Friday, October 31, 2008

California Voters: The "Props" on the Ballot

(This was originally an e-mail I sent around to some of my close friends. A few of them encouraged me to blog it, so what the heck, here it is.)

One week from Tuesday, Nov. 4, is the big election -- although some of you may be voting early (and may have done so already). There are also 12 proposed laws on the California ballot. The props are long and filled with legalese, and the arguments from both sides are adamant and compelling.

I won't tell you guys how to vote (aside from no on Prop 8 -- it seriously goes against everything America is supposed to stand for), but I can tell you how *I* plan to vote at this point, and why, and perhaps help you make your decisions as well.

So here we go:

Proposition 1/1A:

A proposed bullet train system, to connect the major metropolitan areas of the state. Proponents claim that it would be a boon to the economy, alleviate CO2 emissions, and all-around bring the state into the 21st century.

The prop allows for a nearly $10 billion bond to be taken out, and no new taxes to be levied.

Well, here's the problem. The money's got to come from somewhere. And if new taxes aren't going to be spent, that means it has to come out of the state discretionary funds. That means that the money to pay for this train would come out of education, law enforcement, healthcare, roads, and other "discretionary" projects, and be added to the existing $7 billion state deficit we've already racked up under the Governator's watch.

In addition, it would appear that the bullet train lacks oversight or even a cohesive plan for the actual building. You know those government workers who shut down freeways but never actually seem to be working? We'll get more of that. There is no incentive for the construction companies to actually even start the project, let alone finish it; and no way for taxpayers to take action against them.

While I like the idea of a high-speed rail system in our state -- and really nationwide -- this proposition is not written with the citizens' best interests in mind, and can too easily be abused leaving the state saddled with a nearly $20 billion debt (the initial bond plus interest over 30 years) that we will still have to pay even if the project is not completed, or shut down entirely. A massive infrastructural project like this needs to be better planned and regulated -- and oh yeah, should probably specify exactly where the money will come from. I will be voting NO on Prop 1.

Proposition 2:

Provides for the "humane treatment" of animals raised for food, such as egg-laying chickens and cows raised for veal.

The argument for is basically treating animals humanely. I personally question the logic a little bit since they will eventually be killed and eaten, and it seems to humanize the animals unnecessarily.

The argument against claims that the measure will harm local farmers by creating additional overhead, forcing them to own more land to give more space to the animals, or cut back on their production.

Frankly I don't know what to think about it. But I don't like the idea of creating new laws for special interests on either side of the table. I'm going to go with my default on this, which is to vote NO on Prop 2.

Proposition 3:

Provides a bond for just under $1 billion to fund Children's Hospitals.

This one smells pretty fishy to me. Whenever someone claims that it's "for the children" I'm automatically suspicious, because that's an easy way to stop people from really thinking about the claims being made and just pull the lever "for the children."

This is another bond that will not create new taxes -- but as I said with prop 1, the money's got to come from somewhere. The opponents point out that a previous bond -- prop 61 passed in 2004 -- have apparently not yet been exhausted. They talk about these children's hospitals being able to afford the latest medical technologies -- but it sounds to me like the suppliers are just holding their hands out looking for cash.

I don't like the sound of it, and again, there's unspent money already there for this very purpose. It's not for the children, they're using the children to get more money to fill their coffers, and that's not right. I will vote NO on Prop 3.

Proposition 4:

Requires a waiting period and parental notification before terminating (aborting) the pregnancy of a minor.

The fact is, I agree with the opponents pretty much flat-out on this one. This law would not prevent teen pregnancy, or safeguard young women from sexual predators. It would merely make them more likely to hide their pregnancy, and seek out illegal or out-of-state abortions instead.

This is obviously an attempt by anti-abortion activists to create a chink in the abortion laws so that they can continue chiseling away at them.

Without getting into opinions about abortion itself, the fact is that the answer to this is education, not legislation. I will be voting NO on Prop 4.

Proposition 5:

Reforms drug laws, sentencing, and rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders.

I am personally of the belief that drug use is a victimless crime. It can lead to crimes that victimize others, but prop 5 will not make California judges unable to sentence violent offenders. Instead, it reduces criminal penalties for non-violent offenders, as well as establishing/funding rehabilitation programs.

I believe in the inherent goodness of people, and I believe that people can get "clean." And under California's existing three-strikes legislation, it's not like they would get to make their mistakes ad infinitum.

