Sunday, April 5, 2020

Gray's OK; White's Alright

At least, if the method of obtaining black hair is anything like that recommended in 1650's A Brief Collection of Many Rare Secrets. Once I tell you it involves "twenty or thirty Horseleaches, or as many as you can get" you don't really need to hear anymore. But if you want to, you can check out the rest of the recipe in this item at Ask the Past.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Few Ends and Odds

-- I don't often link to Hot Air because the writers are sometimes a little overzealous in their criticism of their opponents. I don't have a problem factoring point of view in when I read things but not everyone likes to, and I think I test readers' patience enough without laying that one on them too. Nonetheless, this piece by Jazz Shaw sums up pretty clearly what airlines will do differently after these firms are saved by largesse from the public treasury. The short answer: Nuttin. No promises of returned leg or headroom, no improved inflight service, no end to fees for just about anything you want to do with your baggage. They only promise they will gladly take the money. Yay.

-- It's not just the Venezuelan economy that's sinking fast. The Venezuelan Navy patrol boat Naiguata attempted to make the Portuguese cruise ship Resolute turn into a Venezuelan port, claiming it had entered Venezuelan territorial waters for what were probably nefarious purposes. The Resolute declined the invitation, so the Naiguata rammed it several times to force it to enter the harbor. And then it sank.

-- The key to being a wise philosopher is to recognize when you encounter someone with greater wisdom yourself, as this edition of Existential Comics makes clear.

Friday, April 3, 2020

From the Rental Vault: American Assassin (2017)

The war on terror has no battlefronts, no divisions, no maps or territorial objectives. Its initiators make a point of attacking non-military sites and slaughtering non-combatants, and those who would defend against them can't limit themselves to the old traditional understanding of war. They will need ruthlessness, cunning and the ability to strike from the shadows just as surely as do their foes, breaking the laws of war as surely as they break the laws of nations.

CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy thinks she's found a new soldier for her fight in Mitch Rapp, a young man who lost his girlfriend in a terror attack and later managed to infiltrate the very terror cell that planned it. Raw, unskilled and undisciplined, Rapp will be trained by veteran operative Stan Hurley in order to join him in a hunt for sinister forces who've acquired plutonium, a nuclear trigger and the expertise to build a working atomic bomb. Though at first they think they're tracking Iranians they find that a rogue American operative, one who has history with Hurley, is deeply involved and deadlier than anyone else on the board. Except, perhaps, for Mitch Rapp, the titular American Assassin.

Assassin is based on Vince Flynn's 2010 book of the same name. It's the origin of his CIA uber-agent, Mitch Rapp, even though it's written well into the series. Flynn wrote it as a flashback, setting it in the early 1990s, but moviemakers decided to bring it into the modern day. Teen Wolf and Maze Runner star Dylan O'Brien takes on the role of the driven Rapp, with Michael Keaton as Hurley and Sanaa Lathan as Irene Kennedy. Taylor Kitsch is the rogue operative Ghost.

The underlying mood of every Rapp book Flynn wrote was barely (and not always) contained rage. Rapp worked with a love of country and a deep desire to make every terrorist everywhere pay for the loss of his girlfriend in the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing. Rapp seethes pretty much from title page to endpaper, only marginally less at the people on his side who he believes stand in the way of What Needs to Be Done. By contrast, the movie version of American Assassin is curiously bloodless -- perhaps because O'Brien's wooden instead of cold-blooded performance doesn't communicate much of anything at all, let alone rage. He's not helped much by the script, which alternates between telling us how out-of-control Rapp is and having him constantly be dressed down by Hurley about putting the mission first and deceased colleagues out of mind.

Assassin really only breathes when Keaton is onscreen; he seems like the only cast member who figured he should work for the paycheck the studio cut him. Granted, the script is nothing special. The closest I've ever come to real espionage is the regular consumption of airport spy thrillers but even I can spot the holes in the intelligence tradecraft shown in this movie. But Keaton takes what he's given and works harder with it than it deserves in order to make Stan Hurley the most interesting person on the screen; it's not only his picture on the poster that's outsized compared to the rest of the cast.

