Movie Trailer: “Batkid Begins”

Batkid_beginsOnce in awhile, a story comes along that warms your heart and restores your faith in humanity. And after reading and writing so much about morally ambiguous things or scary developments, this is one that I was happy to share! This past November, in what was an online media circus,  25,000 people showed up to watch a five year-old boy cruise around San Fransisco in a Batman costume and a Lamborghini with the logo on the hood.

After doing battle with his enemies – which included the Riddler and the Penguin – “Batkid” was taken to City Hall where he received the key to the city from the mayor. The city spent $105,000 on the event – covering things like speakers, a big screen at city hall, and cleanup crews – and everyone from Barack Obama to Britney Spears expressed their heartwarming support for the costume-clad Batkid.

Batkid_begins2This massive effort, which was a viral media sensation, was orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Miles Scott, a five-year who has spent half his life struggling with leukemia. Having finished his course of chemotherapy, it was Scott’s dream to be Batman for a day. And now, a documentary called Batkid Begins, is retelling the story of Batkid, the Scott family, and how one kid’s wish went viral.

Director Dana Nachman has already raised nearly $40,000 (of her goal of $100,000) on Indiegogo to fund production. A one-time journalist, Nachman has made three films prior to this that were, in her own words, quite dark. As she explains:

I was looking for my next film to be uplifting. I didn’t even know about Batkid until after it happened, and I blown away that I had missed it, and was just so touched by the outpouring of support for this child.

Through a friend at NBC, where she formerly worked, Nachman was able to get a meeting with Make-a-Wish, which had already been approached by others wanting to do Batkid documentaries. Though Scott’s family had been reticent to do much press surrounding the Batkid event, they offered to work with Nachman on the film. After making their son’s wish come true, the Scott family hopes to raise awareness about the Foundation and the work it does.

Batkid_begins3The three-act story will start with a focus on Scott and his experiences, segueing into the lead-up to the event itself as it went viral and everyone scrambled to keep up with the momentum. The third act will focus on the event itself, which involved Miles rescuing a damsel in distress from the train tracks, stopping the Penguin from kidnapping the San Francisco Giants seal mascot, and getting the key to the city from the mayor.

And though it might have seemed like the event was a media circus all on its own, it actually had quite the helping hand. The event went viral thanks in large part to the Clever Girls Collective, a content and social media agency that volunteered its time. As Nachman explained:

To me what’s interesting is that everyone approached for the [Batkid event] said, ‘Yes, I’ll participate and I’ll make it even cooler by doing this, this, and this.’ That’s the message of the film to me: ‘Yes, and.’ If I had my dream, that would be the title of it, but I think it’s a little too esoteric.

Batkid_begins1The $100,000 in funding that Nachman hopes to collect on Indiegogo will help out with animations, a soundtrack, and other production assets. A rough cut will be ready by the one-year anniversary of the Batkid event (this coming November), and the film will likely premiere early next year.I don’t know about you, but… a young boy who had a brush with death getting to live out his dream of being a superhero? I’m certainly going to see it! You got Miles Scott!

And in the meantime, check out the trailer for this heartwarming documentary below:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

In Remembrance of D-Day

operation-overlord Today marks a truly historic anniversary, one which I’ve been hoping to talk about ever since I got back from Europe. You see, in addition to being the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities in World War I, 2014 also marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe in World War II. And it is today, on June 6th, that this began with the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day. Codenamed Operation Overlord, this campaign was the beginning of the end for Hitler and his Third Reich.

I consider myself a very lucky person since this past April, I was able to see where much of this Operation took place. In addition to some of the beaches where the initial landings occurred, we also got the see the French countryside where the greatest amphibious invasion in history would extend into one of the greatest military campaigns of all time. And while doing this, we got to establish a personal connection by learning about how some of our family member died during and shortly after that “Day of days”.

