Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Reviews: Cold Storage

Cold Storage
by David Koepp

This story is just under 400 pages. It's by the screenwriter and director David Koepp, among other things the screenwriter for Jurassic Park, whose work was previously reviewed here and here. Cold Storage is your typical end of the world terror thriller. It imagines that after the Skylab crash in 1979 something else came back from outer space, something that views other living beings in the same way that we would view cattle. I like these sorts of stories in general so I was positively disposed toward the story. It uses just enough science to be believable to those of us who are not biologists, physicists, medical doctors, or otherwise well trained in scientific discipline. I guess if you are interested in this sort of prose the book might be right up your alley:
"We sent up a hyperaggressive extremophile that is resistant to extreme heat and the vacuum of space, but sensitive to cold. The environment sent the organism into a dormant state, but it remained hyper-receptive. At that point, it must have picked up a hitchhiker. Maybe it was exposed to solar radiation. Maybe a spore penetrated the microfissures in the tank on re-entry. Either way, when the fungus returned to Earth, it was reawakened and found itself in a hot, safe, protein-rich, pro-growth environment. And something caused its higher level genetic structure to change."
In 1987 Roberto Diaz, a Pentagon bioterror expert, is called upon to investigate some unsettling issues in Western Australia. One co-worker dies and Diaz barely escapes with his life. A fungus that normally just attacks insects and grows slowly now has a taste for warm blooded creatures, can grow exponentially, and most ominously seems to have the ability to learn and evolve at record, maybe even exponential speeds. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Trump Lost: Now What?

Joe Biden won the 2020 United States Presidential Election. There's no question about that. There is only a question by how much of a win Biden will have when all of the certifications are complete. At this point in time it looks as if Biden will beat Trump in the Electoral College by 306-232. 

The solid South cracked, with Biden winning Georgia. Biden restored the Great Lakes Blue Wall, winning Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota and throwing in Pennsylvania for good measure. More ominously from a Republican point of view, Arizona and Nevada also went for Biden. This may have been in part because of former Californians moving to those states and voting for Biden. 

In a normal time the current President would acknowledge that he lost and, even if through gritted teeth, congratulate the President-Elect and urge the various executive branch appointees and career bureaucrats to work with the incoming Administration point persons to ensure a smooth transition.

Trump of course has done nothing of the sort. What he has done is file a cavalcade of lawsuits, most of which have gone nowhere. Trump voters and sycophants are taking their cues from him. 

The far right had a dream: That one day, people who had been exiled to the unacceptable margins of American political life could play the role of Donald Trump's brownshirts.

Book Reviews: A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of England

A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of England
by Brenda Ralph Lewis
This coffee table styled hardcover book details the histories of the English Royal Family, or rather the English Royal Families, from the 1066 Norman invasion to the present day. Human nature hasn't changed. It will be obvious upon reading this, not that he's ever denied it, just how much this history influenced the writer George R.R. Martin, as well as many other speculative fiction or historical fiction authors. 
Although we consider kinslaying as morally disgusting, when people are vying for power they often reject any standards. If your second cousin once removed gathers an army to support her claim that she's the rightful ruler, a recurring issue in England, you might find yourself doing shifty things. 
Some Kings and Queens refused to carry out the ultimate sanction against wayward relatives, often forgiving them, fining them, exiling them, or even imprisoning them instead. Other rulers, though, had no qualms about chopping heads at the first sign of problems, blood relative or not.
King Henry I, who was present at the "accidental" death of his older brother Rufus, cultivated a reputation as a hard unforgiving man. However, he liked his treasurer Herbert. So when the king discovered that Herbert had been involved in a plot against him, the King cancelled the normal punishment for treason: hanging, drawing, and quartering. In what the King considered to be an act of mercy, he instead ordered that Herbert be blinded and castrated. 
Nice guy, King Henry. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Speaking of Rats

Dang. Didn't Stephen King write a story where something similar happened? Yes, he did. At least a few such stories he wrote. Graveyard something or the other..Sometimes relatives or friends ask me to visit NYC and I say no thank you!

A man was trapped in a hole teeming with rats for half an hour after a New York City pavement collapsed from under him last Saturday. Leonard Shoulders dropped almost 15 feet into the sinkhole and was unable to cry for help out of fear the rats would get in his mouth.

“Rats crawling on him. He can’t move. He just… it was so bad,” the victim’s brother Greg White told NBC News. “He didn’t wanna yell ’cause he was afraid there was gonna be rats going inside his mouth.” It took half an hour for the emergency services to extricate the 33-year-old New Yorker from the sinkhole.

He was taken to St Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where a spokesman said he was in a stable condition. The incident laid bare two of the problems besetting New York City, the poor state of its infrastructure and the rampant rat population.

Movie Reviews: Graveyard Shift

Graveyard Shift
directed by Ralph Singleton
This 1990 B-movie was based on another Stephen King short story of the same title which I first read in his excellent collection "Night Shift" though it was published earlier elsewhere. This tale was an example of something that worked well as a short story.
It could have worked as a 30 minute installment of an episodic tv show. But there just wasn't enough there to justify a ninety minute film. The screen story is unduly stretched out. It shows. Realizing that the original source material was sparse, the film adds in some themes of sexual harassment, though this is done to (a) make the protagonist and would be hero more well, heroic and (b) to show off mammary glands. I don't suppose I can argue with that.
The short story was laser focused on resentment that some blue collar workers might feel for someone who is college educated (apparently in his younger days King worked a fair number of jobs that did not require the college degree that he had/was in the process of acquiring). This film alters the emphasis so that the viewer is unsubtly directed to the class divide not of advanced education but that of owner/management vs worker. 

