Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

99 Problems and The New Jim Crow

I recently picked The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness for my book club (and it's very interesting - you should read it) and then I came by this: JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS by Caleb Mason (which is also interesting [plus entertaining] - you should read it).

They both reference similar and key Supreme Court decisions which have led to exactly what cops can and can't do regarding the 4th Amendment.


Monday, November 12, 2012

This Must Be Shared

PCN often has the most amazing posts about personal or family events but this must be the absolute most amazing of all!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Operation Terror by The Gordons

Title: Operation Terror
Author: The Gordons
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1960)

If Michael and I were on the East Coast we'd obviously be distracted by events of greater import than our monthly duo post. Since we are dry and with power on this side of the US we will forge ahead with this month's pick but I'm definitely keeping our Atlantic friends in my thoughts and wishing as quick a recovery as possible. 

All the credit goes to Michael for this Halloween pick and he sure did pick a good one. It's not exactly horror but the chilling suspense builds nicely and, if you're not a horror fan, this is a wonderful alternative for getting your holiday creeps. For anyone new to the series, this is where Michael and I choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.


Click here for Michael's film review of Experiment in Terror

at It Rains... You Get Wet

Rip said to her, "Is anybody listening in?"
"No."
"You don't have an extension?"
"No."
"But somebody may be listening to you?"
"Could be, Pete."
"Somebody in the house?"
"No."
"Somebody outside?"
"Yes."

Thus begins the partnership between Kelly Sherwood and John Ripley to catch a bank thief. Sherwood, a bank teller, is ambushed in her garage by a man who promises her a cut if she helps him rob the bank. He also threatens her (and her sister) if she does not help. Not long after he leaves, she calls the FBI (TSTL Miss Sherwood is not!) to report his threats. He was waiting for her to do this and attacks her. He makes more threats and it isn't until Ripley, an FBI agent, calls back that she is able to alert the authorities.

"Where were you at noon? I waited for you at the drugstore." As she groped for words, he continued accusingly. "You always eat lunch at the drugstore, but today you didn't. Why didn't you? I'm asking why you didn't."

She thought quickly. "I brought lunch with me today."

"No, Kelly, you didn't. I'll tell you what you did. You were talking with the police. You were telling them about last night." 

She raised her voice. "I wasn't. I tell you--"

"Shut up." The trigger had snapped. He said angrily, I'm going to punish you. I'm going to do it through your kid sister..."


Operation Terror isn't just the title but the philosophy of The Gordons' villain. He threatens and harasses Sherwood relentlessly and without much of a pattern. He disrupts her sleep and keeps her in constant paranoia regarding the safety of her sister. He wants to break her down, break her will and so be reasonably sure that she will abet him in his robbery. Against this assault, Sherwood works closely with Ripley and the FBI to determine the identity of the robber.

It's possible that many readers prefer modern thrillers with all the suspense that modern technology can offer but I have to admit to being a sucker for finding a payphone, getting access to punch cards, and waiting several days for background information from the "main office." Not only does it change the pace and strategy of a manhunt but it has the feel of placing the story in an alternate universe (ha! I say this like I don't remember only needing a dime to make a call at a payphone:) with alternate rules. The fun of it is re-organizing your expectations for what can and cannot be accomplished under a particular set of circumstances.

And the "details" really are satisfying. This is a thriller with a brain full of characters with brains (and a surprising mini-twist for the character of the villain). Instead of rolling your eyes at the obvious holes you'll find yourself wondering if you could have got around the FBI/villain's plan. The lack of holes keeps the suspense as the centerpiece and that is pleasing indeed. 

For all the positives there is something slightly clumsy about the writing. I could never quite put my finger on why it seemed to stutter but that it did I could never ignore. It's a short book that you ought to fly through with very little pause but that isn't quite how it reads. It's not a deal breaker or anything, just noticeable. On the plus side, it's properly copy edited and what a refreshing quality that is!! (Yeah, that's right, I just got excited about copy editing! But seriously, have you seen some of the slip ups in books getting into bookstores these days?)

Don't miss this big thriller in a small package, it's a quick and satisfying read. Perhaps this means I should seek out more work by The Gordons. Anyone have any suggestions?
Don't forget to check out the film review. 

rating: 4 of 5 stars



Click here for an index of the joint post series

Monday, October 29, 2012

Life is Full of Scary Shit

One of its scariest attributes is The Enabler. Don't be one.

Brutsch is a grown-ass man who has made his own choices, choices that creatures with opposable thumbs would generally find repugnant. Yet when he showed off the gold-plated Reddit bobblehead award he received “for making significant contributions to the site,” he was offering very real evidence that in addition to being a singular, walking piece of vomit, he’s also undeniably a bro in a community of fellow dirtbags. He existed, and thrived, because he had the encouragement to do so.


Full article here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eye of the Beholder

Have a listen.

sgwordy says: So if I decide the sky is white and start looking at it like it's white will I see white more than blue?

Dr Musacha replies: It doesn't seem like that should work.

sgwordy says: Yeah, this is totally blowing my mind.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

Title: Ghost Soldiers
Author: Hampton Sides
Publisher: Doubleday (2001)

Repeat readers of this book/movie post series might have noticed that Michael and I called an audible. Michael did some reconnaissance and it turns out Hampton Sides' Ghost Soldiers edged out Breuer's The Great Raid as a good read for this amazing WWII rescue mission. I'll probably eventually get to William B. Breuer's book, as well, as this is a bit of WWII history I didn't know anything about and I'd like to continue learning about it.

