Movie Review: A Dog’s Purpose

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: You’ll need to survive past the first half hour.  Bring tissues.

“A Dog’s Purpose” is about a dog who lives multiple lives but still retains memories of the previous life.  As it goes through those lives, it tries to make sense of why it is here and what’s the meaning of it all.  Since there are multiple lives, there are also multiple deaths.  Animal lovers, you will cry.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to get through the first half hour of the movie before you get to a fun movie.  And the first half hour is really bad.  Like, really bad.  Like, take every animal movie cliche and throw in every teenage romance cliche and condense it into a half hour of poorly written dialogue bad.  I briefly considered leaving the theater.  Thankfully (?!?!?), then the dog dies for the first time and the movie turns itself around.

The rest of the movie is cute without being saccharine.  The death scenes are only slightly sanitized for the consumption of the little ones and will ring true to anyone who has ever lost a pet.  The dog goes through a couple more reincarnations putting it in different circumstances before the movie brings the story full circle.  The ending isn’t bad, but it’s definitely disappointing.  It turns out that a dog’s purpose is to “just be there”.  I can not think of a worse message to tell people.  Given owners, all to often, a dog’s purpose should be “be anywhere else”.

The deciding factor on whether to see this movie will probably be whether you are an animal lover or not.  If they took a poll, I bet they’d find that animal lovers like the movie and others do not.  I think I can safely say that this movie is probably not nearly as good as I think it was since it used easy triggers for heartstrings pulling.  Emotional manipulation for the win!

This Is Not Normal: Day 15

Happy Black History month!  Let’s celebrate by watching Trump’s really weird speech about it.  Or him.  Mostly him.

Donald Trump’s first military action resulted in the death of two U.S. citizens , one of them an 8 year old girl,. The other was a Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, a member of SEAL Team Six.  Numerous civilians were also killed in the operation.  This is every bit as abhorrent as when Obama killed a U.S. citizen, that one 16 years old.

Trump’s recent Executive Order about regulations is completely toothless.  It’s basically just a bone thrown to the Libertarian crowd who have no idea how regulations are crafted.  Almost all regulations are crafted based on laws and most can only be removed if the requisite law is overturned.

Let’s not ignore bills at the state level.  Bills like this have been growing in popularity since the GW Bush administration, but they seem to really be picking up steam under Trump’s reign.  States are passing laws that punish protestors with fines and charges for police protections that they already pay for with taxes.  This is an attempt to severely curtail free speech and will only harm those whose voices can be heard through protest.

Donald Trump has already filed the papers for reelection.  This is the earliest any sitting president has filed for reelection.  This allows Trump to start collecting donations from “supporters”.  I put “supporters” in quotes because it allows those who would like to influence his decisions a direct doorway to the presidency through financial contributions.  It also prevents non-profits from speaking negatively about him because he is now a “candidate”.  Doing so puts their non-profit status at risk.

It’s hard for me to get terribly worked up about Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch.  He’s basically exactly what you’d expect from any Republican.  That isn’t to say he’s not horrible for separation of church and state and isn’t pretty corporatist.  He is.  I’m just not sure this is a battle worth fighting.  Although, it did produce one of the more chuckle worthy tweet’s I’ve seen, “Trump shouldn’t be allowed to choose a justice in the last year of his presidency.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a president with no ethics whose right hand man has no ethics has ignored the federal government’s ethics watchdog by not performing any sort of ethics vetting on any of his nominees.  That’s how you get nominees like Steven Mnuchin who lie in their financial disclosure forms, because, you know, it’s easy to forget $100 million here and there.   Or Tom Price who lied about profiting by passing legislation on stocks that they are actively trading in.  This is why senate Democrats have boycotted both their committee votes.  Republicans shattered norms, again, by using a parliamentary trick to bypass Democrat participation.

Trump continues to make a mockery of the United States and violate norms on the foreign stage.  The scariest is that they turned off their recording devices during Trump’s recent call with Putin.  Because that’s exactly what you’d do when you don’t want people to know about your many ties to Russia.  Trump called Mexico’s president and basically told him that if Mexico didn’t take care if its shit, we’d invade Mexico.  Meanwhile, Trump’s war against immigrants continued apace, but this time against Australia of all places.  Trump wants to renege on a deal between the U.S. and Australia in which take some refugees off Australia’s hands, whose refugee process is  horrendous, and abusive.  In return, Australia will accept some Central and South American refugees.  It’s a great deal in which we rescue Australia’s refugees from horrendous conditions and we settle an equal amount of refugees in Australia.  And finally, Norway’s former Prime Minister was recently held at our airport because he once visited Iran.


