Saturday, October 29, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Infiltrator

The Infiltrator
directed by Brad Furman
Sometimes I wonder about the employee vetting that is done by criminal organizations. It's true that that a middle manager in the organized crime syndicate GREED Inc. can't exactly call up his opposite number in FEAR LLC, and ask if the applicant sitting in front of him really did spend 4 years working in FEAR's murders and executions group and a productive fourteen months overseeing money laundering, import export tax fraud and various other white collar crimes in the Buenos Aires branch. FEAR likely doesn't keep the sort of hiring records and performance reviews that would be necessary to verify such claims. And FEAR might have little interest in sharing personnel information with GREED. All the same, in a milieu where trust is at a premium and various agencies are looking to put you in prison for utterly ridiculous amounts of time, I would think that if you were a criminal you'd want to make doggone sure that the people you're working with were also criminals and not say, U.S. Customs agents. So if someone gives you an Italian name and claims to be connected with certain important people in the New York underworld, wouldn't you try to find out if said person is telling the truth before you bring them into your inner circle and start doing business with them? Well maybe. But on the other hand a lot of criminals tend to be stupid, greedy and very short sighted. That's part of the reason that they are criminals in the first place. And drug use doesn't help. In the 1980s Florida based U.S. Customs Agent Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) is at the top of his game. During the day he busts bad guys. In the evening he goes home to his supportive wife Evelyn (Julie Aubry) and their two kids. There's a rather significant difference between Bob's kind helpful nature at home and his much sharper acerbic persona at work. That's probably not different than anyone who has to work though regardless of what their job entails.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Michigan: Michigan State Game

Michigan State has beaten Michigan in seven out of the last eight football games they've played. This has gotten Michigan's attention, perhaps even more so than the number one rivalry with Ohio State. In 2007 an ill-advised, albeit accurate off the cuff comment by former Michigan running back Mike Hart describing Michigan State as "little brother" enraged MSU players, coaches and fans. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio skillfully used that description to play up MSU's sense of resentment and puncture what some saw as Michigan's sense of entitlement. Since 2008, MSU has routinely taken Michigan to the woodshed and given them a whupping. With one or two exceptions the games were not as competitive as the final scores indicated. MSU had better players: bigger, faster, stronger, smarter and meaner. And MSU had the better coach. Former Michigan coaches Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke were mostly hapless against the sharper Dantonio.  For eight years I've had to hear it from relatives or friends who attended Michigan State. Eight long years. Finally the powers that be at my alma mater noticed that the former rivalry game was on the verge of becoming irrelevant. Dantonio's constant jibes probably helped with that process. Michigan hired former San Francisco Forty Niners (and Stanford) coach and U-M alum Jim Harbaugh, making him the highest paid coach in college football.  In his second year Harbaugh currently has the undefeated Michigan Wolverines ranked at #2 in the nation.  Although he has yet to beat the Spartans, Harbaugh has turned around the Michigan football program more quickly than anticipated. Meanwhile, after a long run of success the Spartans have fallen on hard times. They are winless in the Big Ten and have lost five games in a row, including to such powderpuff programs as Maryland and Northwestern. Although nothing is sure in college football (remember MSU beat Michigan last year on the very last play of the game) this year's game between Michigan and Michigan State should see Michigan prevail. 

But I don't want to just prevail. No, no, no that would not do. Not by a long shot.

I want to stomp MSU into whimpering submission. I want to run up the score. I want to go for two after every touchdown. I want to burn down East Lansing and salt the smoldering remains, speaking metaphorically of course. I want to beat MSU so badly that children yet to be born speak in hushed whispers of the 2016 massacre. So hopefully we'll do that this Saturday and start the long overdue process of restoring U-M to its rightful place as Kings of the North and Champions of the West.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mary J. Blige, Divorce and Money

