Sunday, July 28, 2019

Michigan Woods Come Alive With Sound

I live in a semi-rural suburban development. Emphasis on the "semi-". There are still some small patches of woods, parks, and farmland left within walking distance of my subdivision but I imagine in the next two decades or so they will all be cut down and paved over. Because progress.

So even though I'm not the biggest outdoors enthusiast it is still nice to get away sometimes and enjoy nature. For some people of course one of their important life goals is to enjoy nature and be at one with the flora and fauna of this wonderful planet. Those people would likely appreciate this story.

Afton — The oddly shaped wooden mega-sized megaphone appears ghost-like through the trees. Anne Fleming walks a little faster, drawn to the structure. “This is an amazing place,” said Fleming, 51, a spokeswoman for the Little Traverse Conservancy. “It is out in the woods away from everything and very special.” Completed and installed on a ridge on conservancy property along the Pigeon River in late May, this 10-foot-long audio device nestled among trees in northern Michigan allows the curious to listen to nature and all its splendor. The megaphone, which is just being discovered by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, is believed to be the only of its kind in the United States. 


The huge structure is on the 400-acre Boyd B. Barnwell Family Nature Preserve where it adjoins the Andreae Nature Preserve and the Pigeon River. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book Reviews: Invisible

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster
by Stephen L. Carter
People have always seen the African-American elite or upper middle class differently. People who think everything is fair use this class to support their belief that nothing needs to change. Racists are often threatened or angered by this class's existence and may single them out for degradation or violence. 

White Americans began many race pogroms because they were upset that a Black person had the unmitigated audacity to compete with whites economically or be better off than any white person. Some nationalist or more left leaning types think that a black upper class makes mass progress more difficult. There are many more gradations of these arguments, which vary by time and place. 

Author and Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote this biography of his paternal grandmother, Eunice Hunton Carter, in part because of his annoyance at responses to HBO's Boardwalk Empire's depiction of a black woman prosecutor in 1930s New York City. Some viewers mocked the idea of a black woman prosecutor, viewing it as hyperbolic political correctness.  Untrue. Eunice Carter really was a prosecutor who worked for Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey during his 1930s racketbuster days. She was the only member of Dewey's team who wasn't a white man. Eunice Carter, initially shunted away to taking complaints about streetwalkers and brothels, was the first to realize that the Mob, directed by the most powerful boss, Lucky Luciano, had taken over the prostitution business. Eunice Carter conceived the legal strategy that saw Luciano convicted and sentenced to a thirty to fifty year prison sentence. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Movie Reviews: A Violent Separation

A Violent Separation
directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz
How far would you go to protect a blood relative? That's a question raised in a number of films.  A Violent Separation was trying to be a Golden Age of Hollywood film noir. Part of the reason that it didn't really make it was because most of the lead actors and actresses were English or Australian people trying and failing to ape a Missouri or even generic Midwestern/Southern accent. I don't think they did a good job of it. There have been a lot of people who have spoken with annoyance on the increasing phenomenon of foreign actors playing American roles. As with anything else, there are some people who can do it and some people who can't.

But aside from the acting and accents the writing just didn't make sense in this movie. At some very critical points in this film I was taken out of the "unreality bubble" by seeing someone do something senseless. Then when I started thinking about how dumb a given decision was I was hit again by the foreign accents seeping through what someone thought was a Missouri accent. So I was irritated either way. 

The film's saving grace was Ted Levine, who has an accent and cadence which I always find worthy of listening to in whatever character he's playing. Levine is a fine character actor who deserves better than this film, though he raises the verisimilitude of every scene that he's in. Unfortunately he can't save the film by himself.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Movie Reviews: Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary (2019)
directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
This is a, well not quite remake, but second film adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel. As is typical with book to film adaptations in general and Stephen King books in particular the directors left a lot out of the film. That's unavoidable. In this case I thought that the film would been better if it had more back story to give context and  nuance to some of the characters' actions and motivations.  

In the book, it's important that the protagonist's father-in-law never really liked the protagonist or thought the protagonist worthy of marrying his daughter, perhaps in part because the protagonist isn't Jewish and isn't successful enough. It's important that the protagonist himself wonders if he's living up to the patriarchal imperative of providing and protecting for his wife and children. It's important that the wife still greatly resents her parents for making her a child caretaker for her now deceased sister, who had spinal meningitis. 

The film leaves a lot of those things out or only briefly sketches them before moving to something else. However King's source material is so strong that the viewer who hasn't read the book can still enjoy the film on its own merits. 

When King wrote the story a cursed Native American burial ground was already a horror cliche. Some writers can spin dross into gold. King is one of them. Some of this story grew out of King's own experiences living in a home located on a busy road and having to explain death to his daughter. This movie gender switched the bad guy, perhaps because an evil little girl is creepy while an evil toddler is too reminiscent of Chucky?