The Very Definition Of Mean And Heartless

Various versions of the above meme have been floating around the interwebs.  I’ve removed the attributions because I can’t find the original and I don’t want to drive traffic to those abhorrent sites.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time, but this meme is so bald-facedly ridiculous and easily refuted that those who spread it can only be coming from one of two places, hate or fear.  Haters gonna hate and I’m not going to convince them otherwise, so this goes out to all those who are fearful.

Your home is your castle, I get that.  Last I checked, though, no one was forcing you to accept refugees into it.  It still has locks.  You can still lock them.  You can still grab your guns and protect your house from anyone who attempts to enter your house or do you harm.  Heck, you can even try to convince your neighbors to be fearful of refugees and to lock their doors as well.  None of that changes just because refugees are welcomed by other people with homes and locks.

What you are doing is the equivalent of forcing others to lock their doors against their will.  You are invading their privacy, forcing your way into their homes, and locking their doors for them.  In fact, it’s far worse than that.  Most of the refugees you’re forcing everyone to lock their doors to are from Syria.  Syria’s mass slaughter of innocents is, in large part, a direct result of our bungled attempts at nation building in the Middle East.  It is not difficult to draw a direct line between the two.  So what you’re doing is watching someone’s house burn down after having lit a wick that, however unknowingly, that led to that person’s house being destroyed.  You are then installing new locks on the houses of all others who would like to open their doors to these homeless people and throwing away the keys.

That, my friends, is the very definition of mean and heartless.

This Is Not Normal: Day 11

Holy crap, is it only day 11?  Let’s make fun of our Press Secretary, shall we?

Ah, Sean Spicer, I feel for you, I really do.  When you’re not retweeting Onion articles without understanding that you’re being made fun of, you’re not once but twice accidentally tweeting your password to the world.  The Trump administration probably doesn’t have a person under the age of 30 working for them so why don’t you just go ahead and delete your account.

Ok, back to serious stuff.  First, something I missed.  One of Donald Trump’s first actions in office the day he was inaugurated was to declare that day a national day of patriotism.  If that isn’t a sure sign of a malignant narcissist, I don’t know what is.

The biggest news is, of course, Trump’s Muslim ban which I covered in great detail.  Already, there are reports of people being stopped by police and mosques being burned.  This is unlawful, but still a direct result of this monstrously wrongheaded ban and will only continue to grow in practice.  We are still looked on as leaders of the free world and our actions have consequences elsewhere, like the recent mosque shooting in Quebec City.  Oh, and let’s not forget that actions like this are exactly how the people who want to do us harm want us to react.  We’ve given them the best recruiting tool they could ask for.

The news that they don’t want you to see is that Trump has completely dismantled the National Security Council.  It normally consists of people in government who know something about national security, you know, like people currently in the various branches of the armed forces and such.  Well right now, those people are right out.  In is white nationalist Steve Bannon, a man who called our national press “the opposition party” and said that the press should “keep its mouth shut.”  To recap, a man who has all but declared war on the press is not only one of Donald Trump’s most trusted advisors, but now sits on the very council that gets to make decisions like who to spy on.  And what happens when the press does not keep its mouth shut?

Then there’s just the weird.  Like Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation not mentioning Jews at all.  Keep in mind, this was the same day that Trump announced his Muslim ban.  But don’t worry, Christians, you’re his priority.  And Uber really stepped in it this weekend.  Not only has its CEO defended his relationship with Trump, but during the weekend, there was a taxi strike at airports across the country as they showed their solidarity with other protesters against Trump’s Muslim ban and Uber continued to pick up passengers during that time.  Rival, Lyft, in the meantime was donating $1 million to the ACLU.  People everywhere are deleting their Uber account, including me.

This Is Not Us

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A might woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those are the words of Emma Lazarus in her most famous poem, “The New Colossus,” the last stanza of which sits inscribed at the base of our Statue of Liberty.  New York City may no longer be our gateway of immigration, but Lady Liberty stands there in the harbor, her torch held high, a beacon to those fleeing from oppression and looking for a better life and a testament to the values of our country.  Donald Trump’s seven-nation ban on immigration stands diametrically opposed to those values.

