Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can't Tear It Down? Legislate It Away.

Growing up I lived in four places: Brunswick, GA; Atlanta, GA; Macon, GA; and Ellijay, GA.
Brunswick, Macon, and Atlanta were all majority African-American. (And still are.) But there are Confederate memorials on public property in all of them. Atlanta has the most wide-spread of these things. I mean, hell...the entire freaking city is a Confederate Memorial. My home town, Brunswick, has the least presence of such memorials. There is one that I know of, and it's really obscure and isolated...so isolated that it's not really very objectionable. As far as I know it's the single such memorial in the city.
Ellijay was not merely majority white--it was 100% white. And as I recall they also merely had a single Confederate memorial; which is really weird because that part of GA refused to support the Confederacy and instead sided with the Union. But it's also the most virulently racist place I ever lived so I reckon they figured they'd best have a monument to the Confederacy.
At any rate, I wonder why any city with a majority of black voters would put up with this shit.
And here is Stone Mountain, GA. It is not technically Atlanta, but is nearby, and is home to the most vile of the Confederate Monuments. It should be scrubbed off of the mountain. I'm sure it could be accomplished without blasting.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Two in a Row!

I watched two films this week and liked both of them. Yeah. I know. Completely unheard of.
My son came over last Sunday and we looked through a host of trailers trying to pick out a film that we thought would be fun. We settled on COLOSSAL. It stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Now, I have to say I have never been too keen on Hathaway. I tried to watch a couple of her chick flicks with my wife but I just couldn't handle them--ephemeral and cheesy.
However, this movie was really good. She turned in what I can only say was an excellent performance, and frankly I've never found her so attractive. Yeah. We dug this one.
The film has a really superficially silly plot of a giant monster appearing in Seoul (a "kaiju" for the geekier among us). As the film progresses the heroine realizes that the monster's movements correspond to her own. Interesting.
Then another monster--a giant robot--appears and its movements correspond to those of Jason Sudekis who plays a bar owner who is obsessed with Hathaway.
From there, the film remains an interesting read of Hathaway's character and her interactions with the various male players (there aren't really any other females in the film). There turns out to be a reason and a cause for the monsters and their connections to the two leads, but it's of course silly, but you know what? Giant monsters are silly.
The underlying themes of the film are deeper than that, of course, dealing with relationships, obsessions, addictions, and--more or less--feminism and independence.
We both enjoyed it.


The other movie I watched was THE ARRIVAL. It stars Amy Adams (who i rather fancy) and is about aliens suddenly appearing on Earth in vast ships that have stationed themselves at twelve spots around the planet. Adams plays one of the world's leading linguists who is recruited by the military to try to communicate with the aliens, which she finally does.
Jeremy Renner--another actor I admire who seems to be somehow stuck in action and superhero flicks--portrays a physicist also recruited to try to break the code that will allow humans and aliens (eventually called 'hexapods') to talk to one another.
Over all this hovers the threat of military violence from several of the other nations who have found themselves as parking spots for alien craft. The two scientists have to figure out how to talk to the aliens before it is too late and before anxious military types start shooting.
Woven into all of this is the recurring back-story of Adams' daughter who died of some type of rare disease years before the events with the aliens.
I found the film to be entertaining, and it has a decent--and appropriately subdued--moral message. And of course there is a rather sweet twist that takes place at the end of the film which had a good romantic, and hopeful, development.
I rather liked it.
Not only didn't these movies piss me off, I had a good time watching both of them.
I think I'm going to run out and buy a lottery ticket before my luck runs out.




Friday, August 11, 2017

Gentrification

Over the years I watched the gentrification of Charlotte NC's economically depressed inner city. For whatever reason it was done--logic, profit motive, real estate development, etc.--I had a front-row seat as a letter carrier. I would deliver mail in places where gunshots were a common background noise, drug deals were open and going on in plain sight, police crime scene tape was like a bright yellow Easter decoration on every block. Fights and screams and threats of violence was something you tuned out and walked through; garbage was piled high from time to time, and stray mutts ran loose while trained attack dogs were chained in about one of of every three yards.

Despite the crime, these neighborhoods were gorgeous. Hilly streets. Enormous hardwood trees everywhere. And even the poverty of the then-current owners and renters could not hide the former beauty of most of the faded old homes that had been built when these neighborhoods were where the people with higher paying jobs had once lived.

And then...poof! The investors came in and started buying up the houses. If the homes were rentals, the new owners waited until leases were done and did not renew. Once the tenants were gone they boarded up the structures until 50-75% of the neighborhoods were vacant. They bought apartments and multi-family units and knocked them over.

After that...the Yuppies moved in. They fixed up the old houses and turned them into attractive and now high-dollar properties. Lawns were seeded and maintained. Flower gardens were planted. Street lights were repaired and replaced. The police were suddenly present as smiling security and not as brutal enforcers. New buildings sprouted where the low-rent apartments had once stood. Nice shops, neighborhood bodegas, boutiques, restaurants--all of these appeared.

