Saturday, January 20, 2018

Graham v MOA #7: "you cannot allow the bad guy to go to jail and you leave the structure intact."

Below is an NPR interview with ESPN's Howard Bryant about the current sexual abuse trial of USA Olympic gymnastic coach Larry Nassar.  Bryant captures were clearly the point of my series of posts on the Graham trial.

We punish the bad guy, then let the system that enables bad guys to operate intact.

In Graham's case, 'the bad guy' got demoted two ranks and everyone else involved is now in a higher position than they had been five years ago.  Except Graham who is still at the entry level fire-fighter position.

My background is public administration - how the system is designed, what are the rewards and punishments - intended and unintended?  What informal systems work against the formal systems?

When I look at this situation I think:  how did the system let this go on, just like Bryant asks in the audio.
But it seems like when the lawyers look at it, they think, ok, case is closed, move on to the next case. It's about individuals, not about the system.  That's horribly wrong.

That's why I'm spending so much time on this case.  To show what went wrong and to ask why the existing system never did anything about it.  If Jeff Graham hadn't been stubborn, hadn't risked his financial security to hire an attorney, hadn't broken the code of the fire department that you go along to get along, none of this would have come out.

It's just like the other systems Bryant mentions, systems that allow abusers and a abuses to continue - like sexual assault, like concussions in football, like the church scandals.

  The part I'm highlighting starts at 1:46

How did it go on for so long?  We're still even asking the question if there were problems with the structure.  Of course there were problems with the structure.Q:  Sturcture of?
2:00 USA Gymnastics, Michigan State, . . . the adults were supposed to take care of these athletes, supposed to protect them, no different from any other scandal, whether church, concussions, you cannot allow the bad guy to go to jail and you leave the structure intact.
2:45 Q:  Why did they wait so long? Why did they wait for 20 years. Larry Nassar has been under scrutiny for some time now?
2:53 This is a very American thing we do.  We find the bad guys, we take the bad guys, and we punish the bad guys.  Then we leave every mechanism that allows the bad guys to exist and enables the bad guys, we leave those things alone, , ,
This is something we have to deal with as a culture because we don't deal with it very well.  And especially when you're dealing with young people.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Will Africa Help Free Americans By Boycotting Us Like We Did For Them?

When the US and other countries boycotted South Africa in the 1980's it led to the end of apartheid and the release of political prisoners.  It's time for Africa to return the favor and help us overturn our racist administration.   So I thought when I read this short piece.

From the Anchorage Daily News, but originally from the New York Times:

South Africa and Nigeria
have joined a chorus of nations
condemning President Donald
Trump’s inflammatory remarks
on immigration, as Africa experts
warned that the controversy
threatened to set back U.S. interests
across the world’s fastestgrowing
Botswana, Ghana, Haiti, Namibia,
Senegal and the African
Union have all protested the
remarks. The U.S. has many interests
in Africa: battling Islamist
insurgencies, reducing political
instability and improving governance.
The State Department has
instructed diplomats not to deny
Trump’s remarks, but simply to
listen to complaints.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pot, Deflating Bubbles, And Other Word Battles

Words play a huge role in what we know.  Even our own observations are affected by the language we speak and think in.  We wrap our experiences in the words we have available.  Very few of us break those constraints and create new words if the ones we have are inadequate.

Here are some examples word issues in today's newspaper:

1.  Stop using the word 'pot'An ADN headline:
Marijuana industry gets blunt: Stop using the word ‘pot’
". . .But marijuana still carries a stigma that surfaces with the use of old slang like pot and weed. For many, the words evoke an image of lazy, not-so-bright people who puff their lives away.
The image deeply bothers the marijuana industry, which is telling the public — sometimes gently, sometimes curtly — that they should use the word cannabis. That's the scientific name for the plant from which marijuana is derived."
Here, it appears the cannabis industry is trying to change its (in business jargon) 'brand.'  'Brand' is a word I dislike.  "Branding" epitomizes the idea of substituting the image of something for the actual essence of it. Branders want people to think about their product a certain way so it sells better.  It's the image, not the product itself, that they are selling. 'Brand' is a way of 'branding' the word 'deception' and making it into something that's seen as good.