I don't really keep up with Mary J. Blige. I am not a fan of her singing style. But I wouldn't deny that she has talent and has put the work in to get where she is in life. Like a lot of different people in life she's come to the end of her road with her special someone. It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you make it's got to hurt when, to paraphrase Sam Kinison, your significant other comes home and tells you that s/he doesn't want to share anything with you any more and must drink a six pack each night to keep from decapitating you. Such is life though. If you live long enough that or something similar to that will happen to you. Now if a couple married young and worked and sacrificed and supported each other as they built a fast food franchise that morphed into a real estate empire that purchased a bank that later took over a professional sports team then they really did create something together. If they split in their later years, each person should get 50% of the value of all their businesses. Or if not 50% it should be pretty doggone close. But when one person in a marriage has the job of making all of the money and the other person has the job of spending all of the money I don't think there should be an even split of marital assets upon divorce. I think that just because someone once did something kind or ran through walls for their partner doesn't mean that he or she needs to keep doing that once the thrill is gone. And although I do tend to be more traditional in some aspects I feel this way regardless of the sex of the partner seeking to be taken care of post-marriage. There are lots of things that men and women do for each other when they're in love that are no longer done once the love is gone. That's just human nature. I don't think you can change that. I don't think that you can or rather I don't think that you should force people to continue doing those things with someone that they currently hate. Kendu Isaacs, who is being divorced by Mary J. Blige, is requesting a reported $129,319 in monthly spousal support. 

Time to turn on the heat?

When do you turn on the central heating in your home? Or if you don't have central heating when do you start loading up fireplaces and turning on space heaters? Because I grew up in Michigan I like to think that I am inured to the cold. So I usually don't turn on the heat until the thermostat in the house is below 45 degrees or until mid-November, which ever comes first. It would appear however, judging by the plumes of white vapor I see rising from some homes in my neighborhood during my early morning walks, that not everyone feels that way. We are in fall; temperatures are dropping. I believe the nightly lows have lately been just above freezing. Smart or kind people are bringing in their dogs from the backyards. I was tempted to turn on the heat a few days ago but then I remembered how much I truly hate giving money to the local utility. In January and February when it's truly cold, I will be paying the utility hundreds of dollars a month. That's no fun. So not only would I rather delay the financial damage as long as possible but also because it's fall and not winter, temperatures can fluctuate dramatically. We're supposed to have highs of 70 degrees once or twice in the next ten days. So from my perspective there's not really a need to have the heat on just yet. If people get cold they can put on a sweater, drink some tea or burrow in under a quilt. When you pay your own bills you can finally answer that not so rhetorical question your parents asked you when you were ten and told them that you wanted to turn the heat up. You know the question. "Do you have turn the heat up money?". Then as now the answer was always no.The only exception to this no-heat policy before winter would obviously be guests and babies. A house guest should be made to feel as comfortable as possible while obviously a baby needs warmth. But growing up if I made the mistake of saying I was cold someone would almost certainly say that they had some work for me to do which would take my mind off of the temperature. That was also the same answer I got if I ever said I was bored. Hmm. So I think I will stick to my no-heat policy just as long as I can. I like the current low bills I get from my utility company.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Reviews: Waking Up Screaming

Waking Up Screaming
by H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft was probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th century. His influence has touched people as disparate as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, and many many more. Despite his posthumous fame, Lovecraft made very little money during his life. None of his books was ever published during his lifetime. His primary source of income was writing for pulp magazines, which paid little and not regularly. Lovecraft died of cancer, though the poverty derived starvation may have gotten him first. Lovecraft's primary work was done in short stories though he also created a few novellas and novels. Calling Lovecraft a horror novelist is far too limiting. Probably it is more accurate to call him a creator of weird fiction. Horror, sci-fi and just strange goings on all are found in all of his stories. Lovecraft was a peculiar man who professed to be indifferent to sex. His ex-wife famously said that Lovecraft was "adequate" in the boudoir. Also, even for his time and social/gender group Lovecraft was extremely racist. Just being around those he considered to be his biological and social inferiors could leave him in a quivering rage. So those elements occasionally came through in his stories. Heck some scholars believe that those personal failings are what drove and inspired Lovecraft. You can either deal with that or not. Beautiful flowers can grow from some ugly s***. Women are rarely found in Lovecraft's fictional creations and never as protagonists. Non-whites?  The less said about that the better I think. Let's move along. Anyhow, Waking Up Screaming is (mostly) a collection of Lovecraft's short stories which is tilted towards his early period. If you haven't ever read anything by Lovecraft before this could be a good place to satisfy your curiosity. He had a very distinctive prose style, one that is extremely descriptive, too much so at times. Lovecraft never met an adjective or adverb he didn't like. And the more out of the ordinary or antiquated the word was the more likely Lovecraft was to use it. Lovecraft was, as mentioned, something of a reactionary who thought that the US might have made a mistake separating from the United Kingdom. Lovecraft was a big fan of the 18th century and no doubt would have been happier living during that time.  What Lovecraft didn't like in his writing was dialogue. This can make his writing hard to get through at times. A great many of his protagonists are men such as Lovecraft saw himself, sensitive souls who may go mad when they discover or are forced to confront some other dimensional horror or worse some secret from their past.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fun and Games in Michigan: False Accusations and No Nonsense Judges