It only took, on average, about six years or so for these various neighborhoods to be transformed from poor to middle class. All are easily accessible to downtown Charlotte. The old cars that once rattled around the streets were suddenly replaced with shining, new sedans--Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Audi--in freshly paved driveways and on roads gleaming with newly pressed asphalt.

Where did the poor go? In the most massive part of the irony of it all, the white flight that had been from urban to suburban has been reversed. The poor blacks, Hispanics, and Asians I once delivered mail to are now in those suburban houses where the white folk had retreated a few decades back. They just switched places, like a tide ebbing and flowing, but populations being moved by the gravity of money instead of the Moon.



Recently I took a drive through several of the old neighborhoods where I used to deliver mail. These were places many letter carriers couldn't wait to move out of because of the crime and poverty and the labor of avoiding dog bites and dodging bullets (but where I worked for about twelve years). Now, sparkling with safety, not much breaks the silence. All we saw were a few kids riding their bikes and some young moms pushing baby strollers. And the rambling ranch houses one could have bought for $30K in 1995 when I started carrying mail? A lot of them are still there, but you'd hardly recognize them with poured concreted driveways, second-floor additions, fresh paint, and $700K price tags.

Nothing moves humans like the power of cash. Or lack thereof.





Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Comic Book Sales and Emotionally Retarded Adults

A lot of people are talking about the death of the printed comic book today. Many blame the price. I haven't bought a new comic book in many, many years so I wasn't sure how much one costs. Apparently it is between $3.99 and $4.99.
So. How does that measure up to a ten cent comic book published in 1960? As near as I can figure (from Internet sources) ten cents had a modern value of $1.25. So back then a new comic cost that much--a buck-twenty-five. Yeah, that's a lot less than four or five bucks.
But is it just the price of the comic itself that is killing sales? Back in 1960 there were comic books that sold near, or over, one million copies per month. Walt Disney Comics and Stories, Superman, Batman, etc. Also, there were more comic book publishers selling lots of titles back then.
Therefore, it must be more than just the price that is killing the comic book industry. And as I noted many years ago that reason is that kids don't read. I mean, they just don't. Face it. 99.99% of kids would rather watch TV or play a video game than take the effort to read a comic book. Sure, many parents are going to balk at paying $4 for a goddamned comic book about superheroes. But it's not just that. If a kid wanted a comic book, hundreds of thousands of parents would buy them some.
It is no trouble to conclude that something else is going on and that thing is that kids don't want any damned comic books. The reasons for that are many, but when you get right down to it, I just have to repeat--kids don't read.
The number of readers in general is growing slimmer every year. It's not just kids. But we see in these new generations of children what will be heading down the pike in years to come. No kids reading comics equals no adults reading anything beyond food labels and directional signs in a couple of decades. Switching to electronic comics isn't going to help, either. Because people who download electronic literature tend not to read that stuff. Yeah, they pay for the downloads, but then they rarely read them. At some point people are going to stop downloading ebooks because the only reason they bothered to take that step is because of some advertising and perhaps some peer pressure from the couple of people they know who do read.
The printed comic, like the printed book, is going to vanish soon. There won't be any comic book stores just as we see book stores fading like rotten fruit on the vine.
Are comic books too expensive? Maybe. But if no one but a few thousand emotionally retarded adults (which pretty much describes the current audience of superhero mainstream comics) read them, the format is already doomed.
Unless kids start reading again, and unless the comic book market place branches out and produces material other than superhero stuff and nihilistic violence aimed at those same emotionally retarded adults, then very soon there will be no comic books to read. Wave goodbye to what may in fact be the only actual USA-inspired art form: the periodical printed comic book.
Alas.
Where's my vomit emoji?





Saturday, August 05, 2017

Today, Tomorrow, Forever.

One of my son's childhood friends died a couple of days ago. I had not seen Jacob in several years--not since the CD and DVD exchange store he managed closed it doors and I no longer had a chance to stop there to talk with him about music and movies. Even Andy had not seen him in over a year, and once upon a time when they both were teenagers and then high school graduates it seemed Jacob was at our house as often as not.

Jacob died of a drug overdose--heroin.

He was a great kid and we always liked to see him around. Jacob seemed level-headed and responsible and had a good job both before he graduated high school and after. There never seemed to be a time when he was not smiling and never a moment when he was around that he didn't make everyone else feel happier. In brief, he was a very nice person and we were always cheered to see him come walking through the door with Andy.

I have no idea what made him take heroin. It makes no sense to me, nor did it to Andy--but who knows what drives a person? Perhaps it was depression? I honestly cannot tell you.

The memorial service today was overflowing. Easily 300 people. The folk running the service barely had enough space to provide everyone with parking.

Carole and I arrived for the service and immediately I became depressed, recalling what a nice young man Jacob had always been. And of course there is nothing on Earth so heartbreaking as seeing a mother who has lost a child. Mothers are not supposed to live to see their children precede them in death and when I see it I always am filled with despair.

