Archive for July, 2012

A Crowded Theater

Well, this was predictable.  A man brings a gun to a movie theater complex in Colorado – in a holster, in plain view, standard open carry, legal in this jurisdiction.

Staff and movie goers are frightened.  The police are called.  Theaters are evacuated!  Finally, it is discovered that the theater serves alcohol – not that the man had any – and this gives the police the excuse to arrest him, which they do.

Is it so unreasonable, after what just happened, that a man wanted to be able to protect himself, should it happen again?  Or maybe he wanted to make the larger political point, that he should be able to do so?  If that was the case, then the conversation should go something like this:

Manager: “I’m sorry, sir.  It is against company policy to allow weapons inside the theater.  I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

Gunny: “If that’s the way you want it!  But me and my gun-totin’ friends will never come here again.  There are a lot of us who feel this way, so maybe you need to ask your bosses to think about that.”  Departs.

Instead, everyone overreacts.  Instead, the police are called and a crime is invented.  Why?  Because that is how we have been trained, by schools, by politicians, and by media.

Citizen-drone: “Hey!  Help!  That otherwise-law-abiding man has a gun strapped to him!  And he isn’t even wearing a uniform!  Uniforms mean he can’t hurt me, but he isn’t wearing a uniform!  Or a badge!  Nobody with a uniform or a badge has ever hurt anyone!  Please, won’t somebody make that armed man wear a uniform?  I don’t want my child to see this!  I will never feel safe again!  Help!  Please, HELP!!  Kill him now!”

Seriously, this is a learned response that has been cultivated in our people, reacting to the mere sight of a gun.  But what if as few as ten people out of the two hundred in that theater in Aurora had been armed?  The whole thing would have ended quicker, with much less loss of life.

“More guns would have just gotten more people shot,” the Citizen-drone responds, as he has been trained.  The thought that anyone with a gun might have brought this man down totally eludes him.  The fact that most personal gun owners have more practice, better marksmanship, and better understand the rules of engagement than most police officers has never been told to him.

Theater companies and malls and restaurant chains all have lawyers and the lawyers tell them not to allow guns on their premises, for fear of lawsuit and liability.  By doing so, they endanger all of us, by creating more safe-havens for crazed killers.  Because, in case you have missed it, pretty much every mass killing in recent memory has happened in a gun-free zone, be it in schools, in aircraft, in post offices, or, indeed, in a movie theater.  The nut-job knows he is far safer in such a place, as others have done the job of disarming his victims for him.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mapes is probably going to jail, for the crime of making people nervous, and he will probably get there long before the Aurora nut-job does.  He was probably taking a stand.  More power to him.

But the people don’t want to be told when they are being stupid and they will not reward him for it.



A New Epic

Here is a LONG trailer for a movie coming out in October, Cloud Atlas.  Part historical romance, part Blade Runner, part Love Actually, this looks to be an instant epic.  The cast looks stellar, the visuals amazing, and while you cannot necessarily judge a book by its cover or a movie by its trailer, I think something very special is going on here.

I admit, I am a sucker for movies that cross generations and eras.  Have a look and see what you think.


Categories: Oddities

A Little Fear

Have not had anything to say about the mass homicide in Aurora.  Of course, that has not stopped the media, who tried like crazy to come up with something original to say after the initial facts were laid out.  Five hours in, one channel was actually interviewing a coroner from another part of the country, asking what it was that coroners in Aurora would be hoping to find in the bodies of the victims.  My suspicion is that, if you are really interested in that level of detail, you watch and read a lot of crime stories and already know.  But the press does better for itself if it can raise fears – people watch them more closely.  The press raises fears, then the politicians come along afterwards and promise to soothe them.

I remember September 11th, when I finally got to my office at MCI, looking out the glass walls of the building at the flat plains leading away east of the city.  What would I do if a plane came flying in, heading straight for us?  Because, obviously, after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the next logical terror target was a corporate software shop in a mid-size western city.  No, I did not seriously believe it, even as I thought it – just a lingering fear, devoid of logic.  I stayed at my desk that day – though I might have left a little early – and throughout the week, sitting with my back to the window.  Mostly.