I'm all for sending fewer people to jail for non-violent "crimes" and giving people a second chance. I will be voting YES on Prop 5.

Proposition 6:

More money to law enforcement, more things criminalized with harsher penalties (even adding new life sentences).

This goes against what I said above in 5. The answer to the problems is not more incarceration and potential for abuse of police power. And there is no guarantee of oversight of the nearly $1 billion that will go into this program.

Aiding in the creation of a police state is not and will never be part of my agenda. I will be voting NO on Prop 6.

Proposition 7:

Provision for renewable energy generation. Appears to be opposed by the major electrical utilities and the major political parties. I don't trust politicians or the folks who benefit most from keeping the status quo. They call prop 7 poorly-written, but having read it, it appears to close up current loopholes in the production of renewable energy, providing a legal mandate that these energy groups must achieve their goals and not merely try.

It also eliminates exemptions for "electrical corporations," defining them as "retail sellers" and holding them accountable.

We need renewable energy, in California and throughout the world. I'm no lawyer, but as far as I can tell the folks against 7 stand the most to profit if it fails, and the rest of us the most if it succeeds. I will vote YES on Prop 7.

Proposition 8:

Eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry. Constitutional amendment.

Besides my obvious stake in this, it is wrong in any and all cases to pass laws that take away existing rights from a minority group. You don't have to approve of it, but don't make it illegal when it doesn't harm anyone.

I'll be putting out a video on this in the next day or so, but the short version is: VOTE NO ON 8.

Proposition 9:

Victims' rights to notification and testimony.

My default position to constitutional amendments is no, and Prop 9 is no different. While I feel for the victims of violent crime, prop 9 is a redundant constitutional amendment, and has been judged to cost taxpayers (us) in the hundreds of millions, in the middle of a serious deficit; and again, the provisions that it would "enact" already exist, and have since 1982. I will vote NO on Prop 9.

Proposition 10:

Bonds to purchase alternative fuel vehicles.

This proposition will cost $10 billion over 30 years, and fails, according to independent analysts, to provide adequate funds for its actual administration. As with the other bonds that will "not raise taxes," this money will come out of education, roads, healthcare, and other discretionary projects. It is also written in such a way as to possibly be construed to specify *certain kinds* of alternative fuel -- natural gas, ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen -- and could be used to exclude major clean-fuel vehicle types like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and full-electric cars.

Prop 7 covers the state's renewable energy issue, and the idea of taking $10 billion out of our economy with no real plan where it's going to come from is a bad idea. As much as I'd like the gov't to buy me a Prius, I will be voting NO on Prop 10.

Proposition 11:

Redistricting, Constitutional amendment.

Basically would allow the districts of state representatives to the federal congress to be redrawn. The weasel word that concerns me here is that it allows of the creation and maintenance of "communities of interest" -- and doesn't define what that means. This sounds to me like it would allow for redistricting based on ideological biases. This power, by the way, is given to an appointed -- not elected -- commission.

I don't like the smell of this. It's a new bureacracy that is not elected and therefore not accountable to the will of the people. And another constitutional amendment, which are hard to undo once done. I will vote NO on Prop. 11.

Proposition 12:

Provides low-interest rate home loans to U.S. Veterans.

It's understandable if folks are gun-shy of the home loan market after these last couple of harrowing weeks, which were caused in part by bad home loans. But as my roommate Brian pointed out, those were high interest rate home loans, not low interest rates. This could actually help the state economy.

Generally speaking, a house is one of the best investments you can make. This program has apparently been in place for a long time and is merely renewed each election. And regardless of your feelings on war or the military -- I happen to be a pacifist and don't get me started on Iraq -- the fact is that the people in the military do what they do out of loyalty to this country, and if they need a little help buying their piece of the American dream when they get done, then I think that's the least we can do.

(It's also a little telling that the opposition apparently consists of one guy. Most ballot measures get at least three people for each side, representing particular interests that want the measure to either pass or fail. He doesn't even have an organizational affiliation. He's just some guy.)

I will vote YES on Prop 12.

So, to recap:

Prop 1: NO
Prop 2: NO
Prop 3: NO
Prop 4: NO
Prop 5: YES
Prop 6: NO
Prop 7: YES
Prop 8: NO
Prop 9: NO
Prop 10: NO
Prop 11: NO
Prop 12: YES

Sunday, October 26, 2008

But what I REALLY want to do...

