Saturday, March 04, 2017

"Get Out"

Tonight, at Adam Ramirez's recommendation, I went to see "Get Out". Such a good movie! Contemporary horror at its best.

It was interesting being in the early evening crowd. The down side is people keep talking as if it's their living room and keep using their cell phones with abandon. The up side is that when the movie bugs out, people REACT!

"I Am Not Your Negro" - James Baldwin

Last weekend, I went to see "I Am Not Your Negro", a documentary about James Baldwin. The film had a great deal of archival footage from the 50's-present that I had quite forgotten about, so it was a walk down memory lane (but not the happiest of walks).

Having spent a lot of time in both postwar U.S. and Europe, Baldwin's main concern was, given Europe's recent reckoning with the Holocaust, America's genocidal history against the Native Americans, and the end of the manual cotton picking economy, whether American blacks could survive the genocidal white onslaught that looked possible in the future, and if so, how.

I wasn't quite sure what to think. The possibility of genocide seemed to retreat farther and farther away after the Civil War ended, but Baldwin says that is actually an illusion. Whites needed blacks in the past; now they don't. His argument is the flip side of Wilbur Cash's (1900-1941) "The Mind of the South", who wondered the same thing from the white perspective. What ended up happening after WWII was the great Northward Migration of blacks to the big cities, but with deindustrialization, suburbanization, and the Rise of the Deplorables, the question is becoming more urgent again. I did like the film clips:

Friday, March 03, 2017

Local Real Estate

Yesterday, I was in the back yard, preparing to saw a piece of wood. Suddenly, someone shouted, "Hey!"

I looked around and noticed a woman hiding behind the hedge and garbage cans along the back fence. I could tell she had blonde hair, but otherwise I couldn't see her clearly. She asked, "are they renting that house?" I looked around and realized she was talking about my house. "No," I replied, "they aren't, as far as I know." Disappointed, she replied, "OK, thanks."

The market must be hot. That homeowner is a choosy bastard too, from what they tell me.

The Russians Altered The Republican Party Platform

Interesting how the Russians used Trump to weaken pro-Ukrainian language in the Republican Party platform. A 180-degree turn:
"Some staff from the Trump campaign came in and… came back with some language that softened the platform," Brakey told the Daily Beast. "They didn’t intervene in the platform in most cases. But in that case they had some wisdom to say that maybe we don’t want to be calling… for very, very clear aggressive acts of war against Russia."

It Hurts to be Thrown Under the Bus

Wounded feelings:
WASHINGTON—Expressing surprise and sadness at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ repeated denials of contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, heartbroken Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told reporters Thursday that he thought his special meetings with the then–Alabama senator were actually very memorable. ... “It really hurts to think that Jeff doesn’t cherish the afternoons we spent sitting in his office exchanging information about everything under the sun. These were some of the most meaningful discussions of my life, and Jeff’s writing them off like they didn’t even happen. How could he be so cruel?”

Americans Shying Away From TV

Americans have been soldered to their TVs since the Fifties, but are slowly dropping the habit:
Americans went from having an average of 2.6 TVs per household in 2009 to having 2.3 TVs in 2015, according to survey data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA).

...The latest data shows that in 2015, 2.6 percent of households had no TV at all, a jump from the previous four surveys in 2009, 2005, 2001, and 1997 in which a steady 1.2 to 1.3 percent of households didn’t own a TV. The 2015 data also showed that the number of people with three TVs or more dropped in 2015. That year, 39 percent of households had more than three TVs, whereas 44 percent had more than three TVs in 2009.

Chicago Sets a Record

Chicago hasn't logged any snow on the ground in January or February for the first time in the 146 years that the National Weather Service has been keeping track.

Decision Time at the Oscars

How Did You Know - Kurtis Mantronik - Chamonix

2003 nostalgia:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Vince Gilligan Carries a Candle for Michel Foucault

Here is a picture of Jeff Pettis delivering his talk to the 38th Annual meeting of the Southwest Popular/American Cultural Association (SWPACA) in 2014:

1023 Breaking Bad 2 - Wed, 02/19/2014 - 2:45pm - 4:15pm, Enchantment D. Panel Chair: Bridget Roussell Cowlishaw

Panopticism and Paranoia in “Breaking Bad” - Jeff Pettis, Independent Scholar

Nick Gerlich and Bridget Roussell Cowlishaw listen as Jeff Pettis presents "Panopticism and Paranoia in “Breaking Bad”.

