The 2018 midterm elections are coming up in just barely a month and a few weeks. On November 6, 2018, members of the 116th Congress will be elected in states and districts across the country as Americans go to the polls in a beautiful exercise of “government by the people, for the people.”
It seems such a quaint and regular occurrence that we do not marvel at how historically distinct, even in our modern day, that as tense of disputes and attitudes as we currently have in our nation are resolved so smoothly at the ballot box.
Polls, as always, are erratic and everywhere. The old saying that “the only poll that really matters is the one at the voting booth on election day” is as true as it has always been. As usual, there are many candidates running without much attention or particularly noteworthiness while others are experiencing strange situations, such as in Arizona where six siblings of a sitting Republican Congressman have endorsed his Democratic opponent, are causing significant public amusement.
While every candidate every election will tell you how ‘this’ election is the most important of our lifetimes and will shape forever the future of the country, nonetheless it is true that each election remains essential in its own right.
For example, if this November Democrats take a significant majority of both the House and even perhaps Senate we could see a significant change in federal policy that includes the stoppage of further Supreme Court nominations by President Trump, let alone any conservative legislative priorities, to even impeachment proceedings.
If Congressional Republicans suffer significant losses on election day we also may see several opponents of the President, whether currently in the open or in secret, pounce and try again to tug the Republican Party away from the new blend that President Trump has taken it.
In contrast, if Republicans retain majorities in the Senate and perhaps even House then we may see more of the same as we have seen these past two years, which is the passing of conservative legislative priorities and the nominations of such persons to executive and judicial offices.
As we near election time all those whose jobs are suddenly on the line begin acting differently in a mix of defensiveness and hyper-aggression, as they seek to eek out every advantage to perhaps gain those few votes that increasingly seem to be making the difference in many elections, as several state-level elections in Virginia last year demonstrated.
Such partisanship serves a purpose, as it is a checks and balances system that allows the people to translate their will into our representative government as well as examine and possibly throw out those leaders who are not representing them sufficiently.
Unfortunately our modern political climate seems particularly corrosive in a way that challenges how effective the checks and balances intention should be working. We have some on the left who viciously and unfairly tar-and-feather those who agree in some or many ways with President Trump, demonizing serious public servants into mere caricatures.
The right is not innocent either, as dangerous generalizing, which has become increasingly common, of a few left-wing extremists as being representative of “all Democrats” is similarly grossly wrong and contributes significantly to polarization and the radicalization of the other side.
On November 7, 2018, I think our country will be recovering from the tension the months prior to election day have been built up and moving on to governing. Unfortunately compared to many past election cycles I fear that the attitude many embraced in 2016 of not accepting the election results and seemingly continuing to fight their legitimacy even months afterwards may continue for the moment.
In a few years I believe our country will look back at this time and see it in many ways as “democracy gone mad.” Everything from campaign money to social media to radicalization makes past “hard fought elections” like those during the 2000’s and first half of this decade, let alone prior, seem like a different world. Yet in some ways it also may be a learning lesson, as our country sees how cracked we can go before vowing one day to never venture that direction again.
And so on November 6, 2018, millions of us will be voting. In the meantime, we shall enjoy endless hours of seemingly cookie-cutter radio, television, YouTube, and other ads repeating some variation of “Trump, Trump, Trump” that we’ve all become so accustomed to hearing since it all began back in 2015.
A romantic comedy in which a bootstraps middle-class woman finds herself in love with a billionaire family. Entertaining, humorous, well produced, and creative, with one thing in particular that stands out – almost the entire starring cast are of Asian, primarily East Asian, descent.
The entertainment media has been abuzz as the Warner Brothers-distributed film that hit theatres the past few days is said to be the first of its kind in decades. In a Hollywood in which it has been widely covered on how actors of every kind of diverse background have faced a much tougher path to the red carpet due to studio worries over whether the market will accept it, “Crazy Rich Asians” is another in a line of films smashing down those barriers.
We saw with the groundbreaking film “Black Panther” back in February of this year how the all-African-American and African cast showed Hollywood that there was audience interest for a film where actors of diverse backgrounds commanded the starring roles, as the film grossed over $1.3 billion.
The stakes are also high for “Crazy Rich Asians.” Directed by Jon Chu and starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, and more, while it is doubtful it will hit Marvel-like box office numbers, nonetheless a strong showing will be essential for whether entertainment studios will pursue more films like it in the future as well as open up more movie roles to those of Asian and other diverse backgrounds.