Operation_OverlordPreparations:
Planning for this invasion –  which involved a 1,200-plane airborne assault , preceded an amphibious assault involving over 5,000 vessels and Nearly 160,000 troops – began in earnest in 1940 after the fall of France. But with the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Allies found themselves under increasing pressure to open a “Second Front” in Europe. But logistics, and concerns over heavy casualties, delayed any such operation for a full three years.

Having learned the lesson of Dieppe, the Allies knew that any assault on the German-held coast of France would depend heavily on three major items. For starters, it would require sufficient manpower and support to succeed in making an initial landing. Second, it would require a functional port facility to ensure that supplies could make it into the foothold, once established. And third, it would require extreme secrecy to ensure that the Allied landings would achieve the element of surprise.

dieppe-dsThis is not to say that plans for an earlier invasion were not considered. In fact, in 1942, then Brigadier-General Dwight Eisenhower drew up  a formal plan to land an invasion force on the broad beachheads between Boulogne and Le Havre in north-eastern France. Reflecting American enthusiasm for an early entry into Europe, as well as a desire to reduce pressure on Soviet Forces in the East, the plan was shot down by Churchill and British military planners who saw it as unrealistic.

A second plan was also suggested for an early entry into Europe that year, which was known as Operation Sledgehammer. As a contingency to Roundup, this plan called for Allied forces to seize the French ports of either Brest or Cherbourg during the early autumn of 1942 along with areas of the Cotentin Peninsula. They were then to amass troops for a breakout the spring of 1943, coinciding with the Roundup landings farther to the east, and then move south into France.

ItalySalernoInvasion1943Wanting to avoid a costly confrontation similar to the Somme in World War I, Churchill advised that they focus instead on the Meditteranea. Much like the plan to strike at the enemy’s “soft underbelly” by landing in Galipoli and Southern Europe in World War I, this alternative seemed like a good way to strike at the Axis where they were weakest. Following the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, this plan of attack began with the invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943 and the Italian mainland by September.

These operations provided the Allied troops with valuable experience in amphibious warfare. What’s more, the ill-fated operation at Anzio (Operation Shingle) in January of 1944 provided some additional lessons of what not to do during an invasion. Here, the Allied commander had failed to take advantage of the element of surprise and waited to consolidate his forces before attempting a breakout. As a result, a German counter-attack succeeding in eroding the beachhead until operations further south forced the Germans to withdraw.

Overlord:
D-DayWith all these lessons learned and preparations now complete, the Allies began to plan for the invasion of France in detail. The operation – dubbed “Overlord” – called for an amphibious invasion of five beachheads along the Normandy Coast. While the American 1st Army (under Gen. Omar Bradley) would land in the Western Sector at Omaha and Utah, the British 2nd Army (under Gen. Dempsey) would land These would be preceded by massive aerial and naval bombardment, plus the airborne landing of thousands of paratroopers in the interior.

The landings were to be preceded by airborne drops in the Normandy countryside, which were to be carried out by the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. The landing would take place near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges, and north of Carentan on the western flank. The initial goal was to capture Carentan, Isigny, Bayeux, and Caen and take control of key crossroads and bridges to prevent the Germans from mobilizing a counterattack against the Allied beachhead landings.

airborne_troopsOnce ashore, the Americans would advance inland from Omaha and Utah to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. From Sword, Gold and Juno Beaches, the British and Canadians would capture Caen and form a front line to protect the American flank, while establishing airfields near Caen. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give the Anglo-Canadians a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the town of Falaise.

With Normandy and the Contentin secured, the Allies would drive east to the Seine River and the liberation of Paris, which Montgomery envisioned would take 90 days. And to address the issue of supplies, the Allies also committed to building two artificial harbors (known as Mulberry Harbors) that would be transported across the English Channel and placed at the Omaha and Gold Beaches. From these, the Allies would be able to keep the supplies flowing until Cherbourg and other port facilities were secured along the coast.

MulberryB_-_PiersAnd in the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial campaign of military deception, codenamed Operation Fortitude. Using both electronic and visual misinformation, and passing on intelligence through double-agents, the Allies were able to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main landings. The Normandy invasion, according to this misinformation, was merely a feint designed to lure German divisions away from the real landing site – the Pas de Calais region.

To really sell the Germans on this fake plan, a phoney army was commissioned at Dover, England. Here, real military units were stationed alongside artificial tanks and trucks to create the illusion of second, larger landing force that was preparing to land off the coast at Pas de Calais. General Patton, whom the German High Command still believed to be the Allies top general, was put in command of this phoney army. As a result, much of the German army would remain at Pas de Calais to defend against Patton’s supposed attack, even as the Normandy landings were taking place.

D-Day bomber dropping load 416thbg-a20-d-day 2013 6-5On June 5th, minesweepers began clearing lanes across the English Channel for the invasion, and troops began to load onto their ships from twenty departure points along the southern tip of England. The ships met at a rendezvous point nicknamed “Piccadilly Circus” south-east of the Isle of Wight to assemble into convoys to cross the Channel, and a thousand bombers and aircraft left before dawn to attack the coastal defences and drop airborne troops behind enemy lines. The invasion had begun!

D-Day:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

—Eisenhower, Letter to Allied Forces

On the dawn of June 6th, preliminary naval bombardment from five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors commenced. Their guns began firing at 05:45 am and continuing until 06:25 am. Five minutes later, infantry began arriving on the beaches in all five sectors. At Utah and Sword, resistance was light and the landings successful, and Allied units were able to make it shore with minor losses. At Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Point-de-Hoc, things did not go as planned.

ww2_dday_landingIn all of these cases, resistance proved stiff and the landings were complicated by high wind and choppy seas. At Point-de-Hoc, where the Rangers were tasked with seizing several coastal batteries, they managed to reach the top of the cliffs while under enemy fire, only to find that the German guns had been moved ahead of time. At Juno and Gold, British and Canadian forces experienced a tough fight as they were initially forced to land and take out the German positions without armor support.

But the worst fighting took place at Omaha, where German machine gunners, firing from bunkers that had not been destroyed by the preliminary bombardment, and located atop sea bluffs, fired on the exposed landing craft and troops. To make matters worse, the 1st American Infantry Division faced an entire German Infantry Division, rather than the single regiment that was expected. Combat engineers were also unable to clear the beaches for their tanks, forcing the Americans to advance without armored support.

Canadian_Soldiers_Juno_Beach_TownIn the end, disaster was averted thanks to troops and engineers making their way up five gullies along the sea wall, which allowed them to outflank the bunkers and take out the German machinegunners. By early afternoon, all the beachheads were secured. By 16:00, the German 21st Panzer Division began mounting a counterattack between Sword and Juno, but met stiff resistance and were forced to pull back to defend the area between Bayeux and Caen. 

Farther inland, the Airborne drops also did not go as planned. For the 82nd Airborne Division in the east, several of their gliders crashed or were shot down and some 5,245 troopers were killed, wounded, or missing. In the west, the 101st Airborne’s landing were scattered due to unexpectedly high German anti-aircraft fire, and the division suffered some 1,240 men killed, wounded, or declared missing on that single day. However, in the days that followed, both divisions were able to consolidate, take their objectives, and fight off numerous counter-attacks by German troops.

omaha_beachAll told, Allied casualties on the first day of the invasion were at least 12,000 with 4,414 confirmed dead, compared to 1000 lost by the Germans. In addition, only the Canadian forces that had landed at Juno were able to achieve any of their D-Day objectives, which included the seizure of the towns of Autrie and Carpiquet and the high ground west of Caen. In addition, the Allied invasion plans called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, as well as the connection of all the bridgeheads. None of these objectives were achieved.

The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June; and Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until the 21st of July. However, as the old saying goes “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. And no one who witnessed the great undertaking – including the Germans – could say that the operation had not been a success. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than three million allied troops were in France by the end of August.