So I really want to see Dark Knight Rises, which unfortunately will always be stained by the event, just like Taxi Driver.  I will see it, I think, before the week is over, maybe even tomorrow.  But there is that little fear, lingering just out of sight.  What happens if it actually was some sort of plot, with others poised to leap as soon as things start to quiet down?  What happens if there are copy-cats?

No, it is not a serious concern – not enough to keep me out of the theater.  Even if we assume that there are a couple of copy-cats out there, getting ready to strike, I think the odds favor me getting killed in an auto accident on the way to the theater than my actually being at the same theater for the same showing as either of said copy-cats.  Still and all, I will increase my survival odds by going to a matinee – much less of a target.  And cheaper.

But that little, uncontrollable fear will still be there.  And I will remain vigilante, aware of my surroundings.  And that will take me out of the movie, somewhat.



Categories: Trends


July 16, 2012 1 comment

Watched some of U571 this morning, a naval adventure movie set in WWII.  You see, this broken down U-Boat has an Enigma machine, so our heroes, mostly Navy submariners, disguise themselves as Germans to get on board.  Lots of action and explosions.

But it took me back to the first time I saw it and I am again convinced that the writers had it wrong.  Lots of the dialogue seemed too modern.  One officer tells his commandos to “lock and load!”  Maybe this was a common command back in the forties, but I grew up watching war movies and never heard it.  If it was a common command, you would think Hollywood would have caught onto it at the time.  I connect the phrase more with Vietnam movies and the M-16.

More jarring is the technical submarine jargon.  It seems like it is out of a Tom Clancy movie.  Again, I grew up watching lots of war movies – I mean almost completely WWII movies – and many of them were submarine movies.  I love submarine movies.  Thing is, the command crews in all of these movies, whether made during the war or during the three decades that followed, gave commands in pretty much the same way.  “Dive! Dive!” Ah-ooooo-gah, ah-oooo-gah.  “Flood negative!  Take her down!  Make your depth 100 feet.”

I won’t repeat the dialog from U571.  There is probably a word limit on this blog.  But they use a very long-winded style, taking the longest possible way to say any command, and say it very fast because they don’t want to get killed by the enemy.  If you want to see the movie, fine, or go see “The Hunt for Red October” or “Crimson Tide” if you want to get the gist.

I have always connected this long-winded style with Admiral Hiram Rickover, the man who gave us the Nuclear Navy.  He was not a man who was much loved, though probably respected.  He created this very precise, absurdly scripted way of speaking in order to avoid accidents.  I suppose, but do you really think that a chief petty officer with twenty years experience on submarines really needs to be told exactly how to sound the diving alarm every time he does so?

The Air Force, by the way, also had a flag officer long on checklists and procedures in charge of all things nuclear, name of Curtis LeMay.  But LeMay was more fun.  Just google the man and you should find lots of tall tales about him charging security checkpoints and such.

In any case, Rickover started all this in the 1950s, long after the war.  While it is entirely possible that every submarine movie I watched got all this wrong – we are talking about Hollywood, after all – I rather doubt it.  All of those movies had technical advisers with naval ranks – someone would have listened to them.

No, I think this was just a case of an ongoing problem: a poor understanding of history by many of Hollywood’s writers, or indeed many people in general.  I think the writers just took crib-notes from a Clancy novel.  The producers probably also hired former submariners as technical consultants, but almost anyone they found would have grown up in Rickover’s navy, not Nimitz’s.

Obviously, I am not worried about the fate of one poor action movie and maybe it is me that is wrong.  But writers should be aware that every time they throw in an anachronism, some people are going to notice and some of them are going to be taken right out of the story.  Historical accuracy is a sort of currency, giving you some credit with your audience.  If you are not sure of your history or how someone would have said something “back then,” either research it or write around it.  Try to avoid confirming your ignorance.


Categories: Pet Peeves, Writing

Medical Roulette

So, about a week ago, my Mother-in-Law refused to wake up.  She was breathing, eyes open, but not responding.  Father-in-Law called us at 6:30AM.  Ambulance.  Emergency Room.  Spent most of the day there.

