Sep 16

Review of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016 remake)

We saw the 2016 version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN today, not quite a remake. We enjoyed the film, well, *sufficiently*; it was well paced, competently directed, had good to excellent acting in it, and more or less held together. It was however not the cinematic classic the original western was, with Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach–that was a *real movie*, with nothing wasted in it. The original didn’t have anything forced in, it didn’t feel choppily edited. As some have noted, the new one is rather pushily politically correct, in the progressive sense– I’m a liberal Democrat, but that aspect seemed forced, and uneven…In the opening scene there’s a clumsy speech by the villain connecting religion with capitalism, vilifying capitalism per se… Also that first, fairly vicious scene was in several other respects over the top.

Another thing this film is missing –painfully missing–is the original’s romance element, the two young peasants in love, the young man that chooses to stay and be what he thought he didn’t respect–a farmer. The idea that it’s harder to be a farmer than a gunfighter. That was the main sub-text, the main point of the original movie…Also, come to think of it–we never get a sense of the people of the town, as we did in the original. And the heroic young woman in this sort-of remake doesn’t really *go* anywhere as a character.

But it has its good qualities. Denzel Washington was very strong in this, but it bothered me that they didn’t show some of the racial bias toward his character that at least *some* of the townspeople would have had. (I mean, if you want to be politically progressive, show what it was like then, at least a bit.) Hell, you could have had a few of them object to him on that basis and the others say, “Shut up, he’s saving our asses and he’s a good man, I don’t care what color he is.” You know: they’d be realizing that color doesn’t matter–it’s character that matters. But they didn’t mention the issue. There’s one slight hint of racial attitude in Denzel’s first appearance. You see, it wasn’t needed in a movie like, say, THE EQUALIZER because despite some present day racism it’s not anywhere near as pervasive as it was in the old west…I really liked THE EQUALIZER–and racial issues don’t apply in that story. But in a movie set in the old west the issue should have at least come up.

Now I know, in a sense a western like this is a kind of fantasy: In real life, in this situation, the heroes would have killed a few of the bad guys, but that outnumbered, great shots or not, the Magnificent Seven would have been shot to pieces, in their first gunfight in that town…Still, no one wants that in a western like this. If you want to see a naturalistic western, you’re better off with Open Range or Unforgiven or Lonesome Dove…

As a guy who can buy into the fantasy of a high-action western, I went along for the ride. Yes there are so many bullets fired–far more than in the original western, seems to me–the action scenes become a blur. But there are some fun scenes in it–like the one where Chris Pratt’s character is dealing with the two deadbeat guys who jumped him–and some great characters, like Vincent D’onofrio’s character, and especially Ethan Hawke’s PTSD stricken ex-Rebel.

The heroes, also, are somewhat vulgar–and that’s a good thing, as it grounds us, makes us believe maybe they can be authentic western gunfighters who were, in fact, likely to be vulgar a fair amount, especially when getting drunk in a saloon.

Maybe the most entertaining part of the film is the humor that crops up. Pretty effective.

I could tell when something had been cut from the film–you could feel it, a bit too much. Gets choppy in parts. The Mexican character seems a bit under explored in the final cut.

Oh and there’s TOO MUCH GUN TWIRLING in this movie.

One may occasionally think of certain things in Blazing Saddles, watching this…but I won’t go there.

(Yes, I know, it was inspired by The Seven Samurai, but we’re talking about the American Western.)

Sep 16

Something You Probably Don’t Want to Know About Writing

Sometimes I think writers of fiction, of scripts and stories of all sorts, are simply bartenders making pleasing cocktails. But they’re cocktails made of hormones; “love hormones”,  fight-and-flight hormones;  they’re made of adrenaline, oxytocin, and their variations; of hormones we haven’t even identified yet. There is no doubt that a popular or at least effective story spurs small and large jets of adrenaline; of endorphins, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. The reader looks for that effect. If it’s not there they say it “doesn’t do anything for me”. I really do think writers are purveyors of precise cerebral and glandular stimulation. Some writers may specialize in a particular mix of hormones–a romantic suspense writer mixes some form of oxytocin with adrenocorticotropic hormone. I know: this kind of reductionism–a horrifying thought.

