July 18, 2019

FaceApp Is Not A Russian Plot





So Chuckie Schumer has asked for a probe into FaceApp. Sigh...

I'm actually laughing as I write this because I called it. Literally called it.

FaceApp is not stealing your photos and sending them to Russia. It doesn't ask for any other permissions than any other app that does anything with your photos and/or shares them on social media--that's the only way for something like that to work. (Don't believe me? Look at the terms for every other app you're using.)

The company has been around for a while. FaceApp has been around for a while. The only photos the app actually accesses are the ones you select and it gets uploaded to the cloud.

The user who started this whole allegation on Twitter (that the app was uploading all their photos to their servers--deleted those tweets when he realized he was WRONG).

 A couple of days ago I noticed the first "security concerns news story" from big media. All the stories were structured and written the same--they might as well have been the same piece. Start out by mentioning the terms and conditions (don't mention that they're standard for this sort of thing). Then some security expert (always the head of a big company and always a paid talking head on the news or a corporate speaker) talks about what COULD be done--structured in a way it was easy to miss the could-be's and potentially's.

Twitter is literally full of other tech experts screwing around with the app (some examples here and here and here), finding it does exactly what it says, and all the could be allegations don't actually work.

This struck me as purposeful.


I messaged a buddy and said as much, "I think these stories presage some other move to re-spark the bullshit Russian hackers stealing elections narrative."

And now what do we have? Schumer calling from a probe. Why? I'm sticking to my guns--the Democrats will use ever changing debate requirements to shape their field, chose who they want at the convention with their super-delegates, then go into blue-no-matter-who-mode. And when their unlikable centrist stooge with a shitty voting record with a political career shaped by corporate cash looses and Trump gets a second term, they'll bring this back-- FaceApp and the Russians stole the election for Trump.


Cormoran Strikes Out





I like the Harry Potter series, but, man, those Cormoran Strike books just sound terrible...

I picked one up at the library book sale yesterday and thumbed through it, reading random bits, and yeah... Also, Cormoran Strike is dumb name for a non-Potterverse character.

July 16, 2019

Stranger Things Observations




Couple of days before Season 3 dropped, I started a rewatch of Stranger Things from the beginning. In no particular order, couple of things struck me about the show in general during this rewatch and starting Season 3:

  1. I love Sheriff Hopper. I really do. I like how human he feels. How honest and real he is. How he’s not perfect--he's struggling with his past--but he tries to be a good man. The fact that he stress eats is such a nice touch (take note crime writers – people deal with stress other ways than the bottle in the desk drawer, it’s not 1950 anymore). And little things like him shaving his beard but keeping his mustache and then seeing him watching Magnum, PI. Those are things so many writers and so many shows miss out on. Those make a character real.
  2. Joyce is one of Winona Ryder’s best performances. And maybe it’s because she was the first actress I ever had a crush on (Lydia in Beetlejuice), but even as a poor and tired single mom—she’s still hot.
  3. I know it’s not shot in Indiana and every now and again I’m like, that’s not Indiana, but, man, sometimes they so perfectly capture the feel of Indiana that I don’t care.
  4. I catch something new every rewatch.
  5. I like how all the adults aren’t just dismissive of the kids. Sooooo tired of that trope. Sooo tired of it.


A couple of other things that really struck me, I see as as writing lessons:

  • ST gives ever character a chance to shine.
  • ST isn’t afraid of giving you other moments. It’s not just scary and tense all the time. It’s not afraid to be funny or sad or sweet or just exciting or just give you something you cheer for or even just more of something you liked (like Lucas's little sister). Too many shows and writers think everything has to be dark and serious and depressing constantly as if that makes it “deep”.
  • ST is amazing at coming up with unlikely character pairings and finding ways for them to connect as people.
  • ST understands what it means for a character to be likable and realistic. Too many shows and too many writers don’t get that. So they create shows and write books and stories full of unlikable people always constantly being horrible to each other and then scratch their heads when people don’t respond.
  • Because ST understands that it means for a character to be likable. We can see a character fuck up and come back from it, like a real human being. It’s why the show is so good at the redemptive character arc.

July 11, 2019

The Last Czars





So The Last Czars on Netflix...is a hot mess.

The studio behind it aimed to create a new genre: what they call "the megadoc.” A high end documentary with taking heads and an action-driven drama. Kind of a good idea, right? Imagine watching a premium cable period drama that cut to people explaining things.

But it just doesn’t work.

It’s weird and it’s jarring and the cuts between scripted actors, talking heads, and real-life footage break your attention. You combine that with random modern phraseology that’ll pop up in the re-enactments and random sexy bits for no good reason and the whole thing becomes kind of weird and off-putting and working against itself—here’s a sex scene with the Czar and his wife aaand--cut to a talking head telling you about poor economic conditions.

You can't have Lenin's tomb BEFORE he's dead.
The show is full of all sorts of little errors and just kind of lazy sloppiness (see the pic on the right for what I'm talking about). Trying to blow through so much important history (important for Russia and the modern world—imagine if there had been no Soviet Union) so quickly with random sexy melodrama reduces a lot of complex figures and movements to cartoony caricature (here's the baaad adviser and here's the good adviser and here's some mean looking Bolsheviks getting drunk) and leaves a lot of stuff out entirely (we never see the Czar’s dreaded secret police in action--instead we get a talking head saying something like "the Czar was effective in breaking up rebellious influences").

