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Posted by on Mar 28, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Video 1 | 0 comments

Coronavirus in Asia — What’s Happening? (Video)

 

 

CORONAVIRUS IN ASIA: WHAT’S HAPPENING

Last night, I hosted this discussion on the economic impacts of the CV-19 crisis on ASIA. Guests included VIN NARAYANAN and GARETH EDWARDS. Both guests have lived in parts of Asia, have close ties to several hot spots, and travel extensively in the region — so they are ideally suited to provide an update and also offer some predictions.

Topics:

Is China to Blame?
The Situation in Hong Kong
Is Australia the Next Italy?
What Did South Korea Do RIght?
India — Panic?
Chances of a Phase 2, Even Worse?
Impact on Macau
and more.

Duration: 1 Hour, 20 minutes. Recorded on March 27, 2020.

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Posted by on Mar 27, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Malcolm X

 

malcolm-x

 

Writer’s Note:  Why am I writing a review about a movie released 28 years ago?  Well first, I’d never seen this movie until last night.  Second, I think there are some lessons to be learned by watching, even all these years later.  Third, it seems there’s still a deep divide on the way we perceive people and history.  Even though we grow up in the same country, things are not always as clear as Black and White.

 

MALCOLM X (MOVIE REVIEW)

This is a hastily-written short review I feel compelled to share.

I have no clue as to why I’d never seen Malcolm X, the biopic of the iconic Afro-American civil rights political activist who was assassinated in 1965. An oversight, perhaps.  It was on TCM last night, so I watched the final 90 minutes.

Directed by Spike Lee, this is clearly a very personal project for virtually all who were associated with the film.  Released in 1992 to nearly universal critical acclaim, this film may even be more important now than it was initially shown.

Indeed, Malcolm X never reached the pantheon of inclusion along with other political thrillers or biographies, perhaps unintentionally revealing the continuing divide and misunderstandings on race in America. I believe if this film had been about a white activist/hero, it would have been up there with movies like Patton. But we rarely hear Malcolm X mentioned in the same breath as films on so-called “American heroes.”

Side Note:  Consider the way Malcolm X is remembered by Blacks versus Whites.  Even today, Whites do not view Malcolm X favorable, proving we will have a long way to go.  Read More:  MALCOLM X REMEMBER FAVORABLY BY BLACKS BUT NOT BY WHITES

Denzel Washington is outstanding in the title role. Mesmerizing even. (He lost the Best Actor Oscar to Al Pacino that year for Scent of a Woman that year). The characteristics are subtle, but Washington disguises his real NY accent well and speaks identically to Malcolm Little (ne “X”), who was actually from the Midwest (Omaha, NE). It’s uncanny how much Washington sounds and speaks with the same dictatorial syncopation as Malcolm X. These are little details, but when you hear the nuances, it’s remarkable.

Predictably, the film diefies the controversial leader, but it also reveals the flaws of its subject. Malcolm X lived a very modest life, which caused considerable disharmony at home (he was married and had five children). He also made a number of inflammatory statements that aren’t exactly endearing, including the infamous “chickens came home to roost” comment after the JFK assassination. But given the context of his life and greater struggle, we’re inclined to dismiss some missteps.

I’m generally sympathetic to Malcolm X as a historical figure. I’m appalled at the religious trappings of the movement, but given churches (including mosques) are the primary community centers in most Black areas at the time, the alliance is understandable.

The movie has its flaws. There are some campy scenes that don’t belong and detract from the overall seriousness of the film. But these blips are overcome by the strength of Washington’s performance and the weighty subject matter.

I must now say this: The last 15 minutes of this film is stunning. It’s brilliant. We see the assassination filmed in old newsreel style, and then gradually Washington’s portrayal becomes interspersed with real B/W photos of the leader, speaking his own words, and then eulogized by others. There’s also a surprise guest appearance at the end of the movie which is monumental in scope and meaning, which I will not give away if you haven’t seen the film. I can’t stress enough how powerful the final minutes of this film is to watch. If I was moved, I can only imagine the feelings inside by those much more closely attuned to the subject matter and movement.

Also, the film credits seem to go for 10 minutes, as Spike Lee intentionally listed every conceivable contributor to the film, from the violin player in the soundtrack to the drivers who worked on set. It’s consistent with the message of inclusion.

I wish more people, especially White people would see this movie. It was understandably embraced by Black culture, which resonates to this day. But I think we can *all* learn something by understanding something of the life of Malcolm X.

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

Coping and ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

 

Compartmentalization: The Ideal Coping Mechanism for ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

Compartmentalization is a coping mechanism to preserve social connectivity while at the same time maintaining civility.

I think a better understanding of this concept — and putting it into practice more often — will help many people. It’s certainly helped me. Indeed, practicing compartmentalization has not only been immensely helpful, but it’s also allowed me to expand many of my relationships and benefit from those connections.

Let me explain how these thoughts and this post came about.

A few days ago, posts by friends from my poker days came across my Facebook feed. Even though it’s been several years since I’ve seen them in person, following Facebook and being exposed to their activities has allowed me to keep up-to-date on where they’re now working and what they’re doing. In a sense, it’s allowed friendships to continue, even though I don’t see them much anymore. That’s one of the joys of this social media platform, which is a continuous scroll of updates, interspersed with the occasional surprise.

Robbie K. Thompson and I began working together at the World Series of Poker back in 2008. He quickly rose through the ranks as a floorman-supervisor and was calling the action on the main stage, sometimes on television. Robbie and I are polar opposites on almost all political topics, but I’ve always respected him and enjoyed his company.

