Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, January 27, 2014

American Hustle, Indecision...

I finally went to see American Hustle.  It is now several hours later, and in all honesty I do not know what to think.  It is not particularly brilliant, but it is fascinating and easy to watch.  It is far from history although it wants to make you think it is with its loose association with ABSCAM. .  It is humorous and curious.  It is detailed and reminds me of a time I lived through.  I was in college when ABSCAM began according to the real history. It is a gritty and humorous depiction of the world of the con.  It has enough little twists to keep us going as we watch.

 It is well acted, although I thought Bradley Cooper's Oscar nominated performance was more than a little over-the-top. Jennifer Lawrence proves that she is a natural actor.  As Meryl Streep is nuanced and studied and layered in her performances, Lawrence is unabashed and blissfully seemingly unaware of her gift and her humorous timing as the ditsy wife is impeccable.  Amy Adams also does well in her roll as the sexy temptress, and so does Christian Bale as the consummate conman who the audience likes and sees clearly as a crook.  The comb-over is hysterical.  The rest of the cast from Louis C. K. to Jeremy Renner to the surprise appearance of Robert De Niro are all good.  Ensemble is important to the success of any film and American Hustle is well cast and has it in spades.

I worry when  a movie tries to purport itself as a history, that folks will think that it is.  While ABSCAM may have inspired some of the events that may have "actually happened," American Hustle is a long ways away from the actual scandal. Long enough that all the major characters are fictional.  This I suppose is why the movie works, it is very believable.  There are elements still in the various scenes of the "con" that I am not sure which parts were part of the con artists at work and which were part of the lives of the characters.  It makes for interesting consideration.

All in all, American Hustle is an interesting movie that I am pleased that I saw. It's Oscar nominations make sense. On a thematic level it is clear that the movie wants the audience to realize that we are all involved in the hustle, our own little cons.  It is not just conmen that hustle.  It is well constructed film making. It just that I am still though just not sure about the experience and I still need someone to explain the meaning of the ice fishing story to me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Excuse me while I pretend we are on the playground.

I will be brief.  I see more and more of these lovely little memes that I care to count.  They all begin with something innocuous, painfully trite, political, or just plain stupid and then end with one of the following:

"Many won't have the courage to repost this."
"Most won't share this."
"I will know who my friends are by those who share this."
"99 percent of you won't repost this..."

or some similar childish challenge.

Guess what?

If you post one of these I WILL NOT REPOST SUCH SILLY DRECK.

I am not on the playground.  I am not chicken. AND you can Double Dog or even use the Triple Dog dare me.  I do not measure friends on what they think I should share.  I do not measure my beliefs on the memes I am challenged to repost.  I will not be measured by what I choose to share on any social network.

Good memes stand on real merit; not on what you think will get it to go viral.  Show some guts and post something that will stand on its own. When I share, I do so because I find it valid, humorous, fun to do, a valid contest I am entering, something to save, or just something that was cool.  I do not beg or challenge people to share my blogs or anything I post. When they do share or when they comment, I am pleased that they found it worth their time to like, repost or G+ or whatever it is they want to do.  Save the juvenile dares and attempts at guilt. If it is worth it, then it will be shared. And while I am on reposting, we have enough cat memes and videos...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Feel Better and be less scared...

For those of you who follow me, you know that I haven't been blogging quite as often. This is by choice. One of the things I did on my recent hiatus from blogging during the holidays  is I quit watching anything from Fox, MSNBC or "morning news" programs.  I barely watch the evening news.  I haven't gone cold turkey.  I still watch the occasional program. I chose instead to read news.  In-depth, honest-to-gosh news reporting.

I feel better.

It's not that I don't have anything to say about the amount of misinformation out there, I do.  I will continue no doubt to do so.  It's just that media has a problem.  I am not talking about the fact that "news" programs must compact an often complex story into a two minute segment.  I am talking about "news" programs are now responsible for ratings and sensationalizing has become the norm.  Reports are often based on anecdotal stories of people who have an ax to grind, usually political in nature.  I would just once love to see some moderator in the mainstream news turn to the politician they are interviewing and say "you know that what you just said is misleading and untrue" or "we are not talking about that story; we are talking about this story," or "comparing that to slavery is utterly inaccurate." They don't.

And sadly, the misinformation is not just from politicians.  It's also coming from "journalists." One of the few programs I will still watch is Meet the Press.  Don't get me wrong, this program is far from asking hard hitting questions.  Take, for example, a recent example from that show.  They were discussing "Bridgegate." You know, the closing of traffic lanes to create havoc by senior staff of Chris Cristie's administration.  On the panel was "editorial journalist" for the Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel. Not once but twice she attempted to not discuss the issue in New Jersey but to blame Obama for the IRS targeting scandal which has been pretty much discredited by every investigative organization that's looked into the matter.  Was she challenged? No. Basically, the rest of the panelist ignored the comments.

I will still comment about the fear mongering I see on my timeline whether it is the mythical professor who failed an entire class, soldiers going hungry while congress raises its salary, or the extreme contamination of fish by the Fukushima disaster.  You see spreading fear by misleading is easy and social media makes it that much easier.

Here's my suggestion for all of you.  Quit cruising sites and stations like Fox, MSNBC, Breitbart, BeforeIt'sNews, Real Clear Politics, The Daily Kos, Move On,  or listening to pundits like Alax Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly, Daniel Lawrence, Ezra Klein, Andrew Sullivan, Bill Moyers, Chris Matthews, or Rachel Maddow. There are dozens if not hundreds of  right and left wing pundits and organizations all with one common goal: get you to believe their agenda .  Or if you do decide to watch, listen or read from these people and places, just make sure that you know they are agenda driven.

A steady diet of your favorite food will make you sick.  A steady diet of political drivel will make you scared. If this is where you go for your news, you might as well use The Onion or Cartoon Network for your information.  It will be about as accurate.

Check everything with Snopes and Hoax Slayer and Fact Check.  The pundits specialize in turning the topic and fear-mongering. If you want to be scared, watch Supernatural or go to a good horror movie.

You'll feel better.  I promise.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Nominees are...or should be.

Like many, I like to see who is nominated for the Oscars.  I will likely not watch the awards show, but still I like to see who is nominated and who wins.  There are always a number of movies which get nominated and acting jobs that I have not seen.  There are also always a few I have.  I am frequently amazed at who is nominated, and even occasionally surprised by who "wins" the Oscar.  There is a list of movies that have won, that quite frankly, I think those in Hollywood should be embarrassed by the win.

Now, many or the winners of Best Picture are not bad movies, but they aren't really noteworthy for altering or adding to the film making world.  There is also a wide list of movies that didn't win and probably should have.  I mean think about the fact that Rocky and Titanic won best picture. Both were box office juggernauts, but hardly anything that altered film making.  I liked Rocky but was it best picture?   Titanic was at its core a basic melodrama. As one critic I read put it, all Billy Zane needed was a moustache to twirl. Now I know that some films that went on to become classics really didn't find an audience until much later, and it would be unfair to point to them in hindsight as to what should have won best picture. It is just that popular and money maker does not equal best picture.

The same is true with actors.  Personally, I don't think that an actor who has only one or two movies on the back of their head shot should be nominated. Take again Sylvester Stallone for example.  He was nominated for Rocky.  As one site I read pointed out,  no one realized that Sly basically only played that character in everything.  We don't really know if it's talent or just dumb luck that an actor's first role was the right part, the only part they would ever be able to play.  Same is true for child actors.  Cute is not talent and very few child actors actually demonstrate talent beyond the cute phase.

And so I come to this year's nominees.  I liked Gravity.  It was a nail-biting thrill ride.  It was also little else.  It was a special effects movie.  If you saw Gravity and didn't know that Clooney dies and the lone inexperienced astronaut would survive, you simply weren't paying attention to the preview trailer.  Sandra Bullock's rapid breathing and constant "I'm so scared" grunts and whines were not really much in the way of acting skill. Sorry, but the character was two dimensional and had a back story of about two sentences long, and the plot was exceedingly predictable .  Fun movie? Absolutely.  Nuanced, layered and deep? Ummm, no. Who should be there if not Bullock? Easily it should be  Emma Thompson whose nuanced performance in Saving Mr. Banks of P.L. Travers was absolutely astonishing.

Then there was the lack of nomination for Tom Hanks.  To this day, I cannot get the performance and shear
reality of the shock of Captain Phillips.  It is Hanks that makes the film work.  The name of the movie is Captain Phillips after all.  How a movie can be nominated the character which is the driving force of the movie not be named is beyond me.  I know, he has had his fair share of nominations.  That doesn't mean you stop nominating someone because they turn in one stellar performance after another.  It seems though, with the rare exception of Meryl Streep, it is something of a true statement.  It was an oversight when he was over-looked for Cloud Atlas, and it is a huge one when he is over-looked for Captain Phillips. I cannot comment on Robert Redford not being nominated since I have not seen his movie, but from what I hear it was another over-sight.

The fact is the Oscar award is a product of Hollywood, and Hollywood is a business.  While the oscars occasionally pick correctly, the business end still drives it.  Redford pointed out just yesterday that it was clear his movie had not received the business promotion - the publicity - that would make it a mainstream contender. Like it or not, we can discuss who was included and who was over-looked, but the Oscar is about Hollywood's business and self celebration.  It is not necissarily about extraordinary acting and filming first.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Science of Ignoring Science

It is perhaps a sad truth that if left to those who find science inconvenient we would still be trying to figure out how to get to the moon. Science seems to have become inconvenient. We would still be looking at the canals on Mars, believing in Big Foot and alien crop circles...oh wait.

On the right, there is the group who believe that climate change is a myth announcing that climate has always been changing, and this is just another cycle. That is, of course, if they understand the difference between climate and weather. Naming it "global warming" was probably a mistake although the ocean's temperatures are on the rise which is why areas have more extreme weather and droughts.  Things will still freeze because it is cold. In fact, if the water is warmer, then more condensation is in the air.  Weather is what happens on a daily basis.  Climate is the impact of weather over extended time.  As the climate shifts, weather may change or even become more extreme, not just warmer or colder.  Areas that didn't used to get severe cold weather suddenly find stronger winters and winter areas suddenly find long periods of drought with extreme storms.  Storms become bigger.  This is not some cycle, it is climate change.

On the left are the anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) crowd who often point to one debunked French study and often do not understand the difference between correlation and causality. The study, for example, used rats which were actually prone to tumors.  Ever hear the joke about cancer being caused by white mice?   The problem is that a study which has not been duplicated is not a scientific fact, it is an anomaly until it can be replicated again and again. Variables become important and because two events occur at the same time does not mean the two events are linked.  If a correlation is made then there must be a cause or link between the two events; otherwise, they are simply two separate events that happened at the same time.  One did not cause the other. It is like believing that washing a car causes rain.  Nice myth.

 You should not pick one established studies in one field and then ignore another group of established studies because your politics do or don't align with it. Many a scientist is offended by the idea that a political group picks its science not based on research but on the basis of politics.

Science, in the mainstream, is science. That doesn't mean that there are not corporate shills and corrupted science out there, but during the course of things those corrupt scientists will inevitably be put into the minority of science. We know, for example, that for years, tobacco companies bought and paid for so-called scientific studies. We also know that those studies have long been dismissed along with the scientists who have basically become nameless. And that leads us to the problem. Politicians are frequently corporate shills and need to protect their donors. So if we ignore the left and right, we find some interesting science.

Not just a few scientists believe that climate change is a reality or GMO's are not that dangerous, but the scientific global community believes this to be true. They may argue over nuances or other stats, but studies have been replicated out the wazoo that show the above statements to be true. The evidence is not some anecdotal correlation to the event but has real demonstrable cause. Ninety-Seven percent of the scientific community and the disciplines that contribute to climate change agree that not only is climate change real but humans are a major contributing factor. That isn't a debatable consensus; it is fact.
Here is a list of scientific groups that support the idea of climate change:
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Astronomical Society
American Chemical Society
American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Physics
American Meteorological Society
American Physical Society
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO
British Antarctic Survey
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Environmental Protection Agency
European Federation of Geologists
European Geo-sciences Union
European Physical Society
Federation of American Scientists
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
Geological Society of America
Geological Society of Australia
Geological Society of London
International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA)
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Royal Meteorological Society
Royal Society of the UK
Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias (Brazil)
Royal Society of Canada
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Academie des Sciences (France)
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
Indian National Science Academy
Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
Science Council of Japan
Academia Mexicana de Ciencias (Mexico)
Russian Academy of Sciences
Academy of Science of South Africa
Royal Society (United Kingdom)
National Academy of Sciences (USA)
African Academy of Sciences
Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Kenya National Academy of Sciences
Madagascar's National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
Nigerian Academy of Sciences
l'Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
Academy of Science of South Africa
Tanzania Academy of Sciences
Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences
Zambia Academy of Sciences
Sudan Academy of Sciences
Australian Academy of Science
Royal Society of New Zealand
Polish Academy of Sciences
Just to mention a few.

