Some good news!

December 29, 2010

After a not so happy holiday season in my world, some good news arrives none too soon!

Congratulations to my buddy Al, as he and Mrs. Al welcome a son … at last word a name had not been agreed upon yet, but the best possible news is that mom and baby are A-OK!  Congratulations to Al and family!!!!!


Film Review — TRON: Legacy

December 22, 2010

A little over 30 years ago, art student Steve Lisberger, who was interested in breaking into film, took a pioneering trip to talk with some computer programmers who were experimenting with computer generated imagery.  Some claimed there might be a future that saw computers play a role in art.  In his discussions with these early pioneers, he learned that the trend was toward a small number of corporations cornering the market on software … squelching the creativity and control that the programmers hoped to hold on to.  It wasn’t too many conversations with these guys that eventually put the idea into Lisberger’s head:  programs are artistic creations of these programmers, and thus reflect something of their personality … what if inside the computer, these programs were really a lot more like their programmers …. and these programmers he was meeting with were like gladiators fighting for their freedom from oppressive corporations?  Thus, TRON was born!

No excuse for you to have never seen TRON … it IS 2010!  From here on out, spoilers may certainly be present.

The film opens in 1985, a few years after the events of the first film … our hero Kevin Flynn has gained control of ENCOM, the company he had been fired from and broke into in the original film.  He had also created a new video game:  Tron, which with his earlier creation (Space Paranoids for those who don’t remember), became the top 2 video games of all time.  He also had a son, Sam, whom he would regale with strange stories of fighting on the grid with the real Tron (a program created by his friend Alan (Alan and Tron were and continue to be played by Bruce Boxleitner)).  One night, on the supposed verge of a major breakthrough, Kevin Flynn mysteriously disappears, leaving his son an orphan, and his company on shaky ground.

Fast forward to today.

Encom’s new president is getting ready to release the company’s new operating system (OS), which by his own admission is not an improvement over the last, but will assure the company’s financial growth (take THAT Microsoft!!!).  Alan is a Board member, but is in the minority.  Just before its release, the OS is released on the internet by Sam, who retains the right to control the company, but simply doesn’t care.

Alan approaches him and informs him that he has received a page (yes, that wasn’t a typo, a page) from his father’s office at Flynn’s Arcade, which has been closed for years.  Sam goes, and discovers a secret laboratory in the basement.  He activates the computer, and accidentally activates the laser, beaming himself into the digital realm.

Sam is immediately captured and sent to the game grid, where he is soon discovered to be a user (human), and is taken to the leader of this fascist virtual world …. his father … or so it appears.  In fact, he learns that it is CLU, one of his dad’s best programs who now runs things, and dispatches Sam to the light cycle grid to be killed.

Sam is promptly saved from deresolution by a very beautiful program named Quorra, he spirits him away to his father’s secret hideout.

His father tells him that before he disappeared, he was making regular trips back into the virtual realm in an attempt to create perfection:  an open system that would allow for anyone to use freely, and only to better the human condition.  He created CLU to help him, and used his old friend Tron to defend them against unscrupulous programs.  However, the day came when the complex system they had created spanned brand new programs … akin to the spontaneous creation of life … while Flynn wanted to study them and integrate them into the system, CLU was appalled as it stood in the way of achieving perfection.  CLU led a coup, apparently killing Tron while Flynn escaped, trapped from leaving the virtual world.  Flynn also remains in hiding because the information on his identity disk contains enough information to allow CLU to leave he virtual world … and looking like Flynn, it would give him access to money and power with the mentality of trying to eliminate anything imperfect.

The rest of the film details the Flynns’ escape attempt as they race against CLU and his plans.

Lets start with the visualization:  It is slick and it is fantastic!  The differences from the first film are easily explainable (it is a new world created by more advanced computers).  The lighting effects are a bit more subdued than in the first film, but overall look can’t be beat.

There are a number of fight/chase scenes, all at least as good or vastly superior to the first film.  There is a disc fight, a light cycle battle, a fight in a bar, and a chase involving fighter aircraft (think light cycles but flying …. very kick ass!)

The music is, sadly, nowhere near as good as the beautiful pioneering electronic score Wendy Carlos wrote for the first film.  That would have been difficult.  It is not a major flaw of the film.