The entertainment industry is fundamentally still a business and with particularly high up-front capital investment costs in producing movies to completion before seeing revenue, thereby leading to the risk-averse nature of studios towards anything outside of proven marketability.
Hollywood is but one sector but is essential for its cultural influence. Scenes from popular movies are replayed for decades to come and standout characters become immortalized in our societal lore. The ways narratives and casts are designed shape our collective imagination and have tangible impacts on the lives of all.
Giving equal opportunity and representation to the incredible array of people of every background and characteristic in this country is vital because it shows that we are all part of the American story and have an equal chance in it. Furthermore, doing it rightly – in a way that avoids derogatory stereotyping – is another key step where progress too is slowly being made.
The actual plot of “Crazy Rich Asians” both speaks to those of an Asian or Asian-American background in particular but also is understandable and enjoyable for broader audiences. As a romantic comedy it combines humor and intense relationship drama in a fascinating way, as it really is a modernized “Cinderella” story with its own unique twists and turns.
It seems 2018 is a year in which many cultural ceilings in the entertainment industry are coming down, This is great news for all, as this will allow an environment in which all people, whether producers or actors, can compete and work together on level ground and more focus on the best talent and product rather than other factors. Our broader culture gains from this as it is removing what has been shown to be an unnatural market barrier, at least in recent years, as we benefit from more stories and talent on screen.
The point of much of this experimentation is showing that films with diverse casts both can speak to a particular audience as well as speak to the general public too. As with many things in our country, if there is a buying market there will be sellers to it. It clearly took some executives at these entertainment companies to decide to take on some risk and explore these new paths, but as the box office numbers have shown it has been successful both immediately monetarily and in terms of a broader cultural shift.
I look forward to a future in which we see a wider array of films that feature our country’s entire lineup of people and communities – and undoubtedly films such as “Black Panther” and now “Crazy Rich Asians” are paving the way for that.
The public square has been alight in recent days as controversy has brewed over The New York Times’ hiring of Harvard Law-educated Sarah Jeong and her history of questionable Tweets.
Based on Twitter’s publicly available information, since joining the platform in June 2009 she has sent out over 103,000 Tweets. It seems many dozens of those have disturbing, cruel, and racist overtones towards various groups. The New York Times has issued a quasi-apology but apparently will retain Jeong, who has alleged much of it was satirical and also apologized.
This saga is extraordinarily complex because of both the immense amount of information and numerous norms, issues, and deeper societal questions involved.
On one hand, it is a reminder again about the strange power of certain social media platforms in now affecting our media discourse as well as business and public policy in general to some degree.
A platform like Twitter, in contrast to Facebook, is inherently designed to be far more of a public square in contrast to Facebook’s more “node-like” system. Many users have, over the years, accumulated extensive histories and thousands upon thousands of Tweets on the platform that are extremely easily searchable and retrievable.
Because of the nature of viral “movements” on the platform it is easy to create a ruckus that will cause an institution to feel they have to react even when it is but a tiny but vocal smattering of folks. We see this on both the left and right, as institutions feel compelled to react based on an over-estimation of the business threat of said movement but want to avoid the risk in testing how impactful any revenue impact may actually be.
On the other hand, this incident has also served a clear evidence again of a double-standard that exists in much of our public discourse. It shows how different norms apply to those on the various ends of the policy and ideological spectrum or, as lately our communications structure has been moving into, tribes.
When someone on the left does an egregious act, often there will be much more leeway, second chances, and other “safety nets” given. In contrast, if someone in the center or right does so, often the consequences, accelerated by the social media mob, will be more severe and unforgiving.
We saw this just a few months ago in The Atlantic’s firing of columnist Kevin Williamson, among numerous incidents before and since. While it is the legal right of such companies to act in such ways, as a cultural norm it moves in a dangerous direction in closing the “Overton window.”
The dangers are not only in the ideas being discussed in the public square being restricted but also in the societal reactions that come from it. Just as how people say “Twitter is not real life,” so ‘media is also not completely real life.’ Just as the daily discussions and representations on cable news are not a completely whole and accurate reflection of daily American life and world affairs, same with much of our media.
Shutting down voices is but a speed bump to a vehicle of ideas. If the idea is truly powerful enough, in a generally free society it will continue to spread and grow regardless with eventual impact on society at-large, even if outside of the media.
