Monday, December 24, 2018

Aquaman Not All Wet, but Plot Doesn't Hold Water

Image result for aquaman movie

The 13 year old and I went to see Aquaman this afternoon.  It is visually wonderful with its scenes of underwater worlds and Atlantis.  It is a must-see for that reason.  I regret that we went to the standard version, we should have opted for 3D.  However as a movie it really is a soggy thing. 

SPOILER ALERT:  Aquaman gets killed in this movie.  In fact he gets killed about 50 times in the movie.  He takes more abuse than Harry and Marv in Home Alone 2.We're talking grenades, bombs, burning flesh, sword stabbings, bullets going through body parts. This makes zero sense, but Aquaman takes it and not only does it not kill him, he doesn't seem too upset by it. 

The bad guys get killed even more often than Aquaman. Orm is the German half brother of Aquaman.  That is the royal people look like very Euroepean, but those who are non-royal look like salamanders.  That makes sense in a DC movie.  Anyway, Orm and Black Manta take turns killing Aquaman, and then they wind up getting blasted even worse.  You could argue that since Orm is from Atlantis, maybe he has some way to survive,  but Black Manta is human, and yet he takes enough punishment to kill 100 Coyotes on the Road Runner Cartoon.  He falls off cliffs, crashes through cement walls, gets his head blown off, and gets bent, mutilated and spindled by Aquaman.   He likes it.

There is no plot in the movie so I can't spoil it for you.  Or rather there are so many plots that we can't keep track of them all.  It's kind of like Green Lantern in that it tried to encompass too many story lines. There are several Arthurian plot gimmicks involving the rightful heir to the throne, magic swords (or tridents since we are underwater), royal intrigue and treason, a scavenger hunt like the Da Vinci Code, lost relics from Indiana Jones, super powered twits trying to take over the world, and liberal borrowing from Star Wars cliches from the past. There is a also a hollow earth, like from Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Like Green Lantern there are gratuitous training scenes in which as an adolescent he gets trained as an Atlantean Warrior.  It's not clear whether he has special superpowers, or whether all Atlanteans are just as strong, for example.  In some parts of the movie, he knows almost nothing about Atlantis, and in other parts he is well versed ("oh yeah, I remember it all now.").  These scenes just make the convoluted plot more convoluted.  Like does Aquaman know his way around the Atlantean world or not?

The non-Royal Atlanteans (the ones who look like Salamanders) wear scary armor like Star Troopers in Star Wars.   They buy their weapons from the same Wal Mart as well, and are completely ineffective as a fighting force.  Their scary weapons are not able to shoot anyone of any consequence to the movie.  They need to breath water in order to survive, so it's kind of funny when their water filled armor springs a leak. I wanted them to die because they are all so incompetent.

Jason Momoa is a fantastic heroic actor and is totally convincing as Aquaman.  He's kind of like Marvel's Wolverine in that he likes to drink beer and win barfights.  But where do they get the rest of the actors?  As a group they are all very weak, and the lack of a detailed plot makes them even weaker.  The  characters come off as very one dimensional.  For example, we know very little about why the Queen of Atlantis should wind up in a New England lighthouse, and the scriptwriters are just not interested in telling us about it.  The bad guys are totally bad and totally angry all the time, the good guys are totally good yet very shallow and two dimensional.

Another confusing aspect is that Aquaman has the power to telepathically communicate with sea creatures, but no one knows why he can do that.  It is a really cool super power.  For example if you could summon 10,000 sharks you could probably shut down an army by yourself.  But Aquaman seems to forget that he has this superpower for long stretches of time.

See Aquaman for the visual spectacle of Atlantis and the undersea world.  Forget about the plot, it's not worth understanding.  I love Atlantis and hope that there will be a sequel.  But I hope that they can send the entire Royal Family of Atlantis to a retirement community.  The power struggle is not interesting and we just can't identify with one group over the other.  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood: The FIRST Superhero