Given recent events, I was probably affected a bit much morethan your average person about the father-son relationship.  It is a nice relationship: genius father and genius son are played to be very much alike, and kudos should be given to the actors for refining their work to mesh so well.

Jeff Bridges is a great performer.  He is challenged to not only play one of the heroes, but also the main antagonist.  I think he actually does a better job playing the villain instead of the character he already played once in his life.  The other roles are executed fine … keep an eye out for Michael Sheen’s (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) larger-than-life performance.

Overall, I would give the film 7.5/10 … a very worthy sequel that was worth the wait.  It is a Disney release …. the language isn’t bad, and the violence is all virtual … though you really should see the first film before this one.

One nation’s misery, another’s routine …

December 21, 2010


LONDON – The snow was melting off London’s streets, but HeathrowAirport told infuriated passengers it won’t restore full service until Thursday — five days after a five-inch snowfall turned hundreds of thousands of holiday plans into a nightmare of canceled flights and painful nights sleeping on terminal floors.


OK  … snow sucks … but let me get this straight:  5 inches of snow shut down one of the central hubs for European air travel … one of its most critical connections with the Western Hemisphere … for FIVE days??

I mean, we get 5 inch snow falls in Chicago at least 3-4 times a year.  Does O’Hare shut down?  Absolutely!  Does it shut down full service for five days?  No way!

Now one might assert that Chicago is more used to snow … I would argue that given London’s relative position on the globe, occasional snowstorms are not foreign.


Transportation experts said that after many years without heavy snowfall, underinvestment has left Heathrow and dozens of other airports across Britain and Ireland without enough equipment or personnel to cope with big storms.


Let us go back fellow Chicagoans to someone who learned this lesson the hard way: the late Michael Bilandic.  Michael Bilandic did end his political career sitting on Illinois’ Supreme Court, but historically might be better remembered for stepping in to finish off the OId Man’s (Richard J. Daley’s) final term.  He ran for re-election, and lost because when the Blizzard of 1979 hit the city, the snow plows were not ready to move.  Since then, every may or of Chicago has heeded the same warning:  fleece the city all you want:  hire people who sit in truck cabs all do without lifting a finger … hire relatives, and friends of relatives … this will not lose you an election …

… but the moment a flake of snow touches asphalt, thousands of plows and salt trucks will be roving the streets of Chicago making sure people can get to work.  Failure to do so means you don’t have to worry about spending a dime on re-election.

Fortunately, other nations will soon be ordering the UK how to spend their money to get their act together:

European Union transportation commissioner Siim Kallas threatened tougher regulation if performance does not improve. “Better preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe is not an optional extra, it must be planned for and with the necessary investment,” he said.


Many thanks …

December 19, 2010

Not a great week … not by a long shot!

Mom and the family were very impressed with the funeral home … they did everything that we wanted, right down to the smallest detail.

The church service was also quite good.  I was impressed that the priest who said the mass came to the wake later in the evening.  He was supposed to lead a brief prayer service, but instead got caught up talking to family and dad’s old friends … when my uncle asked when the prayer service would start, the priest noted that a prayer service would just get in the way of people sharing stories, and that this was more important.  He did incorporate a few things into the sermon, the next day, but I thought he had a good delivery, and kept things short that had to be short.

At the cemetery, we were met by a delegation from the US Navy.  After the final prayers, there was the playing of Taps, and two sailors folded the flag.  The folded flag was then given to mom by the officer who blew Taps.  Lunch was at Fox’s on Cicero.

I think my sister finally came to terms with dad, which I am glad for.  As we were getting ready to seal the casket for the last time, she was crying, and said “This would be easier if I could just hate him.”

My Aunt Joan, one of dad’s older sisters noted to us that he died on the 31st anniversary of her sobriety.  She placed her sobriety ring in the casket.  I would have told her to keep it.

One of the keywords was of course to get along.  Funerals can bring out the worst in people, and I am glad to say that we all got along.  The only issue to come up was when Scott’s “friend” arrived.  Now, she is a nice young lady, and under virtually any other circumstance I would have welcomed her with open arms.  However, things got mildly uncomfortable when Scott’s in-laws arrived.  I liked these two folks, and greeted them with mom.