I don't think that the name for cannabis matters all that much - it's the intrinsic product that people are  interested in, no matter what you call it.  I suspect those holding negative images of 'pot' are dying out.  That view was part of the political ideology that didn't like rock music, hippies, and Vietnam war protestors

2.  Bubble Deflates - Another ADN headline that comes originally from the New York Times:


Did you ever see a bubble deflate?  Balloons and tires can lose their air slowly (deflate), but bubbles burst.  Except, it seems, in economics.  But then economists often deductive,  starting with theory they tell us how the world works.  It's the theory, not the real world that matters.   In economics, for example, people only  make 'rational' decisions. And, bubbles deflate.  It took people like Vernon Smith to actually do experiments to burst some of this economic bubble nonsense.

This is just lazy thinking.  Mixed metaphors are a kind of lazy thinking.  "A carpenter was the low rung on a totem pole." comes from a long list of mixed metaphors.   But if you google 'deflated bubble' you'll find lots of serious economics examples of this term.

3.  Other Word Battles

George Lakoff tells us that framing the debate is the most critical thing in political discourse.  We've fought over words like "illegal alien" versus "undocumented worker"; 'baby killing' versus 'pro-choice.'  The list goes on and on.

The conservatives have made a science of this and do it masterfully.  The never say 'the Democratic Party."  They say 'the Democrat Party." It's like taking someone's name and changing it just a little bit to irritate them and control what they are called.  It's a form of bullying.   And their most successful reframing was the term  'political correctness.'  Even liberal have bought into this perversion.

I've written about the origins of the term 'political correctness' in the past.  I don't want to repeat all that.

I also posted about my view of the difference between conservative and liberal use of restricting words.  Conservatives try to restrict words as a way to win debates.  If you ban or demonize words needed by your opponent, it rigs the whole debate.   Their opponents aren't allowed to use key terms needed to make their case.   The NRA has bullied the Center For Disease Control to end research on gun deaths in the US.  Without data it's hard to make a rational argument.  And the Trump administration has banned terms like 'climate change' and 'fetus.'

Liberals try to ban words that insult or demean or even terrorize other human beings, generally people who are NOT white heterosexual males.  There are plenty of other terms to use that are more respectful and so these bans don't hinder political discussion.  

The Lost Post Reconstructed - What Is Davos And Why Is Trump Going?

I can't remember the last time it happened - that a post vanished.  But it did yesterday.  There was a trace of the post - 15 visitors had visited, but it had reverted to a draft and the content was gone. [Bloggers might want more explanation, so see * at the bottom.]

I don't have time to reconstruct it all of yesterday's post, but I do think the World Economic Forum is something people should know more about, simply because a fair number of world leaders are planning to attend and what they say there will influence how the world operates in the next year.  And while I think that the WEF leans too heavily toward business and the issues of the wealthy, I also think that they take a rational approach that is sorely missing these days in the US among those in power.

So, here's the video - I recommend the first 14 minutes where Klaus Schwab talks - and I'll try to reconstruct some of the key points I had up yesterday.

[After Schwab's 14 minute presentation,  the rest is talking heads (well, so is Schwab).  This is simply a video of the press conference.  The fact that they didn't feel a need to spruce it up with graphics or closeups or other video tricks that keep audience attention, may reflect a) need to get it up quickly, b) the age of most participants  c) lack of concern because they have lots of power and might think they are so important that they don't have to trick it up.   It's not lack of money or technical know-how because the WEF website has lots of fancy charts and online sophistication. And the fact they have it up means the rest of us get to have a glimpse of the public part of this event.]

Klaus Schwab founded, and is the executive chairman, of the World Economic Council.  In this introduction to the conference for the media he covered:

Seven Reasons why Davos is significant  

1.  Collaboration - this is about the who can solve the problems - no one person, country, organization can handle these issues

Six Stakeholder Groups

  • Governments
  • Business groups
  • Civil Society - NGO's (non-governmental organizations)
  • University/Academic experts
  • Younger Generation
  • Media

2.  Integrative Approach - This is about the nature of the issues -They are  complex, must use systemic approach, ecosystem - 14 different systems (he didn't list them but said they are in the program)

3.  Not Stand Alone - everything is integrated into ongoing workshops - 3 example

He also mentioned:

  • Middle East Summit
  • Sustainable Development Impact Summit

[He didn't enumerate a #4]

5.  Timing - Beginning of each year is important.  Focuses the agenda for the year.  This is a critical year for Europe and most leaders will be here.