"Welcome to Sherwood Forest!" 
       Every few years, a new Robin Hood movie comes out (this year's Robin Hood stars  Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, and Ben Mendelsohn. However, no one will ever surpass the standard set by Errol Flynn as Robin Hood in 1938. It's hard to imagine what a spectacle it was.  There had never been anything like it at the time.  Errol Flynn brought to life the legendary archer with the supernatural proficiency with the bow and arrow.  Not only that, the movie was made with the new Technicolor process, and surpassed existing color movies. 
   There could not be a better Robin Hood than Errol Flynn. Incredibly handsome and athletic, he was totally believable as the swashbuckling, glib Robin Hood. It may be that Flynn's witty repartee inspired Stan Lee's pantheon of Marvel Super Heroes.   For example, Robin and Sir Guy of Gisborn exchange insults and wry comments while engaging in battle. Sir Guy sneers,  "Do you know any prayers, my friend?"  Robin replies smartly,"I'll say one for you!"
     In 1938, Superman had just been born in an obscure publication called Action Comics, and Batman would not appear until the next year.  Perhaps the major competition of Robin Hood might have been the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs (that is, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars) and serial films about space heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers.  However, none of these heroes approached the magnitude of the splendorous Robin Hood.  Robin Hood was a blockbuster at the box office.  It cost about $2 million to produce, with 1938 revenues of $4 million and additional revenue from re-releases and television over the years. 
      Other Robin Hoods include Kevin Costner had his chance to play Robin in Prince of Thieves in 1991.  Sean Connery played a more mature Robin alongside Katherine Hepburn in 
Robin and Marion in 1976. Carey Elwes wad fun in the Mel Brooks parody film, Robin Hood:  Men in Tights.  There were innumerable other Robin Hoods who have appeared in different productions, with most of them flopping.   
      Errol Flynn remains the most compelling Robin Hood and the standard by which all others will be forever judged.  
      In real life, Flynn was a notorious womanizer, lush and brawler. His movie career continued until his death in 1959, usually playing heroic action figures.   If you were to have access to a time machine and have a chance to go out to dinner with Kevin Costner or Errol Flynn, you should definitely choose Costner.  But as Robin Hood, Flynn wins hands down.   Future Robin Hoods should beware, for the bar is set very high.  

Monday, September 3, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians is a Must See, Especially for Asian Americans

    Crazy Rich Asians is a delightful romantic comedy that involves the particular struggles of culture clash between westernized (Asian-Americans) and traditional Chinese cultures.  It is about the new Westernized generation trying to live up to family expectations while also being able to fall in love (can't be done!).

    This is not exactly a new plot.  In fact, a guy named Shakespeare actually wrote the pilot in Romeo and Juliet. However, to my knowledge he never wrote a play that involved Asian peoples.

     In this case, Rachel Chu is a successful young university, and the boy is a rich kid. Nick Young is the oldest son of a Chinese family in Singapore, and thus he is expected to operate the family business which in this case is a Trumpian sized business empire.  They decide to attend a wedding in Singapore, where Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, goofy Chinese relatives and especially Nick's mother.  Let me tell you something about Asian mothers. When it comes time for their sons to get married, there is NO ONE good enough to marry them.  This is especially true if they are rich.

   My family is mixed Asian-American and so we definitely had to see this movie, all four of us. We're not crazy rich Asians, but two out of three ain't bad.  By blood, we're Korean-Chinese-Swiss-Indian, by nationality we can throw in Malaysian, Japanese, German and French.  So boy, do we know culture clash around here.  Anyway the movie made us laugh and identify with the characters, and probably it would work for non-Asians as well.  It did get a little tedious for me in the middle because the couple has to go to a wedding, they spend a lot of time worrying about protocols and shopping for dresses and that sort of thing.  I'm not big into shopping so that wasn't really interesting to me.  
     In addition, I was expecting the movie to be more slapstick.  It's funny, but treads a bit more carefully around the sensitive issues of culture, rather than going for the overtly funny belly laugh.  I'm not going to offer a spoiler from the movie, but I will share a real incident from my own family that can give you an idea of what can really happen in a cross-cultural family.  
     When my daughter was about 8 she wanted to get her ears pierced. By American standards that is quite normal.  But, I KNEW, absolutely KNEW that my Mom was going to lecture me that the Japanese Royal Family does not permit prospective princesses to be have their ears pierced. Sure enough, my daughter mentioned to Grandma that she wanted her ears pierced, and so I have to hear all about the rules of the Japanese Royal Family.  My answer was typically American, flawlessly logical (at least to me):  One, our family is from Korea, not the Japanese mainland, so no Japanese prince is ever going to come courting my daughter.  Two, America won World War 2, so the Japanese Royals are not our bosses, and we don't care what they think.   My compelling logic no doubt horrified my Mother, who feared that our dead ancestors would get excited by my lack of respect for Japanese Royalty.  I rather think those generations of Koreans would have stood up and applauded me, but that is a side issue.  
     My daughter's response was much more enlightened. Even though she was only eight, being a computer-savvy Asian kid, she got on the internet and found a picture of Princess Masako with pierced ears!  End of discussion, daughter wins, ears become pierced and peace returns to the Kennel family.  
      So, anyway, the Kennel family knows very well the crazy skirmishes between East and West. Similar battles need to be fought in Crazy Rich Asians.  Asian people might find the situations tense, like my mother did, but we Americans will just laugh. 
    If you're not Asian, there might be a few inside jokes that you won't get, but virtually all cultures will understand and identify  with the problems of the young generation trying to buck the traditional system.  


