"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Review: Joss Whedon: Marvel's The Avengers

I saw Joss Whedon's The Avengers when it opened in Chicago, and immediately went home and pre-ordered the DVD. It arrived on a Thursday; by Sunday I had watched it three times.

S.H.I.E.L.D., under the direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is investigating the Tesseract, an alien artifact discovered when the search was on for Captain America (Chris Evans). Progress is being made -- it's potentially a source of unlimited clean energy -- when there appears a disruption, in the form of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who, after wreaking suitable havoc on the research facility, absconds with the Tesseract, as well as Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), lead researcher -- he's managed to subvert them by using a scepter that draws on the Tesseract's power to control their minds. Fury, however, has a back-up, a resource he's held in reserve, even though it -- the "Avengers Initiative" -- has been officially shelved. He starts putting together a team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who in turn is enlisted to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), recruited by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in a very funny scene. Things are going well -- the Avengers manage to capture Loki and are transporting him back to the carrier when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) decides to insert himself into the situation -- he thinks Loki should be returned to Asgard. He's persuaded otherwise.

Meanwhile, Dr. Selvig has set up the Tesseract to act as a bridge for the invasion force. It works. And then the fun starts.

Where to start?

The actors, even though working with comic-book characters, manage to deliver some real people -- they have histories, strengths, vulnerabilities, and hang-ups, and we see them, as opposed to being told about them. Johansson turned out to be my favorite, I think -- she's a superb actress, and did a lot of the physical action herself. (Reportedly, she trained for months for this role -- it shows.) The dialogue is sharp and energetic -- it crackles -- and often very, very funny -- the film is littered with throw-aways that always have me snickering, not to mention some of the physical business that hits you out of the blue. (Hulk is really good for that.) And the best part is watching these spiky personalities make themselves into a team. Very well done.

The effects are spectacular (the S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier is worth watching the film itself) and beautifully done. And the amount of destruction is awesome. (I admit it -- hiding not very far under my surface is this kid who likes to watch things blow up.)

The script itself is good and tight, with a clear story line and enough room for the actors to move around. (Whedon wrote the script, too.) The pace is fast, but the story remains coherent -- cuts make sense and add to the momentum.

The DVD includes English, French and Spanish soundtracks, plus an "English Descriptive Service" that provides narration setting the scene and describing the action in those scenes without dialogue; subtitles in French and Spanish, plus English for the Hearing Impaired; the requisite "sneak previews"; a very interesting featurette of the actors discussing each other -- no dissing, but a good take on the strengths each brought to his or her role (these are obviously people who admire each other's work), with additional commentary by Whedon; and a Director's Commentary by Whedon on just where he was coming from on this one. (It starts off with the question "Why did they pick Whedon to direct this one?" Short answer -- he's one of the best for anything comics. He turns out to be a terrific film director, too.)

Just offhand, I'd say The Avengers deserves every accolade it's received: it's action-packed, it's funny, the characters are well-developed, the effects are terrific -- top marks on every score. (Even the music, although a little bombastic, fits perfectly.)

(Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 2012) Running time: 143 min.

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means:

A Full Scottish Breakfast, Beatrix Potter’s Garden, Terrorists on Mars, Celtic and Eastern European Music, and more. . .

You know the drill -- it's all there waiting for you.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Saturday Science and Today's Must-Read: Poop-Sniffing for Conservation

Interesting post at Hullabaloo on how scat can help conservationists in preserving species:

Let's face it: All dogs like to smell poop. But this dog smells something else, too -- opportunity.

Train, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, sniffs out the scat, or poop, of elusive wild animals like jaguars and oncillas in the name of conservation.

It might sound like an unsavory task, but these scat samples are goldmines for researchers like Train's owner, conservation biologist Karen DeMatteo.

DeMatteo and a research team in Argentina are trying to pinpoint the habitats of endangered animals, but it's hard to figure out where they live if you can't find the animals themselves.

