Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Detroit Public Schools: Don't Drink The Water!!!

If you think that certain people are by nature inferior then stories like this won't bother you all that much. But for the rest of us the truth is that no one in the United States should be exposed to contaminated water. Not only does unsafe water impact your health and life but it will also impact your future educational potential. Depending on how far back this problem has been occurring there could be multiple cohorts of Detroit public school students, mostly but not exclusively Black, who may have been impacted.

Functionally, American inner cities serve the same purpose as Native American reservations or the Gaza Strip. They are places where infrastructure and law are allowed to crumble to the detriment of the people living there. You don't have to engage in conspiracy theories. All you have to do is open your eyes and ask questions as to why these schools were allowed to reach these conditions. And why do we keep reading about these sorts of problems in certain communities. All else equal, which it certainly isn't, but were it so, children who consume or are exposed to heavy metals will on average be less able to perform cognitively in later years. They will have poorer grades and test scores. And they won't be as likely to get into college, which is often a prerequisite for a any chance at a middle class lifestyle. Fixing these problems may not be as exciting as other hot button cultural or social battles. But I think they're more important.

Drinking water will be turned off in all schools at Detroit Public Schools Community District after initial results for 16 schools showed higher than acceptable levels for copper and/or lead at one or more water sources. "I immediately turned off the drinking water at those schools and provided water bottles until water coolers arrive," DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement. Water at the 16 affected schools was shut off Tuesday. Shutoffs at the remaining schools will occur this week, Vitti said. 

Movie Reviews: Arizona

directed by Jonathan Watson
Shooting someone in the head is not by definition, funny.
There are some people who can mix comedy and violence and have it work out ok (Tarantino and all of his copycats, certain horror movie directors, The first Hangover movie, etc). But it's a really thin line to walk. Not everyone can do it. Watson shows that in this movie at least he's unable to keep the balance. I can enjoy a well done violent black comedy. This wasn't that movie. There wasn't anything comic about the situations or most of the characters. So because there was little humor all that's left is sex and violence. There's not a whole lot of sex appeal , though the lead female character takes her top off at a (ahem) "climatic" moment for reasons, but there's a tremendous amount of violence. 

I wonder if the director or producer changed the writer's original vision. It felt like it. Or maybe I only think that because I can't imagine how anyone watched the film's final cut before release and thought that it was funny, even in a very dark sardonic way. 

This movie felt like two movies were jammed together: a serial killer film and a comic family breakup film. It briefly jumped back and forth between both styles before veering suddenly and sharply to the serial killer film. After it did that the "jokes" fell increasingly flat. Arizona tries to market itself as a satire about greed and chicanery in the real estate market, specifically in the 2008-2009 meltdown and recession.  But satire ought to be smart. Satire ought to have something to say about the subject it's addressing. Arizona doesn't have much to say. It's just a slasher movie masquerading as a black comedy. The male lead Danny McBride, does a great job playing a blustering jerkoff but his performance really belonged in another film.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book Reviews: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke
Life is too short not to everything you can. Why wait for one author to complete his magnum opus when the world is crammed with impressive authors. I had heard good things about the Clarke debut novel which was published back in 2004. I didn't purchase the book until early 2016. Obviously I just got around to reading it. I am still working on the estimated two hundred unread books in my library. This book was a serious investment in time. It took me more than a few weeks to finish. My trade softcover edition was just over 800 pages. And there were footnotes. Boy were there footnotes. 

This novel shows Clarke to be an author of both conventional stylings and unique individual ideas. Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell makes definite allusions to her co-national authors who came before her such as the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, and above all Jane Austen-at least in tone if not subject. There might be a little Tolkien and Dunsany sprinkled in for flavor.

I thought this book was slow going for the first hundred pages. Like the older British novelists mentioned, Clarke is a very descriptive writer. She transports the reader back to Regency England/Napoleonic Era. She pays immense attention to detail. Some minutiae will be important to later plot twists and turns. The vast majority, however, is only used to set the table. If you are accustomed to writers who employ a curt and concise let's get to the action style, Clarke will either be a breath of fresh air or a struggle. She's built an alternate history that feels very very real.

