Ignore the Circus

Well, we’ve endured a year of Trump’s Presidency and many people, including nearly all of the press, have failed to learn the most basic lesson; ignore the Circus.

The only things that people should focus on are policy and corruption, everything else the realm of tabloid gossip and salacious titillation.

Focus on the 1-2 trillion dollars added to the nation’s debt, not the idiotic ‘Fake News Awards.’

Pay attention to the fact that his administration reduced to budget of the CFPB to zero and reduced the fine on Wells Fargo for defrauding customers, not that he clearly lies about his weight.

Saber rattling with Korea and pulling out of international agreements, surrendering our position of leadership, is far more consequential that bedding a porn actress.

Refusing to enforce sanctions against Russia for meddling in our elections greatly outweighs any Twitter tirade with another celebrity.

It must always be remember that not only is Trump an attention whore but he has no shame. You cannot embarrass him talk of bedding a porn star that only feeds his ego. You cannot cow him by talking about him that only empowers his narcissism.

Ignore the Circus, Ignore the Monkey, watch the money, watch the policy.

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Misleading Language

On Facebook there is a news article being passed around about how the most recent spree shoot/killings represented the 11th school shoot of 2018 and one person on a friend’s page responded shocked that we have become so used to these events that they no longer become major news items.

Her confusion we led by the deceptive language of the headline and far too many people simply do not read beyond that.

When she read ’11th school shooting’ her mind conjured up the image of mass shootings, of vile people or persons stalking the hallways killing at random, of the horrific images of Columbine and Sandy Hook, but have there been 11 of those in just three weeks?

No.

So what are the details of those 11 shootings?

2 are suicides, a man who shot himself in a school’s parking lot and a 14-year-old boy who killed himself in a school bathroom.

3 incidents were bullets fired from unknown people outside of the school for unknown reasons that shattered school or bus windows .

1 was an accidental discharge after a firearms instructor left a live firearm in the classroom and students mistook it for a training device.

2 more were shots fired from vehicles, 1 person was injured but the reports do not state that the injured person suffered a gunshot wound,

1event followed an altercation at a fraternity event at a university that resulted in a death.

1 was a teenage girls shot in the cafeteria by a teenage boy. No one else of the 45 to 55 people present were shot.

And the final event was the mass shooting with two deaths at the Marshall county High School. That brings us to 11 shooting in or around schools but it is clear why nearly all of these failed to make national news.

Every murder is vile, every suicide is tragic and there is no doubt that we are in the midst of cultural crisis. As I have stated in other posts I think that we will reach of critical mass and there will be a state change in the public debate on this issue. (One that might be sped along by the degradation of the Republican Party by Trump.)

All that said, the deceptive language doe not help. The purpose of language is clear communication and it doesn’t matter if your are classifying every shot fired near a school as a school shooting or rebrand torture as enhanced interrogation, abusing the language is not the way to go.

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Sunday Night Movie: Fantastic Voyage

I have an interesting relationship with the movie Fantastic Voyage. In the early 70’s shortly after I discovered reading SF, I read Isaac Asimov’s adaptation of the screenplay into a novel. (It also had an amusing essay by Asimov on why the science in the story was terrible but how he kept to the concepts anyway. A sort of ‘don’t blame me’ disclaimer for the terrible science.)

After reading the novel I really really wanted to see the movie. For young people today it is hard to emotionally understand just how frustrating that was at the time. There was no streaming services, no Internet, no home video market at all. The best one could do, if you had the equipment and the funds, was to order a 16mm copy of the movie and watch it on an honest to god film projector. That was not an option for me. All I could do was grab the weekly edition of TV guide and read it cover to cover hoping that some station would broadcast the film.

They never did.

It was literally decades before I managed to see the movie and the startling changed from script to novel still make the experience rough. Sunday Night scanning was available from HBO Now for streaming I stumbled across Fantastic Voyage and took the nostalgic plunge.

The story is an interesting one. A scientist, irreplaceable in his knowledge, had been spirited out from behind the Iron Curtain. (Kids, go ask your parents) Just before he reaches safety an assassination attempt leaving him comatose with an inoperable blood clot in his brain. Well, inoperable from the outside. Turns out that the government has been developing a process to shrink materials and personal down to the size of microbes. An experimental submarine is crewed with two doctors, an assistant, a naval officer to drive it, and a security man to make sure no enemy agents has slipped aboard, is shrunk down and injected into the scientist to cut away the clot from the inside.

There is a lot of interesting and nearly on target science in the movie, but there are great stretches of hand-waving as well. (Where does all that mass go? Never addressed at all.) That aside Fantastic Voyage is a decent flick with a fine cast. Of course things go wrong, not much drama if that didn’t happen, and of course these is an enemy agent aboard. The special effects are pretty impressive for 1966 and the opening credit scrawl may have inspired the opening of 1971’s The Andromeda Strain.

