World War Z

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 by a4synapse

I thought: I’ll watch it. It’s Brad Pitt: how bad could it be?
Well, we open on a beautiful family moment, played way too broadly. One daughter has asthma. Dad (Brad) is making pancakes; which bye-the-bye is every husband’s ambition. Next we see them in their Volvo (naturellement) driving on Broad Street in Philadelphia toward City Hall. My guess is that they’re right around South Street (maybe Spruce), when a disturbance begins. They are mystified. Dad tells them to stay in the car. The backstory is that Brad/Dad has worked for the U.N. in places where others fear to go. He’s an expert at managing chaos, and still has strong ties to the very top of the U.N. Whatever has been going on, no one has called him, IM’d him or tweeted about it. Unlikely at best, but we need him to be as mystified as the rest of the mob. They end up leaving the safety of the car because it’s clear it’s no longer safe, but in the rush, Mom (Mireille Enos) forgets her purse and the inhaler. The other daughter is a wandering screamer/cryer/panicker. By the age of six, this kid should know a thing or two, as in: don’t let your parents out of your sight. As they near City Hall, they spot an abandoned RV and head for it (that’s the first smart thing they did). As an aside, Jerry spots a man in the process of turning and notices that it takes 12 seconds to complete zombification, at which point the victim jumps up and starts running to bite and infect the next person. These zombies are faster than people can run, more agile, and indefatigable.
Somehow, in the midst of a huge traffic jam, they manage to get out of the city and on some two lane highway headed north. By then, Dad has received a phone call from Thierry, the guy in charge of chaos at the U.N. “I really need you on this one, Jerry.” We’ll pick you up.
On the way north, cue the asthma attack. They stop and he turns off the fucking engine to deal with it. Why is his wife helpless? She can’t get it started. They stop at a store which is not yet overrun with zombies. Dad heads with the asthma daughter to the pharmacy and scores some clenbuterol. Mom puts the little one in a shopping cart. Next thing you know, the kid is rolling through the aisles screaming. Where’s Mom you ask? Also screaming. Cue manly rescue.
The RV is gone when they emerge (they probably left the keys in it). Oh, and now there are guns. Yes, that will work.
They see a promising high rise because they need it for the helicopter. Suddenly they are pursued and running. Screamer daughter gets lost and screams. They double back to get her. Miraculously, a door opens and they find shelter with two parents and a boy. Food and a night’s sleep. They say come with us – no.
When the helicopter is on its way, they run toward the roof, zombies in outrageously fast pursuit. Dad gets spittle on his face. The copter is coming, troops shoot some zombies. They just make it, even as zombies jump off the roof to try to the catch the landing gear. Wow. Dad in the meantime, has run to the building edge because of the spittle thing and is counting to 12. If he’s infected, he’s going to jump. But you didn’t really think that was going to happen to Brad Pitt, did you? Also, the boy has joined them and it seems the parents elected to stay put and get zombied.
Next act: They land on an aircraft carrier, teeming with busy people. Jerry says he got out of this business ’cause it was killing him. The general (played by David Adams) says Dude, there’s no room here for anyone who isn’t essential. i.e., we’ll pack your family off to get infected if you don’t play.
What I find amazing here is that Jerry even thinks that’s a possibility. The scale of this disaster is manifest, and he’s electing to stay out of it? Hunh? And he’s Brad Pitt: that’s the entire reason he’s in the movie. And his wife (who can only smile wanly) is against it too. Hunh? Does she want her daughters to have any future? So he goes off the South Korea which is their first guess for patient zero, equipped with two world phones and I’ll call you at specific intervals to tell you I’m alive.
Long flight to South Korea. They’ve got a whiz-kid Harvard guy on board to help with figuring it out. He promptly dies when they land by slipping on a ramp. Why did they bother?
Next, we get David Morse talking about stuff, to no apparent advance in the story-line. They have to get somewhere via bicycle through an infected zone. Naturally the wife calls him on the phone while they’re bicycling and since sound attracts the zombies, they’re under attack. Did she not think it might be dangerous to just call him? She couldn’t wait?
They barely get out of South Korea alive and head for Israel (Jerusalem) on some wild notion that somebody there saw the whole thing coming and built massive walls to protect the city. My first thought was: walls won’t do shit for you.
So they have a scholarly conversation with someone and Jerry’s assigned a protection detail. They visit the wall which is truly impressive. How long did it take them to build a wall to completely enclose the city?
There’s a crowd near the wall: they start singing and making noise. In no time, there is a wave of zombies climbing on top of each other and of course they’re over the wall in minutes. Never mind that this is physically impossible. The CGI’s are impressive. Panic ensues. As he runs, Jerry notices that zombies completely ignore certain people, who are infirm or clearly ill. Hmmm. They head for the airport to catch the last train to Clarksville. In the melee, his female guard is bitten on the left hand (and it’s a good thing too). Jerry amputates the hand before the germ can spread (12 seconds) and saves her life. Luckily, she’s a very good shot with her right hand. That last plane out just barely makes it, except there is some banging coming from a bathroom. No worries. The plane is headed for Ireland, the site of a Whirled Health Organization laboratory. Everyone except for a stewardess ignores the banging from the lavatory, and of course, no one has to use it during a flight from Jerusalem to Dublin. Until you-know-what happens right over Ireland. And then, Jerry straps himself and the female guard into their seats, blows a hole in the fuselage and the plane crashes right outside the WHO facility. He and the guard are the only apparent survivors and hobble to the doors of the facility. Oh, by now, the battery has died on his world phone. The folks on the carrier think he’s dead and send the wife and kids off to a facility in Nova Scotia. Talk about ungrateful.
So they identify and the gates open. There is a remnant of scientists locked off in a lab, and they’re completely mystified, fresh out of theories. Brad says: don’t you have every nasty germ that ever was stored here somewhere? Yes, but it’s in a lab that’s overrun with ZOMBIES. Well, I think that the zombie germ avoids sick people and the zombies can tell instantly if someone is sick. Therefore, if a person is infected with something awful (but curable), it will afford at least temporary protection.
Then we get lots of running around, sneaking, being VEWWY VEWWY Quiet until they reach the lab. The other two run back to the safety of the first lab, leaving Brad alone in the lab, wondering which vial has which disease and what does he want to inject himself with? There is a one way camera so that the first lab can see him (and so can we), but can’t tell him which vial to use. Fortunately, being Brad Pitt, he chooses wisely. The best part of the movie, for my money, is his face time with a zombie who does a nifty teeth chattering things (two or three times). It’s clear that his theory is correct. The zombie can’t even see him. He walks back to the first lab, to the admiration of all concerned.
The film closes with the reunion with his family. Yay.

Air condition

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2013 by a4synapse

As the weather rips us a new one on a daily basis, I start to think about air conditioning.

There is no question that controlling the interior environment has remodelled American life. People think nothing of moving to Arizona. One hundred fifteen outside? Barely a consideration. We can continue our lives and work unhindered by physical discomfort that would normally suspend any activity other than lying down and sweating. 

I am not a luddite. I am a person who gets cold easily; something about a lower base body temperature. Where most folks are happy in 65 degree air-conditioned comfort, I reach for a sweater and then a jacket. Where most folks are perfectly happy about the hum, I fret that there are small sounds that I can no longer hear and the low level monotonous noise is a constant low level irritant. And I don’t like the uneven blasts of cold air and the brush of the current across the small hairs of my skin.

Sunday Morning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 17, 2013 by a4synapse

Steven Pearlstein, who normally talks sense, has a piece in the Washington Post, entitled ‘Is Capitalism Moral’. Of course, it captures attention. It’s here. I spent many Sunday mornings listening to some variant of ‘are you your brother’s keeper’. So it would seem that this is a core question. AND, would the Washington Post PLEASE allow for longer articles to be displayed on one page? Read this article. He’s trying to get at something; I don’t think he gets all the way there, but I support what he’s doing.

Men and women have fundamentally different points of view on the issue, although that’s a stupid way to look at it. Males once went out and brought home large pieces of bacon (home-runs); females tended the home fire and found roots, nuts, berries (small ball). These roles no longer define anyone, but the underlying points of view are still around.

I think ‘isms’ are not moral in any personal sense. An ‘ism’ describes a general method to organize public lives and I don’t think it has any inherent morality; it is a utility. It’s the consequences of the ‘ism’ that matter. In some modest ways, capitalism can be traced to John Calvin and his friend John Knox and the latter Protestant reformation. It’s also related to the little red hen. There’s a reason that politics is compared to sausage-making and economics is the ‘dismal science’. Messy, inchoate, indeterminant. This piece is one hot mess in some ways.

A useful debate about the morality of capitalism must get beyond libertarian nostrums that greed is good, what’s mine is mine and whatever the market produces is fair. It should also acknowledge that there is no moral imperative to redistribute income and opportunity until everyone has secured a berth in a middle class free from economic worries. If our moral obligation is to provide everyone with a reasonable shot at economic success within a market system that, by its nature, thrives on unequal outcomes, then we ought to ask not just whether government is doing too much or too little, but whether it is doing the right things.

That’s the concluding paragraph – a little anodyne.

This should be a book. It may have already been written. I read Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The Origins of Political Order’. He analyzed several different cultures w/births and deaths and the in-betweens. It was worth the read. One thing Fukuyama pointed out about one of China’s political paroxyms: the country was threatened by a military force to its west; there was a largish class of moneyed families that had they wanted to, could have provided the financial, societal and political resources to mount an effective response. That class decided that they already had theirs and weren’t about to deploy their resources for anything other than their own immediate interests. Country gets invaded -> they end up dead. Moral: the overall health and dynamism of your nation and time should be your personal concern. That’s a different sort of morality.


Monday Morning

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2013 by a4synapse

After the information ingestion:

someone(s) put nearly 3,000 dead pigs into a river above Shanghai

the New York Times comes out against the Keystone Pipeline

Republicans think Rand Paul has potential as a presidential candidate

there is extreme poverty in the United States

news Stories about the fact that smaller states have greater legislative and monetary pull than large states (and maybe we should do something about it.

there are two factions in the papal conclave: one for ‘same as it ever was’ and one for reform (if that’s even possible)

there’s a good op-ed from Krugman in the NYT regarding the realities of the deficit (it’s not as big as you might think, or as important); also Josh Barro in Bloomberg says the same thing, and does it better (more numbers, better explaining)

3 Days to the Derby

Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2013 by a4synapse

Post – Horse/Jockey – ML
1 – Archarcharch/Jon Court – 10-1
2 – Brilliant Speed/Joel Rosario – 30-1
3 – Twice the Appeal/Calvin Borel – 20-1
4 – Stay Thirsty/Ramon Domiguez – 20-1
5 – Decisive Moment/Kerwin Clark – 30-1
6 – Comma to the Top/Pat Valenzuela – 30-1
7 – Pants On Fire/Rosie Napravnik – 20-1
8 – Dialed In/Julien Leparoux – 4-1
9 – Derby Kitten/Javier Castellano – 30-1
10 – Twinspired/Mike Smith – 30-1
11 – Master of Hounds/Garrett Gomez – 30-1
12 – Santiva/Shaun Bridgmohan – 30-1
13 – Mucho Macho Man/Rajiv Maragh – 12-1
14 – Shackleford/Jesus Castanon – 12-1
15 – Midnight Interlude/Victor Espinoza – 10-1
16 – Animal Kingdom/Robby Albarado – 30-1
17 – Soldat/Alan Garcia – 12-1
18 – Uncle Mo/John Velazquez – 9-2
19 – Nehro/Corey Nakatani – 6-1
20 – Watch Me Go/Rafael Bejarano – 50-1

Read more:

Your Sunday Screed

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2013 by a4synapse

I respect faith; I believe that faith guides and sustains some of what is good in the world.

I believe that the Roman Catholic Church, as presently constituted, ought to be dismantled and rebuilt to become Christian again. The establishment Church has sustained and thereby condoned too many crimes against the vulnerable to continue to be trusted with the vital mission of faith and respect for every aspect of the human condition.

The list is long and repellent and growing. The institution is a privileged, insulated gerontocracy. It is reactionary, misogynistic, and homophobic.
I hope that it goes bankrupt and falls under the weight of its own hypocrisy. I think that it is incapable of reforming itself. I think that a bunch of old, chaste guys exercising power on the world stage is worse than laughable. It’s close to catastrophic.

Base X

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 by a4synapse

This young man is doing good work and he’ll probably be threatened for it for most of his life. Here!  His name is Zack Kopplin and he grew up in Louisiana. He is doing what he can to reconstitute the presence of accredited science in Louisiana’s classrooms. He is facing determined opposition from persons who wish to teach ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ as logically equal to evolution. He also wishes to restrict the use/application of vouchers for schools that teach religiously-inspired ‘science’.

I think that religion is a force for good in any society in that it encourages and provides expression for the highest and best intentions in our society. I grew up in the protestant traditions; church every sunday with socializing after the services; sunday school; confirmation; activity in youth groups. I’ve read most of the bible and I’m still interested in the fundamental questions addressed in scripture regarding the nature/relationship of the individual and society – questions of the good and good intentions.

I think that religion (in some cases) is also a reinforcer of the our most atavistic impulses. At present, parallel to our political schism, religious expression and organization has split between xenophobic, homophobic and to my mind, fundamentally misogynistic belief systems, and a set of beliefs that more closely resembles my understanding of the core teaching of the New Testament.

What I want to understand is how a group of citizens representing 15-25% of the population has effectively sealed itself within a bubble that resists and denies any fact/evidence that disproves or touches on its belief system. How and why does it insist so fervently and incontrovertibly that it is correct and infallible?

Is it possible to ask individuals who believe to examine their belief system in a new light? How does a person become so entrenched in a belief system that they are unable to admit any contradictions or possibilities that do not conform with that system as prescribed by their leadership? They are even willing to accept contradictions that originate with their leadership when it conflicts with earlier pronouncements. What is happening here?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 15, 2013 by a4synapse

From Reuters:


Here’s the Link.

The article is about Barbara Mikulski, senior Senator from Maryland and one of the longest serving senators. She’s pint-size – 4’11” (why is this even mentioned?) It’s written by Jason Lange, and I’m not familiar with his work or his general sentiments. I have rarely read a so-called news article that is as replete with negative inference disguised as fact. Charming remarks about her ‘reputation’ and oodles of prejudice wrapped up in nouns, verbs and adjectives.

To wit:

Her long record of securing “earmarks” – the practice of budgeting money for specific projects that has fallen into disfavor in Washington – also reveals a set of priorities that has made her one of America’s most liberal lawmakers.

She has, for example, marshaled funds to clean up polluted waterways and improve schools in poor neighborhoods nationwide.

Cleaning up polluted waterways has fallen out of favor? Improving schools in poor neighborhoods? Does Mr. Lange realize that Maryland lies athwart one of the most valuable and yet polluted freshwater bodies in the United States? Does Mr. Lange realize that Baltimore is one of the poorest and most violent cities in the U. S. and that bad schools are directly correlated with poverty and violence? Any responsible senator would beg and borrow (I’m leaving ‘steal’ out of the idiom) to fix these problems in their home state. Why is this a bad thing? From the way it’s written, the reader is invited to believe that money to improve these things just vanishes. The Chesapeake Bay is an important resource for fishing, recreation, transportation, tourism and industry. Good schools are critical to thriving economies.

And this little gem:

Known for her temper, Mikulski is frequently seen complaining about the throngs of people blocking the Senate chamber entrance. She has consistently endured the barbs of anonymous critics who participate in Washingtonian Magazine’s Capitol Hill survey and rank her among the Senate’s most irritable members.

Just call her a bitch. Male senators do not have to endure commentary of this sort. They get called ‘righteous’ or ‘fiery’, or ‘fighting for their convictions’; that’s a good thing.

And this is laughable:

As appropriations chair, Mikulski will face tough choices pitting her liberal priorities – she opposed the invasion of Iraq, for example – against her inclinations to boost defense spending in her state, which is home to major military bases like Fort Meade.

I say this makes her smart and far-sighted. The U. S. spends ten times what the next five nations combined spend on defense (and most of them are our allies).

And then this:

Many observers were surprised Mikulski – the third in line for the chairmanship – stepped into the role following the death last month of committee chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The senators in front of her declined to take the helm.

Maybe she saw an important and difficult job that had to be done and stepped up.

Haven’t we been here before?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 4, 2013 by a4synapse

Somewhere in 1998-1999, I was having a conversation with a financial whiz kid. Congress was preparing to repeal Glass-Steagall. I thought it was a terrible idea then and I still do. So I am referring to two articles today. One is in Bloomberg here. It’s a review of the Basel agreements that set the rules for banks internationally.  The second is in The Atlantic and discusses bank accounting here.

As I understand it, the Bloomberg article describes how regulations for banks have become considerably more complex and banks with accountants and attorneys have developed more and better ways to cheat. Since the rules are complicated, fewer individuals understand them fully. So the rules are trickier to understand and harder to enforce. In addition, the banks have more money on their balance sheets. The considered opinion of experts is that banks are more highly leveraged than ever, and it is impossible, even for sophisticated people to understand their exposure to risk.

The Atlantic article mentions that reporting requirements for banks do not help to understand how the banks make or lose money. Annual statements are not helpful. There is little transparency in the system, even though four major government agencies oversee the financial sector.

So, it looks as though we are setting ourselves up for meltdown redux. Can’t wait.

More Shouting – How was god involved?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2012 by a4synapse

You may recall  that in the run-up to the Republican convention in Tampa that there was a lot of praying involved to change the course of Isaac so that it didn’t wipe out the convention completely. As it was, the convention opened a day late and a victory for prayer was proclaimed. The subtext here: ‘god is on our side’.

Karl Rove, inimitable and irrepressible, claimed that Sandy, the second hurricane to appear in the republican narration of this election, impeded the ‘big mo’ of the Romney campaign and this led to defeat at the polls in critical swing states (never mind that it was necessary for so many reasons and the only cosmetically safe thing for the campaign to do). Has it occurred to anyone that god may have been expressing an opinion through Isaac and Sandy?

There is no disputing that Republicans/Conservatives have been living in a fact bubble, and that this, more than anything led to defeat at the polls. My question: what will it take to burst the bubble and reengage nearly 45% of the American public in political discussion that will help us to resolve our issues as a nation?