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Obama kicks off SXSW festival – ‘It’s easier to order a pizza than vote’

President Barack Obama (right), speaks with Evan Smith, CEO and Editor in Chief of the Texas Tribune, as part of the SXSW Interactive Keynote Conversation, on March 11, in Austin, Texas. (AP)
President Barack Obama (right), speaks with Evan Smith, CEO and Editor in Chief of the Texas Tribune, as part of the SXSW Interactive Keynote Conversation, on March 11, in Austin, Texas. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, March 12, (RTRS):US President Barack Obama has kicked off the 2016 SXSW festival with a keynote speech, marking the first time in its 30-year history that a sitting president has participated in the event.

President Obama appeared relaxed and unscripted during a 45-minute conversation on Friday afternoon at South by Southwest about the role technology plays in civil engagement.

The president also addressed the hot button issue of whether the US government should be allowed to search private citizens’ smartphones in criminal cases.

“I anguish a lot over decisions we make to keep the country safe,” Obama said. “I would caution against taking an absolutist perspective.”

While Obama wouldn’t directly comment on the recent Department of Justice court battle with Apple over accessing information on an iPhone in the San Bernardino, Calif. shootings, the president suggested there should be situations where phones could be surveyed.

“All of us value our privacy,” Obama said. “Before smartphones were invented and to this day, if there’s probable cause to think you abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of a serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep” with a warrant, he explained.

“I am of the view there are real reasons we should make sure government can’t willy-nilly get in everyone’s iPhone,” the president continued. “The whole Snowden disclosure episode elevated people’s suspicions of this. So does popular culture, which makes it appear I’m in the,” monitoring private exchanges.

Digital

He outlined what would happen if the government couldn’t access digital communications. “The question we have to ask is if technologically it’s possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong there’s no key, there’s no door at all, then how we do apprehend the child pornographer?” Obama asked. “How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to do even simple things like tax enforcement?” He added: “There has to be some concessions to get into that information.”

Obama was the first sitting president in SXSW’s 30-year history to appear at the film, music and interactive gathering. Earlier in his conversation with Evan Smith, the CEO of The Texas Tribune, Obama questioned what role technology can play in helping citizens vote.

“We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote,” Obama said. “You’re laughing, but it’s sad.” Obama noted that it was “easier to order a pizza than vote. How do we redesign our systems so we don’t have 50 percent voter participation?” he asked.

He went on to say that online voting systems are not necessarily unsecure. “The folks who are governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate,” he told the Austin crowd.

Obama acknowledged that the federal government wasn’t always synonymous with technological progress, joking that he sometimes struggled to get an Internet connection at the White House. “You may recall that I passed this law called the Affordable Care Act, and then the Web site didn’t work,” Obama said. “This was embarrassing to me,” he said, adding that his 2008 campaign for the office focused on “cool technology and social media.”

Engage

He spoke about how private citizens needed to engage in technology to help influence change, saying that he met on Friday with entrepreneurs and filmmakers about ways in which they can fight back against ISIL’s recruitment techniques of demonizing the West.

Obama, who wasn’t wearing a tie, joked about picking up tacos from a local Austin eatery before the event. He wasn’t speaking from a script, and defended the legacy of his two terms in the Oval Office. “One of the things that the left and right agreed on is that after the financial crisis, nothing changed,” Obama said. “The truth of the matter is a lot changed.” He added, “The financial system is much more stable than it used to be,” and blamed “popular culture and media” for not reflecting that.

“In an age where people’s attention spans have shrunk, it’s critical of all of you … how are we getting citizens engaged?” he asked.

As Smith tried to wrap up, Obama said that he needed another minute to highlight his message about civic responsibility. “We need you,” he said. “I want to underscore the fact that in 10 months, I won’t have this office. It’s been the great privilege of my life. It’s not like I stop caring about the things I care about right now. I expect you to step up and get involved.”

Obama was SXSW’s keynote interactive speaker. First Lady Michelle Obama will be the opening keynote speaker at SXSW Music on March 16. She’ll discuss the Let Girls Learn initiative. Other speakers include J.J. Abrams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kerry Washington, Ellen Page, Don Cheadle and Joel Edgerton.

