Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Living in Exhilarating Times

2020 will go down in history as a pivotal time in American history, along with 1968, 1929, 1860, and 1776. The year has already seen a presidential impeachment, the coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, and widespread demands for racial justice. All that in just the first half of the year. Still to come is a presidential election that will determine whether our nation survives as a democratic republic. We are witnessing history.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Hail, Caesar (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes
Hail, Caesar (2016): Farce about a 1950s Hollywood problem fixer. The Coen Brothers' homage to Ben Hur, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Gene Autry, and more. Add subplots with Hedda Hopper and Communist screenwriters, and the whole is a game of spot-the-references. B-


Sunday, June 28, 2020

LBJ's Civil Rights Grade

President Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thus doing more for civil rights in this country than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Still, the country erupted in violent protests against police brutality in the summers of 1967 and 1968. What went wrong? Maybe it was the unrealistic expectations that racism could be solved with a stroke of a pen. LBJ understood that progress is made in fits and starts.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review: The Nickel Boys

From The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead:

Open quoteThe discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared, and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue." The Nickel Boys

The story of one of the victims of a 1960s Jim Crow reform school for boys. Fiction based on a real school in Florida. Story arc is depressingly predictable but offers some surprises. A timely contribution to today's Black Lives Matter movement.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Richardson Police Policies

In response to attention placed on local police nationwide since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Richardson Police Department (RPD) Chief Jim Spivey was asked to brief the Richardson City Council on the department's policies, training practices, community engagement, and transparency initiatives. The briefing took almost two and a half hours. Here are my takeaways.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Space Force (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Space Force (TV 2020): Think Get Smart but with fewer laughs and even less bite. Not even "POTUS" will be offended. Steve Carell plays, well, Maxwell Smart. Or Michael Scott. Lisa Kudrow is wasted in a subplot that makes no sense. John Malkovich tries but can't save this. C-

Monday, June 22, 2020

Les Misérables (2019)

Rotten Tomatoes
Les Misérables (2019): French. Abusive cops patrol a Paris housing complex full of racial and class anger ready to boil. Theft of a lion cub sets it off. Audience learns the ropes through the eyes of the new cop on the team. Plot-driven, not character-driven, but what a plot. A-

Saturday, June 20, 2020

What Not to Say

Last week, I pointed to a statement by Richardson Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Sproull as an example of what to say in response to all the tragedies experienced by our country in the last days and months. He used plain language. He was direct. He named the problem. Today, I want to highlight a statement by someone else that exemplifies the things not to say.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Book Review: Brief Answers to the Big Questions

From Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking:

Open quoteThe obvious next step would be to combine general relativity—the theory of the very large—with quantum theory—the theory of the very small. In particular, I wondered, can one have atoms in which the nucleus is a tiny primordial black hole." Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Don't have time to learn quantum mechanics? Read this instead. It's short. Accessible. Still deep. Stephen Hawking talks about the beginning and end of the universe, life, artificial intelligence, time travel, space colonization, and more. A-

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Garden & Gun

When my family was young, we used to play a game when we were driving on cross-country car trips. The game was called "McDonald's or Burger King?" I wasn't asking where we should stop to eat. Instead, I'd point out a store name and we'd discuss how good of a name it was for a business. For example, which name is better for selling burgers? Burger King is a great name for that. Which name is better if a burger place wanted to expand into, say, selling sausage biscuits for breakfast? The name Burger King was a handicap for that. McDonald's was the unanimous choice for almost any kind of business expansion we could imagine. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, etc., were all so limiting. But McDonald's is a nondescript name that could work with any business the company might want to get into, anywhere in the world. It doesn't even have to be fast food.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Vast of Night (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Vast of Night (2020): New Mexico, 1959. Switchboard operator and radio DJ investigate mysterious staticky humming. Movie doesn't bring anything new to 1950s sci-fi, but it has the look and feel of that era down cold, even including a Twilight Zone vibe. Love the dialog. C+

Monday, June 15, 2020

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Da 5 Bloods (2020): Spike Lee. Four war vets return to Vietnam to retrieve the remains of their fallen leader...and gold. Part history lesson, part action movie, and part study of PTSD. Implausible plot. Characters either stereotypes or cartoons. MAGA? Too much going on here. B-

Saturday, June 13, 2020

"Prejudice and Privilege Exist in Richardson"

The best local statement on recent events was made by Bill Sproull, Chairman/CEO of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce. Here is an excerpt.
We are horrified by the murder of George Floyd specifically and send our condolences to his family.
We support peaceful protesters and absolutely believe #BlackLivesMatter
Prejudice and privilege exist in Richardson. It absolutely does.
It's short and to the point.
He names the victim.
He calls murder, murder.
He supports peaceful protest.
He says the three simple words, "Black Lives Matter."
He admits racism still exists in Richardson.

That's how it should be done. And it comes from the Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Book Review: Disappearing Earth

From Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips:

Open quoteZavoyko was kilometers past all that, making it the last district of their city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the last bit of land before sea. “It was at the edge of the cliff where the ocean meets the bay.”” Disappearing Earth

A whodunnit about the disappearance of two girls in Kamchatka. But more a collection of vignettes of women of Kamchatka. Each character is fully fleshed out and not just someone to advance the plot. It's also the story of a place previously foreign to me.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

POTD: Tomb of Ptahhotep

From 2019 11 17 Ancient Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Tomb of Ptahhotep. It's near the step pyramid of Saqqara outside modern Cairo. It's connected to the tomb of his father, Akhethotep. Neither were pharaohs, but nobles. They were both named as "Chief Justice and Vizier". What makes their tombs unique is the artwork featuring, not gods and coronations and warfare, as in the tombs of pharaohs, but images of agriculture, fishing, and herding.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Racism Has No Place in Our City

At Monday's Richardson City Council meeting, the council approved unanimously a statement condemning racism. It would have been inspiring...if it didn't have a pro forma feel to it. It came across as a tad defensive. More of a PR exercise than a heartfelt examination of our civic soul.

