Saturday, November 26, 2016
Well, 2016, you finally got one I'm not going to shed a tear over.
I'm not going to eulogize Castro, but it would be disingenuous not to note the death of someone who had such a pivotal role in international politics for so many decades. You guys have Wikipedia, so I'll leave you to look him up on your own.
We seem to inch towards a free Cuba, year by year. Perhaps with Castro's passing, our neighbors are that much closer to a better tomorrow.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Well, this is the strangest twenty-four hour period I can recall in quite a while.
I've been steering clear of talking too much because so much has already been said, and, what have I got to add at this point? I've not been engaging with folks much online - I don't really know how to respond. I'm used to seeing my candidates take it on the chin - I live in Texas after all - but I'd bought the pollsters telling me how this was gonna go, and I kind of figured enough of America knew a boorish charlatan when they saw one, and we were going to see a bit of grudging sanity play out.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Happy Birthday to President Theodore Roosevelt, born October 27th, 1858.
On The Colonel's birthday, I highly recommend - before forwarding any social media with images of TR tied to a quote - try Googling that quote first. I've been seeing a lot of false quotes attributed to the man of late.
He was a profilic writer and speaker, he was imminently quotable, but he didn't really speak in modern soundbites. So, anyway, be careful out there.
Also, read a TR biography some time. It'll be worth it.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Yesterday was, apparently, the official 75th birthday of Wonder Woman. As part of that event, Wonder Woman was made a Special Ambassador of the United Nations, an icon for new efforts within the UN to speak on behalf of gender equality.
I don't know how much of Wonder Woman's origins most people know, or how hung up they are on some of the more salacious details of creator William Moulton Marston's personal life, or how that played out on the comics page. But I do know that Marston was sincere in his interest to create a strong female superhero, not just with whom little girls could identify, but for little boys to understand that women could do all the things that men can do. They can leap into the fray and they stand as equals (although I'd argue Marston may have had a bit more of an ideal of a matriarchy in mind even more than than just an egalitarian ideal).
|"Wonder Woman" TV star Lynda Carter was in attendance|
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (by Candice Millard, 2016 - audiobook)
The study of history in practice can be maddening if the bar you hold up is trying to read up on every single thing anyone ever did before this very moment. If that's your standard, then I'm a little behind in developing my all encompassing eye into the past. Example: I'm a publicly educated kid from the burbs who focused on North America in obtaining his history undergrad degree. Aside from the bare-bone basics, I know very, very little about Winston Churchill, but I figured I had to start somewhere. But, why not with a book by a terrific author and starting at the beginning?
I'd previously read Candice Millard's two prior full-length books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, and I can honestly say they were some of my favorite books of the last decade. Both books covered events which usually appear as footnotes or brief interludes in other historical retellings, diversions in the telling of longer, more expansive stories. Yet, Millard managed to craft one of the most harrowing stories of real-life adventure you're likely to read in the Theodore Roosevelt starring The River of Doubt, and in Destiny of the Republic, she sets out to set you weeping about the unjust passing of President James Garfield, shot by an assassin and victim of the limitations of his times, just on the precipice of modern knowledge we now take for granted.
I would argue that, by zeroing in on a specific time, place and people, she was able to say more about those people with a greater degree of eloquence - using historical fact, reconstructed timelines, letters and post-facto primary sources - to shed light on moments and giants of our history.
Here in her third book, Millard demonstrates why she's becoming a favorite of many more readers than just myself. Whether you're a history buff who's already schlepped your way through a number of Churchill biographies or - like yours truly - you find yourself embarrassingly ignorant in regards to the biography of one of the modern West's greatest leaders, Millard's spun Churchill's life as a young man into a narrative in the mold of epic adventure, all while reporting the facts.
Monday, August 29, 2016
The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see. This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly. For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.
By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell. Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place. Attitudes change. Society, hopefully, advances. Insert your own election-related joke here.
I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot. A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen. The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.
A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.
But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*). And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
If you've seen Apollo 13, you've seen Ed Harris as the vest-wearing Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz. Kranz served with NASA from the Mercury missions straight through into the mid-90's. Truly the case of The Right Person in the Right Place for the Right Job, Kranz is famous for his post Apollo 1 disaster speech at NASA where he defined the "tough and competent" mantra of NASA's Mission Control Center. He was, as evidenced by Ed Harris playing him in the film, also one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 13 who helped pull together the plan to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth.
But Kranz was there during Gemini, working out procedures and flight plans, debating the wisdom of rushing our first EVA to catch up with the Russians, and he was there for Apollo 11, landing Aldrin and Armstrong.
