Showing posts with label Media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Media. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Game of Growing Up and Outgrowing Fantasy

I have been tied up with other writing assignments to post on this blog lately.  I saw this video on Facebook from Real Time with Bill Maher where he criticizes comic book fans and thought I should comment. I posted it on my Facebook and got one negative comment and one positive one.  The negative one said "The ironic part is that in a 100 years people will likely remember Stan Lee and others like George Lucas. But will not remember Bill what's his name. Bill M. has been and always will be jealous and condescending of things that are more relevant to others then he will ever be to them. I honestly don't know how he even stays on the air."  I responded by saying that "...thanks for your input. Will Rogers is still remembered last I checked.To which he replied "As he should. Along with Mr. Rogers."  

The positive comment was "Thanks Paul. The same childish culture elected DT.Well I don't know what percent of Stan Lee fans voted for DT (which I assume means Donald Trump).  I know at least a few of them didn't.  

I also notice that Maher criticized Marvel Comic movies like X-Men, Iron Man, and Black Panther. At the same time he did not criticize Game of Thrones which his own network (HBO) makes a lot of money off of from many of the same Stan Lee fans.  

Anthony Hopkins (the mad scientist who designed the park), and robots James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld
Westworld, HBO's other science fiction series, makes a point about how the division between fantasy and reality is becoming increasingly blurred.  It's about an western amusement park with lifelike western robots where guests can act out their wild west fantasies (however raunchy).  Later the robots all go berserk.

Science Fiction/Fantasy can be a way of shedding light on the modern world.  It can also be an escape from it.  I know several people who have or will be writing their own Sci Fi books.  The online poll for The Great American Read has, I am sure, received more votes than my Best Non-Fiction book poll.  I has received one vote since my last update.  Three of the top five vote recipients in the fiction poll were the SciFi/Fantasy books Outlander, The Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings.  

I know the vast majority of Comic Con fans can distinguish between fantasy and reality.  There is the tiny minority who can't such as the man in Aurora, Colorado who shot up a movie theater during the showing of a Batman movie while dressed as the Joker.  It's not that different from John Hinckley being inspired by the movie Taxi Driver and the novel Catcher in the Rye.  The phenomenon is also similar to how millions of evangelical Christians give their money to televangelists in hope of finding spiritual or physical healing. 

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Friday, November 23, 2018

The Great American Read-Nonfiction Edition

I thought I would take a break from the recent election to discuss another topic I was thinking about.  I really enjoyed watching The Great American Read (GAR) on PBS last fall.  They put together a list of 100 novels and or series of books and profiled them on their program.  They had celebrities endorse their favorites on the list and then asked viewers to go on their website and vote for the ones that they liked.  You can see the list of books they chose and who won here.  To Kill a Mockingbird won the online poll (people could vote for more than one and more than once) followed by the novel series Outlander and Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, and The Lord of the Rings series.

All of this is interesting but I wonder why non fiction books do not receive the same attention.  They can have at least as great of an impact on society as 1984 or Huckleberry Finn (it didn't make the GAR list of 100 but Tom Sawyer did).  The most impactful books are often the most controversial such as Charles Darwin's the Origin of Species or Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto.  Others can fill a void such as Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care.  

Like fiction, nonfiction covers a wide variety of Genre's.  26 of the 100 books in the GAR poll were science fiction/fantasy as were three out of the top five finalists in the poll.  Nonfiction can cover any book based in fact be it a cookbook, a dictionary, biography, science, or history.  To their followers religious texts like the Bible, The Quran, or the writings of the Buddha are factual books but nonbelievers of those faiths may not see it that way.  The biggest challenge is which books to include.  

Goodreads has an online poll for the best nonfiction books of this year with the sub-genres of biography, history, and science.  Robert McRum published his own list in the Guardian of his top 100 nonfiction books of all time written in English presented in chronological order.  I say why not have the crowd weigh in on the top text books of all time?  Why just focus on English texts?  I might be willing to create such an online poll if no one else will.  I have advertised many nonfiction books on this site

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Wuthering Depths

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Wuthering Depths

Emily Bronte 1818-1848
I write here when I am inspired by something and when life does not get in the way.  This past Monday was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Bronte, the author of the novel Wuthering Heights.  For this blog I considered the title Wuthering Depths as a tongue in cheek pun on the novel but went with CSI without Dead Bodies as the TV show was still popular when the blog began.  