A second big issue will be the Future of the Global Corporation.

Future of Economic Growth - at the end of a big upswing cycle.

G20 and G7 Agendas are prepared at Davos

Publication of the Global Risks Report.  

Inclusive - one-third from emerging countries and Modi is a key speaker.

Integration of these discussions into discussion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

[He didn't identify specifically #s 6 or 7.  Maybe they were in the items mentioned after he mentioned #5.]


1.  Collaborative Approach - No one alone can solve the issues
2.  Integrated Approach - No issue can be solved in an isolated way
3.  Constructive Approach - great opportunities, but also unprecedented perils - danger of collapse of our global system, in our hands to improve the state of the world.

Some Background

From Wikipedia:
"The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Swiss nonprofit foundation, based in Cologny, Geneva, Switzerland. Recognized by the Swiss authorities as an international body,[1] its mission is cited as "committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas".
The Forum is best known for its annual meeting at the end of January in Davos, a mountain resort in Graubünden, in the eastern Alps region of Switzerland. The meeting brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists, and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world."
Here's a brief Vanity Fair bio of Klaus Schwab.  

This second time for this post was much easier than the first.

*For Bloggers - I think I somehow got two draft posts going.  I completed one and posted.  But the other one was still open, but very rudimentary.  When I found it, I was confused.  I think I deleted the few lines and I thought I closed it, but I must have revered it to a draft.  When I looked today there were 15 visitors but it was in draft status.  And there was no content.
There are a couple of things I could have done:
1.  copied the published post and started a whole new post and then deleted both the old ones.
2.  opened the published post to edit, then deleted the second post, then updated the original post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Travel Day - LA To Seattle, Karenka Gets Her Name Tag

Airport Shuttle

Growing up and until just about a year ago, my mom's house was about a mile from the nearest bus in any direction.  But when they opened the last link - Santa Monica to Culver City - of the Metro line to downtown LA, they added a bus line to  just a few minutes walk from my mom's house.  In one direction it goes to the Metro station.  In the other direction it catches the bus to the airport.   So getting to the airport by bus is even easier than it was.  From the airport bus station, there's a shuttle the rest of the way to the airport.

When we were checking in, another agent gave our agent her name tags.  She said she'd been working for Alaska Airlines for a month - so I insisted she put one on, and we toasted her with imaginary glasses.
Kalenka Gets Her Name Badge
Then from SEATAC by train to downtown, a quick walk to the ferry and over to Bainbridge Island.  Here's sunny, and relatively warm (56˚F) downtown Seattle from the ferry.

(It's a little distorted since I put to photos together here.)  The best part was picking up our granddaughter from day care as we walked from the ferry.  She ran up and gave me a really big hug.  Then she helped pull the suitcase the rest of the way.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Comedy And Role Reversal Often Work Best

When you can't convince someone using logic, tapping into the emotion sometimes can work.

If you are afraid of heights and your friend wants you to climb on the roof to see the view, she will never feel your fear of heights directly.  She just tell you not to worry.  But maybe you can appeal to one of her own fears - say snakes - to get her to understand how you feel.  OK, I'll climb on the roof, but you hold these snakes first.  She'll viscerally understand why you won't go on the roof, even if she isn't afraid of heights.

This video does just that, and with humor.

OK, men might look at this and say it isn't the same.  I'd say it's pretty close to how many women are treated when they report assaults.  They aren't taken seriously, they're somehow responsible for what happened to them.  And without doubt, there are examples of that, but they are relatively few, and the many serious complaints shouldn't be treated poorly because of the exceptions.

So think about this approach - turning the tables and using the same language to get someone to see how ridiculous they're being.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Living In A Construction Zone

Furniture out, workers' tools in
My mom's house isn't big - about 1200 square feet, three bedrooms, one full bathroom and one with a sink and toilet.  But when my parent's bought it back in 1956, they did a great job with the location.  Since my mom died in 2015, we've spent a fair amount of time cleaning things out, giving things away, selling a few things, donating lots.  It seemed like however much we pulled out, the closets didn't seem to get emptier.  Then there were drawers and cabinets and, drum roll, the garage.

