Obama Was Never That Into You

FOIA RequestAccording to Glenn Greenward, the ACLU was interested in what the White House policy was on intercepting “private” test messages. So they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. And what you see on the left is the top of what they got back: 15 pages entirely blacked out (pdf). More and more I think electing Obama was a big mistake. I don’t mean that we would have been better off with McCain or Romney. (Although I have to say: I’m not certain if McCain wouldn’t have been better.) I just mean, in many ways, Clinton was a lot better and maybe his wife would have been too.

As I reported on Tuesday, the Obama administration is keeping up its fight against Plan B birth control. When the administration was against it last year, all the apologists said that it was just a political move. But it can’t be a political move now. It must just be that Obama really believes in limiting birth control.

This is the same thing I’ve been arguing for months about the Social Security and Medicare cuts: they aren’t compromises. They are policies that Obama really, truly, in his heart of hearts, wants. As I wrote a month and a half ago: Obama’s Just Not That Into You.

Is it time to admit that he never was?


This is exactly what I’ve been saying for a long time: the rich are crazy to not pay attention to income inequality. They need to give a little to the poorer classes or it will create instability. And the rich have far more to lose than anyone. But they just don’t see it.

Humor in Iron Man 3

Ben KingsleyThere was one thing in Iron Man 3 that I really liked: Ben Kingsley. When I saw that he was in the film, I figured he was slated to play the bad guy. Those tend to be the kind of roles that he gets. And at the beginning of the film that looks about right. Actually, it sets up a plot with two bad guys who are working together. One is an evil scientist, played very well by the pretty boy in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Guy Pearce. The other is the Kingsley character, basically a fictionalized Osama bin Laden named “The Mandarin.” But there are tells.

Before I go on: you do know that I don’t think there are such things as “spoilers.” Well, that’s not exactly true. I wouldn’t give away what’s really happening in The Sixth Sense if you hadn’t seen it. But even in it, the film is really good even if you know. In fact, it is better. So if you really think that knowing what happens in Iron Man 3 is going to ruin it for you, then please click away now to this picture of a happy lamb. You have been warned!

I had a hunch that “The Mandarin” was not all that he seemed. But the truth was a lot more fun than I ever expected. “The Mandarin” is just a character being played by English Shakespearean actor Trevor Slattery. It seems the poor man had a real hard time staying off drugs. So the bad guy comes to him with an offer. Tony Stark says, “He said he’d get you off drugs?” Slattery, half nodding out, perks up and says, “No! He offered me more!” So the drug addled actor just thinks that he is performing a role. When he’s not on camera, he’s kept occupied with drugs and prostitutes. But that’s not what was so great!

What was so great was Kingsley’s performance, which is hysterical. And it was really great because his “The Mandarin” character was entirely believable. It was just the way you would expect a Shakespearean to perform it. Think: Patrick Stewart. And it is a nice reminder of many great actors (e.g. Gary Oldman) who come from working class backgrounds: after seeing them on the screen speaking the king’s English, it is shocking to hear them speak with their normal lower-class accents. Kingsley works that into comic gold. He also uses the drugs and the typical actor narcissism.

I thought that I ought to point this out. I don’t ever recall seeing something in one of these films that I liked so much. Even still, I doubt that there is more than 15 minutes of Kingsley in this 2+ hour monstrosity. But having anything that is really good is unusual, and worthy of note.


I’ve long thought it interesting that The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a film about three gay drag queens, stars three actors who generally play badasses. First there is Terence Stamp of The Limey. Then Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith in The Matrix. And Guy Pearce of Memento. I find that curious.

Escapism in Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3During the third act of The Purple Rose of Cairo, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) goes into the movie with Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). While in the townhouse, she sees a telephone and exclaims, “I’ve dreamed of a white telephone!” You see, Cecilia is a poor woman living during the Great Depression. The Purple Rose of Cairo celebrates how film allowed people to escape the hardships of their lives by watching the happy lives of Hollywood characters whose problems were always solved by the time the credits rolled. And the white princess telephone was a good example of the perfect life to people who would be lucky to even have their own black standard phone.

I was thinking about this today as I watched Iron Man 3 with my brother. As you may recall, my brother is a big action movie fan, with a particular love for Marvel Comics. I’m not fond of these films, but they are grist for a project I am working on about film propaganda. It is interesting that in the fascist countries, the governments had to take over the film industries. But in the United States, the private sector independently makes propaganda films that most governments would be embarrassed to produce. I feel more sullied by the average Hollywood action film than I do by an episode of The Factor.

That was fully the case with Iron Man 3. But it is done with a degree of cognitive dissonance that is staggering. Of course, that’s just perfect for an America propaganda film. Americans simultaneously think that we are the biggest, baddest country in the world. And that we are the most peaceful country in the world. We spend more on our military than the next 11 countries combined because all those other countries are a bunch of meanies who stop us from being the Gentle Giant we really are. So it makes perfect sense that Iron Man 3 would be similarly addled.

The biggest problem is Iron Man himself: Tony Stark. Since the middle of the first film, he is some bizarre kind of pacifist. He refuses to build weapons for the military. (This is how he and his father became rich, but that’s another issue.) Yet he spends all of Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 and The Avengers working with the military. Plus, he provides it with his “iron” suits, which are, after all, weapons. This is a real problem. The whole superhero genre is just vigilante fiction. And it works really well with someone like Daredevil, where the character is an outsider who is disliked by the authorities. You can’t be an iconoclast and an integral part of the social power structure. But that’s what all of the Iron Man movies would have us believe. And that is particularly true here where Iron Man must choose to save the president or his girl friend. Of course, in the end, through some kind of comic book lack of reason, he gets to save both; but the choice he makes is to save the president rather than Pretty Pepper Potts. Sorry: that’s Captain America bullshit.