Been a while since I wrote an actual blog on filmmaking, whether procedural or philosophical. This comment ties back to an earlier post I made about how some people really feel passionate about what they do in the industry. I had another experience of the sort that made me want to elaborate a bit more on the topic.

The common "wisdom" about the movie business is that everyone, whether overtly or secretly, is angling to direct.1 Because of the pervasiveness of this idea, I think many of the more "lowly" positions on the set -- the PAs, the grips -- are treated with disdain by the higher-ups, who view them as opportunistic (and, for the more insecure artistes, as potential threats). An older hand at it, a career grip, who's been in the business 40 years for example, might be treated with a subtle pity, as though they had failed to reach what was presumably their "true" ambition.

More experienced filmmakers who have worked with proper crews I'm sure know better than this, so I'm talking more to the up-and-comers in the crowd. When you get to the point that you get to command a set, do not under any circumstances condescend to your crew. Do not assume that you are better than them, or that you have achieved what they never could. Because that's probably not the case.

When we were shooting Sandrima Rising, they hired a grip by the name of Popcorn.2 And he was phenomenal, I gotta say. Got the work done, kept his focus, never complained. And we would get to talking, as you do on any project, especially a long-term one. And he talked about how his father AND grandfather had both been grips in the film industry. He was a third-generation grip. and he loved what he did.

He loved the fact that he got to be a part of the creative and technical processes, without the rather crushing burden of having to run the show. He didn't mind that no grip, even key grip, is a household name (unlike directors and, to a lesser degree, writers), nor that he was not in the part of the industry that would ever make much more than a "modest" living.3 He just loved being a part of it, and love the part of it that he was in. Had no interest or aspiration for directing, loved being the one to realize the visions of the directors, solve a different problem every day, and most importantly, work regularly.

A director works on one project at a time, generally, and follows that through to completion, which can take a year or more. But crew can move from production to production, three or four months of shooting apiece and moving on to the next. The work is far more regular and, from a certain perspective and mindset, more rewarding. Like I said, every day a new challenge, instead of working on the same shots and sequences endlessly as you hone it into completion.

Another story, and the one that made me think of this topic again. I've been renting the RED to a no-budget feature titled Solitary.4 The crew is small, but so is the location, and as such I pretty much just stay the hell out of the way when I'm on set as camera support -- a project which I frequently designate to Anthony, so that I can stay home and work on Sandrima. But this weekend I went out with the camera on my own for scheduling reasons, and I met a grip who is doing his only weekend on the set.

The guy is a perfect case study in not judging a book by its cover. He's young, early to mid-twenties; good-looking, to the extent I'm surprised that he's behind the camera instead of in front. Very quiet, spends the day lugging equipment and such back and forth around the location. Easy to assume that he's a nice enough guy, but probably not very bright and therefore is best suited to manual labor.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, before working in film he took three years of engineering in college, as well as a year and a half of advanced physics studies, before putting college on hold to work in film for a while. His father was (is) a DP and he grew up on-set with crews and is comfortable with the "culture." He loves the physical labor part of it, but also -- as with Mr. Popcorn -- the synthesis of creative and technical problem-solving. He was more knowledgeable about filmmaking technology than most directors I know, and we had a brief but stimulating conversation about cameras, compositing, and shooting techniques. And still he, too, has no apparent interest in doing anything in the film business but what he's doing now.

While the grips carry equipment around and set up the lights, it's not mindless grunt work. They have to understand electrical currents and wiring in order to run cabling and power distribution appropriately; they have to understand the physics of light in order to get the precise lighting effects the DP requests5; and they've been on so many sets and solved so many problems that they can really bring a lot of diverse experience to bear on your current project.

If I remember to (and going back through earlier posts I discover a number of topics I've been "meaning to" talk about that haven't happened yet), I'll get into my thoughts on the "Auteur Theory" sometime. But whatever the case, when you get to make your movie, always treat the people working on the set with respect and dignity; and if they have suggestions, keep your ears and mind open.

Because despite the fact that you're the "guy in charge," there's still a good chance they're smarter than you.

  1. A corollary to this holds that everyone in Los Angeles is working on a script. This one I think is true -- if you walked up to a random person in the supermarket and asked them how their script was going, I would wager 4 out of 5 times the response would be an astonished "How did you know?"

