Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Surviving a Broken Heart

This will be a brief blog. I have been off the grid for a week now, and must restrict my activity for a short while longer. A more detailed account will follow, in time. But for all of you who do not yet know, as well as for those who do, I want to tell you that I am doing well and feeling very lucky. In a sense, I have won the lottery for the second time in my life (the first time being when I drew #365 in the Draft Lottery of 1969). At one p.m. on Friday, February 6, I was (figuratively) hit by a freight train – but many people came to save my life and help me stand up again. Within 24 hours a stent was in place and within 48 I was back home again, feeling better than I have in a very long time. I had a heart attack, and it saved my life, and that’s the bottom line. In a few days I will resume my blogging in earnest. There is much to talk about, from ISIS to education to the stark reality that you can’t always know beforehand when the freight train will strike even when you carefully watch the tracks.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Keystone Pipeline Vote: Delusion of Myth

The Keystone Pipeline Vote: Don’t you find it interesting that all of a sudden We, and not OPEC, are in control of the oil market; that We, and not OPEC, are the largest exporter of oil in the world; that We, and not OPEC, are now dictating the price of crude? We the People are benefiting, for now, with prices at the pump lower than we have seen for decades. It seems like decades, anyway. This means to me that we won the War in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Liberation, or O.I.L.). Corporate got what it wanted. And now the Keystone Pipeline Bill passed the Senate, knowing full well that President Obama is set to veto it. Nine Democrats crossed the aisle to join the Republicans in voting for it. They were sold a bill of goods. The major political selling point for the pipeline is job creation; 42,000, to be exact. The Republicans make it sound as though, with the pipeline, they are single-handedly saving the already robust United States Economy and dropping unemployment to Zero percent. They neglect to mention that 41,950 of those jobs are temporary. Permanent positions, for running the pipeline once it is completed, number only 50, according to TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. Those 41,950 jobs across Canada and several US states, are the high end estimate from TransCanada. The lowest estimate is just 4,000. Either way, it seems a huge investment for fifty permanent jobs. The pipeline will cross the embattled Yellowstone River. That river has been the victim of two massive oil spills in the past year. Both spills involved pipelines under the river bed that burst. In all, six pipelines have burst nationwide in the past year. Old style building techniques can be sited as the reason for several, but not all – one pipeline was completed just a year ago. I am not saying the Keystone Pipeline will burst any time soon after its completion. I am just saying that the given reasons for creating it are bogus. The real reason is money: always money. There is money to be made in the long haul for companies that are already filthy rich. As to the 41,950 potential temporary workers, what good money they make they had better bank for the inevitable time they will be laid off. I can’t help wondering if those jobs would better go to repairing the existing pipelines that might break, as well as our bridges. And our infrastructures. And maybe a trans-continental super-speed rail system. That sounds like job creation to me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to Basics: Reviews of Aurora Borealis & Backstrom

Worth Watching: Aurora Borealis and Backstrom -- There are times I just have to wonder, what does an artist (or group of artists) have to do to be appreciated? In the case of someone like Vincent van Gogh, waiting was the answer, aided by his untimely death. Writers – I hope, at least – will find their audience before they pass, and still be relevant long after. Filmmakers almost have to find their audiences within the first two to four weeks of a film’s release to have enough commercial success to be entrusted with the next project. It is hard to get a small film made, and harder still to get it seen. I sometimes think of them as the poems of cinema, especially when they are good. Television shows also have to find their audience quickly or face premature cancellation. It helps if the material is good, but that is not a requirement. Look at reality TV for proof on that score. Now, I admit freely that I am probably not a very good critic. I look for things to like in anything I review. I always consider that so much effort went into the creation of the project at hand, be it a song or a symphony, a book or a film, that I do not like to dismiss it out of hand. Besides, opinion is highly subjective. Subjectivity can be tainted by mood. A comedy will not be funny to someone who is upset or angry at the moment; the jokes fall flat, the plot feels forced. A drama will not register if the main character reminds you of someone you dislike intensely, so that you do not invest in the outcome. I started Frank Herbert’s great novel Dune four times and got as far as page 50 before I said, this is rubbish. The fifth time, I could not put it down, and read the whole original six-book set. I also ask myself: could I have done it better? Could I have done it at all? Would I have taken the risk or invested the time? I like to like the project I review. The following film and TV pilot, made it easy for me. I start with the 2005 movie, Aurora Borealis, written by Brent Boyd and directed by James C. E. Burke. I will reveal nothing of the plot except to say that Donald Sutherland plays the grandfather of directionless Joshua Jackson and is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and possibly from Alzheimer’s. His grandson (Jackson) takes a job as a handyman in the Old Folk’s Home where Sutherland and his wife (Louise Fletcher) have come to live out the rest of their lives. This all takes place in November through January in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The result, buoyed by fine acting down the line, is a sweet, quiet, film about growing up and about growing old. Like life itself, the story is messy, complicated, sad, funny, and hopeful. This ranks among the best movies virtually no one has ever seen. In contrast, I offer the premiere episode of Raiin Wilson’s new police procedural, Backstrom. This one is snappy, crisp, and full of action in the best hard-boiled 1940’s noir tradition, but with a definite modern slant. Wilson is perfect as the title character, who has a certain disregard for the rules or the niceties. By himself, the character might wear thin after a while, but the supporting cast is brilliant and their characters keep up with Wilson every step of the way. It felt less like having to learn who everybody was and how they thought, as it did like walking straight into a well established series where everyone already felt familiar. I am rarely drawn into a new show before the opening credits. Blacklist did it. The first fifteen minutes of The Newsroom remains some of the best moments ever on television. Backsrom had me hooked in the doctor’s office. Backtrom was developed by Hart Hanson, co-creator of Bones. Hanson also wrote the script for the pilot, “Dragon Slayer.” The series is based on the Swedish books by Leif G. W. Persson. Those Swedes know how to paint uniquely dark detectives. Think of Kurt Wallander with attitude instead of depression. Add an American feel (not easy to do with European material) and set the story in Portland, Oregon. I just hope that Backsrom doesn’t run into any Vessen while running around the streets – Portland is turning into the hot bed of mystery, both natural and supernatural, in America. Time will tell. I hope that the rest of the writers are as good with the characters as Hanson. Episode two was not quite as energetic, but was filled with snippets of back story and an interesting spirit of vengeance, establishing the supporting characters and defining their strengths. The final scene revealed a touching vulnerability in the main character. As in Hanson’s Bones, the auxiliary characters in Backstrom get as much attention as Backstrom himself. And I hope enough people watch the show to keep it strong. It is on CBS, but that is no longer a death knell. It is, however, an uphill journey, made worse by the fact that I like the show – a death knell for any exciting new series unless it’s British, in which case it usually ends at just the right moment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vaccinations, Seat Belts, and Social Safety

Paranoid America: Vaccinations, Seat Belts and Social Safety Hot button issues seem to abound these days. I suppose they always do, on a rotating basis. Funny how the same issues seem to stand in the shadows waiting their turn for debate even when we all thought the debate was over long ago, done, gone, settled and the settlement agreed upon by consensus. Today, February 2, the big news centers on whether or not to vaccinate our children against diseases that science has proven are preventable by vaccination. Ten years ago vaccines were linked to autism with no scientific proof that there is a correlation. The man who made the link apparently falsified his data to support his position. Once his unethical behavior was discovered, the study was disavowed by The Lancet and the author’s medical license was revoked. But the link became a rumor and was taken as true. Once again, lies lied loudly strike a deeper chord with the public than the truth. There are risks to vaccinating your child. They are small. They are not small if it is your child who succumbs to them. But they are infinitely smaller than the risks of not vaccinating your child. Before vaccinations against measles became a possible protocol, upwards of a thousand American children died every year from that disease. In 1955, I myself almost joined that statistic. The recent measles outbreak – the disease affecting primarily non-vaccinated individuals – has re-awakened the debate that should not be. Ophthalmologist and Senator, Rand Paul links vaccinations to the onset of “mental disorders.” Pundits are trying to figure out what political gain his position will render him. If Conservatives continue to deny proven science as a road to election, they will rely on unsubstantiated fears to promote their agenda, making disease prevention a political issue. Now the question extends to making vaccinations mandatory, and, possibly, allowing parents to sue other parents who allowed their non-vaccinated child to expose theirs to preventable disease. I am not in favor of more litigation in the most litigious nation in the world. I am also reluctant to see more legislation dictating to us what should be “Common Sense.” However, nine to ten percent of Americans are electing not to vaccinate their children, and 42% of the 18-25 demographic think vaccinations are unnecessary. The fact that they are dead wrong must be addressed. “Common Sense” is constantly legislated. Personal choice is not an issue when it comes to wearing seat belts in a car: it’s the law. Perhaps we need to remove that law to protect our individual rights? I do fear the erosion of my rights, but I fear more the stupidity of my fellow Americans. In Montana, car fatalities are rare enough that any one of them is statewide news no matter where in the state the crash occurred. Since I have lived here, all but one fatality on the highways involved a driver and/or passenger who was not buckled in. They made a choice. They broke the law. In retrospect, I would guess that each of them would rather have been caught and fined. The point is, however, that the law was designed to protect them, and us. Two years ago, a seatbelt saved Diane’s life. Even if it were not the law, I elect to buckle up every time I go anywhere in a motor vehicle. “Common Sense” extends to talking on cell phones and texting while driving. Measles and other dangerous diseases are not automobiles, obviously, but consider this: if ten percent of the population is not vaccinated and there is an outbreak that affects them, not only are their lives at risk but the disease might have time to mutate into a strain that would endanger the vaccinated, leading to a pandemic. This is the extreme, I know, sort of the dystopian realignment of the world so beloved by teen novels. The solution is simple. We don’t have to legislate. We only must allow schools – all schools – to insist that any child entering that school prove immunization. Parents who don’t like this can elect to home school and keep their children in total isolation. Fear is an effective tool of control. Do not surrender your freedom out of fear. At the same time, protection increases from an abundance of caution. As of yet, there are no vaccines against stubbornness or stupidity, or boosters to increase common sense. There is no scientific data linking vaccination to “mental disorders” or any other neurological condition such as autism. Perhaps, instead of preaching fear, we should focus on teaching science.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl and Writing Best Sellers

Super Bowl and Best Sellers: Now that the Great American Holiday has run its yards and the 2014-15 Holiday Season is finally over, I can get back to my own stuff. There still are plenty of distractions to tempt me, and there is that last play by the Sea Hawks to talk about for the next six months or so. But it’s time to move past Deflategate and “The Choke” and prepare to tackle the Great American Bestseller which I have not yet written. Would be nice, though. Winter seems to have hit the plains hard, and is rushing at the East Coast with full vigor. Up here, the snow has changed, and I think Winter is done. We have seen “snowbirds” (birds who fly away for winter) dancing in our back yard. We have seen woodpeckers – and heard them. We have even seen the grass that has been lying protected by the warmth of layers of snow – think igloos – although yesterday we did have a light dressing of fresh white stuff. Temperatures are rising slowly. It feels more like Spring; even the snow feels like a Spring snow. And Spring is when old men like me turn their fancy to writing that next book. So, as they say, watch for it! Meanwhile, the world turns and turns. There are times when I wonder about my place in all of it. I guess many of us wonder the same thing. Then I remember something I learned back when I was teaching Baptismal Catechesis, back when I called myself a Catholic during the twelve year journey I took learning and living that faith. Although I found myself at odds with organized religion, all organized religion, the teachings that laid the foundation for it remain valid. I learned that each of us is charged with taking care of our own corner of the world, and that’s all. Keep your corner clean, each over your own back yard. Some of us have small yards. Some have yards as big as the world. As for myself, my back yard, my corner seem to be taking care of me just now – which lets me try to expand my horizons. National Football has become as powerful a religion as any in America, but I am still trying to figure out what lessons it is trying to impart.