Saturday, January 18, 2020

Book Reviews: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures
by Walter Moers
There are some programming languages in which before you even begin the program you are required to list and define every variable that the program uses. Every last one. No exceptions. 

If you don't do this the program won't compile and can't be used. This can be slow and monotonous work but it also is a good way to idiot proof some programming work. 

In other programming languages the coder doesn't have to do anything as old fashioned as all that tedious listing and defining. He just names the variable and defines it on the fly. In short he makes it up as he goes along. 

The book Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures would definitely fall into the 2nd category were it a programming language. It is a gloriously chaotic novel. It's the second book I've read by Walter Moers.

It's only near the novel's midpoint that the reader may realize (well smarter readers than I likely saw this much earlier) that for all of the insane breakneck pacing, interminable asides, farcical and fanciful creatures that pop up for seemingly no reason, and unrelenting silliness, that the author has pretty methodically followed the steps from the classic Hero's Journey, as popularized by Joseph Campbell. 

So I don't want to discuss the plot too much. In a world like our own in times long gone, there is a continent named Zamonia, which contains a bewildering number of non-human creatures, along with a few humans.  

A nameless orphaned puppy like creature who is the beloved pet of a kind dwarf family discovers that he can walk on two legs and talk. Unfortunately, soon afterwards he and his entire family are kidnapped by a nomadic group of mentally slow one eyed giants known as Demonocles, whose greatest pleasure involves eating other creatures alive, preferably kicking and screaming. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Trump Wants War With Iran

Recently President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani. Trump did so without informing Congress, asking permission of Congress or certainly not doing anything as old fashioned as asking for a declaration of war on Iran. 

Shortly afterwards Iran responded with missile launches on American bases in Iraq. It appears that Iran may well have provided advanced warning of their response because from what we know now there were no American casualties inflicted.

I don't have much to say about all of this because (1) I've said most of it before ; (2) I'm disgusted at the ugly Pavlovian response to bloodshed by some people, generally conservatives, including one former Facebook friend who joked that Suleimani's funeral would be a good target of opportunity; and (3) this is a very busy time of year for me at the Day Job. 

As I wrote when President Obama got trigger happy with drones, Obama was not going to be the last President!!! To paraphrase a certain moralistic fictional character from a popular book series and HBO show, killing becomes too easy when someone can do it from afar or order other people to do it. War is such serious business that (1) it should not be undertaken unless there is no other choice and (2) Congress gets to declare war and commit the country to bloodshed, not the President. 

Movie Reviews: Rambo: Last Blood

Rambo: Last Blood
directed by Adrian Grunberg
Some VERY IMPORTANT SERIOUS critics get upset when films that they think ought to be watched and enjoyed by everyone are only or primarily enjoyed by a particular demographic. They rant and rave about this. They are less interested in film's entertainment value than in film's didactic purpose.

I doubt that any of us are always immune to such sentiments. But, I don't think it's ultimately that big of a deal. Although we all have more in common than not, regardless of our race, sexuality, gender, age, nationality, etc. it's also true that those listed characteristics all influence our real life experiences and our fantasies.

And that's ok. I'm not in the target audience for Victorian/Edwardian period comedies or dramas about whether some woman should marry John Puff-n-Stuff, the short, drab but responsible barrister or instead run away with the tall, dashing and reckless cad Harry Darkeyes Handsome, who allegedly has women and children in every port. Some princess film that has the titular character beating and berating the audience (and all male characters) upside the head with how strong and independent and special she is, probably won't be my preference.

Just as some films are aimed at the female audience, other films are directed at the male audience. Rambo: Last Blood is one such film. Doubtless there were some women who enjoyed this movie but I would imagine that most people who watched this film had XY chromosomes. The problem is not that a particular film is aimed at men or women. The problem or rather question is whether the film is good or not. And this wasn't really a good movie. The issue isn't that it's gruesomely violent or that it depicts Mexico as a vile depraved place where everyone is out to sell young women into the sex trade. 

More Snowy Owls in Michigan

I ran across this wonderful picture of a snowy owl on a local news website. It was taken by a lady in SE Michigan. I saw a snowy owl in my front yard a little less than a month ago.