The details of Bronte's early life can be seen in the image above.  She had a younger sister Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre and Anne who wrote Agnes Grey.  She had a brother Branwell who struggled with alcoholism and his image was removed from the portrait above with his sisters.
Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Catherine in the most famous movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights from 1939

Emily was reserved and quiet but she knew the people around her well.  In Wuthering Heights (her only novel written shortly before she died in 1848) the main characters are Heathcliff, an orphan from Liverpool brought to the Moors by the father of Catherine Earnshaw, the other main character.  After the father dies Catherine's brother Linton shuns him and treats him like an indentured servant.  Heathcliff and Catherine have a complicated love affair where she marries a rich man and he becomes cruel and vindictive as a result.  The next generation on the Moors is able to overcome their hatred and be happy and the protagonists are finally reunited in death.

I first read the novel in high school.  It didn't grab me until a few years later as I sympathized with Heathcliff's struggles in a harsh landscape.  Yes he was a product of his environment where the right guidance might have produced a very different outcome.  We all struggle with these issues in life and we all need the right guidance to overcome.  The depths that this blog searches are the patterns that others might miss.  

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Will Trump be Impeached? Damned if I know

Listening to the endless chatter about Trump and Russia on MSNBC I keep thinking about whether there is anything else going on?  The Thai soccer team has been rescued. A mass shooting happened in Toronto.  France won the World Cup for a second time.  Followers of Bernie Sanders have won some stunning victories in the primaries.  Trump is threatening Iran again. Oops that's about Trump again.

It's easy to get caught up in all this hysteria.  I used to write a lot more about Trump and the election when there was a lot more data to sift through.  Of my previous 13 posts this year, this is my second this year about Trump and Russia.  One post was about James Comey's interview on ABC that was only tangentially about Trump.  The rest were about hate groups and recent graduating classes from my high school.  My posts have tried to focus on other issues that are marginally related to Trump if at all.  The graphic above shows how fast Mueller has been cranking out indictments much faster compared to other recent high profile federal investigations. 

The graphic shows that the pace of indictments is coming faster than the others considered, even Watergate.  In this modern world we do not have access to the information that the Muller investigation and the Russians have.  One would assume that Mueller's team would not pursue these indictments without strong evidence to back it up.  Will all this lead to the end of Trump's Presidency?

I don't know about the evidence but I do know the numbers of impeachment.  A simple majority of 218 out of 435 members in congress is needed to impeach in the US House.  After that a two thirds majority of the Senate is needed to remove him from office.  

If the democrats gain control of the house they can impeach him but it will be difficult to gain the 2/3 majority (67 out of 100 members) needed to convict without a significant number of Republicans defecting.  Trump remains popular among Republicans with 88% popularity.  His summit with Putin and other debacles have had no effect on his ratings.  His approval ratings would have to enter Nixon territory of 24% for significan GOP defections to happen.  Watergate whistle blower John Dean recently said that Nixon might have survived if Fox News had existed.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Events in Annapolis Coincide with Posting on Local Papers

I was planning a post on a published study that showed how cities and towns with local newspapers have greater government efficiency.  Events in Annapolis, MD yesterday seem to have added significance to the post.  A gunman who was angry at the Capitol Gazette for reporting on his harassing of a woman, went into their office and killed 5 of their staff.  

The study I am citing was inspired by an episode of John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight from three years ago (which can be seen above) about the decline of newspapers.  The researchers found a correlation between the lack of a local print journalism outlet and a 5 to 11% increase in municipal borrowing.  This underscores the valuable service that these papers provide.  The whole study can be read here.

