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Last Second Gift Ideas

[ 31 ] December 23, 2013 |

If you are struggling with some last minute shopping ideas, why not give your loved ones what Santa really wants for himself?

$40 Million to Rana Plaza Victims

[ 1 ] December 23, 2013 |

Good news that the European retailers contracting for clothing at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in April and killed 1100 workers have agreed to pay $40 million in compensation. It remains to be seen to what extent the money gets to survivors or the families of the deceased, but it is a positive step. Notably lacking of course are the American companies, especially Wal-Mart and Gap, who clearly do not care one whit about dead workers and have avoided all responsibility in much the same way that clothing makers in 1911 avoided all responsibility for the Triangle Fire.

Méliès Monday: The Christmas Dream (1900)

[ 0 ] December 23, 2013 |

Georges Méliès, The Christmas Dream, from 1900.

Everything in the Oceans is Dying

[ 11 ] December 23, 2013 |

Today, dolphins:

So far this year, nearly 1,000 bottlenose dolphins — eight times the historical average — have washed up dead along the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Florida, a vast majority of them victims of morbillivirus. Many more are expected to die from the disease in the coming months.

The high death toll from the resurgence of the virus, which killed 700 dolphins in an outbreak 25 years ago, has alarmed marine scientists, who say it remains unclear why the dolphins have succumbed to the disease. The deaths, along with a spate of other unrelated dolphin die-offs along Florida’s east and west coasts, raise new questions about the health of the ocean in this part of the country and what role environmental factors may be playing, scientists said.

The Indian River Lagoon, a diverse estuary, has been tainted by huge algae blooms caused in part by too much nitrogen. Research on some of the dead dolphins in the estuary — 76 died this year, the third series of deaths since 2001 — has showed that some had high levels of mercury, fungal diseases, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and oral-genital tumors. The dolphins found were emaciated.

“You have to think, ‘Where does antibiotic-resistant bacteria come from in dolphins?’ ” said Dr. Bossart, who is involved in a long-term study of the Indian River Lagoon dolphins. “One thought is that it comes from environmental pollution.”

Film Blog (IV)

[ 32 ] December 22, 2013 |

More short reviews on my pointless film blog. Reviewed since my last update:

The Dallas Buyers Club, Vallee, 2013 (OK, but cliche on cliche)

To the Wonder, Malick, 2012 (OMG this is a disaster)

Before Midnight, Linklater, 2013 (I do like these movies mostly but the idea of Hawke’s character as a serious novelist is laughable)

Night Moves, Penn, 1975 (a script with holes so wide you could drive a tractor trailer filled with stolen Mayan artifacts through it. Hackman is outstanding however)

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Barretto, 1976 (the lesson is that all a woman really wants is hot sex so treat her as you will if you provide it)

The Thorn in the Heart, Gondry, 2009 (when filmmakers make films about their family members who are not particularly compelling)

Idiots and Angels, Plympton, 2008 (wanted to like this but it really falls apart in the last 20 minutes)

Salome, Bryant, 1923 (an excellent example of silent directors using Biblical stories as a cover to show a lot of flesh. Pretty good too)

Eyes Without a Face, Franju, 1960 (maybe my favorite film ending of all time)

A Story of Floating Weeds, Ozu, 1934 (an early masterpiece by one of the top 5 directors of all time)

12 Years a Slave, McQueen, 2013 (incredibly powerful depiction of slavery. That it is unrelenting may turn off some filmgoers but it is necessary to convey the true hell of the institution that the South committed treason to defend)

The Thin Red Line, Malick, 1998 (one of the top five World War II films ever. Malick at the height of his powers)

Scrooge, Greenwood, 1923 (not a bad adaptation for the time period)

The First Teamster

[ 32 ] December 22, 2013 |

International Teamster, 1949

Entomology 101, Professor Waits

[ 3 ] December 20, 2013 |

Earlier this week, Tom Waits told you a nice bedtime story. Tonight he provides you a useful entomology lesson. Good for any Friday night.

Sea Monsters

[ 64 ] December 20, 2013 |

I’ve always found the old maps with imagined sea monsters in unexplored places particularly fascinating. Marina Warner has a long essay in the New York Review of Books about them. The ocean is so interesting because it’s so close yet so impossible to explore, especially before advancements in technology during the 20th century allowed for underwater exploration. The occasional creatures the ocean spits up onto the shore, the glimpses of whales, the sheer terror of the ocean, all of these things contribute to an amazing mythology and power around what covers 70% of the globe.

Personally, I think the greatest value such sea monsters have today is to describe the northern wasteland known in mythology as “Canada” to Americans.

Marriage Equality–In Utah?

[ 149 ] December 20, 2013 |

I am not the resident LGM expert on these issues. But I have to think that marriage equality in Utah of all places is basically the tipping point for it spreading across the whole nation very quickly. Maybe I am too optimistic.

Holiday Parties

[ 123 ] December 19, 2013 |

Some of you may be having holiday parties at work or with your friends. I have one wish for you–that your holiday party is as awesome as that of the International Woodworkers of America holiday party from 1972, documented in this photo I discovered in the IWA archives at the University of Oregon. Sadly, I know no more about this party than this photo. But what happens at the IWA party stays at the IWA party.


[ 186 ] December 18, 2013 |

Worth noting that today is the 69th anniversary of the notorious Korematsu v. United States decision, when the Supreme Court ruled for the acceptability of Japanese concentration camps.

Early in World War II, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, granting the U.S. military the power to ban tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to domestic security. Promptly exercising the power so bestowed, the military then issued an order banning “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” from a designated coastal area stretching from Washington State to southern Arizona, and hastily set up internment camps to hold the Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. In defiance of the order, Fred Korematsu, an American-born citizen of Japanese descent, refused to leave his home in San Leandro, California. Duly convicted, he appealed, and in 1944 his case reached the Supreme Court.

A 6-3 majority on the Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black held that although “all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect” and subject to tests of “the most rigid scrutiny,” not all such restrictions are inherently unconstitutional. “Pressing public necessity,” he wrote, “may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.”

In Korematsu’s case, the Court accepted the U.S. military’s argument that the loyalties of some Japanese Americans resided not with the United States but with their ancestral country, and that because separating “the disloyal from the loyal” was a logistical impossibility, the internment order had to apply to all Japanese Americans within the restricted area. Balancing the country’s stake in the war and national security against the “suspect” curtailment of the rights of a particular racial group, the Court decided that the nation’s security concerns outweighed the Constitution’s promise of equal rights.

And yes, they were concentration camps. Calling them “internment camps” is an insult to what the Japanese experienced and helps make what white Americans did to them seem less bad.

A MOOC Experiment Ends

[ 41 ] December 18, 2013 |

The disastrous experiment between San Jose State University and Udacity has basically ended after it turns out students fail in enormous numbers using MOOCs.

“This is very much the end of the San Jose State-Udacity partnership for this pilot, and it’s really an attempt — in my opinion — to frame it in a positive light,” said Phil Hill, a higher education consultant. “This is an attempt to do a very nice eulogy for an event that wasn’t really pretty as it was happening.”

The project, known as SJSU Plus, has been on “pause” since this summer after its three spring semester courses posted pass rates between 23.8 and 50.5 percent — much lower than their on-campus equivalents. Although the rates rebounded over the summer, those sessions featured a vastly different student population, including some students with doctoral degrees. In comparison, the spring pilot included more at-risk students. After a National Science Foundation-backed study was published without fanfare in September, buzz about the project died down.

The results of SJSU Plus have even caused Udacity to shift its focus to corporate training. Speaking to Fast Company, the Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun said the disadvantaged students targeted by the pilot proved a mismatch for online education. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit,” he said.

23.8 to 50.5 percent passing rate. Wow. And if disadvantaged students aren’t the medium for this kind of education, who is? Harvard students? Who exactly is going to take these classes? No one who has the social and economic power to go to institutions where actual teaching occurs. The big public flagship school in a fairly average state, say the University of Rhode Island, has students not all that much more advanced or prepared than at San Jose. The leading public institutions like Michigan and Texas are filled with students who will also try to avoid these sorts of courses in order to achieve the real education they wanted by going to those schools. If these things aren’t for the masses–and let’s face it, the masses are not always the most motivated or prepared students–who are they for?

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