YouTube Cinema: DuckTales, Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

January 31, 2008

“Did you ever hear of Atlantis? It was everybody’s favorite resort until Merlock couldn’t make any reservations. Then down she went! Poor Pompei. Mount Vesuvius would never had blown its top if Merlock hadn’t blown his!”

FROM JASON’S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DAYS — I’m not sure I can explain to you kiddies just how important DuckTales was. For years, it was the anchor of The Disney Afternoon, a two-hour block of after-school cartoons that included The Gummy Bears, Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, and a spin-off of the Aladdin movie.

To a pre-adolescent boy, these shows had everything that mattered: Swords, exploration, gadgets, villains who were evil for the sake of being evil, pirates (and air pirates), zombies, superheroes, supervillains, robots, curses, lasers, dungeons….

So when I stumbled on the 1990 DuckTales movie on YouTube, I had to sit and watch.

The first 20 minutes had everything I remembered that made the show great: Exotic traps, faux history (Collie Baba and his 40 thieves, anybody?), sumo-wrestling scorpions, pith helmets, and lushly-painted desert and pyramid scenes.

The rest was significantly meh as we stayed in Duckburg and dealt with the whole genie-in-the-lamp Pinocchio story and the be-careful-what-you-wish-for business.

The Plot (Such As It Is)

Real quick: Scrooge has been hunting his entire life for the lost treasure of Collie Baba. When he finally finds it, a shape-shifting wizard named Merlock swoops in and steals it.

Merlock doesn’t care about jewels; all he wants is the magic lamp containing a genie. Merlock has a magic talisman, which will allow him to force the genie to grant unlimited wishes — and giving him unlimited, unadulterated evil control over the entire world.

But Scrooge’s niece, Webby, filches the lamp and makes friends with the genie, who she calls Gene. Along with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she starts making wishes, until Merlock comes to Duckburg to collect the lamp again.

Using his magic, he takes over Scrooge’s mansion, and the boys have to break back in and free Gene and the rest of the world from slavery. It’s almost the exact same plot as Disney’s Aladdin movie in 1992.

The Dire Consequences

There were rumors. Boy, were there ever rumors. Back in the pre-Internet days of 1990, that’s all we had to live by — that, and various hints in video game magazines.

The rumors said that Disney had lots of other DuckTales movies up Michael Eisner’s sleeves. The rumors were right.

Unfortunately, Disney, perhaps as the spiritual ancestor to FOX, decided to cancel those plans when Legend of the Lost Lamp only made $18 million at the box office. My parents paid good money for my little brother and I to see it, but apparently that wasn’t enough. The other movies were canned, as was a Rescue Rangers feature-length film (which I would bankroll today if I had the means).

DAMN YOU, WALT DISNEY COMPANY. DAMN YOU STRAIGHT TO HEEEEEELL!

The Geek Connections

If you’re a geek, you know everyone who had a hand in this movie. Even if it’s only by proxy, you know their work. You’ve seen their shows. Let me show you the way.

Alan Young, the voice of Scrooge, is better known as Mister Ed’s owner, Wilbur (“Gee, Wilbur!”) in the 1961 TV show. He’s also a bat-shit crazy Christian Scientist and is down with the Focus On the Family crowd. I can almost — almost! — forgive him, though, because he was also Haggis McMutton in the LucasArts game Curse of Monkey Island.

Russi Taylor, who voiced Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby, was also baby Gonzo on Muppet Babies and has been the voice of Minnie Mouse since 1986 — including in the RPG Kingdom Hearts.

Terry McGovern, AKA Launchpad McQuack, is also a Lucas-ite. His early films include THX-1138 and American Graffiti. In 1977, The Lucas hired him to do voice-overs for stormtroopers in A New Hope (“Close the blast doors!”).

The genie was voiced by flamboyant ’60s comedian Rip Taylor, known for crying on stage, doing Mofaz the Persian-type routines about his bad luck, and for his recent work with The Bloodhound Gang and Jackass.