For example, then-candidate Donald Trump’s historic rise in the 2015 GOP primaries and victory in the 2016 election despite heavily negative coverage demonstrated how reactions can happen – whether with election results, readership and subscription metrics, or other business and social impacts.
In those cases it means media platforms are becoming disconnected from perhaps large segments of the general population, which is extremely worrying because of the essential role a free and open discourse plays in providing news, information, and commentary to our citizenry.
The New York Times has stuck by its hiring of Sarah Jeong as it stuck by its hiring of conservative, albeit “Never Trump,” columnist Bret Stephens last year despite immense outrage from the left. Yet the questions of how the norms of our public square are to be shaped in the Internet-age persist, and remain extremely uncertain and difficult to resolve.
This most recent controversy will soon likely be forgotten and replaced by a new one, but the lessons it reminds us again of – the nature of the Internet and social media, as well ensuring our public square is at the right balance of being free and open – are worth dwelling on.
Last week I had the chance to watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which is the 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” which grossed about $519.3 million worldwide, it again stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym as the characters go in search of Pym’s wife.
I found the film overall a hilarious and family-friendly performance that is much more in-line with some of the early Marvel films, which had a less serious element to them. The plot had some interesting twists and turns, as well as some complexity which all however remained relatively contained within the movie.
There were some mentions of the events of “Captain America: Civil War” which set the catalyst for Scott Lang’s house arrest that is the original premise from which the movie starts. The ending also had some unresolved plot points which provide fuel for future sequels, yet it was, as mentioned, the kind of movie where you felt as sense of closure as you left the theater.
That comedic setting and somewhat sense of wrapping up stands in stark contrast to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had just preceded “Ant-Man and the Wasp” by about two and a half months and is still the subject of immense public speculation and cultural attention.
With still about 9-months till the as-of-yet unnamed “Avengers 4” is released, the events of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” do little in particular to tie into all the theories about how that movie may proceed, particularly amidst persistent rumors of Ant-Man taking an important role in the film.
Though Ant-Man remains a relatively surface-level franchise compared to the bulk drivers of the Marvel film franchise, such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers, it still provides a new branch that the other films do not necessarily provide.
Indeed, given the dynamics of the film production industry, that the Ant-Man “series” appeals to an audience and interest the other Marvel movies may not is likely precisely why it was created and continued.
This is the kind of movie and series where one would not hesitate to bring one’s children to watch, as well as providing a light-hearted entertaining skit that requires little deep reflection afterwards.
For some fans that kind of movie may not be appealing due to its seeming lack of introspection. As one personally who has great appreciation for how the Marvel movies all generally connect together to form a larger co-mingled “universe,” I’ll admit the Ant-Man series’ seeming isolation does not put it on the top of the list for my personal favorite Marvel films, which remains the “Thor” series.
Yet “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does an excellent job at clearly what is intended to do, which is to provide a large serving of Marvel comedy spiced with a little drama and action. Peyton Reed, Kevin Feige, and Stephen Broussard did an excellent job with this spin-off and Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all made excellent performances that showed you how comfortable they have become with their characters.
There are some plot twists and turns, as well as intellectual fascinations as will naturally happen when the movie revolves around the “quantum realm.” Supporting character roles played by Michael Peña, Randall Park, and, a favorite music artist of mine, T.I., were natural and incredible comedy both each individually and as a collective chorus. The anti-hero role played by Hannah John-Kamen was clever, strong, and impactful.
While not one of the crown jewels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a sidebar “Ant-Man and the Wasp” nonetheless remains worth the ticket price and watch as a de-stressor as we lead up, with “Captain Marvel” still coming up in-between, to the undoubtedly world-hitting drama of “Avengers 4.”
The Marvel movies have captured much of the public mind in recent years, scoring tens of billions of dollars at the box office and entertaining a wide array of audiences. However except for the occasional break such as “Deadpool,” as well as their recent cliffhanger and dark turns, they’ve largely followed a “happily-ever-after…till the next movie” model that plays to a positive optimism.
I recently had the chance to watch one of Marvel’s many derivative television series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” produced by ABC and Marvel Television, which takes a completely different turn from the primary movies. It is much more gritty and “real,” as in incorporating more of the realities of the nature of military action even amid the science fiction premises.
