I Am In Pain.

Before yesterday, I was in pain. Pain, because the weather had prevented me from jumping for the last month. It's been rainy and cloudy for weeks and hanging out at the drop zone all day, watching the drizzle and listening to the pilots talk shit about their aviation exploits as we waited for a half hour break in the clouds didn't appeal to me. Thus I've been grounded for a while.

Today I'm in pain because on my second jump my canopy took mere two-hundred feet to deploy rather than it's usual eight-hundred.

A lot of things can affect how a parachute opens: canopy design, packing method, body position, relative wind and dumb luck being foremost among them. Maybe the slider wasn't quartered properly. Perhaps I wasn't fully out of the track position when I pitched. It's possible I hit a thermal as the bag came out of the container and the relative wind was much faster than I realized.
Point is, going from one-hundred and twenty miles per hour to fourteen in under a second feels a touch like getting hit by a car. Not a big car mind you, but perhaps a Geo, or a 323. You also end up carrying most of that force through the leg straps. I'm now actively wondering if I'll ever father children.

So, how was your day?

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And Some Days...

It feels like the last week of your senior year, with so much to do that doesn't seem like it's worth the bother and all you can do is wonder what freedom is really like because it isn't just summer vacation that's coming up so quickly.

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I Pissed on a Republican (not what you think)

I hang out at an Irish pub. Granted, I'm about as Irish as Kim Jong Il but they have live music six nights a week and I'm friends with most of the staff.

Last week I found that someone had scrawled the words "Sinn Fein" on the wall of the men's room in double-thick black sharpie.

I'm not bothered by graffiti. I live in a major metropolis, graffiti is a fact of life. I am bothered by the fact that this particular vandal is either a major idiot or a complete asshole.

The owner of the bar is an Anglican from Belfast. He is pro-English. He forbids performers from singing revolution songs. He currently has a cousin serving in Her Majesty's Royal Marines. He is not a "we ourselves" kind of guy. Most of the patrons who bother to have an opinion on the subject are Unionists, not Republicans.

Possibility 1: This guy's an Idiot.
It's possible that the fellow with the marker didn't know the politics of the bar and was legitimately trying to manifest his ethnic pride, assuming that people who frequented an Irish pub would share the proclivities of Ireland proper. Though, really, if you've going to commit an act of vandalism pursuant to the longest and most intractable cultural conflict in western Europe, you might want to find out who's side the people around you are on.

Possibility 2: The guy's an Asshole.
It's also possible that he did know the politics of the bar and decided to tag the wall anyway, which is not cool. This is a conflict that predates the discovery of the Americas. It defines the politics of Great Britain and Ireland and impacts the daily lives of nearly everyone in that part of the world. A share of those people have emigrated to the US, far from that strife, and now frequent this bar. Some guy brought that animosity the breadth of an ocean and turned it into a doodle over a urinal. Yeah, that guy's an asshole.

Blarney & Bollocks.

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And Some Days...

You spend the afternoon in the rain, wandering the woods, hearing pipes, drinking beer, hobnobbing with pirates and marveling at how much bigger a part of your life this used to be.

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Movies Are Like Cars

Looking back, I'm often amazed at how little of what I learned in film school is applicable to the practical realities of producing motion pictures. I spent nearly five years reading Bazin, Benjamin, Mulvey and Schatz, thousands of hours hearing long-winded cult-stud types get all gooey over D.W. Griffith, John Ford and the French New Wave. Mostly, I heard ruminating blow-hards go on at great length about how the drive to turn a profit corrupts the art of film.

And they are absolutely wrong about that.

The problem with most film critics, most of whom don't even seem to like movies in the first place, is that they implicitly include movies with, as Walter Benjamin called them, the "Contemplative Arts."* They're comparing film to sculpture, painting or live opera. They're trying to judge Birth of a Nation, Chinatown and Jaws against "The Last Supper," "Oedipus Rex," and The Pietà and they always seem disappointed. This is because they have it bass-ackwards.

There's a reason we call it the "Movie Business." Going all the back to Edison, the Lumières and the Nickelodeons, movies were a profit making enterprise first and a means of expression second. That having been said, the art of film is powerful and profound. It's the defining artistic medium of the last hundred years and it is not to be dismissed. We just need to think about it a little differently.

Rather than thinking of film, as most academics do, as an art form that must operate in spite of it's profit motive, think of film as an industry that is enhanced by artistry.

Strange as it sounds, the best comparison I can make is to the automotive industry. The similarities between movies and cars are actually kind of amazing. They're both expensive and labor intensive to produce with long turnaround times and they're both consumed by nearly every person in the United States. They are both industrial-era technologies. They're both innate to the modern American experience and the US has dominated both industries for a substantial part of the last century. Most importantly, they are both an inseparable fusion of art and commerce.

Herein lies the problem; we think about Benjamin Button as if it were a painting by Van Gogh when we should be thinking about it as if it were a Ford Mustang.

Think for a minute about the Ford Mustang, or the Chevy Camaro, or the Volkswagon Beetle or any other iconic car that suits your fancy. It is rigorously engineered and contientiously crafted. It is aesthetically pleasing. It was designed to be admired, to evoke feeling, to create a specific kind of experience. It has huge cache in American culture. It is a work of art in any reasonable sense of the term.

