ericcheung: (Default)
I'm in the process of applying for a job at a foundation that funds documentary films.  It's a part-time job that pays better than my current full-time temp assignment, which would enable me to open my schedule up to more volunteering at WGBH and at RFB&D.  In looking at the listing on I noticed they wanted solid writing skills.  So I thought I'd show them my published article from Imagine News' August 2004 issue.  I'll also post it below if you'd like to look at it:

Emerson College: What You Put Into It

Strolling through the streets of Boston on a Sunday afternoon on a nice summer day, one might expect to find a pleasant sea breeze, tourists with cameras in hand, or perhaps a film crew-also with cameras in hand. The more nosey among us may inspect the scene with curiosity and find clapboards, CP cameras, boom mikes, and boxes to transport this equipment. There’s a pretty good chance those boxes are labeled “Emerson College.”

So it was on July 10th and 11th outside of South Station when Dawn Morrissey, producer of THE VIRTUOSO a Film III project organized production with directors Ramone Kendall and Steve Cook. “The film is about how the Democratic National Convention can disrupt even the simplest things in people’s lives,” Morrissey says.

“A street musician who plays his violin outside of North Station everyday and has a crush on a business woman who smiles and drops a buck in his case every morning. The convention comes to town and the virtuoso, oblivious to politics and the convention, tries to set up shop outside but is moved on.” The crew shot at South Station because “it doubled for North Station which does not have such a great facade.”

Film III summer session professor Jim Wolpaw says, “This is an interesting project because there are only three students in the class so it’s one film. They’ve built a story that sort of interacts with the Democratic National Convention. They’ll intercut actual television footage with the film footage so that whatever happens interacts with the story.”

Morrissey is enrolled as an adult undergraduate. “I am a mature student so the application process is not too laborious: an essay, a sample of your work and references.” From Ireland she had applied at NYU’s Tisch School and Goldsmith’s in London. She decided on Emerson because, “Emerson has a lot of adjunct faculty who work in the industry. I think they contribute a huge amount to student life at Emerson. You become a realist here after listening to their stories in the field but at the same time you’re allowed to grow artistically and they cultivate that.”

Wolpaw, who has been teaching at Emerson for the past ten years, is one such faculty member. A filmmaker for twenty-five years, his works include the Academy Award nominated documentary KEATS AND HIS NIGHTINGALE: A BLIND DATE and the cult rock comedy COMPLEX WORLD. “I didn’t go to school for film. My only formal film school training was two production classes at the New School. I learned by doing,” says Wolpaw. “One thing I’ve learned [from teaching] is there are just so many different ways of making films that work. What I can do is point out dangerous paths and what makes sense.”

Although he’s taught at Emerson for the past ten years, he’s also taught at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and Rhode Island School of Design. At Emerson College, he’s noticed that “the student has everything they need to produce a really professional film.” Wolpaw says that what sets Emerson students apart is that they’re very serious about learning film. They see it as a viable career option.

This leads many Emerson students to seek internships at local production companies like David Sutherland Productions. The company, best known for the mini series “The Farmer’s Wife,” currently hires several interns every semester. Associate Producer Erin Anguish is in charge of the interns. “Interns at DSP, Inc. play a major role in the completion of our current film by helping to sort through, log, and transcribe our 2,000 plus hours of footage. In so doing, they are privy to a wealth of knowledge that can only be gleaned by watching original footage from as reputable a director as David Sutherland. Additionally, David makes use of the interns' intimate knowledge of the footage by inviting them to assist him in editing, looking for shots and sounds while providing valuable insight into the story structure as well as intelligibility of voiceover and narration.

“Emerson has been a wonderful place for recruiting interns. The bi-annual career fairs have been of tremendous help to me, and David has spoken at several Emerson events, putting a human face on an online ad. Many interns have actually contacted us after hearing David speak at one of such events, and those interns tend to be the most dedicated and motivated.

“I would say that one area where Emerson interns tend to stand out is the sheer force of their numbers. At least one third of my interns have been from Emerson, a fact that I largely attribute to the school's emphasis on the internship experience as well as their many on-campus recruiting events and unique forums in which students can interact with members of the Boston film community.”

Student life for an undergrad at Emerson involves lecture classes on film theory, hands-on classes with experienced professors, and internships at area production companies, but it also provides extra-curricular avenues for professional development on campus. One such organization is Frames Per Second. Undergrad Jay Pachomski has been involved with FPS for the past few years. “FPS is a student-run organization where students write scripts and choose a few to work on from pre to post-production.”

He describes why he likes FPS “I think it’s two part. First, there’s the opportunity to work on something outside class. Every semester you get to work on at least one or two short films. Second, there’s the chance to meet like minded people, into the same stuff. You can build those relationships that will continue into the real world.” As Jim Wolpaw says, “Students get out of Emerson what they put into it.”

For Dawn Morrissey one big advantage Emerson has are the contacts garnered through recent alumni. “They call me to work on big shoots,” she says. “[Alum] Evelyn Carrigan was working on a Touchstone film in Providence last year and they needed crew. She called me and I was on set a day later with Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, and Jeff Nathanson who directed.” Nathanson also wrote the screenplay for the recent hit, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Says Morrissey, “the Emerson name is well known in the industry and our training is never questioned because the industry professionals know we have received a firm background in film production!”

ericcheung: (Default)
Well not really, but I recently signed up to be a docent for WGBH, which involves and eight-week training class.  My first homework assignment was to watch an episode of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman and either design a challenge for the show or write an autobiography from his point-of-view (in the context of the assignment he won the Yuppy Puppy Canine of the Year Award and had to write an autobiography for the program to the ceremony).  I decided to do the latter as it was genuinely fun to write jokes again.

I actually have a brief history with this show.  Four years ago I started working at the Museum of Science.  One Sunday morning I was groggily working in the lobby after a late night doing comedy when a camera crew and several kids between 10 and 14 ran up to me.  "Do you know where the nearest star is?" they asked.  I pointed them to the Solar System exhibit, the focal point of which is a model of the Sun, the centerpiece to a scale model of the solar system that stretches all the way to the Riverside stop on the D-Line.  I signed a release from the PA who happened to be a former classmate of mine at Emerson and forgot about it.