But then I remember that the best stories also mean something; that they’re parables of morality, or self-knowledge, or empathy or righteous anger or existential dilemma. They’re poetic. And the hormonal waves are the propellants for those parables.

Some stories don’t have much poetry–the sparest horror movies perhaps–but the better ones are so well crafted, even artfully crafted, we appreciate them on that level. So I take a deep breath, and mix another cocktail, and hope for a tip.

Sep 16


We were lost, today, in the Greed-Maze of Corporate Retail–an Ikea store. The size and proportions of a Babylonian temple…Display after brightly colored display, dispirited, zombie-eyed underpaid employees occasionally glimpsed. A powerful chemistry-set smell about the place. Phthalates, polyurethane, and their toxic compadres, as we’re shunted through room after room, no escape except if the place is on fire and the emergency exit is hard to find too. A lady who sounds like she is thinking, “I”m in Hell” speaks over the loudspeaker about a special Ikea bargain, what a great Family Opportunity it is. I see a young couple with two small children smilingly looking over furniture for their home, their children clambering on it, rolling in neurotoxic carcinogenic fire retardants…

The shunting of people, the funneling of people, through the gigantic corporate maze, making sure the consumer rat gets every last possible prodding for the desired response–relentlessly funneled as per the authentic map, below, of one floor of Ikea: A discount store we’re drawn to because they clothe the slightly-lower prices as a bargain even as they pass along some of the labor of construction to us–we construct the furniture ourselves at home, and save them a great deal of money…

Sep 16

HOW? How is Trump “Closing the Gap” with Clinton? Deduction provides the Most Probable Explanation…

“Clinton’s Lead Narrows Among Independents, Voters Nationally” says NBC news today. Despite a barrage of unsavory revelations about Trump, despite his endless blunders, how is it that Trump is closing the gap? It’s not his deplorable base–there aren’t enough of them to account for it. Is it Independents? Some of them, yes, but also it’s people who *used to vote Democrat* and now are thinking of voting for Trump–*not* because of concerns about the economy, *not* because they’re suddenly threatened by immigrants. No. I think it may be “a band of mothers”. And fathers. I think it may be family people who are instinctively and mistakenly turning toward Trump because of one issue alone–terrorism.

These aren’t most American voters. But they may be just enough American voters. I don’t think most of these new, shifting Trump supporters closing this gap would have chosen to ignore his ugly side if not for the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando; if not for the rise of ISIS, the decapitation of Americans in terrorist hands, the attacks in France and Belgium. I think it’s fear–an understandable but, for the most part, unfounded fear. They’re unconsciously afraid for their families; they’re afraid for themselves. And he pounds at that issue, never fails to hit it. And he’s hitting home–because they’re nervously *choosing* to believe his dishonest claims, his utter bullshit, about his “strength”, his supposed capability to hit terrorists harder and more effectively.

They might not admit this if you asked them. Few of this shifting, critical margin would admit they would support a guy “going after the families of terrorists”, as Trump has said…

Most people *will not admit they’re as frightened as they are*.

If thugs attack houses on the average, quite-decent person’s block and a big mean much-disliked local cop comes and offers to protect that decent person’s house, that decent, average person will offer the big ugly cop coffee and cookies, even a steak dinner. They’ll put aside their dislike because they imagine they can hide behind him.

The irony is–Trump is far less likely to be of use in dealing with terrorists than Hillary Clinton would be. He would probably make matters worse–as Bush did in invading Iraq. He would blow it bigtime and along the way move this country closer to becoming a real police state. But that’s a rational analysis. Fear isn’t rational.

Sep 16

Confederate Flags Flying Proudly in the State of Washington

They had an enormous Confederate Flag in front of their house…Walking the dogs, here in Vancouver Washington, I went for a closer look…It is a specialized variant, I see–it’s got the Don’t Tread on Me symbol and words against the Confederate rebel flag backdrop. It’s quite large, hanging from a flagpole that’s stuck onto the back of an old truck, along with an equally humongous U.S. flag. The big Ford pickup is crammed in along with several other similar 4WD battered heavy-wheel trucks in front of this tiny bungalow. There’s an army-style Jeep parked out there too–I’ve never seen so many army-jeep enthusiasts before coming here.

