion of facts with suspects, but rarely touched on Holmes actually doing something heroic, granted that Dr. Watson frequently carried a gun to no consequence.   

The plot?  Okay.  The telling?  Pretty good.  The future?  Well, the hunt will be afoot on solid ground after this outing.  Likely the best aspect of the movie, if you hadn’t surmised my between the lines hints, is Jude Law’s Dr. Watson.  Finally, we have evidence of a companion who would measure up to Holmes’ needs for interests and friendship.   

I can’t give the movie a top rating – the plot is a bit overreaching, akin to the second Indiana Jones movie, but to its credit, it is not completely lost in suspension of belief.  Definitely recommended for home viewing.

3 of 5 STARS

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Global Warming

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…or, for political cover when it’s snowing on your Save-the-Earth-From-Global-Warming Conference, try the term “climate change.”

I admittedly have problems contemplating that humankind is responsible for climate change, to the point where it impacts the climate beyond natural forces.  I think those predisposed to this thinking think much too highly of man’s ability to affect the climate, either negatively from our industrious natures, or positively by curbing our human endeavors. 

That does not mean that I believe our human activity is without effect on the environment.  In fact, clean water and air are vitally important and I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people, companies, industries, or countries who rail against the cost of compliance against generally accepted scientific findings.

That said, I’m not persuaded that the legion of scientists who fault us for increased carbon dioxide levels, and therefore global warming (oops, climate change) have arrived at their conclusions with honest assumptions and openness to all possibilities.  There are a lot of smart people on both sides of this argument, and both excel at calling the other side, in playground terms, names.

What do I know? I’m just a dweeb blogger who listens to lots of music and occasionally reads a book.  I just have a problem with the scale of our purported influence.  I know there is an ever increasing number of us humans, and every developing nation who actually develops results in more consumers who demand more industries to support them, thus more potential for pollution of all types.  Therefore, it is reasonable to ask whether climate change might be affected in terms of decades rather than centuries. 

But I also think.  In the 1970’s, it was the coming ice age.  In the 1990’s, it was the overheating of the planet.  And in 2010, “new data” now suggests the last 10 years has been the hottest recorded in a very long time, yet a year ago were perplexed that warming trends did not increase as expected.   

My opinions are not helped by politicians, who, in general, have sacrificed credibility for the sake of media sound bites.  From oil rig disasters to the generational effect of the nanny State, I think the vast majority of politicians have very superficial knowledge of anything specific, regardless of the breadth of their responsibility or the expertise of their appointments to Departments that Matter. When it comes to scientific discussions, politicians don’t invent things.  They parrot others’ studies.  And what better parrot is there than Al Gore?  In a nice recovery from inventing the internet, he won a Nobel prize for a movie, “Earth in the Balance.”  The main thrust of his enviro-doomsday movie is this statement:

“The relationship is actually very complicated but there is one relationship that is far more powerful than all the others and it is this.  When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the sun inside.”

It was a movie, so of course, Al provided pictures to help capture the issues.  Many of his points have been well skewered around the internet (but curiously not by major news outlets), and HERE is as good and logical a site at debunking as others.  I’ll refrain from posting the first picture on that site in case there are copyright issues.

The whole “human influence” on the temperature of our planet would be much more obvious if temperature/carbon dioxide levels were fairly static before 1900.  Only, there weren’t.  There have been huge swings over the centuries without any influence from people.  Many scientists are not trying to disprove earlier accepted findings that these swings existed, particularly in the medieval period.  Why?  Because it threatens the current thinking.

But as importantly, the order of CO2 and temperature events creates a serious problem.  Al Gore had it backwards.  As depicted in his own picture, Global warming (temperature increase…) comes first, followed by carbon dioxide increases over the course of (quite a number of) succeeding years.  Yet, controlling CO2 remains the key discussion point as the effective means of reducing atmospheric temperature.  Go ahead, scroll back up and check out the picture and the discussion.  It won’t bite.