Absolutely no one is under the illusion that Ford is in it for the art. To even suggest so would be ludicrous. The recent tribulations of the automotive industry notwithstanding, Ford is a for-profit enterprise and, though they produce emotionally evocative and culturally relevant pieces of American iconography, no one begrudges them the fact that they are distinctly a business.

We need to think about movies in similar terms. This is the film industry and our imperative is to produce a product that makes money. The fantastic thing is that, like only a handful of other industries, sometimes we produce something really special, something that turns heads, changes minds and that becomes part of history. Mind you, usually we don't. Neither does Ford. For every Mustang, every Godfather, every 2001, there are dozens of Tauruses, Rangers, Tango & Cash's, Species and formulaic sequels that get made because they are as practical and profitable as they are forgettable.

We don't expect every car to be as iconic as the Mustang. Why did my film professors expect every film to be as brilliant as Citizen Kane?

*See, I really did go to film school, in case you thought I was bullshitting.

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I Shall Stay 'til the Wind Changes

John and I did a connected, exterior exit and hit the 2 man star while still on the hill.

As soon as we leveled out we W tracked to the right into a closed accordion, 1 point.

We tracked out and each 180'd back into the star, 2nd point.

W track left to a closed accordion, 3rd point.

Track out and 180 back to the star, 4th point.

W Track to the right closed accordion, 5th point.

Track out and 180 back into a 2 man star, 6th point.

We're at Five thousand feet so we break to track off for deployment and here's where things get sticky.

Normally, one tracks perpendicular to the line of flight to avoid getting in the way of other jumpers. One knows the line of flight because the line of flight is parallel to the runway except, at break off time, I can't see the runway. I have no idea where the hell we are. So I turn 180 degrees from John and I track away from him. I deploy and my chute snivels for 1200 feet.

I'm full open, square, stable, steerable by 2200 feet but I have no idea where the airport is.

Oh, there it is, on the horizon, nearly three miles away. Can I make it back, downwind, in full flight all the way? I realize at a thousand feet that, no, the best I can aim for is the parking lot and that will require me flying over 300 yards of pine forest and a set of industrial power lines at low altitude.

Right beneath me is an open meadow so, fuckit, I'm landing here. I turn into the wind and, on the assumption that the grass is four to eight inches tall, I flare for landing. I then realize that the grass is actually about five feet tall. Commit, commit, commit to that landing ... and I stand it up, in neck-high grass.

I, very gingerly, gather up my canopy and then shimmy out of my jumpsuit enough to get my cell phone out of my pocket. I call for a lift. A few minutes later Don rolls through in his truck to pick me up and drive me the mile or so back to the hangar.

And it was such a good dive, too.

So, 6 point freefall on jump 61, hell fucking yeah! Landing in another municipality, not so great.

I did make another jump later that day that I stood up directly on target, so, s'allgood.

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Why President Obama Should Not Prosecute for Torture

So the sins of the 9/11 era are confessed. Our country not only condoned but actually engaged in the torture of human beings. After nearly a decade of hand wringing, legal maneuvering and linguistic obfuscation we've finally come to call it what it is.

Obama, by a stroke of political savvy that no one seems able to comprehend, is going to let the perpetrators walk and quite a few of my ideological brethren are up in arms. So there's no confusion, I'm going to put this plainly. Letting the senior members of the Bush administration who ordered and condoned torture go unpunished is the right thing to do for the country.

I am not apologizing for them. I am not endorsing them. Every person involved from the CIA agent with the wet towel to Donald Rumsfeld to Alberto Gonzalez to George W. Bush, himself, are reprehensible human beings who perpetrated unforgivable acts. In a perfect world, in a world where what is right and what is wrong trump all other concerns, they would all spend the rest of their lives in prison.

We don't live in that world.

The Presidency of the United States, by it's very nature, is a touchy job. Beyond the tribulations of any head of state, outside the vagaries of the election cycle, irrespective of party politics, the President must walk a very fine line. The powers of the executive are so broad sweeping, so poorly defined and so often called upon that a legally flawless presidency is functionally impossible.

Any administration in living memory, when closely scrutinized, will prove to have committed acts that are impeachable or prosecutable under some valid interpretation of the law. More simply, we can send any former president, any former cabinet member to jail if we look hard enough for a reason. I freely grant that, in the case of the last president, we don't need to look very hard but that's not the point.

We musn't set the precedent that an incoming executive be expected to prosecute the misdeeds of the one before lest that become the very business of the office, lest every change of party become a five year legal fiasco that wastes hundreds of millions of dollars and does little but distract the country from the business of nation-hood. Doing so would paralyze the office, forcing each president to consider billion-dollar, life & death decisions against the machinations of an army of partisan attorneys just waiting to pounce the last week of every fourth January. Such a precedent could bring the executive branch to a standstill.

It hurts a bit to come to this conclusion. I want these people to go to jail. I want them to pay for robbing my country of its dignity. I want them to be punished for harming their fellow humans. The more practical part of me knows that, sometimes, the the system by which we order justice is more important than a particular instance of it's application. That part of me knows that, at least on this occasion, the most moral choice is not for the greater good.

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