As you can imagine, the history alone is worth the read, and I'll be picking up some more memoirs and. or histories of the race from Mercury to Apollo 17 and beyond (I mean, my earliest solid memories are around the Space Shuttle, and so a history of the development of the Shuttle Columbia would be more than welcome). But Kranz's personal take is as absolutely fascinating as it is inspiring.
The view from the Flight Commander's Control Console takes us to the point of teeth-gritting responsibility. While thousands have contributed to building the rockets and space-craft, and many, many others have been involved all along the line, it's the MCC that makes the decisions to abort, must know their systems, the craft, the management of the astronauts, etc.. well enough to make moment by moment calls and respond to each challenge as it surfaces. Each decision impacts lives of the astronauts, and every choice could be the one that leads to disaster.
And, the Flight Director is, ultimately, the person who is leading his or her control team and responsible for the calls that manage the Flight during their shift. Anyway, my job suddenly seemed a lot easier.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
As the space race passes into history (but the all-new Space Era is on! Thanks, Elon Musk!), and computers have long since become ubiquitous, this movie couldn't be coming at a better time. For me. Maybe you.
With all the thousands of people who were part of the race into orbit and then to the moon, there are so many stories, and some of them reveal corners of history that our broad-stroke approach to history does not always capture, especially in movies.
But, hey, one thing I've really come to realize is how weird and goofy our ideas are about how things must have come to be. We make assumptions, details get left out, and our movies are rarely researched well enough or lack the scope to include stories that took place away from the kleig lights.
About ten years ago I put the pieces together that, weirdly, the word "computers" meant "people who compute". And, in a lot of cases, when doing the math - the actual work it took to prove theorems, calculate complex equations, etc... - was done by women. And, of course, the men who put those challenges to them took the credit. This was true for a long, long time.
But, yeah, when computing became less a manual task and something done with machines, women were hugely influential in computer science before computers became the domain of basement lurking dorks in the 1980's. Read up on Grace Hopper. Woman was a boss.
I'm actually reading NASA Flight Commander Gene Krantz's book Failure is Not an Option, and - not only is it a fascinating book and I highly recommend it - but he briefly mentions the women who were not in the Control Room, but in the back spaces doing the computing by hand and then with the systems NASA put in place. I'm unsure if one of the names he drops is Katherine Johnson (I read that passage about three days before I saw the trailer above), but I'd heard of Johnson somewhere odd, like Tumblr. And, man, it just seems like this sort of story should get more attention. Like, say, a big Hollywood movie starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.
What's not to like? NASA. Name actors. Science and math romanticized! Space. John Glenn! People achieving against the odds!
Sure, this is Oscar Bait, but this is the kind of Oscar Bait I actually want to see.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
August 11th marks the 114th birthday of actress Norma Shearer, an actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I've seen a few of her movies, both silent and talkies, and she was a remarkably talented woman.
And she had one of the best profiles in movies.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
I wrote about the tower shootings on the 46th anniversary of the event, and I talked a bit about what the tower means to those of us who live in Austin, the students and alumni and those of us who work in the shadow of the UT Tower.
Monday, August 1st marks the 50th Anniversary of the tragedy on the UT Campus. With time and distance, UT has learned to talk about the day, quite unlike in the era when I was a student at UT (1993-1998). There has been one dedication ceremony of the Memorial Garden which sits south of the Main Building (alumni will remember it as the Turtle Pond), and tomorrow will see a re-dedication ceremony.
A documentary on the event, Tower, has been winning acclaim far and wide. I've heard from those who've seen it that it's excellent, and I keep missing opportunities to see it myself. The film focuses less on the means and motives of the shooter, and, instead, on the people caught in the crossfire, using a wide array of modern technologies to recreate the day with respect and immediacy. Here's to broad release soon.
The Austin American Statesman has put up an excellent site with interviews of witnesses, timelines, etc...
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Fifty years ago today, Batman premiered at Austin's own Paramount Theatre! Above, you can see Adam West in person addressing the crowd and Congress Avenue completely blocked (something I don't even think happens during SXSW).
The Paramount was showing the movie today, but I had something I had to do during the day and couldn't make it (and I've seen it about 7 times, at least).
Here's a write-up from when I went to see the movie at the Paramount in June of 2010.
Here's a video you can watch at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image of Jean Boone interviewing actors from the movie inside The Paramount.
The Batboat - which appears in this movie, was also manufactured right here in Austin by Glastron Industries.