Does that mean I’m hiding my head in the sand and denying that the sky is falling?  Well, no and yes.  I’m not hiding my head, and I will allow that climate change is possible, even likely.  It’s just the human “we’re causing this and we can fix it” aspects that I find difficult.  I’m not alone.  There are many websites that poke holes at the base assumptions upon which the the favored peer-reviewed results are based.  HERE is a good one, though obviously I cannot speak for the bona fides of the author.  Still, it makes sense, especially if one approaches it with an open mind.  

There remain quite a number of scientists who oppose the prevailing green tide, despite being ostracized (belittled, named ignorant, etc.)   Carbon dioxide levels are increasing of late, and this merits investigation – into all possible causes.   One significant potential source is solar variability.   Man is becoming good at making fires or taking heat out of our buildings and putting it back outside.  That pales in comparison to the sun, which has been, for a sufficient time, a credible heater for our planet, despite not being in an approved industrial park or trading and capping its emission impact on an energy exchange.  In fact, the sun has been providing energy throughout the existence of life (less one day if Genesis nailed it correctly). 

There have been numerous studies on the effect of solar radiation, sunspots, solar wind… and even those who argue that it is not a factor in recent years will confirm that it has a major driver prior to the industrial revolution, even into the first half of the 20th century.  Studies over the past 20 years, though, pretty well support the sun is not a major player, but nothing is for certain

Part of the problem is figuring out who is paying for which study.  I’ve now read way too much on this, but when the funding has been indicated, the results pretty well align with the motivations of the financier.  



Climategate was certainly a setback in public opinion over the legitimacy of global warming conclusions.   Earlier, in 2009, George Will, a conservative columnist, referred to information that counters the idea that it’s getting worse everywhere, and was taken to task for being, basically, politically incorrect even though his sourcing was legitimate. (Articles HERE and HERE).  Interestingly, I found one scientist who claimed his findings were routinely altered and mischaracterized in Wiki, and another’s who name entered into Google referenced an opposite opinion for the first several pages of search results.  I know… I should have jotted down the name for show and tell.

I don’t know the answers, but I think I represent a large part of the population that would like to see studies funded by entities that aren’t biased to seek a certain conclusion.  As it is frequently said, follow the money.  I don’t know that this is possible, and I have to refrain from citing a good number of Russian and Chinese studies as unbiased sources of facts just because they think as I do.  But whether a study is influenced by the State or by corporate dough or by personal convictions, truth in is hard to verify.  The internet is full of information, but that doesn’t mean all information is right.  That said, whether in sound-bites or dissertations, it’s very obvious that the prevailing trend is that the global “we” will shortly dictate that the winds not blow as hard and the waters not rise as high, even as we preserve green space by adding a few floors to The Tower of Babel.  Until then, I’ll hold to the words of Mark Twain:

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”
An interesting blog I’ve followed for months is Robert Rapier’s energy blog.  It has less to do with global warming and more to do with fuel availability and energy alternatives, which is a far greater priority in my opinion.  Good reading.

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The husband of a friend introduced me to Kiva some time ago (while introducing me to Facebook as I recall).  Kiva is a microlender to developing countries.  In short, it lends money to other lending organizations (Field Partners) in those areas, who then lend to people who have filed for a loan.  Loans typically vary from $500 to $2,000 in total need.

Why bother?  Well, there’s a “social consciousness” aspect that is at least somewhat appealing, which has to be weighed against a business aspect that is not.  First, the good part.

Upon visiting their site, you’ll see a wide variety of persons who are in need of funds, with a basic bio of their history and expected use.  Most seem to be individual proprietors, though some include groups of people.  In places like Honduras, Peru, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and others, I really can’t imagine what it takes to survive from day to day, but I’m certain there are far fewer options for employment than in the U.S., even in our recession.  Businesses need cash for better equipment, goods, etc. – it makes sense.  Some loans are for personal needs such as housing or transportation, but those to me speak more of a charitable need than “investment.”

