2015/01/30

Birdman


Figured I'd better hurry up and see Birdman before it disappeared from the theaters as it was already down the three showings a day and was in one of the very back theaters in the cineplex. Glad I did! The hero (Michael Keaton) has super-powers (Flight and telekinesis), but he doesn't appear to have ever used them to fight crime or evil. He appears to have just used them as aids to his acting career. The fun part of the film is seeing the actors lead these really interesting, dramatic lives away from the stage. Do actors in real life actually lead such stormy lives offstage? Eh, probably not, but it's fun to think they do.

2015/01/04

West Philly Families Solidarity March


By Sachio Ko-yin
                                                                                           January 3 2015

You couldn't drive down Baltimore Ave. Police blocked off the street, and down marched an army of children and their parents, wielding umbrellas, kazoos and tambourines.  At least half the marchers rode on shoulders and backs. They held up signs reading, “Black Lives Matter” and “Kids for Equality,” then veered off into Clark Park chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

A parent spoke at the end, braving the rain with no umbrella:
“When we were planning, someone asked us, ‘What do we want from this march?’ I thought about it, and realized I want to see you, to meet you. I want to know who else in this community is raising their children to stand up for justice, with the values of activism, against racism and police brutality, for involvement in their community.”



About 40 minutes before the march began, we gathered in the sanctuary of Calvary Church (48th and Baltimore), a room  full of some 100 parents and children and community members. The agenda was simple: Introduce your family to the families around you, and then, find someone you haven’t met yet, and share a hope for your community.



I saw many parents and younger children, but I also heard local high schoolers who were outraged at the verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the Eric Garner case. They came today to express themselves. Their plan was to report back to their class about what marching was like.

An organizer invited parents and children up to the microphone for the speak-out. “Ok, now we can say what’s on our minds, for about 30 seconds. But please remember this is for children, so please keep it short and simple.”



One parent said “I often feel like my life as a parent and my life as an activist are at odds. But for me, being here today, I want my family to meet your family. We are here to dispel the myth that we live in a post-racial society.”

Speakers shared their concerns about racism in society, gentrification, stop and frisk, and defunding of schools. There were songs like ‘From Ferguson to New York, I’m gonna let it shine.’

And there was a 4.5 minute ‘Noise-In’, where everyone raised their tambourines and kazoos for justice for Black Lives Matter, followed by a moment of silence for Trayvon Martin, for Michael Brown, and all victims of racist police brutality.



Then it was time to put on coats, get umbrellas ready, hold up colorful signs, and funnel out the door to take over Baltimore Ave, to sing and chant for justice and for conscience, as community and as family.

2014/12/13

Exodus


Pretty good! Exodus reminds me of Noah, earlier this year. Generally, both movies stick close to their source, diverging now and then to have the story make more sense. Naturally, the Ten Commandments by Cecil B.DeMille, starring Charlton Heston (1956), didn't have Moses engaging in any sort of romantic subplots, so I thought the part of Exodus where Moses marries a woman from Midian (Zipporah was played by Maria Valverde) was an attempt to jazz up the movie for today's audiences. Nope, I went to one of my bookshelves after getting back from the movie, checked my Revised Standard version of the Bible (1952) and, sure enough, Moses escaped Egypt, went to Midian, got married and they had a son. Then he returned to Egypt and started pressuring the Pharaoh to release his Hebrew brothers and sisters. I liked that the movie made Moses the adopted brother of the Pharaoh and an honored aristocrat in the beginning of the movie before he ran off to Midian. Makes sense and makes the whole conflict between hm and the Pharaoh more direct and personal.

And no, it's true that Moses was not historically a white person but he's played here by a white actor (Christian Bale). The director says he needed investment money to start with and needed viewers later, so he needed a “bankable” star. I decided to take the ethnicity of Moses as one of those ”suspension of disbelief” things, y'know, where Superman chats with Green Lantern on the surface of Mars, and where you accept the premise so that you can then concentrate on the human drama, the relationships between the characters, the cool special effects, etc. And I agree that any time is a good time, any time is a bad time, to start introducing diversity into movie casting. There's no reason why 2014 is any better than 2024 or any worse that 2004 or vice-versa.

Saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 last week. Recommend seeing parts 1 and 2 in a reasonably close-together fashion. Mockngjay part 1 will probably come out on DVD or on one of the cable channels when Part 2 is about to show, so it shouldn't be difficult to do that. .




2014/12/09

The torture report


The torture report, well, the redacted summary of the 6,000 page full report anyway, makes clear that the second, subsidiary, justification for torture made during the G.W. Bush Administration is complete poppycock. The first justification concerns morality and is premised on the “ticking time bomb” scenario where a single person can suffer torture now or a lot of people can suffer an exploded bomb within a short time period.

The second justification is one of effectiveness, that torture can quickly and effectively elicit truthful answers in time to prevent terrible things from happening. It's the second justification that's squashed utterly by the report. Even people in the CIA, at the time, could see that the US wasn't obtaining any worthwhile information that couldn't have been obtained just as quickly by using a gentler approach. The Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 claims of torture having prevented a “ticking time bomb” scenario and found them all to be without foundation.

The report demonstrates that the CIA's torture program was out of control and that the CIA frequently lied to superiors and failed to even conduct any sort of internal assessment of whether torture was effective or not. Claims that the program was effective rested on lies and wishful thinking, not on any sort of factual basis.

What does it all mean? A society that tries to become a better society has no use for torture. Torture has a corrupting effect on its practitioners as the report documents. Torture has no benefits to balance or to justify its evil effects, not even if we agree that war in general is justified.