The house has four bright red KEEP OUT, NO TRESPASSING signs. The tiny muddy yard is crowded with odds and ends of junk, and toys, small plastic kid’s slides, much evidence of children, but no sight of anyone. Then–movement! It’s a chicken. As if to make the picture complete. It’s a large speckled hen, looking at me hopefully as if I might have her feed.

Filling the truck beds are big black plastic sacks bulging with cans and bottles. There are more old vehicles lining the little muddy driveway on the side. The house has been recently painted skyblue–but with spray paint of some kind. Not the graffiti kind, but with some much bigger paint sprayer, the job almost completed. (“You give me a quarter ounce of meth, I’ll spray paint your house”?)

Across the street and down a little, a blond lady in horn rim glasses comes out of her neat little house, to her Prius. She sees me looking at the house and the flags and I see her wince and shake her head sadly. The polarization here has been clear to me from the first.

Sep 16

Sanctification from the Soiled

Canonization is an absurdity atop an absurdity. First of all, making someone a saint is a marketing scheme. It seems necessary to keep people interested in the church. So they have to come up with someone. Then they have to pretend they believe that person somehow effected a miracle. It’s Mother Teresa now…This poor old deluded woman–who has, I think, been much slandered for what is simple obedience to those who brainwashed her and for her undoubted incompetence at running a clinic–is now to be a “saint”. Even Jesus didn’t want to be sanctified. Do not call me good, he said, only God is good. Another absurdity is that people accept the church as a decider for who is saintly, who is exaltedly good.

The church–which burned and hung many thousands of heretics, which bullied and enslaved Central and South American and North American aboriginals, which grievously mistreated pregnant unwed mothers and their babies in Ireland; which engaged in greed, at the level of the priesthood and the church itself; which played footsie with Nazis and which tolerated and concealed child-raping priests..

We’re supposed to let that institution tell us who is saintly?

Sep 16

The Thinking We Think Without Thinking

We keep secrets from ourselves; we hide them in the back of our minds. That’s where we rationalize wrongdoing. Some of our thinking happens well underneath of our usual, narrow focus of awareness. It isn’t exactly “the subconscious”. That’s deeper… We rationalize, make excuses for what what we do out in the world, in these secret places of the mind. Rarely do we think the words in the forefront of our minds: “I can be selfish here because…”. We don’t think it out in any conscious way. We don’t hear those words in our minds–unless someone challenges us. Then perhaps we have to dig for it, and we might spew it out aloud. “Because…because of what they said that time…” We don’t usually rationalize our selfishness consciously, but the rationalization goes on, worked out in a gibbering inner dialectic, an inner dialogue somewhere in the murkiest associative-linkage of our minds.

Selfishness, greed, malice, predation, neglect of children or neglect of parents…we do “think” the rationalization through without realizing we’ve thought it through. But our “thinking” is carried out in the bent definitions making up our own little fallacies. “I deserve this despite what my conscience is trying to tell me because he said…” …”I haven’t gotten what I wanted so many times, I may as well just…” And it goes on and on, a mumbling rationalizer hidden inside us, endlessly muttering, hunched back there in the shadows.

We don’t know we’re doing it. But we do. It can be seen–the whole mechanism of the mind can be seen. If we follow the associations, the linkage of mechanical self-justifying thinking back, link by link, , and keep looking, the linkage enters dark rooms suddenly lit by the painful bravery of honest seeing, and we’re surprised at what we find there. “So THAT is why I did it?” It takes time to learn, to effect. Persistence.

… In Eastern meditation it’s sometimes called “seeing your mind”. Normally it seems as impossible as seeing one’s own face without a mirror. But we can see the hidden parts of our own minds. There are ways. Some call it self-observation. The method is ancient, is found in esoteric schools of many traditions. It can be learned through deep cognitive therapy, too, I suspect. It’s what Socrates spoke of in Phaedrus…

Aug 16

Open Carry and Meth–Welcome to Washington State

Having just moved to Washington State, I was surprised to see a young guy with a big Glock semi-auto pistol in a holster on his hip in the convenience store where we stopped for gas. Kid was no cop or soldier.

