Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie Reviews: Baby Driver, House of Strangers

Baby Driver
directed by Edgar Wright
Classic action film with familiar storyline and twist ending
I wasn't planning to watch this movie because I thought the story had to be similar to Drive or a million other movies where the hoodlum with a heart of gold has to do a final job for the Big Bad before he and his innocent but oh so sexy gun moll make a run for the border, pursued both by Johnny Law and the Big Bad's minions. Been there, done that. But my brother insisted that I watch this film. So I decided to give it a look see. This is a story which you have seen or read many millions of times before on screen or in print. You will be able to call out the plot twists and turns as they occur. The ending was something different but that aside there weren't too many surprises. But the lack of originality didn't matter as much because the acting of the two leads was organic and exciting. 

Whenever I started to think that this film felt unoriginal the director bopped me over the head with an adrenaline charge of a car chase or foot chase. Baby Driver, much like The Princess Bride, had something positive to say about True Love. Almost by definition that message never feels completely hackneyed. So there was that.

Secret Santa in New Jersey

It's often useful to remember that although we can be a selfish, greedy, bigoted species we also are just as likely to be kind, generous, altruistic and helpful. We all have seeds of kindness within us. And I think that ultimately there are probably more good people than bad. Otherwise we wouldn't have made it this far.

It might not be Christmas yet, but one Secret Santa in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, is already bringing the holiday cheer. CBS News anchor Pat Gallen was reporting from a Toys "R" Us in Cherry Hill when a man identified only as "Charlie K" came to get some Black Friday shopping done. Instead of buying just a few items for his son, he decided to pay for all 350 layaway orders — a total of over 8,000 toys — and asked everyone in the store to pick out three toys to be donated to Toys for Tots, an organization that distributes toys to kids whose parents can't afford them on Christmas.

“I’m trying to bring some happiness to people, to the community that brought happiness to me and my family,” he told CBS News. “I love this community and I am trying to provide back to it.”

Ann Arbor Deer Cull

If you happen to live or work in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have noticed that there seem to be more deer around than usual, do not worry. The word has come down from the top. It's a green light on deer. But you might want to be careful. Snipers will be shooting deer not just in designated public parks but on private property, including in some people's backyards. As you might imagine this plan has engendered some pushback, not only from people who would prefer not to see "nature management" up close and personal but from those who are worried that they or theirs might catch a bullet to the head from a sniper who makes a mistake. That would be a bad thing, to go outside to look at the stars, or take out the garbage, or clean up after your dog and be shot down by someone who mistook you for a deer. None of this would be necessary if wolves were allowed to do what they do but this sort of wildlife management is the price we pay for being human and forcing so many alterations in the food chain. I say the price "we" pay but of course we won't be paying the price. It will be the deer. 

ANN ARBOR, MI - The fatal shooting of a woman who was reportedly mistaken for a deer in western New York, an incident that recently made national headlines, has some Ann Arborites fearing a similar tragedy could happen here during the city's upcoming deer cull.
"Accidents happen when you shoot guns in neighborhoods after dark," said Ann Arbor resident Sabra Sanzotta, expressing concerns at a City Council meeting this week.


"Some of the parks you are planning to shoot in this year have playgrounds, and certainly the neighborhoods' backyards where you're planning to shoot have children and pets," Sanzotta told council members. "So it's an accident waiting to happen." Other residents spoke out at the meeting Monday night, Dec. 4, and shared similar concerns.

Sexual Harassment: What Now?

