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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Crisis in Egypt: Fear of Another Revolution

The African Spring of 2011 has a good chance of perpetual eruptions as Egypt finds itself faced with economic collapse due to money constraints that affect energy and food priorities.

From the New York Times:

“Did you hear about the donkey who drank diesel and died?” Mr. Farash [Egyptian supply minister] asked, suggesting that anxious farmers had filled barns with fuel. “There is enough,” he said, “but people are behaving like there will not be enough, and a large part of the problem is the behavior of the people.”
He said the Morsi government was installing a “smart card” system for tanker trucks, to track the supply of fuel and ensure that full shipments reached their destination. “In one week or two weeks the problem will be solved,” he said. 
As for wheat — used for subsidized bread that the government says sustains 16 million families — Mr. Farash said Egypt had enough on hand to last through the end of the fiscal year in June. Contrary to news reports here, he said, the government sees no need to ration it.

Economic aide from the IMF is being held up, by the Morsi government, even as conditions on the ground get worse. Let me be clear: the IMF influx of money always comes with caveats. Higher taxes and cut of subsidies, which of course, affect the affluent and the powerful in industries in whatever country is in trouble. The population need aide, but the price is not painless. But from the article, such aide would logically increase creditworthiness, and the ability to garner more loans, in order to turn over Egyptian debt.

Instability was to be expected with the revolution against Hosni Mubarak's rule. However, this does not bode well with the Iranian threats on one side of Israel, and Egypt on the other - because, it presents plenty of opportunity for bad guys to do bad things, using the real crisis as cover or diversion.

Where would Egyptian people go? And with other African nations always near the brink, what happens next?


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: Enterprise Going to Warp 9.9

Star Trek Into Darkness timeline begins anew the saga of the Starship Enterprise. Captain James Tiberius Kirk likely has been captain for a couple of years when terrorist John Harrison (expertly played by Benedict Cumberbatch) has come to the fore - through acts of terrorism in London. Thus begins action, or conflict, of tracking down Harrison, as he looks to bring pain to those he has determined are the cause of all the suffering. Basically, a megalomaniac out for universal revenge.

Cumberbatch's tasking was as he stated:
"When J.J. (Abrams) described the role to me... he described someone who was, in movie terms, a mixture of Hannibal Lecter, Jack in The Shining, and the Joker in Batman. He's someone who has enormous physical strength. He's someone who is incredibly dangerous, both as a physical entity and through the use of various technologies and weapons and who performs acts of what I would describe as terrorism. He's also a psychological master. He manipulates the minds of those around him to do his bidding in a very, very subtle way."

This reboot lands substantially prior to the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood - two-time President of the United States on film), who recruits Kirk in the 2009 Trek 1.0, is obviously deep in the power structure of Starfleet and reprises the role.  Kirk will meet the now exquisite and brainy Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve (below) - yep, totally fills out this role), the creator of the Genesis of project (in a now alternative future), and potentially, the mother of Kirk's first child - David.

From trailers, this story will hit on at least two planets; multiple ships (the Enterprise & a chase vehicle); have odd landscapes (red fields); and betrayals from within - Starfleet level.

I just watch the Wrath of Khan on Leonard Nimoy's 82nd birthday - March 26th. His death to save the Enterprise is one of the best moments in all the Star Trek movies, as it reflects reality, that must occur: death of a primary character. His resurrection, via Genesis, is a bit hokey, but we digress there. I still love Spock.

This International Trailer is quite a ride. It has all the elements: menace, fear, a chase, sexual tension, destruction, and suspense. You can get how awesome it will be in May as the NCC-1701 hits Warp Factor 9.9, the cusp of time travel.

Lastly, Alice Eve showing that an Oxford master's degree education does not foretell that the clothes will stay on always - to my meager minded, horny, and appreciative eyes. One can only pine, or opined, or Chris Pine, on the nature of this scene. ENGAGE! MAY 17, 2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Best TV Shows Ever Watched: My Top 15 (no order)

Following the prior post, I thought of the thousands of hours of shows I have wasted time on in my life. Roughly 3 hours per day for 333 days/year x 35 years = 35,000 hours rounded.  4 years, or 10% of life, yeah, what a waste. So, I like, millions of Americans & Brits have found accidental experience in watch these shows. So here's my top fifteen watched (more than 75% of episodes in the series is my minimum to be included on the list) in no particular order:

1.  M*A*S*H. It's finale still ranks as the all time leader in the United States for most watched TV program. It was a 11-year war story - quadruple the length of the war it fictionally depicts (Korean) and half of the war it truly satirized in Vietnam. In the half-hour situation comedy genre its pace was equally adept at slow and fast messaging, while developing the arcs of the characters in ways that resonated. I was merely a 6th grade child when the show ended in 1983. I watched it as a child, a teenager, early adult, and so on. Looking back, the show was way ahead of its time, then a leader among peers - but MASH's straying from just dark comedy (including Suicide is Painless opening music) came about with Alan Alda's creative consulting, writing, and directing in the late stages. Straying is harsh; it became a drama first - pure and simple, which is no easy tasking. The cast marched in step, created a space for war depiction that was flawed, but enjoyable in its touching moments through 251 episodes. (More here)

2. ER. Buttressing the medical drama genre with more realistic doctoring - Michael Crichton's ed credentials earned at Harvard Medical School helped - ER 326 TV hours were uneven, yet it was ride worth going to surgery for. I watched the majority of the show - missing the early 2K episodes probably around 20-40 -  sticking to the end, watching the finale. This show was not a way to improve your mood. Doctors on edge, nurses annoyed, lead staff showing off, while lives at home were in tatters or strained. John Carter (Noah Wyle) days from a poor little rich boy newbie from med school to stabbing victim, drug addict, AIDs clinic builder to the Africa continent  for answers. His story is the backbone of the ER saga - in my opinion. He finds skill through personal connection after demons he did not unleash nearly destroyed. I would be a fraud to say I know all the remaining characters arcs by heart. I watch TV not for fact - but to pass the time, and live a life I do not have, often thankfully.

3. Batman: The Animated Series. Batman, really enough said. I was in college when this show launched in mid-afternoon, a 22 minute ride in the caped crusader's world of chasing the bad guys to their lairs while always being alone in his focus and thinking. Again, no expert, but Kevin Conroy's voice is what makes this Batman the ticket in animation. (It took only 150 voice auditions to find him....wow.) Only lasted 3 years - but the with Danny Elfman doing the opening score - this piece of TV history should have lasted longer.

4. House. A logical genius, Sherlockian diagnostician, and unflinchingly unethical man seeks to solve his own equation first, but has your life in his hands - and cares nothing about you - do you let him attempt his ever unique solution? I loved Hugh Laurie's snarky sexually harassing to get attention doctor - if only how unreal he truly was. While MASH gave humor only to point out war's flaws, and ER had drama to point out the life-death daily fight, HOUSE gave us humor not on death's inevitability, but on the lies that can cause it. The show had plenty of letdowns, and I missed most of 2008-2010 due to various crises, but I will pop on those episodes soon enough. Laurie attended Cambridge U, is an crack writer, and can play some tunes, charting in the UK. That explains all his talents.

5. Quantum Leap. Back to the 1980s. Sam Beckett. Literary reference and history. This show was able to make time travel have some sense to it - swapping out identities, string theory - while truly trying "to set right what once went wrong.: It was a bit hokey, of course - but 2 characters tied together Al and Sam - made it a lifetime friendship romp through time. The best episode was MIA - where Al is torn to give the truth to Sam about why he is where he is, and what Sam is there to solve. It is beautiful, and the reason for the show's finale.

6. Psych. Amongst the favorites of USA network, this one made sleuthing funny, light-hearted, a bit more about quirks than crime.

7. Burn Notice. Spy vs. USA intelligence, Miami mafia, drug lords, Columbia kingpins, and old fashion bad dudes. As with most shows, the acting is convinces enough - if the tone has darkened from the initial season.

8. Angel.  Back when the world was less Twilighty, Angel was a quirk of a show written and developed by Joss Whedon, now of Avenger fame.

9. Game of Thrones. Prior post.

10. Twilight Zone. This put some nightmares in my head in those heady early days.

11. Star Trek : TNG. Captain Picard - Engage! I am a trekkie first and always!

12. Law and Order. Twenty years of Cops, Bad Guys, and Lawyers can be enough to make you think you know something about the law. Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields) took over for Michael Moriarty made Law and Order a pretty routine affair. I watched likely 250 episodes, of the 391. But I would gather, that the ones missed were not going to get me a law degree.

13. Hustle. A group of gritty London con men seem to always get their way - I found it refreshingly British.

14. The West Wing. Actually should do summary on this show. Aaron Sorkin crafted this punchy dream team machine of a White House. Can you imagine a Republican version of this show....nope, me neither. (Course, you would have to think brilliantly and socially responsible and sound and look good. Nope not happening.)

15. The Wonder Years. Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and Winnie Cooper (Math genius Danica McKellar) were the prismatic budding teenagers through which we saw the evolving 1960s, and the frustrations of that time. The opening pilot episode set a beautiful array of emotions - and certainly it touched a 16-17 teenager that still felt Kevin's age: confused, horny, courageous, chicken, hopeful, excited, timid, sneaky, lazy, and loving all in a paragraph of dialogue.

