Saturday, September 25, 2021

Michael Spavor is Free

Michael Spavor, one of the two Canadian men who was arbitrarily arrested in China as retaliation for Canada detaining Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, has been freed as Canada released Meng Wanzhou from house arrest and she returned to China.

He was recently in the news for receiving an 11 year prison sentence from a Chinese court.

I am not interested in discussing the nuances and politics of the issue right now, but here's what I know:

Michael Spavor is a good guy who didn't deserve this. I've met him a few times, and a few of my friends consider him a close friend. He's just spent 1000 days unfairly detained.

Michael's life has been horribly disrupted. whatever he had going on at the time of his arrest, who knows what the future holds for him, but I hope he finds something brilliant.

You can hear some of Michael's friends talking about him here on The Seoul Podcast, and what it means for him to have been imprisoned for so long. 

You can also drop a few bucks in the "Help Michael Spavor Rebuild his Life" GoFundMe page, if you'd like to contribute something more tangible.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Something For those Unvaccinated Culture Warriors (Satire)

Well, some people write earnest pleas when they are upset, sad or annoyed about something. I make jokes. 

As we watch Covid 19 take a second pass at the USA, extracting catastrophic hospitalization and death counts almost exclusively from unvaccinated americans, and that is somehow still not reason enough to convince people to get a free needle, it struck me that perhaps the problem here is that getting the vaccine basically means admitting your over-earnest libt**d coworker was right, and if anybody knows anything about a culture war, it's that you can never back away from a position once you've taken it.

But if you think about it, the anti-mask, anti-vaxx side of this culture war is getting a really raw deal: sure, the people on Fox News and the Truth About Demon Biden Facebook group call you brave, but the cost -- increased risk of flippin' death is just unreasonably steep just for scoring a few points and pissing off the libs.

So I've come up with a way to own the libs without backing away from the culture war a single inch!

Let's get on this! If a little re-brand is what it takes...

Listen. I get how weird, hard, and unpleasant this culture war is. I understand what's at stake. I actually really strongly don't think mockery is our way out of this, and those thoughts might show up on this blog sooner or later, because if we don't find a way out of this, we're screwed. But until then, if you're in the mood for a little black humor, I hope you like this. And whether you're in the mood for a little black humor or not, go get vaccinated if you haven't already! Take care of the people around you. That's the very least we can do.

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Nightmare is over. The nightmare is not over. It's OK to celebrate a little.

 The nightmare is over. The nightmare is not over. It's OK to celebrate a little before getting back into the work of it. Things do not automatically go back to 2016, but still.

I made this playlist of music that makes me happy. Be happy for a bit before we get to the next part.

Monday, October 05, 2020

On Trump-Biden Debate 1, and Donald Trump's Covid 19 Diagnosis...

If you've been listening to the podcast I've been doing, you know some of my positions on US politics. I have opinions, y'all! 

So far, my favorite take on Trump's Covid diagnosis has got to be Jake Tapper from CNN.

"You have become a symbol of your own failure. Get well, and get it together."

I have a feeling few minds are actually changed by these videos (before the videos, it was webcomics, and/or SNS text blocks) where one side of one of our culture wars has their position crystallized into a concise, clear expression. I understand that the function of viral clips like this is probably mostly just preaching to the choir so that they can nod along, pound the desk, shout "Heck yeah!" and feel right about their position. I even know that pickling in self-reinforcing content exacerbates the echo chamber/information silo effect and makes it harder for dialogue to happen across political alignments. I know all that, but still... that was well put. 

If Mr. Tapper wasn't enough for you, I also made a thing that I'd like to share.

If you would like to know my thoughts about Donald Trump's performance at the September 29, 2020 presidential debate (jackass trying but failing to score a knockout punch, so combining the worst traits of a drunk uncle and a hyper toddler instead...but for understandable reasons, given who we're dealing with), the conceit that debates are supposed to persuade undecided voters (4:50), the thing we learn from his behavior by reading between the lines (7:24), his subsequent Covid 19 diagnosis (8:52) (so frustrating that there is so little good faith or trust that even a White House health bulletin has people asking 'What's the angle here') what some of those angles might be (9:23 and 11:20), the way this distracts from what we should be talking about right now (10:27), the tough guy image Trump's cultivated (12:04), whether Trump even could pull off a con like a fake Covid infection (13:10), or the people gloating (14:30) or wishing Trump ill online (14:58) and how that plays into what happens to Trumpism next... go ahead and watch this!