To see what I'm getting at, read these two statements and see if you can tell which one is from the City of Richardson (from this week) and which one is from the City of Minneapolis (from 2017).
What we look like and where we come from should not determine the benefits, burdens, or responsibilities we bear in our society...We see inequality based on race, gender, and other social characteristics as not only unfortunate but unjust.
Source: Race & Equity.
We stand together in our commitment to justice, peace, kindness and understanding, in order to be the best possible civil servants we can be. We also hold dear the position that [our] municipal government is here to serve everyone, no matter who they are.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

One of Us (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes
One of Us (2017): Documentary about three who leave the Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Young mother's story is heartbreaking. When peer pressure fails, a biased family court awards her children to her abusive husband because she left the community. Tradition? Infuriating! B+

Monday, June 8, 2020

Unorthodox (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Unorthodox (TV 2020): Young wife flees her Hasidic community in NY. Her husband tracks her to Berlin where she's hoping to make a new life in music. Powerful portrayal of feeling trapped by people who love you, even if they don't try to understand you. Unhappiness all around. B+

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Cruelty is the Point

I saw the Twitter thread of police violence. I saw the old guy with the cane getting shoved down. I saw the old guy without a cane getting shoved down. I saw too many young people getting shoved down, maced and gassed, beaten with batons, shot with "non-lethal" bullets and beaten when on the ground.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Black Lives Matter

The coronavirus is still out there. I've been quarantined for almost three months, leaving the house only for trips to the grocery store and walks in my neighborhood. Marching in a crowd is crazy risky, given my at-risk demographic. Yet three words made me feel that it was my civic duty to march. Black Lives Matter. Those three words brought out about 750 other people to a march and rally at Richardson City Hall Saturday. I strapped on my face mask and marched with them. Because Black Lives Matter.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Babylon Berlin - Season 1 (TV 2018)

Babylon Berlin - Season 1 (TV 2018): German. Berlin 1929 is gritty, decadent, corrupt. Socialists, Fascists, WWI vets, vice squad and homicide. A policeman from Cologne gets drawn into several convoluted plotlines. Weimar noir. An early long musical club scene is mesmerizing. B+

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Say His Name. Which One?

I haven't protested since Nixon and the Vietnam War. That was fifty years ago this fall. Trump's war on protesters was the thing to finally get me up off my couch and back into the streets. I attended Wednesday's rally and march for justice for George Floyd at Berkner Park in Richardson organized by Berkner High School students. I was with about 500 others. Most attendees looked to be students or recent graduates. There were a number of young parents from the neighborhood with toddlers in strollers or wagons. And then there were three or four geezers like me. Reporters from Community Impact newspaper were there. I saw a van from CBS 11 but didn't see if they were taking video.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

White Privilege

Of course I know I'm a beneficiary of white privilege. Of course. But it's so ingrained that I'm not aware of it every moment of every day. That itself is a benefit of white privilege.

Occasionally I come across an example of how I benefit, an example I was only dimly aware of. Like this offhand remark in Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Nickel Boys." An African-American goes into a restaurant and the hostess doesn't seat him immediately. Whitehead writes, "She pretended not to see him and he started up a round of 'Racism or Bad Service?'"

I suspect that's a game played every day by people of color. Not only haven't I ever had to play myself, I had never even heard of the game. That's white privilege. So of course I'm a beneficiary.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Becoming (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Becoming (2020): Michelle Obama's book. Flattering documentary offers a bit of biography and a lot of book tour, with packed arenas with sit-down interviews with celebrity moderators. Best part is inspiring, smaller Q&As with young people. Not a campaign ad but just as slick. C+

Monday, June 1, 2020

Random Thoughts: Former Mayor Gets New Bribery Trial

Tweets from May, 2020:
  • 2020-05-02: Former Mayor Laura Maczka of Richardson Gets New Bribery Trial After Court Officer Spoke to Juror
  • 2020-05-02: Trump cares more about Kim Jong Un's health than Mitt Romney's. "Romney's in isolation? Gee, that's too bad," the president said. Asked if there was any sarcasm in his remarks, Trump said, "None whatsoever." Which suggests Trump *doesn't* understand sarcasm.
  • 2020-05-04: Cold War (2018): Poland. Three Oscar noms. Arty. Ill-fated love story set in post-war Europe, mostly Poland and Paris. Beautiful B&W cinematography evocative of the times. Characters can find passion but can't find happiness with each other. Why not is a recurring mystery. A-
  • 2020-05-05: Pete Sessions has spent $80,000 on legal fees to a criminal defense attorney, and they began in October, the same month his name surfaced in the Ukraine scandal that led to President Donald Trump's impeachment. Why would Waco want to buy this trouble?
  • 2020-05-05: Irony is dead: "Trump does not wear coronavirus mask at Honeywell factory that makes masks"

After the jump, more random thoughts.