I’ve known Eric Daniel Comer for an even longer period, dating back 20 years. We worked at the Horseshoe together and did various tournaments in the South, side by side. Eric has a tremendous work ethic. I can’t recall a single unpleasant encounter with him.

Anyway, there was a political thread where I jumped in, claws out, scratching as usual. Robbie and Eric chimed in with some nice comments, even though we disagreed strongly on the topics. That incident was an important reminder to me that it’s not only possible but in many cases *essential* to try and find common interests and stay afloat on those conversational liferafts.

Whatever your political persuasion, there are times of shared solace and reflection. Most of us agree this social distancing period is such a time, in fact, THE PERFECT TIME not necessarily to “social distance” but rather to reconnect, share, and learn.

Compartmentalization is precisely what it sounds like. We place our thoughts and engage in discussions in compartments. Most of my closest contacts have a multitude of different interests — on politics, music, movies, sports, and just about everything else. It *IS* possible, and a joy, to share a laugh or learn a historical fact or hear about a new affordable Zinfandel from someone with whom I have no political or philosophical affinity.

I’m blessed to have many friends from all over the world, with different ideas than my own. Even though I’ve engaged in heated discussions with many, I can’t think of a single individual who I couldn’t be friends with in person, if given the opportunity.

I think we all benefit by sharing our passions, but also maintaining some boundaries. I shall continue to do everything within my persuasive powers to advance my beliefs and obliterate bad ideas, hopefully with logic and rationale. And, if I’m unsuccessful with some people, that won’t impact my opinion of them, not in the least.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. Thanks for Robbie and Eric for reminding me of this important lesson on this glorious Monday morning.

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Movie Review: The Andromeda Strain (1971)

 

the andromeda strain

 

MOVIE REVIEW: THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)

 

I first saw The Andromeda Strain at a drive-in when I was nine. Despite my youth, the thriller left an indelible impact on me nearly half a century later, even to this day.

The film instilled an early appreciation for science. Graphically, sometimes horrifically, it illustrated what a true horror movie was (and is) — a forgotten reminder that the gravest threats to our safety, security, and human civilization are not monsters nor distorted fictional figments of the imagination, but rather very real hidden dangers we can’t see, nor hear, nor measure.

Given the current coronavirus crisis, a reflection of the 1971 film on a killer epidemic is both timely and fitting.

The movie is based on Michael Crichton’s science fiction novel of the same title published in 1969. Then, only 27 at the time of the book’s release, Crichton would go on to write books that inspired 11 movies in all, including The Great Train Robbery, Rising Sun, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and State of Fear.

The Andromeda Strain was directed by Robert Wise, then one of the most commercially successful directors of the time, evidenced by West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. This was clearly a movie guided by stellar writing and artful direction. The only criticism from a studio standpoint was, it might have been too dark, and too realistic for most audiences.

The Andromeda Strain opens with top-level scientists being summoned to a secret underground test lab in Nevada, tasked with researching biological hazards. Though somewhat dated now fifty years later, everything about this film still looks plausible. One can imagine facilities like this which certainly do exist.

There are some remarkable technical marvels in the film. Since it was made long before CGI, hologram-type figures had to be shot in multiple layers. Lasers also factor into the story. There are also some disturbing scenes with animal testing which were so upsetting that I was compelled to research exactly how they were filmed. Without giving too much away, the animals in the lab subject to testing were filmed in a chamber and breathed carbon dioxide. Then, when they pass out (this is a very disturbing scene), a team of vets rush onto the set and revive the creatures with oxygen off-camera. The film makes it appear they’re dying from the virus.

And speaking of the virus — never has anything looked so frightening as microscopic specs crawling around inside a petri dish. Watching the virus grow and the explode out of control in the lab is terrifying, especially in these contemporary times.

The film’s very best scenes document the laborious testing procedures which end with one dead end after another, as the clock is ticking on humanity. Since the virus has infected a small town and can spread, it’s up to the scientists to put in 20-hour days, testing and re-testing to try and save the planet. There’s one astounding scene when one of the scientists is working alone in the lab watching a monitor when the virus suddenly explodes into something resembling the bubonic plague. It’s absolutely terrifying.

Arthur Hill plays the lead researcher, but Kate Ried steals the movie. The original book had mostly all-male characters, but the production changed one of the researchers to a female. That turned out to be a wise creative adjustment. Think of a badass intellectual Sigourney Weaver, only bookishly realistic.

The Andromeda Strain is by no means a perfect film. It’s flawed with faux-suspenseful scenes that really aren’t necessary. For instance, we really don’t need a chase scene within the top-secret Wildfire biological bunker. The virus is scary enough without the added Mission Impossible-like countdown to self-destruction.

On a more personal note, I have seen The Andromeda Strain perhaps twice since my initial viewing as a child. I saw it again about 25 years ago and then watched it another time on TCM a few years ago before anyone thought it was a modern-day commentary. Each viewing gave me a different perspective. I was struck by one of the final scenes which shows the researcher (Arthur Hill) testifying before Congress on the aftermath of a viral outbreak. In what is a very plausible scenario we’re going through today, Hill essentially says we’re focusing on the wrong enemies. The more serious threats to us all are those things we can’t see and know way too little about.

How prophetic that warning turns out to be.

Note:  I recommend giving 1971 “The Andromeda Strain” original film a viewing. I cannot recommend the remake, which I have no interest in seeing.

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