As bits and pieces filtered in, it turned out that her blood CO2 was too high – she was not breathing deeply enough to expel it.  This was caused by a twisted bowel, causing distension, pushing up on the abdomen.  They decided to perform a procedure, similar to a colonoscopy, to straighten it out.

Now, although she was sleeping most of the day, she had been responsive when awake, the result of being on a respirator of sorts, clearing out the CO2.  We went with her to pre-op and, despite having fairly severe dementia, she got the idea of what was about to happen, so she sat up and tried to wriggle off the gurney.  We had to keep her there till the team took her away.

Knowing she and the medical team would be gone for a while, we went across to 7-11 and got Cokes.  When we came back, we found that the team wanted to talk to us urgently.  She was failing fast, the anesthesiologist said, wouldn’t make it through the night.  I went to get Brenda’s father while she started calling people to come to the hospital quick.

They took us to the recovery room, where she slept on a respirator, and gently tried to explain what had gone wrong.

But nothing much seemed to happen, nothing seemed to change.  Nothing.  The longer we stood there, looking at her, reading the monitors, the more it dawned on us that nothing had changed.  This was the way she had been all day.

It took some time, but the recovery staff finally came around to our way of thinking.  After a few hours, she was admitted on the ward.  By morning, they had removed the respirator.  She was able to expel CO2 on her own.  More surgery would be needed, but for now, all was well.

What had gone wrong?  Well, an anesthesiologist who had graduated, perhaps, in the bottom quarter of his class.  A chart that had failed to follow from the Emergency Room.  Professional pessimism.  The fact that looks can be very deceiving, especially where my Mother-in-Law is concerned – anyone who looks at her is convinced she will never walk again, while she spends day after day doing laps on Goodground Rd.

Every time I am thrust into the medical world, I come away depressed or frightened.  While they have made some truly stunning advances, in both medicine and information technology, there is always a sense that everything is horribly uncoordinated, mismanaged, and frenetic.  Five doctors in five hours – who is in charge?  Who is making the decisions?  What are they basing their decisions on?  Why can’t we get a straight answer?  Did things change?  When?

The fact that they are still relying on a physical chart tells me something.  You would think there could be a chip on the wristband where everything of importance would be written, to be read by every doctor, nurse, or tech who works on her.  Naturally, this stuff should all be backed up in the cloud, available anywhere.

But, there are issues.  Privacy laws, insurance companies, defensive (legally) medicine, state oversight, long-running traditions all conspire to create what I see as a dysfunctional system.  The people seem, mostly, great and concerned professionals, but like public schoolteachers, they are trapped in a system that doesn’t always work right.

I don’t know what the answers are.  I know what some of them are not, like centralized, bureaucratized single-payer systems.  But, if any industry ever needed competition, it is the medical industry.  We need to take the shackles off of creative minds.

Many, many thoughts on all this, going in many directions.  More later, I expect.


Categories: Pet Peeves, Technology, Trends

The Alien in My Home

The Alien

He eats plant life.  He eats everything.  Very expensive x-ray photographs reveal that he eats slate hearths.

Really.  His first pen backed up against the fireplace.  Every now and then you would see him chewing on the corner of the hearth.  How cute!  He is sharpening his little teeth.

Then, one evening, he started breathing funny, prompting a trip to the all-night vet.  The x-rays revealed pneumonia in one lung and a number of pebbles in his stomach.  No, the lung thing was probably passed to him by another dog, probably the one that growled in his face at a previous vet visit, but upon returning home, we discovered a small corner of the hearth was missing.

He’s just teething, you understand.  Yeah.  His special “puppy teething ring” lasted slightly more than an hour.

They tell me he’s just a puppy.  A Boston Terror.  Um, Terrier.   “He’s only a little thing!”  I remain unconvinced.

I mean, for one thing, if he is a baby dog, why does he continually try to eat the big dog?  I have never read anywhere that dogs are cannibalistic.  Yet, time after time, he runs up to our older dog and tries to take a hunk out of her – face, legs, flanks, he doesn’t care.  Even a violent shake and a warning growl from his elder does not seem to dissuade him.