Also, iconoclasts are not rich guys. Sure, they could have lots of money, in theory. But Tony Stark isn’t just rich; he’s corporate; he’s continuing to pull in the money. In other words: he’s David Koch with a goatee. Or something. Or rather: many things, because as usual for Marvel characters, he is whatever character the scene requires. But when he is at home in his billion dollar cliff mansion, he is above all, a rich man. He has the 21st century equivalent of the white princess phone.

And that’s important. It’s all important: rich, suave, badass. People need to escape the hardships of the second Great Depression.


I have a general problem with the Hollywood action film: it does not celebrate real heroism. All kinds of people, but especially people who fight in wars and run into burning buildings, show great heroism. But these movies toss this sort of thing to the side. They also say that all human institutions are useless. The army, the police cannot manage anything. This is all strange, because superheroes are about as close as we ever get to the Greek heroes. But those heroes worked inside a social context. Patroclus and Achilles fought together in the war against the Trojans. Hector was above all a family man who just wanted to help run his city-state. The Hollywood action films are not the stories a great civilization tells itself.

(Take note: that last paragraph was pure conservatism. I don’t think any serious conservative would disagree with it. Of course, neo-conservatives would. Most people who call themselves “conservative” would. But real conservatives: they’d agree with me. But in general, I have no problem with real conservatives.)

Physics in Iron Man 3

EraserOne of the more interesting action sequences of Iron Man 3 involves the superhero’s catching of 13 people who have been blown off of Air Force One. He flies around and manages to get 12 of them. He can’t hold on to them all, so he has them hold on to each other, creating a giant chain. He hasn’t gotten the last guy. His computer announces that there are but 400 feet to go before they hit the earth. So he speeds up, grabs the last guy, and slows just in time to miss the surface of the ocean. The crowd goes wild!

The Iron Man films really bug me when it comes to physics. Of all the superhero films, I think they are the worst. And it is all the same problem: acceleration! It doesn’t matter if you are in a bunch of padding or an iron suit, if you decelerate too quickly, you will die. And this happens again and again and again in the Iron Man movies. I know: I’m being a pedant. What’s more, this is far from the only physics related problem in the films. But it is the one thing I just can’t suspend disbelief on. Classical mechanics is the one subject in graduate school that I studied far beyond what was required—because I loved it so much.

So let’s look at our little sky dive sequence. I’m going to keep this really simple because I figure it will be bad enough for those who are not freaks about this stuff like I am. Iron Man is at 400 feet. The man he needs to catch is further down, but I’m not even going to worry about that. We’ll just assume that Iron Man catches him at that point. Now the man is falling at terminal velocity which is roughly 120 mph. That’s 55 m/s at a height of 120 m. But iron man can’t be moving at that speed; if he were, he would never catch the guy. So I’m going to assume he is moving at twice that speed: 110 m/s.

Thus, if he keeps at that speed for one second, they crash. So there isn’t much time. Over the course of 120 m (d), Iron Man must decelerate from 110 m/s (v0) to 0 m/s (vf). And we want to know what the average acceleration (a) is for these 13 people. Luckily, there is a handy equation that people learn in the first week or two of physics that helps us out:

vf2 = v02 + 2 * a * d

The answer is that the average acceleration is 46 m/s/s or a tad less than 5 gs. This is about the level at which people lose consciousness. But there is a bigger problem here. I call it the Eraser factor.

I learned about this from my friend Mikhail. In Eraser, Arnold Schwarzenegger falls out of a plane and moves through the sky. He is looking for a parachute that also fell out of the plane. He grabs it and then fights to put it on, buckles it up, and pulls the rip cord. I asked Mikhail if this was possible. But I only mentioned the getting to the parachute part because frankly that was the impressive part for me. He told me it was, but that there was a problem. After locating the pack, you would have to “fight to put it on and buckle in.” Why? Because no one is strong enough to hold on to the parachute when it opens.

So think of our Air Force One survivors. Imagine a 150 pound man hanging from a pull-up bar. Now imagine what would happen if you suddenly attached 750 pounds of weight to him. He’d lose his grip and fall. As they all would. And this would happen at the beginning of Iron Man’s deceleration. So they would likely hit the ocean at a lot faster a speed than if Iron Man had never caught them in the first place. This reminds me of the film Hancock, where all of that superhero’s efforts to help people caused bigger problems. But the makers of Iron Man 3 just didn’t realize it.

As Good as James L. Brooks Gets

James L. BrooksOn this day back in 1800, abolitionist John Brown was born. And Mike Wallace was born in 1918.

Wastership Down author Richard Adams is 93 today. Two of my favorite actors Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson are 77. Candice Bergen is 67. And Billy Joel (meh) is 64.

But the day belongs to the great writer/director (and more) James L. Brooks who is 73 today. He got his start as a TV writer, eventually creating The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But I most know him from films like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good as it Gets. He was also a major force behind The Simpsons.

Happy birthday James L. Brooks!


I have a busy day today so there won’t be any more posts until much later.