Several months later one of my co-workers told me that her kid liked me in the show.  See if you agree by clicking here and watching the part that starts at 6:30.

Anyway, I only re-watched that and a few other clips here and there, and looked at the Wikipedia entry for the show (wherein I was surprised to learn just how many animated supporting characters have appeared on the show in the past three years), before considering that enough research to do scribble a couple of pages on the way to class.

Ruff Ruffman is someone who doesn't just have delusions of grandeur, he's also a hopeless neurotic.  It's that tension that generates most of the humor in the show.  He's able to marry those two halves to form a cohesive whole that makes him a Chinese food loving, endlessly pretentious, and charming game show host that gleefully messes with the contestants by enforcing strange rules, but is also laid-back enough to know when to break the rules.  I think I could write someone like that (this week's homework is much easier, listen to The World on WGBH Radio).

So then, here's the product of my frantic ride through the Red Line and the 86 bus:

Ruff Quixotic Ruffman

I can't tell you how waggy my tail is for having received the Yuppy Puppy Canine of the Year Award--and I applaud your literary taste in allowing me to write my own autobiography!

First of all, like most geniuses, I'm slightly neurotic and my work habits are a bit erratic.  So I want to apologize for the tardiness of this person ate a salad, with croutons, cucumbers, some lite Northern Italian dressing and a fresh mix of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, and some peppers for a little extra kick...along with my favorite: chow mein noodles!

But I digress...

I was born in 1995 or 13965 in dog years, either at the beginning of the year or the end of it.  I don't remember.  I slept through most of it.

Like most of my family, except for my cousin Murray, I was born a walking, talking dog (to the lay-down person); canine anthromorphicus (to the stand-up and be taxodermic persons).

Along with chopstick-using opposable thumbs, I was born with a love for every new thing around me.

So naturally, I gravitated towards music.  I love big band so much my person got me a Benny Goodman squeeze toy.

I LOVE German opera.  At my last checkup I used the word Brechtian so much my vet thought I had post-nasal drip!

And I love love love reality television, especially The Amazing Race (It reminds me of the time I let Spot Spotnik beat me in a contest to be the first one to catch a car.  He sold his prize squeeze toy to pay for the resulting dentist's bills).

And it's that love of television, coupled with my curiosity, and my consummate leadership skills, sprinkled with my endless charisma that brings me here tonight.

That stir-fry of awesome has given me the insight to con--er, convince WGBH and PBS to buy my show.

On Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman I make all the rules!  And I know when to break them!

Thank you for this award.  I'll bury it in The Victory Garden.

ericcheung: (Default)

Last week was a little slow, temporary-job-wise, so I decided to use some of the programs I actually bought specifically for this computer (I bought Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Elements because I figured that I should put my Film major to use, even as a hobby).

Here now are two of my favorite quirky folks of the moment.  I wanted to get an older photo of David Byrne, because circa "Stop Making Sense" he looks scarily like Buster Keaton, but this photo actually works really well for what the photo is supposed to be.  I considered making Byrne a warden, leaning outside the cell, but having him leaning inside was more of a challenge and I figured the two of them would probabaly be, either in the same pickle, or become fast friends in jail.

David Byrne now actually looks more like David Lynch now (as they both have psychotically upswept shocks of white hair).  Maybe I'll add Lynch later.  One could be an angel on Keaton's shoulder, the other the devil.  I'd let you decide whom.

ericcheung: (Default)

I'll probably be writing a story about this experience in the near future.

ericcheung: (Default)
I've had CNN on for most of the weekend; I've wished that Inauguration Day fell on Martin Luther King Day, not only for the symbolism, but for the more selfish reason that I could witness history, unfettered by the trappings of the workplace.

Yesterday I watched CNN's broadcast of "Normalcy, Never Again" also known as the "I Have a Dream" speech for it's most famous last quarter in which Martin Luther King Jr. improvised a finale to his plea for economic parity, at the urging of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to "tell them about the dream," with the language he usually reserved for his sermons, declaring famously that he had a dream that people would be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.  The speech itself ran for roughly seventeen minutes.

This was roughly the length of Barack Obama's speech today.

I came to work hoping to get there early to make sure I could get a live video stream of the Inauguration from CNN on my computer.  Unfortunately the computers at work are starting to get a little old.  They work perfectly fine for what they do, but streaming software upgrades trot past the time-capsuled system requirements of a few years ago.  I can no longer watch The Daily Show on the official site, but for some reason I can watch it through IMDB.

So, I had settled on MSNBC's coverage, exactly counter to the FOX News programming on the TV when I got there (my office clearly supported Obama but FOX just happened to be what was on).  It being the internet, my computer was lagging behind the television, especially because it would occasionally hiccup until I decided to click refresh.  When I did things only got worse as the intermittent audio was supplemented by what was effectively a slide show.

My connection was worst during the oath and the speech.  So, I put down the work I had and justified working in the front office (with the view of the waiting room television, now turned to ABC), by using the time to go through the faxes and scan documents.  I managed to take the full amount of time in order to watch history live.

Almost everything stopped in the office as the speech started.  My eyes welled up as two of the doctors on duty walked in.  They came in just after the oath, which they watched in their office, under similar circumstances as mine.  I didn't catch all of the speech, but it wasn't because I wasn't paying attention.  I was after all at work, so there were still patients calling into the office, there were still patients waiting for apppointments, and there was still the whirr of office equipment.  I did catch mention of the sacrifices made at Concord during the Revolutionary War, which reminded me of the museum where MB works, and I heard mention of the wonderful diversity of religious belief, including non-believers.  But much of the speech blended into that whirr of immediate activity.

So, soon after the speech, I found the transcript, and the YouTube video (Part I and Part II), which I'll review later in the sober quiet of my apartment.
ericcheung: (Default)

The confetti has been swept up and the tears of joy have been wiped from the faces of loved ones.  But we have a long way to go.  In last night's other big election news California approved a proposition banning gay marriage.  There were similar amendments in Arizona and Florida passed as well.  But one of the most thorough was in Arkansas wherein unmarried couples were banned from adopting children.  This effects people of any sexual orientation.