If he is a puppy, why is he constantly eating plants?  He just trots up, rips a plant out of a flower pot or the ground, and starts chomping on it. dissecting it liberally.  Dogs are carnivores, no?  Meat eaters!  Sure, Lassie ate beef stew, but she/he was just a midget in a dog suit anyhow.  Real dogs don’t eat plants.  No, this is scientific research.

If he is a puppy, how come he can replicate by fission?  What do I mean?  It is Six in the Morning, my wife enters the bedroom with one puppy.  I groggily acknowledge their presence and my wife places the one and singular puppy on the bed.  Suddenly, there are six puppies on the bed, all moving at warp speed, biting and nipping at everything and everyone at once.  Reach for one, another raptor gets you from the side.  This is not one puppy, this is Multi Man with fur.

No, this is not a puppy.

I think he is an alien, conducting reconnaissance.  Whether it is simple scientific inquisitiveness or more elaborate pre-invasion  surveys, I don’t know.  But he shows non-canine abilities.

For one thing, despite the fact that he pretends to be an uncoordinated little twit, constantly tripping over his own paws and such, his ears are precision instruments.  You can see them on top of his head, twisting from one position to another, even touching them together at the top.  He often seems to be using them in tandem, to triangulate: target ball in sight, range twenty-two point six meters, heading 15 degrees.

He spends much time at my stepson’s side, watching him surf the internet, learning all about human society and technology.  Then, if he notices you looking at him, he starts chomping on a convenient rope, ball, or shoe.

When you play tug-of-war with him, you soon get the sense that he is not looking at the rope.  He is focused on your hand.  He tugs the rope, bites the rope, shifts on the rope, all the time staring at your hand, then, quite by accident, takes a nip of your hand, then goes back to the rope.  Does much the same thing by moving a chew toy closer and closer to your foot, then on top of your foot, before quickly biting a toe.  He is taking blood samples.

The pre-invasion scenario is somewhat bolstered by his constant combat training.  Several times a day, he goes into monster mode, attacking everything, eating the dog, jumping at hands, feet, and legs.  Faces are not out of bounds.  He will do this for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, unless captured and forcibly restrained which, as you might imagine, there are few volunteers for.  We usually only do it to save the older dog’s life or dignity.

He even looks like an alien.  When viewed from the side, ears back, with his mouth wide open, displaying his array of little sharp teeth – a stance he holds often, I might add – he looks like he just stepped out of John Hurt’s chest.  Whether he will one day slither off to the chains to grow immense and threatening or whether he will do a Michigan J. Frogby is yet to be determined.

I suppose I should report him to Homeland Security.  They could come and cart him off to Area 51, where counter-intelligence activities would ensue.  Not sure how the family would feel about that, though.

They have fallen for it, you see.  They don’t see an alien in a puppy suit.  They think he is “just a little thing.”  They think he is a furry bundle of love.  They are blind to the psychopathy.  They are blind to the ulterior motives of the beast.

Still, I see hope for the future.  He makes mistakes sometimes, gives himself away.  If I can see it, others will in time.  And the alien technology is not flawless.

One problem with the puppy suit seems to be temperature regulation.  Sometimes, he will run up to the bed and ask, sort of, to come up.  I place him on the bed gingerly, expecting an immediate attack.  Instead, he scoots to my side, sometimes crawls under the blanket, and cuddles up against my leg, trying to get warm.  He drapes his head over my leg.  Soon, he is snoring.

I understand these reconnaissance missions can last fifteen to twenty years.  I guess he can stay.

Categories: Oddities

Bain of Existence

Not an original thought, I am sure, but the new Batman movie comes out in a couple of weeks.  The super-villain this time around is Bane.  Sort of a Hannibal Lecter, but with muscle.

Bane, from The Dark Knight Rises

Also, the presidential campaign is firing up.  The main dig at Romney, if one believes what one reads, is his time running Bain Capital.

Yes, the jokes will just write themselves, won’t they?  The political cartoons have probably already been drawn and are just waiting for the movie’s release.