At now over 110 episodes and 5 seasons, since its pilot in September 2013 its seasons have earned Nielsen ratings of between 3.5 to 8.5 million. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, it stars the Marvel-favorite Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Luke Mitchell, Brett Dalton, Henry Simmons, Ming-Na Wen, and many more.
One reason why the list of starring characters is difficult to fully list is because of the boldness of the series in doing something that the Marvel movies have often refrained from, namely “killing off” its heroes or other main characters.
Though the series’ premises are obviously science fiction, the series itself does not hesitate in engaging in far more realistic action sequences and storyline developments.
“Good” and “evil” characters do not engage as much in standard movie monologues, rather with the action and deaths happening quickly. Casualties happen, on both sides, with them sometimes as sudden and without prior sentiment as they would be on a battlefield.
There are few Star Wars “Luke vs. Stormtroopers” style “one hero against a battalion” scenes, rather with a far more sensible interplay of the factors involved in the tactical and strategic situations. Action series and choreographed fights are particularly impressive, especially because they embrace a greater element of realism than their standard movie counterparts.
The very nature of “good” and “evil” becomes completely confused as well, as a constant series of frequent betrayals, gray areas, tough decisions, and other complexities make it unclear who is outright “good” and “bad,” even with the series’ heroes.
While there are many action and science-fiction series out there, that Marvel has chosen to begun embracing this variant is a stunning switch in typical cinema and entertainment storylines for such a popular franchise of general interest.
When you take “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and contrast it to the movies, other fascinating and worthwhile deviations become apparent as well. The “realism” of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stands in stark contrast to the nature of movies such as “Thor” whose very scenario describes the story of a large and accessible universe (literally) and “Gods” who act in it. The characters of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feel small in comparison, just people trying to do their part amid enormous events and persons moving above their head.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” remains intertwined with the Marvel movies themselves, such as greatly expanding upon the “Hydra” war storyline that begun in movies such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” When events happen in the movies, they often have impacts on the television series too.
Yet beyond the extraordinarily writing and production, the series also has sociocultural and political impact within itself. The series has been noted for the bold moves it has made in its truly diverse and empowered cast, yet also not pointing that out but rather accepting it as a seamless normal.
In a Hollywood that has often faced criticism over its unwillingness to explore diverse and empowered casts due to worries over audience reaction and market performance, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown that you can do it effectively, and profitably, without making it seem awkward or forced.
I greatly enjoyed watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and am excited to see where the series continues to develop, amid Marvel’s large current expanded universe of other successful television series such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and more. I am also excited however for the impact of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has on the broader entertainment production community and the push towards embracing all the talent our country has to offer.
The Sarah Huckabee Sanders Incident A Sign Of Both Overpoliticization And Our Coarsening National Spirit
One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that all people of fame, wealth, or power are, in the end, people too. Whether CEO or politician, actor or famed scientist, they go about their days like many of us do, experience the ups and downs, run errands, and eat.
A person of current public attention in the United States last Friday decided to eat dinner at a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. That person, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, was then informed by the owners of the establishment that she was to leave, as they would refuse to serve her because of her political work.
Just a few days prior a similar situation happened in Washington, D.C. as Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen was protested as she dined too. A few weeks ago Fox News Contributor Tomi Lahren also was heckled for her political beliefs, and even had a glass of water thrown at her, while she was out for food with her parents.
We live in a country that deeply embraces freedom of speech and with as contentious the issues as are currently in play in our policy discourse there are many opinions to be heard. Nonetheless, when we allow our politics to overflow from their proper channels to the broader society at large, only bad things can possibly happen.
The coarseness and hyperpolarization of our discourse is something that has been long discussed. However another increasingly worrying trend is the politicization of everything, from what we eat to what we wear, from the cars we drive to where we shop.
When that begins to spill over to our daily lives, and where confrontational protests, sometimes physical, become normalized and encouraged, it seems to create potential gain for short-term political priorities at risk of longer-term decay and radicalization.
Where true and major injustice exists, we should do what we can to push against it. Indeed, throughout history that is what those ranging from great patriots to ordinary citizens have done.
However the issues that currently fill our political discourse are not horrific terrors that merit such harsh reaction, but rather merely regular policy proposals that have been distorted to create over-excitement among our people.
No matter what is said, it is simply incomprehensible and blatantly disgraceful to compare the great injustices of the past worth all-out battling with debates such as business tax legislation and global trade policy.
If some radical partisans terrorize the other side for merely expressing differing policy opinions within still the grand umbrella of American republican and constitutional political philosophy, then how will our country ever be able to engage in serious civic discourse?