And... if all that political stuff was too much, here's a video of a street performance that I keep coming back to.

Take care of yourselves, dear readers.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Coronavirus CoVideo Corner: Rob interviewed by Rob

A fellow in the UK has started a Youtube series during his Covid 19 stay-at-home quarantine, and by sheer coincidence, he came up with the same name for his series as I made for my plague film series!

His name is Rob, just like mine, so naturally I agreed to be interviewed for his YouTube channel.

I'm fond of his channel and quite enjoyed this interview, so everybody, please check it out!

Saturday, April 04, 2020

CoronaVirus CoVidEo Corner: Plague Film Bonanza: Part 4

To Recap:

Weirdo that I am, I'm commemorating the CoVid19 lockdown by watching plague movies, and because I love you, dear reader, I'm writing them up for you, and I'll end the series with a nice best-of countdown!

If you aren't up to date on the series, the rules for inclusion or need a full description of the scoring, or you want links to the other installments in the series, I'll put a recap at the bottom of this post, or you can read the full description, the official rules, and find links to every part of the series on the table of contents page linked here.

Films that fail to hold my attention get a DNF (Did Not Finish) and no score (that would be unfair).

Films that hold my attention are scored on four dimensions:
Frightening (Is it the kind of scary that builds up, and stays with you afterward?) Dread & anxiety get points here.
Scary (Is it the kind of scary that makes you jump in your seat, or wish you'd eaten a smaller lunch?) Surprises and gross-outs get points here.
Plausible (Does the plague, and people's response to it, seem realistic, as if it could possibly happen?)
Awesome (Is it a good movie? Does it hit its marks?)
Each of these dimensions will be scored out of five.
Finally, for bonus demerits/points:
"But wait, there's more!" stinger (Does the film end by hinting that the infection is on its way to a sequel new location?) That's tacky, and I take away points depending on the amount of cheesiness.

Coming Up in this Review: 
Antiviral (2012)
Maggie (2015)
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Pandemic (2016)
Stephen King's The Stand (1994)
28 Days Later (2002) / 28 Weeks Later (2007) duology
The Invasion (2007)

Spoilers for every film, by the way.

Friday, March 27, 2020

What's After Lockdown? Imagining a New Post-Covid19 Lockdown Normal

Roboseyo! Are you blogging again?

Here's the thing I wrote about how South Korea flattened the curve.

USA just had 3.2 million people file for unemployment in a week. USA also just blew past China to take the world lead in Covid 19/ ChinaVirus TrumpVirus infections.

Meanwhile, US politicians are starting to float the idea that maybe a few hundred thousand deaths is just the price you have to pay to keep the economy chugging. (Seriously, fuck those guys.) That idea -- the "herd immunity" idea Boris Johnson floated in the UK is inhumane, and anybody who promotes it should have to pick which 20% of their parents (or beloved elderly relatives, friends or mentors over 70) "gets" to die to save the economy, and then sit at their bedsides.


But... something's gotta give, right? You can't just lock down for eighteen months.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

How Korea Flattened The Curve (So Far)

Might be time to revive Mr Rogers week.

A friend, who is a paramedic (and you think your job is stressful) asked me how I think South Korea flattened the CoronaVirus curve, so I wrote this for her. I figured I'd share it because hey, why not? These are thoughts I've had spread out over a number of Facebook comments and things, but seems like a good time to get them all in one place. There are places where I paint with a very broad brush here. Deal with it.

Also... this one ended a little bleakly, so in a follow-up blog, I wrote about what a post-lockdown world might look like, and what leaders should be doing during lockdown, so that they don't just get a repeat of exponential infection once lockdown ends.

Hi [redacted awesome person's name], you have asked me to talk about how Korea flattened the curve, and which actions South Korea took that I think contributed to that. I'm doing this with voice to text, so forgive me if there are weird voice recognition errors.

First, let's be clear, I think South Korea is not out of the woods yet. South Korea's big climb in infections was mostly from one super spreader in a city called Daegu. She went to a mass church service, and declined to get tested for covid-19, and was just generally reckless. At one point 80% of all the covid-19 cases in South Korea could be traced directly to this one woman. Google “patient 31”  to learn more about her if you want. The number of cases in Seoul has been pretty steady rather than climbing exponentially, but also not decreasing.