This is worth watching at least once and particularly if you have HBO Now and can just stream it.

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Why I Dislike the Doomsday Clock

Recently the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of their ‘doomsday’ clock to two minutes to midnight, with midnight representing “how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making.”

The clock started in 1947 and for most of its existence the reference was to all out nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is a potent symbol of our fears of the terrible price humanity could pay in a full nuclear war. A symbol used by Alan Moore in his classic graphical work Watchmen.

My problem with the Doomsday Clock is that is gives the impression of something quantified and scientific when it is really an opinion. The fact that the group is named The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist conjures up the impression of serious people in white coat armed with complex calculations when really watch we are seeing is the results of their own fears and impressions.

There is no quantifiable system by which the clock can be judged. There is no testable hypothesis, and objective formula, only their guess and yet every motion of the clock’s minute hand is treated with great reverence. A reverence that comes solely from the fact it is scientists making these opinion based proclamations.

Is it really two minutes to midnight? Hell, how can anyone know? I do know that I dislike quantifiable number being used to justify mere opinion.

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The Inevitable Disappointment

Over the last few months a television series my sweetie-wife I have enjoy is Shetland. Based on a series of mystery novels by Ann Cleeves the series takes place on the far north Scottish island of Shetland where DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Jimmy Perez solves murders and balances being a widower father and returning island native.

The series has run for three seasons and a total of 14 episodes, 8 of which are direct adaptation of the original novels with the final 6 an original mystery created by the producers.

It is those final six, the entirety of the third season where the show disappointed me. With the earlier adaptations two episodes were used for each novel and the general mood of each piece was one of clues, detective work, and hidden motives. The final storyline became a tangles mess of witness protection, mob corruption, and amazing coincidences that came off more like a standard cop show than the original mysteries I had enjoyed.

I was particularly annoyed with one sub-plot in the final season.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Six episodes long that story broke into a three-act structure with two episodes per act. As the end of the second act one of the police characters is kidnapped by the mob to send a message to DCI Perez. Naturally it is our sympathetic female cop DS Allison ‘Tosh’ Macintosh. As soon as the third act opens she is released but naturally there has been a sexual assault.

I can’t tell you how tired I am of the third act assault/killing/murder to motivate the hero. Here there is no real plot justification, the entire subplot could be removed with very little effect on the main and convoluted story. It is clichĂ©, and it uses the sexual assault not as the principle event of it’s own story but as a plot detail in someone else’s story. Yes the writers deal with it tastefully, never showing it, never making it titillating, exploring ramifications for Tosh and the people around her, and even a little lecturing by our heroes on the injustice women face when trying to have these crimes prosecuted, but it’s all sub-plot and a tired, worn out sub-plot at that.

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Content vs. Style in Film Noir

One of the enjoyable discussions at the recent Condor SF convention was about noir on television and naturally the topic shifted to film noir in general. An important aspect to any discussion about noir films is that the definition is applied to the classics retroactively. While the term was first coined in 1946 it wasn’t until the 1970s, well after the classic period of noir cinema, that the notion gained general acceptance. That means when the filmmakers were making movies like Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, or Asphalt Jungle they were not setting out to make film noir. This lack of an accepted definition means that one of the hotly contested areas of discussion is what is noir anyway?

Usually this breaks down into two major camps, those who advocate style and those of emphasize content.

The style adherents maintain that it is the general mood, elements, and cinematography that best defines film noir, with the most strict supports even advocating that it simply is not possible to have a true noir that is in color.

For those support the content arguments, of which I count myself, it is the story details and for me the nature of the characters that best define the genre. While the impressive and German Expressionism inspired photography of Double Indemnity is perfect for the mood of that film it is the appetite for money and sex and how that appetite destroys the characters that makes it a noir in my opinion. It is more than the use of sharp shadows and stark contrasts that make a property truly a noir.

In my opinion Polanski’s Chinatown is very much a noir as is L.A. Confidential, even though both are in color and make use of brilliant sunny Southern California settings to contrast the corruption and decay hiding under the surface. I would also count Blue Velvet as an example of the genre while the style remains very much Lynch’s own and not a homage to the classic noirs.

Perhaps, the best argument against a stylistic definition is with one of my favorite films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. From the comedic minds of Carl Reiner and Steve Martin the movies is a farcical parody of the genre. Shot is black-and-white with all the deep shadows and sharp contrasts Dead Men apes the style perfectly. It has it because much of the film utilizes clips from classic noirs and with careful staging and editing presents these scenes as all taking place within their own movie. It is a project that could only be created by people who love this particular genre and it is fiercely funny.

But is it noir?

I would argue it is not, though it perfectly captures the style of a noir the content, parody and farce, place it far afield from those dark and cynical stories. So to me if you have a film that captures the style but cannot be considered a film noir then the definition must be more than style, it must include content.