The natural logic of silencing differing views in such an authoritarian fashion is that eventually the range of acceptable viewpoints eventually becomes narrower and narrower, and soon we find that even expressing sensible alternatives or disagreement is met with similar force as to truly distasteful ideas.
In the process, not only are the policy and societal benefits of republican governance and democratic debate quelled, but the line between worthwhile alternatives and radical ideas blurred.
In my many years of work in politics and government I am aware that those radicals who disrupt and cause a ruckus are a tiny, tiny group in our large country – perhaps no more than even just 5%, combining them on both the far left and far right. They seem more prominent than they are because their disturbances create media attention and they try to garner the power of a small but skilled and precise force, but they lack even the remotest popular general support.
If the rest of the population is willing to simply shut out the social-media-mob leaders and professional protesters, we’ll realize they actually are infinitesimal in true number and gain their power only from fear and intimidation. They themselves may often be too lost to be worth our time, but for our society as a whole we can still fix ourselves of this scourge that has been corrupting our national spirit.
Earlier this month Google announced it would not be renewing its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for Project Maven. Caving after thousands of employees signed a petition against the project and after initially standing by it, in doing so Google gave in to putting immediate self-interest above their call to serve the country.
Project Maven is an AI-imaging project intended to improve the military’s ability to process images and videos taken by drones. In doing so, drones will be better able to collect information, be more accurate, and thus reduce collateral damage from drone strikes significantly.
The technology may be controversial in some ways, but in the end it’s intended to both protect civilian lives and to support American national security. The technology will be eventually developed anyway, and given America’s reliance on drone technology and air superiority it remains essential for our country to have it developed early on.
Though there are many other top-notch technology companies working with the military, Google’s abandonment of the project after their contract expires in 2019 both hinders the immediate development of the project and creates larger negative cultural ripples.
As noted tech entrepreneur and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently described in a scathing op-ed, Google “bowed to pressure instead of standing up for our country…[it was] a defeat for U.S. national security, patriotism, and the cause of limiting civilian casualties in war.”
Google is at the same time engaging in numerous data-sharing partnerships with major Chinese technology corporations, which are all closely linked to the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has in recent years engaged in numerous technology attacks on the United States, such as the series of hacks on the federal government revealed in 2015 that the personal and security information of tens of millions of Americans.
It appears that Google is abandoning assisting America’s security and defense at the slightest blowback but has continued to assist one of America’s foremost rivals. Congress has not missed this questionable series of actions, recently engaging in bipartisan criticism and investigation of Google’s data relationships with China.
At a time when technology companies are facing general public and policy scrutiny over their data practices and platform content moderation, Google’s actions could barely come at a worse time for their general perception.
A major HarrisX survey in April found widespread interest in the United States for putting a variety of regulations on technology company practices. Google’s refusal to step up to providing for the country that has created and nurtured them to their roughly $800 billion market capitalization is outrageous, dishonorable, and despicable.
As attorney and political columnist Kurt Schlichter recently said on Fox Business in response to Google’s actions, “[e]very American should do everything they can to support our country’s defense...[w]hen your country calls, the only response is 'sir, yes sir'.”
We each have a lot to contribute in our own ways to the national good. Google, as a technology innovator in artificial intelligence, software, Internet services, and other frontier technologies could give our nation’s military and government a major boost in capabilities.
That Google does not choose to contribute to such an essential project they are especially suited for, and creating a climate that may make it more difficult for our nation’s military to better cooperate with technology companies, is a violation of their duty to this country.
In the meantime, there are many other technology companies intensely working for the public good and serving our nation’s government and military with devotion, including Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Apple, Oracle, and many more. Amid all the criticism of technology companies, it is worth remembering the immense good they are creating and contributing towards as well.
Technology companies are still businesses, and they respond to market sentiment and pressures. It is my hope that Americans will step up and show technology companies that the blowback from a few is not comparable to the support of the many patriots of all stripes across this land, as the small part we can play.
It’s been a long time since a common rite of passage among our nation’s men was to put on a uniform and defend your nation, community, and family. Yet at a time of increasing hyperpolarization in our country, as well as the deteriorating state of our nation’s youth in mind, body, and soul, national military service may be an idea worth considering once again.
National service has been ever-present in our country’s history. From militias in the Revolutionary War era to the wartime drafts in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, to peacetime drafts through various parts of our nation’s past.