Sunday, July 15, 2018

So What About Tariffs?

   Listening to both Democrats and Republicans, it sounds very obvious that they believe that Americans do not need to pay taxes, and do not need tarriffs.  It seems to be the other party's fault that we have these unnecessary burdens.  The major parties seem to not believe that the budget deficit means anything at all.  Congresspeople are grinning from ear to ear as they have signed up for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, despite that all of this "new money" is actually borrowed.  
      Economic voodoo worshipers talk hopefully about how the tax cut is going to spur the economy so much that economic growth is assured, so much so that it will pay for the tax cut.  "Deficits don't matter." 
    Well, they do matter. Did any of you people go to college? The last time we did this foolish experiment, we almost destroyed the global economy in 2008, and had to bail out the banks with hundreds of billions of dollars lost.  Are we going to do that again?  Apparently so.  And most of the money we have borrowed in order to give tax breaks to wealthy Americans will wind up in Swiss bank accounts when the next crash occurs. 

      Despite the obvious proof that economic idiocy has the upper hand right now, I believe there is a nagging doubt in some parts of the government whether this is really a good idea.  The  Congressional Budget Office predicts a deficit of over one trillion dollars per year by 2020.  The deficit was $587 Million, in 2016 and projected to $833 this year and over a trillion dollars by 2020.  At some point, the global economy will lose confidence in the value of T-bills, and the economy will implode as it did in 2008.  Sane economists (a minority to be sure) realize this is terrible.  
        To decrease the deficit, there are only two real options:  either cut spending or increase revenues, both of which are painful. Congress is politically unable to cut spending.  What do you expect from a group that spends 6 trillion dollars on chaos and death in the Middle East and refers to it as "our investment?"   Nobody cares about an economic collapse, as long as it can be successfully blamed on the other side.
     Increasing revenues can take only two forms:  higher taxes  or tarriffs.  If any politician proposes to raise either one, the other side will scream about the disadvantages and ignore the basic function of restoring some balance to the deficit.  

     Raise taxes on the poor?  Can't do that, say the liberals, the poor will suffer.
     Raise them on the rich?  Can't do that, say the conservatives, the rich are job creators.  
     How about raising the Federal Excise Tax on gasoline?  Can't do that, it will hurt the transportation sector.
     Well how about tariffs?  This likewise brings a chorus of boos from both sides.  Nobody is concerned about an economic collapse yet, only the immediate effects on industry.  I have a friend that wa rather high up in the aluminum industry before retiring, and he doubts whether the tariff will spur much investment in new smelters, though the existing one might work at full capacity 
     The point of a tariff is not to punish foreign industries, it's to raise money to pay for the very real goods and services that the Federal Government provides (plus the stupid things like Middle Eastern wars, that are nevertheless considered essential). Really it isn't going to affect the demand for steel and aluminum very much, because industry will not build new plants based on the expectation of government support for prices.  I don't think it is a trade war, it's mainly  a way to cut our deficit by 5%.  Yes it's painful, but not nearly as painful as an economic depression.  The 2008 financial crisis is the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of 1929. It occurred despite Federal Reserve and Treasury Department efforts to prevent it.  In 2008,  housing prices fell 31.8 percent and unemployment rose to above 9 percent.  This is partly because the US chose to hand out tax credits to a growing economy, and went from a balanced budget in 2000-2001 to the bloated and escalating deficit that we have today.   In 2009 and 2010 the government navigated out of the economic crisis, partly the the help of "stimulus" spending.  This is in accordance with Keynesian theory, that in a recession the government needs to spend more to get the economy moving.  This may not be possible if the deficit crisis worsens to the point that foreign lenders are no longer willing to lend America money.  
    The effect of the tariffs is to decrease the US ability to buy and consume cheap imported goods.  It also means that US industry is incentivized to pick up the slack, which might result in additional employment. That is not disastrous.  If you have to pay for the government somehow, it's not the worst thing you could do. 
      Make no mistake, tariffs are not a tool for job creation or punishing foreign countries.  It's simply a way to pay for our government spending.  This is a time when we should be paying down the debt, rather than borrowing more money to give to wealthy Americans. 
         I think it was a sorry mistake to give tax cuts to rich people who don't need them. This is just a down payment on a future economic disaster.  Likewise it is a sorry mistake to continue pouring money down the Middle Eastern rathole, based on the mistaken belief that America is winning great friends by doing so.  