I'm not complaining.  My mom knew where things were and she always had something to use for whatever situation, whether it was gift to take when visiting someone, a bag to hold something in, the old waffle iron, and on and on.  She didn't want us moving things around because then she wouldn't be able to find them.  She did say, repeatedly, "When I'm gone, you can do what you want."

So the last two and half years, our trips here were focused on cleaning things out.  People have been telling us to to rent it out while we're not here - most of the time - and so we are required to get it
more up-to-date - like getting rid of the popcorn ceiling and painting pretty much everything.  There's now a dishwasher and dryer after all these years of washing by hand and hanging the laundry out to dry in the sun.  We've go a new deck in the backyard - which was getting bedraggled because of various droughts.  The gardener keeps things from getting overgrown, but not from dying.  So what long ago used to be a lawn in the back had become a patch of dirt.  The deck takes away that eyesore and adds an outdoor room.  All this has happened in the last two weeks and we've been living in the middle of it.

When we head out this week, the carpet will come off the living room floor and the old hardwood floors will be sanded and polished.

That means we've been getting everything into the garage so the floors will be cleared.  We still have a little table in the kitchen (no hardwood there so that's ok) and an air mattress bed that we can move out ourselves before we leave.  Bathrooms have been in and out of service as they get various upgrades - new grout, paint, and fixtures.  One bathroom got a whole new vanity.

I'm still finding things I didn't know were here.  An old cream and sugar set was wrapped in old
newspaper.  Not sure why they had the Chicago Sun Times from June 6, 1989 - two days after the Tiananmen massacre.

I couldn't remember Li Peng being shot back then and when I googled Li Peng assassination most everything - including bios of Li Peng - omit mention of an assassination attempt.  There was one book - Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China -  I found where a Chinese student talks about his participation in Tiananmen protests and he writes,
"After we had hung up our poster, we heard news that Deng Xiaoping had suddenly died and that Premier Li Peng had been wounded in an assassination attempt.  That afternoon firecrackers were popping all over campus to celebrate Deng's death.  But we soon discovered that these "news reports" were baseless rumors.  In fact students from Jaotong University had not been run over by tanks, Deng Xiaoping was alive and well, and Li Peng had not been wounded."
Publishing unsubstantiated rumors, as this headline shows, isn't new.  But neither is attempting to fool the public with false stories.  Yellow journalism was taught in the American history classes I took in high school.  But there's a new sophistication in the creation and spreading of the new brand of fake news we see today.

We try to drive as little as possible - J walks and I ride the bike all I can.  But if you need to go far or fast or carry a lot, you need to take the car and traffic can be frustrating.  Public transit is ok for a few destinations, like the airport.

Some of my old bedroom furniture was snapped up by a young man with a square beard and tight jeans who was excited about picking up 'mid-century' stuff for a token price.  I was happy it was going to an appreciative home.  Various people have been leaning on me to get rid of, or do, this and that.  I think they are mostly right, but I don't want a generic house in the end so I'm holding my ground on some things.  And listening to reason on others.

And we are in LA, where the weather has gone from nice to rainy to very nice.  And we've eaten lots of good food.  As we were coming home from house-related errands we stopped on a block of Venice that had a Brazilian cafe, a Caribbean place, a Thai place, and a Himalyan place.  We ate at Tara's in part because of the garden like setting on a busy street.
Domo Plate at Tara's

And yesterday when it got into the eighties (F) even at the beach, we decided we needed a break.  J walked and I biked the two miles to Venice Beach.

After playing in the surf with my granddaughter when she was here in December, I was seriously thinking about catching some waves.  I watched the few would-be body surfers not catch anything and I remembered our bathtub was out of commission while the resurfacing dried.  But I did go into the water part way and it felt great to have the surf rushing between my legs.  The water didn't feel terribly cold (about 60˚F).

There's still work to do when we're gone - the floors, and when that messy job is over, new blinds will be put into most of the windows.  We're headed to see our Seattle granddaughter before touching base again in Anchorage and then more Seattle time before coming back here to see what we still have left to do.