A Close to home Warning

Monday, March 23, 2020

CoronaVirus CoVideo Bonanza Side Quest: SOCIAL DISTANCING MOVIES

Hey there friends.

Feeling a little cooped up? Self-quarantine and voluntary isolation getting you down? Climbing the walls like a capillary action food-coloring and paper science experiment... gone wrong?

Well, self-isolation is getting to me, too. So I'm taking a short break from my CoVideo Plague Film Bonanza for a mini-side quest to mention movies about... isolation! Ever been locked in a room, not knowing when you'd get out? Ever reached the limits of what you could do in your confined space, but you don't know when it'll be OK to leave? Ever hear people say things like "We might have to do 18 months of social distancing until there's a vaccine" and thought "Oh crap. I'm losing my grip already after twenty days!" This one's for you (and me), before we all start seeing ants.

For all the weirdos like myself, who deal with the anxiety of living in a time of plague by watching plague films, maybe you also cope with isolation and quarantine by watching movies about isolation, confinement and claustrophobia. In case that's you, here are some films about isolation and claustrophobia. I'm not going to watch new films for this because it's only a sidequest to my Plague Film Bonanza, and be warned that things are a little spoilery, but while my discussion of the film might require me to reveal that there's a twist (in order to talk about whether it was well done), I'll try not to give away what the twist is, exactly. Here are a few social distancing films I've seen, and I welcome your suggestions for further viewing in the comments.

Here is the rest of the CoVideo Corner plague film series.

Now on to the list!

Monday, March 16, 2020

CoronaVirus CoVidEo Corner: Plague Film Bonanza Table of Contents

The Plague Film Bonanza has sprawled large enough to require a central control and table of contents, so I'll have the rules here, and links to each of the installments.

To Recap:

Weirdo that I am, I'm commemorating the CoVid19 lockdown by watching plague movies. Some people cope with stress and anxiety by rewatching The Princess Bride or Singin' In The Rain, but I do it by going dark. If you also deal with uncertainty by watching movies about other people in even more stressful situations, this here is for you!

Maybe you dealt with a coming lockdown by buying (or trying to buy) facemasks, hand sanitizer, and ungodly amounts of toilet paper, or adjusting weekend plans. Well, I went and found every movie about infectious diseases I could and have been watching them one by one. So if you're housebound anyway, why not pass the time scaring the crap out of yourself, right?

I'm writing mini-reviews of some classic, less-than-classic, and absolute garbage plague films, and because I love you, I'm writing them up for you, readers, and I'll end the series with a nice best-of countdown!

To sum up the ground rules:


Rule 1: It has to be a narrative film. There might be some great plague television out there, but I have a kid who is apparently studying from home until he is forty: binging entire seasons of TV series' that are too scary to share with him is off the table. Documentaries would require an entirely different scoring system, so they're out, too. Most, but not all the films here are fiction, and I'm limiting the series to narrative films.

Rule 2: The film has to be about a plague or viral infection. That is, it must put significant attention on what the infectious agent is, how it spreads or works, and what can be done about the infection. If the response is "we need to hide from/kill all the zombies" (Dawn of the Dead) it's not really a plague film: it's a zombie or monster film. If the response is "we can beat this if we discover and exploit a weakness in how the virus spreads" (World War Z) then it's a plague film. Another example: if the vial of plague pathogen in Mission: Impossible 2 were replaced with a computer chip, or a piece of microfilm, the rest of the film basically wouldn't change. Mission: Impossible 2 is a MacGuffin chase, not really a plague film. There's a little wiggle room here, and I'll be making some calls. Deal with it.

Theory of Scary Movies (context):

Films that hold my attention are scored on four dimensions, with one bonus category, but for my first two categories, I need to explain my theory of scary movies.

Because plague films are usually scary, I need to explain that there are two ways scary movies scare us. Think of Alfred Hitchcock's bomb theory: a bomb exploding under a table surprises the audience, but if the audience knows there's a bomb under the table and it doesn't explode, we get suspense. A surprise can be part of good storytelling, but it can also be a cheap trick. Suspense makes small, mundane details suddenly important or compelling.

