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Archive for January, 2013

January – the months that heralds the start of the new year – brings with it the opportunity to look ahead and to look behind. Last year around this time, the folks at the podcast The World Next Week (brought to you by the Council on Foreign Relations) took their airtime to look ahead as to what the year 2012 would bring. During their glance forward, one member of that January 5, 2012, podcast said that he…

…wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of the top five stories we’ll be talking about next year.

The “this” mentioned by the on-air host was the threat of the Iranian government to close access to the Strait of Hormuz over sanctions from the European Union.

Now is the time where I look behind and execute my veridiction (my created word for the process of verifying predictions) on The World Next Week. I am going to make a linguistic leap and say that when the host said “next year”, that he was talking about the year 2012. Even though the podcast in question aired on the fifth day of 2012 and the phrase “next year” literally would mean 2013, I am still standing by my interpretation that the host was talking about 2012.

With that interpretation in mind, was he correct? Was the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and curtail the export of oil from Iran one of the top five stories of the year.

In short, no.

According to Google, “this” was not one of the top ten trending news stories of the year.

Neither was “this” one of the top ten stories from Yahoo! News.

“This” also did not rank a mention in the top ten stories as ranked by the Associated Press.

In a year that held a Presidential election in the United States, a hurricane that battered the East Coast, a horrific shooting in a school, a fiscal cliff, and a guy breaking the sound barrier without a jet, a story about threats from Iran – that never happened anyway – was going to have a tough time grabbing people’s attention.

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While the United States State Department lists a multitude of requirements for residents of the Nifty Fifty who wish to visit Cuba and this website claims that Washington “…has essentially limited sanctioned travel to journalists, academics, government officials, those with immediate family members living on the island…”, there is one arm of the United States government that was offering free trips to the island nation just south of Florida.

That arm is the Department of Defense.

Last month, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) issued a press advisory that the American military was allocating seats on chartered aircraft for a trip starting from the Old Line State of Maryland to the beautiful sunny climes of Guantanamo Bay. To be more specific, travel terminates at the United States Naval Station there.

The reason for this not-quite-all-expenses-paid journey to Cuba is to watch the military commissions for Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu Al-Nashiri, scheduled for January 15-17, and for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (and four others), scheduled for January 28-31.

I wouldn’t be surprised or shocked if you had said, “Who?” when you first read those two names.

To recap, Al-Nashiri is accused of being the brains behind the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and Mohammed is accused of being the mastermind behind the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Getting back to the plane to Cuba, not just anyone can claim a ticket. The press advisory states that people requesting seats on the chartered planes had to be members of the media that meet some of the following criteria:

…Media outlets that consistently reach a large audience;
…Media outlets that have a history of reporting on the Department of Defense, Guantanamo Bay, military commissions, or closely related topics;
…Outlets that represent a mix of mediums;
…Outlets that include both domestic and international news media; and
…Media that represent regional markets with a specific nexus to these commission proceedings.

So, sadly, not any blogger with the desire to visit the southern shores of Cuba could hitch a ride.

Sadly-squared is the additional fact that the deadline to reserve your seat and view the fruits of the Military Commission Act of 2009 was January 3.

Guess I’ll just have to watch the trials…er, military commissions courtesy of my local television news outfit.

Or not according to this article.

Well, I can always read about it in such mainstream outlets like ABCNews, CNN, Reuters, Lawfare, and The World Socialist Web Site.

I would so love to know how many of those Department of Defense-issued plane tickets were actually snapped up.

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I have trod the soil before of how I lament the dearth of originality in today’s American cinema (see here and here for previous examples). For those expecting another blog post about how Hollywood has lost its creativity, I can only say you will be disappointed.

I realize that my original thesis about the death of originality in Tinseltown is wrong.

(And honestly, when is the last time you read a blogger admit an error?).

While doing some research to bolster my original point, I looked at the top ten grossing films of 2011. Of that dozen-minus-two collection of film (full list here), nine of them were sequels and the remaining one (The Smurfs) was based on prior material (in the case of the little blue creatures, it was the comic strip created by Belgian artist Peyo).

Of those sequels (and only because I love diving into numbers), three were the immediate sequel (Cars, Hangover, Panda), one was the 3rd installment (Transformers), three were the 4th flick (Mission:Impossible, Pirates, Twilight), one was the 5th movie (Fast), and one was the 8th incarnation (Potter).

I decided to look back thirty years and see what audiences flocked to in 1981. Of the top ten grossing movies three decades ago (see full list here), there are only two sequels (Superman II, For Your Eyes Only) and one based on prior material (On Golden Pond). Those of you with good math skills will recognize that this means that seven of the top ten grossing films were original (Arthur, The Cannonball Run, Chariots of Fire, The Four Seasons, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stripes, Time Bandits).

All of that data is interesting, but looking deeper into those movies is where I did a mental hiccup.

The top ten grossing films of 1981 won a combined twenty-one (there’s your number for the day) Academy Awards. Of what I consider to be the Big Six of Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), these ten movies won four (Chariots: Picture; Golden: Actor, Actress; Arthur: Supporting Actor). The other two of my Big Six (Director, Supporting Actress) was won by Reds, which (by the way) came in 13th place of the highest-grossing films.

Not only did 1981 produce high-quality cinema, but the audiences flocked to those movies.

Leap forward thirty years and the top ten grossing films of 2011 took home a combined grand total of three Academy Awards which were all won by Transformers: Dark of the Moon and they were all for technical merit.

I have discarded my original thesis because Hollywood in 2011 did produce some highly original fare. That year saw the release of The Artist, The Help, The Iron Lady, and Beginners, which were the movies that won the Big Six of Academy Awards that year. However, none of those films – nor any of other original films that year (including Sucker Punch, Source Code, or Midnight in Paris) – came close to the box office tally ($559 million) earned by the movie that clocked in at number ten on the highest-grossing list, Cars 2.

I revise my original statement and now assert that Hollywood does indeed make quality original fare. It’s just that the audience doesn’t go see it. The masses vote with their wallets and they want sequels and movies made from books or comics. The film industry, like any good profit-seeking business, is only provided what the buying population has shown they want.

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…until events like this start happening in the United States, Americans like this (and all others) will be banned from uttering the phrase “War on Christmas”.

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