Newspapers have been in decline for decades as the internet and other media have crowded them out.  Yesterdays incident brings an added dimension to the difficulties that they face.  Newspapers get complaints about the stories that they run all the time with the occasional threat.  This is the worst attack on a western media outlet since the anthrax attacks in 2001 and Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2014.  Hopefully these attacks will have no effect on the content that these outlets provide.  The element of fear in reporting is a hard thing to regulate however.

Independent blogs like mine try to fill the void by providing my own take on the news with my own findings thrown in.  But I am one person.  I do not have the resources that the newspapers and TV/Radio journalists have or once had since Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press and Ben Franklin had his print shop. We all keep on keeping on.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

6 Friends Competing for #100daysofus Sprout Grants

Occasionally a week comes along when I have a hard time getting inspired to write on a topic for my blog.  This week I came across these posts from three of my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn who are competing for sprout fund grants under the 100 Days of Us competition for various worthy projects.  I shared their posts on my Facebook page for this blog.  Looking at the website for this competition, I found entries for three other people that I know.  I thought I would put their videos for the submissions to the competition in one post to let them advocate for themselves.  You can help determine who wins by going to their pages on the 100 Days of Us website for each submission, clicking like on the submission page (you can click like on more than one page), and making a donation to the Sprout Fund.  The six video submissions for my friends are presented below.  They are all worthy causes.  I don't endorse one over the others.  I clicked like on all six of their pages.  The deadline is January 19 (the day before Trump takes office).

My friend Jennifer Sweda Jordan has worked as a reporter for the Associated Press, NPR, the Allegheny Front (a radio program on the environment in Pittsburgh).  I met her through Pax Cristi.  She is now seeking a grant for a media venture for artists with intellectual disabilities.


Mila Sanina has traveled a long way from Kazakhstan to PittsburghShe came here for studies at Pitt, interned at the PBS News Hour with hosts Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff and at CNN International, and was deputy managing editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  She is now executive editor at Public Source and is seeking a grant to study the effect of the Trump administration on the Pittsburgh area.

I have worked with Moriah Ella Mason's father at Health Care for All PA.  She has been active in peace activism in the Middle East and is now seeking a grant to prevent discrimination against Muslims in Pittsburgh.

Nadya Kessler has emigrated to Pittsburgh from from Russia.  She now works for Global Pittsburgh and is now seeking a grant for a project to profile successful immigrant business men and women in Pittsburgh.

Ron Gaydos has been active in the Coffee Party and many other worthy causes in Pittsburgh for years.  He is now seeking a grant for a project to promote economic development in the area.

Dave and Erin Ninehouser have been union and healthcare activists for years. They are now pursuing the Hear Yourself Think Project to counteract right wing misinformation which is poisoning our political discourse.  They are seeking a grant to assist them in this endeavor.

There are more than 140 submissions to this competition with many worthy causes covering 19 issue areas.  Many submissions cover more than one issue.  You can have a say in who receives grants.  The winners will be announced on Jan. 20 with the hope of having the best impact over the first 100 days of Trump's presidency.


Looking at the Twitter page for 100 days of us it says that they're giving out grants of $5,000 each.  Their website says that they have a pot of $100,000 to give out with 150 applicants for a grant.  The current size of the pot means that they can give out grants to 20 applicants which is 13% of all applicants.  Assuming that each applicant has an equal chance of winning a grant, the six applicants featured in this post would have an expected number of grants of 0.8 which is slightly less than one.  With the current size of the pot it is not a certainty that any of those featured will win a grant.  This expected value is found by multiplying the 6 by the probability of one applicant winning (13%).

Donating to the fund increases the pot thus increasing the number of grants that the Sprout Fund can give out.  In order for the fund to give grants to all 150 applicants, the fund would need a pot of $750,000.  If the fund were to distribute funds to each applicant equally with the pot of $100,000 the grant would be $666.67.  Every increase in the pot of $5,000 through donations means that one more grant can be awarded.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Will the Oscars Recognize Better Films

For the first time, I'm using a clip from The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore to discuss the lack of African American nominees from the Oscars this year.  Changes are being made to the Academy Membership to make it more representative.  Time will tell if these changes will make next years nominees more diverse.  The current nominees are being handicapped by the site Five Thirty Eight.  Even among avant guard white filmmakers the Academy has a long history of overlooking brilliant filmmakers and actors.