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
-Nietzsche

Show me the man and I'll show you the crime
-Lavrentiy Beria

Over the past seven weeks since the allegations of current and past harassment and assault first broke against Hollywood film producer, studio head, and distributor Harvey Weinstein, many people have made or revealed many other charges of rape, assault, harassment, and just downright nasty demeaning behavior against several other powerful men in politics, business, media and entertainment. We've seen a deluge of complaints. Most of these alleged actions are pretty obviously unethical and/or criminal. For what it's worth I believe most of the accusers. A few incidents might be charitably understood as misunderstandings or inept attempts at expressing romantic/sexual interest. But there's not much charity around today. It seems as if every day some new man is revealed as an alleged serial harasser or rapist. Since I started writing this post about six or seven men were accused of bad behavior. Horrible stuff. Senators and Congressmen are resigning. My employer requires frequent training on treating co-workers with respect. Avoiding sexual harassment is part of that training. I think it's essential for both moral and practical reasons to ensure that every employee or co-worker understands that no means no, that making someone's hiring, retention, promotion, assignments, workplace environment, or good performance reviews contingent on sexual access is wrong and illegal, that even consensual workplace relationships can be fraught with danger, and obviously that grabbing anyone's private areas without consent is a despicable thing to do. 

Most people of good faith would probably agree with all of the above. However, there are a few people who are not of good faith. They view the current wave of alleged sexual crimes as decisive proof that one half of humanity is wicked, broken, and ready for reprogramming or replacement.

Dumb Man Cements Head Inside Microwave

It's one thing when young children or even teenagers do stupid things. We expect that. They don't have the life experiences that adults have. Their brains are still growing. They aren't old enough or smart enough for society to demand that they take full responsibility for their actions. But when adults do remarkably stupid things, I sometimes wonder if society wouldn't be better off letting the adult suffer the full consequences of his stupidity.

 A British YouTube prankster cemented his head inside a microwave, but the stunt backfired so badly that he almost died, and had to be rescued by the fire brigade. Jay Swingler originally planned to fill a store-bought microwave with quick-dry cement, bury his head in it, and wait for it to harden. He hoped to stay alive in the meantime by using a breathing tube in his mouth.
Five firefighters spent an hour working to release a YouTube prankster who cemented his head inside a microwave. The 22-year-old and a group of friends mixed seven bags of Polyfilla before they poured it around his head, which was protected by a plastic bag inside the appliance. Their intention was to use the microwave as a mould, and by the time emergency services arrived at 1.49pm on Wednesday to the garage of a house in Fordhouses, Wolverhampton, the group had already been trying to free him for 90 minutes.

Detroit foreclosures are big business

Detroit is making something of a comeback. Or to be more precise, certain areas of Detroit are making something of a comeback. The downtown area and the area just north of downtown formerly known as either the University District or the Cass Corridor and now rebranded as Midtown have attracted a lot of business investment, police protection and new residents and customers from the suburbs and other places. And certain high profile neighborhoods (Indian Village, Boston-Edison, Palmer Woods, etc) have seen bidding wars for area homes. However those sections of Detroit have always received a fairly outsized amount of attention and resources, even under previous mayors. Those areas were like Detroit's living room. If you have guests over and don't have time to clean or repair the entire house, then at the very least you will clean your living room as that is likely the first area your guests will see and where they will spend most of their time. Hopefully they won't venture into the kitchen where the dirty dishes are stacked or go down the hall to use the smelly bathroom with the leaky faucet and toilet that won't stop running.

The rest of Detroit is still like those rooms in your home that haven't been cleaned up enough to allow important guests to visit. Many of the public schools are a mess. There's still an unacceptably high level of violent and property crime. And there are not enough good paying jobs for an impoverished Detroit population. Many of these problems stem from a vicious legacy and current day practice of segregation and exclusion. In many ways Michigan is Mississippi North. But the specific issue of foreclosures is even knottier. Banks have often discriminated against Black customers, saddling them with loans they can't afford. And because the tax base is so shaky in Detroit the city has been resistant to properly valuing homes. The city and county have overvalued homes in an attempt to strain blood (tax revenue) from a stone (the Detroit taxpayer). 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