 After the dramatic one-two punch of “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood,” a master of the modern hangout movie achieves his most sustained comic bliss-out in years with “Everybody Wants Some!!” Billed quite accurately as a “spiritual sequel” to 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” Richard Linklater’s latest acutely funny, achingly perceptive retro-sociology lesson follows a team of ’80s college baseball players wasting a longish weekend together before the start of a new school year; many scenes of pot smoking, disco dancing, knuckle flicking, skirt chasing and other forms of competitive male sport (and some baseball here and there) predictably and hilariously ensue. Linklater indulges his characters’ antics with such wild, free-flowing affection that you might miss the thoughtful undertow of this delightful movie: Few filmmakers have so fully embraced the bittersweet joy of living in the moment — one that’s all the more glorious because it fades so soon.

Linklater loyalists will surely embrace the picture with all the restraint of mud-wrestling frat boys to borrow some imagery from his own playbook. Beyond that core audience, it’s less certain that everybody will want some of Paramount’s April 1 release, which features a star-free cast and looks to generate a warm but perhaps less ardent critical embrace than the filmmaker’s recent work. Still, as the now 55-year-old Linklater has noted in interviews, “Everybody Wants Some!!” represents a logical follow-up to not only “Dazed and Confused,” the quintessential movie about 1970s high-school life (and arguably high-school life period), but also his career-crowning “Boyhood,” which concluded its 12-year narrative shortly after its protagonist left home for college. (Fortunately, an affinity for baseball is just about all the new film has in common with Linklater’s “Bad News Bears” remake.)

Glean

It’s the fall of 1980 — as one might glean, roughly, from the sight of a vinyl stash in the backseat of a ’72 Oldsmobile coupe — when we first meet Jake (Blake Jenner, “Glee”), a promising pitcher starting his freshman year at a fictitious southeast Texas university. Moving into the run-down house reserved for the baseball team, Jake is greeted with an uneasy mix of camaraderie and hostility by his fellow players, some of whom — like the cocky McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, sporting a Burt Reynolds mustache), a heavy hitter on the field and elsewhere — hardly bother to hide their scorn for freshmen in general and pitchers in particular.

But there are friendlier personalities in the mix, too, like Finn (a terrific Glen Powell), a paisley-shirted smooth talker and the group’s most adventurous pickup artist; all-around nice guy Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), whose standing as the team’s sole black player goes casually unremarked upon; Roper (Ryan Guzman), a sort of pack leader who takes Jake and some of the others out for a welcome-week joyride; and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the self-styled truth teller who pauses long enough between bong hits to urge everyone to reject the false self and “just be weird.” Most of Jake’s teammates need no such encouragement, like his stick-in-the-mud roommate, Billy Autry (Will Brittain), who would be the team’s designated outcast if not for Niles (Juston Street), who harshes everyone’s mellow with his belligerent, self-aggrandizing rants.

Fumes

“I’m too philosophical for this game,” Niles fumes to himself after McReynolds humiliates him at batting practice. It’s characteristic of Linklater’s forgiving attitude, however, that this mild flare-up is resolved with a brief glimpse of Niles’ gentler side. It’s also typical of the filmmaker’s off-center approach that this extended sequence — the first and only baseball scene in the entire movie — doesn’t occur until around the 80-minute mark. Before and after that point, it’s enough of a blast just being in these dudes’ company that one would scarcely complain if they never made it onto the field at all. Certainly the camera makes no effort to nudge them in that direction, instead contentedly following them from their aimless daytime hangout sessions to their more purposeful nightly bar runs and party crashings.

Aided by typically smooth-yet-nimble work from editor Sandra Adair and d.p. Shane F. Kelly (shooting digitally in capacious, sun-dappled frames), Linklater once again demonstrates a command of the rhythms of youthful slackerdom that is itself anything but lazy. His method here is to cram the frame with so many vivid and recognizable types — the preening ladykiller, the high-functioning narcoleptic (aptly named Coma), the game-for-anything goofball, the overgrown dreamer — that the movie is half over before you realize it’s effectively thrown the very idea of types out the window. Certainly it’s exploded the popular notion that all jocks are alike, even if Linklater’s jocks are a touch more eloquent than most.

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