In an odd coincidence my book club read Unbroken this month and I watched Red Tails this weekend so I'm feeling steeped in WWII history. But let's get to the review so anyone who, like me, didn't previously know about this rescue mission can fix that. For anyone new to the series, this is where Michael and I choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.

Click here for Michael's film review of The Great Raid

at It Rains... You Get Wet
From the publisher: "On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty miles in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POWs who had spent three years in a surreally hellish camp near the city of Cabanatuan. The prisoners included the last survivors of the Bataan Death March left in the camp, and their extraordinary will to live might soon count for nothing—elsewhere in the Philippines, the Japanese Army had already executed American prisoners as it retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. As the Rangers stealthily moved through enemy-occupied territory, they learned that Cabanatuan had become a major transshipment point for the Japanese retreat, and instead of facing the few dozen prison guards, they could possibly confront as many as 8,000 battle-hardened enemy troops.

Hampton Sides's vivid minute-by-minute narration of the raid and his chronicle of the prisoners' wrenching experiences are masterful. But Ghost Soldiers is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress—the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures; the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerrillas; the complex motivations of the U.S. high command, some of whom could justly be charged with abandoning the men of Bataan in 1942; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies, including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal."
Sides begins this book with the following quote from Dante's Inferno:
Let us not speak of them; but look, and pass on. 
It's apt for the book but also very much apt for the WWII history that I've been wading through lately. And, probably, apt for any exploration of war. Sadly, humans are all too prone to "look, and pass on" but nowhere does such a sad reality became more apparent than in war.
Sides allows readers to see this (from the Allied perspective) by intertwining the experiences of the POWs in the camp with the details of the days leading up to the raid. The plight of the POWs begins before the surrender on Bataan, is seen on the Death March to the prison camps and then, in brief but evocative glimpses, through the years in the prison camps. 
Sides also includes a small history of the birth of the Army Rangers. For the 6th Ranger Battalion, a mission of this caliber was what they had been created and trained to do but what they had not yet had the chance to do. Joining the Rangers was Filipino Captains Pajota and Joson with their guerrillas who were instrumental in supporting the attack on the camp and providing resources for the evacuation of the prisoners. 

Sides does an excellent job of painting a clear picture of the situation for both the POWs and Fil-American forces who eventually serve as their liberators. On the one hand this is something any reader would want, but on the other there is much that is hard to read here and that clear picture hides nothing. The abject despair of war, and its unbelievable absurdities, are brought to vivid life. The POWs initial response to the rescue efforts were particularly heartbreaking. Most of the prisoners were so ill and confused that they had to be convinced - sometimes physically - to evacuate. One POW was so distraught over documents he had to leave behind that he could not be convinced to leave.

Then the prisoner burst into tears and collapsed on the ground. Kinder tried not to consider for even a second the world of despair suggested by this man's predicament; there wasn't time for it now. Kinder lifted him in his arms. Through his sobs the POW said, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank God you've come!"

Reading this will be hard for almost anyone but worth it, as well. 
It doesn't change my recommendation of this title but I feel I ought to also mention that it could have been better written (having recently read Sides' Blood and Thunder which was much better craft-wise I was surprised at some of this book's issues). It's unnecessarily repetitive at times, employs overuse of phrases like "in truth," and the alternating of chapters from POW and rescuer points of view was a mistake, in my opinion. But, again, I think it's time very well spent to read this book so I recommend that you don't miss out.
We are all ghosts now
But once we were men.
                                --from an unsigned diary recovered from Cabanatuan camp

 
Don't forget to check out the film review.

rating: 4 of 5 stars



Click here for an index of the joint post series

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Better Off Lem & Phil

Funny on the show, funny in real life.


Sometimes Science is Sad!

Check out this article

And I couldn't agree more with...

I don't know. I think we have this tendency to overrate our powers of reason, and underrate the lizard-brain. We have an even greater tendency to underrate the power of culture and socialization among the elite.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Kids Are Hard Work

Check out what these unsuspecting Swedes said about their paternity leave:

Before going on leave, Mr. Decker says he thought: "You get up, you eat—how hard could it be?" He was looking forward to getting a lot of personal tasks accomplished during his time off. He was wrong.

"You're pretty much switched on all day, except for a brief nap midday," he said. "And then there was the food. One week she liked eggs, the next day she didn't…It's really hard to schedule life with an 11-month baby."

Mr. Butcher, from Spotify, had originally planned on spending his six-month leave drinking coffee and writing a script while taking breaks in the park to watch his daughter play.

In reality, "I'd be lucky to have 30 minutes for myself a day. The rest was just endless cleaning, feeding, changing and picking up." He says that, two weeks into it, he wondered if he was going to last the entire leave, "but I'm happy I did it and could bond with my daughter."


I just laughed and laughed. Not that I have kids (I'm not interested in that kind of hard work) but it was no surprise to me to read these quotes.

Interesting Article

Found here. The segment that most caught my eye:

But the veil of opulence operates only under the guise of fairness. It is rather a distortion of fairness, by virtue of the partiality that it smuggles in. It asks not whether a policy is fair given the huge range of advantages or hardships the universe might throw at a person but rather whether it is fair that a very fortunate person should shoulder the burdens of others. That is, the veil of opulence insists that people imagine that resources and opportunities and talents are freely available to all, that such goods are widely abundant, that there is no element of randomness or chance that may negatively impact those who struggle to succeed but sadly fail through no fault of their own. It blankets off the obstacles that impede the road to success. It turns a blind eye to the adversity that some people, let’s face it, are born into. By insisting that we consider public policy from the perspective of the most-advantaged, the veil of opulence obscures the vagaries of brute luck.