The mack-daddy of them all — and if you don’t recognize the voice immediately then you are dead to me — is Christopher Lloyd as Merlock. You know him as Doc Brown from Back to the Future, Kruge in Star Trek III, the Rev. Jim from Taxi, and… god help us… as John Bigboote in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.

Oh, and about six dozen other shows, many of them crappy, including Amazing Stories, Cyberchase, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Addams Family, Suburban Commando, Angels In the Outfield, and Baby Geniuses. I have to admit that I love watching Christopher Lloyd. It’s a testament to his ability and personality that he can make such shit watchable.

I almost forgot. Frank Welker (Optimus Prime) did some voices in Legend of the Lost Lamp, too.

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Samberg’s non-sequiter goofiness is good for SNL

January 29, 2008

FROM JASON’S SNL RE-RUN CACHE — Maybe it’s the random avarice with a smile, or Andy Samberg’s glee as he assaults innocents. It could be the unrestrained mirth of a white boy dancing with pointer fingers in the air.

Maybe it’s that the name Andy Samberg sounds suspiciously like Adam Sandler (his real name is David Andrew Samberg). Or very possibly, it’s the tinker-toy-ish music and zombies.

Whatever the reason, I think this video is hilarious. It’s like a Fisher Price version of a snuff film.

I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live in a long time, mainly because I was raised in the Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Will Farrell, Chris Kattan, David Spade, Mike Myers, Tracy Morgan era. Lorne Michaels swears that every generation of SNL viewers latches on to a specific cast and hates when newcomers take over.

Maybe that’s true. It’s possible that I’m being horribly, unjustly prejudicial when I say SNL isn’t funny anymore.

For the first time in months, I caught about an hour of the show on Saturday night — a re-run, thanks to the writer’s strike. Most of it wasn’t enough to make me smile, let alone laugh, but the video above was the one bright moment that made me remember that TV can still create memes.

I think it’s funny, though, that the one thing I really enjoyed in the show was the element that broke SNL’s rules. The new “SNL digital short” segment isn’t live at all — it’s pre-taped and has more in common with TV Funhouse than Operaman.

Samberg’s digital shorts produced the only other segment in recent memory that sticks in my mind as funny and innovative: The ubiquitous “Dick In a Box” music video featuring Justin Timberlake.

PS: Sorry about the low video quality. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find a copy online.


Outbound State of the Union speech is more conciliatory than expected

January 28, 2008
stateoftheunion.jpg

A brief word from Jason and Andrew: Yes, this is normally a geek blag, but we’re constantly astounded and infuriated that so few of our nerdy brethren pay attention to politics and history. You need to stay sharp, or you’re going to suffer the consequences.

FROM JASON’S OFFICE SWIVEL-CHAIR — President George W. Bush’s approval rating “towered” at 34 percent Monday as he presented the 2008 State of the Union address to the 110th Congress.

It was a terribly apologetic speech, hitting conciliatory topics early and waiting to use the first instance of the word “terror” until 24 minutes in.

The first standing ovation of the night came with Bush’s plea to make tax cuts permanent. One half of the assembled dignitaries rose to their feet. What was surprising was that the Democratic half of the aisle joined their Republican counterparts so often, standing at the President’s demand for a balanced budget, reduced spending, increased funding for scientific research (as long as it involves prayer and not stem cells), a call for alternate energy spending, proposed health care reform, and troop withdrawal.

Of course, there were subjects that fell flat. Predictably, Bush tried to prop up the travesty that is the No Child Left Behind Act, and Andrew and I held our breath waiting for warhawk mentions of Iran. Every time the President started to say “terror,” we winced, thinking he might be starting to utter “Tehran.”

Speaking of vocabulary choices, speech-writers chose to have Bush say:

  • Terror/Terrorist 23 times.
  • Freedom 10 times.
  • 9/11 3 times.
  • Yes, we counted. Though it was no easy task while keeping a running commentary with a Washington, D.C. lawyer we know.

    Scroll down for the full transcript.

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    State of the Union 2008

    Madame Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens:

    Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We have faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy and the health and welfare of our citizens. These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve answered that call. Yet history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose. And together, we showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government.