The most interesting talk of the entire conference was Pettis' presentation regarding Michel Foucault's concept of Panopticism and its application to Breaking Bad, with Walt's efforts to reach a panoptic point, Lydia's efforts to remain hidden, and Gus Fring hiding in plain sight.

The Internet allows people from diverse backgrounds and places to get together and ponder common questions, like: "What are Vince Gilligan's influences?" Eabha Conal is an administrator at the UK Facebook Group "The Vince Gilligan Appreciation Society - Albuquerque and Beyond...", and we were discussing my presentation "Streamline Moderne and Jimmy McGill".

Eabha Conal: You know, in my recent research on Vince I found an interesting connection to him personally and Chicago. Vince attended a Laboratory School as a young kid. I don't know if you know about these kind of schools? I didn't. But they were founded by this guy John Dewey in Chicago. They were progressive and experimental - I thought that was interesting regarding your theory of "Better Call Saul":
John Dewey (October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dewey as the 93rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics. He was a major educational reformer for the 20th century.

...Known for his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—to be major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.

...In 1894 Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894–1904) where he developed his belief in Rational Empiricism, becoming associated with the newly emerging Pragmatic philosophy. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four essays collectively entitled Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title Studies in Logical Theory (1903). During that time Dewey also initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where he was able to actualize the pedagogical beliefs that provided material for his first major work on education, The School and Society (1899).

And what is a Laboratory School?:
A laboratory school or demonstration school is an elementary or secondary school operated in association with a university, college, or other teacher education institution and used for the training of future teachers, educational experimentation, educational research, and professional development.

Many laboratory schools follow a model of experiential education based on the original Laboratory School run by John Dewey at the University of Chicago. Many laboratory schools are still in operation in the United States and around the globe. They are known by many names: laboratory schools, demonstration schools, campus schools, model schools, university affiliated schools, child development schools, etc., and most have a connection to a college or university. Each university affiliated school has a unique relationship with a college or university and a different grade configuration. Some lab schools are only for preschool or kindergarten children, some are preschool through fifth or sixth grade, and some continue through high school.

...Laboratory school classrooms may be observed by university professors to assess the student-teacher, but it is desired that the observation be done without the students or student-teachers aware of the observation, thereby avoiding creating a distraction or disruption of classroom activities.

Before the miniaturization and transistorization of electronic camera viewing systems, laboratory schools often included elaborate direct-view observation systems with special observation decks above classrooms or observation rooms alongside the classrooms. One-way mirrors and speaker/intercom systems allowed a professor to silently observe the classroom, but without being seen by the students or the student-teacher.

A modern laboratory school does not need to do anything special with building construction, and is able to use a standard-design school as a laboratory school. The standard rooms are instead outfitted with CCTV cameras hidden inside black plastic domes on the ceiling. Complex lens optics and multiple cameras allow a single stationary dome to view 360 degrees in all directions with no mechanical noises or moving parts, and high-speed Internet connections allow for a professor at a college to remotely view and interact with student-teachers in a distant laboratory school.

In either case there is no hiding from students or student-teachers that observation may occur, as it is plainly obvious there are special mirrors or cameras in the room. But they do not know when observation may or may not be occurring.

Marc Valdez: Wow! There is another fellow, Jeff Pettis, who wrote an essay in "Masculinity and Breaking Bad", about how who can see whom determines who controls whom in the TV series. Very sophisticated essay with much discussion of Michel Foucault's conception of the Panopticon. Vince would have loathed the observation, even as a kid. The connection to Chicago is very important too. Where did you learn Vince went to one of these schools? Pettis argues Walter White finds his freedom by no longer acting as a rational man (e.g., Gus) would have. I wonder if Vince found his freedom the same sort of way as a school kid?

Eabha Conal: I'd like to read that essay Marc. The exploration of masculinity in "Breaking Bad" I think is the underlying reason for its success - it strikes a deep chord with a lot of people. I wondered if Walt's emotional unavailability was what Vince was exploring about his own father. (I know very little about his Dad though! Except it was him who introduced Vince to westerns)

The schools - Chesterfield is where him and his mum moved after Farmville. It says the school was attached to Virginia University:
George Vincent Gilligan Jr., the elder of George Sr. and Gail Gilligan’s two sons, was born Feb. 10, 1967, in Richmond, but spent most of his childhood in Farmville.

