Monday, August 31, 2020

Remembering the Pandemic

Now that COVID-19 is over (at least according to the Republican National Convention, where it was only mentioned in the past tense), it's time for a pandemic post-mortem. I rely on Ed Yong's article in The Atlantic, "How the Pandemic Defeated America." It's full of ideas to help us next time.

In case you didn't catch it, that headline and first sentence were dripping in sarcasm.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Shtisel - Season 1 (TV 2013)

Rotten Tomatoes
Shtisel - Season 1 (TV 2013): Israeli. Drama about 4 generations of an Orthodox family in Jerusalem. Some humor, more friction, lots of duty and tradition. Brief glimpses into what family and religion mean to each of them. For me, it opens a window on a fascinating culture. B-


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Martin and his Moral Arc

"The mythology of racial progress exerts a powerful hold on our minds." Mythology. That's the thesis of Jennifer A. Richeson in an article in The Atlantic titled "Americans Are Determined to Believe in Black Progress." Maybe I was primed to accept her pessimism. In any case, I kept finding myself nodding and quietly saying, uh huh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

POTD: Courtyard of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the vast courtyard of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Jayhawkers (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes
Jayhawkers (2015): Biopic of Wilt Chamberlain at U of Kansas. Basketball, racism, and surprisingly, jazz. Director makes the most of a small budget and wooden acting. B&W, dark and harshly lit basketball scenes with a jazz score occasionally raise this sports pic to art. B-


Monday, August 24, 2020

POTD: City of a Thousand Minarets

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Nowhere in the Muslim world can you find such a profusion of domes and minarets as in Cairo. Rising from the haze of crowded, crumbling streets in the old, chaotic, yet picturesque medieval parts of the city, they dominate the city's skyline. Minarets, indeed, are Cairo's joy and ornament and the source of Cairenes' favorite nickname: "Madeenet el alf Midhana," "the city of a thousand minarets."
Among Cairo's "thousand" minarets, Ibn Tulun's mud-brick, ninth-century mosque is said to be one of the simplest, yet one of the most beautiful. Devoid of any surface decoration, it is modeled on the minaret of the great mosque of Samarra, Mesopotamia (Iraq) where Ibn Tulun was born, and features an outer spiral staircase instead of the usual inner one. The idea apparently came from the spiral staircase of a Babylonian ziggurat thought to be the Tower of Babel.
Source: John Feeney.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Q: "We Are the Storm"

QAnon "is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging a secret plot by a supposed "deep state" against President Donald Trump and his supporters. No part of the theory has been shown to be based in fact...Q has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of an international child sex trafficking ring. Q also claimed that Trump feigned collusion with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the ring and preventing a coup d'├ętat by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros."

There's more, much more. It used to be that conspiracy theories floated on the fringe of American politics. Today, they are embedded in the highest ranks of state and federal government. "Highest ranks" is not hyperbole.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Is Criticism of Derek Chauvin Off Limits?

The political cartoon depicts Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The Richardson police do not have that man in their ranks. No honorable police officer anywhere should take offense at a cartoon condemning the actions of that man. You know where I'm going with this. Richardson Police Officers' Association FOP Lodge 105 takes offense.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Last Tango in Halifax - Season 1 (TV 2012)

Rotten Tomatoes
Last Tango in Halifax - Season 1 (TV 2012): Drama about three generations of an extended dysfunctional family in northern England. Not really a comedy, but there are scenes that are hilarious. At heart, it's about looking for love, sometimes against your better judgment. B+


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Babylon Berlin - Season 3 (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Babylon Berlin - Season 3 (TV 2020): German. Economic crash, police brutality, public protests, political corruption, a looming fascist takeover, and mobsters. Babylon Berlin is set in Berlin in 1929, but it speaks to America in 2020. Intricate subplots. Rich characters. B+

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

POTD: Stairway to Heaven

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo
Today's photo-of-the-day is of the entrance to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Project Power (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Project Power (2020): Bad guys do field tests on a new drug that gives people superpowers for 5 minutes at a time. Good guys have to find the source. Violence ensues. Gets a passing grade only because of Dominique Fishback. Oh, and its two Clint Eastwood jokes. C+

Sunday, August 16, 2020

To Donald: Sealed with a Kiss

Hypocrisy? Audacity? Chutzpah? I don't quite know the right word for the accusation I wanted to make when I opened my mail yesterday. Inside was a fundraising pitch from Donald J. Trump. Delivered by mail. I know that he has it in for the US Postal Service. Trump is frightened of losing re-election and sees his biggest threat as being, well, people voting. So he figures that the more he can suppress the vote, the better his chances. Hence, sabotage the USPS, since it's predicted that many, many people want to vote safely by mail in 2020 because of COVID-19. So he undermines Americans' confidence in the US Mail.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Long Shadow from Appleton

I was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. During my early childhood, I was blissfully unaware of politics. But Appleton was home base for some of the nastiest politics of the 20th Century. I gradually learned about the evil my hometown birthed and nurtured. In high school, I learned that the cemetery just down the street from my school was the eternal resting place of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Friday, August 14, 2020

POTD: Egyptian Lamp Pendants

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from a sidewalk display of traditional Egyptian lamp pendants in old Cairo, Egypt.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Do "Black Lives Matter" in Richardson? As the old saying goes, put your money where your mouth is. George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police on May 25, touching off a national movement with the slogan, "Black Lives Matter." There were protest marches nationwide, including two in Richardson (at Berkner Park and at City Hall). The Richardson City Council invited Richardson Police Chief Jim Spivey to brief them on the department's policies, training practices, community engagement, and transparency initiatives. The briefing took almost two and a half hours. I was pleased to learn that RPD's use-of-force policies are already broadly in line with the recommendations of the #8CantWait campaign to reform police departments.