2014/11/21

Interstellar


An okay flick. If I were having a big party and wanted to keep something showing on the TV so that guests could wander by, watch a bit and then wander off, it'd be good for that. The FX and scenery are certainly good and the plot sufficiently long and drawn-out that no one would miss much if they were to get distracted. Certainly an attractive cast, with Matthew McConaughey as the hero, Anne Hathaway as the lone female among all the males in most of it and Jessica Chastain as the hero's grown-up daughter, certainly makes for plenty of eye candy.

My initial idea was to see Ouija as that has Bianca Santos in it, who is the star of Happyland, a series on MTV. But Ouija is only showing once per evening, after 10:00, so I figured I wouldn't see the horror flick after all. No biggie, I saw a few horror movies as a teenager but haven't seen any for many, many years. So I saw no need to break the pattern. Happyland is pretty cool though, a behind-the-scenes look at a Disney-ish amusement park.

2014/11/14

Rosewater.


Quite good. The Jon Stewart movie reminds me of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in the way that it examines what our hero, Maziar Bahari (Played by Gael Garcia Bernal) has to go through. The Iranians who imprison Bahari knew that the brutal methods of SAVAK were worthless in obtaining credible confessions. The somewhat surprising twist is that Bahari doesn't hold out 'til the bitter end, never telling his captors what they want to hear. He does, but the world accurately identifies his confession as worthless because it's so obviously obtained under duress.
Very good look at current Iranian society and the relationship between captor and captive and the limits of what societies can do to oppress individuals.
Daily Show interviews on Rosewater. 
Update: Good review from Salon.  

2014/10/10

A community responds to police abuses


The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” The woman pictured above was caught on camera, apparently wondering why her previously-pleasant evening was being so brazenly disrupted. The fellow beside her, looking up at the balcony, was filmed moments previously, smiling broadly. The St. Louis American piece reports that “Some onlookers were outraged and start spewing expletives. Others stood up and started clapping. Most seemed stunned and simply watched.“

The singing was a response to the Michael Brown killing and its tense and sometimes chaotic aftermath. “On Saturday afternoon, Brown was shot to death by a police officer while apparently walking, unarmed, from a convenience store to his grandmother's apartment in Ferguson, a working-class suburb north of St Louis, the main hub of this midwestern state.” Ferguson police later introduced a videotape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. It initially appeared that Brown stole some cigars, but a look at the whole tape showed he did no such thing and Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot Brown, wasn't aware of what had happened in the convenience store in any event. 

  
Cartoons of course, routinely present situations in exaggerated and hyperbolic ways, as the one pictured here does. But the line between hyperbole and real life becomes blurred when other police officers in the same geographical region demonstrated a similar police response to another citizen. “Cops say [Vonderrit Myers Jr.] fired a gun.” Problem is, non-police eyewitnesses, who saw Myers beforehand, maintain that all he had in his possession was a sandwich. There has been no independent confirmation that Myers ever had a gun. Police Chief Sam Dotson, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claims that a 9mm Ruger handgun was retrieved from the scene and ballistics tests are being run on it, but Myers was already wearing an ankle bracelet for a charge of gun possession and both the mother and pastor of Myers say he absolutely did not possess a gun. 

A piece from Popular Resistance adds details that cast even more doubt on the charge that Vonderrit Myers Jr. posed any sort of threat to the off-duty police officer who shot him. The piece also goes into the question of why our police seem to be getting out of control lately and apparently now pose a greater threat to unarmed citizens than to criminals. Privatization seems to be a real driver of this new unaccountability. Privatization changes the mission of police forces so that what the public needs is no longer important. What the private interests who pay the salaries of police need becomes the new priority. A very disturbing case was that of San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and his pregnant girlfriend. She called for police assistance as he was beating her, public policemen showed up, but a private policeman was already on the scene. “In the case the first officer on the scene worked for the 49ers and represented the interests of Ray McDonald.. What was said? Not said? Was the victim intimidated? Was evidence hidden, destroyed? Was McDonald prepped by his employee as to what he should say or not say?”

Another problem was pointed out by The American Prospect. Exactly how are brutal, out-of-control police punished for bad behavior? The answer isn't comforting and goes a long way to explain why police feel invulnerable. If cases are won and civil penalties are assessed (Hard to do as the public is very supportive of police departments generally), then steep payments are made. But payments generally come out of city funds, and by extension, they come from city taxpayers, not by the particular police department that behaved badly. As police operating budgets are rarely affected, there's no reason for police to avoid bad behavior. 

So how do we judge the response of the St. Louis region's black community to police abuses? The US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues, or a “full-court press” as basketball players would say. It's good to use street demonstrations and a peaceful demonstration is always better than a violent one, but getting involved in voting and long-term organizing is a critically necessary element to achieving long-term success. That's just what the black community of the St. Louis region is doing. “...3,000 Ferguson residents (total population is 21,000) have registered to vote. And that’s good. Certainly some of the problems that led to Brown’s killing have to do with a political system that is not representative of the citizens it is charged with governing. In a town that is two-thirds black, only one of its six city council members is also black. If more than 6 percent of the black residents had voted, there would likely be a different mayor, and perhaps a different police chief.”

Actions like the singing at the St. Louis Symphony and more routine, less photogenic actions like registering new voters, are both necessary elements in making progress towards a more fair and inclusive society.


_______________

The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” When the office who shot Brown was identified, the Ferguson police muddied up the issue by introducing a tape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. The full tape showed that Brown did not commit a crime. Is the cartoon here an exaggeration of police-citizen relations in the area? Unfortunately, not by much. The later shooting of Vonderrit Myers Jr. appears to be even less defensible than the Michael Brown shooting was. Why are these shooting happening? Privatization of police and the lack of any direct connection between penalties and the misbehaving police departments both appear to be factors. What to do? Well, the US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues and the black community of Ferguson appears to be taking that approach as it's getting lots of voters registered.