Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Reviews: Elevation, Legend

Elevation
by Stephen King
This is a very short novel that might more properly be called a short story or novella. It's something that could be read in a few days or even a few hours. It's a mug's game trying to determine authorial intent or meaning in fiction but this is probably the third King book in a row where King seems to be going out of his way to emphasize how important it is to be nice to each other as well as pointing out the fact that life is short. So take that for what you will. It's set in Castle Rock, Maine. There are some tongue in cheek references to other King works. 

This is not, repeat not a horror novel. There are no things that go bump in the night, sadistic demons who appear as clowns, malign intelligent eyes growing on characters' chests (or other body parts) or psychopathic child killers who serve other dimensional entities. So if you're looking for those things you won't find them here. On the other hand if you have been wary of reading King because of his general propensity to write scary stories or for that matter long stories then this could be an enjoyable venture into the short end of the pool. The story is occasionally a bit didactic but I think that most people of King's age have earned the right to share whatever wisdom they've gained during their time here. 

It's worth noting that (1) quality writing is quality writing regardless of the subject and (2) over the years King has written quite a few stories that either lacked supernatural elements or had them in only very modest amounts. So this isn't his first time at the rodeo.

Scott Carey is a divorced web designer. He makes a good living for himself; he is able to work from home for the most part. His life hasn't been great, but it hasn't been that bad either. Scott has one big problem however.

Who Peed In Your Corn Flakes?

Well I guess we know the answer to that question now. If your cornflakes are a little soggy or your rice krispies don't go snap, crackle and pop, the fault probably lies with one Gregory Stanton.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee man faces up to three years in prison for urinating on a Kellogg's cereal conveyor belt at a Memphis facility.
News outlets report 49-year-old Gregory Stanton pleaded guilty last month to tampering with consumer products. He was indicted by a grand jury in September. Stanton worked for the plant in 2014 and posted a video online in 2016 of him urinating on the conveyor belt. The video led the company to alert law enforcement and launched an investigation that involved the Food & Drug Administration.

Cyber Flashing: Sexual Harrassment on Your Phone

So you're out and about minding your own business and suddenly out of the blue you get a phone message. Oh boy! A message, a message! Well who could it be? Does your spouse or special rider need to speak to you? Maybe your kid's in some sort of trouble? Perhaps a sibling or friend has sent you a joke? 

Maybe a hospitalized elderly relative you just visited needs you to do something? Maybe a parent is sending you a reminder of something you just spoke about, as parents are often prone to do. So you look down at your phone to see what the message is and who sent it. Well, no it's nothing like that. Some anonymous idiot calling himself something stupid has sent you an unsolicited pic of a body part you really don't care to see at the moment or maybe not ever.

Rebecca Odorisio was traveling home on a crowded A train on Tuesday when a photo suddenly appeared on her phone from someone identifying himself as “The Enterprise.” It was a picture of an erect penis, sent to her over AirDrop, an iPhone feature that allows users to send photos and documents to anyone within 30 feet who has left that feature open. Disgusted, she quickly rejected it. “I felt like I had been punched in the gut,” Ms. Odorisio, 31, a Brooklyn-based actress and singer, said Wednesday. She said it was not the first time something like that had happened to her, adding, “It was extremely violating.” 

Kathe Hannauer, 58, had a similar experience last month, as she traveled from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a crowded train during the evening rush. When an image of male genitalia suddenly appeared on her screen, she said she felt more surprised than flustered. “It was kind of like, ‘At my age?’” she said. “No one has harassed me in the longest time.” 


Thursday, December 6, 2018

French Fuel Tax Protests

"Let me tell you how it will be/It's one for you and nineteen for me. Because I'm the taxman." 
-Taxman
The Beatles
It's very hard to determine ahead of time when people have had enough. Often the fuse is lit but no one knows when the bomb will explode. Governments and dissidents alike would love to have the answer to that question. It would make their work a lot easier. If you're a repressive but smart government official you might want to keep the proverbial pot warmed just enough so that the frog doesn't realize he's being cooked.

If you're a dashing would be freedom fighter you don't want to waste your time, good looks, energy, youth and life trying to rally apathetic people to the barricades who would rather be home watching sports or downloading NSFW material. In France recently we had a reminder of what happens when governments get a little too far ahead of what populations will accept. After three weeks of protests and riots which saw three people die as French police and civilians attacked each other with hammers, tear gas and water cannon, the French President Macron initially announced that there would be a six month suspension of a 25 cent gasoline tax increase. Later on the government said the tax was cancelled. This tax was sold in part as a green initiative required by the Paris Climate Accords but because Macron has cut taxes on the rich this tax wasn't exactly popular with people of more modest income or wealth or those who live in rural areas and have less access to public transportation. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Movie Reviews: Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley
directed by Edmund Goulding
This is one of the better noir films I've seen. He's probably too old to do a remake of this but I couldn't help but think that George Clooney would have done well being cast as the lead in a remake. Or maybe Ben Affleck or Michael B. Jordan. It would have to be someone who could almost effortlessly embody the mix of danger, good looks and loose morals that Hollywood sharp dressed leading man Tyrone Power did in this film, which was quite different from his normal fare. This movie wasn't a hit when it first came out, likely because the material could be construed as downbeat. Nevertheless Power's physicality and grace are essential to the film's story and looks.

Carny barker Stan Carlisle (Power) is a smooth man who employs his verbal adeptness  to drum up interest in the traveling carnival in which he works.  Stan is both fascinated and disgusted by his fellow carnival workers, particularly the lowly geek (the man who bites the heads off chickens). Stan can't imagine how anyone can fall so low. Stan doesn't intend for that to happen to him. No sir.  Stan has big plans for himself.  He is chummy with older fellow carny worker Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith). 

Zeena and Pete used to be big time. They worked a mind-reading hustle before Pete's drinking habits ruined it. The couple used a secret code to tip each other off to the correct questions and answers. But Zeena doesn't want to share that code with Stan. She's saving it for a rainy day when she can hopefully get the drunk Pete some help. And she won't give it up for money or even that other currency that men and women use with each other.

The Border Fracas

TIJUANA, Mexico — A peaceful march by Central American migrants waiting at the southwestern United States border veered out of control on Sunday afternoon, as hundreds of people tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border crossing that leads into San Diego. 

In response, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency shut down the border crossing in both directions and fired tear gas to push back migrants from the border fence. The border was reopened later Sunday evening. The episode comes at a time of growing tension on both sides of the border and promised to become the newest flash point in the story of a caravan that was the target of President Trump’s anti-immigrant rallying cry during the midterm elections. LINK

I don't have much to say about this that I haven't said before. It's important to understand that there are few if any sovereign nations that will routinely let masses of people enter without permission. The US isn't one of them, strictly speaking. If you zerg rush a border there are basically three choices that the authorities have. (1) The authorities can back down and let you in. (2) The authorities can use non-lethal force to prevent your entry. (3) The authorities can use lethal force to prevent your entry. If the authorities make the first choice they will invite more people to do the same thing.

A border is force made visible. It tells everyone else that this section of the planet is ours. You can't enter or stay without our permission. Consent is everything here. It's the difference between extending an invitation to someone to visit my home and someone entering my home without my permission. It's the same action in each instance but I will have utterly different reactions. Consent matters.

WNBA Players Opt Out Of Collective Bargaining Agreement

The iconic American retailer Sears has declared bankruptcy. Sears has limited time to liquidate or find a new owner. Many Sears stores will close. Many Sears employees will lose their jobs.

Sears was a victim of poor management and ruthless competition from brick and mortar companies like Target, Lowes, Home Depot, and Macy's as well as online behemoths like Amazon. This is a good time to visit your local Sears outlet and buy something on sale. It is a bad time for a Sears employee to demand better pay or conditions or threaten to quit. Sears workers lack leverage. Sears is looking to shed workers and cut costs. It probably won't survive. It would be laughable for Sears workers to say they deserve more money because they work at a historic American company. That's not how business works.

Unfortunately the WNBA players union isn't run by people who understand business, demand, profit and loss, leverage, or who pay any attention to money losing enterprises. The WNBA players, apparently miffed that they neither earn the money that the NBA players earn or share the same revenue percentage that NBA players share, decided in early November to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, presumably of course, hoping to make more money. 

Birds Use Quantum Physics to Navigate

It is difficult for me to accept and believe that at some levels physics is a list of possibilities AND that particles can be at two places at once or even not "decide" where they are until they are observed. So in a very real way we can make our own reality. 

Spooky action at a distance is what Einstein called it. But apparently this is what mathematics and physics tells us. What is more interesting to me though is not the insights humans gain from supercollider experiments but the apparent fact that birds, who by most standards, weren't considered to be the Einsteins of the animal world, use quantum physics/biology to navigate. And that would mean that a bird's perception of and experience of reality is EXTREMELY different from our own.

As little as a decade ago, scientists were sure that the chemistry of life and the weird chemistry of the quantum world were completely separate things. Quantum effects were usually observed only on the nanometer scale, surrounded by hard vacuum, ultra-low temperatures, and a tightly controlled laboratory environment. Biology, however, is a macroscopic world that is warm, messy, and anything but controlled. It seemed elementary that a quantum phenomenon such as 'coherence', in which the wave patterns of every part of a system stay in step, wouldn't last a microsecond in the tumultuous realm of the cell. It would be simply unthinkable.

Or so we thought…



NYPD Cops Caught Planting Evidence

As we've discussed many times before the problem with police is not just a question of individual personal bigotry. It's that police are systemically directed and employed disproportionately against Black men. The NYPD still has arrest and ticket quotas to meet. If a cop doesn't meet these quotas he doesn't get promoted. He doesn't get plum assignments or overtime. There are a million and one ways that the command structure can mess with a cop thought to be insufficiently productive or aggressive, 

The problem is that judges and prosecutors, when faced with evidence of police misconduct and lies, will do their best to turn a blind eye to such crimes, even if they have to protect the police from themselves by halting a trial or hearing. And obviously when police investigate themselves it's quite rare that they ever find that they did wrong. Although this incident could have been much worse, it's important to remember that it's still pretty bad. A young man spent two weeks in Rikers for a crime he didn't commit, while a cop willing to commit perjury and plant evidence is still on the street along with his buddies who will insist they didn't see anything funny.


The New York Times has obtained body-camera recordings that document one arrest earlier this year on Staten Island. The videos offer a rare look at a type of encounter the public seldom sees, and show how aggressively the police will pursue a minor marijuana case, in some circumstances, and the subtle social dynamics that shape policing in New York. 
But the videos also raise questions about how far the police will go to make an arrest. Lawyers for the defendant, Lasou Kuyateh, argue that the recordings contain possible proof that one of the police officers planted a marijuana cigarette in Mr. Kuyateh’s car. The officer and the Police Department deny the allegation. 

Music Reviews: I Don't Want Nobody: Eddie Harris

I can't remember when I first heard this song. It might have been from my father's collection. But it is also likely that I heard it when I was visiting or hanging out with one of my various uncles. My father might have found some of Harris' work too avant-garde. I know he had some of his music though. One uncle is adamant that it was from his collection and that the other uncle in question never ever ever had the piece. It doesn't matter. 

I not so recently picked up a cd with Eddie Harris and David Newman on it: separate albums. The Eddie Harris portion was his album release titled I Need Some Money. I must have had this cd for a year or so and just got around to listening to it completely, which is when I remembered the song "I Don't Want Nobody". It's funny how music can jog memories and take you back to better places in your life. 

As mentioned before, Eddie Harris was one of those magical musicians who was equally at home in virtually all facets of music, particularly the various strains of African American music. This release and this song straddled the lines among gospel, blues, jazz, soul, rock, classical and more while being all of them simultaneously. In this song Eddie Harris weds the old to the new. He opens up by utilizing electronics to sing falsetto through his saxophone while laying down a gospel groove on organ.