  2. Seriously. I also know folks who go by Bear and Dragon. And then there's the concept artist Crash McCreery. You can get away with that stuff in this business. Hell, I go by Dorkman, so it's not like I can talk.

  3. I say "modest" because, with film budgets what they are, a key grip with his own kit is gonna do alright for himself. It won't be in the millions, but a high five figures, even low six, is not out of the question

  4. Not to be confused with an in-development project of my own that is titled Solitary, a title which really suits the project too well to change it. Not that most of you know anything about that project since it's nowhere near production and may never happen at all. But if it does, you'll know not to confuse them.

  5. Some DPs are very involved with the process and will dictate what to do at a very detailed level. But some DPs prefer to invoke more of a feeling, and a general sense of where the light will come from and what the quality of the light will be, and the grips interpret that into the actual rigging of the lights.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I've got a new blog

National Novel Writing Month is around the corner (November 1), and I'm going to participate this year. I've already written up an introductory post over at the shiny new Nano blog.

The new blog is NOT a replacement for this one; I will still be posting here whenever the urge strikes/schedules permit, about all the various subjects I wind up posting about. But I wanted to hold myself accountable by posting my speed-written novel somewhere public. Instead of choking up my "personal" blog with daily story installments, I created another blog for the purpose.

The first post on the new blog contains all the caveats I wish to express to potential readers of the speed-story, so head on over there if you're interested, and if you're not, you won't be missing anything in terms of my "regular" blog content, which will stay right here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It is Not for Lack of Bibles

So a few months ago I got a package from I heart books, so I'm always excited to see a box with the Amazon smirk on the side of it. But I hadn't actually ordered anything, so my excitement was also tinged with curiosity. I opened the package and discovered I had been gifted with a copy of The Case for a Creator (which I will get back to deconstructing soon).

At the time I avoided mentioning who had sent the gift, out of respect for his privacy, but since he's had no qualms involving himself in the discussion of the book I guess it's no secret that it was sent by fellow TFN'er Drew Mazanec.

The discussion has been on hold because I've had other things occupying my time. I had to finish up the course I was doing part-time over at fxphd, and I've still got a lot of work to do full-time on Sandrima Rising.

So imagine my surprise today when I was again greeted by a smirking Amazon shipment -- this time a gift of the Apologetics Study Bible, once again from Drew.

Although I have a cynical view of religion and belief, I am less cynical and more willing to give a benefit of a doubt to the religious and believers. I have no doubt that Drew is sending me these tomes with the best of intentions. More than likely, out of a concern for the fate of my immortal soul. Though I consider the concern misplaced, I do not doubt that it is genuine.

But I went to a Lutheran middle school and a Catholic high school. From those schools, I own a Lutheran Study Bible and a Roman Catholic Bible; I also have a Bible that my mother got when she graduated high school. In addition, my roommates own three Bibles between them, and if I want to get really academic about it, my brother not only also has a KJV Bible, but owns copies of the Bible in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

So in printed Bibles alone I've got handy access to ten different editions in four different languages. And just about every English version of the Bible is readily available online. My favorite of which, and the one I read, is the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, which looks at the text objectively, letting it stand or fall (mostly fall) on its own merits.

It is not a lack of Biblical availability or knowledge that causes me to not believe in Christianity. Indeed, it is the fact that I am familiar with the Bible that causes me to dismiss it. It is not for lack of Bibles, it is for lack of evidence that the Bible is reliable in the first place.

I was a Christian for most of my life, and a devout one through the end of high school and college.1 I understand the mindset and I know the arguments presented. I am not denigrating Drew's concern, or his generosity. Clearly he believes strongly enough to put his money where his mouth is, literally; and in pursuit of what I assume, based on my personal experience as a Christian, he sees as helping me.

But if I needed a Bible (and as I said, I really don't), I could afford one. Land of opportunity FTW. Next time you've got extra cash laying around, instead of spending $30 to send me a book, donate it to a humanitarian cause. Preferably one that provides food where it is needed.

Obviously, the real aim is to address and/or answer some of my questions and concerns. So take out the middle man, Drew. Let's just talk about this. We both have blogs, we both have AIM, we both have e-mail. Name the medium and let's have an actual discussion about this stuff. My only condition is that we be allowed to share the discussion, in whole or in part, on our respective blogs. Clearly you believe in what these books are peddling, so you should be able to articulate it in your own words. It's not fair for me to tear an argument apart when the person making the argument has no opportunity for rebuttal. So let's have a dialogue. It'll save you money in the long run.