Scares work this way, too. Some movies scare us by having a monster jump out of the closet. I call these jump-scares, and they're scary for five seconds, like the bomb under the table exploding. The new It remakes use this again and again. A good jump-scare comes from sound design, editing, and camera work. There's a craft to it, but it's simple setup and payoff. Make people think something is coming, and then deliver it in a way that messes with their expectations somehow. I'm measuring this kind of scare in my "Scary" category. Does the film make me jump like a cat? The scary category also covers gross-outs, which are common in plague films. If there's blood, pus and gore making the audience feel squicky, points go here.

Like the bomb under the table that doesn't explode, other movies scare us by having a character suspect there's a monster in the closet, and find they're too afraid to open the door and check. Suddenly, that closet door is scary all by itself, and every time the character has to go in that room, or a muffled sound echoes through the house, we feel anxiety. My favorite horror movies establish an ominous tone that something bad is going to happen and let that dread build and build. The payoff, when it comes, is more satisfying because the film set it up so carefully. Think of the films Paranormal Activity, The Others, or The Babadook. It doesn't even need to be outright horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin does this beautifully. The imagery isn't gory and the jump-scares (where they exist) are understated, or contribute to the ominous mood that builds. This kind of scare sticks with you. Unlike the chill that's gone in five seconds, these movies have you checking your locks or changing your passwords a week after the film is over. I'm measuring this in my "Frightening" category. I personally prefer this type of scare, though the best scary movies (It Follows, The Thing, The Ring, A Quiet Place) do both.

The Scoring Categories

The Failed Experiments:
Not all these films are going to be what we conventionally call "good films," but even bad films have ways to hold one's attention. If a film was so dull, poorly made, or predictable that I didn't watch it from beginning to end, and instead skipped to the "good parts," it gets a DNF (Did Not Finish). I tried, but even as I pretend zombie films are relevant to a global pandemic, I have enough integrity not to review a film I haven't seen through.

The Categories: Each is graded out of five points.
Frightening (Does it create that moody, ominous feeling of dread that builds up, and stays with you afterward?)
Scary (Is it the kind of scary that makes you jump in your seat, or wish you'd eaten a smaller lunch? Surprises and gross-outs get points in this category.)
Plausible (Does the plague, and people's response to it, seem realistic, as if it could possibly happen? If unrealistic, does the film follow its own rules, and unfold believably, granted the initial premise?)
Awesome (Is it a good movie? Does it hit its marks? Are the scary parts scary, the sad parts sad, and the joyful parts joyful?)

Finally, for bonus demerits/points:
"But wait, there's more!" stinger - does the film end by hinting that the infection is on its way to a sequel new location? You know...the montage where the contaminated water ends up at a bottling factory while ominous music plays, or the one infected cat escapes the exterminators and heads toward the Lincoln Tunnel and the mainland? Yah those are cheesy, and I will be docking points for them, depending on the amount of cheesiness.

By having two categories -- half the entire scoring -- on scariness, this system will over-rate scary movies and under-rate things like dramas or love stories. We'll discuss that as we get into the reviews.

It's unlikely that any film will get a 20/20 on this scale, because frightening, scary and plausible are usually a trade-off: films that make me jump like a cat usually don't also make me fear door handles, and a film that does both probably asks for a big suspension of disbelief in the plausibility category.

Here, then, are links to the film reviews.
CoVideo Corner sidebar: Social Distancing Edition:
This post discusses a set of films about claustrophobia, isolation, boredom and helplessness: the feelings we're all feeling during our stay-at-home quarantines and self-isolation
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Cube (1997)
The Shining (1980)
Room (2015)
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Oldboy (2003)
Chicken Run (2000)
Groundhog Day (1993)
The Descent (2005)

Go to Part 1 
Films reviewed:
(Carriers (2009)

Deranged (연가시) (2012)
Patient Zero (2018)
Outbreak (1995)
The Bay (2012)
Perfect Sense (2011)

Go to Part 2
감기 (The Flu)
Black Death
Extinction: The GMO Chronicles
괴물 (The Host)
Viral (2016)
The Girl With All the Gifts

Go to Part 3
And The Band Played On (1993)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Cabin Fever (2002)
Planet of the Apes Trilogy (2011-2017)
World War Z (2013)
Contagion (2011)

Go to Part 4
Antiviral (2012)
Maggie (2015)
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Pandemic (2016)
Stephen King's The Stand (1994)
28 Days Later (2002) / 28 Weeks Later (2007) duology
The Invasion (2007)

Watch for Part 5