The blog has a list of what it believes were great films, actors and directors that the author believes were snubbed by the Oscars.  The best examples of this would be Alfred Hitchcock (the master of suspense), Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year, and 6 other films), Cary Grant (Notorious, Suspicion), Citizen Kane (the "Greatest Film of All Time" According to AFI, it did win best original screenplay for Orson Welles, his only Oscar), Marilyn Monroe (Bus Stop), and Harrison Ford (Witness).

There are others on the list which you may want to include.  It certainly is subjective.  Many believe that Martin Scorsese's film Raging Bull was robbed of an Oscar in favor of Ordinary People.  I personally thought the two films were about equal.  They struck a chord with me in different ways.

The reforms in the Academy membership may lead to a more representative set of nominees each year but will it lead to more films being nominated which challenge the status quo.  The film Straight Outta Compton (which I haven't seen) is said to be a blunt story of contemporary issues in the African American community.  The film 12 Years a Slave won the best picture award in 2014 which is a story of slavery which occurred 160 years ago that no one can do anything about.  Straight Outta Compton deals with issues that we can do something about.

What is a better measure of a films greatness than the Oscars is whether or not people are still watching and talking about a film years after it was made.  Straight Outta Compton, Concussion, and Truth may be one of those films like Raging Bull and Ordinary People (it is often sown on cable).  

The boycott by African American actors Will Smith and Spike Lee may have the desired effect next year Woody Allen has been boycotting the Oscars for years and has been nominated 24 times regardless.

Imagine if the four Best Actress and Best Actor categories were combined into two categories: Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Such a move would expose sexism in Hollywood as most of the academy voters are male and I believe that males would dominate the categories.  I'm not saying that separate categories for African American filmmakers and actors be established.  I am saying that this highlights the dilemma for Oscar voters.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Two Investigative Films: Truth and Spotlight

Two movies out this holiday/Oscar season have similar plots but very different outcomes.  Truth tells the story of the 60 minutes II team (with Dan Rather played by Robert Redford) that put together an expose of George W. Bush's military record in the Texas and Alabama air national guards.  Strings were pulled to get him out of fighting in Vietnam.  There were indications that he did not show up for duty when he was required to.

After the piece aired in the summer of 2004 (during the election), questions were raised about the fonts in one of the documents cited in the report.  The claim from the right was that the font could not have appeared in a document typed in the late 60's/early 70's.  An investigation ensued and the end result was Dan Rather, his award winning producer Mary Mapes (played by Cate Blanchett), and the rest of the team being fired from CBS.  Regardless of the authenticity of the document, the veracity of the rest of the original report was never disproved.  Jon Stewart weighed in on it this way at the time.

Like the reactions to the original report, the reviews from the film were lukewarm with a metascore of 67 out of 100.  The review above was one that was not so positive on the film.  One of the complaints was that Redford does not look anything Dan Rather (he didn't look anything like Bob Woodward either in All the President's Men but he still played him and it's now considered a classic). Conservative film critic Michael Medved gave the film 2 stars because he said it was well acted but too biased against the Bush administration. 

The film Spotlight has been much better received so far.  It has received Golden Globe nominations for best drama and best director (but none for acting) and has a metacritic score of 93.  It is the story of how the spotlight team (headed by Michael Keaton and includes Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and another guy) at the Boston Globe is goaded to investigate sexual abuse by priests by the new owner and editor of the paper (LIev Schreiber).  Spoiler alert the team is successful in taking on the Boston Archdiocese getting Cardinal Bernard Law replaced and wins a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts in 2003.  Michael Medved gave the film 3 stars and also called the film one sided against the Catholic Church but said it was understandable due to the crimes that were revealed. 