Kissing_the_War_GoodbyeLegacy of D-Day:
For all those involved and concerned, the invasion of Normandy was the beginning of the end of the war. Whereas the Germans had suffered multiple defeats in Russia, North Africa, Sicily and Italy – and already knew that they were not going to win the war – their defeat was not yet inevitable. When news had reached Hitler’s ears of the invasion, he was promptly advised that his only recourse was to “End the war”. Naturally, he did not, and it would be almost another year before the war officially ended.

But it was the sacrifices made by those many brave souls on this day some seventy-years ago that made the end of this terrible war inevitable. And so its only fitting that people all over the world are coming together to commemorate it. As I write this, countless veterans, civilians, and world leaders have converged on Normandy to pay their respects to the many soldiers and civilians who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy. This included some 1000 veterans who participated in Operation Overlord, the youngest of which are in their 80s.

dday-anniversaryNineteen world leaders were present at the event, including US President Obama, French President François Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Russian President Vladmir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president-elect. For some of these leaders, it is the first time they have met face to face since Russia annexed the Crimea, drawing condemnation and sanctions from the West.

It is good to see that seventy years later, people are able to overcome their differences and come together to reflect upon the lessons of history. Perhaps we can draw some inspiration from this and effect some change in the present as well. For those who lived through the Second World War, many of whom were old enough to remember the First World War, it was obvious that the world would not survive a third. Remembering the past is not only important since it made the present possible, its also intrinsic to avoiding the repeating of it.

Lest We Forget!

NASA’s Next-Gen Spacesuit

NASA_suitIt’s like something Buzz Lightyear would be seen in, minus the death ray laser. It’s called the Z-1 spacesuit, a prototype that NASA hopes to incorporate into their equipment lineup by 2015. Not only does this new design offer a wide range of advantages compared with the space agency’s previous suit – the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit – it also represents the first major overhaul in spacesuit technology since 1998.

For example, it boasts a rear-entry hatch which lets an astronaut put on the suit from the back, as opposed to putting on the top, bottom and helmet separately. This hatch also coincides with a feature known as the suit port, which allows the suit to be attached to the outside of a vehicle (such as a rover), thus allowing the astronaut to simply enter the suit from inside the vehicle. This is a big step from the current space suits which must be stored and put on internally.

I don't see a resemblance, do you?
I don’t see a resemblance, do you?

On top of that, the Z-1 excels in the areas of mobility and visibility. The former arises from the fact that the suit comes as a single piece rather than being made up of multiple segments. The larger, bubble dome helmet is what ensures that the astronauts has a better field of view. And finally, NASA plans to address the issue of life support through the portable PLSS 2.0 which condenses all life support systems into one package and does not need external components.

The PLSS 2.0 design also incorporates a massive bonus in the form of the Spacesuit Water Membrane Evaporator temperature regulator, which would actually make it possible for future astronauts to comfortably walk on extraterrestrial planets. According to NASA’s PLSS engineer Carly Watts, the PLSS 2.0 “can be used in a Martian environment. It can be frozen without damaging the unit, and it’s not particularly sensitive to contamination.” Good news for the astronauts heading to Mars in 2030, assuming the budget environment remains friendly after President Obama is no longer in power.

Check out this video of NASA Public Affairs Officer Brandi Dean talking with Cristina Anchondo, Z1 spacesuit test director, about the Z1 spacesuit at the Johnson Space Center.


Source: news.cnet.com

Obama Wins!

Yeah, I know I promised not to get into politics much on this site, but that’s a promise I’ve broken enough times now that I feel no one will be particularly surprised or disappointed. And as we all know, there are certain occasions which require us to break our usual set of rules and offer comment. And this is one occassion that I’m happy to talk about, even though it really didn’t come as that much of a surprise.

OBAMA HAS BEEN REELECTED!