    All of us were sent to Washington to carry out the people’s business. That is the purpose of this body. It is the meaning of our oath. And it remains our charge to keep.

    The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our nation long after this session has ended. In this election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. And let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.

    From expanding opportunity to protecting our country, we have made good progress. Yet we have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done.

    In the work ahead, we must be guided by the philosophy that made our nation great. As Americans, we believe in the power of individuals to determine their destiny and shape the course of history. We believe that the most reliable guide for our country is the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens. So in all we do, we must trust in the ability of free people to make wise decisions, and empower them to improve their lives and their futures.

    To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future.

    In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing. So last week, my administration reached agreement with Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner on a robust growth package that includes tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment. The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable. This is a good agreement that will keep our economy growing and our people working. And this Congress must pass it as soon as possible.

    We have other work to do on taxes. Unless the Congress acts, most of the tax relief we have delivered over the past 7 years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.

    Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the federal government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There is only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: make the tax relief permanent. And members of Congress should know: If any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it.

    Just as we trust Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending their tax dollars wisely. Next week, I will send you a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs totaling more than $18 billion. And this budget will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012. American families have to balance their budgets, and so should their government.

    The people’s trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks — special interest projects that are often snuck in at the last minute, without discussion or debate. Last year, I asked you to voluntarily cut the number and cost of earmarks in half. I also asked you to stop slipping earmarks into committee reports that never even come to a vote. Unfortunately, neither goal was met. So this time, if you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I will send it back to you with my veto. And tomorrow, I will issue an executive order that directs federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by the Congress. If these items are truly worth funding, the Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.

    Our shared responsibilities extend beyond matters of taxes and spending.

    On housing, we must trust Americans with the responsibility of homeownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market. My administration brought together the HOPE NOW alliance, which is helping many struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. The Congress can help even more. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. These are difficult times for many American families, and by taking these steps, we can help more of them keep their homes.

    To build a future of quality health care, we must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options. We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control. So I have proposed ending the bias in the tax code against those who do not get their health insurance through their employer. This one reform would put private coverage within reach for millions, and I call on the Congress to pass it this year. The Congress must also expand health savings accounts, create Association Health Plans for small businesses, promote health information technology and confront the epidemic of junk medical lawsuits. With all these steps, we will help ensure that decisions about your medical care are made in the privacy of your doctor’s office — not in the halls of Congress.

    On education, we must trust students to learn if given the chance and empower parents to demand results from our schools. In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams — and a decent education is their only hope of achieving them. Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results. Last year, fourth and eighth graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. And African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs. Now we must work together to increase accountability, add flexibility for states and districts, reduce the number of high school dropouts and provide extra help for struggling schools. Members of Congress: The No Child Left Behind Act is a bipartisan achievement. It is succeeding. And we owe it to America’s children, their parents and their teachers to strengthen this good law.

    We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation’s capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America’s inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning. And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential. Together, we have expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let’s apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.

    On trade, we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas. Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods, crops and services all over the world. So we are working to break down barriers to trade and investment wherever we can. We are working for a successful Doha round of trade talks, and we must complete a good agreement this year. At the same time, we are pursuing opportunities to open up new markets by passing free trade agreements.

    I thank the Congress for approving a good agreement with Peru. Now I ask you to approve agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Many products from these nations now enter America duty-free, yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field. They will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers. And they will support good jobs for the finest workers in the world: those whose products say “Made in the USA.”

    These agreements also promote America’s strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere. So we must come together, pass this agreement and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life.

    Trade brings better jobs, better choices and better prices. Yet for some Americans, trade can mean losing a job, and the federal government has a responsibility to help. I ask the Congress to reauthorize and reform trade adjustment assistance, so we can help these displaced workers learn new skills and find new jobs.

    To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more efficient technology.

    To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, the Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask the Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.

    On matters of science and life, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries. In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life. So we are expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves. So I call on the Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting, or cloning of human life.

    On matters of justice, we must trust in the wisdom of our founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says. I have submitted judicial nominees who will rule by the letter of the law, not the whim of the gavel. Many of these nominees are being unfairly delayed. They are worthy of confirmation, and the Senate should give each of them a prompt up-or-down vote.