My friend suggested criteria which made sense - selecting business endeavors backed by a highly rated lender.  Kiva provides a lender rating, but there is also their length in the micro-lending business and total loan $ to be considered.  I’m also partial to those who borrow for a shorter term (~1 year) with monthly payments, if only to recycle my $25 that’s in the system (you can, of course, “donate” more than that). 

My first loan was to Nazira, in Azerbaijan, who used it for buying clothes to resell.  She has since repaid the loan, and I’ve now reinvested in Sanobar’s retail business in Tajikistan.  I really shouldn’t be calling them by their first names, though.  I don’t know them, and they don’t know me.  But that is part of what appeals to me – a certain anonymity when contributing to a greater good.  People are in need, and it’s an interesting way to help. 

There is a notable disclaimer.  In the fine print, Kiva actually pre-funds the loans, so my money may or not be going to the individuals selected.  But it’s close enough, as each loan has to be funded by someone and they track the percentage raised, as in the graphic below.

In that these loans wouldn’t be made without someone contributing, there is the potential for good.

The bad?  Well, I don’t live in those areas, and I don’t know what interest rates typically can be found there by small borrowers.  But the Lending Partners’ interest rates (not Kiva’s) tend towards the exploitative (often 20% – 40%).  As a factor in the next loan (I erred on the current one…), I’ll probably begin with a well ranked Lending Partner who charges 15% or less interest, then find a borrower that they’re representing.

Consider it if you like, but I find it satisfying to support a social need while promoting capitalism in places I’ll never visit.  Maybe it will help.

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Supersize Me

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“I read the news today, Oh boy…”  Thanks, John Lennon.

Actually, I read the news on June 15th, that being in USA Today.  The article was: “Panel: Obesity is century’s greatest public health threat.”

Dang. That sounds serious.

I post this following my last topic, “plane stupid,” to continue the theme of lost individual freedoms against an increasingly empowered State, couched in language that it’s for our own good.

I won’t argue that Americans are fat.  Look in your local school, at the mall, or, most painfully, at the neighborhood swimming pool.  I consider myself in decent physical condition, but by the textbook definition, I’m borderline obese for my height and gender.

Who’s responsible for this?  Just ask Michael Moore.  It’s McDonald’s.  And government just can’t wait to help us Teenie Beanie Babiesprevent adding another generation to the billions and billions served.  In Santa Clara County, California, they’ve banned kids’ meals with toys.  No, not because of a choking hazard,  but rather because the presence of toys encourages kids, and therefore their parents, to eat (all that unhealthy yummy stuff) at McDonald’s!  As a former Teenie Beanie Baby enabler, I know this motivation to be true. Freakies toys But, that doesn’t make it wrong.  (It didn’t take McDonald’s to teach me this.  The entire point of going to the grocery store as a kid was to choose the cereal that had the best toy, lest my mom choose a healthy cereal with a coupon on the back.  Oh, the excitement… and Freakies for the win!)

The Panel’s recommendations?  Let’s see. 

  • Move to a plant based diet (I’m all for that.  A veggie still leaves plenty of room on the plate for good food.)
  • Significantly reduce salts and solid fats (but… my McDonald’s fries!)
  • Exercise (I walk twice a day, from my car to the office and, later, all the way back).  yada yada yada. 

The message hasn’t changed much over all these years, and neither have the results.  We eat what we 1) like the most that we 2) can afford.

What will change is that as we move to a stand alone national health care plan (give it time), the dietary habits of the populace will relate far more directly to “controllable costs” of an expanding healthcare budget than a pro-rata share of aviation fuel will relate to an (infinitesimal) increase of global carbon dioxide emissions (see previous post).  As we’ll soon have our body mass index (BMI) tracked by the government, one wonders if this will later play a role in who gets a transplant and who doesn’t.