That news is so positive that it deserves its own line and in all caps! And yes, all indications seemed to point to him winning a second term, but like many supporters, I was kind of holding my breath last night as the initial returns came in. It was a lucky thing that I had TKD class night, and that it was a sparring class. It was just the positive distraction I needed! And by the time I came home, I had heard that enough returns were in and that enough states were called that Obama could be declared the winner! It still took some time before all the votes were tabulated and it was also revealed that he carried the popular vote, but by then, the good news was complete!

And, as behooves me on this site, I can’t help but wonder (and speculate) how this will impact on our future. Needless to say, I am a lot more encouraged than I was a year ago, back when Obama was struggling to try and get a budget approved by a Congress that refused to even consider one unless be included steep austerity measures and made tax cuts permanent. It seemed that the GOP, which was fast becoming dominated by the Tea Party, had effectively been cornered by the same forces they helped create. It seemed entirely likely at this point that the government might actually fall, or at least it’s economy would collapse. Of course, disaster was averted, but not without consequences in the short term (the downgrading of America’s investment rating).

I seriously began to wonder at this point if a hard swing to the right was in our collective future. With Europe beginning to slip to the right thanks to their economy, immigration issues and the ongoing problems of climate change, all this news from south of the border began to trouble me. If both the EU and the US were to fall under the grips or right-wing parties, we would be seeing a political climate not unlike that of the 1930’s. Back then economic collapse had led to the rise of Fascism all over Europe, not just in Germany and Italy as is often maintained. And in this day and age, we could expect that to be followed by serious humanitarian crisis as the various states of the EU began deploying gunships to the Mediterranean to sink boats filled with refugees and began clamping down on ethnic minorities at home.

Unlike in the 1930’s, where the targets of discrimination and even wholesale murder were people of Jewish descent, followed by Roma, gays and lesbians and Slavs, this time around,t he likely targets were likely to be people from North Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia. Meanwhile, we could expect similar sentiments to take root in the US against people of Latino descent. We had already seen much of this take place during the Bush administration with the building of the border along the US-Mexico border and attempts to pass anti-illegal immigrant legislation. And in more recent years, it achieved a sort of breakout with the passage of SB 107 in Arizona – which made it perfectly legal for police to arrest any Latino resident who could not produce documentation of residence.

Initially, I was angry and nervous. It seemed to me that the GOP was intent on bringing the house down, that their commitment to make Obama fail that they did not care what happened to their country in the process. As long as it happened on his watch, they figured he would get the blame. But at the same time, I kind of pitied them as well. It was clear that they had unleashed a tidal wave that they couldn’t control, and were trapped in it as much as they were riding it. After the 2008 election, they had become the party of “libertarianism”, condemning big government, spending, taxes, and any and all legislation on the economy. Unfortunately, this put them at odds with just about everything they needed to support to help the economy recover.

Needless to say, things got better, and the election seemed to be cinched in advance by a number of factors. First, there was the fact that during the primaries, all the GOP candidates seemed hamstrung by all the extreme right-wing sentiments they were expected to endorse. one of these were likely to play well with all the moderates and undecideds. Second, there was Romney’s embarrassing gaffs as he traveled abroad and alienated everyone on his tour. He attempted to prove that he was a man who could handle foreign relations, but proved the exact opposite. Then there was Paul Ryan, a right-winger who proved to be at once too popular with his base and too extreme with the voters who sought the approval of. And finally, there was Hurricane Sandy, which made him look like a flip-flopper when it came the importance of such federal agencies as FEMA.

All the while, Obama was looking sturdy, even though he was being hampered by the terrorist attack in Benghazi, his initial performance in the debates, and the ongoing question of the economy. However, when the chips were down, he showed himself to be a man who could be counted on, and even won over such die-hards as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Between that and the fact that economy was beginning to recover on his watch, the election seemed in the bag.