... was out getting garbage and recycling into our cans and two neighbors' cans.  Neighbors up the hill have moved into their house about a year after we moved into this one.  The neighbors to the south moved in much more recently and became very good friends with my mom.  And the LA sanitation department picks up bulky items like carpet and sinks if you call a day ahead - and they were open Sunday to take my call.

Friday, January 12, 2018

NPR, In Order To Report Trump's Statements, Joins George Carlin In Saying "Shit" On Air

Here's a tweet from an NPR news-story:

I might remind readers that 'shit' was on the top of George Carlin's list of seven dirty words.
The seven dirty words are seven English-language words that American comedian George Carlin first listed in 1972 in his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television".[1] The words are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.[2][1]
At the time, the words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleep censored in the rare cases in which they were used; broadcast standards differ in different parts of the world, then and now, although most of the words on Carlin's original list remain taboo on American broadcast television. The list was not an official enumeration of forbidden words, but rather was compiled by Carlin. Nonetheless, a radio broadcast featuring these words led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that helped define the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States.
It's time to thank President Trump for making it possible for broadcast media personnel to now use the word 'shit' on air without interference from the FCC.  Hopefully, the other six will soon become useable when appropriate too.

Write your representatives in Washington that you applaud this boost for free speech from Trump and their lack of opposition.

However, what's allowable on broadcast tv and radio is not necessarily what should be allowable by a sitting president of the United States.  And it's not the word 'shit' that I object to, but the racism  of excluding people of color while inviting Norwegians.

If your members of Congress haven't stood up in protest, you might want to remind them that the president is a sick, dishonest, depraved human being who is not fit for office.  And the checks and balances written in the Constitution mean it's their responsibility to act.

That they shouldn't wait until November when the people of the United States will act for them.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Graham v Municipality of Anchorage #6 - Test Makers Lack Certification

We're starting to get into the details.  Some might think "This seems minor" for some of these posts, but I hope to explain why they aren't minor.  But if you don't agree with me,  I'd also point out that a pattern of minor issues can collectively become a much more serious issue.

In this post I'm reporting the point that Jeff Graham's attorney made in court:  that the people who designed the training, the tests, and the grading procedures didn't have the training or the certification to do it right.

In court, Jeff Graham's attorney, Jeff Jarvi, gave Chad Richardson, the person in charge of the engineer academy (engineer is the step above a basic fire fighter and the academy is the training and testing program to promote to an engineer) a copy of his Fire Service Instructor Certificate and asked him to read off what level the certification was.  Chad Richardson read it:  Level I.  He was then asked what the difference between Level I and Level II was.  He didn't know.  He was then asked to read the above version of how the state certifying board distinguishes them.  Here's what Richardson read in court: 

From the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety (p. 3 of 16)
 AFSC Fire Service Instructor Certification Levels: 
Instructor I: (NFPA 1041 2012 ed., An individual who has demonstrated the knowledge and ability to deliver instruction effectively from a prepared lesson plan, including instructional aids and evaluation instruments; adapt lesson plans to the unique requirements of the students and authority having jurisdiction; organize the learning environment so that learning is maximized; and meet the record-keeping requirements of authority having jurisdiction.  
Instructor II: (NFPA 1041 2012 ed., An individual who has met the requirements for FSI Level I qualifications, and has demonstrated the knowledge and ability to develop individual lesson plans for a specific topic including learning objectives, instructional aids, and evaluation instruments; schedule training sessions based on overall training plan of authority having jurisdiction; and supervise and coordinate the activities of other instructors.  

If you missed the bold above, Level I is qualified to give training and tests someone else has designed.  You need Level II to create the training and the testing (including how the tests are graded.)

Jarvi did the same with Casey Johnson who prepared the exam.    And current Deputy Chief Jodie Hettrick who was then the new head of all training at the AFD.  They all only had Level I certification.  While I can understand the difficulty of coming into a new situation when the academy had already been planned, one thing Jodie Hettrick could have done in her initiation period was to check the certifications of the two in charge of the academy.  She had, after all, been in  charge of the state certification program  just before taking the job in Anchorage.  

Why does this matter?