2020 Election Prediction

The Presidential election polls were wrong in 2016 because pollsters didn't account for the number of people who disliked Clinton and because pollsters underestimated the number of (especially) non-college educated whites who felt that Trump was the perfect middle finger to a world that was bypassing them. Now four years later pollsters have adjusted. Trump has seemingly lost support among college educated whites and especially white college educated suburban women. 

Despite the protestations of some about the identity of the Democratic base, it's still the white vote that will be essential in determining the victor of Tuesday's election. And from what I've seen Trump will have trouble recapturing the 2016 coalition. I believe the results will be closer than some think but Biden should win. Either way the loser will feel that they lost an eminently winnable election. Depending on how big the margin is one or both major parties may change everything about themselves. We'll see what happens. Either way though there are a lot of issues and problems that will remain regardless of which rich man wins.

Black Couple Not Allowed At Sushi Restaurant???

I don't know who coined the umbrella term "people of color" to describe, in the American context, people who may not be of clearly European descent. Too often that term is used to suggest that there is a commonality among different groups with massively dissimilar interests, goals, wealth, and histories. To put it bluntly the key dividing line in American society is not white/non-white but rather Black/non-Black. There are many groups who are not necessarily "white" as Americans define it but who still have their own histories of anti-Blackness which predate and overlap the Black American experience in North America.

Desegregation, while necessary to overturn intolerable insults to dignity, does not correct the dislike and disdain for Black people that many people share, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic. Some restaurants, nightclubs, and other public gathering spots often discreetly maintain a quota of Black people allowed. 

After that quota is met other would be Black patrons might find that the establishment's employees or owner(s) will provide all sorts of preposterously inventive and totally "non-racist" reasons why the Black customer is not allowed inside. While I can't say with 100% certainty that this is what happened recently at a sushi restaurant in Buckhead, I can say that I am quite familiar with people suddenly changing their mind or changing the rules when they see me.

Monday, October 26, 2020

QAnon and Conspiracy Theories

What do you do when people say or believe things that are simply and demonstrably untrue? Do you lose your patience and call them names which question their intelligence, morality, or number of chromosomes? Well sometimes. I feel that way about people who insist that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States or believe that the world is flat and that THEY have brainwashed us into believing otherwise for some nefarious as yet unrevealed purpose. 

But in the video below the speaker makes the argument that ridicule and insult, while comforting to those who style themselves sober empiricists, don't really do anything else than to stroke the speaker's vanity and make the target of the insults hold on even tighter to the bad ideas. 

So it may well be counterproductive to tell someone in detail just how dumb they are IF you are going to need their future assistance, lack power over them, or care about what they think of you. And if you dig deep enough in most people's most cherished viewpoints and ideas, you may well find some beliefs that are also not necessarily upheld 100% by the empirical data.

It was an interesting argument. Check it out below.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Movie Reviews: Drive A Crooked Road

Drive A Crooked Road
directed by Richard Quine

This 1954 film noir wasn't super exciting. It was a little predictable all in all. But it did feature a pretty nice piece of acting from Mickey Rooney. The diminutive Rooney's height was an important part of the story. It was sobering to watch this movie and realize that actors that I only remembered as older or even elderly were young and vital once. 
Time doesn't wait around for anyone. 
I thought that there were some subplots that were either never fully developed or just cut out prematurely. The film is short but somehow manages the dubious feat of simultaneously feeling rushed and ponderous.
But as mentioned, Rooney's acting carries the film. If this film were to be remade today it would likely be more explicit which in this case, would be a good thing. Everything was implied in this film, which might have been why I felt certain portions of it dragged.
Eddie Shannon (Rooney) is an amateur race car driver and professional auto mechanic. Eddie knows all there is to know about cars. When he's behind the wheel of an automobile or tinkering with one, he's self-assured and poised. Otherwise Eddie's a depressed schlub. Eddie's especially shy and reticent around women. 

Ice Cube And The Black Male Vote

The rapper, actor, and filmmaker Ice Cube became the subject of a great deal of agita because of his meeting with some people within the Trump Administration regarding Ice Cube's Contract With Black America (CWBA) plan, which lays out some policies and plans which Ice Cube and some other Black people would like to see adopted. Now I don't have a problem with anyone criticizing the merits of the CWBA. No one is beyond criticism. No one. Never. Ever.

The problem however was that people (and by people I generally mean Black gatekeepers in predominantly white owned media and academia, disproportionately Black women) criticized Ice Cube not for his plan's alleged faults, blind spots or shortcomings, which few of them could delineate in any event, but instead lambasted Ice Cube as a chump, sellout, misogynist, and Trump supporter for having the f*****g audacity even to meet with any Republican without checking first with his Democratic (preferably Black feminist female) overlords. 
Twitter loons, left leaning media and academic favorites, few of whom were heterosexual black men, starting pushing the narrative that heterosexual Black men were the weakest link in the Black community, that Black men as a group were diehard cisgender heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal oppressive dummies who were going to mess everything up, as usual, by voting for Trump. One noted nutcase even said that Black women needed to go on a sex strike against Black men to control the Black male vote.