But (there's always a but, and if the council members themselves can't voice it, they aren't doing their jobs), I had some concerns as well. In two-and-a-half hours with Chief Spivey, no one uttered the words "Black Lives Matter." Maybe they all felt that was all taken care of two weeks earlier, when the City Council approved a statement condemning racism. Still, no one identified any specific areas for improvement in Richardson. No one called for change. No one put any money behind the sentiment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Umbrella Academy - Season 2 (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Umbrella Academy - Season 2 (TV 2020): It's 1963. The siblings face another apocalypse. Time travel, civil rights, religious cult, JFK conspiracy, office politics in the commission maintaining the universe's timeline, and more family issues. Fast-paced. Never predictable. B+

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

It's August and that means it's time for Richardson budget roulette. Will the proposed city budget be balanced? You'd think that would be a simple question. Isn't the city required by law to have a balanced budget? Well, yes, but it all depends on the meaning of "balanced".

When I looked at this question three years ago, I concluded that the city's 2017-2018 budget was indeed balanced and didn't require use of that sneaky asterisk ("plus reserved fund balance and other financing sources"). After watching this over a number of years, I found that the amount the budget is in the red or black each year is always small. Whether it happens in any given year seems to be a matter of chance.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Women Weren't Given the Vote. They Took It.

For a country that prides itself on its democracy, the United States has forced a lot of its citizens to fight for the privilege of voting. August 18th marks the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” That milestone is sometimes described as having “given” women the right to vote. It wasn’t a gift; it was a hard-won victory on the part of suffragists who’d been agitating for it for more than seventy years, on the basis of their common humanity with men.
Thank you, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Thank you, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul. Alice Paul especially was a real badass. She organized a march for women's suffrage down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Anti-suffrage rioters disrupted the march while police stood idly by, giving no protection to the peaceful marchers. Then Alice Paul organized pickets in front of the White House designed to prod the president into supporting women's suffrage. The civil disobedience campaign lasted months. Paul herself was arrested several times and finally sentenced to jail for seven months. She went on a hunger strike and was force fed raw eggs through a feeding tube. The publicity of the horrible treatment of her in jail kept the cause in the public eye. After passage of the 19th Amendment, Paul said, "It was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote."

Friday, August 7, 2020

POTD: Boys from St. George's College

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Cairo, Egypt, and shows a group of boys from St. George's College, located in Cairo's Nasr City district and one of the oldest private English-language schools in Cairo. The boys are on a field trip, visiting the same sites we were, and by the looks of it, having as much fun as we were. Kids are kids all over the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Upzoning Galatyn Park Station

Galatyn or Khrushchyobka?

The Richardson City Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of an upzoning request for 140 additional living units over and above what the current zoning permits for a new development next to the Galatyn Park DART station.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Losing Faith in the Meritocracy

Americans like to pretend we live in a meritocracy, even when the Black Lives Matter movement smacks us in the face with evidence that we don't. The education system is similar. We pretend that if you apply yourself and work hard, you will succeed in school and life. In reality, it's hard to deny that what school you attended mattered as much as how hard you worked.

The STAAR was a reaction to that. STAAR, for those who might not know, is the school system's standardized test used by the State of Texas. It claimed to identify failing schools, which could then be targeted to change the educational outcomes for many students. George W Bush ran for and won the Presidency in part on his championing education reform that led to STAAR. The result was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Remember that? It was broadly popular once. Now? Not so much. What changed?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Crip Camp (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Crip Camp (2020): Documentary about a 1970s camp in the Catskills for disabled youth run by hippies. Fun, games, brotherhood and independence. What they learned at Camp Jened prepared them to fight the government for rights for the disabled, culminating in the ADA. Inspiring. B+

Monday, August 3, 2020

Random Thoughts: 200,000 Oklahomans Get Health Insurance

Tweets from July, 2020:
  • 2020-07-01: 200,000 Oklahomans get health ballot initiative. That means they overruled the Republican politicians who don't want the near-poor who can't afford health insurance to get it. Next, Oklahomans ought to elect representatives who share their values.
  • 2020-07-01: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the guy who said senior citizens would voluntarily lay down their lives to COVID-19 to prop up business profits. Patrick is a one-man death panel.
  • 2020-07-01: One day closer to the election and there's no sign of a Trump pivot yet. Will he ride "White Power" all the way to November?
  • 2020-07-01: Americans could learn from Bulgarians. "Russia Wants Bulgarians to Stop Painting Soviet Monuments To Look Like American Superheroes."

After the jump, more random thoughts.