Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One -- Fighting Evil, Hoping for the Impossible, and The Dirty Dozen

Photo: Star Wars: Rogue One poster, from this IMDB.com page

If you've seen the original Star Wars--known as Episode IV: A New Hope, now that there's a canon--you've probably wondered what that woman meant when she said, and I paraphrase here: "We've had to pay dearly to get this information. Very dearly." She was talking about how the Rebellion got the plans for the Death Star that showed where the weakness was--a purposeful weakness, it turns out. (I'd always thought it was just a mistake in design. You know, just kind of there. Some smart engineer in the Rebellion would see that, and think, Hey, if we hit that, it'll cause a chain reaction that will destroy the whole damn thing! I mean, for a purposeful weakness, the original Death Star engineer made it kind of hard to hit, right? Remember the difficulty and failures at the end of the 1977 film?) Anyway, this is the weakness that Luke Skywalker hits in 1977, after putting the machinery away and just using the Force. Incidentally, this is a strategy I recommend for those who think they need rear cameras and cars that just stop themselves. In this world, we call it focusing and paying attention. And perhaps a little intuition.

But I digress. At any rate, if you've been wondering what that statement meant in the original film--Well, here's your answer. Remembering that line (or my good-enough paraphrase of it) and using a little common sense, I was able to figure out the destiny of the main characters while watching the movie. That made it all a little weird for me (as was the final moment, when we see Carrie Fisher's 1977 face at the very end, and then my friend leans over while the credits are running and shows me that Carrie Fisher had died; very, very disturbing), and I hoped I was wrong. You will, too, because Felicity Jones does such a great job with her character that you'll hope for the impossible.

Photo: Felicity Jones and Diego Luna from Rogue One

Which is a nice segue for the point of this movie: Hoping for the impossible. And using that hope to fight back and make change. That's a nice idea--taken to extreme lengths in a recent article from a major magazine (forgot which one, but I read it) that said it perfectly mirrored what some of us feel about the next regime coming in, and I use that word purposely. But I disagree with that article. No Star Wars movie has ever been very political, even after Reagan named his space defense system plan after it. (And after the Red Sox brass referred to Steinbrenner and the Yankees as "The Evil Empire.") The Star Wars universe has always been overtly un-political and very fantastic. It's not meant to refer to our present day, or our history. (Though it's not too far wrong to see the Empire and the Stormtroopers as Hitler's Nazis and the SS Troops. You can't tell me that the baggy pants and Peter Cushing's Nazi-like stance in 1977 were happy coincidences.) But Rogue One is not a political movie, exactly, much like the original trilogy wasn't. Its point--like the point in The Hunger Games, and many other Dystopian epics, and in other fare like The Lord of the Rings--is that when true evil rears its ugly head, you fight it. And when true evil gets a weapon as powerful as the Death Star (or a little gold ring), then you destroy that weapon. By doing so, you're helping to destroy that evil. It's really that simple. That message, more than any other, is what this film is about. (May we never see the day we have to act upon it.) To do so, you need a ridiculous amount of hope, because by definition, the good guys are in the minority, and they face overwhelming odds. Much like two hobbits scaling the landscape, and a volcano, to destroy a weapon that is sought by immense evil.

It is in this vein that Rogue One was made. It is essentially a WWII-type action movie, and in fact becomes a little too Dirty Dozen for me at the end. But it does so in a good way, the point being that the destruction of this evil weapon, and fighting against this evil, is more important than any one person's life. Or several persons' lives, for that matter. And so this is a war movie that essentially moves from the (often perplexing) set-up, to the present evil, to the battle scenes in that war. All of this happens with the incredibly beautiful special effects you'd expect, from a director you've already seen them from before. (He directed the very good Godzilla reboot.)

Though a very good movie, it is far from perfect. It's too long, at 2 1/2 hours or so. You may wonder, as I did, why Forest Whitaker's character had to be there. Some very good characters are given a lot of life, a lot of very solid character-building traits, for an ending you may, or may not, grow to love. (But, like me, you probably see it coming. Remember the "great sacrifice" that the Rebellion had to "pay dearly" for to get the plans.) You may find the ending to be a bummer. The beginning is rather confusing, as it jumps all over the place and introduces you to a great many characters. (Yes, Vader does show up. And he's got a real nice, kick-ass montage near the end. But though he's got James Earl Jones's voice again, you may notice as I did that his build, and his armor and mask, seem less.) Also, Felicity Jones looked a little to me like Daisy Ridley for awhile, until I remembered that Ridley's in Episode VIII and Rogue One is maybe Episode III and 3/4. That took a little while for me to wrap my head around, not to mention that I got there five minutes before the movie started, so my friend and I were forced to sit in seats a little too close to the screen. I didn't get neck strain, but I thought I would.