It shouldn't matter but because people often jump to conclusions based on misunderstanding or disliking an argument I would like to point out that I do know people who have been sexually assaulted or molested. It's a horrible crime, almost as bad as murder. As we recently noted the seriousness of sexual assault shouldn't be minimized. But in a time where people are judging movies by what crimes their directors were acquitted of or trying to decide if a Presidential candidate assaulted women, it is important to remember that although we don't like to admit it, some women really do lie about sexual assault. There is debate as to how frequently this occurs. Most reputable studies suggest that only a small percentage of accusations are ever proven to be false. Just because some women lie doesn't mean most women do. In this recent story Leiha Artman lied about being raped and kidnapped. The lie was evidently detected before someone was arrested, charged and convicted. So from what I can tell right now no unfortunate soul who "fit the description" was hauled into court based on Artman's lies. Contrary to the current zeitgeist, women are just as capable of immoral behavior as men are. Just because someone makes a charge doesn't mean that the charge is true. If someone denies a charge or vigorously defends himself we can't assume his actions indicate hatred of women or promotion of rape. Our justice system hinges on the idea that the burden of proof is on the person making the accusation. No one is entitled to be believed automatically without evidence. There are all sorts of reasons someone would lie about being the victim of a horrible crime. To reach the truth it's imperative that the hypothesis that a crime was committed be challenged, tested, poked and prodded. Nothing is perfect. There will be some guilty people who go free and some innocent people who go to jail or prison. In some cases we'll never know what happened. And beyond reasonable doubt doesn't mean beyond all doubt. But ideally our system is designed to minimize the number of innocent people who are convicted. I am glad that in this case the criminal is going to jail. If anything I think her sentence is too light. She could have gotten six years. I definitely would want to give her a sentence that would impress upon her the wrongness of her actions.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Invictus

Invictus
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

This is a favorite poem of mine. William Ernest Henley wrote this poem in 1875 when thanks to tuberculosis he had to have one leg amputated. He narrowly avoided losing his remaining leg. So, presumably as a way to avoid saying "why me?" for the rest of his life (Henley lived another 28 years after the amputation), he wrote this poem. It wasn't the only work he ever did but it was his best known work. It's something that has touched people who are motivated by good (Mandela) and evil (Timothy McVeigh). The bottom line is that we all have to make our own decisions in life. And no matter what happens in life we have to keep on going. Though this poem has a grim determination to it I don't think you have to lose a leg, spend 27 years unjustly imprisoned, or blow up a government building to find inspiration in these words. There's nothing guaranteed to us in life so there's no point in crying about your losses. You might as well get up when you get knocked down. After all what else are you going to do? The important thing to remember is that each of us gets to make our own moral choices. You should never let anyone warp or remove your moral barometer. 

Ben Carson Puts His Foot In His Mouth Defending Trump

Let's say you're a campaign surrogate. If people are constructing what you believe is a false narrative around your candidate you must defend your candidate in a way that destroys that narrative. If your candidate is accused of hating black people you can't dismiss that narrative by saying "My candidate loves the darkies! And you won't find a n*****r that says otherwise!" So if your candidate is accused of behaving nastily towards women it's probably not a good idea for the campaign to send out a surrogate who's going to fight with women media figures and ask the male tv host if he would turn off the women's microphones or put a plug in their mouths. Just saying. I don't believe that if you think that a woman is being unfair, rude or dishonest that you need to accept her behavior or her premises. Not at all. In the media Octagon everyone is fair game. But there is a rather large range of verbal choices between "Here's why you're wrong Miss So-n-So" and "Someone shut this witch up so I can speak, dammit!" Unfortunately Trump campaign loony surrogate Dr. Ben Carson, showing more aggression on behalf of Trump than he ever did for his own Presidential candidacy, probably did more on MSNBC to advance the idea that Trump did some of the things of which he is accused than convince people that Trump was falsely accused. Dr. Carson was an enormously skilled neurosurgeon but he has poor political instincts. Having Carson defending you or explaining away accusations against you doesn't work. He's like a fireman who tries to extinguish a fire with gasoline. Trump is verbally pugnacious and belligerent. Carson seems to have picked up his new friend's traits. But you need to understand when, where and how to fight. If you don't get that, as Carson and Trump apparently don't, you run the risk of turning off Republican women who would otherwise vote for you. When you're baited into saying that it doesn't matter if Trump's accusers are telling the truth you probably should stop and review your moves to see how you wound saying something so stupid. Because you're not serving your candidate's interests. You're serving his rival's interests. 