In California the situation is tricky because there are already 18,000 couples legally married.  According to the Associated Press, the state attorney general, Jerry Brown, asserts that those marriages will remain legal, although legal challenges may still happen.

That is one scenario that may lead the fight for gay marriage to go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  The stakes there would of course be massive.  A ruling in favor of gay marriage would hopefully end discriminatory laws throughout the country while a ruling against could have disasterous effects.  Right now, SCOTUS is just Right of Center, with Right-leaning Moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy positioned as the tie-breaker vote.  Whether the gay marriage movement is ready for the Supreme Court is up for debate, but such bans as the ones approved last night may make that confrontation sooner than later.

The issue presented in the campaign in California for Proposition 8 was primarily gay marriage's effect on education.  I'll reiterate the basic point of what I said in my blog on Monday:

People who claim to care so much about children care about them on an abstract, rather than individual basis. They'd rather that the world change to suit their parenting style instead of being attentive parents that adapt to and counter the messages of the outside world. It's lazy. Parenting shouldn't be about scapegoating but about adapting to the world. That is a value that should be passed down the generations. Learning to adapt is something that parents should be teaching kids anyway.

This is not dissimilar to the hearings of the PMRC in the 1980s wherein Frank Zappa argued that instead of a ratings system lyrics should be printed on the back of the records so that parents may decide which albums are appropriate for their children.  The reasoning is the same: parenting involves vigilance, attentiveness, and involvement.  If this is where the debate is now centered then so be it.  As with all social movements the talking points must be truthful yet fluid.

But fear not because momentum is on the side of gay marriage.  If you look back ten years ago, or even four, the numbers have been trending towards an acceptance of gay marriage.  This is but a pothole on the highway towards history.

In other public voting news Washington joined Oregon as the second state to approve assisted-suicide.  I think this is a good thing because I believe it to be someone's right to decide how they die.

Throughout the country abortion-limiting legislation failed to pass, and in Massachusetts the marijuana question passed, making it a civil offense worth a $100 fine.  Congratulations on both fronts.

Animals rights activists are also smiling as dog-racing has been banned in Massachusetts along with the cramped cages for egg-laying chickens in California.

ericcheung: (Default)
Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.  This is the third presidential election I've voted in and this is the first time that my pick in the primaries not only won his nomination but won the presidency.  I feel quite good right now.  I feel optimistic for the future but I must make sure I keep that optimism in check, that I keep an eye on this administration and government and authority in general.  So, logically, after this post I'll be retiring the Obamafied avatar.

Today I managed to leave work a little early so that I could get to my polling place early, in case there were large lines.  There weren't so I just decided to hop in, and hopefully hop out quickly.  When I got there I saw a kid I've seen at my bus stop in the morning, with whom I've spoken regarding the MTA (The kids at University High School take the same bus as me.  As a result the buses are so crowded they pass us by occasionally.  I've thought that the kids should have their own buses so that they wouldn't have to deal with weirdos, and the school bus drivers would be able to control the rowdier kids.  But I digress).  He was volunteering at the checkout table for school, so we said "Hi" to each other.

I had done my homework, as you saw in my previous blog.  So, all I had to do was open up my piece of crumpled notebook paper and speed through the pages of the ballot.  In LA you insert the paper ballot into this book mounted on a stand, and the binding between each set of two pages has holes in it. You mark the holes with a special marker to vote and when you're done you put the ballot into the machine. After having spent hours on over more than a dozen questions, and half a dozen races, I can understand why.  But as I said, I sped through it.  I voted like a champion and slipped the ballot in the scanning machine so that I could get my sticker.

Then I did what has become a ritual on voting day for me in this neighborhood.  I walked up to Jay's Market to get some cooked pork for a big bowl of pasta I'd cook shortly.  I chopped an onion, a tomato, and some sauce and tossed them in with the meat and linguine, the olive oil, the parmasean cheese, the cinnamon, the pepper, the garlic powder, and butter.  It was good, it tasted kind of like a scampi.

Then I flipped on Comedy Central and watched them broadcast from the Bambified Obama headquarters and MC Escheresque McCain headquarters while I chatted with MB and hit refresh on  By the end of Indecision 2008's first hour of "Actually Live" coverage the election was called for Barack Obama.

I decided it was now time to switch to CNN for their coverage, and for a few minutes to Fox News.  On Fox they celebrated Mississippi's GOP incumbent Senator keeping his seat, and preventing a filibuster-proof majority.  They also stated it was a night of celebration for Barack Obama with a qualifier that it was despite whatever one thinks of him as a person.

I switched back to CNN in time to hear John McCain's speech.  It was absolutely wonderful.  It was classy and it gave us a glimpse of the man that the world used to know as John McCain, a man we can never be truly certain exists anymore.

Right now Obama's giving his acceptance speech.  It sounds much like his other speeches, which isn't a bad thing, but I'm only half paying attention now.  I'd like to say though: that this election was won because of the American people and likewise this Administration will be great, or it will fail, in large part because of what the American people does to change this country for the better.  It is not enough to rely on one person to save the world.

To borrow from SNL's Weekend Update:

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.
ericcheung: (Default)
The following is a list of candidates, propositions, and measures I'm voting for in today's election.  This is a long one, so click here for the complete list. )
ericcheung: (Default)
I hadn't really thought to do anything for Halloween this year and then my office said that we could wear costumes (nobody wore any last year, but I dressed as I normally do using my laptop bag as my lunchbag, so when I did go into Hollywood that night people thought I was Harold from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.).  So on short notice I grabbed my Kirk uniform shirt (it was my brother's from a Halloween years ago that I borrowed for a sketch at The Comedy Studio that he didn't miss) and cut off the dashes and one stripe per arm making it a Lieutenant rank.  Then I shaved my sideburns into points, combed my hair (though it's more a Scotty wave than a Sulu with a detached lock) and got some ratty black corduroys and my boots I wear regularly anyway.  It was at least different amongst the other employees with devil horns on their regular clothes.
My backup costume was underneath (a John Lennon style New York City shirt, which is also a little tattered.  Maybe I'd be undead John Lennon if I went to Rite Aid after work).