But wait, you may be thinking, what of merit? What of all those who have labored and toiled and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to make their lives better for themselves and their families? This is an important question indeed. Many people work hard for their money and deserve to keep what they earn. An answer is offered by both doctrines of fairness.
The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved.

The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might take steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get.


I put this under my label "equality" but depending on perspective one might very much disagree with that. Thoughts anyone?

Quotable

Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale



Title: Bubba Ho-Tep
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Publisher: Tachyon Publications (2010)
Note: This short story was originally published in The King is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-Mortem, 1994

It all started with a short story and it only took two years for Michael and I to add another short to the wordy bit of our joint reviews. It's just icing on the cake that we're getting to serve this one up on the same weekend that college football starts. I'd say this review is going to be short because the story was short but, come on, we all know it's because halftime only lasts 20 minutes. But, wait!

We absolutely cannot continue with this post without a huge shout out of thanks to Michael for the awesome Bubba Ho-Tep DVD edition he sent to Dr Musacha and me. Holy crap, it is so freaking cool! Click here for details and, no, that is not a picture of Elvis' uniform it is an actual slip off cover that is a miniature of the shirt. Sweet!!!!!

For anyone new to the this series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.



Click here for Michael's film review of Bubba Ho-Tep
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Elvis is not dead, he's in a Texas rest home. However, he's not resting peacefully. His old body is falling apart and even his, erm, VIP is letting him down. But when weird shit starts up in the Convalescent Home and his fellow denizens begin die of unnatural causes, it's just the inspiration he needs to pee in the toilet and be the hero he always played in the movies.

This is a weird, weird, weird story. I've never read any Lansdale but I get the impression this is not his only weird story. When I first started I was put off by the focus on body parts, fluids and general raunch but as I continued reading it was impossible to not get involved in Elvis' pit of despair. Elvis is pretty pitiful at the outset. Mentally and physically he is a poor specimen and pretty much waiting to die. Underneath all the parts that made me go "ew, are you kidding?" was a really sad man with a series of regrets. I wasn't expecting such a genuine depiction of the frustrations of old age in a story entitled Bubba Ho-Tep but there's no denying the running theme, even during the heroic ending, of the challenges of old age and of being left behind.

But still, it's so weird and pretty gross, too. You really should prepare yourself for icky moments and wtf moments but if you can get past them* you'll find some genuine fun. How could it possibly not be fun when a mummy invades a rest home? When Elvis gets to be not only alive but a mummy slayer! 

*and perhaps you won't even need to get past them because this type of story is quite popular with some so don't take my ick factor as the end all be all


I have many comments on the movie so I'm heading over to the review... in between the football games, of course. :)

rating: 3 of 5 stars



Click here for an index of the joint post series

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Title: Shoeless Joe
Author: W. P. Kinsella
Publisher: Ballantine Books (1987)

Michael has a knack for introducing me to titles I would otherwise never have come by. In this instance, I didn't realize the movie Field of Dreams was based on a novel. When he suggested we do this pairing I was pretty stoked because I really like baseball and I'm always interested in baseball titles. Also, I haven't watched that crazy ole Ray plow his corn because of the voices he hears in quite a long time. I may sound flip but, don't worry, I have a special place in my heart for Field of Dreams and even if I make fun of it a little I still like it (excepting a small part of it that you may be able to figure out if you read to the end of this review) but those comments are for Michael's film review. For anyone new to the this series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.



Click here for Michael's film review of Field of Dreams
at It Rains... You Get Wet



For this month Michael and I have queued up another fantasy novel. In fact, I'd say this was urban fantasy before it was all the rage... minus the vampires, of course. Turns out, I have as little interest in 80s urban fantasy as I do in 00s urban fantasy. And if that's not a clue, let me assure you, if you like this book you will not like this review.

Here's a quick synopsis that I found on the back of the copy I read: "'If you build it, he will come.' The mysterious words of a baseball announcer lead Ray Kinsella to carve a baseball field in his cornfield in honor of his hero, the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson."


What works:
- The building of the field piecemeal. It's probably unfair of me to count this as it only occurred to me to notice because it's different from the movie. But, whatever, I have so few good things to say about the book I may as well take what I can get. Ray starts by only building left field so that Shoeless Joe will have a place to play. It's Shoeless Joe informing him that more will come if Ray will only build their positions that inspires him to continue. I loved the building of the field. I liked all the descriptions of how he kept up the grass and the dirt and I liked the rickety back fence and the bleachers. I liked how building a new portion of the park was rewarded with another player.

- Random little gems are scattered throughout the book. If you could skip everything but the building of the field, the recounting of baseball statistics and some of the random quotes this could have been a really good book.

- Unexpected conversations can happen at work. I'm getting up from reading my book at break and someone who has never spoken to me before says, "That looks like a funny book." I am silent while I process why this person is talking to me and what would have given her the idea that it was funny (see pic above, not really a comedy cover if you ask me). My stalling leaves her space to continue, "Is it really about people without any shoes?" I am still having trouble processing this conversation because now I've moved on to why a book full of people without shoes would be funny! I finally figure it's best to just get out asap so I mumble something about Shoeless Joe Jackson being a famous baseball player and exit the room. 

What Doesn't:
- The characterization. Oh my gosh!!! The characterization. It's some of the worst I've ever seen. I started to wonder why anyone had a name at all. I think their names should have been Convenient Person #1, #2, etc. Ray gets some semblance of characterization but he's not a very consistent character so the only thing I really could believe about him was that he loved Annie* and baseball.