On the GMO end:

Here is a list of 1787 studies which show the safety and lack of global impact of genetically modified.  The list was compiled by a group of Italian scientists.
Organizations which find no safety issues include 
The World Health Organization
American Medical Association
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The National Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Medicine
The European Commission
The Union of German Academic of Sciences and Humanities
Food Standards Austrailia and New Zealand
The French Academy of Sciences
Science Academy of Brazil
Science Academy of China
Science Academy of India 
Science Academy of Mexico
Plus a number of university geneticists.  

(I know the list is longer for climate change, but I lucked out and found that list all in one place and genetic biology is a little more specific and besides you have nearly 2000 studies on GMOs to look up.)

The research on genetically modified foods stretch back some twenty years, by the way. Most in the scientific comunity also agree that as with all new ideas, the study of GMO's must be handled on a case by case basis.  They also agree that genetic manipulation of plants had been occurring long before gene splicing.  Most of you may remember the whole genetic thing done by Mendelson and the study of genetic traits. I even remember a day spent looking at the creation of hybrid wheat in Canada and its impact. The nations that have banned GMO's have done so for political reason not based on what the vast majority of scientists believe.

 Science has advanced us.  It has given us extended lives.  It has taken us to space and the depths of the ocean.  It has cured diseases that were once a death sentence.  It has shown us that it can alter lives.  Science has created great machines that find cancers and disease at the cellular level,  Science has also created destructive weapons and unspeakable horrors. It has given us the ability to control population and feed great populations.  It has created great convenience and great inconvenience.

Science can be both good and bad.  It can be used for great evil and great good.  To ignore it because some political agenda or talking head said so is plain stupid.  I suggest if you want to look at science your research should be verifiable and come from sites that have actual links to actual reference materials.  If your getting your science from places that are actually political, you might want to consider the agenda and not the unreferenced article written by a guy who was a philosophy major.  Consensus in science is not like arriving at a consensus among politicians.  In science, the research has been studied, the math checked, and the experiments checked, duplicated independently and published.  There isn't some secret cult of scientists playing politics to get some result.  The leaked report that may be published in a few onths and no one can actually quote from or name the specific group publishing the report is a scare tactic. Conspiracy theory much?  Those are politicians picking the science they like and disregarding the
science they don't.

Science, for good or ill, is still science. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bank on Mr. Banks

While the rest of the state was cheering on the Broncos, we went to see Saving Mr. Banks.  I know that some were hoping for more about the life of P.L. Travers the creator of the Mary Poppins books or what Walt Disney was really like, and if you are, then may I suggest you do a little research. The story is not about their personal lives.  It is about the attachment to the creation and art that great artists feel.  For Disney a certain mouse is family.  For Travers, a certain English nanny is family. Other stories are not pertinent to the story of adapting Marry Poppins to the silver screen.  By all accounts, P.L. Travers really was that difficult to work with and Walt Disney was well-known for his ability to charm the socks off of anyone.  Her reaction to the movie adaptation process is not unlike other authors have discussed.

I went to see the movie because two of the finest living actors that I can think of were in it.  Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney was a bit of a stretch, but by the end of the movie Walt Disney was sitting in the movie theatre at the premier of Mary Poppins and sitting just in front of that legend sat the real P.L. Travers, played by the astonishing Emma Thompson, tears streaming down her face as she one last time relived the childhood that caused her to create Mary Poppins.  Mary Poppins came not for the children but to save their father, Mr. Banks.  The story is built on the idea that Helen Hoff, the real name of P.L. Travers, lived a hard life in her native Australia as the daughter of an alcoholic banker who was dying of tuberculosis and had given up his dreamer nature to become a bank manager.  It is at once a sad and whimsical story of an author who created an immortal character who would bring great change whenever the wind would change directions.  Travers loved her father, a whimsical man. Her pen name was actually his first name, Travers Hoff.

The movie draws us in to the world of Walt Disney, business man and something of a charming huckster and the world of P.L. Travers, a demanding and difficult human. I had discussed with a friend that it was "based on a true story."  A friend told me, and rightly so, that Hollywood relies too much on that phrase. The "based on the true story" though was my term.  Disney did not promote the movie as "based on" but as the true story.  How much is actually dramatic license, I cannot say.  What I do know, is that Mrs. Travers, as she demanded she be called even though she never married, insisted that all meetings during her time in Hollywood be taped.  During the credits, one of the tapes is played of one of those meetings and to say that Emma Thompson became Mrs. Travers is an understatement.