    In communities across our land, we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need. Over the past seven years, more of our fellow citizens have discovered that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of service. Americans have volunteered in record numbers. Charitable donations are higher than ever. Faith-based groups are bringing hope to pockets of despair, with newfound support from the federal government. And to help guarantee equal treatment for faith-based organizations when they compete for federal funds, I ask you to permanently extend Charitable Choice.

    Tonight the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before. And tonight I am pleased to announce that in April we will host this year’s North American Summit of Canada, Mexico and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.

    There are two other pressing challenges that I have raised repeatedly before this body, and that this body has failed to address: entitlement spending and immigration.

    Every member in this chamber knows that spending on entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is growing faster than we can afford. And we all know the painful choices ahead if America stays on this path: massive tax increases, sudden and drastic cuts in benefits, or crippling deficits. I have laid out proposals to reform these programs. Now I ask members of Congress to offer your proposals and come up with a bipartisan solution to save these vital programs for our children and grandchildren.

    The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders — and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We are increasing work-site enforcement, we are deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings, we have effectively ended the policy of “catch and release” at the border and by the end of this year we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.

    This is the business of our nation here at home. Yet building a prosperous future for our citizens also depends on confronting enemies abroad and advancing liberty in troubled regions of the world.

    Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace. In the last seven years, we have witnessed stirring moments in the history of liberty. We have seen citizens in Georgia and Ukraine stand up for their right to free and fair elections. We have seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We have seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban to choose a new president and a new parliament. We have seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom. And these images of liberty have inspired us.

    In the past seven years, we have also seen images that have sobered us. We have watched throngs of mourners in Lebanon and Pakistan carrying the caskets of beloved leaders taken by the assassin’s hand. We have seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets, and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs. And on a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists — evil men who despise freedom, despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.

    Since September 11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to the enemies of America.

    We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom.

    In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for Al Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope. These successes must continue, so we are adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan Army and police. Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America’s vital mission in Afghanistan.

    In Iraq, the terrorists and extremists are fighting to deny a proud people their liberty and to establish safe havens for attacks across the world. One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. So we reviewed our strategy and changed course. We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. And we gave our troops a new mission: Work with Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in its strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country.

    The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened. Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw tens of thousands of American forces flowing into their country. They saw our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists, and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return. And they saw our troops, along with provincial reconstruction teams that include foreign service officers and other skilled public servants, coming in to ensure that improved security was followed by improvements in daily life. Our military and civilians in Iraq are performing with courage and distinction, and they have the gratitude of our whole nation.

    The Iraqis launched a surge of their own. In the fall of 2006, Sunni tribal leaders grew tired of Al Qaeda’s brutality and started a popular uprising called “the Anbar Awakening.” Over the past year, similar movements have spread across the country. And today, this grass-roots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists. The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well — adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year.

    While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago:

    When we met last year, many said containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, and sectarian killings are down.

    When we met last year, militia extremists — some armed and trained by Iran — were wreaking havoc in large areas of Iraq. A year later, coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of militia fighters. And Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country.

    When we met last year, Al Qaeda had sanctuaries in many areas of Iraq, and their leaders had just offered American forces safe passage out of the country. Today, it is Al Qaeda that is searching for safe passage. They have been driven from many of the strongholds they once held, and over the past year, we have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key Al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Last month, Osama bin Laden released a tape in which he railed against Iraqi tribal leaders who have turned on Al Qaeda and admitted that Coalition forces are growing stronger in Iraq. Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.

    When we met last year, our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of “return on success,” and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home.

    This progress is a credit to the valor of our troops and the brilliance of their commanders. This evening, I want to speak directly to our men and women on the front lines. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen: In the past year, you have done everything we have asked of you, and more. Our nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of your accomplishments. And tonight in this hallowed chamber, with the American people as our witness, we make you a solemn pledge: In the fight ahead, you will have all you need to protect our nation. And I ask the Congress to meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops.

    Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard. They are not yet defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead. Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission. As part of this transition, one Army brigade combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have already come home and will not be replaced. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit. Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home.

    Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders. General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the “disintegration of the Iraqi Security Forces, Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground, [and] a marked increase in violence.” Members of Congress: Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.

    In the coming year, we will work with Iraqi leaders as they build on the progress they are making toward political reconciliation. At the local level, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds are beginning to come together to reclaim their communities and rebuild their lives. Progress in the provinces must be matched by progress in Baghdad. And we are seeing some encouraging signs. The national government is sharing oil revenues with the provinces. The parliament recently passed both a pension law and de-Ba’athification reform. Now they are debating a provincial powers law. The Iraqis still have a distance to travel. But after decades of dictatorship and the pain of sectarian violence, reconciliation is taking place — and the Iraqi people are taking control of their future.

    The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our nation. But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed. A free Iraq will deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. And a free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror, and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world.

    By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear. At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, al-Qaida’s top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington. My fellow Americans: We will not rest, either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated. We must do the difficult work today, so that years from now people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight, and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America.

    We are also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace.

    We are also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran. Iran’s rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas’ efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon. Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you, we respect your traditions and your history, and we look forward to the day when you have your freedom. Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home and cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.

    On the homefront, we will continue to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. This is our most solemn duty. We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since September 11. This is not for a lack of desire or effort on the part of the enemy. In the past six years, we have stopped numerous attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and another to blow up passenger jets bound for America over the Atlantic. Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this chamber owes them our thanks. And we owe them something more: We owe them the tools they need to keep our people safe.

    One of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning. Last year, the Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, the Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1. This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.

    Protecting our nation from the dangers of a new century requires more than good intelligence and a strong military. It also requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful and more compassionate world. This is a reflection of our national interest and the calling of our conscience.

    America is opposing genocide in Sudan and supporting freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma.

    America is leading the fight against global poverty, with strong education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. We have also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account. This program strengthens democracy, transparency and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative.

    America is leading the fight against global hunger. Today, more than half the world’s food aid comes from the United States. And tonight, I ask the Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine.

    America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we are working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years.

    America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people, and some of the most compassionate Americans are those who have stepped forward to protect us. We must keep faith with all who have risked life and limb so that we might live in freedom and peace. Over the past seven years, we have increased funding for veterans by more than 95 percent. As we increase funding, we must also reform our veterans system to meet the needs of a new war and a new generation. I call on the Congress to enact the reforms recommended by Sen. Bob Dole and Secretary Donna Shalala, so we can improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope, promise and dignity.

    Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home. We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to childcare, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation and tonight our nation honors them.

    The secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. When the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, our nation was bound by the Articles of Confederation, which began with the words, “We the undersigned delegates.” When Gouverneur Morris was asked to draft the preamble to our new Constitution, he offered an important revision and opened with words that changed the course of our nation and the history of the world: “We the people.”

    By trusting the people, our founders wagered that a great and noble nation could be built on the liberty that resides in the hearts of all men and women. By trusting the people, succeeding generations transformed our fragile young democracy into the most powerful nation on earth and a beacon of hope for millions. And so long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our union will remain strong. So tonight, with confidence in freedom’s power, and trust in the people, let us set forth to do their business.


    Music Monday: The Coral and The Refreshments

    January 28, 2008

    1. The Coral — Dreaming of You

    Andrew thinks music needs to be overlaid with at least four technically difficult instrumental parts. He wants two guitars thrashing over top of each other, a base slapping up and down the scale in sixteenth note increments, and a drummer with four arms.

    But sometimes simplicity is best, which is why I like the moody acoustic folk feel of The Coral.

    Dreaming of You wraps subtle organ and horns around a driving bass in an upbeat but minor key. It works well with the “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” message of the song.

    That alternating bass line is almost like a somber polka — but not quite. Throw in some tambourine and clownish biking and I’m pressing repeat on the ol’ iPod.

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    2. The Refreshments — European Swallow

    Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy is one of my favorite CDs of all time. The Refreshments didn’t last long, but frontman Roger Clyne still slings some of those old songs as Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers.