American Assassin was conceived as the potential first in a series of movies based on the Rapp books, now being written by Kyle Mills following Flynn's 2013 passing. Its box office was respectable but about as uninspiring as the movie itself and no plans to follow it up have ever been seriously discussed.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Looking Forward

The first best thing about gaining control over the spread of COVID-19 will be the reduction in risk for people likely to be hardest hit by it. The second will be the lightening of the burden borne by health-care professionals, and the third will be the return of children and teachers to their classrooms.

The fourth will be the end of my social media feed's endless presentations by everyone I know telling me I'm doing it wrong.

Of course they're not addressed directly to me. But some people have a rather exalted idea of how many people see their posts. Yes, if my posts are public then theoretically everyone can see them. But in reality not even everyone on my friends list sees them; I have no doubt that some folks have unfollowed me over the course of my time online and of the remaining people I've probably receded enough into some of their pasts that they just scroll on by unless I include a clever eye-catching image.

So in reality, if I choose to post a meme/sermon telling people it's time to get it together or pay attention or take this seriously or think of the vulnerable or some other phrase that makes it clear I as the poster am much much wiser and more compassionate, the only people I'm going to tell that to are people I already know. And despite their obvious poor judgment in friend selection, I'm pretty confident they understand what they need to do. If they don't, and they've ignored health officials, presidents, celebrities and newsMuppets, I can't for the life of me figure out why they'd pay attention to me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Never-Ending Battle

Unfortunately Berke Breathed did not provide another edition in his annual April 1 series Calvin County, but the Calvin and Hobbes reprint does feature another thrilling battle between Stupendous Man and the evil Baby-Sitter Girl.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Permanent Record

We're sometimes told that true leadership shines in a crisis. The mayor of New York City is about as bright as a blade of grass, in both senses of the word "bright."

Since NYC has been dealing with the most COVID-19 infections and serious consequences, the mayor issued a shelter in place directive and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. He got in a last workout at the Y before it went into effect, of course, because he's tone-deaf that way.

Well, not everyone has been diligent about the emergency order -- it seems some houses of worship have continued to gather and those meetings have exceeded the 10-person limit. Quite properly, the mayor mentioned this problem during a press conference and warned that such gatherings could bring citations. He probably pushed a little too hard when he said law enforcement agencies could be called to shut the services down; threatening folks with the power of law enforcement may get them to do what you want but it will never get them to help you do what you want.

But then he went ramming speed with the stupid, saying that congregations which repeatedly violated the executive order could find their houses of worship shut down "permanently." This is just dumb whether he meant it or he was exaggerating for effect. If he meant that a repeated violation of the emergency order would actually lead to the forced shuttering and disbanding of a religious congregation then he has no understanding of the First Amendment -- either in terms of freedom of religion or freedom peaceably to assemble. The mayoralty of our nation's largest city sometimes seems to attract those whose egos can be seen from space, but none of them to this day have believed they had the authority to override the United States Constitution. That sound you heard when he said what he did was the sound of every lawyer in the country opening up a blank "new lawsuit" form on their computers and getting ready to type in the name of the first religious group so affronted.

Of course, the mayor could have been using a little hyperbole. He would not be the first New York City person holding high office these days to do so. But because everyone knows the threat is an empty one, it just makes him sound ineffective and dumb. It lessens the impact of the actions he might legitimately take and also lessens -- if this is possible -- the tendency of his people to take him seriously.

It will be a pleasure to watch Mayor DeBlasio fade into obscurity when term limits prevent him from running again. Few deserve it as much as he has shown himself to do.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Faint Heart Ne'er Won Fair Hand

Jeremy Cohen of Brooklyn, NY, is not a man of faint heart. And though he has yet to technically touch the fair hand of Tori, his neighbor across the street, he's proving to be a mighty winning character either way.