Honorable Mentions, or likely, lacked the knowledge of entire show's run:
Breaking Bad
Freaks and Geeks
The Practice
Royal Pains
The Tudors
The Wire
Battlestar Gallactica
Perry Mason
The Rockford Files
China Beach (Robert Picardo)
All in the Family
Doctor Who
Twin Peaks
Remington Steele
The Justice League
Bugs Bunny Show

I could go on all day. I am not a critic. I'd have to watch intently (and get paid) to give you a full rundown.
But here is enough television to burn your eyeballs for a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Game of Thrones: TV's greatest epic is back, here's why

I was never an epic fantasy reader per say. I did read Terry Brook's Shannara series which I always thought could translate well to film with the right director, screenplay, and actors. Pretty much the ingredients needed for any movie venture.

George R.R. Martin's 1996 Game of Thrones book title (GOT hereafter) has captured my imagination enough to vault it to the top of mandatory viewing list. I will not go into a fascinating regurgitation of characters/actors in the seven kingdom fantasy world of Westeros. The names are confusing - unless you are a fantasy reading know-it-all - but what fascinates about this show, compared to all others, is it adoption of techniques rarely combined well, making GOT the number 1 pirated-show in the world. Shakespeare would even approve of this being done.

1. Sex, blood, and Middle age rock and roll. The first two seasons satisfied with Rome-like sex and blood lust that had purpose. While sex and prostitution was a staple of that Rome's series - now crossing over with Mance Rayder added to the GOT cast - the whores and women nude in GOT serve more that just jump off points to a scene. The sex shows the bad guys at their very worst; the conflicted souls at their tenderest of moments. And the quips made about the cockless, secret information man, well, are priceless. Blood - have a head, might travel - gets more gruesome that at Rome's peak possibly. And what's an epic without two rock and rollers getting bit parts - Coldplay's  Will Champion and Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody.

2. No place is home. This story travels to destinations with a feel that you are never going to go home again. The characters have to interact with their environment in such ways - that you feel Westeros really does exists on the map. Northern Ireland, Malta, Croatia, Iceland, and Morocco were the real locations - meaning some travel expenses must be really racking up in this epic. The dress and castle keeps and ice, desert, river runs, make this a breathing show via locale alone.

3. Characters that all have 3-dimensions. Rare that series has more than 1 or 2 characters with major arcs that need fleshing out over the course of the show. GOT though has 15 characters (just a number) that have huge conflicts to be dealt with: from an incest-made brutal teenage king who is the most despotic on TV; the new dwarfish Hand of that King (HOTK) that quips and calculates to TV perfection ; a revenge-through-war son-of-that-fallen King's hand who now loves a doctor that patches up his men; a once-timid "Dothraki whore"-to-a future dragon queen growing darker by the day; or the conflicted on The Wall bastard son of dead HOTK Ned Stark, whose life choices will be made against white walkers, or tied to family concerns. A young girl-made boy-girl cup bearer that has rewritten the child role forever as a killer who has to now hide amongst her fiercest enemies of her family. A crippled son of that HOTK, whose dire wolf and castle keep are all he's got - both at danger at every turn.

4. Lights, camera, ACTION! You get no break of action amongst this substantial cast. No one comes on the set without a purpose - whether to kill a lead character, to deliver the bad news, complicate the intriguing and messy plot, devise a new self-serving plan, deliver an evil spirit baby, or protect a tyrant's bride-to-be who has to hold her tongue, or die. GOT does not use long drawn out stares, or wishy-washy sub-characters to get from point A to point B, or C.

GOT uses action to move people - where there is quiet moments, it is to show characters revealing deep thoughts to others - doubts that make their actions before and after better cinema, if conflicted to their words, all the better.

5. This Realm Needs A King, A Leader True. You feel like this in everyday life. Who is our world's best leader? What will they do to improve on our hopes for the betterment of man? So each of these characters set out to be that leader, or maker of the leader they wish for. Fighting for their places at the table of power, or setting up the weakest among them. Sounds like a United Nations free-for-all, after aliens pop in - with the possibility of a fairy creature dropping in to make stuff really interesting. (Aliens=Dragons)

Peter Dinklage as HOTK Tyrion Lannister: Leader True?

I will be glued to GOT Season 3 opening. GOT will make the winter wait worthwhile if at least one head rolls, a whore gets some get back, a child undermines a powerful man, or a "halfman" takes a non-bastard king and tosses him to a dire wolf.  All will come true! It's Game of Thrones!