I didn't learn of Batman's Austin history until about 2009, and I am certain, had I known about all the bat-ties to Austin as a kid, it would have melted by brain and I would have seen way, waaaaayyy too much symbolism in Austin's gigantic bat population.
What's perhaps strangest is that Monday, two days from now, is the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower shootings. The UT Tower sits at about 23rd Street, about 15 streets away as the crow flies (the Capitol and several other obstructions mean you can't drive straight through).
Kind of freaky.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Closer Than We Think from Clindar on Vimeo.
I was sent this video by pal-Andrew (Jamie's brother's wife's brother), and now I totally want to see this video. It's a documentary being made about Arthur Radebaugh and his sci-fi futurist strip, "Closer Than We Think". This hits so many positive buttons, I sincerely hope this film is made and gets a release.
For more on Radebaugh
The official website
a blogspot site
From the Ohio State Library
Paleofuture at Gizmodo
Saturday, July 9, 2016
As a record of what occurred this week -
Alton Sterling, an African American man, was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by two police officers during an arrest. Witnesses and video of the incident indicate that the police were unwarranted in the shooting, that Sterling was upset but not able to resist - and the video definitely shows an immobile Sterling shot at point blank range by the officers.
In Minnesota, Philandro Castile, another African American man, was shot and killed by a police officers while reaching for identification while seated in his car with his girlfriend and a 4 year old child. Castile's girlfriend live-streamed the video of what occurred to Facebook. The video is available on YouTube and other locations as of this writing.
Thursday, 7/7, peaceful protests were scheduled in most major population centers, part of what has become known as #blacklivesmatter, a movement intended to draw attention to the unjustly assumed guilt,lives lost to police bullets, and the situation of African Americans in the United States in regards to overly violent responses of police especially in cases involving Black men and women.
On Thursday evening, as the protest march drew to a close in Dallas, Texas around 8:45 P.M., a sniper began firing from the rooftops, striking 11 officers and killing five. In the chaos, no civilians were injured, one man was briefly mistaken as a suspect and then cleared, and three wound up in custody and the/ a gunman was killed by police in the early morning hours of 7/8.
The sniper was targeting white officers, and details are still coming out about his background (but less, so far, about the three others held in custody).
The sniper was targeting white officers, and details are still coming out about his background (but less, so far, about the three others held in custody).
To add to the confusion, the police used a remote controlled robotic device mounted with a bomb to approach and kill the gunman and bring the threat to a definite conclusion.
In short, it's been an awful week.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: "The Elephant to Hollywood" a bio of Michael Caine by Michael Caine as read by Michael Caine (audiobook)
Normally this sort of thing isn't my bag, but a while back my pal SimonUK gave me a print copy of this book, and I picked it up and started reading it only to hear Michael Caine's voice reading the book in my head. "Well," I reasoned to myself, "why not see if he actually did an audio recording of the book." And, indeed, he had.
I don't know much about Michael Caine and I'm not up on his filmography. But, you know, who doesn't like Michael Caine?
This was actually his second memoir, and I suspect the first one probably played up a bit more of his exploits and wild, free-wheeling ways in the 60's and 70's. But this one is more or less Caine's reflections on being a bit of a lad from an area of London called The Elephant and Castle, a down and out neighborhood both during his youth and at the time of the book's writing (circa 2010). He grew up working class, a father serving the army in WWII, and Caine himself evacuated. Post-war, he grows up a bit tough, decides on theater and acting as a career, and as a young man pursues the idea with dogged determination, even as misfortune and the challenges of life heap up.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Word has broken that heavy weight champion, social activist and all around personality Muhammad Ali has passed.
Like so many people who leave their mark, Ali was a deeply complicated individual, defiant in a time where he had an opportunity to speak his truth to power in ways that still bristle the sensibilities of the establishment.
Few athletes have come anywhere close to Ali's out-sized persona and had the skill to back it up.
His once unstoppable voice has been silenced for years by disease, but he managed to carry on in public, including lighting the torch at the 96' Olympics.
He'll be missed, but he'll be remembered, now merged with The Infinite at age 74.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
In college I started reading up a bit on Theodore Roosevelt. If you're reading American History of the 20th Century, he's a figure that looms incredibly large, and I wasn't the first History major to take an interest. In fact, my instructor for my "Presidents and the Press" course was a bit of a Roosevelt scholar, and when it came time to write a paper and I was asking him for topics on TR, he told me to forget it - there was nothing new to research, and sent me down the path of researching a minor scandal during the Wilson administration (and that's when I turned on Wilson).