And to quote Obama’s victory speech, “The best is yet to come.” I certainly hope so. It’s not just a question of recovery int he short run. There are a lot of things at stake here, not the least of which is the future of America and indeed the world. For the last thirty years now, there has been a struggle for the heart and soul of America, at the core of which seems to be the issue of decline. America, like it or not, is no longer in ascendance, and is faced with the myriad problem of global climate change which may exacerbate that problem very soon. If the nation and the world is to survive and come through as winners, then enlightened reform and stable leadership are what’s needed. The last thing that can be allowed to happen is a hard swing to the right, more austerity measures, and more of the same.

It has always been the reaction of empires and civilizations that have found themselves in decline to react with stringent conservative measures – more war, more sacrifice, more repression, more religious zeal – and that has only ever hastened the problem. That might sound a bit dramatic, but I’m a historian, so trust me when I say that I know what I’m talking about. And as Ronald Wright says, “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” Despite the persistence of old boundaries, our world has become a global state, interconnected like never before in our history. We stand or fall together, and cannot afford to act selfish, regressionist, or that our needs super cede those of others.

So I say congratulations America on making the right choice. Enlightened reform won out against old world thinking and denial. Now let’s all get to work on making things happen and check the ideological obstructions at the door!

Joss Wedon’s Viral “Zomney” Video

Does it seem funny how Presidential elections always fall so close to Halloween, but none of the candidates ever seem to take advantage of that fact to call their opponent a ghoul or a zombie? Or perhaps they might say that their opponent is the kind of person who would hand out toothpaste and dental floss on Halloween instead of sweet, sweet candy. I’d be less inclined to vote for them!

Well, finally, someone is putting their money where their mouth is and using this occasion to do a little Halloween-inspired mud raking. As I’m sure most people are aware by now, the person is Joss Whedon. And the method is the new viral video that claims that Romney is the man to lead America to something far better than economic recovery or general prosperity: the Zombie Apocalypse!

With the election just weeks away and the popularity of shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead, this video could not have been more timely. Going viral almost immediately after Whedon posted it, the video has gone on to attract some 1.8 million years. In essence, Whedon details how the policies proposed by Romney would create just the right environment for the walking dead to take over. These include cut backs in health care, education, social services, reproductive rights that will guarantee poverty, unemployment, overpopulation, disease, rioting; basically all the things that make a zombie apocalypse so very successful and inevitable.

What’s more, he believes that the zombie apocalypse will create a new kind of one percent – something Romney approves of – which will be composed of people who can run really fast, know parkour, and can make explosives. But by far the best line in it was “(are you) ready for the purity and courage of Mitt Romney’s apocalyptic vision? Mitt’s ready. He’s not afraid to face a ravening, gasping horde of subhumans, because that’s how he sees poor people already.” Regardless of your political inclination, you have to admit, that’s gold!

However, the real significance of this video, in my humble opinion, is in how demonstrates just how much this election is being influenced by the internet. Along with many other memes – such as Binders Full of Women and Big Bird being just two examples – have millions of people talking and are even upstaging conventional media outlets. Clearly, any campaigner who intents to win elections in the future will be the one who is new media savvy, a lesson which the Obama campaign has taken to heart. So far, they have clearly been leading the race in terms of internet promotion, but that would seem to be an indication of something else at work here.

For example, a clip featuring Girls creator Lena Dunham that equated voting with losing one’s virginity was posted just last Thursday has already gained over 2 million views. That, and Whedon’s video, are just two of half a  dozen videos that endorse Obama, each with roughly 2 million views apiece. While the Romney camp has posted a similar number of videos online, not one of them can measure up in terms of  sheer following or the impact they’ve had. Clearly, Obama has a numerical advantage when it comes to support, one which embraces the young and tech-savvy. And in an age of information, that’s a good edge to have! As I’m sure people are bound to say very soon, when it comes to internet campaigning, “Go viral or go home!”

Check out Whedon’s and Dunham’s videos below. Again, regardless of your political affiliations, I think you’ll agree that both are poignant and quite funny!