In the early 1800s the English are in a funk. Napoleon is kicking behind and taking names in his European wars. The King is unfit. And magic is gone. There are still societies of magicians, but they are theoretical magicians. They argue about how magic used to be performed, which magicians had the help of fairies (elves), what happened to the greatest magician of them all, John Uskglass, and whether magic should be performed by anyone who's not a Christian English gentleman. But these men can't cast a spell, enchant an item, or do anything magical. They are like people who have purchased expensive guitars, pianos, horns, amps, and music theory books, who know all of the musician stage flourishes, but who can't play a single note of music.

Random Rants

To most people and on most days I am a calm non-confrontational live and let live sort of fellow. Life is too short to be mean or angry all the time. I'm the guy who lets people merge on the expressway or allows someone with only a few items to cut in front of me at the grocery checkout lane. But there are some people or incidents that can work my proverbial last nerve and as my maternal relatives used to say, make me "lose my religion".

1) People who park or stand in front of LARGE no standing/no parking/fire lane signs or in handicapped spaces. If I were a cop I wouldn't ticket people for most minor infractions. Often a curt warning is enough to change behavior. But it takes a special sort of contempt for the law and everyone else to park in front of a sign that states no parking just because you don't feel like walking an extra few yards to whatever store you're patronizing. If I were a cop I would ticket everyone who did that. No exceptions. Forget about being polite. I would start by asking the driver "So are you stupid, illiterate or both?"  I have and had firefighters in my family. If there is a fire they really do need access to the fire lanes. Similarly if you're not handicapped then why the hell are you parking in a handicapped space. If it's that important to you, go have a horrific car accident or obtain some condition that leaves you enfeebled. I'm betting you would trade access to that handicapped space to have your full health and mobility back.

2) Grocery store clerks who are sick or have poor hygiene.  I'm picky about what I eat and what or who I have in my home. I know that we all have immune systems that work diligently to remove anything from our body that isn't us. But I say why give your white blood cells more work to do. With age our immune systems lose a step or two. Things they would have quickly eliminated in your youth can give them a run for the money when you're older. I don't like it when I'm in line to purchase groceries and the clerk who will handle my food is having a coughing or sneezing fit, picking her nose, scratching his private parts, digging in his ear, or taking out a visibly mucus soaked handkerchief to vigorously blow his nose right before reaching out to handle the food I intend to consume. If you're sick stay home. And if you need to do some personal grooming, please take a break to do that in private in the restroom.

Queen Fredegund

Didn't I tell you no back talk?
Dark Ages Europe was no place for shrinking violets. Every five minutes or so Europe experienced a barbarian invasion, peasant revolt, plague outbreak, religious war, an ambitious uncle making a power play, or a new fancy pants declaring himself the local ruler and ordering all partisans of the previous administration to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at the new Disneyland opening. With a few exceptions nice rulers finished last. Whether in fiction or reality, it's hard for a king or queen to be good.

But even by 6th Century standards, the Frankish Queen Fredegund stood out as a take no prisoners take no s*** kind of woman who never hesitated to lay hands on people who did her wrong, who might be thinking about doing her wrong, who were related to people who did her wrong, or who just happened to cross her path when she was in a vindictive mood, which by general accounts, was most of the time. Fredegund was quite possibly the earliest archetype for the abusive stepmother/wicked Queen found in Western European folktales later collated by the Grimm Brothers.

Fredegund began her rise to power as a lady-in-waiting for a Frankish Queen. You know the thing that Kings like to do with their Queen's ladies-in-waiting? Fredegund was apparently very skilled at that, soon becoming the number one concubine. Fredegund convinced King Chilperic to divorce his wife and put her in a convent. The King assented to Fredegund's wish, but married someone else. Fredegund bided her time. Not even a year had passed before the King's new wife, Galswintha, was found strangled to death. Possibly realizing that it wasn't particularly healthy to upset Fredegund, King Chilperic finally married her. Galswintha's relatives weren't thrilled with this turn of events. They wanted to kill Fredegund and King Chilperic several times over.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Michigan Democrats Screw Up Hacking Test