In the middle of the legendary clash between Travers and Disney is her Hollywood driver, Ralph played by another gifted actor Paul Giamatti whose foil story of a simple man with a handicapped daughter shows us the other side of Mrs. Travers. It took Disney 20 years to convince Travers to let him bring the book to the screen. Saving Mr. Banks is credited as being a warts and all story.  I defy you not to shed tears when Walt Disney tells his own Mr. Banks story which is then closely followed by the premier of Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers reaction to the Disney film. If you do not find yourself grinning in pure joy when Travers starts dancing to "Let's Go Fly a Kite," you are, indeed, a hard heated human.

Saving Mr. Banks is good film making.  Saving Mr. Banks is a story worth telling.  The cast, especially Emma Thompson, is superb.  Go see it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Not Blogging Blog

I know.  I've been taking some time off.  I suppose I could have written something more about Miley and her twerking, but in all honesty, what was left to say?  It was not really twerking, but a "bump and grind" by a twenty-one-year-old on a thirty-six-year-old father on his third marriage singing a derogatory song towards women while dressed to look like Beetlejuice.  Hey, it's a music awards show and like car racing, people watch it for the wrecks that could occur.  One hit wonder dad, Billy Ray must be so proud.  It is too bad about Miley's inability to keep her tongue in her mouth.  I worry she may have something serious like mouseketeeritis or teen angst or lack of talent.  Just remember that talent is directly proportional to the number of backup dancers a singer must have on stage to appear talented.

I could have blogged about  the much ado about Duck Dynasty that wondrous fake reality show.  You  believe that all except one Robertson decided to start wearing camouflage and grow out their hair and beards out all at the same time because they are psychically connected if you really like. You may also believe that  Phil Robertson hasn't said a single outrageous thing simply for publicity. I am not going to judge your lack of contact with reality.  Yes, it's true, A&E is, as one site I read has said, officially the Walmart of TV.  If you actually believe those lovely Southern Redneck stereotypes are real, you need to get out more.

So, I let the much ado of Phil Robertson attacking LGBT, reminiscing about the good old days when African Americans sang happily in the fields, and the video where he announced that men need to marry 'em young so girls will be raised to serve their man pass on by.  When Duck Dynasty goes off the air, its passing will only be noticed by those folks who have Chia planters in the shape of a Robertson.  Perhaps, those folks will learn to read or switch over to Honey BooBoo or Billy the Exterminator.

(Warning one link in the following paragraph uses a cuss word in the link title.  You've been warned.)

I've also let the recent publication of the list of movies with the most F-words pass by.  We will ignore that Variety, who first reported it, actually used Wikipedia as a source and other news organizations then credited Variety for the report. If accurate, the record holder for movies using the F-bomb that is not pornographic is The Wolf of Wall Street which uses the word 506 times in its 118 minute runtime.  I have not seen the movie, but still to have the word appear on average every 14 seconds makes one wonder, are there any sentences without cussing?  I will point out the actual record holder is a documentary which actually has the F-Word as its title. In that movie the word appears 857 times in just 93 minutes or every 6.5 seconds.  I let my blog rest for this list and my wondering as to why would anyone would actually want to have their movie listed on this list?  "Why, yes we hold the cussing record.  It is so much easier than meaningful dialog."

I also let pass the ignorance of people who immediately spread the satirical articles that appeared on January 1st about the number of deaths from marijuana overdoses and FBI and DEA raids. Even though a number of friends linked the reports and even said it was satire, the reactions to people who didn't read the thread was hilarious. Come on folks, get a clue and read a least more than your comment.

 I ignored the viral repeat of the alignment of the planets lessening gravity on January 4th (Zero G Day) which is actually an April Fool's joke played on the English public by a respected astronomer Patrick Moore in 1976.  Did you feel lighter? The press playing jokes on April 1 in England is something of a time-honored event, dating back to the reports on Spaghetti Trees in 1957.

I ignored the reposting of the discovery of Atlantis pyramids and sphinxes video on my time line which has been floating around in one form or another since the 90's. I ignored the "Worst Car Accident Ever Recorded" video which is also a documented fake and scam (the flying woman was added later).  I ignored the "man being eaten by shark" video which is also a scam.  I ignored the story about micro-chip implants being put into 2 million people in Wyoming which has an actual population of about 600,000 unless you include antelope.  This, of course, goes along with the idea you never argue with crazy people.

It is another year of people linking and posting and not bothering to spend five seconds researching. I've ignored all this and not blogged about it and probably won't, unless, of course, you count this blog.


Happy New Year.