For those with customer loyalty cards at their local grocery, our shopping hazards are already being tracked.  Again, it’s not hard to imagine Big Brother using the same information not just to track but to limit your purchases of say, Coca-Cola, during a 30 day period.  Is this really far fetched?  It may seem that way, but when the government is faced with uncontrolled entitlement spending, one means of limiting costs is by reducing individual freedom to choose one’s diet in order to prevent obesity or other diseases resulting from poor dietary habits.

In short, the State becomes very much a partner of what and how much and how often we can eat, and increased governmental supervision of our diets is really the only means that studies such as this one will eventually, um, gain weight.

Note: I like McDonald’s.  I mention them only because they’ve been targeted due to being our most recognizable fast food chain, and therefore the most demonized by people who know what’s good for you better than you.

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plane stupid

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I recently read an article in the New York Times that Britain is cancelling plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, as well as new ones at two other metro airports.

“The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions.”  There’s speculation that air travel contributes 2%-3% of global emissions, but could rise to 25% of emissions in Britain by 2030.  Goodness me.

Most ire is directed towards “binge flying” folks who travel for weekend getaways (“weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague,”) apparently inconsiderate of the billions of people that might die any day now due to climate change.

In fairness, while recognizing Britain is setting itself apart from its economic peers in their emissions reduction commitment, the article points out that travelers will likely have to drive further to get to other area airports, and airplanes circling Heathrow must remain aloft longer due to runway congestion. 

But, two things are clear.  The rallying cry for climate change is ultimately a challenge to individual freedoms, impossibly weighed against the greater good in the speculative mathematics involved.  The “down with the spoiled rich” shout appeals to those who prefer a socialist State, and it’s not hard to read between the lines that the end goal is a State authority that must approve the purpose of an individual’s travel against the societal impact of their (selfishly) proposed growing carbon footprint.  Unless you’re a pop celebrity or tithe to the Party in power, stay at home.

Secondly, and really the only reason I bothered writing this, is the closing paragraph.

“Leo Murray, a spokesman for Plane Stupid, an environmental group that has fought new runways, called the British government’s decision “a turning point for aviation” although he added, “It is uncomfortable to have the coup de grace delivered by the Conservative government.”

If ever there was an apt name for a group…

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Toy Story 3

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Toy Story was released in 1995, followed by Toy Story 2 in 1999.  Holy Smokes! Time flies.

I haven’t fired up my VHS player in a good while, but as I recollect, Woody, Buzz and the gang were left in a pretty good spot.  Why revisit a series that was ably put to rest 11 years later?

I mean, my oldest was 4 when the first movie came out, and now she’s 18.  She’s sort of outgrown her toy phase, at least the ones not made by Apple. 

Can’t Hollywood leave well enough alone?

Well, Pixar isn’t exactly Hollywood, and even Disney is smart enough not to mess with them.  Their stories (aside from Cars) have not only been entertaining, but relevant and on point for both kids and adults.  And in Toy Story 3, their timing is once again impeccable.  How so?

Andy, the owner of our familiar gang of toys, is going off to college… Gee, just like my daughter.  What to do with all the junk… (excuse me)… childhood treasures? And that’s the beauty of it – Pixar has developed the story to remain in tune with their original audience, both with cleverness, wit, and an emotional appeal to their growing maturity.

Was it worth $32 for 4 tickets?  Another $34 for the overpriced popcorn and ICEEs?  Absolutely, and the hint of a Clemson Tiger Paw on Andy’s box to be taken to college is, admittedly, a glorious bonus.

The animation was, as always, fantastic, even if it’s so familiar that it no longer dazzles.  Given the relative pain of watching Harrison Ford revisit his glory years as Indiana Jones, animation works wonderfully for a delayed sequel as the characters haven’t aged a day. 

The plot never lags, and, as expected, it remains committed to its winsome characters and tone.  It’s creative, yet familiar. It’s predictable, yet satisfying.  And it’s funny, yet touching.