From the beginning, it was apparent his brain operated on a different plane: He already was speaking in clear, complete sentences at age 2 and on his first day as a first-grade student at Cumberland Elementary, he asked his teacher, “Am I going to learn to read today?”

“We knew he was sharp – he had an IQ out of sight,” recalls Gary Lambert, Gail’s brother, who helped cultivate his nephew’s love for science fiction.

Gail Gilligan, who divorced George in 1974, stayed in Farmville and raised Vince and his younger brother, Patrick, while she worked as a teacher at Longwood University’s J.P. Winn Campus School.

“My sons were my most important students,” she says. “Most of the time we had away from school was spent exploring and learning about one thing or another. Vince took to it like a duck to water.”

Another teacher at the Campus School also had a significant influence on Gilligan’s future. Art teacher Jackie Wall, whose son Angus was one of Gilligan’s best friends, frequently gave the boys her Super 8 camera and encouraged them to make their own movies.

Gilligan was 12 years old when he completed his first film, “Space Wreck,” with his little brother in the starring role. A year later, he won first prize for his age group in a film competition at the University of Virginia.

Wall recognized Gilligan’s talent and creativity, and recommended to Gail that he pursue acceptance to the Interlochen Arts Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Michigan. Gilligan earned a full scholarship and he, Gail and Patrick made the long drive from Farmville to the banks of Lake Michigan about a week before he started eighth grade.

And, of course, Walter White teaches at J.P. Wynne High School in "Breaking Bad".

Marc Valdez: Yep, Vince Gilligan carries a candle for Michel Foucault.

Here is a documentary about Foucault.

I can imagine what it might have been like for Vince Gilligan. As a young child, Vince is horrified to learn that he is being spied upon by mysterious strangers. Over time, he learns these strangers are acolytes following the Pragmatic teachings of the now-dead Northerner, John Dewey, in distant Chicago. And as a shy Southern teenager on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the cold, foreign land of glass blocks and Art Deco, Vince learns more about John Dewey and the Pragmatists. To Vince's surprise, they aren't ashamed of their spying, but actually quite proud of it. It was all for Vince's benefit. Not just him, but for the benefit of all the Vinces of the future too. What a strange thing to contemplate!

And here is this:

How Russians Infiltrate the American Pantheon

E.: What do you call that? Terminology? When truckers say "Smokey has a customer" on the CB radio and not everyone understands?

M.: Slang?

E.: Terminology is very important in war. In World War II, the Germans didn't understand the Americans. The Germans surrounded the Americans under General Putin, but the Americans said "Nuts!" and the Germans didn't understand.

M.: Putin? Patton?

E.: He was the greatest!

The Strange Case of the Maine Hermit

No wisdom to impart:
For over two decades, residents near Maine’s North Pond, about 75 miles west of Bangor, were victims of one the strangest crime sprees in US history. Their homes were repeatedly burglarized, but valuables were never stolen. Instead, the thief took canned food, batteries, paperback novels, propane tanks, and dozens of other small, mostly inexpensive items.

...Then in 2013, using state-of-the-art Homeland Security sensors designed to patrol borders, a park ranger finally caught the thief: His name was Christopher Knight, and he’d lived entirely on his own in the woods for the previous twenty-seven years. He’d spoken to no one during that time, and made no contact with the outside world except for his nightly raids.

My Presentation, "Streamline Moderne and Jimmy McGill"

Here is the presentation I gave on February 17th at the Southwest Popular/American Cultural Association meeting in Albuquerque. Thanks to Nick Gerlich and everyone who attended!

Vince Gilligan and company are using architectural and other background features to comment upon and complement various “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” scenes. Glass Block Windows are a favorite tool, as are Pueblo Deco archways, tin ceilings, and commercial clerestory strip windows. This video describes an attempt to create a Visual Shorthand Vocabulary to help interpret these features.

Local Man Wondering If You Noticed His Oversized Truck

The Five Films Nominated For Best Short Documentary at the Oscars

When I was in Albuquerque, I had a chance to see the five documentary shorts up for the Oscar. All superb!