Obviously the show isn't particularly kind to the communists, but it gets points for two big things. First, correctly portraying Nicholas as weak-willed, totally ineffective as a ruler, and too out of touch and wrapped-up in his own luxury to take actions that could have prevented the hungry wolves at his door. And secondly, not turning Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik responsible for the execution of the royal family, into a slavering monster.

The most frustrating thing though is you can see how EITHER a scripted historical melodrama OR an in-depth documentary about the reign of the Last Czar could have been great.

July 3, 2019

Fartsovka






If you don’t mind subtitles, I recommend the Russian historical crime-drama Fartsa (go ahead and laugh, it’s a funny name but it's a slang term that developed from the English phrase "for sale") on Netflix.

It's set in the Soviet Union in 1961. It follows four young friends who get involved in “fartsovka” to help their friend who owes a large gambling debt. Farsovka was the secondary black market economy that centered on foreign goods (especially clothes you could sell to stilyagi—think hipster) and the difference in currency exchange rates (the official one versus the black market one).

It’s well acted. Well written. Beautifully shot. Character driven—the friends struggle to deal with normal problems like love and happiness while navigating a criminal underworld. And it gives you a peek into what normal life was like in the Soviet Union. Plus, there’s a lot of fun rock and jazz music you’ve never heard.

July 1, 2019

Sequels to Hoods




If there were a publisher who was interested in follow-ups to Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats (which I still move copies of), there are two other anthologies I have planned in my head.

The first would be crime stories about Teddy Boys (picture 1) and the second would be crime stories about Soviet stilyagi (picture 2). Or maybe I should just get my act together and crowdfund them...




June 27, 2019

No Honorable Frays




I’m no stranger to violence. As I’ve written before, my brother was violently mentally ill. I saw him repeatedly fight with cops until it reached the point where if he were reported jaywalking, four squad cars would arrive, two-men to a car. I saw him fight with my other brother repeatedly; once when my mother tried to break it up, he threw her through the closet doors. I saw him break my father’s nose and ribs with a one-two combination. I saw him strangle our other brother’s friend to the point where his face started changing colors (my mom broke that up to).

I’m not a pacifist. In middle school, a high school kid wouldn’t stop hitting me in the back of the head so I stood up and punched him in the mouth—got kicked off the bus for three days (but the high school kid never bothered me after that). In high school, I got barred from Arby’s when, again, an older kid wouldn’t leave me alone so I pelted him in the face with my philly beef n’ swiss and then tossed him over a table. When Maria and I were on our way to our rehearsal dinner, I nearly got in a fist fight with a crazy dude in the parking lot who was convinced I’d given him the finger. When Maria and I were first married and we were at our absolute poorest, I would occasionally act as security for a girl we knew who worked as an escort and ended up having to yank a frat boy out of the back of a limo once.

I once wrote an article about the little discussed role of violence in the Civil Rights movement.

Even Buddhism encourages you to take action IF your action will prevent greater suffering.

If you’ve met me in real life and if you know me in real life, you might not know these things. You probably have a certain perception of me. My aura of calm has been cultivated. My ability to deal with difficult people in difficult situations comes from experience. I say these things not to brag. I say these things even knowing that I have been fortunate enough to escape the sorts of violent abuse others I know have endured. I say these things knowing that I have never been to war (the military was never for me—I generally don’t do well being told what to do, especially if I don’t respect the person doing the telling). I say these things to hopefully show that I’m speaking from a place of experience and understanding. You can know something intellectually, but it’s entirely different to know something from experience, to know something in your gut.

All too often, most conversations now, I think, are lead by people with no experience, no skin in the game, and, frankly, who I don’t think really care but are more interested in what they can get out of it or how it makes them look.

Violence is sometimes necessary. War is sometimes necessary. But to borrow a line from Steve Earle: "There are no honorable frays to join, only mean death dealt out in dibs and dabs, Or horror unleashed from across oceans."

Violence and war come with a price. A very very high price. The problem is these men sending our troops off to war are the type of men who never pay that price. The problem is these men who’ve set our disastrous foreign policy, who’ve gleefully and proudly pursued nonstop warfare (I barely remember a time when we were not at war somewhere, do you?) have been sending our troops around the globe to die to make a bunch of rich men richer.

As Major-General Smedley Butler (one of the most decorated Marines in US history, a man who served in military actions and wars they don’t talk about in history class) wrote:


“How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?"

Dwight Eisenhower presided over the single largest land invasion in history. What did he do when he took office? Believing the military should be small, quick, and mobile, believing you can maintain security without bankrupting the country, he slashed the the military budget he inherited from Truman.

Our current military budget is $700 billion. The estimated cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan? $5.6 trillion. That's right, trillion with a tee. All while most people I know barely make it from paycheck to paycheck, and then only if nothing unplanned happens and they manage to stay healthy.

We can and we should do better.

As Eisenhower said:


“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

There is one, count her one candidate, opposing our current policy of endless warfare. And that’s Tulsi Gabbard, a combat vet. If you watched her put the clueless Tim Ryan in his place last night, you saw that she knows what she’s talking about. She's where your loyalty should lie. And let's make sure she makes it to the rest of the debates.
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