Speaking of creepy, I've noticed something about Death Cab for Cutie.  They're songs are melodic and catchy enough, but of the hits of theirs I've heard, most of them seem to come from the point of view of a stalker that doesn't know he's a stalker.  Certainly the last three singles fit this mold: I Will Follow You Into the Dark, I Will Possess Your Heart, and Cath....

The last one in particular has such lyrics:

Cath, it seems you live in someone else's dream
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
Where the things you could have been are oppressed
But you said your vows, and you closed the door
On so many men who would have would have loved you more

The songwriter is obviously talking about himself as one among the many men who would have loved Cath more, but hiding it behind a rhetorical hypothesis that is quite presumptuous.  I mean I think I know what he's getting at, but The White Stripes did it much better last year with their single You Don't Know What Love Is(You Just Do What You're Told).  White's song was just as presumptuous, and possibly just as sexist, but hedid it from a point of view that suggested he didn't care as much whether or not his subject loved him.  That somehow saves it from being creepy, though not quite from being slightly cruel and cutting.  But I like the White Stripes more anyway.

I'm not sure what I'm doing yet tonight, but I'll probably go into Hollywood or something, walking around like a lost 23rd Century helmsman with Harold's laptop.
m.  That somehow saves it from being creepy, though not quite from being slightly cruel and cutting.  But I like the White Stripes more anyway.

I'm not sure what I'm doing yet tonight, but I'll probably go into Hollywood or something, walking around like a lost 23rd Century helmsman with Harold's laptop.
ericcheung: (Default)


This review is a work of speculative fiction inspired by the Rotten Tomatoes thread on TrekBBS.  It's speculative in the sense that it's a prediction for how I may review the film in May of next year. It's not speculative in the sense that it's a story about spaceships and time-travel and aliens. is but only because it's a review of Star Trek. Like the film itself it is written for a mainstream moviegoing audience as well as Star Trek fans.  It is for entertainment purposes only and does not contain any spoilers that have not already been reported through other news media.



Just over seven months from now I saw the new Star Trek film. It was the only time I had seen it, as it has not yet been released on DVD. So, given that my now hazy first viewing was in the future, much like Star Trek, my review may be based more on the themes it brings up—the big picture aspects of the movie as a whole.


Before this is a Star Trek movie it is a JJ Abrams movie written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The significance of this statement cannot be underrated for it permeates every aspect of this film. All three have records of writing mainstream character-based pop science-fiction for the popcorn crowd with some kind of original twist. If we analyze it through that prism we may gain a better understanding of this film.


One of the themes that all three have tackled over the years has been gender politics. How does one tackle gender politics in a movie based on a television show with an admittedly dated view of the role of gender in the world of the military, and the greater sphere of society as a whole.


I'll tell you, I loved the original Star Trek series. I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was about 10 years old. This was when my local affiliate aired the show at six o'clock on Saturday nights. Right before that show were reruns of the original series (or TOS in Trekkie parlance). TOS was a grand and swashbuckling adventure show where TNG was more of an intellectual exercise (though both shows clearly had heavy doses of my proclaimed hallmark of the other show). To that end, TOS entered my mind as a right-brain exercise where TNG was more a study left-brain analysis. Kirk was a romantic hero, Picard was a superlative and compassionate negotiator.


And the backgrounds of the creative forces of this movie are worth looking at in the context of gender politics. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman started out as writers for Xena: The Warrior Princess and JJ Abrams created Felicity, Alias, and Fringe, all shows with strong women as central characters. But at least in the premises of Felicity and Fringe, the motivation of the women is in service of a man they love. In Felicity, Keri Russell changes her college plans to follow the boy she loves; and in the series premiere of Fringe, the character of Olivia only realizes her full potential when the life of her boyfriend turned traitor hangs in the balance. It's an interesting juxtaposition that poses some interesting questions about character motivation in relation to the themes in these shows.


Which brings us to this film Star Trek. About a month ago, roughly nine months before I got to see the film, Kevin Smith specifically praised Zoe Saldana's performance as Uhura. This made me more curious about the film than some of other aspects such as how closely the Enterprise on the silver screen matched the one on the small screen. I was struck by exactly this performance. It was perhaps one of the biggest clues that this was a movie made in the twenty-first century. She was a strong character that was very independent and had a love of life and adventure filtered through a cool intelligence. This was clearly evident in Nichelle Nichols performance, but here the character skews a little closer to Jadzia Dax, a character from another Trek show: Deep Space Nine.


But what of the other hallmarks of TOS? Do they permeate this show as they did the show that started it all? James T. Kirk was known the galaxy over for his brash cockiness, his bravado in command, and his pervasive charm. Here, in Chris Pine, we get someone who does satisfy those traits throughout. In episodic television even a character like Kirk would only get one lady-of-the-week. Since the format of this film spans several decades in his life, in order to establish his character as someone who was liberal with his affections, he had to break a few more hearts. Does that make him a sexist pig, or someone who's emotionally stunted, someone who arms himself with defense mechanisms? Here for the first time, we get a glimpse of his childhood on film. For some viewers it just may answer some of those questions. I won't spoil it too much; suffice it to say Kirk's wasn't a happy childhood.


Much has been made of the fact that this is a film that brings together the crew as we knew them on the show. That is certainly true, for the catalyst of the film is an older Spock who is runs into a version of himself around the time of the original show, played here by Zachary Quinto (Heroes, 24). And as much time as I spent on Uhura and Kirk, this is above all a Spock story. This is not surprising. When the show premiered in the sixties, Spock was the breakout character. When then Trek novice Nicholas Meyer directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan he decided that his first shot should be of the thing most recognizable to him as Star Trek: Spock's ear.


And what an arc the character of Spock has gone through over the course of the past forty-two years of storytelling. Fans already know that his childhood was filled with angst-filled conflict with his father, and other Vulcan children. It was an angst that brought him to Starfleet, and to who would become his best friend, James T. Kirk. Through this bond, and his later efforts in the shows we've seen, to reconcile his two halves, he eventually followed in his father's footsteps as an ambassador, someone whose post-Starfleet career grew out of his experiences bringing peoples together from the Federation and the Klingons to the Vulcans and Romulans. And it is here where we start the film.