       If we are headed to a trillion dollar per year annual deficit, I don't see how to argue against an effort to try to stem the deluge with 50 billion dollars of new revenue. I would like to see something that gets phased in gradually rather than creating an abrupt change in the global economy.  But the tariffs do not go far enough in my opinion--too little too late--and moreover our lawmakers lack the wisdom to make even the most obvious of funding cuts. That is just not going to happen.  
  I think the critics should cool their jets about tariffs and instead focus on the trillion dollar deficit. 


The Master Plan of American politicians is to get re-elected before the economic deluge hits, and then try to blame it on the other party.  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Hello, Pump air into the Thailand Cave and the Water May Recede

I don't know who to tell, but it seems to me that if you bring an air hose into the Thailand Cave, you've got a great chance to pressurize the cave, and by so doing you will force the water to recede. 

Because the people are short on oxygen, it implies that the supply of air is limited.  A person consumes about 100 cubic feet per day of air (or more precisely, the 20% oxygen in the air).  The fact that they are depleting the oxygen suggests that there may be limited  volume with poor ventilation.  If so, it also means you can fill it with air and the leak rate may be considerably smaller than what a decent pump can provide.  

You  may not be able to just pump water out of the cave, because that lowers the pressure and causes more water to flow in to take its place. 

The water level has risen to flood passages into the enclosed volume where the soccer team is trapped.

So, is it possible to connect sections of hose from the surface to where the team is?  Then you need a compressor to deliver maybe 20 cfm to the cave.  If the cave is pressurized with air, the water will recede.  If you pressurize with 4 psi, it will recede 10 feet. 8 psi will cause it to recede 20 feet.  How low do you need the water to be in order to walk out of the passages? 
If you could pump 20 cfm of air into the cave, the air would push out the water.

If the cave leaks too much and won't hold pressure, can you spray the walls with polyurethane foam to plug them up?  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Does the Constitution Really Grant the President the Power to Torture Illegal Immigrants?

    Maybe some of my friends who know more about American Law can straighten me out, but I have a great deal of difficulty believing that the Constitution gives the American President the authority to commit child abuse.
         How can the President impose such a tough sentence on children as to take them away from their parents without at least putting the children on trial?
     It would be one thing if it could be argued that there was no choice, and that the children must be separated in order to put the parents on trial for a misdemeanor attempt to enter the country illegally.   
       I tend to buy Alan Dershowicz's argument that the President can't be put in jail for breaking the law, and if he does break the law, he can issue a pardon for himself.  So good luck to those who think they can catch the President on a technical infraction--say, campaign finance or sending classified information in email or Tweet.  You're not going to put him in jail in 2025 when his term is up.  Or if you can do that, then every single President from now on is going straight to jail after their term is up. 
     But, what the Constitution does provide is a way for Congress to act when they see that the President is acting illegally.  They may remove him from office.  The Impeachment process, as best I understand it is not a legal trial that generates a conviction and jail sentence. But it does take him out of office.    
      So you could argue that the separation of parents and children is an administrative procedure to allow the parents to stand trial.   But it is also a legally administered punishment, and probably the worst thing you could do to a small child, to take a child away from the parents and give the child to someone else.  This is the cruelest form of child abuse I could ever imagine, and it is very hard for me to understand how it is not a punishment, particularly if it is demonstrably avoidable.  The President has used his power to increase the number and the severity of these punishments, it's an action he committed.  It didn't just happen.
      Ok, legal scholars, help me here.  Does the President have the legal right to torture anyone he wants, including babies and small children?  And he can take away children or parents without trial?  Or is it okay because they are not citizens?   Or maybe it's okay if it is considered an "administrative procedure" rather than punishment?  If this isn't cruel and unusual punishment, without trial, then what it is it?    
        Or has the President has wrongfully and flagrantly exceeded his legal authority  systematically seeking to break up the family units of illegal immigrants?  .  This is so horrific, is a minor apology and corrective Executive Order enough? I don't believe he can be sent to jail, but should Congress exercise their power to review the President's a actions and force him to GO?   Or if they do not, is it because they lack the Constitutional authority?  Or merely the heart?