I imagine that all the neighborhood squirrels, raccoons, and other birds suddenly found something else to do. Nothing brings more mental clarity than someone showing up in your neighborhood who will kill you with a naturalness and quickness. There have been a lot of snowy owls showing up in Michigan of late.

Photos of snowy owls across Michigan have been showing up and going viral across social media over the past few weeks. The beautiful white bird, normally seen in northern Canada and even in the Arctic tundra, has made its way south. According to , the snowy owl's migration is not well understood, but a map from the website shows that Michigan is the southern-most location for its common migration. 

Movie Reviews: Mob Town

Mob Town
directed by David Abeckaser
The Mob underwent turmoil in the 50s. This was due in part to the return to NYC of the notoriously greedy, shady and dangerous Vito Genovese. Before WWII Genovese had murdered his way to the underboss position of the crime Family that would one day bear his name. 

The only person ahead of him was his boss, the equally notorious and imprisoned Charles "Lucky" Luciano.  Fleeing a murder rap, Genovese went to Italy where he befriended Benito Mussolini and profited accordingly. Genovese's friendship with Mussolini did not prevent him from switching sides when the Americans invaded. Genovese offered his services to the Americans as an interpreter, guide and liaison to the Italian partisans. The wily Genovese used the Americans to profit in the black market, selling anything he could steal.

However, an American officer recognized Genovese and returned him to America to face justice, despite the infuriated Genovese's pleas and threats. Genovese was either very lucky or very resourceful as the remaining witness against him died from poison.

After the war when Luciano was deported, Genovese thought that he would become boss. But Luciano had never liked Genovese. During Luciano's imprisonment and Genovese's overseas sojourn Frank Costello, the Family's urbane counselor and top fixer, had profitably and peacefully run the organization. After Luciano's permanent deportation Costello was formally recognized as the new boss. 

Movie Reviews: Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning
directed by John Cromwell
"I don't trust anybody, especially women!"
This is yet another Humphrey Bogart film noir. As in most of his films Bogart shows how a man of slight stature and average height can light up the screen through easy confidence and occasionally understated threat. His character here is a WW2 veteran. He's not going to be put off by any gangsters. 

As the fictional Michael Corleone remarked to his brother Sonny, did Sollozzo have any artillery or air support? No? Well then Michael wasn't worried. 

This movie is told in partial flashback and has all the normal cliches and tropes you would find in noir films of this time. It was set in the south so something else it has are some very stereotypical Black characters. They don't exactly bug their eyes and tap dance but it's clear that they are seen as secondary or even irrelevant to the larger storyline. 

Captain Warren "Rip" Murdock  is an Army paratrooper and good friend/big brother substitute to a man in his company, Sergeant  Johnny Drake (William Prince).  After the war's completion they're both ordered to report to Washington D.C. for the first and second highest medals the military can bestow. Yeah, these are tough guys, heroes. 

But Drake is not really happy to hear that he's going to get an award and the resulting publicity. He takes off without telling anyone why. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Book Reviews: Ancestor

by Scott Sigler
Michigan born and bred Scott Sigler has carved a niche in the scientific bio-thriller genre over the past two decades or so. All of his work that I've read so far explicitly or at least generally eschews the supernatural. 

Sigler's stories can usually be scientifically explained. That doesn't make any of his stories less thrilling or horrifying. If you dislike authors who make up contradictory rules as they go along and hand wave away inconsistencies by yelling "Magic!!", you might like Sigler's style.

Some respected authors have repeated possibly apocryphal quotes from older authors and screenwriters that there are only a small number of stories from which all writers draw. I don't know about that. I do know that human beings are angered and frightened by death. We can't solve death. 

We are occasionally frustrated that although we can create life in our own image, provided we find a willing fertile partner of the opposite sex, doing so is a messy, chaotic and oft thankless process that may not deliver what was expected. The other parent's genes along with various haphazard experiences impact and mold the child in unplanned ways. We can't create life to exact specifications from scratch.

What if we could create a quick breeding flying creature that eats mosquitoes, breathes carbon and exhales oxygen. That might reduce the dangers of global warming. Or perhaps we could create a mammal that could provide organ donor matches for every human who needed one? What would it be like to have, however tenuously, the power of God (or evolution) to create? That's the theme in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And that same theme is echoed in Ancestor. This story has some characters seen in the Infected series. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Movie Reviews: Don't Let Go

Don't Let Go
directed by Jacob Aaron Estes
This is a nifty little film that raises some questions about causality and predestination. Unfortunately the writing is not quite up to the level I expected, leading to some cliches and predictability in the film's final section.

Although my understanding is that some advanced physics argues that our perception of time is limited and in some respects "wrong", for humans time only moves in one direction, forward. We can't unbreak the egg. We can't journey back in time with knowledge of the winning lottery ticket or with massively advanced medical knowledge that will save a parent afflicted with heart disease or cancer. 

Our cells decay and eventually break down. We can't turn back the clock on that process.  We can't warn our past selves not to take certain actions that later proved to be very poor decisions. Nope. What's done is done and can't be changed. Period.

But what if that wasn't the case? What if the batter's current day self had knowledge transferred from the future of exactly where the pitcher would throw the ball? And thus, so armed with such knowledge he could change the future? Or at least change one possible future? 

Another quirk derived from some physics theories is that there are an infinite number of futures which are each built from the decisions that every human being has ever made at every single point in his or her life. Don't Let Go asks what would happen if information could be transmitted both ways between the past and future.

Snowy Owl Rescued in Northern Michigan

As I have mentioned before if you happen to be a wild animal in some distress it definitely pays to have a look that humans find attractive, cute, or striking. 

People will go out of their way to rescue you and put their thumb on the scale as to whether you survive or not.

If on the other hand you happen to be a blobfish, naked mole rat, or monkfish and find yourself in need of human assistance, you will likely get more comments along the lines of "Dear God what the bleep is that nasty looking thing?? EWWWW!" than "Awww. It's so cute. Let's take it home, heal it, feed it and pretend that it loves us!" statements. If you are an ugly animal you will get little sympathy and likely die with the last words you hear being horrible insults about your God given looks.

DRUMMOND ISLAND, MICH. -- A struggling snowy owl found stranded along a Michigan roadside has been given a new lease on life, thanks to some quick-thinking locals and a little luck. 

The owl was discovered late last week sitting along M-134 on Drummond Island, off the eastern coast of the Upper Peninsula, by a resident who pulled over in her car to photograph it, not knowing the bird was unwell. 

Book Reviews: Neon Prey

Neon Prey
by John Sandford
This is another installment in the Lucas Davenport series. It is very similar to a previous book in that series, Golden Prey, reviewed here. The Cliff Notes version of this series is that Lucas Davenport, an independently wealthy and politically connected US Marshal decides which cases to take. Davenport usually chases the most dangerous and violent felons. 

Lucas is often assisted in his cases by the salt and pepper team of US Marshals Rae Givens and Bob Matees. Rae and Bob are good (platonic) friends with each other. They are more down to earth with more street experience than Lucas. They often good naturedly point out flaws in some of Lucas' plans. But there's nobody that Lucas would rather have watching his back when it goes down hard.

In this installment a scary and racist Louisiana based loan shark collector, enforcer,and hitman named Clayton Deese is tasked by his affable boss, lawyer, loan shark, and businessman Roger Smith to put a highly specific hurting on someone who owes Roger money. This time, Roger doesn't want the victim dead. 

Roger still has hopes of recovering his money. The problem is that the victim has not only refused to pay his debts but has also publicly told Roger to commit unpleasant and impossible acts of auto-copulation. Roger can't let that go. Other debtors might decide not to pay. Other criminals could conclude that a weak Roger can be chased from the business or even forcibly, painfully and permanently "retired". 

So Roger orders Clayton to make an example so that everyone can see what happens when you **** with Roger. It's nothing Clayton hasn't done before. Clayton's only concern is that he's not supposed to kill his target. He would much prefer to do that.