The legacy from those eras of conscription still remain in the form of the Selective Service system, which many of us remember being notified that we needed to register for upon reaching age 18.
The Selective Service system also has been the subject of debate in recent years, as many persons have considered whether women should register for it as well - such as during the 2016 Presidential election when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called for such.
Among other republics and democracies in the world national service is relatively common, from the nations of Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Asia to South America. Conscription began falling out of favor since the end of the Cold War, as the general state of worry over military conflict faded.
Yet in recent years conscription has made a comeback. French President Macron has been trying to reintroduce military conscription in order to “foster patriotism and heal social divisions.” Norway recently expanded its military conscription in 2016 to include women, as Sweden has now re-introduced conscription as well.
Perhaps the most noted military conscription program is that of Israel, which requires all men and women to serve about two years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with few exceptions. While brought about by military necessity, it has also cultivated an Israeli citizenry that has the character, grit, and sense of duty to keep their nation thriving.
It used to be that way in America, as serving in the military was a relatively common experience. In 1980, veterans totaled 18% of adults in the United States. In contrast, by 2016 that number had fallen to 7%.
At a time when our nation is reeling from divisions along seemingly every line possible, it is worth considering a common and shared experience as national service to reconnect our country together. The benefits are very clear in other nations, as despite often no overt military conflict conscription still provides a variety of security and social benefits to the country.
Undoubtedly the implementation of a conscription program, not seen in our nation for almost half a century, would be difficult initially. Not only have the times and culture changed, but so has the very nature of our armed forces.
Our military nowadays is an extremely high-tech organization and finding how to best utilize the massive manpower from our almost 330 million person nation would require careful delineation.
Furthermore, many of our nation’s youth, estimated currently at 71% of those between the ages of 17 and 24, are grossly unfit for military service. Creating a new conscript category and integrating them usefully into the nation’s military would be challenging, but given how seemingly every other nation is able to do it effectively we undoubtedly can find a way to as well.
The idea of national service would undoubtedly require a significant period of pilot programs and testing. The idea has been proposed frequently in the national discourse throughout the years and particularly during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. It is a big, nation-changing policy that certainly, if it gets further traction and consideration, would be a serious national debate.
National service is a very realistic program that could do a lot in solving many of our nation’s otherwise seemingly unsolvable problems, as well as reigniting reflection on the meaning of citizenry in a republic.
I think it is worth considering at our present time, as, although it seems a big change, nonetheless could revive our American spirit and heal our nation in an extraordinary way.
This past month the long-hyped “Avengers: Infinity War” hit theaters across the world, grossing over $1.85 billion and earning its place amongst the top-selling films of all times. The nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), directed by the Russo brothers and distributed by Disney, it was sold to the public as the culmination of the prior Marvel films’ story arcs.
As reports have demonstrated, it has left audiences as shocked as the suspense leading up to it led the public to believe they would be. With a 92% audience rating at movie-rating site Rotten Tomatoes, fans widely praised the smooth integration of many popular characters from past movies, the boldness of story arcs, and were floored by the ending.
The sequel will be coming out in April 2019, leaving viewers an entire year to wonder whatever possible more storylines and conclusions the Russo brothers may have in mind.
The Marvel movies take their inspiration from a comic book series that truly came into a recognizable form to its modern iteration in the 1960’s. Since then it has also spawned a variety of other entertainment products ranging from video games to television series to toy figures.
It was the unveiling of the Avengers movie series that truly brought the series to a broader mass audience, beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008 directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric billionaire tech-genius Tony Stark.
Since then, it seems like every year there has been a film or two expanding on the endless series of content packed into decades of tangled Marvel storytelling. From 2011’s “Thor” starring Chris Hemsworth, 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” to this year’s blockbuster “Black Panther,” every movie has steadily built up its own profitability, production mechanics, and public brand.
Few movie franchises have achieved what Marvel has done this past decade in consistently producing a series of memorable and high-grossing films. The only franchises that come even close are the eight “The Fast and the Furious” movies from 2001 to 2017, the eight “Harry Potter” films from 2011 to 2011, and the roughly 26 “James Bond” films from 1962 to 2015.
In the future it is doubtless that Marvel will continue producing live-action cinematic and television series, as their “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has also done very well since 2013.