    The band is known for its The-Eagles-meet-Three-Stooges sensibility, matching an Arizona desert-billy sound with cartoon-quality pop reverence. (If you don’t already know, The Refreshments perform the theme to King of the Hill.) And we can’t fault a band with such an obvious love of Star Trek. From Banditos:

    So give your ID card to the border guard
    Your alias says you Captain Jean Luc Picard
    Of the United Federation of Planets
    Cause they won’t speak english any ways

    European Swallow is about stealing a bar floozy from her boyfriend, but it’s the pacing that’s unusual as Clyne periodically does some appropriate fast-talk. Add acoustic scratching and a little prostitution humor, and I’m spreading a big smile between my headphones.

    This live version only gets better about two-thirds of the way through when Clyne slips into a Violent Femmes homage with the bridge from Kiss Off. I’ll apologize for some of the gritty sound in this concert bootleg, but it’s still one of the best live tapes floating around YouTube.


    James Bond #22 had better be better than its title

    January 27, 2008

    quantumofsolace.jpgFROM THAT DEGREE HANGING ON JASON’S WALL — Hey, MGM, that didn’t go over so well, did it?

    Mike Dawson aside, I haven’t heard anyone rejoice about the title of the new Bond movie due out Nov. 7 — and I think even he’s just taking the unpopular view for the fun of it.

    Quantum of Solace has several big problems. First, it doesn’t flow well. You’ve really got to contort your mouth to shove it past your teeth.

    Second, people (erroneously) think of “quantum” as an adjective. Quantum mechanics, right? But the word isn’t so much a descriptor as a sub-genre. It’s actually a noun, meaning a portion or the smallest part of an object that can exist independently.

    So what Ian Fleming really meant when he penned the title in 1960 was “A Tiny Amount of Solace” — which seems fitting. In Casino Royale, we saw Bond’s soul crushed by lost love. The trauma made him push emotion away and become a killing machine for MI5.

    He deserves at least a little comfort. That doesn’t change my opinion about the movie’s name, though. My third issue with Quantum of Solace is that it can be said so much more simply and elegantly. The way it’s written makes it sound like a fourth-grader with a thesaurus.

    The franchise’s caretakers have been obsessed in recent years with using official Fleming story/book titles, but that’s trend that just can’t continue. Remaining titles include Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, 007 in New York, and The Property of a Lady. By today’s standards, those are pretty slim pickings.


    Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?

    January 27, 2008

    That AT-ST is about to bite it one blaster bolt at a time.FROM JASON’S NEW 3D CARD — Who needs heavies and medics when you have sniper droids and snowtroopers?

    I have to admit I don’t care much about Team Fortress 2. The people who were most excited about its release have already given it up to the 13-year-old griefers.

    Meanwhile, Andrew and I both just picked up Star Wars: Best of PC, and have been kicking plasticine armor and taking names on the original Battlefront.

    Sure, it’s old — released first in 2004 — but who cares?

    swb4.jpgBattlefront is all about Skyping screams of “close the blast doors!” and “open the blast doors!” while running around the rancor pit, lobbing proton missiles at an AT-ST, or zooming through Endorian forests on a speeder.

    I’ve had the PS2 port of SW:B1 for years, but like so many casual gamers I’ve never hooked my console up to the net.

    That’s where you find the real action. Shooting AI rebels has its merits, I suppose, but these days MMOs have ruined me on the single-player experience.

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    My favorite part is that human players (at least the n00bs) have a blind spot. They rarely look up before it’s too late, which makes finding a crow’s nest to rain down fiery red laser death especially fun.

    The PC version looks infinitely better than on the PS2, thanks to several things — my new graphics card chief among them. The shadows and landscape are both rendered more smoothly and in greater detail, and there’s the added bonus of being able to play in third or first person (PS2 only allows third, but I’m finding first is far, far superior).

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    On a side note, Andrew and I have both committed unparalleled heresy. Our screen names, respectively, are Jean-Luc and Riker (I’ve got the beard). I can only hope the screams of anguished Lucas fanboys distract them long enough for us to circle around and pincer attack with blasters.