- *Let's not go down the road of talking about Annie or Annie and Ray. A more insulting, insipid love affair has surely never been put to page before.

- The farm foreclosure angle. It made no sense. What was the point of them being poor? Was it for a better ending? To make it even more amazing that Ray had the faith to build the field? What was Annie's job? Why would she insist that she and her husband buy a farm when she had no plans to help with the farming or a supplemental income? If this whole foreclosure business hinges on her brother's company being full of assholes who have been buying up Johnson County then why didn't they buy the farm in the first place? If you double check the timeline (and I did!) the company could have bought the farm before Annie and Ray ever got involved.

- The twin angle. What was the point of Richard's character? Why was the author convinced twins wouldn't age differently? Why were the twins nothing alike in one description of them (personality-wise) but then Ray's complaining he never had anything Richard didn't? 


Overall: The snippets of baseball in this story do not make the horror show that is this book worth it.

One last thing. I didn't include this in the "what doesn't" section because it works for quite a few people, just not me. This book has a real hankering for the past aspect to it. I mean, even moreso than you would generally assume from the plot. It's basically got the attitude that anything old = good and anything new = bad. This is neat and all for some folks but, when you really look at such a thing, it ends up being short-sighted and exclusionary and not something that has ever had much appeal for me.

So, toss this book on the Not To Be Read pile and head over to the film review.

Oh wait, my favorite quote:

"He's a go-getter, but he'll get over it soon. Everyone does."


rating: 2 of 5 stars


Click here for an index of the joint post series

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's Science!

I don't think it's just because I'm a scientist that I can't understand people who aren't interested in being well informed. Many topics do indeed encompass ambiguous evidence but at the end of the day there is a most likely scenario that is supported by facts. Why oh why are there so many people not interested in facts? Why are we so willing to listen to people without expertise just because they are saying something we want to hear? Heads in the sand have never accomplished anything!

On a more fun note, check out my impromptu lab museum (that chair/bench in the background is where sgwordy makes science happen:):



Items left to right -
1. Timer made by Great Britain's Smiths. You set it with the dial in the middle and hit the green button on top to start it. Year unknown.
2. First Aid guide from the kit in the lab. Includes such handy tips as to how to handle glass in the eye or disembowelment. 1979.
3. Sensi-discs to detect bacterial susceptibility to antibiotics. 1963.
4. Tube of glue that now has bubbled surface due to heat exposure? Year unknown.
5. White-out. Included because we are not allowed to use white-out (against accreditation body rules) so it can only exist in our museum. Year unknown.
6. Olympus camera. 1986. (See papers hanging below for directions on use. For example: large X through a picture of biceps to indicate that you should not press too hard on the buttons.)
7. Fire lighter. Year unknown. (These days they look more like this.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Alan Rickman Reel: Truly, Madly, Deeply

My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we've decided to review his films from start to finish. 
Using IMDb, that puts us starting with Die Hard (DIE HARD!!!!) and continuing with...


We should just do Ghost.




sgwordy: This was another movie we couldn't find. Scouring the internets (well, Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes) left us with only a few clips on youtube. I think people's favorite clips were the very serious ones because I didn't see much of the advertised humor. I would guess this film is pretty intense.

Dr Musacha:Yeah, the clips were very dramatic but it seemed like real drama. Not melodrama. That scene with the poem made me genuinely sad for both of them and I hadn't seen very much of them at all. It's amazing that short clips can be so affecting.

sgwordy: Agreed. I was very easily able to slip into the emotion of the scenes even though they were short. You know you're into something if you start to feel embarrassed about being there.When they were sharing how much they loved each other (title scene so kind of important) I started to feel really intrusive.

Beings that this is a serious film I feel a bit schmucky for making fun but, seriously, that mustache? Gotta go! What do you think?

Dr Musacha: Awful! He should have been wearing a denim jacket and standing in front of a bitchin' Camero.

sgwordy laughs

Dr. Musacha: His worst look so far. Agreed?

sgwordy: Definitely. It's the only thing that made that haircut not the worst thing about this look. Do you think you'd care to watch the entire film?

Dr. Musacha: Yes! In fact, I'm a little bummed that Netflix doesn't have it.

sgwordy: Wow, you surprise me. This isn't really your type of film.

Dr. Musacha: Drama has to be really well done for me before I'm interested in seeing it and certainly before I would like it and this seems to be a film that I would like because the drama is so well done.

It must be noted that Rickman flashed two more talents in this film: Another foreign language (Spanish) and singing. What did you think of Rickman's singing voice?

sgwordy: Absolutely loved it. Felt a bit sorry for Stevenson because she did not sound great next to his talents. Hopefully we'll get to see the whole thing someday but until then we'll let everyone enjoy his singing while we move on to his next film.




Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –7
sgwordy –5 (hard to know from the youtube clips)

Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – Yes, from the clips, definitely.
sgwordy – Yes, he wins all the singing contests.

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –8
sgwordy – 8

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: Sun ain't gonna shine anymore. (Rickman sings like an angel.)
sgwordy: I still go to meetings.

Sharing Joy



(hat tip: Michael)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Title: The Black Dahlia
Author: James Ellroy
Publisher: Mysterious Press (1987)

This title doesn't exactly bring out my sentimental side but, in looking for something I posted a couple years ago, I noticed that Michael and I just passed our 2 year anniversary of doing these posts and sharing our love of books. It started out with exchanging our favorite titles with each other and doing these joint posts, then culminated with our families meeting up over the weekend of the 2011 L.A. Times Festival of Books. 2012 saw me in SoCal again for the festival and for good times with Michael's family and our reader friends. Just one more reason to love the internet: our communities are so much larger than our localities. :) Thank you all for indulging my moment of sentimentality and now back to the books. For anyone new to the this series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.