Do not be fooled by attempts to normalize this act.  This is not normal.  Notice how they call attention to how few refugees we let in immediately after 9/11 without once mentioning that 9/11 happened?  Notice how they claim that Obama’s refugee limit was only 70,000 without at all mentioning that it is a joint effort between the Republican Congress and the President to set the limit.? Notice how they lie about “improving security screening” when refugee security screening is already robust and effective? Notice how they claim to “know” that terrorists have successfully infiltrated the refugee population in Europe and committed terrorist acts without even one attribution to an attack?  There are millions of refugees in Europe right now.  I have no doubt that bad actors are trying to infiltrate their ranks, but they’re also trying to do just about everything else.  There has been no evidence that immigrants pose any more of a risk than those with citizenship; in fact, it’s been the opposite.  Anything contrary to that is pure propaganda.

There is also an attempt to propagate the lie that this is not a Muslim ban.  They want us to ignore the fact that Trump called for a Muslim ban while campaigning and that Rudy Giuliani has said that Trump has asked him how to implement a Muslim ban legally.  They want us to ignore the fact that all seven nations covered in the ban are predominantly Muslim.  They point to the other Muslim countries that aren’t on the ban while not pointing out that Trump has business interests there.  This ban echoes the horrors of 9/11 while not including Saudi Arabia, the place where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from.  In fact, out of the countries whose citizens have successfully executed a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the last two decades, exactly zero of them are included in the ban and Trump has business interests in all of them.

They will claim that previous presidents have had similar bans.  They will point to Jimmy Carter’s ban of Iranians during the hostage crisis or Obama’s ban of those directly or indirectly aiding certain Muslim countries.  There is very clear context to those bans.  They are not universal like Trump’s ban, which includes everyone in those seven countries.  The only real-life examples I can think of are many of our greatest shames.  Things like the internment of those of Japanese origin during World War II or our turning away of Jews fleeing the Holocaust.  The former was actually used as a defense of Trump’s Muslim ban during the election.  As to the latter, well, Trump announced his ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Pay very close attention to which of your representatives and senators are supporting this ban or are staying silent.  In an issue like this, silence is compliance.  Anyone who does not speak up as of today needs to go.  If they speak up tomorrow, it is too late.  This is not an issue where you can weigh the mood of the nation before deciding.  Many of those senators will be up for reelection in 2018.  All of those representatives will be up for reelection in 2018.  Remember their justifications.  Remember their compliance. They must go.

The good news is there has been an upswelling of resistance here in the U.S. and around the world.  A Federal judge has reversed parts of Trump’s decree.  Green Card holders can now enter once again.  Trump’s staff is in damage control mode as they deny green card holders were ever supposed to be banned despite clear orders coming from the Department of Homeland Security that they should be revoked access and turned away.  Protests at international airports are continuing into a second day.  Across the country, we’re showing the world that Trump’s action will not be tolerated and that he does not speak for us.  Refugees, you are welcome here.  This is who we are.

This Is Not Normal: Day 7

Well, it took two days to come up with a blog post sized list of scary things.  This is a full time job.

Donald Trump issued an Executive Order commanding the Department of Homeland Security to “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens” and to report on sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with the Federal Government.

In response to Trump issuing a gag order on department’s use of social media, Badlands National Park’s twitter account went rogue and started posting global warming facts.  Also, in response to this insane request, alternative National Park twitter accounts are popping up., as well as NASA and the EPA.  Trump’s gag orders are so outrageous they have created the beginnings of a Scientist’s March.

Trump’s very first Executive Order was to rescind a 0.25% rate cut on FHA loans. This cut will affect millions of home buyers and cost then about $500 per year.  While not a drastic change, it definitely goes against his “help the middle class” pledge, as this will almost exclusively hurt them.

Citing “carnage” in Chicago, Trump tells the mayor to either clean up or he will send in the Feds.  Let’s ignore the fact that there is no mechanism for him to do so short of declaring martial law or Chicago asking for help, which, by the way, Chicago has.

This one is probably the one that baffles me the most.  Donald Trump gave a speech at CIA headquarters in front of the wall of stars that represent CIA operatives who have died in the line of duty and used it to complain about how his Inauguration was being misreported and how horrible the media is.  Let that sink in.  Trump used as background the most sacred space at CIA headquarters to complain about the media.  If Obama, or any Democrat, had done anything except profess thanks to the CIA in front of this shrine, there would be frothy screaming.  Oh, and Trump brought his own cheering section for the speech, which is becoming a regular thing.