I like to think of myself as a stoic. Sometimes I think I would have made a good Brit. Stiff upper lip and all that, you know. That's me. I try to keep most of my emotions at bay, especially despair and grief. Anger, I can handle--and sometime welcome. But sadness is not my old friend and I try to keep him far away. But today...seeing Jacob's mother in the throes of complete misery, I had to admit that bastard sadness into my life. Despite my best efforts to hold it in, seeing my own son in tears over his old pal fleeing this life, and memories of Jacob's ever-present smiles and laughter, I could not forestall those tears, either. They came, even if I hadn't seen that boy in several years. He had been a part of my own son's life for so long that I could not help it.

Jacob was 31 years old. Yes, a man of course, but my memory of him was as a kid a little older than my boy. The snuffing out of his brief life is a tragedy, and I cannot imagine what his mother has been enduring the past few days and what she must endure for the rest of her life.

Several people spoke. His older brother, his minister, his girlfriend. They talked about how happy he made them. But his younger brother also spoke, and he was bitter and angry. He had not known his older brother who had loved him so and had made him laugh so hard was tormented with a drug problem. Few, apparently, were aware. And this kid brother admitted his anger toward those who knew and did not tell others, who did not help.

Maybe that anger will help see him through all of this. I hope so. Whatever gets you through the night, my friend.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Old Movie

After several years I viewed DRAGONSLAYER again. This is a 1981 film that I saw during its initial release. It was also the first monster movie I watched that employed a primitive version of CGI that we have come to accept as the norm.

This movie is excellent in every way. Cast. Direction. Cinematography. FX. Art design. Etc.

This is also the film that famously made Ray Harryhausen retire. Over Go-Motion. Even though they used a stop-motion figure for the dragon, they enhanced it with inter-frame blurring. The FX guys gave Harryhausen a preview and he knew then that his days were done--that computers were going to do it all and that his career as an artisan were over.

I love this film. I can't really find anything at all to criticize when it comes to this movie. It's almost perfect. As such, I should hold it in higher esteem, but for some reason I don't list it among my favorite films. Perhaps there is something subconsciously bugging me about it that I'll have to find on a future viewing. Or maybe I'm just a critical curmudgeon.

I've seen it now probably five or six times (I don't keep count). But pretty much the casting is perfect. Ralph Richardson is spot-on as Ulrich, the last remaining wizard. I think the movie was Albert Salmi's final performance before he committed suicide. The fact is that I can't think of anyone in the movie who turned in a less than excellent performance and for which they were not effectively cast.

Also, the monster, Vermithrax pejorative, is the most perfectly designed dragon that I have ever seen for the movie screen. Anatomically the creature looks right and moves logically and remains both awe-inspiring and terrifying. When it attacks a village it looks like some kind of organic fighter jet spewing napalm. 

I'll probably give it a few more viewings before I get tired of seeing it. If there is a flaw that keeps me from placing the movie higher in my esteem, maybe I'll find it.

Ralph Richardson as Ulrich, the Wizard.

Peter MacNicol and Vermithrax pejorative.
The late Caitlin Clarke as Valerian.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alligators

I read about another alligator-on-human attack in Florida today.

For all of my reading life and note-taking in my many outdoor adventures (you can better believe I always have done my freaking research when I go out into the wild) I would read that alligators are essentially harmless to humans. Over and over and over. Time after time I would read this and hear this. To the point that several times in my trips on Florida and south Georgia creeks and ponds I would go swimming with alligators nearby.

I was misinformed, for sure. And I was lucky that I was never attacked (I did have a close encounter with a big alligator that taught me that all of the "facts" I'd read about how they were harmless to people were so much bullshit). But why would anyone say this about an apex predator that can kill and dismember and eat large prey up to the size of horses?

It was because from the 19th Century until relatively recent years the alligator was actually a threatened species. Their numbers had dwindled so much due to over-hunting that they were approaching dangerous levels for the species. Then, in the 1960s they were protected. Harvesting was limited and ecosystems were put into parks and wilderness.

Alligator populations rebounded. With a vengeance. And, more importantly, they were allowed to live to be old. In the days when they were under threat there were almost no older, larger alligators. That is, there were very few gators who could seriously look at a human being as a prey animal--and those few were safely tucked away inside wildernesses where they were unlikely to ever see a human.

Not now. Now I see enormous alligators almost everywhere I go in Florida. 8-foot alligators are now routine. And we've all seen the film of the monster alligator on that golf course. You can better believe predators of that size would look at a 200-pound human being as nothing more than something good to eat.

These days I do not go swimming in rivers or creeks or springs in Florida unless I am DAMNED sure that there are no large alligators around.

It ain't worth the risk.

And, yes, I'm sure everyone has seen this video. I've heard it said that this alligator is between 16-17 feet in length. Keep in mind this is nowhere near the largest recorded gator which was almost 20 feet long. It's time to be careful when you go swimming in the deep South.

Be careful out there.



One of the largest alligators I have seen in Florida. He was at Wakulla Springs State Park. Very fat. Very healthy. Very damned intimidating. I would not swim around this animal.


I've heard it said the alligator in this video is 16-17 feet long. That is not as long as the largest on record (over 19 feet). It would look at you as something to eat.