Shortly after that, I took Scott aside, and as gently as I could, told him that it would be best for him and his “friend” and our grieving mother, if she were in the coffee room when his ex-wife arrived.

Scott took my advice, and the wake went well.  We desperately love Scott’s ex, and each of us in our own way is kind of bummed that Scott’s “friend” is making life uncomfortable for her.

While the wake went fine, the funeral was another story.  Scott’s ex- was there right through to the cemetery.  So was Scott’s “friend”.  We asked Scott’s ex to sit and stand with the rest of the close family (Scott’s “friend” wisely chose against doing this), but she politely refused.  Mom has decided to make it a priority to iron out exactly where she stands in the family, and make sure its clear that she has nothing at all to be ashamed of.

As if all of that didn’t suck enough, I was supposed to take my two aunts and uncle out to dinner on Saturday night … when something hit … puking, etc.  Instead of dinner and finally going home, I was flat on my back tired but unable to sleep.  I finally headed home today … still tired, still sick, and still unable to keep liquids in me (though at least the puking has stopped).

I’ll close with this.  I came to terms with dad several months ago.  I didn’t cry once during this whole time, but know that I need to monitor myself for a while to make sure that if I suddenly need some help, that I seek it out (and thank you for offering me your help).  The only time I got a twinge of nerves when when they opened the parlor to view the casket for the first time.

The undertakers did an absolutely remarkable job.  After seeing him so depressed and worn down and sick in the hospital, he not only “looked good”, but absolutely looked his old healthy self.  I think this probably helped in saying good bye, as it gave the family a chance to see him in a good light instead of the yellow eyes and tubes sticking out of every corner and malodorous soil.  Only if you looked carefully would you notice this was a cadaver, not someone taking a nap.

To all of you who gave your support, near and far, I thank you, and my family thanks you.

Dad Update

December 14, 2010

Update:  Rather than come in through the cold and long drive, if you would like to sign a virtual condolence book, you can follow the link:


I likely won’t be updating for a while since I will be busy the next few days …

Dad’s wake is set for Thursday at Sheehy Funeral Home, 9000 151st. Street in Orland.

1.  I would feel very bad if people came far out of their way to this.  Please do not travel far.

2.  Please, no flowers … we’ve got those handled.  The place will look like March 17 on the eve of the start of winter.

3.  Repeating:  please do not go out of the way … I hope to have a chance to visit with the locals over the next two weeks when it is convenient for you and I.  For the non-locals, I hope to at least exchange a phone call or e-mail (or two).

On my behalf, and on behalf of the family, thank you, kind and generous friends, for your concern and support.  I have been and will continue to pass your messages on to the rest of the family.

Dad (1947-2010)

December 14, 2010

My father’s uncle, and I agree with him, put it best:

What a waste.

I just got the call from mom … he apparently passed away last night just after 10 pm.  We had been meaning to plan the wake/funeral, but mom kept putting it off because all of the kids couldn’t be together.  We will be making plans this evening.

In short, I am glad his suffering is over.  I long ago came to terms that this was not going to be a pretty ending, but that it was going to end.  I am more concerned with my mom who is not dealing with this well.  Pepper is also probably not dealing with this well.

I will keep y’all updated on things as they happen.

Where Wikileaks finally went wrong (or maybe showed its true colors)

December 4, 2010

I’m going to take a break from talking about dad today.

Wikileaks finally screwed up and managed to make some of its strongest supporters (or at least those governments who stayed silently on the sideline) turn on it.  A classic screwup!

It is sad that an organization like Wikileaks ever thought that it was needed.  Ideally, if the governments of the world are doing anything immoral, then the press should be doing some investigating.  Of course, the credibility of the American press can be found on a shelf in the Smithsonian along with other things that are a part of our collective past.

However, it exists, and frankly I have little problem with them exposing immoral actions.  The problem is, even from the beginning, you had to wonder if that really was their mission.  I don’t care who is at fault (China, Russia, Iran, or even the United States).