MSNBC Host Joy Reid Attacks Bernie Sanders; Jane Sanders Responds

Politics is a contact sport. People can get hurt. The spouses of political figures know this. That's the life they chose. That said, it is a a fool's errand to pretend that you know exactly what is going on between a husband and a wife unless one of them tells you. And even then you usually won't get the full truth. So it's usually a good idea not to speak authoritatively about someone's spousal relationship other than your own. Jane Sanders, Bernie Sanders' wife, recently reminded MSNBC host and frustrated would be White House Press Secretary, of this fact. Reid, as she is wont to do, was taking another shot at Bernie Sanders. There was no real rhyme or reason to this other than the fact that Reid does not like Bernie Sanders and blames him in part for Clinton's loss in the 2016 Presidential Election. Fair enough, though perhaps someone should remind Reid that Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton. Anyway Reid decided to attack Bernie's feminist credentials by alleging that he mistreated his wife. Mrs. Sanders wasn't having that. She responded.

This isn't really worthy of notice other than to point out that (1) attacking alleged mistreatment of a wife based on nothing more than your strong dislike of the husband is exactly what then candidate and now President Trump did to Khizr and Ghazala Khan and (2) if you are going to charge mistreatment you should talk to the alleged victim. That would seem to be Journalism 101. But Reid is not really a journalist.

Movie Reviews: Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia
directed by Jamie Dagg
Occasionally I watch some of the true crime shows on the Investigation Discovery cable channel. Trashy I know, but I blame one of my cousins for introducing me to this stuff. As she jokes, if I ever come up missing, thanks to her experience with this channel she'll know where to start searching for the killer. One of the homicide detectives whose case work is recreated on the network is a very deadpan fellow. He points out that people are quite predictable. The detective says, and I doubt that he originated this bromide, that when people kill someone it's usually for one of just three reasons, sex, money or revenge. Find the motive and you'll usually find the killer pretty quickly. Sweet Virginia is a noir drama that shows the truth behind that saying. Sweet Virginia is a very dark film. I don't mean in terms of subject matter. I mean that the director has chosen a color palette and sound levels that make it challenging to both see and hear what's taking place. This makes sense for the story if only because everyone in this movie has secrets and hidden agendas. They aren't necessarily truthful with themselves let alone other people. 

I liked that this movie was something of a throwback to classic films of the sixties and seventies. There were a lot of long unhurried takes showing people engaged in mundane everyday activities. From time to time there would be something referenced that later proved to be critical, but this was rarely done in such a way that the viewer would pick up on it immediately. Or perhaps I should write that this was rarely done in such a way that I would pick up on it immediately. You may well be ever so much smarter and more perceptive.


Dogs are smarter than cats

In breaking news that shouldn't really surprise most people, let alone people lucky enough to own a dog, we have received more scientific evidence that dogs are probably a little smarter than cats. Because cats can be so standoffish and snobbish while dogs are often the opposite, cats have obtained an undeserved reputation for being smarter than dogs. Well that's not really the case. It turns out that there's more going on inside a dog's brain than a cat's. I'm not surprised. After all, the dog understands the concept of going outside to use the bathroom. Cats still haven't worked that one out. Dogs look at us and try to read our emotions and state of mind. Cats look at us and want to know why we haven't filled the food bowl yet. It may be that what we think of as supercilious feline disdain is simply the blank stare of a dumb cat. Or perhaps this breaking news is all just canine propaganda...

Half of you will love this, and half of you will hate it: An international team of scientists says its research strongly suggests that dogs are smarter than cats.

A paper accepted this week for publication in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy reports that dogs' brains have more than twice as many cortical neurons — the cells linked to thinking, planning and complex behavior — than cats' brains do. The team, working at universities and zoos around the world, counted the number of cortical neurons in eight carnivorans, a large class of mammals that have teeth and claws that allow them to eat other animals. (That's different from carnivores, the much larger class of all meat-eating animals, including bears, raccoons and seals.) 
They found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, while cats have about 250 million.