As an adult, it’s impossible to watch the movie and not recall some moment when decisions were made of which childhood toys to donate, which to toss in the trash, or which to store “somewhere.”  The heartstrings are likely to get pulled a little, but certainly less so for those of us who were smart enough to keep all our best toys. 

If anyone is worried about “tainting” their Toy Story fondness by seeing this sequel, have no fear.  The movie is rated favorably by moviegoers at unseen levels.

And they’re right to do so.

Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

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I Buy My Gas at BP

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Yeah, you read it right.  Sure, BP’s CEO skipped the class on “Public Relations - Disaster Recovery 101.”   And, apparently, someone on the rig made a very bad decision against the advice of BP Logo others.  And the Gulf is a mess.

That said, I don’t know of anyone who would suggest that BP 1) wanted to pollute the Gulf or 2) was/is not self-motivated to stop the leakage.

I’m not saying that BP therefore is without guilt.  But I am convinced that despite all the finger wagging, no one in our government has any clue about oil drilling, and they left everything (from oil exploration to well closure, and, yes, cleanup…) to an industry that suffers from technological arrogance.  I’m not saying that the government needs to be experts in every type of business, but there is a difference between having authority and actual working knowledge.

It’s also clear that the government hasn’t helped.  Aside from inspectors who didn’t do their jobs, there are ample media reports (Here’s one) that our government is very slow to respond, even in a post-Bush, post-Katrina era of governmental responsibility to make everything better for all. 

According to the US Coast Guard, of the 107 offers Washington has received from 44 nations, only a small number have been accepted and the vast majority is being reviewed under a lengthy process.
A recent report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) suggested that a Dutch aid offer to provide four oil skimmers took seven weeks to be approved.

The skimmers could process more than 6 million gallons of oily water every day.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday scorned the idea that "somehow it took the command 70 days to accept international help."
"That is a myth," he declared, "that has been debunked literally hundreds of times."

Saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.  Google offers no “debunking” details other than his statement. Any journalists out there want to actually investigate a claim rather than parrot it? 

I absolutely hate the current anti-corporate attitude in America, and elsewhere.  Small businesses generally want to become bigger businesses, and if they succeed, they can get very large.  All (legitimate) businesses should be a source of American pride, not derision. 

Corporations are too frequently portrayed as self-serving, evil entities that exist to enrich their Sr. Management.  Any operational failure appears to be yet another case of why Capitalism is bad for you and me.  Sorry, but it’s the best system for promoting efficiency, competition, and a societal motivation to work.  Corporate (government and non-profit, for that matter) malfeasance has everything to do with human shortcomings, not the nature of their business structures or size.

You can argue executive pay all you want, but the fact is that BP has over 80,000 employees, 79,900+ of whom did absolutely nothing wrong.  Yet, they’ve seen their stock value fall (and about half of their employee savings plan), and it’s likely that those fortunate to remain in their chosen careers will do so working for another (evil) corporation.

Sure, I’m biased.  I work for a corporation of around 30,000 employees, and in the wake of Enron, AIG, and others, I hope and pray that our Sr. Leadership is minding our business as they should, just as everyone should who works for my company, or yours.

I’m not suggesting that BP should not be held responsible for the Deepwater explosion (and don’t forget the 11 fatalities amidst the daily environmental updates).  If certain individuals deserve prosecution because of gross errors, I hope there is sufficient evidence to proceed.

But I’m not going to boycott BP.  I shop there to support the little guy – the convenience store clerk, the store owner who unluckily sells BP products, the local oil jobbers, the oil service contractors in the Gulf, the 79,900+ unfortunate corporate Joes, and even the retired folks (or anyone else) who invested in BP stock. 

It’s very easy to forget that a corporation is technically a a legal entity constructed for accounting and taxation purposes, but people, like you and me, are at its core.

Disclaimer:  My opinions are also not affected by conveniently located BP stations which, at present, have pumps available with no waiting.

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