In what must be the weirdest televised interview of a sitting President, and Trump’s first so the weird can continue to climb, Trump continued to spout bald faced lies about voter fraud and his Inauguration turn out and how the CIA loved his speech and how the up coming anti-abortion rally is going to be larger than the kind of large Women’s March that broke all sorts of attendance records.  The take away is that people that agree with Trump are the smartest and those that don’t are enemies.

The entire upper management of the State Department was fired en masse today.  This is the largest simultaneous State Department firing ever and leaves the most important department of the Federal Government rudderless and will give the inexperienced Rex Tillerson no upper management experience in the department.  Terrifying.  Clarification: As per usual, upper management sent letters of resignation which the incoming president usually ignores.  Trump decided to accept those letters.  Still terrifying.

All EPA studies must now be brought to Trump officials before being released.  Another in a series of chilling attacks on science when science is what we need most.


This Is Not Normal: Day 5

It’s only been five days and it is already virtually impossible for any individual to assess just how abnormal Trump’s presidency has been.  Here are a few ways that I can come up with, some small, some large, in which Trump’s Presidency already breaks all decorum.

Trump’s Inaugural Address was written by White Nationalist and Special Advisor to the President, Steve Bannon and had bits that were oddly similar to Batman Villain Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises”.  Also, Trump originally claimed to have written the speech himself.

Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule which prevents tax payer dollars from going to any non-Governmental Organizations that even talk about abortion as an option.  He did so surrounded by white men.

Alternative Facts became a thing after Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway claimed that Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference in which he blatantly lied about the Trump Inauguration’s turnout was just providing “alternative facts”.  I kid you not.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to stop making social media updates and has been banned from awarding any new contracts or grants.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel is still being slated to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  And in completely unrelated news, Israel has given approval to build 2,500 new buildings in the West Bank.  This despite the UN recently calling these settlements in the West Bank and Gaza “a flagrant violation under international law”.  Oh, and also, the Trump Foundation donated $10,000 to the West Bank settlement of Beit El, which will get 100 of those new 2,500 homes in the name of his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, who also happens to be Trump’s pick for Ambassador to Israel and is the prime advocate for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.  Tit for tat.

The total number of Executive Orders signed by Trump stands at nine.  That’s over one per day for those counting at home.  No word from Republicans or Trump supporters on how horrible this is despite howling about how Obama signed way too many.  Expect crickets.

Trump continued to lie about there being millions of people who voted illegally.  This time in his first official meeting with congressional leaders.  While this would be the largest voter fraud story ever, his administration has not yet lifted a finger to investigate the claims.  He also used that meeting to talk about how large his Inaugural crowd was.  I kid you not.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: Katherine Johnson nee Goble, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan.  Remember their names.  Know their story.

If there was one thing Americans in the 1960s feared more than Blacks, it was Russians.  Thus it came to be that NASA, whose motto at the time was “not quite as racist as the rest of America”, decided to hire a bunch of really smart Black women and segregate them in their own building and grossly underutilize their talents.  So begins “Hidden Figures”, a wonderful retelling of the courageous and inspiring story of three super talented Black ladies who overcome adversity and help change the culture of NASA by simply doing what they’ve always been good at.  With a little help of Russia and their kicking our asses in the race to space.

A good portion of the movie is dedicated to Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) and her work as a “computer”, what people who ran calculations were actually called before the advent of what we now call computers.  Katherine gets her big break when a NASA-wide search of employees with analytic geometry skills comes up empty, until it is mentioned to Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spenser) who quickly points to Katherine as the person they need.  Katherine goes on to wow the white male, white shirt, black tie crowd at NASA with her ability to solve unsolved equations.  All while running back and forth, in heels, across campus to the colored bathrooms.

Dorothy Vaughan’s story is no less amazing.  She was a supervisor of the colored women’s mathematical section in all but title.  Not only that, but she took it upon herself to not only learn the programming language FORTRAN after learning of the receipt of the new IBM mainframe at NASA, but she also taught her entire group of women FORTRAN as well and later went on to become the actual supervisor of the computing group.

