Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Opening Funnel Web Spider Sac

These creatures were bred in captivity in part so that humans could make more anti-venom. I am a little taken aback not just by the sheer alien appearance of the spiders but more so by the fact that for some reason Mother Nature has created an animal that despite being no larger than two inches at most, can quickly kill a primate dead with a tiny bit of venom. 

And humans being primates are certainly vulnerable to this. One might think that we'd be large enough so that this venom might only be a minor irritation or that since we aren't the spider's prey that like many other animals, we'd be completely immune to the venom of the Funnel Web Spider. But no dice. Even being exponentially larger than this animal is no protection for us. 

Apparently the males do the majority of the biting and are the particularly venomous ones. This looks like something from the films Alien or The Thing but it's just real life. Unlike with puppies or kittens I don't think very many humans will be lining up to ooh or ahh over these new additions to our planet.

The bite of a Sydney funnel web spider is at first painful, due to the large fangs and acidic pH of the venom. If there is no immediate treatment symptoms may arise beginning 10 minutes after the bite. 

Clinton Smears Gabbard as Republican and Russian Stooge

Recently, former Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton slithered out of hiding to accuse current Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of being a favorite of the Russians and of being groomed by the Russians. Clinton also said that former Presidential candidate Jill Stein was a Russian asset. 

The relevant quotes are below. Clinton later said she was misunderstood and that she meant the Republicans, not the Russians, were grooming Gabbard. She didn't make any corrections on her accusations about Jill Stein. 

Clinton: "Well, I think there's going to be two parts and I think it's going to be the same as 2016: ..

"They're also going to do third party again. And I'm not making any predictions but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate. She's the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and that's assuming Jill Stein will give it up. Which she might not, 'cause she's also a Russian asset."

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Book Reviews: Guilty Minds

Guilty Minds
by Joseph Finder
This thriller novel was a good comfort read. I knew what to expect and it delivered. Joseph Finder is an author whom I'm starting to really appreciate, as previously detailed here and here. This is a later installment in a series, but it stands on its own. You don't need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one.

There are bits and pieces of back story doled out at certain places in the novel but Finder never allows this to interfere with the plot. There aren't pages and pages detailed what happened in prior books. The story is written in first person which is often, but not necessarily a hint that the storyteller survives. This story kept the reader up in the air about things as long as possible. So that was good. This book was just under 400 pages and a pretty quick read. 

The only time I thought the story pace slowed was in a few places where Finder demonstrated that he had done his research and then some on the relevant laws, technologies, and tactics which apply in the legal netherworld which he describes. All of that is important for a sense of realism but once or twice I caught myself wanting to get back to the next piece of excitement in the story.

Nick Heller is a Boston based private investigator/intelligence operative. He also happens to be former Special Forces. Nick makes a decent living helping people find the truth of matters, or occasionally helping people hide legal things they'd rather not have made public.
There is a slight chance that Nick might be working thru some guilt engendered by some of his actions during his military service or perhaps family guilt caused by having an amoral father imprisoned for white collar crimes. I'd have to read the other books in the series to see if that's truly the case. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Crazies

The Crazies
directed by Breck Eisner
This is a Saturday afternoon movie in the best sense of the word. It's also a remake of a 70s movie. This 2010 film didn't waste much time with characterization or for that matter plot. 

It's a zombie film in all but name; the difference is that the infected don't always move slowly, have no desire to eat human flesh, and were not previously dead. 

The film touches on the paranoia that some people have about federal government. At the very minimum the film suggests that some of that paranoia might be justified. This film works the same side of the street as the Resident Evil film series. It has less action but is more realistic in terms of violence.

David (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) are the sheriff and primary care doctor, respectively, of the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. The couple doesn't make much, but they didn't take the jobs to get rich. They're there to help people. Sometimes this means not arresting people who are hunting out of season or letting a nurse (Danielle Panabaker) take off work early to rendezvous with her boyfriend.

Baseball is a sign of spring. At a high school baseball game many townspeople are in attendance when a man armed with a shotgun walks onto the field. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Movie Reviews: Human Desire

Human Desire
directed by Fritz Lang
This film re-unites the stars of Lang's The Big Heat, Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. They were both cool as ice. Unlike The Big Heat, which has a pretty straightforward cast of good guys and bad guys, Human Desire is a more self-consciously noir film, perhaps even one with an understated proto-feminist stance. 

Once again, Grahame plays a woman for whom the John Lee Hooker lyric "She wiggles when she walks! She wiggle!" was likely invented but her character here is less self-assured and to my mind much more sympathetic. It's also a much meatier role than the simple good time girl with a sharp tongue and taste for furs that she nailed in The Big Heat.

If this movie were remade today it would almost certainly have a different ending and likely "corrected" sex stereotypes that would be just as cartoonish as some thought that the sex stereotypes of the 50s were. So it goes. This film addresses issues that resonate today. I am struck by how slender most of the cast, including the extras, were. Obviously I noticed this first on the women but very few of the men were plus sized either. Sugar has warped our society, but that's another post.

Jeff Warren (Ford) is a train engineer and Korean war vet. He just got back from the war and started working again. Jeff is happy. He's alive and has all his limbs. Jeff rents a room in the home of his good friends Alec and Vera Simmons (Edgar Buchanan and Diane Delaire). 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall
directed by Mark Robson
We often admire heroes who refuse to compromise their principles even when faced with economic ruin or physical danger. 

We can get a thrill reading about Nat Turner or Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, people who literally spit in the face of their oppressors and decided to die rather than live unfree. But most people aren't like that. Most people will compromise to continue eating. Almost everyone will compromise to continue living. People who stand up to certain death are rare. 

No one is perfect. Even heroes make mistakes. Some heroes tried to go along to get along, merrily selling out their ideals along the way, until they reached that one choice that they can't rationalize. They then rediscover what is right. They may be morally stained, but I think they're still heroic figures.

This film is based on a book written by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, famous for his On The Waterfront screenplay. The Harder They Fall also shows the viewer an industry that is dominated by mobsters and their employees.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Amber Guyger: And that I do not forgive!

There was a discussion on my Facebook page which is newsworthy enough to add here. As you may have heard former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment while he was sitting on his couch eating ice cream. She received a ten year prison sentence. She will be eligible for parole in five years. She can probably look forward to a lucrative post prison career as a Fox News contributing analyst and speaker at NRA events. 

Unsurprisingly, Guyger had a history of racism, some of which was revealed in ugly text messages with her lover, another police officer, as they mocked Martin Luther King, other Black police officers, and Black people in general. Given that are Black people who have received similar or worse sentences for less heinous crimes, Guyger's relatively lenient sentence is nothing to celebrate in my opinion. Of course Guyger might appeal her sentence. Who knows. The reason some people are happy is that it's very very very rare that white cops are ever charged and convicted of murdering a Black person. Her conviction is unusual. So good for that I guess. 

There was something that happened in this trial or more precisely in its aftermath which I think is worth discussing.

Movie Reviews: The Letter

The Letter
directed by William Wyler
Some people seem to believe that women can never lie about anything involving sex or that if they do it's no big deal because after all women as a group are oppressed. At the extremes some such folks express hostility towards to the concepts of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt or an adversarial justice system. Some honestly think  anyone who would defend himself vigorously against a sexual assault charge is proving that he must have committed the crime. 

Other people have the intelligence or integrity not to go that far but point out that after all is said and done, most rape or sexual assault charges are not deliberate lies. They wonder about the motives of people who become wondrously wroth over the few and far between proven false rape charges.

None of us are immune to bias. We often believe the best of our friends, relatives and lovers. The Letter examines these biases in a 40s noir setting, one in which as normal in these films, "evil" can be a question of perspective. Although race isn't the film's emphasis it's certainly something which has an influence on the film's settings and characters. This film is set in pre- WW2 Malaysia, in and around rubber "plantations" owned by White Americans and White Europeans. These people all live the good life, buying and selling their "plantations" among their small group. There's no war to worry about yet. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Movie Reviews: Corporate Animals

Corporate Animals
directed by Patrick Brice
Demi Moore has a new book out where among other things, she discusses being pimped out by her mother as a child, sexual assault, battles for sobriety, and relations, sexual or otherwise, with various Hollywood actors, some her husbands, some not. Yawn. Don't really care about any of that stuff. 

We all have skeletons in our closets. Some rattle a little louder than others. Presumably the book release was timed to roughly coincide with this film's release. This could and should have been a better movie. 

Unfortunately the writers and directors chose to go for the gross, the shocking and the salacious all throughout the film, instead of using it judiciously. Even though it is apparently a small budget film I didn't think it needed to look as bad as it did. I've seen first time directors on a shoe string budget make better looking films than this.

The subject matter, the corporate workplace and its tensions, is ripe for parody and satire. This could have been another Office Space or even Price Check. Sad to say though when your idea of a funny scene includes a fat man's full frontal nudity, nothing for nothing, but you and I clearly don't share the same sense of humor.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come
directed by Chris Morris
After 9-11, or really even before 9-11, a some people arrested and convicted of conspiracy or terrorism charges were either people guilty of much lesser crimes or were in some cases enticed, directed, financed and even ordered into criminal behavior by law enforcement, usually the FBI. 

More ominously the FBI, often with the assistance of local police departments, set up certain people to be murdered, rather than stand trial on flimsy or non-existent charges. People who are engaged in political activity that the government or people who run the government don't like can frequently find themselves in serious trouble. 

For at least the past five hundred years or so Europe has had greater political unity and military technology than the rest of the world, particularly Africa and the New World. And to put it mildly, armed with superior technology, Europeans didn't treat their fellow humans with kindness and decency. The distance between European technology and that employed by certain non-European nations has shrunk and even reversed in some areas but again a fair observer would correctly note that Africa and the African diaspora are (generally) still lagging behind. Why this is and what can or should be done about it is a book, not a blog post, and certainly not a movie review. But unless that's in your mind you won't be able to get some of the characters in this film.

There are many religiously minded Black people who believe in a past glorious period before white supremacy, want to take steps to minimize the impact of white supremacy in their current life, and look forward to taking future steps to eliminate racism in toto. Whether they be Hebrew Israelites, Muslims, Move Members, Five Percenters, or what have you, many of these groups are targeted by the federal government.

Movie Reviews: John Wick 3

John Wick 3
directed by Chad Stahelski
It's not often that sequels are as good as the original or proceed in a way that logically grows from the original movie. John Wick 3 is an exception to that rule. The only negative to the movie was that the special effects created for the numerous head shots the titular character inflicts on the mostly nameless mooks trying to kill him look like what they are, video game simulations. 

That reduces some emotional intensity but there are other ways to reach that state. This movie, which sees everybody and their brother trying to kill John Wick, reaches for but does not quite match the ferocity of the Indonesian movies The Raid and The Raid 2. It gives multiple shout out to those films, though, both through some of the action set pieces and a cameo from an actor from those movies.

A quick recap of the first two movies is required. In the first film John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired assassin who formerly worked for the Russian Mafia. His wife just died. The last thing she gave him was a dog. In a particularly unfortunate sequence of events, the son of John Wick's old boss decided to steal John Wick's car. Just to be mean he also killed John Wick's dog.

Needless to say this person did not know who John Wick was. As his father explained to his sub-moronic son, John Wick was the man you send to kill the boogeyman. Mugging the Monster is never a good idea. Wick went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, eliminating the entire organization that used to employ him.