At this point jumping through time is a pedestrian affair for even the most novice of movie patron, but as with most stories told by this trio, the conventional plot elements serve as a context for fun set pieces and dynamic character interaction. And yes Virginia, the sets look just fine. The film spans the twenty-third and twenty-fourth centuries and they reflect previous depictions of both but with the veneer of polish that only four decades of improved filmmaking can provide. JJ Abrams used several real locations to double for futuristic planetside and shipboard locales, and in so doing he chose places that reflected the design aesthetic of Matt Jeffries. CalState Northridge's mid-twentieth century library and a similarly mid-twentieth century city building in Long Beach both serve as examples to this. The exterior ship designs themselves also reflect the shape and scale of the original ships. But here they also demonstrate scale in the same grand sense that the first Star Trek film did.


It's a daunting task to pace a film that spans so much story time, especially when such a story involves time-travel and is told out of chronological order. To that end the editors have succeeded for the most part. Unlike the last Trek film Paramount was a little more generous with its running time. Star Trek: Nemesis had several scenes that fans argue would have added to the character development of the film but were cut for pacing reasons. In its place was an action sequence that had little to do with the rest of the film that felt like a placeholder for something that would. Here, for better or worse, we have a Star Trek film pushed to just beyond two hours, as is the trend with some of the major genre tent pole pictures of this decade. Thought it skates on the edge of being overlong, it's a minor point to suggest that there could have been some pieces of action or a one-liner here or there that could have been cut for pacing because overall the film does work as a brisk piece of pop entertainment.


It's its own interpretation of the same fictional events and characters as TOS. A lesson for viewers of this film, especially longtime fans of the franchise, is to take this a piece on its own. If TOS was the musical 1776, then this film is the HBO miniseries John Adams. Another analogy can be the Get Smart film from this summer. For thoughts on that film click here.

ericcheung: (Default)
I have moved from being a right-leaning-centrist with some libertarian positions in the early nineties through college (often simply to play the Devil's Advocate in classroom debates in Massachusetts schools), to a left-leaner who tries to remember and respect the other side's point of view (out of the belief that true empathy and honesty is the best debate tactic).  So as someone who's voted on boths sides of the aisle, I think this article may be an effective argument for centrists and conservatives, especially given Obama's penchant for empathic analysis.  I've pasted it below and highlighted the parts I think work best.

A Conservative for Obama

My party has slipped its moorings. It’s time for a true pragmatist to lead the country.

Leading Off   By Wick Allison, Editor In Chief

THE MORE I LISTEN TO AND READ ABOUT “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,” the more I like him. Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan. To explain why, I need to explain why I am a conservative and what it means to me.

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher.

Conservatism to me is less a political philosophy than a stance, a recognition of the fallibility of man and of man’s institutions. Conservatives respect the past not for its antiquity but because it represents, as G.K. Chesterton said, the democracy of the dead; it gives the benefit of the doubt to customs and laws tried and tested in the crucible of time. Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of “oughts.” We ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

ericcheung: (Default)

As many of you may know I've been going to therapy for nearly a year now.  Generally for therapy to have a meaningful effect one should go weekly, but insurance companies usually impose an arbitrarily determined maximum number of visits for which they would contribute per year.  Often it's thirty sessions, or about seven months worth.  For me it was twenty sessions.  From the insurance company's point of view the mission of mental health professionals is to get a patient to be nominally functional to the point where they are not harmful to themselves or others.

The problem with this viewpoint betrays a complete lack of understanding of the job of the mental health professional.  It's not the same as breaking one's arm, it's built around the interplay that develops between the doctor and patient.  That requires continuity of care.  To use the insurance company's model, if such a doctor is out of network then they may consider allowing the patient to see him/her until they pass the threshold of no longer being harmful to themselves or others before requiring that said patient find someone in-network for more long-term care.

Were this simply a broken arm that would be fine.  But so much depends on compatibility and continuity of care.  To limit someone's search for the right therapist to those that are in-network reduces the chances of finding the help this person needs.

So, to solve some of these issues Congress is working on something called Mental Health Parity.  It was a bill that was working its way through the House and Senate last year, but was recently included in a tax package in a recent Senate session.  The press release can be found here.

It would reduce copays for mental health and substance abuse care while eliminating the maximum number of visits per year.  The number of visits an insurance company would be determined on a need basis instead of some arbitrary number.  Insurance companies may still find loopholes or be argumentative regarding determining the number of visits, but this is a step in the right direction.

The reason for the inequity in care is the stigma related to behavioral health and substance abuse care, this bill has been promoted as a civil rights issue as suggested in this New York Times article from March 6, 2008.  Mental healthcare is not luxury, it should be treated as an essential component of one's health maintenance.  If there are health insurance benefits for going to the gym, surely there should be more benefits for taking care of one's mental health.

I understand there may be a phone-in day for this bill soon.  When I find out about it I'll surely post more information here.

ericcheung: (Default)
The Los Angeles Times reports here that LA icon, the 99 Cent Only Stores will be raising their prices due to the tough economy of late but that the store will still be able to keep its name truthfully.

In the article it's reported that the price hike will be to the mind-bogglingly drastic 99.99 cents (all items below 99 cents will also add .99 cents to their pricetag).  That extra fraction of a penny would increase revenue by roughly $12 million a year, and be a quirky marketing gimmick to boot.
ericcheung: (Default)

While watching McCain's acceptance speech on Thursday I heard no real numbers mentioned regarding his economic policies.  A lot of the claims were misleading, such as the charge that Obama would raise taxes where McCain would lower them.  While Obama would raise them, he's only raising them for the top 5% of wage earners and lowering them for the other 95%.  The statements were misleading mostly because they were vague half-truths.