It's pretty interesting. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Culture Break: Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel

This piece was originally written for piano and violin, which is the version on my recording. I think I may prefer the cello. Performed by Leonhard Roczek on cello and Herbert Schuch on piano.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Tweet du Jour

Sunday, March 24, 2019

What's New at Green Man Review

A really mixed bag this week:

Istanbul, Tulips, Church Music, Tyrannical Gods, Giant Bears and Other Colourful Matters

And that's only part of it. Pop on over and enjoy.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Fun Facts

The Chicago Fire Department has a Scuba Unit. I suppose that makes sense, since we're right next to a major lake where people do stupid things and need to be rescued.

The Windy City, birthplace of the skyscraper is a place where the wind is blowing from whatever direction you happen to be facing. Once, when I was an art student, our class met at the Art Institute to see a major Robert Rauschenberg exhibition. (It was a class on collage and construction.) I left work on LaSalle Street and walked through the snowstorm to the AIC. By the time I got there, I was covered in snow on every side.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Empty Pews

The decline in church membership continues:

In a shift that stands to impact both religion and politics, survey data suggests that the percentage of Americans who don’t affiliate with any specific religious tradition is now roughly the same as those who identify as evangelical or Catholic.

According to newly released General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?” — now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.

That makes the two groups statistically tied with Catholics (23 percent) as the largest religious — or nonreligious — groupings in the country.

Some context vis-a-vis other groups:

Two points: evangelicals are a major portion of Trump's base, and they along with Catholics are the two most stridently anti-gay factions in the country.

Read the article -- it's fairly brief and pretty interesting.

Via Joe.My.God.

Parting thought:

Monday, March 18, 2019

What's New at Green Man Review

Completely blipped on this one yesterday -- too much Trump in the news. But never fear, there are reviews:

It’s Almost Spring, Or Is It? Aliens, the Irish, Chocolate, Bartók Does Folk, and more

So over you go, and enjoy.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pass It On


With thanks to commenter Doug105 at Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Culture Break: Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

One of my favorite pieces by Vaughan Williams. From the YouTube notes: "Hilary Hahn performs The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams at the George Enescu Festival." The orchestra is, I believe, the Salzburg Camerata.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Today's Must-Read: Would You Let This Man Into Your Brain?

The future isn't here yet -- quite -- but Facebook is working on it:

There was this promising new technology, [Zuckerberg] explained, a brain-computer interface, which Facebook has been researching.

The idea is to allow people to use their thoughts to navigate intuitively through augmented reality—the neuro-driven version of the world recently described by Kevin Kelly in these pages. No typing—no speaking, even—to distract you or slow you down as you interact with digital additions to the landscape: driving instructions superimposed over the freeway, short biographies floating next to attendees of a conference, 3D models of furniture you can move around your apartment.

There's a lot of potential in this -- the possibilities for, for example, stroke victims or paraplegics are exciting -- but given Facebook's history with privacy issues, and the common practice among the tech companies of selling users' personal information -- not to mention say, Fifth Amendment issues, which the article mentions -- I would say that, as a species, we're not mature enough for this.

Thought for the Day

With thanks to commenter WhoWantsJellyDoughnuts? at Joe.My.God.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

What's New at Green Man Review

The header says it all:

American and Nordic Roots Music, Yummy Recipes, Fiction by Roger Zelazny and Other Comforting Matters

Well, not really -- there's lots more, so scoot on over and check it out.

Antidote: Kitties!

In this case, a litter of orphaned mountain lion cubs. Via Digby:

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden recently welcomed a litter of orphaned Mountain Lion cubs. The cubs, two males and a female, are approximately ten-weeks-old and arrived at the OKC Zoo in late January after being rescued from the wild.

There's more information -- and more pictures -- at the link.

Today's Must-Read: A Crisis of Public Sanity

I'm borrowing Tom Sullivan's title for this one, because I can't come up with a better one. He starts off:

In many ways, Americans never seem to have recovered psychologically from the September 11 attacks. They were a kick to the gut, a shattering of our sense of invincibility still recovering from the trauma of Vietnam, a shattering of our sense of how things are and ought to be.