Three documentaries were about the Syrian Civil War. "Watani: My Homeland" is chilling at times, but ends fairly well. "White Helmets" is heroic. My favorite, though, was "4.1 Miles". It has everything you could ever ask of a movie: people drowning on camera in one of the most beautiful seascapes on Earth. Can't go wrong, filmwise!

"White Helmets" won, which was my second choice. Not bad!

Full Films


A Single, Remarkable Matrilineal Line at Chaco Canyon!

Chaco Canyon is such an amazing place!:
To find out, authors of the study carbon-dated bodies preserved at the American Museum of Natural History and analyzed the DNA preserved to varying degrees within them. They found that the bodies had been buried over the 330 years that spanned the society’s beginning to its decline — not just at the peak of its influence between the 11th and 12th century, as others had once thought. Moreover, nine bodies shared the exact mitochondrial DNA, which can be passed only through the mother. From the nucleic DNA preserved in six individuals, the researchers also discerned two direct relationships: a mother-daughter pair and a grandmother-grandson.

They believe that power and influence in Chaco Canyon was hierarchical, belonged to this small group of people and was passed down through a female line between 800 and 1130 A.D. “At the center of Chaco is an elite matriline,” said Douglas J. Kennett, an archaeologist at Penn State University who was lead author on the paper.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Toy Boat Arrives In Britain

Walt posts this:

A toy boat launched by students at a Charleston elementary school was discovered by a mother and son in Britain.

Officials with the St. Andrew's School of Math and Science say the boat, dubbed the "Carolina Dreamer," was discovered in the coastal village of Borth in Wales on Feb. 10.

Students launched the boat in May of last year.

"We were looking across the waves when it literally sailed right to us," Helen Hinks told the BBC."It was magical."

The Russian Flag Stunt at CPAC Was Brilliant!

Vouchers Are Shit

Researchers have studied the situation:
The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result.

When Will This Netflix Documentary Ever Come Out?

Adam Ramirez took a picture of me being interviewed in front of the Walter White house in Albuquerque in November, 2014.

Drying Out

California weather forecasts are drying out. Little to no rain forecast for Sacramento for the next three weeks. Let spring commence!

Cat Sitting

The Battered State of the California Drought

Taking a pounding:
After weeks of pounding rains, overtopped levees and a near-catastrophe at the state’s second largest dam, most Californians probably believe the drought is over.

Scientists with the federal government more or less agree.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that just 17 percent of California is still suffering from the drought. That’s almost a complete turnaround from the start of the rainy season in early October, when almost 84 percent of the state was still in drought and just 16 percent was drought free.

David Lynch - Rabbits

Life is uncertain for rabbits (to which Michael Flowers responded "misanthrope!")

The United States Is Slipping, Slipping....

The United States has the wrong priorities:
South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy above 90, a study suggests.

..."They seem to have been a more equal place and things that have benefited people - education, nutrition - have benefited most people.

"And so far, they are better at dealing with hypertension and have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world."

The data also forecasts that Japan, once the picture of longevity, will tumble down the global rankings.

It currently has the highest life expectancy for women, but will be overtaken by both South Korea and France, the study suggests. Meanwhile, male life expectancy will go from the fourth highest to 11th out of the countries studied.

The US also performs poorly and is on course to have the lowest life expectancy of rich countries by 2030.

The study predicts an average age of 80 for men and 83 for women - roughly the same state Mexico and Croatia will have achieved.

"They are almost opposite of South Korea," added Prof Ezzati.

"[Society in the US is] very unequal to an extent the whole national performance is affected - it is the only country without universal health insurance.

"And it is the first country that has stopped growing taller, which shows something about early life nutrition."

The US will be overtaken by Chile, where women born in 2030 will expect to live for 87 years and men for 81.

Between 2015 and 2030, life expectancy in the UK is expected to go from 79 to 82 for men and from 83 to 85 for women.

...In summary, Prof Ezzati said: "Places that perform well do so by investing in their health system and making sure it reaches everyone."

"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" - DMTC - Wednesday Dress Rehearsal - Feb. 22, 2017 - IX

"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" - DMTC - Wednesday Dress Rehearsal - Feb. 22, 2017 - VIII