I asked my guitar player about it, as he filled the tank; he said, “Yup, this is Washington. We got open carry here.” I looked it up: “Open carry is lawful in Washington without any permit.” This is a bit unsettling–but what was more unsettling was the guy who was carrying. He was a muscular young man in paramilitary cammie trousers, his buzzcut head in one of those pillbox-with-a-bill type green military caps, Young Militia Billy was twitching, walking back and forth in front of a case displaying readymade burritos. “What’s in those?” he asked the counterman, pointing at the burritos with a trembling finger. His voice was flat, taut, the words coming out doublefast. “I don’t think I should eat those. They probably have something in them I shouldn’t eat.I’ve got food at home. Yeah I’ve got food at home.” Then he and his Glock quick-marched to the door and rushed out to his truck. He backed that pickup out fast and it roared away.

There was no doubt in my mind the kid was on amphetamines. Just the guy, I thought, we want with a big loaded pistol on his hip.

Just before we left, a lady pointed out a large praying mantis, on a the curb by a fuel pump. Said someone should take it home and put it in their garden. I caught the lime-green mantis and carried it over to some bushes and put him in there…That was my first Washington praying mantis, too…

Aug 16

Stuff that social-conservative Christians apparently believe is in the Bible

“Ye shall not enter into a legal contract relating to the act of marrying a person of thine own gender, for to do that does annoy the Lord, and He fumes upon ye.” – Imaginarians 5: 33

“Do not stray from interpreting Holy Writ literally, even as ye perceive contradictions, and are commanded to kill with stones those who labor upon the Sabbath,and even as ye are condemned for eating shellfish, verily shall you shut up and just read it literally, or the Darkness will consume thee.” Imaginarians 888:442

“Neither shall ye ask for birth control from Planned Parenthood, for the use of pills to evade the slavery of parenthood displeases the Lord, who prefers you to stay busy watching thy offspring, even should thou despiseth the father; even shall ye be condemned for the use of condoms, see thou above.” Imaginarians 7999:834

“Whosoever says, we should follow the ways of Christ and not impose hardship on the poor, nor should we raise up the wealthy, shall be cast out, and called bloodsucking Communist, and reviled.” Imaginarians 8,934,772:9894

“For truly, though parable is extant throughout the Word of God, thou must upon pain of Hellfire assume that Genesis happened Just Like That, even unto the apple eating and the snake and the surprisingly few generations since then, and so it is written. Neither shall ye question the necessary volume of Noah’s Ark.” Imaginarians 77:88 and 1/2

“For the lord sayeth evolution is not a thing, nor raise thou the possibility.” Imaginarians 1:22

“For truly the Founding Fathers, of that Blessed Land America, were Christians all, and submitteth they to the Writ of the Bible, unto all eternity.” Imaginarians 7:999299.3

“Verily I say unto you, if you are a dude who dresses like a lady at work, or any place else, except secretly in thy home, the Lord is displeased.” — Imaginarians 1:1

Aug 16

Video Exams in Medicine: The Latest Medical Corner-Cutting

Another relatively new aspect of our sickly medical establishment here–video “exams”. Kaiser Permanente (in some ways not bad as these big American medical organizations go) has been pushing patients into five-minute follow up “exams” that are done purely through video on your phone or computer. The doctor presumably asks a few questions and confirms you’re still breathing because he can see you talking to him, and that’s the exam. Do they bill the patient a co pay for this? “Not this year” I was told. The person I asked implied they planned to start doing that. You could have to pay a co-pay for a “video exam”.

By the way, suppose you have something that may be hemorrhoids or a tumor, do you drop trou and spread cheeks to the video cam for the doc’s opinion? Will gynecologists look for yeast infection this way? Will you put a string on your phone and lower it down your gullet for a throat exam?

*Why not simply speak on the phone*? You can’t make a determination about anything except maybe a broken arm where the bone is sticking out, on a webcam. The problem is they’ll call it an exam but it isn’t really one. It’s just a way to save them money and still bill. Video exams could be useful for special situations–a friend just told me about one–but as a general all-around replacement for follow up in person exams, I think they’re just a device the company uses to cut corners.