The Spotlight team did a valuable public service in revealing church abuses but the film does skirt another issue, media consolidation.  Newspapers are having their staffs reduced as more and more of our media is in control of fewer and fewer individuals.  This is happening at many newspapers as well as broadcast outlets like CBS.  This makes it harder for news media outlets to challenge the powers that be with fewer reporters to do the investigating.

Both films show that with the right backing it is possible for investigative reporters to expose the crimes of the powers that be.  The outside media owners backed the spotlight team and Woodward and Bernstein and they were successful.  In the case of Dan Rather and the film Truth, Viacom, the parent company of CBS, sided with the critics and said that if that one document in the report may or may not be real then the whole report must be false.  The program 60 Minutes II ended soon thereafter.

There is a third film coming out called Concussion starring Will Smith as a neuropathologist who discovers a brain disease in football players called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  He encounters resistance from the NFL on his findings but they eventually relent.  Will Smith has received a Golden Globe nomination for this role.  I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment any more.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Past and Present Clinton Drama

While much has been made of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 70th anniversary of the end of the Nazi Germany.  Future battles loom over the successor of the first African American president.  While the aforementioned historical events are infinitely more interesting it is important to look back at how we were introduced to the Clinton's 23 years ago.

In early 1992 President Bush was thought to be unbeatable due his "triumph" in the Persian Gulf War but his poll numbers were slipping due to the economy.  Clinton was running to challenge the President but was dogged by allegations of marital infidelity and draft dodging.  Fox news did not yet exist, Rush Limbaugh was just bursting onto the national scene, and  Roger Ailes (now head of Fox News) was considered a genius for getting George Bush elected with the Willie Horton ads which were Lee Atwater's idea (he later apologized to Michael Dukakis before he died in 1991).  The Clinton's responded be going on 60 Minutes to present their case. 

How much and how little has changed today. Hillary Clinton has to defend herself against frivolous charges (Benghazi) from the right while having little real competition from the left and our problems don't really get solved.  The stage where the game is played changes but the outcome has been the same without people working for real change.  The Kyl-Liberman in 2007 was a call to curtail Iranian violence inside Iraq in  2007.  In 2016 we are likely to have another contest between a Bush and a Clinton unless there is a seismic shift in political discourse in the next few moinths.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Dissecting "Lies and The Lying Liars Who Tell Them" (From the American Family Association)

Listening to all the debate on whether Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly lied about his claims of being in a war zone in Argentina and the Falklands reminded me of how Al Franken (then a comedian now a US Senator from Minnesota) in 2003 wrote a book Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell them: A Fair and Balanced Look at The Right.  In that book he used statistics and fact checking to debunk a lot of the claims of the right as in the clip above.  If Fox News really cared about the truth they would've canned O'Reilly years ago.

Last year, I used this method to investigate claims about the above map from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that California was a hotbed of hate groups by adjusting the number of groups in each state with the population in each state and a different pattern emerged.  One of the groups named in the above map is the Anti Gay Evangelical American Family Association (AFA) who has responded by creating the below anti Christian "Bigotry Map" of groups that are against their agenda (including SPLC).

At first glance, the two maps may look similar.  A much greater concentration of groups is seen in the east rather than the west with some increased clustering on the west coast and it is interactive.  The most glaring difference is that the SPLC map has numbers listed of the types of groups exist nationwide and their website provides the counts of groups in each state which allows for someone like me to double check.  The AFA map by comparison does not provide numbers.  When one goes to the interactive version we see that many of these groups are atheist, secular, LGBT, and hate group monitors like the SPLC.  I don't have the time to go through each state and count the number of groups to find out which state has the highest concentration of "bigots."  

Looking at my home state, Pennsylvania, I counted a grand total of four groups of "bigots" as opposed to 41 hate groups there.  These four groups are the Freedom From Religion Foundation in State College (an Anti Christian Group), the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers in York, PA (Atheist Group), GLSEN Pittsburgh (an LGBT group), and Americans United in Yardley, PA.  Dividing by the population of PA (12.7 million) that gives a rate of 0.31 groups of "bigots" per million and a rate of 3.21 hate groups per million.  The size of the icons on the map makes them seem a lot more numerous than they really are.

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