Finally, the one who gets short shrift, in my opinion, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).  Mary was an engineer in all but title and while NASA had a clear-cut way for employees to earn the title of engineer, they were so restrictive that classes were only taught at all-white schools.  Keep in mind, this was Virginia in the 60s.  While desegregation was the law of the land, Virginia was fighting it as best they could.  Mary had to petition the courts of Virginia to allow her to take the required engineering classes at these all-white schools.  And she won.

“Hidden Figures” tells their stories and has a kick-ass soundtrack to boot.  In fact, it should be used as an example in how to use a soundtrack effectively.  For example, it uses a certain song when highlighting Katherine’s race to the colored bathroom all the way across campus.  Then, it uses the same song to highlight a white male engineer racing across campus to the colored section to retrieve Katherine at a crucial moment when they need her expertise to great comedic effect.  Little things like that, along with a great story, make “Hidden Figures” a pleasure to watch and I highly recommend it.

Coming out of the theater, I found myself wondering which tidbits of the stories contained in the movie are true and which are simply made up and which are apocryphal.  For instance, when NASA first receives their mainframe from IBM, the door they built was too small to bring the mainframe through.  I know this to be a true story.  Or at least I think I do.  I have at least heard that story before.  Is it true?  Who knows?  Any time I see a “based on true events” movie, I wonder that.  Another in this movie, there’s a scene where Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) tears the “colored restroom” sign out of the wall with a crowbar after learning that Katherine is running across campus to the bathroom and wasting his time.  Beats it down, more accurately.  Did that really happen?

They Showed Up When It Counted

Well, that happened.  Donald J. Trump is now President of the United States.  And he was sworn in to a pathetic turnout.  Sad!

Except, well, it wasn’t.  When you’re comparing any inauguration to the gold standard for inaugural attendance, you’re going to come up short.  Trump’s inauguration was attended by the average number of people who go to these pompous events with an all-important oath.  And while the 2009 inauguration was historic and record setting, it also marks the last time almost everyone in that picture gave more than a cursory thought into how they could help Obama become the President he wanted to be.  “Yes we can” quickly became “Why can’t he?”.  And sure, we showed up to the polls in 2012 to elect Obama for a second term, but where were we in 2010?  Or 2014?  Nowhere to be seen.  Polls were a ghost town.

Guess who did show up in 2010 and 2014 and 2016?  Republicans.  They are vastly outnumbered and yet they win as much if not more than Democrats.  And it’s for one simple reason.  They show up.  Maybe not for inaugurations or demonstrations or Women’s Marches, but every Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November, they show up.  And we don’t.  It’s as simple as that.  Nothing else matters.

Today, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, there is a Women’s March on D.C. and other locales throughout the country.  It already promises to be huge in ways that are almost indescribable.  It is a valuable and necessary first action against a narcissistic egomaniac who obviously cares less for women than he does other human beings.  And that is a very low bar.  My hope is that this IS just a first step.  That the women and men that march today have woke.  That the mistakes we made with Obama will never be repeated.  That we will finally realize that “of the People, by the People, and for the People” does not mean showing up to the polls only when a candidate moves us.  It means getting out there every year and voting in local elections and off-cycle elections.  It means holding those people we vote for accountable while they are in office.  It means taking action, not just every four years or every two years or every year, but every time we have an opportunity to do so.

Let us all finally realize the dream of “YES WE CAN!”

Book Review: 2016 Revue

I read a lot.  Sadly, books are probably only about 25% of what I read.  Here’s what I read in 2016.  11 measly books.  Sheesh.  I pretty much stuck to sci-fi this year, with a little non-fiction thrown in.  There were a bunch of short story compendiums that were mostly so-so except for the wonderful “The Other Half of the Sky”.  David Foster Wallace was definitely the highlight of the year and, sadly, the first book I read this year.  I’m going to try to branch out from sci-fi in 2017, but 2017 is certainly going to need some good escapism.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace – 5/5 stars

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene – 3/5 stars

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – 4/5 stars

Crandolin by Anna Tambour – 2/5 stars

The Narrator by Michael Cisco – 1/5 stars

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen – 3/5 stars

The Bestiary edited by Ann VanderMeer – 3/5 stars

The Eisenberg Constant by Eugen Egner – 3/5 stars

The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis – 5/5 stars

Clarkesworld: Year Six edited by Neil Clarke – 2/5 stars

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick – 2/5 stars