While in the past the Marvel series, as all entertainment and creative stories, have faced a variety of rights issues over intellectual property, they’ve now consolidated enough to give Disney a powerful ability to continue to generate both entertainment content for both the general public and particular audiences for many years to come.
It initially seems strange that comic book stories could so captivate the imagination, attention, and money of so much of the public at large. This is particularly so when we’ve seen the movies from the “DC Comics” universe, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more, not perform as well in comparison, with occasional exceptions.
To compare, since DC films began being released in the 1970’s, in recent years mostly owned by Time Warner’s Warner Bros., the 33 films have brought in $9.6 billion in box office gross on a combined budget of $3.2 billion for a profit of roughly $6.4 billion.
In contrast, Marvel’s 19 films since 2008 have brought in $16.7 billion on a budget of $3.7 billion for a profit of roughly $13 billion.
We saw this most prominently in 2017’s “Justice League” movie, which acted in a similar way to the “Avengers” movie as a culmination film bringing together many characters. It only grossed $658 million on a budget of $300 million, compared to the 2012 “The Avengers” gross of $1.52 billion on a budget of $220 million, let alone this year’s “Infinity War.”
It is great for our country that we have such a fascinating and inspiring source of entertainment and thought from the Marvel and DC story universes. The film production studios have also done an incredible job in taking the content and making them into lasting modern works of art, using everything from increasingly advanced computer-generated imagery (CGI) to the best cast of actors and staff in the world.
Every day on the road we pass by them. Trucks, bearing the logos and cargo of companies in industries ranging from manufacturing to food, consumer goods to raw materials, each day traverse the seemingly endless thousands of miles of road in our nation to fill our stores and homes with their goods.
It’s an industry that many of us do not give much thought to unless we have direct contact with the trucking sector. The work is largely done behind the scenes, beyond the brief public view as we see their mammoth vehicles roll alongside us on the roads. Yet it’s an industry that affects nearly everyone to a quite significant degree, as well as our economy at large.
In 2016 trucking freight revenues accounted for over $738.9 billion in the United States. Over 10.55 billion tons was transported by over 3.5 million truck drivers.
I recently had the chance to look over a particular policy issue that’s been affecting the trucking industry, specifically the implementation of an “Electronic Log Device” requirement and the schedule that must be followed from it.
The federal rule, implemented in 2015 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and only beginning to be enforced in recent months, has caused already a wide array of complaints across the trucking sector due to its rigidity and disconnection from the realties of how the business is run.
Even a small violation can get a trucker in trouble and put a company out of business, due to the log lacking fluidity for breaks, loading, unloading, traffic jams, and more.
On a broader scale, it appears that the rule was implemented as well with only a little input from the trucking associations but almost nothing from truckers themselves, who are exposed to the realities of the business on a daily basis.
The rule was well-intentioned in tracking the driving time of truck drivers in a bid to prevent over-work and thus both abusing the driver and increasing road accidents from tired workers.
However the precise nature of its implementation appears to be resulting in significant small business disruption, inefficiencies, and even potentially a tragically ironic increase in traffic incidents as drivers are rushed in attempting to conform to the ELD log’s absolute requirements.
Wider potential ripple effects including effects on the prices of food, consumer goods of every sort, industry, and just about every industry that relies on trucking, which constitutes about 70%, as compared to trains, planes, cars, and ships, of freight transportation in the United States.
I think this ELD trucking issue illustrates one of the big difficulties the policy process has always wrangled with, which is how to best understand the actual situations that are being regulated and the results of policies as compared to theoretical reasoning.
The federal rulemaking process incorporates industry feedback as well as general public comment, but as one person with whom I recently discussed the ELD issue with mentioned “Truck drivers don’t sit around reading the Federal Register,” with the Federal Register being a place where rule notices are published.
The wide array of industry and association groups are always busy in trying to bring their constituents’ concerns and hopes to the consideration of policymakers, whether on the executive side or the legislative side. Yet even here it is an imperfect process, and one that faces an extraordinarily complex and rapidly changing labyrinth world.
Undoubtedly the ELD rule will eventually find a fix, as many other particular regulations do in the constantly grinding gears of Washington D.C. and our state and local representative and administrative governments as well.
Nonetheless, this trucking regulatory mishap that is having a wide array of unintended effects shows the importance of citizen engagement. Citizen engagement is required both by the people themselves as well as needs to be considered and respected by those in policymaking power. That is the ideal of self-government, and one that constantly needs refreshment and renewal.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.