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My Personal Film Festival

So, the end of the year period is the time frame where I tend to do a lot of overtime at my day-job. My habit is to take the extra funds generated by the OT, set them aside, and buy myself something nice with that loot. This year it will be replacing my 10-year-old flat screen television. I am looking at a Sony X900E in the 55″ size for my next television. I will be waiting until after the upcoming copyrighted sporting event to make that purchase, as it is not uncommon for TVs to go on sale at that time.

Once the new television is installed and ready to go for a few friends and family I will then host my Cold War Movie Marathon; three films about the cold war, produced during the cold war.

1) The Manchurian Candidate (1962). I selected this film, one of my personal favorites, to capture the essence of paranoia the infused the period. With terrific performances by Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Frank Sinatra it is a classic.

2) The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) Based on the novel by John Le Carre this is the dark and realistic tale of an intelligence officer attempting one final field mission. This one I picked for its excellent sense of cynicism and the moral ambiguity of the both sides during the protracted contest. Starring Richard Burton this movie is pretty much the polar opposite of a James Bond movie.

3) Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) I will end the series with this classic dark comedy from film genius Stanley Kubrick. Inspired by the novel Red Alert, Kubrick started the production as a serious dramatic film, but quickly found that his preferred method of dealing with such terrible subject matter was to turn it into farce, had it remained a dramatic film I think it would have been remembered but not a classic. Strangelove by being a farce captures the absurdity of that nuclear standoff and the insanity of the period.

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A Very Pleasant Weekend

The nation is suffering the grips of a nasty flu season and that fact certainly impacted this weekend local SF convention, Condor. Staff and attendance were below regular levels due to the illnesses sweeping the county. That said, the people putting together and running the convention overcame these challenges and I, for one, had a wonderful time at the con.

As you may have seen from my Thursday post I was assigned at a lot of panels and man was that fun. I interacted with a lot of smart, sharp, and engaging co-panelists on a wide variety of topics. All the discussions were spirited without devolving into arguments. The audiences for the panels were engaged, offering up good comments and questions.

I want to give my deepest thanks to the programmers for letting me participate in sop many panels, it was tremendous fun, and to everyone who came and participated in the convention. I look forward with great anticipation to Condor 26 next year.

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Come see me at Condor

This weekend, starting tomorrow Friday January 19th, is San Diego’s local SF convention, Condor.

Condor is small, intimate, and friendly convention, and one I have always enjoyed even before I began appearing on the panel discussions.

Here is my schedule for the weekend. It’s the busiest one I have gotten yet and it looks to be loads of fun.

 

Friday

Noon: If I Had A Time Machine. Room: Presidio

1pm: How Reliable is Science. Room: Garden II

3pm: This Is A Game? Room: Garden II

4pm: Social and Economic Ramifications of Teleport. Room: Garden II

6pm: Post-Apocalypse Fiction. Room: Presidio

9pm: First Line, Last Line. Room: Garden I

10pm: Can I Get A Prozac. Room: Garden II

 

Saturday

10am: Online-Only TV Series. Room: Garden II

1pm: TV Noir Part Deux. Room: Presidio

2pm: Friend’s Sidekicks, and Other Hooligans. Room: Garden II

4pm: My Favorite Doctor. Room: Presidio

6pm: Large Scale Continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Room: Balboa

8pm: Back to the Future. Room: Balboa

9pm: Scientific Urban Legends. Room Balboa

 

Sunday

10am: Our Favorite Time Travel Movies & Shows. Room: Presidio

Noon: Six-Guns, 38s and Laser Pistols. Room: Garden II

1pm: The Internet: Valuable Research Tool or Kitten Photo Gallery? Room: Presidio

3pm: City on the Edge of Forever. Room: Presidio

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Documentary Review: Five Came Back

I did not get any fiction writing completed last night. While I have finally gotten over my flu, and this year’s number is quite a little beast, early in the evening the migraine gnomes arrived with his less than anticipated gifts. Instead, after taking the required medications, I settled into to complete a documentary series that I had started while still recovering from my flu; Five Came Back.

A Netflix original and based on the book of the same name this series, three episode each just over an hour in length, examines the lives of five legendary and award winning directors before during and after their service in World War II. Each man served as a filmmaker and as with everyone else who saw service in that global and terrible conflict each was changed by their experience. The Five were John Houston, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and Frank Capra.

The films produced by these men range from instructional movies and cartoon, including the classic Private SNAFU which featured the earlier work of Ted Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss, through blatant propaganda, and touching revelations about the ravages of psychic wounds.

A movie I commented on here a few months ago, Know Your Enemy: Japan a racist piece of propaganda, I can happily report was never actually screen to our troops. It only made it to the front just three days after the surrender and MacArthur banned its presentation.

If you have an interest in film, history, and the Venn diagram where these two fascinating fields overlap I cannot this series enough.

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