    So far, just Battlefront has justified the $35 box price for Best of PC. The bundle has four other titles — Empire at War, Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Knight II, and Republic Commando — plus a two-week trial to Galaxies.


    MDK’s gameplay gimmicks hold up years later

    January 25, 2008

    mdk3.jpgFROM JASON’S CD CASE O’ LOST GAMES — The third-person shooter is a fairly standard vidjagame staple now, especially on consoles, thanks to titles like God of War, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Grand Theft Auto III.But back in 1997, it was a pretty novel concept.

    MDK was among the first I remember playing in that genre, and I was gripped by a sudden urge Sunday night to play it after I saw a (totally unnecessary) HUD on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles that reminded me of the game’s sniping action.

    Of course, I had to rummage for about 20 minutes yesterday before I found the CD-ROM tucked away in the piles of software under my computer desk.

    The game is short, and after some fiddling with the control scheme and about an hour making screenshots I ran through it real quick in three two-hour sittings. But don’t think shortness equals boring — especially if you take the time to toy with that sniping action.

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    MDK ostensibly stands for “Murder, Death, Kill” or maybe “Mission Deliver Kindness” — I remember the magazine ad campaign back in the day toyed with the acronym to hilarious effect (one ad tagline read “Massive Dollops of Ketchup”).

    Kindly delivering the human race from the hands of aliens, though, was the mission of the game, so that’s what sticks in my mind.

    There’s a plot of sorts: A slightly deranged scientist discovers aliens are heading for Earth aboard city-sized strip-mining ships to harvest its resources. He designs a high-tech fighting suit for his janitor — that’s you — including leather armor, an arm-mounted chain gun, and mostly importantly a pterodactyl-ish head-mounted sniper cannon that can shoot everything from mortars to guided bullets.

    The “coil suit” also has a built-in parachute, which allows you to glide pretty long distances or even fly through the air on updrafts.

    I’m not going to pretend that the plot is very deep or that it matters to the gameplay (just shoot everything). It is to third person shooters what Super Mario Brothers was to platformers.

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    The thing that is terribly important, though, is the game’s sense of humor. Some enemies hold nice, big targets you to aim at, you can call in an air strike by your robotic dog, if you aim properly you can actually shoot enemy eyeballs right out of the socket, and if you beat the game you’re treated to a non-sequiter French technopop tune.

    Unlike Quake, Jedi Knight, or Duke Nukem 3D — all games that I remember playing in 1997 — you’re not exploring big dungeons with cramped passageways, hidden areas, and dozens of routes through each level. MDK is linear, taking you from one fighting area or puzzle area to the next. The difference is scope; MDK’s fighting arenas are sprawling affairs and the developers used some impressive software acceleration techniques to get the enormous levels to render without laggy load times.

    MDK practically screamed along on my P133 with 128mb RAM and a 16mb 3D card, which for the day was a terrific machine. My parents had just upgraded from a 486 with 66mb RAM, and I was in geek gaming heaven moving from traditional 3D platforming to actual, immersive games (although they were choppy and low-res). Today I’m slumming with a 2.4ghz processor, 1.5 gigs of RAM and a 256mb graphics card, and MDK works as well as ever.

    mdk4.jpgGraphics aside (and yes, they can be pretty damned square), MDK’s handling — if calibrated correctly — is just as good as modern entries to the genre such as Star Wars Battlefront. The developers allowed for what at the time was unprecedented mouse control, including mapping to the then-fairly-rare middle mouse button. Using the keyboard alone, the setup is crude and almost unwieldy. But with a little tweaking you can get the jumping, strafing, flying, sniping, and shooting all in easy reach.

    I’m not really sure where we landed on the whole abandonware argument, but I can tell you that Home of the Underdogs has a free full CD version download. I couldn’t find a place where Moby Games was still directly selling it, but if you really feel compelled to pay somebody, then Amazon has used copies for about $4.

    EXTRA: Here’s a neat list of the top PC games from 1997 that I found while doing some background research. Can you just feel that nostalgia seeping in over your Intarnets?