But hang in there. Will a borderline fan of the series, or a non-fan, enjoy it? I think so, but I'm not sure. The soap opera is gone, as are most of the marketing, and marketable, characters. I'll give a tentative yes for the borderline or the non-series fan. This movie is worth seeing, and it really picks up the pace, the tension, and the relevance. You get the feeling that something really important is going on, much like the way I felt watching the end of the (otherwise unnecessary) last Lord of the Rings film. Evil must be fought. Planet-killing weapons must be themselves destroyed. (And, if you're LucasFilm and Disney, money must be made.) 

Someone's got to stand up. These folks do. Would you? Would I? If we're not appreciated, or even remembered, does that matter? This film makes you wonder those things. Hopefully we never have to find out. Turns out, these folks are not mentioned, and therefore not remembered, in the series that comes. Without Spielberg's movie, would Oskar Schindler be as well-known? Undoubtedly there are hundreds, if not thousands, of real-life heroes throughout time who have saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives--all themselves lost to history. Does that matter? The righting of wrongs, the fighting of evil, the destroying of too-powerful weapons in the hands of devils and lunatics--all are more important. May we all remember this, and act upon it, if that time should ever come. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Photo: From a Xmas card given to me this year by a co-worker. (Sorta looks like another co-worker.)

Just a quick post to say Merry Christmas. Thanks to all my readers--We broke 100,000 pageviews today! I'm honored that so many wanted to click on something I wrote, even if it was my better half 100,000 times. (Just kidding. I started the blog long before I knew her.)

Thanks also to those who read yesterday's blog (Skip to the last sentence if you read about this yesterday) about helping a man who was hit, with his two dogs, by a speeding car. One dog just came back yesterday, after being missing a week! The other one is alive, but in need of an operation to either fix his leg or to amputate it. The operation will cost $7,500, and there's a GoFundMe page set up here:

I know it's a financially strapped time of year, but please do what you can for Angus, a really cute-looking dog. Here he is:

The one who returned yesterday is going to need a little TLC as well, so anything you can do for these local dogs would be appreciated. (Some have given $5, which is still great.) Out of the $7,500 needed, $2,490 has been raised. Every penny or dollar helps.

And that's it! Have a great and safe holiday! May Santa be good to you, every single year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Missing Local Dog Goes Home on Christmas Eve. GoFundMe Link Below.

A heartwarming holiday story:

A week ago, a local guy is out walking his dogs when a kid, driving with a suspended license and without insurance, and who is speeding down the road, loses control of his car and hits the guy and his two dogs. The guy is injured, but one of his dogs is hurt badly in one leg. It needs surgery to either repair the leg, or amputate it. Cost: $7,500.  Please go to the doggie's GoFundMe page here.

Here's a pic of that poor guy, named Angus:

The other dog panics and runs off, and a week later is still missing. (Read the original news story here.) But the dog was returned to the guy today, on Christmas Eve. Cynic that I am, I told someone it wasn't a coincidence that the dog was returned once a reward was offered. Turns out, it was. A little girl living close by saw the dog on her porch, all wet, but alive. Soon the dog was reunited with its owner, limping slightly, but happy. (Read that news story here.) Here's a pic of Kacy:

Both doggie pics are from their GoFundMe page. If you'd like to donate (every penny or dollar helps), please go to this address, which is linked above and here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-us-take-care-of-angus 

And so what better way to say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and, ummm...Blissful Days Regardless of Your Religion? Have a good one, folks, and, as always, thanks for reading.

[Please post the GoFundMe address to your Facebook, Twitter, Blog, etc. and pass the story along so others can help. As of this writing, $1,795 has been raised. I know it's a financially challenging time of year, but please do what you can, even if it's just spreading the word along. Thanks!] 

And, oh yeah, as a tip of the hat to the boss around here, a pic of my better half's peanut butter pie, with whip cream, Reese's chunks, and Oreo crust, that she made for Xmas Eve. Though I'm allergic to peanuts, I had a bite, because you cannot live your life in fear. Plus, look at it. How can't you have one?

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Witches: Salem, 1692 -- How A Society Can Go Mad, Then and Now

Photo: from google.com/books, at this address.

Incredibly thorough, this book seems somehow meticulous and yet all over the place at the same time. I mean that in a good way, though I could maybe understand those reviews I've read that appreciated that less than I did. I'm a guy whose thoughts are kinda all over the place anyway, yet I somehow manage to reel it all in and be very productive on most days (not lately, with a long-lasting sinus infection and head cold combination happening), and hopefully averagely productive on my worst.

This book is like that: it tells the whole Salem story, from every possible viewpoint, in a very omniscient POV that considers the victims, the accusers, the judges, the politicians who let it all happen, the social milieu, and the background history--often all in the same page or two. It never spins out of control, though a few times it may look like it's about to. It's written in a cyclone fashion, its winds reaching far, and like that storm it pulls it all together memorably.

And memorable this is. Its author, Stacy Schiff--a Pulitzer-Prize winner--clearly intended this to read like it does. It's almost Umberto Eco-like, except he really does spin out of control, especially after The Name of the Rose. And those who don't enjoy his ride will find his latest novels impossible to read. (I can read The Name of the Rose straight through, but it's mentally taxing, and his other books are just taxing, like James Joyce at his most internal.) Anyway, Schiff writes here in that whirlwind fashion, yet even the all-encompassing winds have everything under a microscope.

So though it's far-reaching, it's still concise and very readable. Its short asides or tangents exist to show the human side of the hysteria and tragedy. One passage, about a teenage girl, tracked down at her grandmother's house in another town, is chased by men with sticks and dogs. She gets away for awhile, but what must that have been like? Schiff offers the image, and imagines how it felt.

That's what I really took away from this. You get the facts, as you would expect to. You may know, for example, that Arthur Miller's The Crucible strayed a bit from the cold truth. John Proctor, for example, was not anything like Daniel Day-Lewis, even with bad teeth. In history, he was a plain-talking tavern owner in his 60s. He did not have a battle with his conscience; a great percentage of those who hanged did so pleading their ignorance for the entirety of their captivity. Those who "confessed" never saw jail time to begin with--except for one, who did hang anyway. That was George Burroughs, the town's former minister, and an extremely strong man who survived Indian massacres in Maine--and who was apparently despised for that, close and afar. His hanging is perhaps the book's, and Salem's, biggest mystery.

But you get the personal sides and the surrounding history. Indian attacks were common and a constant fear--to the point of hysteria. If that wasn't bad enough, you had catastrophic winters, rampant disease, socio-economic chasms (lots of homeless women and indentured servants, who were routinely raped and/or beaten), extreme gender bias (being an outspoken woman was not wise), a stifling belief system, and a theocracy that epitomizes the necessity for the Separation of Church and State that this country even now so often ignores and forgets.

You get it all. Because don't you want to understand why it happened? This is Nazism in a microcosm, right here in New England. In short, at first, if you were different, you were screwed. If you were a social undesirable, you were accused. Then, if you were in a position of economic power, like Rebecca Nurse and her family, you were accused. Predictably, it didn't stop until family members of the judges and politicians (especially Governor Phip's wife) were accused. How can Harvard-educated men, the wisest and the smartest in the country, take part in this, and allow it to happen? Well, here's how.

And it can happen again. Just take a town (or a country?) at social war with itself, and throw it a bone, and watch it all happen. There were dissenters, sure--until they were immediately accused and thrown in jail. That, predictably, shut them up real fast. The threat of that then quickly shut up potential dissenters, until finally nobody (besides a few untouchables in Boston, so close yet so far away) spoke up. It doesn't take much of an imagination to see this happening on a large scale.

Let's just hope it doesn't.

But here is how a community can go mad. And it's not from any one thing, but from a perfect storm of the worst elements of human nature: religious fundamentalism, ignorance, intolerance, e theocratic government, greed, jealousy, a male-dominated society, a conviction of belief over intelligence and common sense--even from the most educated men of their time. In a world where belief trumps knowledge (See what I did there?), where disinformation and misinformation is gospel, where belief in what you can't prove trumps what can be proven (I did it again.)--Well, how can disaster and chaos NOT happen?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Foods Good for Kidney, Gut, Colon and Anti-Inflammatory Health


I spent a few hours today researching healthy foods for kidney, gut, colon and inflammation health, for reasons that you'd rather me not tell you about, believe me. Suffice it to say that I've had it, and there will be major changes in my food intake around here. (I'm a pretty decent eater to begin with, and weigh between 145-150 pounds, and am about 5'6".) I've had too much bread (especially bagels) and not enough water and, well, the other things listed here. I've drastically cut my chocolate and coffee intake because of the caffeine and acid, and I've never been a huge consumer of alcohol (outside of the once-a-week drink, or a beer or two at ballgames), so that's good. But even after just one or two beers, my digestive system lets me know I've been bad. Wine does that, too. Overall, my digestive system sucks, my immune system sucks, my sinuses suck, and I've had really bad inflammation for the last few months, especially in my sinuses, even after my drastic (and I do mean drastic) coffee reduction. (I'm allergic to other things, like my dog, and probably my work building, that I can't do much about.)