We're at DEFCON 1 people!!! This is not a drill!!!! This is not a drill!!! Abandon Ship! Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!!! I'm in charge here!!! Oh everything's ok? Never mind...
I work in the information technology profession. I am attached to financial and legal systems. One thing that is very important to do when you are testing systems or processes is to make sure that your test is coordinated or completed in a separate environment than production. In addition to that very obvious requirement, when you are testing you should let all of the relevant people know that you are testing, what you are testing and how long you will be testing. So ideally, your test should be imperceptible by your business partners and stakeholders. But in case it's not, you should communicate that the anomalies they may experience are part of a test. If you don't take these steps then your customers and business partners may experience or see changes and lose their religion. They will do things like calling your boss in a panic, escalating the "problem" to department heads or on-call production support, or worst of all, contact people like CIO's, partners, executive vice-Presidents, the IRS or other law enforcement. 

It's probably better that the last group of people doesn't know your name, if it's being mentioned along with some sort of production meltdown or apparent criminal activity. So again, to avoid all of that unpleasantness, you should let people know what and when you're testing and what the expected results are. Unfortunately the Michigan Democratic Party forgot this basic concept in its zeal to do battle against hacking.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Movie Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
directed by Martin McDonagh
You could view this film as a dark comedy or a drama. It shifts between both styles but so do our lives. I meant to see this Oscar winning movie quite some time ago, but made the mistake of watching other films first. When I circled back around to see this movie it was no longer available on VOD. Fortunately I ran across it on a premium channel.

You should see this movie. It was indeed Oscar worthy. The sad, beautiful, horrible thing about life is that we are all mixes of good and evil. Some of the worst people can do good on occasion while even seemingly beatific folks can reveal a dark side if you trip the wrong wire. This film makes you think about that a lot. Three Billboards... also has something to say about loss and the thin line between justice and vengeance. Anger and cruelty are not only dangerous to the objects of those emotions, but to the people who hold those emotions as well.

Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role here. I think the award was well deserved. In this film, McDormand has a particular hardness to her features and the role she plays. I can't think offhand of too many other actresses that could have so completely disappeared into the role. McDormand's Mildred is a woman of a certain age who has been through a lot of pain and disappointment. And life has left marks on her. But Mildred is still standing. And Mildred has lost, if indeed she ever had, any tolerance for nonsense from anyone regardless of age, race, status, or sex. If you don't know where you stand with Mildred, you probably haven't been paying attention. But don't worry she has no problem spelling things out for you if you're particularly dim. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Movie Reviews: BlackkKlansman

directed by Spike Lee
This film is based on a true story. Lee at 61, is still interested in interrogating whiteness. In some respects the culture has caught up with him. American Whiteness and Blackness are not just biological markers of lineage. 

The concepts show us who is on the winning team and who is not. We use race to delineate opportunities: legal, financial. social or otherwise. Ironically, though these racial descriptions are taken for granted by most Americans at any given time, the reality is that both categories, but especially whiteness, have been historically flexible.  At one time "White" Americans questioned whether or not Italians, particularly southern Italians, were really or fully white. Al Capone and other Italian hoodlums murdered Irish hoodlums who, irritated by the sight of Irish women with Italian men, insulted the women by telling them to leave the bar and come back with white men. A few generations before that incident not all white Americans accepted Irish as white. 19th century era magazines and newspapers ran columns and cartoons depicting Irish as lazy, stupid, wicked, in other words Black in all but color. 

White in America has also meant "not-black".  That meaning has co-existed with the idea that the further someone is from Northern or Western European heritage and Christian religion, the more tenuous their whiteness claim is. In BlackkKlansman a Jewish detective infiltrates a Klan group. A Black man makes initial contact with the Klan. He draws them in by pretending to be white and runs the investigation. A white man is pretending to be a Black man who is pretending to be a white man. Lee shows us how whiteness and blackness can be understood as performance art. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Movie Reviews: Sunset Boulevard, Bad Samaritan

Sunset Boulevard
directed by Billy Wilder
All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup.
This is a classic film noir which I hadn't seen in its entirety though I knew some popular lines. Sunset Boulevard leaves a cinematographic impression upon the viewer. It's filmed in glorious black and white. It uses shadow, smoke and music to create a setting that is alternately realistic and something that could have come from a dream or nightmare. 

Although this film was released in 1950, the story and the character motives and fears are just as relevant today. Men and women haven't changed that much. Watching movies like this, that if remade today would have been more graphic, always reminds me of how quality films can tell good stories without relying on blood and nudity. Sunset Boulevard is also an example of non-linear story telling; the film is told in flashback voiceover by a character who explains the events.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a Hollywood screenwriter of dubious morals, questionable talents and light wallet. Joe has tried selling a script to Paramount but Betty (Nancy Olson) a younger quality control script reader, didn't like it. Joe is behind on his car payments and other bills.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Piano with your Pizza

I hope the family gave him a big tip. It's always good to hear Beethoven.

Some pizza delivery guys don't just deliver pizzas.
A regular old Wednesday pizza delivery turned into a surprising performance for a Shelby Township family. Julie Varchetti posted on Facebook that a young pizza delivery man noticed the family's piano and asked if he could play it.
Bryce Dudal, 18, of Sterling Heights was delivering a pizza from Hungry Howie's when he spotted the piano. What happened next wowed the family.

Detroit Church Beset By Break-ins

In the movie Leaves of Grass a gentle religious character explains her belief that the world is broken, but that it's up to us to fix it. In his works The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion the devout Catholic J.R.R.Tolkien imagined that the force of evil had permanently marred the material world as far back as creation. 

In his Perelandra trilogy Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis similarly posited an evil force that dominated the planet, had perverted humanity, and if left unchallenged would ultimately destroy human kind. Theodicy is a question that has never been resolved as far as I can tell. Not only can we not agree on why evil exists, but we can't really agree on what to do about it.The Bible has contradictory advice. God told us that accounts would be and should be settled.
And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Jesus told us to resist not evil, turn the other cheek and don't attempt to get our stolen goods back.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 
But Jesus never lived in Detroit...

Trump and Impeachment

I haven't written much on Trump and impeachment because right now there is no chance of that happening. The endless media frenzy over this or that action, lie or statement taken or made by Trump and especially the hyperbolic hyperorgasmic hysteria and anticipation over every little piece of news from the Mueller investigation has exactly the wrong impact on anti-Trump partisans.

The Department of Justice is not going to indict Donald Trump while he is President. No one is going to burst into Mar-a-lago, drag Trump's obese behind outside at gunpoint and make him kneel on the curb with his hands up and fingers interlocked. No one will make President Trump do the perp walk in front of cameras before guiding him none too gently into the back seat of an unmarked government issue Mercury Grand Marquis. No one can call early elections to get rid of Trump. In our political system, absent sickness, death by natural causes, or some unforeseen and utterly out of character attack of conscience, Trump isn't going anywhere.

The only non-violent way to get rid of Trump is for the majority of the House to vote to impeach and for two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict. That's it. Democrats don't currently have the numbers to do that. And they likely won't get them in both the Senate and House. Only two Presidents were ever impeached; both were acquitted in the Senate.

Woman Falls Out of Moving Car Doing Dance Challenge

A body in motion stays in motion.
Stupidity is a building block of the universe.
Forget these natural laws and pay the price.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Reviews: The Summoning

The Summoning
by Bentley Little
I'm not really a big fan of the strain in vampire fiction that imagines vampires as tortured romantics who sparkle, bisexual goths, or private eye stand-ins who reluctantly protect humanity against even worse threats. To each their own but I prefer the concept of vampire as monster and/or parasite. I knew that when I started the reread of this older book which I picked up in a now closed bookstore all those years ago. This book has a definite thematic resemblance to King's Salem's Lot.

In both stories, the vampire is attracted to a decaying town, a small ragtag group of believers try to do battle against the creature, and human vice is an important part of the story. But because this is Little, and not King, perversion and vice are dominant parts of the storyline to the point where they choke out other elements. YMMV on this. There's a thin line between pushing the envelope of horror imagery and creating things solely to disgust and shock. I think Little tends towards the latter. 
The Summoning is set in the town of Rio Verde, Arizona. Rio Verde has seen better days. Most of the town's young people leave for greener pastures upon graduating high school. With the closure of mines and rerouting of expressways there's less and less economic activity within the town. One person who notices this acutely is Sue Wing, the daughter of Chinese immigrants.