To Dr. Gould's point, there's a lot of stuff out there both about and by Theodore Roosevelt. And, no, an undergrad history major who wanted to write about the Panama Canal or Russian/ Japanese peace treaty wasn't going to produce any original scholarship on the matter. You begin with reading about TR's great deeds and see him as a champion you can't believe has become something of an obscure lost-uncle figure to many Americans in comparison to FDR (or even his niece, Eleanor), but, much like Shaft, TR is a complicated man.
Colonel Roosevelt (2010) is the third in a triptych of biographies by Edmund Morris. The first to arrive came out in 1979, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but I wouldn't read it until about 2001 on a trip with Jamie's family. On a personal note - reading that book on the porch of a cabin in Minnesota and taking long breaks to fish, cook fish and eat fish, was maybe some the most pleasant few days I can ever recall. The second installment, Theodore Rex, arrived in 2002, and really covered the era of Roosevelt's presidency (and for anyone who thinks our current administration is acting with unprecedented imperial-like authority, my friends... not even close).
The third installment, Colonel Roosevelt, covers the era between Roosevelt departing office until his death. If you think a post-presidency career for Roosevelt was one of quiet solitude, well... (a) your understanding of 20th Century Presidential Politics needs a refresher, and (b) you are so, so wrong.
One day I will read a Roosevelt biography and reach the descriptions of his death and funeral and not get weepy, but, today is not this day.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
|Purveyor of dirty jokes for more than 400 years|
April 23rd (yesterday) marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
What an absolutely strange relationship we have with Shakespeare. And by "we", I mean everyone dwelling the planet who has to wrangle with the English language, and, therefore felt the impact of the man that people in tweed jackets call "The Bard".
What other writer can you say "I got my Masters in X", and people simply nod in understanding? Who else did every one of us start reading in middle school and carry on reading after college? What other 17th Century playwrights have you seen lately? Who else coined more phrases and uses of phrase than Billy Shakes?
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Late Edit: A more full story in the NYT tells me some of what you see below isn't entirely correct. Looks like MLK, Sojourner Truth, Susie B. and Eleanor Roosevelt all made the cut in their own way.
Though the changes seem to take place infrequently, the US Currency does, in fact, change over time. Bills don't look the same way they did when I was in college, and I couldn't tell you what's on the back of a quarter, because I don't think they've printed two alike in 10 years as they've been featuring imagery connected with all 50 states.
A couple of years ago, someone noticed that US currency, when it carried a depiction of a human, was adorned almost entirely with the images of old, dead white men. That's the way its been my whole life, and - as a white guy, I hadn't thought about it a tremendous amount, or any more than I think about why they use yellow in the middle of a road or why Wendy's Hamburgers are square. That's just a thing that was that way when I showed up. The only real challenge to this notion has been the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin and the not-much-used Sacagawea coin, which I only get as change from vending machines. But on our paper currency? White dudes. Just like movies starred white dudes and looking at most of Congress? White. Dudes.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
This Moment in History: Astronaut Scott Kelly Returns to Earth! and the Impact of Social Media on Space
Here's one of the great things about social media: Broadcast media and the press in general have done a ludicrously poor job of covering the work of NASA. I don't know if Broadcast Journalism majors are too thick to get why this is important stuff, or space exploration and science is too unweildy for the public. But, we no longer rely on that media to get the info our eyeballs and ears. There are dozens of NASA twitter and facebook outlets. Many of them twitter and fb accounts held personally by the astronauts themselves. And its not just limited to NASA. Want to know what Canadian Astro-hero Chris Hadfield is up to? Check his twitter!
NASA - an organization that has felt the government squeeze more than any that I've seen in the past decade - has had to rethink and refocus their outreach approach. Since the 1990's, the internet has made the world more aware of the successes of both manned space flight and our rover missions to Mars. Television can't seem to be bothered with much more than a 30 second puff-piece about landing a robot on Mars or the final flight of an American space shuttle, but there are lots of us huddled around laptops or abusing our office projectors and killing a few minutes to watch a rocket launch. I don't know how SpaceX would have evolved without the internet (and it's a work stoppage at my office almost every time Musk's company has a launch or landing).
Through the various channels I follow, I became aware of the Scott Kelly story a while before the launch. I was aware that Mark Kelly, husband to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona, was an astronaut - and vaguely aware he had a twin brother. But, yes, when I heard an American was going to follow in Russia's footsteps and place one of our own in space for a year, I got very excited. Russia does an amazing job with its Cosmonaut program, and even in years of faultering economy has remembered the national pride they can have in engineering, science and rocketry if they keep their program going.