I would have liked to hear promises of some kind, any kind.  I wouldn't have cared if they fit into a liberal or conservative or libertarian or authoritarian box but I would have liked to hear something substantive so that the debate could get under way.  Both candidates have platforms that are definitely in line with the philosophies of their end in the the left-right spectrum (and therein lies a flaw in American politics, that it's subject to such a dichotomy that countries with more than two competitive political parties are not), but it seems that Obama is interested in convincing the other side why he thinks his ideas make sense by looking at them from that side's point of view.  One example in his book is that he had an idea to have interrogations and executions videotaped.  It allowed the death penalty to stand, but it also worked towards making those punishments follow more criterions of justice. 

Further analysis of the competing tax plans is available here at the Tax Policy Center.  Personal taxes would be lower for the majority of Americans under Obama, while corporate taxes would be higher.  The gist being, as I undestand it, that if one makes under $200,000 a year (or if a family makes under $250,000 a year), then you would recieve a bigger tax cut under Obama's plan than McCain's.  Conservative economic policy is based largely on the faith of trickle-down economics, that corporations and the rich would patronize smaller businesses and the underdog, correct?

That puts the ball in their court, which doesn't seem quite as fair.  Obama's plan seems to be an attempt to level the playing field for people who choose to take responsibility and work hard, and who happen to be starting with a number of disadvantages out of the gate.  The argument being that hard work isn't always enough where the positives and negatives of human nature hold true, especially when a lot of social policy is legislated through financial law on both sides of the aisle (tax breaks for environmentalism and health care and reinforcing job security from left-leaning social policy, to laws that apply only to married couples, barring those who choose, or cannot legally, get married from rights usually granted their married counterparts).  Navigating an unfair world does require intelligence and vigilance, creating almost intellectual classes in addition to economic ones.

But part of the reason I do like Obama is because he advocates the idea that things like government can only do so much to help people out, that they must do their part to find personal and financial success, as I've said here before, it's the old "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" point of view.

After seeing "A Beautiful Mind" and hearing about books like Blink and Freakonomics, I've found economics an intellectual curiousity for its sociological and psychological implications.  Another book that's fascinating in this regard is Money Without Matrimony.  It talks a lot about the vigilance required for couples that choose not to, or who can't legally, get married.  It's a response to the social legislation through financial law described above.

ericcheung: (Default)

I was actually surprised at how bad the RNC was. Though I'm an Obama supporter I've voted on both sides of the aisle (including McCain in the 2000 primaries). So, I paid roughly equal attention to both. I half-watched the speeches on the first three nights and watched both the Preisdential nominee's speeches in their entirety.

In the nights preceding Obama's speech, the speakers I saw took specific policies and outlined, often with dates and numbers, situations in which even President Bush was convinced to change his mind after Obama had a particular stance on an issue while McCain stayed firm in his stance.

Then Obama gave a speech that was gracious but firm, specific and detailed but not boring or implausible, and hopeful but rooted in stressing the responsibility that both he and all of us have.

The RNC's speakers spoke in vague slogans damning Obama and the Democrats for the same things they've been damning them for decades. Though it wasn't a debate per se, they demonstrated poor debating skills by not citing specifics throughout. Just as a fan of arguing things to find the truth of a particular thing I was disappointed that there wasn't really anything that could be argued.  There was nothing to defend or deny.

There seemed to be more deceptive and vague half-truths too, like the whole "Obama will raise your taxes" thing. Well, yes he will, but according to his plan it's for only the top 5% of wage earners. It's actually a tax cut for everyone else. And of course there was that insult to community organizers.

Then was McCain's speech.  First he approached a podium that had kind of a late 60s/early 70s vibe to it (It was kind of cool looking actually).  Then he had a huge video background of what looked like some federal building or something.  Apparently it was a middle school.  But when viewed in close-up, all you could see behind him was green!  Eventually it switched to a flagpole against a blue sky, but didn't he learn his lesson after Colbert schooled him for his reaction on Obama's nomination months ago?  I mean he's hip enough to be like the most frequent guest on The Daily Show, you'd think he'd know not to use flat color backgrounds so that Colbert could issue another challenge!  McCain's campaign is simply one bizarrely bad decision after another.  It's actually kind of sad.  I think it's because he's become captive of his party through a gradual process over the past eight years.

The speech itself started off pretty gracious to Obama and his supporters; he paid the same respect to his opponent that Obama did the previous Thursday.  To his credit, he was the only one to do so all week, though at the DNC McCain was lauded throughout the week.

Several times during the speech he had to pause to wait for the chants of "USA!" to stop.  To be fair Obama would have to wait for similar reasons when chants of "Yes we can!" echoed through his stadium, but the way McCain carried himself in these moments demonstrated his lack of comfort.  There was one point where there was someone who invaded the room and took off her shirt revealing a pink tank top.  I believe this was some kind of protester, but I'm not sure.  He didn't seem quite in control of his crowd, but managed to toss off a plea to ignore the "static."

I kept waiting for the specifics that had been severely lacking througout the rest of the RNC, but they never really came.  I'm flipping through the transcript to see if I missed something, but I haven't.

It's ironic because Obama's been criticized all year for lofty words and a lack of specifics until the convention.  Then last week's convention had enough speeches filled with solid arguments for Obama and against McCain that it seemed like a debate four weeks early.  They were also delivered solidly, with confidence on all parts.

But if you'd like to take a look at the words of the speech (I haven't found the speech in its entirety online, you'll have to settle for ten-minute chunks on YouTube)...
Since I posted the Obama speech, here too is the McCain speech. )To reread Barack Obama's speech, click here.
ericcheung: (Default)
Monday, on Labor Day, I saw two movies I kept meaning to see but have put off for one reason or another: Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder.

I went to the Century City AMC and used the electronic ticketing system, as usual.  It printed my ticket and receipt and I proceeded to the theater.  But I went via elevator and completely bypassed the ushers.  I expose this loophole as a test, a public service (or should I say "private sector service").  In any case, my ticket is still completely in tact.

Naturally Pineapple Express reminded me of Superbad and Knocked Up while Tropic Thunder reminded me of Zoolander.  I think that's what each team was going for, but I was struck by how similar the two movies are on the surface.  They both have at least the following in common:

* Characters who have no business being heroes thrust into dangerous situations and fighting awkwardly
* Asian drug lords who make and/or distribute drugs that the heroes want
* Bill Hader (I haven't watched SNL regularly since college so I don't really know much about Bill Hader, except that he seems to play bit parts in some of the hipper comedies of the past few years).