First and foremost, the people in charge of testing didn't have the knowledge needed to create a valid and reliable exam and exam process necessary for a system based on merit principles, as required by  the MOA Charter at Section 5.06(c). 

Second, it undermines the credibility of the AFD's claims in court about how professional the fire department is.  The people preparing the exam didn't have the training or certification to do their jobs right.  There are also certifications for what different levels of paramedics can and cannot do.  Several people testified to not being able to perform certain functions because you needed a higher certification to perform it.  Are people ignoring those certifications too?  I suspect not, simply because they see that as their primary function, while they might see testing as 'merely' administrative.  I don't know for sure.  

Third, it raises questions about integrity, the area that Jeff Graham was marked down on, just enough in his oral exam, for him to fail to qualify for promotion.  I'll get into that matter later, but I want people to remember this as one of number of questions about integrity that make the judgment of Graham's integrity seem hypocritical and which I'm sure the jury didn't miss.  

On August 4, at the end of the MOA's defense, Deputy Chief Hettrick was called back to the stand by the MOA attorney and asked questions about the lack of proper certification.  
It was unfortunate, she told the court.  That State of Alaska didn't offer training in Anchorage for a number of years.  But it turns out there were people at AFD who had been certified at Level II when there still was training available in Anchorage.  

Jeff Jarvi, Graham's attorney, asked why people didn't go to Juneau or Outside for training, and Hettrick said it depended on available travel funds.  He then pointed out that Casey Johnson (who  created the exams)  had been allowed to testify at the trial out of sequence so he could attend a non-critical conference in North Carolina. That's four years since the exam and they still haven't gotten training.  

Below are some of my typed notes in the courtroom, so they aren't verbatim but close. 

MOA Attorney Monica Elkinton  "Are you saying that between 1996 and 2012 courses weren't offered?"
Hettrick:  Two small groups and no one from Anchorage took it.  There are no state statutes that require certification.  Local government makes that decision.  For police they have statutes.  There are recommendations, but without the instructor program, state couldn't do that. 
Elkinton:  Sounds like the authority having jurisdiction can prescribe what to do.  
Hettrick:  Yes

So, she's saying without a Municipal statue requiring training people to proper certification, it's ok if unqualified people make up the exams and grading procedures.

When it was Jeff Jarvi's turn to cross examine.

Jarvi:  Chief Dennis was a certified Level 2 right?  
Hettrick:  Yes
Jarvi:  Were there others?
Hettrick:  We have, I believe, less than 10.  
Jarvi:  There are others [with Level II Certification]?
Hettrick:  Yes
Jarvi:  Did they travel Outside to take the exam?
Hettrick:  No, they got it before 1996, but they can have them renewed.  The other half of that group attended the course we did in 2016.  . . . 
Jarvi:   We heard that Dennis did his in Juneau and Casey Johnson [Who created the test but was only certified at Level I] was accommodated in this trial to go to a conference in North Carolina?
Hettrick:  Yes.  

I would also note here - it's difficult to find the perfect place to put everything because some facts relate to more than one point, such as Casey Johnson's descriptions of how he himself had prepared for his own promotion exam.  MOA attorney Elkinton made one of her key arguments in the case that Graham didn't pass the test because he didn't study hard enough.*  To prove that point she asked various other people how hard they studied. 

Casey Johnson, in answering Elkinton's questions, said he studied many hours every day for months and months.  It was important for him to know everything.  I'd note that there was no real way to verify how much time he actually spent other than his word.  There were logs of people attending academy sessions or working with others in their stations, but not independent reading and studying.  

I raise this because Casey Johnson also said that training had become his passion.  Yet, if he was so dedicated to studying and memorizing as much as possible so he could pass the exams and do his job well, how is it that he didn't make sure he got the Level II Fire Safety Instructor training?  How is it that he didn't know about validity which was discussed in some detail in the national Fire Safety Instructor Training manual?  