Dershowitz Kept His Drawers On

You may have heard that financier and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein is in trouble again over his penchant for very young girls. Epstein is an (alleged) friend to many powerful men, something that may well have explained his previous easy deal on rape and pedophilia charges.  I think Epstein may have been a foreign asset or tool. We'll see. Anyhow, one of Epstein's lawyers was famed Harvard attorney Alan Dershowitz, who categorically denied that he was ever involved in any Epstein sanctioned crimes, despite witnesses saying he was there when underaged girls were around. There were also some sordid rape allegations aimed at Dershowitz.

Now strictly speaking everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law as far as I am concerned. However I do remember the times growing up when I was accused by one or both of my parents of eating half of the cookies from the cookie jar or some other silly crime. Often I would deny the accusations and say it must have been someone else. I would maintain this position until I learned that the person making the accusation had actually watched me eat cookies from the cookie jar. At that point it was usually best to throw myself on the mercy of the court, so to speak. But every now and then I would double down and say something like "Okay so I ate a few cookies I wasn't supposed to eat. But I didn't eat half of the cookies. That's ridiculous. Besides, the cookies weren't very good/shouldn't have been left out/(insert excuse designed to minimize my complicity here)"

Listening to the married Alan Dershowitz suddenly admit that yes he did get a massage at one of Epstein's parties but he kept his underwear on, doesn't like massages, and by the way the masseuse was old and not that good looking reminds me of that kid long ago who got caught with his hands in the cookie jar and had to think fast to explain why none of this is his fault.

Movie Reviews: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice
directed by Tay Garnett
This was the first English language adaptation of the book of the same name. Along with movies like The Big Sleep, The Big Heat and others this film was one of the best examples of what film noir should mean. It had a "hero" who is neither particularly smart nor heroic, rules that trap people no matter if they do right or wrong, and of course a femme fatale. 

Here the femme fatale was particularly compelling as the character was played by bombshell actress Lana Turner, sometimes known for obvious reasons as the Sweater Girl. In real life Turner was known to have a pretty healthy appetite for men and for not caring whether such men were married to other women. So unlike some movies where the love interest is miscast, in this film it was very easy to see why a man would find Turner worth killing for, worth dying for, and worth going to hell for. Amen. 

As with most movies of this era today's directors and actors might be able to learn that sometimes less is more. By today's standards there is nothing at all explicit. It's the implications and inferences that matter. We don't see certain things happen. We see the build up and aftermath. So our imagination can fill in the rest. And here, that technique is more powerful. This plot has been told many times before this film and influenced many stories after it. So there are some human emotions and stories that pop up again and again in life. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Democratic Debates

I haven't been all that impressed with any of the Democratic presidential contenders so far. Some were better spoken than others. Some like former vice-President Joe Biden seemed to have no clue why they were there. Senator Gillibrand's voice grates.

I liked Tulsi Gabbard's anti-war stances. Senator Harris was cynical and smart enough to attack Biden on his anti-busing position before later admitting that her present day stance wasn't all that different from Biden's. It's really early though.
In fact it's so early that it seems silly even to be talking about debates. As we saw in 2016 anything can happen. Just as I am finishing this post it looks like another candidate is already dropping outLightweight.

But there were a few things that came out of the recent first debates that I thought were worth people's notice. The Democrats as a whole seemed to be for decriminalizing illegal entry to the US and providing taxpayer paid health care for illegal immigrants. A few were also in support of eliminating private health care insurance in favor of a Medicare for All system. This will require higher taxes and not just on the rich, however that class is defined. 

I could be wrong but I do not think that there are tons of American voters who want to sacrifice their private health care coverage, enter an underpaid and understaffed public system, have the same coverage as someone who is not even supposed to be in this country, AND pay higher taxes on top of it all.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Movie Reviews: Glass

Glass
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
This film was a sequel to Shyamalan's previous films Unbreakable and Split. It's not really necessary to have seen the previous films although it probably helps. As with most (all??) of Shyamalan's films there are a few surprises and twists which I obviously won't discuss.  

I will say that in this case I thought the twists were, if not transparent from the get go, were pretty much in line with what I thought they would be. And I didn't care for the twists. But as always YMMV. In some aspects you could even look at this movie as an investigation of what happens when the Nietzschean Superman runs into a younger and better looking Nurse Ratched.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a Philadelphia area vigilante. He's able (or so he believes) to know what bad acts someone has committed merely by touching them. Dunn also has far greater than normal strength and endurance.  It's been about two decades since Dunn discovered that he had these abilities, primarily thru the machinations of one Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) a genius comic book nerd and mass murderer who suffers from a rare disease that makes his bones extraordinarily fragile.