Much has been said of the casting of Pineapple Express.  Originally, Seth Rogen was to play Saul the pot dealer while James Franco was to play Dale Denton.  I'm glad Franco insisted on playing Saul, because I just can't see how it would have worked with Seth Rogen playing him.  Seth Rogen plays characters that are absurd slacker potheads but they're usually coherent, witty, smartasses that have awkward social skills whose harsh honesty betrays their better sense.  What grounds his characters is the intelligence simmering under the surface waiting for the time to strike.  For him to play someone like Saul would undermine the credibility of the film (though I expect the character would have been different than he appeared on-screen).

And credibility is central to the humor of this movie.  The laughs come from the idea that a regular guy finds himself in completely irregular and dangerous situations.  What does he do?  How could he possibly react?  Steven Speilberg likes to say that he does the same thing, but obviously with different intentions and different results.  The point is that you have scenes where characters hang out in the woods trying to wait out a bad situation or hang in a tree bonding through fear or use Garagely as an alias out of desperation.

Like most Apatow films, this one is largely about the friendship and male-bonding that blossoms from an unlikely mix of characters.  His characters often seem to reveal their intelligence despite their initial appearances through their unconventional thinking and each of the characters here has their own well-defined point-of-view fueling their choices and driving the action.  That's really all I can ask from any story.  It's what made me fall in love with Ratatouille last year.

Another thing going for Pineapple Express, at least in relation to Tropic Thunder, is that they still have a slight edge on hip indie cred.  Their filmmaking style seems more quick-and-dirty, a little more gritty, and less jam-packed with high-wattage cameos.

But Tropic Thunder, like Zoolander, takes advantage of its insider status to skewer the entertainment industry mercilessly.  The characters are only slightly less cartoony than in Zoolander, but there's enough outrageousness to cause some seriously shocking laugh-out-loud moments.  The biggest laugh came from a surprise around the end of the first act that, I won't spoil here but, was milked for all its glorious tastelessness.

Here too casting becomes critical.  Robert Downey, Jr. has had a trio of lauded performances this year, two of which I have now seen.  I missed Ironman, but I came away from his turn in Charlie Bartlett thinking much the same thing as the critics did of his role in Ironman.  In both he mined his former demons to create a character that sought redemption through a facade of cynicism.  Here he seems to have cleansed his palette of darker material in order to lampoon Russell Crowe, someone who's not so much an addicted celebrity as a notorious hotheaded, arrogant, but talented actor.  It's an aspect of the movie where the insider status really informs the bits on the craft of acting and filmmaking--which includes of course disappearing so much into a role that he doesn't break character until after the DVD commentary, much to the rightful offense of Brandon T. Jackson's character Alpa Chino.

Speaking of disappearing into characters, Tom Cruise played a ruthless studio head with such ferocity that I didn't realize it was him until halfway through the movie.  I had heard he was in the movie, I think I even heard he played a bald studio head, but I think I was expecting it to be a cameo.  I've never liked Tom Cruise.  I can't think of any character he's ever played that's been likable.  But this was a brilliant turn.  It was an effective way to harness the creepy intensity he brings to each of the roles he does play.

The film probably deserves its controversy, but as with most controversial satires, I think that the point is lost on protesters.  These characters are offensive.  We're not meant to like them per se, we're certainly not meant to like the choices they make, but as with Pineapple Express, we're meant to feel for them because they do all have things they want and they all persue those things with vigorous, entertaining, over-the-top force.
ericcheung: (Default)
Maybe the only thing John McCain has done well this campaign was time his announcement for Vice President.  In doing so he deflected attention away from a strong speech by Barack Obama, delivered hours earlier that served as a preemptive rebuttal, and case on the offensive, for your vote.

Below is the youtube video of his speech in its entirety followed by the transcript.

What I'd like people to do is spread this like a chain letter to redirect attention to those words.


To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest - a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours -- Hillary Rodham Clinton.  To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia - I love you so much, and I'm so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the briefu nion between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

 It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That's why I stand here tonight.  Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women - students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive.

 We meet at one of those defining moments - a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less.  More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet.  More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government's making.  But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years.  We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough!  This moment - this election - is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.  Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third.  And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight.  On November 4th, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."

Now let there be no doubt.  The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect.  And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time.  Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time?  I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives - on health care and education and the economy - Senator McCain has been anything but independent.  He said that our economy has made "great progress" under this President.  He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.  And when one of his chief advisors - the man who wrote his economic plan - was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a "mental recession," and that we've become, and I quote, "a nation of whiners."

A nation of whiners?  Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made.  Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty.  These are not whiners.  They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint.  These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans.  I just think he doesn't know.  Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year?  How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans?  How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care.  It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.  In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own.  Out of work?  Tough luck.  No health care?  The market will fix it.  Born into poverty?  Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots.  You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure.  It's time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma.  We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great - a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman.  She's the one who taught me about hard work.  She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life.  She poured everything she had into me.  And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine.  These are my heroes.  Theirs are the stories that shaped me.  And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us.  It should help us, not hurt us.  It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep.  That's the change we need right now.  So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families.  Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them.  In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels.  And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.  Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.  I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America.  I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars.  And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.  Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education.  And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance.  I'll invest in early childhood education.  I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support.  And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability.  And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American.  If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums.  If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves.  And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow.  But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money.  It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength."  Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair.  But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility - that's the essence of America's promise.