Digby tweeted an article Saturday from a February Texas Observer describing a bill introduced by Representative Matt Krause from the state legislature's far-right House Freedom Caucus. It would not only make it easier for state parents to get exemptions from vaccinating their children, it would prohibit the Texas Department of State Health Services from keeping a record of vaccine exemptions, limiting its ability to respond to disease outbreaks.

There's much more to it, of course -- decades of propaganda disguised as news; relentless attacks, mostly from the right, on mostly left-wing public figures (does the name "Hillary Clinton" ring a bell?); fringe elements not only becoming more open, but tolerated. That's just the first few things that come to mind, but they've all contributed to an American public life that is through the looking glass -- anti-vaxxers are just the latest manifestation.

The phenomena are not just a public health crisis, Bruni writes, but "a public sanity one, emblematic of too many people’s willful disregard of evidence, proud suspicion of expertise and estrangement from reason."

Read it -- it's a good summary on the rise of things like the Trump cult and associated aberrations. Bruni's piece is worth the time, as well.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Today's Must-Read: "Save the Children!"

Have you noticed that Republicans only seem to care about children before they're born? That goes double for the Trump regime, especially is the children are brown. However, they're not getting away with it:

In a legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal judge ruled Friday that all migrant families separated during the government’s border crackdown should be included in a class-action lawsuit. But he stopped short of immediately ordering the Justice Department to track them all down.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in California said the universe of separated families should extend beyond the 2,700-plus children taken from their parents last spring, and include families forced apart as early as July 1, 2017, and the months afterward, when the Trump administration was denying that it had a policy of separating families.

And just to underscore how repellent most people find this practice, the judge is a Republican appointee.

Read the whole thing -- it's pretty appalling, except for the part where Trump gets slapped down.

(Footnote: And have you noticed the outcry from Trump's evangelical base -- the "family values" crowd -- on his treatment of these families? Yeah -- I thought not.)

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Culture Break: Anaïs Mitchell: Why We Build the Wall

I'm starting to think Anaïs Mitchell is an artist I've got to get to know better. This one, courtesy of commenter safari at Joe.My.God. Sort of mesmerizing:

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Today's Must-Read: Rebooting America

Starting with the states. It's become painfully obvious that, under the Republican-controlled White House and Senate, the Supreme Court has become a political agency, no matter how we try to pretend that the process is non-partisan. Now the Iowa legislature is going one step farther:

In 2009, Iowa became one of the first states to permit same-sex marriage when its Supreme Court issued a ruling that a ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. It was a unanimous ruling and a thrilling victory for civil rights.

But this was Iowa, and marriage equality hadn’t yet found support from a majority of Americans. Three of the seven judges were up for re-election in 2010… and all three were booted from their seats after a concerted effort by conservative Christians.

It's taken them ten years, but the GOP-controlled legislature, perhaps emboldened by the brazenness of the national party, are "fixing" the system:

Republicans in the Iowa legislature have proposed two bills, HF 503 and SSB 1101, that would cut short his time in power. Specifically, the bills say the “term of the chief justice serving on the effective date of this Act shall expire on January 15, 2021.” (Cady’s term isn’t supposed to expire until December 31, 2024.)

The bills would also change the way justices are chosen, giving much more power to the party in control… and you’ll never believe this: The party currently controlling all branches of government in Iowa happens to be the GOP.

Republicans are busily remaking the country in their own image -- and if that doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Read the post -- it's fairly short but very instructive.

Sunday, March 03, 2019


I know, it's been light lately, partly because I'm fed up with the news -- all Trump, all the time -- and partly because of other things going on.

Bear with me.

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday again, the day for browsing reviews to find something that interests you. And it's an interesting mix at Green Man Review, as always (although the header is deceptively simple):

Hedgehogs and other late winter matters

There's really a lot more than hedgehogs, trust me. Click on over and see for yourself.

Today In Trump's America: Real Patriots

Honor the flag: