Living the Good Life in the rain

hidden-figuresWe got hit by the big storm over last weekend and, as often happens in our neighborhood, a tree was blown over, taking out the power to three homes. But, to safely work on the power outage, PG&E shut down the whole neighborhood. Sitting in the dark, with no heat, did not seem like the best way to pass a Sunday, even though it was in the 50s outside, so we decamped and went out to a late lunch at La Viga, my favorite upscale Mexican restaurant.

After the distraction of a seafood stew for lunch, we still had a Christmas tree to take down and wanted to go home and get busy. In our new interconnected world, all we had to do was check the PG&E website to get all the details of the power outage and its repair which is handy and would have been even handier if they said we had power. But we still didn’t (although it was on the schedule). We decided to go see a movie because…what else are you going to do on a rainy Sunday. Hidden Figures was on our short list and was just at the right time, so Hidden Figures is was. We were not disappointed.

Hidden Figures is sort of an old-fashioned movie, the kind with a happy ending – wherein the white bosses redeem themselves – that you know is coming. Getting to the ending, however, is a rough journey. The movie centers on three black woman Katherine G. Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, and Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae, who worked for NASA  as computers in an era when engineers often did the conceptional engineering but the complex and tedious math was done by people called “computers”.

This happy ending is one of those happy endings that leave the audience teary-eyed and it left me a little ashamed and embarrassed as a white privileged male. While this is an uplifting movie about three “colored” women, like any movie about people of color in the 50s and 60s, it is really about race, prejudice, institutionalized segregation, and our ugly past that has only somewhat been diluted in the ensuing years. There are very few white heroes in this movie – duh! – with the notable exception of John Glenn, and the story the movie tells about the interaction between Glenn and “the smart one” is, according to all accounts I can find online, true.

The opening sequence is about the fear that every black person has of the very police whose sworn duty is to protect them. This is 1961 or 1962 in the Jim Crow South and prejudice is institutionalized but that fear of the police, if one is black, sadly is still just common sense anywhere in the United States. Towards the end of the film, one of the white women supervisors, in talking to a black woman who should be a supervisor, says “I have nothing against you” and the black woman answers, “And I believe you believe that”. If all this makes Hidden Figures seem like a downer, it isn’t. The movie is fun, interesting, and touching while feeling very real. I highly recommend it, it is one of the best movies we have seen in the last year.

After the movie, the rain continued and we still had no power so we had a light dinner and returned to the multiplex to see Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jeniffer Lawrence. Passengers is gorgeous, a couple of the special effects are especially good, and Jennifer Lawrence is transcendent but, in the end, it was not what I had hoped.

As an aside, Michele says that I always think Jenifer Lawrence is transcendent which is pretty true, but, in Passengers, her acting is luminous, even for her. End aside.

After Passengers we still didn’t have power so we just went home and climbed into bed. We woke the next morning to a warm house with power, only slightly inconvenienced.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Dylann Roof


In my opinion, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national treasure. I think his thoughts on Dylann are right on.

“Moreover, killing Roof does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the conditions that brought him into being in the first place. The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas. In this sense, Roof is little more than a human sacrifice to The Gods of Doing Nothing. Leave aside actual substantive policy. In a country where unapologetic slaveholders and regressive white supremacists still, at this late date, adorn our state capitals and our highest institutions of learning, it is bizarre to kill a man who acted in their spirit. And killing Roof, like the business of the capital punishment itself, ensures that innocent people will be executed. The need to extract vengeance cannot always be exact. It is all but certain that a disproportionate number of those who pay for this lack of precision will not look like Dylann Roof.”

Star Wars & The Empire

rogue-oneWe saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story over Christmas and I was disappointed. Not that it wasn’t pretty good, it is just that I expected more. Part of the problem is that the photography was so good – both beautiful and real feeling – along with most of the acting, that the silly plot and outlandish killing looked fake. I was reminded of the first time I saw Westside Story on screen. I had seen Westside Story several times on stage and loved it but all that great Jerome Robbins choreography seemed fake on the streets of the actual New York.

This movie fits in the Star Wars universe, although the hero’s journey trappings are still there, the emphasis is more on fighting a rebellion against the Evil Empire. Speaking of fighting the Evil Empire, in the Star Wars universe, we identify with the brave Rebels, but, in real life, we are the Empire and the rebels are, for example, ISIS.

Brute force

artificial-intellQuantity is quality, attributed to Joseph Stain (although he probably said Quantity has a quality all its own).

Nvidia is a graphic chip builder who, more or less accident, has become the Intel of artificial intelligence. As games became graphic centric, they needed processors that handled a massive amount of information. Quickly. It turns out that as chips fast enough to make Modern Combat 5 work so well also worked for artificial intelligence. As I understand it, artificial intelligence is just lots of memory – and storage, I guess – and lots of processing speed. In other words, brute force.

Now, I am beginning to think that natural intelligence – including human intelligence, maybe especially human intelligence  – is also just brute force. I am beginning to think that we are not as different from other mammals as we like to think we are, maybe we just have better processing, more memory, and more storage.