*I do have to mention that Jeff Graham passed the written test and the practical test comfortably. So apparently he studied enough for those exams.  It was the highly subjective oral exam that he didn't pass. By one point.  I'll got into much more detail about what was wrong with that exam in future posts.  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Two Movies Two Nights, One About Love, One About Anger - Naming and Billboards (Updated)

Monday night we saw Call Me By Your Name, a movie as devoid of violence as you can get.  There was blood - Elia got a nose bleed while eating dinner.  Oscar scraped his stomach in a bike accident.  If there was more than that, I don't remember.  The movie was about love in many different forms from love among family members, friends, and sexual love.  It's about intelligent, well educated, multilingual people interacting not just with civility, but with affection.  It all takes place in a lushly sensual summer in Northern Italy.

The movie has gotten a lot of praise.  The New Yorker has one gushing review and one thoroughly nasty review.  It wasn't merely critical, but relentlessly churlish.  The first paragraph ends with:
"Elio affirms that his parents were aware of the relationship and offered their approval, to which Oliver responds, “You’re so lucky; my father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” And that’s the premise of the film: in order to have anything like a happy adolescence and avoid the sexual repression and frustration that seem to be the common lot, it’s essential to pick the right parents. The movie is about, to put it plainly, being raised right."
I had thought about how loving Elio and his parents were with each other, and as well as I got along with my parents, this family really had a great rapport.  But to say that the movie was all about being raised by the right parents, hints that perhaps something about the warmth of the family irritated Brody, the reviewer, enough to color his whole view of the movie.  There were things he said that had  merit.  He basically said it was all a tourist promotion scheme for Northern Italy, and I did think, when I saw the waterfall, about all the people who will add it to their itineraries when the go to Italy.  And I thought about his criticism of the camera shots.  There were no point of view shots - and I realized I couldn't remember seeing what was happening from the eyes of the main characters. (I'd have to see it again to be sure.  I'm not sure it's true.  We do see Oscar's arrival from the upstairs window where Elio is, for example.)  That criticism also made me feel sorry for someone so steeped in film making that he sees the film making instead of the film.

I did raise the question to my wife about Armie Hammer's name.  I joked that he was the grandson of the oil man Armand Hammer.  It turns out, according to The Times of Israel that he's the great grandson of Armand Hammer.  The review focuses on the Jewish themes of the movie.

Tuesday night we saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie full of violence, foul language, and anger.  The film erases the idea of good guys and bad guys - everyone is flawed, and there's anger deep in all of them.  With one exception.  It doesn't paint a pretty picture of the United States, but it does force anyone watching it to think about our uncivil society and the troubled lives of people who never experienced dependable, unconditioned love.  This is, for me, a movie about anger and how it causes us to do stupid things, to hurt other people as a way of trying to lessen our own pain.

All that said, Three Billboards got a slew of Golden Globe awards Sunday night and Call Me By Your Name got shut out, though it did have a lot of nominations.

This post is for Casey, but he's probably already asleep.

[UPDATE Jan 10, 2017:  I've had a night to sleep on this second film.  What hadn't quite formed itself into words last night:  This is a fairy tale, constructed to make a point about the destructiveness of anger and the importance of forgiveness.  The characters and the town are less real people than constructs to teach a lesson, a parable perhaps.  That's the unease I walked away from the theater with.  Will it work?  I don't know.  This town is in the same state as Ferguson and racism in the police station isn't below the surface.  While partisan politics aren't mentioned, this town clearly voted for Trump and Mildred is probably one of the few who didn't.  The town is divided between troubled whites and others - blacks, a gay guy, and a dwarf.  I suspect the obviousness of that will have many Trump voters immune to the message about the destructiveness of anger and hate.  It will come across like Clinton's deplorable comment did.  With the exception of one (very cool) white resident of Ebbing, the only people who supported Mildred were the outsiders - blacks, a gay, a midget.   But perhaps people who originally side with Mildred will recognize their own obsessiveness.

In a SlashFilm interview, director McDonagh says the screenplay was written eight years ago, so it's not about Trump and current politics, but it doesn't say how much time he spent in small town Missouri.  (Sam Rockwell, in a Vanity Fair interview says the movie was filmed in Asheville, North Carolina, but he spent time in Missouri doing ride-alongs with police.) So I simply don't know how well this reflects the people in a town like this.

All that said, each film maker, each author should make the story they have in them.  Short of intentionally manipulative propaganda, it's not their responsibility how people react.   Riling people up is not a bad thing.  so long as they think about the issues raised and their own positions.]