Book Reviews: When The Thrill Is Gone, Assassin's Code

When The Thrill Is Gone
by Walter Mosley
When I call from work and the phone is busy/I never never never ask who was on the line
When I get home late she don't ask any questions/Cause she's got her thing going on and you know I got mine - One Big Unhappy Family Isaac Hayes
This Leonid McGill mystery novel reminded me of the above Isaac Hayes song about a married couple who stay together for some bad reasons. The book's title references the title of one of B.B. King's best known songs. That song tells the story of a man who informs his woman that her magic doesn't work on him any more. Although he's hurt by her infidelity and will be lonely without her he's leaving for good. In Mosley's book there's a great sense of weariness that the protagonist, a private eye trying with varying degrees of success to live a moral life, expresses. Leonid is thinking a lot about his deceased father. Leonid is constantly remembering things that his father told him and weighing them against how the world really works. Even though Leonid has stayed married to his beautiful blonde middle aged wife Katrina it's an open question as to why. Leonid tells himself that he stays with Katrina for the children but that's probably no longer true. The children, only one of whom is biologically Leonid's, are certainly old enough to realize that their mother and father don't have a happy marriage. Leonid knows that Katrina has taken up with a new man, someone who is only a few years older than her oldest son. Leonid even suspects that Katrina might be using some of the children to cover up her dalliances. Leonid might view his indulgence for Katrina's infidelity as well deserved punishment for his past evil acts. He might turn a blind eye to her running around because being old, short and stout he could struggle to find a woman of Katrina's beauty. Or most likely Leonid doesn't care about Katrina's cheating because Leonid has his own extra-marital interests, most notably his on-again off-again girlfriend/friend with benefits/muse Aura. Regardless of his disconnect with Katrina, who paradoxically is very friendly with Leonid now that another mule is kicking in her stall, Leonid still wants to protect his family. His biological son Dmitri is pining for a foreign femme fatale. Leonid's favorite son, Twill, is getting involved in less than legit activities. Leonid tries to keep an eye on him but Twill is elusive. Twill may not share any DNA with Leonid but Twill definitely has his "father's" ability to shade the truth, keep numerous plans in the air all at once, manipulate people to his advantage, play rough if need be and avoid direct answers whenever possible. If he didn't worry about Twill so doggone much Leonid might admire him more. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Let's Talk About Sexual Assault Baby



The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the ugliest campaigns in history.  On my commute this morning, all my favorite radio stations covered the latest attacks and zingers aimed at both candidates.  In fact, many news agencies are referring to this election as the "Scorched Earth" election based on the sheer levels of vitriol spewn at both candidates.  The  two campaigns are mired in the deep muckity muck, and clearly this won't end until the night of the election, at the earliest.  On one side you have Donald Trump, a candidate who has gone on the offensive after making his now-famous quip, where he heralds that because of his star power he can, "Grab [women] by the pussy."  On the other hand, you have Hillary Clinton, who as the wife of former President Bill Clinton, has had to deal with multiple accusations of sexual assault since he was governor of Arkansas.  Additionally, she has been criticized for her treatment of Bill's accusers.

In 2016, both campaigns have drawn their war lines.  Trump's campaign has made it clear that if more tapes or videos are released of him making crass statements about women, the personal attacks he shoots at Hillary will increase in severity.  Clinton's campaign is using surrogates (i.e., Michelle Obama) to slam her opponent and keep his treatment of women (according to them) on their minds for election day.   But going negative is always bad right?  Doesn't it hurt the campaigns and set our country back before the glaring eyes of the world?  Well....I'll answer that in a bit.

Of all the post debate polls pasted to the screen,  the ones I appreciate most are the ones measuring the public's reaction to negative comments made by candidates.  I don't believe I've ever seen a poll where viewers positively critiqued candidates that focus on negative attack ads.  There are even studies that measure the number of negative television and radio ads a candidate uses along with the public's response.  From what I've seen, the majority of the public doesn't like when candidates go negative.  So can we just conclude going negative is a bad thing for campaigns and move on?  Well, not so fast.  I think there's a silver lining in this election's negativity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Faithless Electors: Could Electors Defect and Conspire to Elect Who They Want?




The other day, I had a conversation with a few friends about the Electoral College.  We had a spirited discussion on this topic because my friend posed the question:  If a bunch of billionaires got together, could they conspire and create enough faithless electors to get their candidate in office?

Before I answer this question, let me give you a bit of background about the Electoral College and then a tad bit of facts about faithless electors.  Don't worry, I promise not to bore you.  Stay with me.

As you know,  those elected as members to the United States Electoral College promise to vote for the presidential or vice presidential candidate their state chooses in the popular vote.  Although ordinary citizens pull the lever for their candidate to occupy the White House, the elector's vote is the vote that actually counts toward the 270 required to elevate a candidate to the office of POTUS.

In most states, electors are chosen by political parties or that party's presidential nominee.  The chosen elector is generally a proven, committed, and faithful member of the party.   This is a safeguard to ensure the faithful vote of electors.  However, this safety mechanism fails to eliminate faithless electors, who are members of the Electoral College that either vote against or abstain from voting for their party's chosen candidate.  

Since the beginning of the electoral college, there have only been 157 instances of faithless voting.  Read here for more information.  Surprisingly, there has never been an instance where faithless electors have affected a presidential race.  There was, however, one close call.  It happened in the election of 1836 where 23 Virginian electors went against the grain and abstained from voting because their vice presidential candidate, Richard Johnson, openly admitted dating his black slave.  This action forced the vote for the office of the vice president to be decided by the Senate, who selected Johnson anyway.  Crisis averted.  Other faithless electors flipped their vote because of their candidate's death or to make a political point.

Ok enough background (I told you I wouldn't bore you), now let's get to the answer.  Again, could a bunch of affluent conspirators gather enough faithless electors and change the course of an election?  My answer may surprise you.  See it after the jump.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Birth of a Nation" Tumbles at the Box Office: The Only Person to Blame is Nate Parker!


"Birth of a Nation" the biopic recapping the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, opened on Friday, October 7th with much anticipation and intense scrutiny. The film set records back in January, when Fox Searchlight paid a whopping record breaking $17.5M for distribution rights. Fox Searchlight made a major bet on Nate Parker and this film. Let's get the full picture so that we understand the depth of this bet that Fox Searchlight took on Nate...

According the Vanity Fair:
Fox Searchlight has a long history with Sundance acquisitions that, like any other company’s, is a bit checkered; they paid $10 million for Little Miss Sunshine at the 2006 festival and went on to turn that film into a summer box office hit and a best picture Oscar nominee. They also paid $12 million last year, at the time a Sundance record, for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the most buzzed-about film of that festival that went on to anemic box office and virtually no awards season presence. Making films is hard; knowing how much to pay for films, and then putting them in front of audiences, is sometimes even harder.
So Fox Searchlight really needed a win here! I can recall reading reports in January shortly after the acquisition where people talked about the emotional time it was watching the movie at Sundance. The film received a standing ovation at the end. People couldn't stop talking about it. There was a bidding war that involved Netflix, Sony, and the Weinstein Company. Everyone wanted this film. However, Fox Searchlight won and they were banking on this film to deliver them not only financial returns, but major accolades. 

Okay so what went wrong? 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trump's Crude Talk About Women

The murder rate is rising. In a slowly improving economy the unemployment rate is ticking up. Russia just made a not so veiled threat against American armed forces in Syria. Another black man was shot dead by the police. The President's signature domestic achievement is undergoing an accelerating implosion, just as predicted here and here. Even the President himself admitted that ObamaCare needed some changes. More illegal immigrants have (allegedly) committed murder. The President, rebuffed twice(!) by the Supreme Court in his attempt to give illegal immigrants legal status and work permits, has nonetheless decided to suspend deportations for the latest round of illegal immigrants arriving from Central and South America (as long as they aren't Haitian). China continues to move forward on its claim to the entire South China Sea. Israel, despite literally unprecedented US financial and military assistance, continues its occupation and settlement of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. In short there are a LOT of things going on in the world which will impact the standing of the US as a nation and have effects for good or ill on the lives of US citizens. And yet the big news of the day is that in 2005 Donald Trump made some crude nasty profane comments about women that he wanted to sleep with or failed to sleep with. Some of these women were married at the time as was Trump. Here I should probably state again that although I'm not going to discuss which candidate I'm going to vote for it certainly won't be Donald Trump. I despise him. All the same I believe there are plenty of issues to discuss in the debates and among the electorate that are at least as important as what a horny slimeball said in a private conversation eleven years ago. Maybe it's just me but I am given to understand that when men are in all male environments their talk can often turn to women. Shocking I know. And though I have no way to independently verify this information I have heard that women in all female groups sometimes talk about men in a manner that is rather less than ladylike. Imagine that. If you are stunned or surprised by Trump's filthy talk then you haven't been paying attention to what sort of man he is. Does his talk disqualify him for the Presidency? The voters will decide. He certainly wouldn't be the first President to use that sort of language. I think the sort of people who are likely to vote for Trump have already made their peace with the fact that he is a boorish crude man who sees unrelated women primarily in terms of their attractiveness to him. They may not be worried about a President who wants to grab women by their (insert bad word). Apparently Trump's marriage vows were restraints on his wife's sex life, not his. This video is intended to hurt Trump with that group of college educated suburban Republican white women who aren't crazy about Clinton but don't like Trump's persona. Will this video close the door on Trump's candidacy. I don't think so. But it will drag the race even further into the gutter. But with Trump as a candidate could it be otherwise? If Trump is truly surprised that this sort of stuff is coming out it again shows that he's not very smart. Watch video below.

Movie Reviews: The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2
directed by James Wan
This movie is not really all that different from the first installment but in this case that is a good thing. If you have reached a saturation point for gratuitous violence and sex in horror movies then this film series is for you. Wan continues to show that you can scare people and more importantly tell a good story without constant blood flow and barely covered heaving mammaries. Not that there's anything wrong with those things of course. Obviously though the previous sentence assumes that you are a horror film fan. If you aren't a horror fan this movie might leave you cold. Even so it's nice to see a horror movie get solid actors/actresses like Farmiga and Wilson to play leads. Their presence and competence give the film a certain gravitas that too often eludes works in this genre. What are the things that scare us most? Among the top three are probably death, being alone and darkness. You could argue that the second item in that list is just a subset of the first in many aspects. Even the most introverted among us still needs some human contact. That's why solitary confinement is a punishment. And death is the cessation of our existence and the ending of human contact-at least on this plane of existence. What could be scarier than that? And as animals whose primary sense is vision, we find it disconcerting to be in complete darkness. The primary method by which we experience information no longer works. Our sense of what's real or not can be shaky. The Conjuring 2 uses all of these primal fears to tell a frightening story of haunting and possession.  You're alone in the dark and someone who is dead is talking to you. Sound like fun?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Reviews: The Bone Labyrinth

The Bone Labyrinth
By James Rollins
This is another installment in a series of thrillers but believe me when I tell you that it's really not necessary to have read the previous books. This book stands alone. I thought that the introduction and first few portions of the story were pretty enjoyable but that the story dragged in the middle. Because this was a very long book I felt that the story could have been cut rather dramatically without losing the good parts. If you like mysteries, thrillers and stories that feature ancient historical whodunit conspiracies this book is solid reading-for at least the first third of the book. The Bone Labyrinth reads as if Michael Crichton and Dan Brown sat down to write together. It's unusual in that instead of making the bad guys inhuman, Russian or Muslim the author draws upon his own unpleasant experiences in a Chinese zoo as well as some of the nastier aspects of Chinese culture to make some very mean Chinese villains. I didn't get any feel of serious xenophobia from this but of course YMMV. The villains aren't cartoon characters. However this is definitely not a book which will be made into a movie directed at Chinese audiences. Rollins doesn't mince words about his disdain for dictatorships with no respect for human rights or life. As the author writes in the book and has stated in real life, the US might want to rethink a university system that instead of concentrating on the education of American citizens, is awarding a sizable proportion of advanced science, math and engineering degrees to foreign nationals, particularly Chinese. This has the impact of funding our own economic and political competition as well as leaving ourselves needlessly vulnerable to various security risks both public and private. The author has also been a veterinarian. Throughout the story, Rollins provides sympathetic description of how animals and humans interact with each other. If you like animals there will be a great deal of tugging at your heart strings interspersed in this story. If you don't like animals or have a tendency to only see them as a means to an end then much of this book may seem a bit mawkish to you. All the same I think it is worthwhile to think about the millions of species who share the planet with us and what our responsibility is to them.