Some of these things, like nuts and seeds, I'll still have to stay away from. I'm allergic to nuts, and when seeds get into my intestinal tract, very bad things happen. I also didn't list any dairy, breads or grains because I'm intolerant of those (and a great many other daily) things. I should also point out that water and meditation are good anti-inflammatories as well. We should all have more.

So if you suffer from the same problems, I offer you my hours' worth of research, for free. Items followed by a (?) are things I'm not at all familiar with, so please comment if you are familiar with these things. And, yes, I know it's the holiday food season, but you do what you can. 

Incidentally, I tried to make 2 or 3 columns out of this, and couldn't do it for this blog (though I did for my own personal printouts). So if you can tell me how to do that, please drop me a comment. Please and thank you.

          SMOOTHIES (?) Can anyone supply me with ideas for a lactose-free smoothie?
                            SWEET POTATOES
                                      PICKLES (Not olives, too?)
                                        BAKED POTATOES
                                              BROWN RICE
                                                ALOE VERA (?) This isn't just a hand lotion?
                                                    KOMBUCHA (?) I thought liquids ending with -bucha meant "alcohol."
                                                          MISO SOUP
                                                                SOURDOUGH BREAD
                                                                  TEMPEH (?) Never saw this word before in my life.
                                                                    MISO PASTE
                                                                      NON-SUGARY OATMEAL (?) Can anyone advise me about, well, non-oat oatmeal?
                                                                          CULTURED NON-DAIRY MILK
                                                                            FISH SAUCE
                                                                                    GREEN TEA
                                                                                        OLIVE OIL
                                                                                                AMARANTH BISCUITS (?)

                                                                                                Friday, December 2, 2016

                                                                                                Support Kellogg's and Fight the Bully

                                                                                                Photo: Eleven, of Stranger Things, from yahoo.com/tv

                                                                                                If you're completely unfamiliar with the situation, first read this article by clicking here.

                                                                                                In a surprising move this week, Kellogg's pulled its advertising dollars from the website of Breitbart News. Many other companies have since followed suit. Breitbart is the ultra-right wing, conservative site that calls itself a "news organization." It's not. It publishes opinion, not fact, and it only publishes one type of opinion, rather than many. News organizations, of course, publish the news, which always involves facts. It also publishes all types of news, not just the type that pushes its own propaganda. The founder of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, is essentially the man behind the strategy that won Trump the White House, and is destined to be someone of importance in Trump's machine. Think of Bannon as you will, but you can't deny that he has his own super-conservative right-wing agenda, which even Trump at times doesn't agree with.


                                                                                                The main idea of this post is to point out that, for whatever reason, Kellogg's pulled the plug on its advertising dollars on the website, which is more of a blog than a "news source." This is not unusual, as companies frequently pull its advertising from places that they feel don't (or won't) generate as much income, or reach a particular consumer group. Kellogg's insists that the withdrawal is not political, and I'm inclined to believe that. After all, one doesn't advertise on Breitbart to begin with unless one wants to reach white, super-conservative, right-wing readers. This was the case before Trump, and it's certainly the case now. If the withdrawal was political, the ads would never have been there in the first place. And since the site has generated more hits since election day, it makes sense that the company would've kept its ads there.

                                                                                                So what's the reason?

                                                                                                In an article you can read at this link, the point was raised that companies can reach Breitbart's type of readership more effectively via other avenues, such as any website of Glenn Beck's. But the main reason Kellogg's and other companies pulled the plug is because they may not have known that their ads were on the site to begin with. Apparently, ads that we see on the left and right of the screen online are not put there by those companies. They're placed by yet another company that gets paid to put ads on websites where they'll be seen. Since Breitbart's readership has grown, those companies put the ads of Kellogg's and other companies on that website. Some companies, like Kellogg's, and now like Vanguard, 3M and AARP, apparently didn't want to spend their ad dollars there, or they didn't want to reach the readers Breitbart's caters to, or, as Kellogg's said, because Breitbart's "didn't align with their values."

                                                                                                Fair enough. Happens all the time. From the linked article:

                                                                                                While Breitbart is billing Kellogg’s decision as “bigoted and anti-American,” it’s a well-established American business practice for corporations to shift their sponsorship to companies they believe will help bolster their brand. In the case of reaching conservative audiences, advertisers that exit Breitbart aren’t necessarily snubbing those consumers because other conservative-leaning outlets, such as Fox News or Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, have an overlap. 
                                                                                                “There are a lot of places advertisers can go to reach the same audience, and even maybe a bigger audience,” Wilkins said.
                                                                                                Hell, I've lost a few blog followers over the years because they may not have liked the thoughts I've espoused here. Whatever. To each his own. If I made money from this blog by putting ads on it (I've been offered many times, but I don't), that would hurt a bit because companies gauge a blog's hits and its numbers of followers when they decide what to advertise on. Blogger, in fact, may place some ads for companies that pay them to do so. If not, another company gets paid to do that, and they in turn probably give a cut to Blogger, since Blogger has an icon that I could insert into this blog which would run the ads that would generate money for me. After that, I get lost.

                                                                                                A Vanguard spokesperson maybe explains it better:

                                                                                                Vanguard said it removed its ads as soon as it became aware that they were running on Breitbart. “As a policy, Vanguard does not advertise on any overtly political websites, including the site in question,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email. She said the ads appeared as part of a “remarketing” program, which are ads that appear to clients and investors when they visit third-party websites because of their browsing history. 
                                                                                                “Our remarketing advertisements are limited to pre-approved sites (again, no political sites), however it was brought to our attention last week that this site was inadvertently included,” she said.
                                                                                                So the shocking thing here isn't that Kellogg's pulled its ads. The surprising thing is that Breitbart has pushed a boycott on Kellogg's for doing so. That's nuts! That's like me trolling the followers who have left the blog over the years. Won't do that. That's like a newspaper publishing an article against a company that decides not to put ads in that newspaper anymore. Wait--actually, it's not, because a newspaper actually is a news organization that publishes news and facts, and news and facts of different types, like local news, national news, world news, sports, money and finance, etc. Breitbart, which calls itself a "news organization," doesn't do that.

                                                                                                Instead, like Trump did, it declares war and attacks those people and businesses they feel have slighted or threatened it.

                                                                                                This is frightening for many reasons. As the linked article said:

                                                                                                Breitbart’s campaign against Kellogg’s is unusual on a number of fronts, not in the least because news organizations traditionally maintain a separation between their business operations and their editors and reporters so that journalists can operate independently from business interests... And whether the boycott will help Breitbart financially appears questionable, given that attacking a major advertiser isn’t likely to make the site more appealing to other brands. 

                                                                                                “Reporters don’t behave that way in the U.S., nor should they,” said Lee Wilkins, professor and chair of the department of communications at Wayne State University, who’s an expert in media ethics. “Most journalistic organizations have checks between the people who pay for your news work and the news work itself, so that you are as a journalist protected from those influences.”  She said she views Breitbart as a blog rather than a journalistic organization. “If you aren’t a journalism organization, then those safeguards are never in place.”
                                                                                                This is an important distinction. A "news source," which Breitbart isn't, cannot influence its news reporters about what news to print. It can't be seen as a bully to its own reporters, thereby creating a bias about what gets reported and what doesn't. But Breitbart can do that, as it is, solely because it's not a legit news source, but rather more of an opinionated blog. But a business of any kind can't declare war on another business because that company pulls its ads.
                                                                                                It's not personal. It's business. This is yet another example that shows that Breitbart, Bannon and Trump don't get that distinction. Politics and business are not personal. You can't bully and attack those who disagree with you or who don't support you. That's a tyrannical thing to do. In America, we don't bully or declare war on our political enemies, and we do not suppress the news, or only report one type of news story. That's not what a democracy does.
                                                                                                So, in the spirit of democracy, to fight back against the bullies, I suggest that next time you want some cereal, or some breakfast food, buy Kellogg's. Let's support the first company that in a democratic fashion pulled its ads from a very un-democratic site. Let's support the first one brave enough to take a stance.
                                                                                                My better half has Kellogg's Eggo's for breakfast a few times a week, and Eleven loves them. Good stuff.