Take for instance, Scientology.  I don’t know much about Scientology except that it was founded by a science fiction author and has incorporated into it many aspects that the average person would consider “science fiction”.  To my knowledge, any crimes that they may be perpetrating are relatively small ones, but given that Scientology is linked to famous people, people want to know what its deal is.  Thus, Wikileaks publishes the secret documents outlining Scientology, in a manner akin to the National Enquirer.  That was the first thing that had me scratching my head.  What was the real purpose for releasing information that does not really appear to outline highly immoral actions?

Then the whole diplomatic cable escapade happened … the shocker was:  there was next to nothing shocking.  This is something that Wikileaks should have known, but apparently didn’t.  Instead of the United States having egg on its face, the United States is being painted the victim, and Wikileaks the bully.  Even Iran went public calling this a false flag operation by the CIA to make Washington look good.

But wait, there’s less.

Since Wikileaks has now decided that diplomatic cables are open for publication, there are not too many governments who want anything to do with them.  In short, there was no reason to publish those cables except to try and embarrass the United States.  There were no unbelievably bad things being described.  Certainly most other governments agreed with what was said about their neighbors (note how there were no protests about Silvio Burlesconi being “on the take” and “a weak leader”, or Angela Merkel being described as “safe and uncreative”).  Wikileaks announced that these cables would reveal how the U.S. uses diplomats as spies … but not knowing much about diplomats, they mistook “spying” for what anyone else would see as routine correspondence between embassies and Washington.

Let’s go back in time … for those of you who have ever read The Guns of August, you know that Barbara Tuchman postulates that the entirety of World War I was based on a breakdown in communication between the major powers of Europe.  In an era when communication and translation took much longer, and diplomacy was based more on assumption than on direct communication, the European powers fooled themselves into believing that they could interpret the meaning of each other’s moves.  Purely defensive moves were interpreted as overtly hostile acts, and before you knew it, armies were clashing and millions were dead in a war that on many levels could have been prevented easily in the modern world through diplomacy.  Some of you may recall that even within the Japanese government of 1941, there was a breakdown in communication between the home islands and their Washington embassy which caused the Pearl Harbor attack to proceed before the official notification of the declaration of war, putting Japan in the uncomfortable position of being an aggressor in an undeclared war instead of the strategic victor after informing the United States that a state of war formally exists (imagine how that might have historically affected the justification for the use of nuclear weapons later on …).  The famous red line between the White House and the Kremlin was installed after the Cuban Missile Crisis after President Kennedy began seeing parallels between that crisis and the start of World War I;  that is direct diplomatic contact could have averted a crisis that nearly led to a nuclear holocaust.

So, we all accept that diplomacy is a good thing, and that anything harming the diplomatic process is a bad thing.  That’s where Wikileaks royally effed up!  In publishing these cables, I think it can be safely interpreted that their organization was  directly attempting to disrupt the diplomatic relations of the United States with other nations by spreading distrust.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to paint the American government as being eternally saintly in its diplomatic  relations, but I think it is ignorant to assume that other nations don’t know that.  They all do, and they all know that they are all pretty equally guilty of the same thing (would anyone be shocked if Sweden’s Foreign Minister sent a diplomatic cable to the Prime Minister saying that Hilary Clinton was “bitchy”.  She is the Secretary of State … she had better be bitchy!).

It is a long standing point of international relations:  you have the military, you have your intelligence apparatus, and you have the diplomats.  The diplomats are there for communication only, and are afforded certain protection, because interfering in the job of a diplomat is what leads to breakdown in communication, and we have seen what happens when that takes place.  Since there was nothing in the diplomatic cables that showed the United States abusing the diplomatic relationships with other nations, or using their diplomats in contravention of their diplomatic uses, it is possible to conclude that Wikileaks was attempting to interfere in the jobs of diplomats.  I will not sit here and say that war is going to be the result … but there are certainly a great many international disputes the U.S. is a party to (Korea, the Middle East being two big ones), and if the U.S. is unable to actively participate in them because some level of cultural mistrust now exists, the possibilities of conflict increase, even if it is slightly.

Wikileaks may have reduced its reputation to that of tabloid journalism now, which on one hand is good, since they have shown what may be their true colors:  rather than trying to expose the truth, they were mostly a bunch of hackers trying to thumb their nose at authority.

On the other hand, if Wikileaks is gone, who is watching the watchers?