Click here for Michael's film review of The Black Dahlia
at It Rains... You Get Wet


I'm not always ahead of the game but I'm cutting this post very close to the wire, the wire that is our agreed post date, that is. Why do I mention this? It's because I almost gave up on this book before pg. 50. That sure wouldn't have been very nice since this title was my suggestion. So after weeks of taking any excuse to put the book down, I had it at work and didn't have anything else to do at lunch so I gritted my teeth and pushed through. I have so little interest in boxing that the focus on it at the beginning was a bit boring for me but I certainly could have made it past that. However, there is a limit to the number of racial slurs, homophobic comments, denigrating descriptions of women, and random police beatings that I can take. If you're wondering why so many people hate LAPD this would be a nice lesson in the historical behavior that elicits such hatred. Fictionalized it may but I expect there's a goodly dose of reality here. Anyway, the beginning is really hard to get through. I won't read another Ellroy and if you were to pass on this book because you weren't interested in the assault on the eyes it offers, I certainly couldn't blame you. On the other hand, it is a rabbit hole of the seedy side of cops and criminals that can certainly suck you in once you get past the beginning (slurs, etc fall off precipitously but do not disappear, of course, it's about the kind of people who do and say awful things so that's not very surprising). So yadda yadda yadda what is it actually about?

From the author's site: On January 15, 1947 the tortured body of a beautiful young woman was found in a vacant lot in Hollywood. Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, a young Hollywood hopeful, had been brutally murdered. Her murder sparked one of the greatest manhunts in California history. In this fictionalized treatment of a real case, Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, both LA cops obsessed with the Black Dahlia, journey through the seamy side of Hollywood to the core of the dead girl s twisted life.


This short description doesn't begin to convey the twists of plot and character that reveal themselves as the mystery of the Black Dahlia disrupts the lives of Bucky, Lee, and their best friend Kay. Notwithstanding what I've already mentioned, this is a hard read. This book is full of trashy low-lifes and the cops aren't that much better. One thing that took me by surprise was the length of time the book covers. It's over two years from its opening to its end and the main protagonist spirals further and further out of control.

...and I don't dispute your somewhat belated desire to see justice done.

This line stuck with me more than any other because all the justice (ha!) did feel belated. No one wanted to act. Either the political atmosphere wasn't right, the correct person couldn't be counted on or bribed, evidence was suppressed for minor reasons, the list goes on. We see events through the eyes of Bucky and his brand of justice was convoluted and inconsistent. This was a particular weakness of the book. It's not that I wouldn't expect these characters to be complicated and flawed but I would expect to recognize why they did what they did. Much became clear as the story wound up but much remained inexplicable. The connection between events and Bucky's self-defeating personal decisions weren't always clear. Bucky's connection with Kay and the deceased Dahlia weren't developed in ways that made it obvious why he pursued the courses he did. His professional and personal obsessions with these things were so important to the book that I thought it was quite a flaw for half of this to never feel natural.

I wasn't too enamored with the ending (I'd definitely be interested in how other readers felt about it) but the plot had just the right mix of crazy and plausible to keep me interested even if I didn't care for the end. Some of what I liked the best is spoilerish so highlight if interested: I loved, loved, loved how Bucky was being played on all sides. No one was straight with him and, as the reader, I received it as the crushing blow he received it as. I think that is when I was most involved with the story. I still don't know that I completely buy that Bucky would have been able to come back from this (his with-a-bow-on ending with Kay didn't quite ring true for me) but I can completely understand how it drove him to see the Dahlia as his only point of control.

I wish my thoughts were a bit more cogent but a plot thicker than Steen's and a book I almost put down make for a hard task. I don't know that I'd recommend it but I will at least say that it develops into something better than I would have anticipated at the start.

Don't forget to swing by the film review. I thought I'd already seen this movie but when I queued it up for a repeat I realized I hadn't or that I hadn't finished it the first time around. I did finish it this time but it did not leave a good impression. I think it was just a poor adaptation in general but it really suffered from my inability to stop comparing it to the adaptation of L.A. Confidential. Before you head over there, the quote Ellroy chose to include at the beginning of the book:

Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator,
My first lost keeper, to love or look at later.
--Anne Sexton


rating: 3 of 5 stars


Click here for an index of the joint post series

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Interesting Article

Since I follow Feminist Frequency (permalink in SG Links if interested) I read her post about the Kickstarter project and was pretty excited for its production and then filed it away for future viewing and went on with my web surfing day. Then the internet intersection where video games, gamers, and misogynist cross paths absolutely fucking exploded. (Who knew this was such a busy intersection?) Here is the good news and I'm still pretty excited for its production. I'm also pretty excited that this has opened up numerous discussions. I hope it lasts. These conversations need to happen.

Anyway, as I was linking around I came by this interesting article. I found it particularly interesting for its focus on why gamers can be so prickly and defensive:

The cost, sadly, is that this protracted struggle for recognition and respect for our hobby and our industry has largely robbed us of the capacity to engage in intelligent or reasonable critique of what's happening in games. Since our childhood, most of us have been leaping to the defence of videogames - defending the medium from our parents, from our media, from our politicians. It's become an automatic response. Many of us don't seem to be able to turn it off, even now that there's really very little need for it. As a result, attempts at reasonable discussion over questions like race, gender, sexuality, violence or addiction with regard to games from within the industry get treated with the same hostility that Keith Vaz or Jack Thompson's grandstanding used to (quite rightly) receive a few years ago.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to lose this reader in 25pgs or less

It's no secret that I'm not a book finisher. There are too many books in the TBR pile to waste time reading a book I'm not enjoying. I do try very hard to give books a chance, though, so I've got a 100 Page rule. If I'm even mildly interested in it, I'll give a book 100 pages before I put it aside. There are ways to get cast aside early...

For this book (that shall remain titleless), it should be noted that it had a lot going for it at the get go:

Cover - thumbs up (this being the most important attribute of any book:)
Historical fiction - thumbs up
Set in under-represented region (in the US publishing world anyway) - thumbs up

And, before I knew how fast and loose the author (who shall remain nameless) played with adverbs and adjectives, I thought this was a pretty evocative choice: "mules and horses exuberantly defecating."

Anyone with a hoofed pet can appreciate just how much poo they create. But this was quickly followed by: "Rachel's eyes popped at the size of the turds, longer than her arm..." Whooops! Couldn't find a horse or a mule to observe? And, as I mentioned above, this is historical fiction. Author can actually observe one of these animals now to see that their turds are not the size of a 5yo's arm so how much faith can I have in the historical part of the fiction. I know this seems a small detail but really, it's so easy. And, ok, it annoyed me so I nitpicked the next part, "...and she giggled when the trolley's wheels squished them underneath." If you've got a trolley pulled by mules/donkeys/horses you probably have at least two animals and they will definitely have shafts attached to the outer portion of the harness. Wheeled vehicles being what they are, the wheels of the trolley will also be towards the outer sidewalls of the vehicle. When the animals poo, their approximately golfball sized turds will fall in a line because the animals are walking. Their butts will be between the shafts and wheels and so these not arm-length turds will be left for the next vehicle to squish.

But, whatever, it seems a stupid mistake to me but Author has much more important things to research so I'll pass this one by (on pg. 2) and continue reading.

Pertinent to the rest: It very much appears that an older teenager or adult is remembering her life when she was ~5yo.

-Up next we've got overly idyllic descriptions of home life complete with descriptions of activities a person would never bother to describe (great fault in historical fiction just to include more details). Historical fiction writers have a lot in common with spec fic writers: you are building a world. Make it real by making it natural. An artificial creation detracts from the story rather than impressing me with all the mundane details of diet you happen to know.

-Awkward and inconsistent dialogue which I think is a result of attempting to re-create a "local" dialect.

-Disturbing hints of single female protag getting most of her support and sense of community from men rather than women or at least a mix of both. News flash authors: women like each other and are friends with each other and support each other. In fact, it'd be much easier for me to name five women I can call on in a pinch than five men. (This trend in stories bothers me only because it is a trend: I've nothing against stories about women who are in a community of men but it's not every woman all the time. Where are all the women?)

-Using 5 words when 2 would do.

-A tendency to go through the story with this type of construction: this happened, and then this happened, and then this other thing happened, and so on.

-Last and most detrimental for my reading eyes: nothing for me to do. Lemme 'splain. "Rachel sat, as she often did at such gatherings, on the lap of her tall, rangy Uncle..." There's not much wrong with this on its own but "as she often did" or its ilk was peppered throughout almost every paragraph. I never had to figure anything out. I didn't need to observe what anyone was doing, infer how they were feeling, or try to figure out why they did what they did because every damn detail was laid out for me over and over again. In the technical sense of craft I don't like this much, but I dislike it even more as a reader who wants something to do while reading a story. If you don't give me anything to do I may as well be watching a movie. Movies are nice, I watch them a lot - and even enjoy them from time to time - but when I'm reading I expect a different experience.



What gets you to put a book down?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Whistleblower by Kathryn Bolkovac

Title -
The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman's Fight for Justice
Author -
Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (2011)

After our annual April twist, Michael and I are ready to get back to the usual. Except, when I scan the list of previous titles we've done, I see that we're not quite back to the usual: this is the first non-fiction title we've chosen. For anyone new to the series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.


Click here for Michael's film review of The Whistleblower
at It Rains... You Get Wet

In 1999, Kathryn Bolkovac left her job as a police officer in Lincoln, Nebraska to work for DynCorp, a private military contractor. DynCorp had won the bid to provide the US contingent of international police monitors to the UN's International Police Task Force in Bosnia. In 2001, she was all but sneaking out of the country in fear of retaliation for blowing the whistle on DynCorp and other UN workers for their complicity in human trafficking and forced prostitution. I should probably say further (and physical) retaliation because she had already been wrongfully terminated.

side note: Bolkovac has a website with lots of additional information on this topic (and the book and the movie) and here is the link.

This is the sort of book that I can never quite figure out what to say about except you really ought to read it. It's a hard book to read because it's hard to read about people being abused but it's vital that we have this information. It's vital that we know when bad things happen so that we can fight for and demand justice. It's vital that we know what our tax dollars are supporting so that we can demand that our elected officials do better. It's absolutely vital that we not perpetrate and support systematic abuse of our fellow humans. That's what I find so stunning when I learn about something like this: how can humans do this to other humans? It's absolutely outrageous and disgusting and yet it happens. I'm so impressed with and grateful to Bolkovac for refusing to be yet another person who gave up or turned a blind eye to what was happening.

Bolkovac's persistence in the face of institutional stonewalling is much easier to appreciate in the book than in the movie (as usual I'll leave most of my movie comments for Michael's post). As a trained police officer (the first chapters give a very clear picture of Bolkovac's professional background and expertise), Bolkovac was an ideal monitor to accurately identify just what laws were being broken and to assist the local force with how to prosecute them. Sectarian and racially motivated violence was a legacy that everyone had to work hard to get past and its impact was often felt in what was or was not investigated. This could have an especially detrimental effect on female victims of domestic violence. Bolkovac worked diligently on these cases and this eventually led her to a gender affairs position with the UN. It also eventually led to her uncovering the trafficking and forced prostitution. When these cases were brought to light, with witnesses or video, they would get mysteriously side-lined or "taken care of" internally. Over and over and over again this was happening to Bolkovac (and other investigators who you learn of in the book) and the message was clear: leave this alone. And this is what I meant above about being able to really understand how far the cover-up went in the book but not as much in the movie. It was incredible to see how deep (or perhaps I should say high since we're talking about bureaucracy) the problem went.

Because Bolkovac would not stop trying to pursue investigations and prosecutions for the crimes that were being committed, DynCorp found a rather flimsy excuse for terminating her contract and then proceeded to do it against stated company procedure. The then UK-based company was subject to UK labor laws and Bolkovac sued. The later part of the book is about the case which took about two years (almost the same amount of time as her employment with DynCorp).

The very last chapter addresses the use of private military contractors to represent the US in policing situations (including other instances of extreme misuse of power and resources) but, more importantly, suggestions are made as to how to prevent such situations from occurring in the future. I am always very appreciative of authors and professionals who take the time to present clear plans of action for moving forward. You can't take away that these dispicable events took place - and, worse, that no one faced prosecution - but you can work to ensure it never happens again.

I realize it's glaringly obvious that I highly recommend this book but I'm gonna say it again. Go out and get this book! You will not regret it.

Don't forget to swing by the film review. Before you head over there, enjoy some persistence in action:

Still, I simply was not interested in settling with DynCorp. I told Karen that even if DynCorp counteroffered, to turn it down. "No matter what they offer," I emphasized, "even if they add another zero to the figure, tell them I'm not interested. And I'd like you to add a 'go to hell.'"


rating: 5 of 5 stars


Click here for an index of the joint post series

Monday, May 28, 2012

Intermission

I've been busy with a demo saddle and Dr M had to leave the country (Don't worry, work related not crime related - ha!) so our Alan Rickman Reels are on hold. Also, it turns out we messed up the order and watched the wrong movie when Dr M was still in town. Now I just need to rustle up the correct movie since Netflix is not helping us out on that.

In the meantime, I found this article really interesting for its focus on the "ironic" expression of racism. This particular article addresses racism but you can see this idea of "ironic" expression of isms used quite often in popular media these days. I'm in agreement with the author and I wish this "ironic" thing wasn't being accepted as funny but seen for what it is.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alan Rickman Reel: Quigley Down Under

My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we've decided to review his films from start to finish. 
 
Using IMDb, that puts us starting with Die Hard (DIE HARD!!!!) and continuing with...
 
 
All he ended up was dead.
 
 
 
 
sgwordy: So it turns out you'd never even heard of this movie. Are you now cursing the universe for keeping this Alan Rickman gem from you? (where is my sarcasm font button?)
 
Dr Musacha: It's true, I had never heard of this one.  My hopes were immediately raised in the opening scenes, which featured three of my favorite things in the world: Australia, Tom Selleck, and Tom Selleck's mustache.  Sadly, things went downhill from there a bit.

sgwordy: Crazy slatterns being subjected to centrifugal forces via a bad guy and a boat paddle are fun but even that couldn't rescue this... I don't even know what to call it. Tone, pacing and genre were all very mixed up.

Dr Musacha: Yeah, there was a lot to potentially like here, including great actors, a fun setting, solid cinematography, and an interesting premise.  But I noted the same problems as you.  Could you elaborate on the issues with the movie's tone, because I found this to be one of its biggest problems.

sgwordy: Sure, and with a pretty clear example. The same movie that featured above-mentioned Crazy Slattern with Boat Paddle also graphically depicted genocide. I want movies to accurately depict current and historical events but if you introduce your characters via slapstick comedy it's hard to make that extreme dramatic shift with genuine emotional investment. 
 
Since I still don't quite know what to make of the movie's mid-length shift, I'm going to jump back to just thinking about Alan Rickman. What did you think of his wardrobe?

Dr. Musacha: I enjoyed it.  I actually thought Rickman's character (Marston) was a fun idea: a man acting out his fantasies of living in the Old West on a remote continent.  The man looks surprisingly good in a cowboy hat!  How do you feel about his performance in general?  It's not like the movie focused on him much.

sgwordy: Fun idea? I think I would have gone more for sadistic. That dude was twisted. Agreed about the hat. I would not have pegged him for a cowboy hat kind of guy but he really is! I thought the performance was poor. The writing and characterization of Marston is really bad so that could have affected my reaction to him but I didn't feel Rickman was completely invested. I could swear a little voice was just behind all his lines saying, "I was Hans Gruber once. Now look at me."

Dr. Musacha: Agree to disagree, I thought his acting was fine.  He brought his classic "controlled menace" to the film, which was needed.  The character just wasn't as interesting as Gruber...Marston was just a garden-variety racist landowner straight out of stock Western films.

sgwordy: I thought his authority as a bad guy was undermined by being thrown out of a window in his own house and then by the classic baddie mistake of counting on his adversary to die out of his sight. (side note: do you think his ranch house had very large ducts?) I found the movie too dang long and was pretty bored by the end. This was probably not lost on you since I fell asleep for the big ending. How did it go? Did Rickman or Selleck get the better ending?

Dr. Musacha: Ha, you really were asleep if you have to ask!  Selleck got a much better ending, as it didn't involve him boots up in the dirt.  Truth be told, I felt that Marston's death was a bit unceremonious, but that might be my affinity for Rickman talking.  We know Rickman plays a great villain...do you think this will be his low point as we continue this project?

sgwordy: I fucking hope so! Marston was complete crap. I'm happy to throw a teaser out by saying, with great assurance, that the next Rickman film in our queue will be a definite improvement over this. In fact, let's throw in the towel on this one and go watch the next movie!
 
 
 
Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha – 5
sgwordy – 3
Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – No, not enough screen time and Tom Selleck is awesome.
sgwordy – No, remember how we described crap villains in Die Hard? Here is a great example.
In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –3
sgwordy – 1
Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent.
 
sgwordy: No man knocks me out of my own house! [Editor's note: He forgot to add "once."]
 
 
 

Monday, May 14, 2012

More Baseball Shame

Dr M is all about the gifs lately. Lucky us!

So tip o' the hat to Dr M for sending me the vid link. What's funny is that I'd already seen it. We were at Fenway over the weekend and the jumbotron was running bloopers. That one linked above was one of the bloopers. Good times!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Slow-mo Shame

Good times and giggles here.

(hat tip: Dr M)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Canted

This documentary is long but so worth the view. If you know me, you know that advertising will often make my blood boil. This documentary is a perfect example of why.



Originally seen here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Alan Rickman Reel: January Man


 My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we've decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that puts us starting with Die Hard (DIE HARD!!!!) and continuing with January Man.

This is a step down from Die Hard.

Netflix doesn't carry this title so we had to improvise. So sgwordy read a plot summary of the film, while Dr Musacha opted to watch YouTube clips of only Rickman's scenes (courtesy of Rickmanlover) and try to guess what the movie was about.

Warning: Adult Content within clip. NOT SAFE FOR WORK


sgwordy: You know this movie was rated R. Any movie rated R in the 80s had tits whether it needed them or not. So, impressions?

Dr Musacha: About the tits or the first scene?

sgwordy: haha

Dr Musacha: I was excited after the first scene (no innuendo intended). My initial impression is that this is a movie about Kline pretending to be a hobo as part of a scam. And he's trying to recruit his painter friend as a partner. Sounds like an interesting concept for a movie.

sgwordy: Well, lucky for you you can still pitch that concept because he's actually trying to get him to help out on a murder investigation. Kline has just been asked back onto the NYPD (personal request of the mayor) and he thinks his painter friend will be really helpful as an assistant.

Dr Musacha: Hmm, that explains later scenes but not the way Kline is dressed.


Dr Musacha: Scene 2 left me with a lot of questions. Why are the least talented actors talking so much while Rickman is silent? Did this director ever work again? S/he's not getting much out of a talented group of actors. Also, what genre is this supposed to be? Feels like a comedy but I'm not laughing.

sgwordy: Turns out that is not the office the captain set aside for Kline but Painter Friend thought the light was better in this room. That would be important because his first task as assistant is, apparently, to paint birds on the wall.

Dr Musacha: Shockingly, this isn't even the stupidest turn of events in this movie.


Dr Musacha: Short and pointless, though this scene does introduce the first female character.

sgwordy: She's not the first female character.

Dr Musacha: Well, the first female character who talks. She's not just breasts on a couch.


Dr Musacha: At this point, I was convinced that instead of a hobo con, they had faked their way into jobs with the police (much like Blue Streak). Because they are bumbling fools they come up with a plan to use their new female friend as bait so they can catch the murderer.

sgwordy: Would you be surprised to learn that the woman is the daughter of the mayor?

Dr Musacha: Yes! Why would they risk the mayor's daughter in this scheme?

sgwordy: I think it's so she and Kline can spend time together so they can couple up by the end. Also, she's a friend to the most recent victim so obviously she's an expert on the situation. Do we even go into the Virgo thing or should we just leave that alone?

Dr Musacha: [speechless]

sgwordy: It is interesting that Kline has a background that makes the constellation Virgo (minus one star) immediately come to mind after a computer program inexplicably changes a bunch of squares into variously sized dots. (By interesting I mean stupid.)



Dr Musacha: Needless to say, I'm really disappointed in the outcome here. I was all jazzed up to watch a buddy comedy about two guys that pretend to be homeless to con suckers out of money.  Instead I get the dumbest plan in the history of police movies.  Did the summary you read explain why they needed to wait for the tenant of the apartment to show up before enacting their plan?

sgwordy: No, and that's a good question. Why did they wait? And why didn't I think of that before? Was it for her keys?

Dr Musacha: I guess that must be it but why didn't they use a police key or talk to the super. The whole plan is just really dumb!

sgwordy: I can't argue with that. I wouldn't even want to. Any final comments?

Dr Musacha:The world is still waiting for its buddy hobo comedy. You?

sgwordy: I'm sad. This movie makes me sad. Will there be any room for those enormous hot air balloon tits in your hobo bromance?


Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –1, every scene in this movie feels like a practice take.
sgwordy –2

Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha –Yes, he was the only one who ignored the director and acted.
sgwordy – There was no best in this movie. It's all worst.

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –3
sgwordy –3

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: It's irritating to me that I need money. I shouldn't need it.

sgwordy: Languish there, Darling.

Let's all just try to forget this ever happened.