My intention is not to "call Drew out" or put him on the spot. But I think it could be educational for both of us, and maybe for our respective readers, to hash this out directly rather than dashing exclusively behind various authors and authorities. Which is not to say that calling upon experts would be out of the question, but the bulk of it should be our own expression.

Plus it'll give me more to post about.

The invitation is open to anyone else who cares to discuss these ideas with me, as well. Just let me know.

And if anyone feels compelled to send me free books in the future, I would much prefer something from my Amazon wish list.

On that subject, I'm also looking for recommendations for new (to me) fiction; I've been reading a lot of non-fiction and technical stuff lately and want to "get away" a little bit.

  1. At least a few of the folks out there who are currently Christians will, I'm sure, refuse to believe that I was ever "truly" Christian, much less devout. If I truly had a relationship with God I could never turn away, goes the reasoning. I can't really begrudge that thinking, because ironically, that was my thinking when I was devout. All I can say is, believe me, I was. Anyone who knew me at the time could vouch for it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 305

Okay, this is kind of old and mostly a fluff post to put something new on the front.

I'm a fan of the movie 300. I took some convincing, all the people talking about how "badass" the trailer looked put me off a bit, and even coming out of it I felt like Sin City was a more significant stylistic achievement, but as time has gone on, I've thought often of 300 and rarely of Sin City.

The easy assumption for my preference is the greater prevalence of muscular men in loincloths and capes in one over the other, but honestly that's not really my gauge. While both were loyal to the graphic novel, and both were shot on greenscreen, 300 was less restrictive than Sin City. 300 used the visionary work of Frank Miller as a springboard, Sin City as a straitjacket. I forgot, while watching 300, that it was shot on greenscreen. I never really lost that sense of confined space with Sin City.

Anyway, a discussion of the relative merits of the two films might have been more relevant a year and a half ago when 300 was actually released in theatres, so I'll skip it. The point in bringing up 300 is to bring up this parody film, 305, which combines the story of 300 with the sensibility (and to an extent, character "archetypes") of "The Office" (American version).

It becomes obvious pretty quickly who's who, especially in the cases of Darryl and Testicleese, who are direct duplicates in both appearance and manner of Dwight and Jim, respectively.

More than likely you've already seen this video, but for those who haven't:

But there's more to it than just a YouTube video. I think this deserves a distinction for being a YouTube video that actually led to a feature film. That's right, there's a full-length 305 movie out there for your viewing pleasure.

For the record, I don't think you should run out and buy the film, but if you see it at Blockbuster, and you're a fan of 300/The Office/both, I think it's worth your time.

My concern was how they would extend the "Office meets Sparta" conceit beyond the five minutes of the original short. Even in the short itself, it threatens to overstay its welcome, but thankfully never does. I thought the full feature would be tired repetition of the same -- not even "joke," per se, but "premise."

"What if the story of 300 was told like the Office?" "What if cavemen sold car insurance?" You get what I'm talking about.

Thankfully, the writers (and I don't have to put it in quotation marks like I would with certain "parodies" out there) actually bothered to come up with a story.

The movie starts off with the short -- and why not, you've already got five minutes of your feature in the can. Although they did bother to improve the composites -- but then immediately leaves the "guys guarding the goat path" conceit and has the characters embarking on their own misadventures. It's campy, it's occasionally cliche, but it's fun. There's some genuine amusing jokes in there, and while it's not really much more than some college guys having fun with a camera -- well, what's wrong with that, anyway?

Plus you gotta show some respect. These are young guys working with almost no money with nothing but a green tarp in a small room, and they managed to make a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable feature film. Frankly I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more attention just based on the "biography" of the project, but I guess somebody making a feature for no money isn't really "news" anymore.

Oh, and also the fight scenes, while not ones for the books, were still pretty decent, especially when you factor in the limitations of the shooting environment.

Anyway, I picked up the flick with apprehension and it surpassed my expectations. Not one to go out of your way for, but if you can't think of anything else to rent on a Saturday night, see if they've got this on the shelf.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Last Night's Debate

Not really much to say, I think the pundits have it right and the country does too. Palin didn't self-destruct, Biden won the debate in terms of actually being able to do the job.

I'm actually planning to do a YouTube video re: the election, hopefully get that done this weekend when I've got the opportunity.