And just as we keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad.   If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face.  When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights.  John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need.  That won't keep America safe.  We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq.  You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington.  You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances.  If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice - but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt.  We are the party of Kennedy.  So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country.  Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe.  The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts.  But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression.  I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease.  And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue.  And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes.  Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party.  I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.  The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag.  They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain.  We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy.  The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.  For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits.  What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose.  And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.  The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.  I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.  Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.  This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk.  They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.  And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters.  If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what - it's worked before.  Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government.  When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty.  If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it.  I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office.  I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring.  What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me.  It's been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past.  You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result.  You have shown what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington.  Change comes to Washington.  Change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming.  Because I've seen it.  Because I've lived it.  I've seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work.  I've seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I've seen it in this campaign.  In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time.  In the Republicans who never thought they'd pick up a Democratic ballot, but did.  I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich.  We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong.  Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance.  It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things.  They could've heard words of anger and discord.  They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked.  That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried.  "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.  We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back.  Not with so much work to be done.  Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for.  Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save.  Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.  America, we cannot turn back.  We cannot walk alone.  At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.  Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

ericcheung: (Default)
There's a song by Vampire Weekend called "Oxford Comma" and I looked up what it was.  The wiki article is here(it also talks about parenthetical commas*):
Turns out it's the serial comma I use when creating lists.  Apparently there's an extremely fierce debate about it.  What inspired the song was that the bandmates were at Columbia University where a club was started to preserve the Oxford Comma, prompting them to ask who cares about an Oxford Comma.  Well I do, Vampire Weekend.  I do.  I've used them devotedly since the seventh grade (as well as parenthetical commas).

And I'm not the only one.  Quoth Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: "There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this, never get between these people when drink has been taken."

* for further information on parenthetical commas please peruse entry 2 in the Grammar section of the Wikipedia entry for Comma (puntuation).
ericcheung: (Default)
Last night's speech demonstrated something I believe about presidential politics:  charisma is a big factor. The ability to make calm, cool, deliberate, and confident decisions coupled with the ability to give those decisions the authority that only someone who's not "boring" can is what makes a great president. We're not electing someone to congress (though, even they must have the leadership and communication skills to manage their office and move bills and debate and persuade).

Barack Obama is truly a master of political theatre. Upon watching the speech on TV I thought the stage wasn't quite as over-the-top as I thought it would be.

And yes he attacked McCain. But he did so in a civil and classy way that held him accountable for his actions and positions in professional life--no more, no less. One can do that and move forward the cause of unity because even in a more perfect union there must be those that challenge others on their views and policies.

The speakers on the previous nights successively made stronger and stronger arguments on specific issues in which not only had Obama been the first to make the judgement that gained mainstream status, but that McCain stood against even President Bush when Bush came around to support Obama's position.

In Obama's speech last night, he also started to make more detailed proposals for his plans once in office. Each of them show empathy and willingness to hear both sides, but a confidence that demonstrated he was certain his was the better course. The hallmark issue of his campaign seems to be transparency in government. Closing loopholes for corporations as the Left would like, and for government which the Right would like, would consolidate money to level the playing field for Americans that don't have the opportunities afforded those at the top.

But he also made clear that those opportunities are just that. Americans must work hard with what they've got to carve out a better future for themselves and others. The American Dream is only that without the fighting spirit and determination that made this country great in the first place.
I don't know much about Alaska governer Sarah Palin, except what I've read over the last few hours: she's slightly to the right of McCain, especially on social issues, but still takes on the establishment; she considers ethics a hallmark of her campaign but is connected with a scandal over whether or not she should have fired her state trooper brother; she fishes, hikes, pilots things, and was second place in a Miss Alaska contest in the 80s; she's younger and less experienced than Barack Obama; most people didn't even know she was a contender for the VP nomination.

Will this surprise out of left field overshadow the Obama speech above?  Time will tell.  McCain sent a congratulations ad which to Obama last night has been called everything from a classy move to politically timed (I'll give him that one) and timed his announcement effectively to shift the conversation to his campaign.  I'm skeptical of the choice for VP, on the surface it does seem a desperate and cynical ploy to court disgruntled Hillary supporters.  This is going to be a very interesting fall.
ericcheung: (Default)

I went to donate blood at UCLA in Westwood today.  I'd say my motives were entirely virtuous, as when I donated in Massachusetts, but through UCLA employees get four hours of comp time for each donation.  So for every four months one essentially gets another day off, if one donates as often as possible.

But for some reason my comp time slips get mailed back to me.  I decided to inquire about it this time and they let me check my earnings statement online to make sure I was getting my alotted comp time.  I believe I still am, but I'll look into it further later.

Then when I got through with my history and physical, and got to a bed, they asked me which arm I'd like to use this time.  I almost always use my right arm, but I felt like leaving it up to her, "I'll defer to your opinion," I replied.  We both decided to give the left arm a try this time, so she looked for a vein.  She chose one that was invisible to my eyes, but that she could feel as being quite large, so she used that one.

Once she assembled the bag and swabbed me with iodine, she stuck the needle in my left arm, apologizing in advance for the slight prick I'd feel.  I appeared to be doing fine at first and then the little test pouch (that they collect for the sample tubes) just wasn't filling up.  So, I asked if she could perhaps try another vein and she shook her head nervously with a stiff smile.  After a minute or two we both realized that she thought I meant "could we try another spot in that vein."  Both of us relieved, her for realizing she didn't have a foolhardy and reckless donor, and me because I could still donate, save three lives, and get my half-a-day off, she started to prep a clean bag while she asked me what color bandage I'd like on my arms to match with my colorful Cambridge Fringe Fest (Massachusetts defunct alt-comedy festival, not the more famous Fringe Festival that serves as a counterpart to Edingburgh's) shirt.  

I decided to go with red and blue, so I asked for red on my left arm.  But as she started on my right arm I changed my mind.  I remembered what my dad told me about aircraft navigation lights and decided a good counterpart to red on my port arm would be green on my starboard arm.  I'll take pictures later, but for now just picture me in bell-bottom jeans from the Army-Navy store on Newbury Street, boots that go just above the ankle from DSW, red-and-white striped socks from Old Navy, a Cambridge Fringe Fest shirt from 2003 with a hole in it (which I won by answering what Derek Gerry was referencing in a joke of his--for the curious: Hunter S. Thompson), and bandages on either arm signaling fellow nighttime pilots as to which direction I'm coming from.  If you look at me from behind however, I look like the Italian flag.

All told, the visit to the clinic lasted roughly two hours, quite a bit longer than usual.

Also, anyone in the area who wants to donate platelets before August 30th can do so and enter to win a MacBook.

Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 11:03 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios