Tuesday, December 10, 2019

AIFF2019: Last Night I Watched A Rhino Die [UPDATED]

Kifaru documented the death of the last male white rhino in the world through the eyes of the men who take care of him and his two daughters.  Slowly he decayed until he could pull up on his two front legs, but not his hind legs.  We learned a little about the Kenyan caregivers, but mostly this movie was documenting extinction.  Watching what consumerism is doing to destroy the earth -  coveting goods (like rhino horns) and the deforestation and other environmental degradation exploiting natural resources causes.

Of course, coveting was noted in the bible, so modern capitalism didn't invent it.  But modern capitalism took it to an unprecedented level, putting profit (mostly short term) above everything else.  Most people don't know the concept of externalities.  Theoretically capitalism is supposed to be the most efficient form of production.  Producers are supposed to be as efficient as possible so they can keep the price low enough to beat their competitors. But one of the problems of capitalism is externalities.  These are the costs that the producers impose on society, but that aren't captured in the price of their goods.  Pollution is the most common example used - the loss of clean water and air, for example, imposes huge costs on society.  These examples used to be about the health costs and some cleanup costs.  But now we see the loss of habitat, the loss of affordable housing, deaths from legal drugs, etc.  

And the loss of rhinos and hundreds of thousands of other less dramatic species.  

The death the last male northern rhino should make people think about seriously rethinking their lives.  Sudan (the rhino's name) is just the symbol, the catalyst, but the damage climate change is already causing should make us all ready to drastically reduce humanity's carbon footprint.  (The link discusses options for where to contribute to projects that do that.)

[UPDATE Dec 10, 2019:  I ran across this Al Jazeera Tweet just now


NOTE:  KPBS says the baby is a southern white rhino (not a northern white rhino, like Sudan) and
The calf is the first baby rhino born using artificial insemination at the San Diego Zoo facility.
The mom, Victoria, carried her baby for more than 490 days.
Victoria is one of six southern white rhinos that could become surrogate moms for the critically endangered northern white rhinos.]
Mr. Sam and other "WTF!?!?" Shorts

After Sudan left the world and chunks of his flesh were taken in hopes of using his DNA one day to recreate white norther rhinos, the shorts program started.  

We saw six shorts that were, in my mind, what film festivals are about.

THE SHORTS

Mr. Sam was my favorite - demonstrating my bizarre taste.  Not everyone afterward agreed.  But I love the imagination that created this odd character and the story the film maker put him into.  Others in the program are also worth noting:

Maintain Yourself took an oddly shaped doll and a shelf full of small, colorful flasks, and proceeded to 'groom' the doll with the contents of the flasks.  It was particularly poignant since during the intermission we'd seen a preview for the movie Toxic Beauty which highlighted the tens of thousands of chemicals in cosmetics people use.  

The Phantom 52 featured an animated truck driver calling out to others over his CB radio with a background them of various kinds of whales calling out to their distant brethren.  Some wonderful images.  

Eternity  - This Ukrainian film took place in 2058 and was about 'digitizing' the souls of dying people and placing them in digital worlds for eternity.  I got that part, but the details were a little confusing.  But it was worth watching.

Hearth - was the creepiest for me.  A couple goes from one  luxury AirBnB to the next, where they then use a dating app to lure gentlemen to their last tryst.  Very well done.  AirBnB and other hosting sites do not want prospective hosts to see this film, I'm sure.

The Dig  -  She's getting married tomorrow and she wants her brother to help her get her mom's ring before the wedding.  

A wonderfully disturbing (in the sense of forcing you think) set of films.  If one of them gets the audience award or best narrative shorts award, you might be able to see it Sunday when they will be showing the award winners.  

AIFF2019: Tuesday - St. Louis Ghosts, Fairbanks Founder, A Road Trip, and Creepy Shorts




The Ghost Who Walks is for St. Louis folks.

For St. Louis fans, this is done by a St. Louis native in St. Louis.  It's also fairly new (this year) and hasn't been seen by that many folks yet.   From St. Louis Magazine:
"Just as writer/director Cody Stokes’ career began to take off in New York City—meaning that he was traveling a lot—his first child was born. The St. Louis native began thinking about what it means to be gone and miss things back home, from his, his wife’s, and his child’s perspectives. He knew he wanted to make a film about it. But rather than create a simple kitchen sink drama about fatherhood, he set it in a world beyond, made it exciting, turned it into a crime thriller. “I wanted people to feel like they’re going to watch some sort of Liam Neeson movie but by the end be completely moved,” Stokes says. And he shot it in St. Louis, having moved back home with his family. The Ghost Who Walks screens as part of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase later this month."

Felix Pedro:  If One Could Imagine - Alaska history here.  From Ululate:

The documentary Felix Pedro ... If one could only imagine, tells the story of a man from the Bolognese Apennines, who was born in the mid-nineteenth century and his name was Felice Pedroni. This man flees the poverty, takes a ship to America, where he becomes Felix Pedro and in 1902 he discovered gold in a stream in Alaska founding subsequently the city of Fairbanks.
The story is told today on the trail of a search by Giorgio Comaschi, Claudio Busi and Massimo Turchi to build a show about the adventure of Felix Pedro.

Vanilla - A road trip.   Everything about a film is how it's carried off.  Here's a snippet from one reviewer who thought it went well:
"We have an odd couple on the road, so funny stuff happens – and this is a funny movie.  Naturally, the audience is waiting for the two to jump into bed together.  But Vanilla is fundamentally a portrait of these two people, both comfortable in their ruts.  Elliot is posing as an entrepreneur, and Kimmie is posing as a comedian-in-the-making; something is going to have to shake up these two so each can grow.  Kimmie seems utterly intrepid, but we learn that she can be paralyzed by self-consciousness, just like Elliot.
Vanilla is written and directed by its star, Will Dennis, in his first feature film.  It’s an impressive debut, rich in character-driven humor."
Late Night Chills - Shorts Program -  here's a link to the Festival Website for the shorts.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

AIFF2019: Nae Pasaran, Straight Up, And Laugh Or Die


I've been seeing some terrific films.  Each deserves its own post, but I've almost gotten rid of my cold and so I'm not giving up sleep to post.

Last night's showing of Nae Pasaran was introduced by Alaskan-from-Chile, Pauline Larenas-Bajwa including a brief quote from poet Gonzalo Millán's The City.  This was the only film I got to see before the festival began.  

It was much better on the big screen without distractions. (When I saw it the first time on someone's home big screen tv, I was sitting next to a window with a bird feeder and nuthatches and chickadees were making constant visits.)

The director, Felipe Bustos Sierra's father was a Chilean journalist who was exiled during the Pinochet years.  Sierra grew up in Belgian and lives now in Scotland.  So this is a very personal film for him.  It digs deep into the story of the Scottish factory workers at the RollsRoyce plant who refused to repair the jet engines of the Chilean Air Force in solidarity with their union brothers in Chile.  Sierra interviews some of the workers who instigated the boycott and then he goes to Chile to find some Chilean Airmen who flew those jets, as well as members of Allende's government who were imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet.  It's an inspirational story about how people far away can fight tyranny and Sierra brings it full circle with messages from the Chileans to the workers.


It was followed by Straight Up - a film about a gay man who thinks he might be straight, since he's never really had a satisfactory encounter with a man. Todd  finds his soul mate in Rory - an attractive young lady whose interests and fast wit are a perfect match for Todd's.  Except for sex.  There's lots of very fast paced and smart dialogue, between Todd and Rory, Todd and his therapist, and between Todd and his friends who think this relationship is crazy.  A lot of what I liked about the film came from the charm and wit of Todd and Rory.  And it's a reminder that people don't fit the neat labels we try to use to categorize them.

James Sweeney and Katie Findlay
 Writer, director, and star (Todd) James Sweeney, who is originally from Anchorage, was there with co-star Katie Findlay (Rory) took questions after the showing.

Here they are in the Bear Tooth lobby - they still are obviously good friends.

I didn't think to ask James if naming the character Todd had anything to do with his own last name of Sweeney.








And tonight (Sunday) I got to see my favorite film so far - Laugh or Die.  Which takes place in a Finnish prison camp in 1918.  I said in an earlier post that it was a WWI film, which is technically true.  But more accurately for the film, in Finland there had been an overthrow of the new democracy by those who wanted to reestablish the monarchy.  They threw their fate with the Germans.  Those who had fought to regain the democracy had lost and many were prisoners, including a troop of actors, the most famous of whom was billed as the funniest man in Finland.
This comedian Toivo Parikka is played by Martti Suosalo, a wonderful actor who dominates the screen.  His weapon is his humor and the camp commander tells him if a visiting German general is entertained, he and his troop won't be shot.


Heikki Kujanpää


And we had director Heikki Kujanpää at the screening and up on stage afterward for Q&A.  One
person asked what "based on a true story" meant in this case.  He acknowledged that the wars were true and there were lots of prisoners, but the specific story was fiction.

I also enjoyed The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open, and I hope to write about it later.  

AIFF2019: Monday Dec 9 - Bear Tooth

Monday's schedule, in addition to the two films listed below, includes a workshop on "How to Festival" presented by this year's festival director Ida Theresa Myklebost and John Gamache whose been coordinating the film makers who are visiting as well as doing the website.   
The workshop is at the Alaska Experience Theater at 2pm.



Easy choices today.  Kifaru is a documentary about the people who cared for the last northern white rhino in Africa.

The Shorts Program: WTF?!?! Includes:

  • Mr. Sam
  • Maintain Yourself
  • The Phantom52
  • Eternity
  • Hearth
  • The Dig

AIFF2019: Sunday Dec 8: Tale of Two Indigenous Women; Old Siberian Explorations; Forced Comedy;

Things on tap today.

I'm particularly interested in The Body Remember When The World Broke Open - a film about two Indigenous women in Canada made by indigenous women.
Also Laugh or Die - story about actor prisoners in Finish camp in WWI who are told they will be allowed to live if they make a visiting general laugh.




Banana Split, not to be confused with another film called Banana Splits, is about high school and going off to college and the problems involved.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

AIFF2019: Saturday Dec 7 - Germany, Scotland/Chile, Am I Straight?, And More

Here's the official schedule from the AIFF website.  

Nae Pasaran is an interesting film.  The film maker is the son of a Chilean journalist who was exiled when Pinochet came in.  He's a Chilean-Belgian filmmaker who lives in Scotland.  The film is about the workers in Scotland who refused to repair the Rolls-Royce jet engines of the Chilean Air Force in solidarity with the Chilean union brothers.  It's not only relevant in terms of what unions can do to fight tyranny, but it has current relevance given Chile's protests still going on right now.


Straight Up is about a gay guy who thinks maybe he's really straight.

The Film Royal will show the short films produced in the last five days by Alaskans who got the prompts that needed to be in the film five days ago.  These have progressed from fairly rough films years ago, to very professional productions in recent years.  Always fun.  

Friday, December 06, 2019

AIFF2019: Opening Night Shorts - 6:30pm At Bear Tooth [UPDATED]

I'm finding the new website prettier than it is easy to use.

For instance:  I know opening night - tonight - is a shorts program.  But when I looked up the shorts programs from the website's schedule page, the first program listed is for tomorrow.  Nothing for tonight.

Using the calendar page, I was able to get to Dec. 6 Opening Night Shorts.  Well there are seven pictures, but they aren't linked to anywhere.  It does say at the bottom  “Sin Cielo” and “Wandering in the White.”  So that's two of them anyway.  But when I search for them in the Search Film section - I get "no events found."

The Bear Tooth will only host films this weekend, Monday night,  and for the Martini Matinee at 2pm on Thursday.

There seem to be fewer films overall - certainly in the Features categories - [UPDATE:  I thought at one point that it might be possible to see all the films because there weren't competing films playing at the same time.  But I was very wrong.  At the Alaska Experience Theater during the week there will be lots of films where you have to chose.]

Here's the trailer for Sin Cielo:






And for Wandering in the White:
Vaeltajat / Wandering in the White – Teaser from Side Stories on Vimeo.






Thursday, December 05, 2019

Back Home To Snow And Moose

We left from the D Concourse at SEATAC which has my favorite art piece there - Michael Fajans' High Wire.  I posted about it back in 2008.  (Back then I wrote that it was in Terminal B, but it was definitely in D yesterday.  Maybe the old post was wrong.)



After a couple of gate changes, trying to get in as much of the impeachment hearings as I could, we were in the air above the clouds over Alaska.  It was late afternoon - Anchorage's official sunset yesterday was 3:48pm, but if it's not too cloudy, we have long twilights - and the orange glow was on the western horizon, while out my east facing window there were snow mountains.



And around 4:20pm it was still light enough to capture these exquisite winter scenes with only a slight blur from the long exposure time.  



And as we circled over Cook Inlet to land in Anchorage, the sunset was still painted on the western sky.  





I went out to get our passes for the Anchorage International Film Festival which begins tomorrow night and to pick up some groceries and just on 36th there was a moose crossing the road in the dark.


One of those amazing moments when out of the darkness you realize there's a magnificent
moose and there's no time to react.  Fortunately it was still in the oncoming lane as I passed.  No time to even take a picture, even if I hadn't left my phone at home.  What a great welcome home.




At my dentist this morning this moose was on the wall.  Not quite the same.  But I was sitting still and so was the moose.



















And I'm pleased to say that my studded tires worked like a charm as I rode over to the dentist and back.  I'm getting a little more confident that they aren't going to betray me.  Hoping my trust in them proves warranted.  I won't be reckless, but a little less cautious.









So, let's just leave this post as it is - on light subjects or art, travel, mountains, moose, AIFF2019, and biking in the snow.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Taking A Long Term Look At Why Humans Have Conflicts

This excerpt from a post called The Thinking Ladder at Wait But Why? offers as good a take on the conflicts between Trumpers and Non-Trumpers as any.  But it also helps explain why Non-Trumpers fight amongst themselves too.  Because everyone one operates using both the Primitive Mind and the Higher Mind, at different times and even simultaneously and to varying degrees.  At least that's my take on this.
"The Primitive Mind in every animal—humans included—has been optimized to near perfection at getting animals to survive long enough to pass their precious genes along to new containers.
Scientists aren’t positive about the timeline, but many believe that all humans in all parts of the world lived in hunter-gatherer tribes as recently as 11,000 BC. So 13,000 years ago—or, if we call a generation 25 years, about 500 generations ago.
500 generations isn’t enough time for evolution to take a shit. So the Primitive Mind—a hardwired part of us—is still stuck in the world of 11,000 BC. Which means we’re all like computers running on the highly unimpressive Windows 11000 BC operating system, and there’s no way to do a software update.
But humans have something else going on as well—cognitive superpowers that combine together into an enhanced center of consciousness we’re calling the Higher Mind.
The Higher Mind and his magical thinking abilities helped the human species transform their typical animal hunter-gatherer world into undoubtedly the strangest of all animal habitats: an advanced civilization. The Higher Mind’s heightened awareness allows him to see the world with clear eyes, behave rationally in any environment, and adjust to changes in real time.
So while our Primitive Minds are still somewhere in 11,000 BC, our Higher Minds are living right here with us in 2019. Which is why, even though both minds are just trying to do their jobs, they’re in a fight most of the time."
It comes with illustrations - both pictures and examples.

This just comes from the first less than 1% of a long, thoughtful post that's well worth the time to read.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Should President Be Removed By Impeachment Or Election? UPDATED

[UPDATE Dec 3, 2019 1pm (Seattle):  The Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence's "TRUMP-UKRAINE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY REPORT"  was released shortly after I posted this.]

Suppose you hired your CEO on a four year contract and the contract is up in 13 months.  But there's evidence of all sorts of abuses and crimes, both before and after you hired him.  And his personal style is nasty and arrogant, his policies even if they have some positive intent ignore the horrendous side effects they're causing, and your brand is deteriorating rapidly.  And he attacks anyone who raises any questions about his actions.

He does have some rabid supporters who ignore all the evidence and repeat your CEO's spurious allegations.

You're on the Board of Directors.  What do you do?  

There are few corporate boards that would wait until the contract ended to fire the CEO.  There's way too much damage he could still do before the contract expires.  The only way a Board of Directors would keep him on is if the board members were somehow dependent on the CEO for their future livelihoods and/or reputation.

That's the position Congress is now in.  There is a big difference though:  The board hired the CEO.  In Trump's case, he was elected by the shareholders, so to speak.

And using the 2020 election as cover, the Trump supporters are arguing that the timing is so close the Congress shouldn't "undo the 2016 election."  (Recognize that this implies that there is valid reason to impeach, but that it's just better to let the voters decide.)

There is a certain logic to that argument.

Elections are the will of the people and it's better that the people change the president than the congress.

But there are flaws here too:

    1. Questions about the legitimacy of the 2016 election.
      1.  Trump actually lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million people.  While Trump argues that he 'won a landslide in the electoral college' that's not the measure that most Americans use to determine the voice of the people.  It's seen as a technical device, not the actual will of the people. And there is no doubt in any honest person's mind, that if the positions had been reversed (Trump won the popular vote and Clinton the electoral college) Trump's supporters would have been screaming about the election being stolen.  
      2. We know now that the election was influenced by Russian interference.  We know clearly that Russians used Facebook to spread outrageous falsehoods in favor of Trump and against Clinton.  Without that campaign Trump likely wouldn't have won the electoral college.
      3. We know that there was voter suppression by Republicans in 2016 and it's being used for 2020.  Various states purged valid voters from the voter registration lists.  Polls in black neighborhoods were in short supply in a number of states making it harder for people to vote.  Photo id cards were required to vote in some states.  
      4. These problems combined helped Trump win the election.  And there's no guarantee that they won't be used again in 2020.  In fact there is strong evidence they are already happening.  Plus there is also the concern about tampering with voting machines.  We know of attacks on voting machines, but we don't know whether there was actually any successful operations to change the voting outcomes.  Without paper ballots as backup, such hacks will be hard to overcome without resorting to complete new elections. 
    2. The Constitution gives Congress the power to remove the president when he's abusing the office and there is no question that that's happening.  
      1. It's Congress' job to remove a bad president.  McConnell's made up rule about waiting for the election to put in a new Supreme Court justice in the last year of Obama's presidency was simply politics.  We know that if there is a vacancy before the next president is elected, that McConnell will scrap that rule, even if there are only two weeks left before the president leaves.  
So the argument about the elections is not nearly as strong as Republicans claim.  Plus there's a giant counterargument.

The damage Trump can do between now and January 20, 2020 (when he leaves office) is enormous.  Some examples:
  1. There's clear evidence that many of Trump's actions benefit Putin and Russia to the detriment of the United States and the free world. (All his attempts to break up Western alliances from NATO to the EU to the Climate Agreement, to trying to lift sanctions on Russia.  
  2. There's clear evidence that Trump is using the presidency to enrich his own companies and those of his children. 
  3. There's evidence that Trump's business ties to countries like Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others are influencing foreign policy with those nations
  4. Trump is dismantling regulations that protect the environment and public lands and public health
  5. Trump has interfered with the integrity of the Justice Department
  6. Trump has encourage public hate groups in the US 
  7. Trump has unnecessarily treated would-be asylum seekers cruelly and in violation of international law
  8. Given massive tax breaks to the very wealthy increasing the levels of inequity in the US and increasing the long term debt of the US 

If Trump were impeached by January 2020, it would cut a year off the time Trump had to inflict further damage on the US and the world.

In my mind, impeachment is the only proper action to take here to reestablish the standards of government the US has attempted to follow over the last 200 years as well has to minimize further damage to the US and the world.  Doing the right thing is usually a better long term choice than playing with lots of possible scenarios that give one future advantages.

That said, if Trump is impeached, Pence would become president.  There is no guarantee that Pence wouldn't carry out many of Trump's terrible polices.  And he's likely to give Trump and his family members absolute pardons for any crimes they have committed or will commit.  And Trump's supporters would punish in the primaries any Republicans Senators who didn't support Trump.  Leading possibly to much weaker Republican candidates in the general election.

So, taking a very long term perspective, Democrats might be best served by forwarding the impeachment to the Senate and letting the Senate acquit Trump.  (Well, they don't have much power over what the Senate does.  Unless public opinion is fired up by future revelations. it's unlikely the Senate will vote to convict.

The amount of abuse that has already come out and that is likely to still come out, will convince the US voters to not only throw out Trump, but to give the Democrats a majority in the US Senate, as a response to the Republican Senate NOT doing its duty to convict Trump.

But this all assumes they can overcome Republican voter suppression, Russian interference in the elections, and the Constitutional skewing of power in the Senate that gives small (often rural) states very disproportionate power in the Senate.  Because of this Democrats in the Senate represent far more people than Republicans, but the Republicans have the majority  From the Guardian:
"Among the most eye-catching was a statistic showing Democrats led Republicans by more than 12 million votes in Senate races, and yet still suffered losses on the night and failed to win a majority of seats in the chamber. 
Constitutional experts said the discrepancy between votes cast and seats won was the result of misplaced ire that ignored the Senate electoral process. 
Because each state gets two senators, irrespective of population, states such as Wyoming have as many seats as California, despite the latter having more than 60 times the population. The smaller states also tend to be the more rural, and rural areas traditionally favor Republicans."
And GovTrack further notes that because of rules changes that used to require supermajorities for  approving appointments (as a way to protect the minority in the Senate) the percent of votes needed to approve has gotten lower and lower and
"we might see nominations confirmed by a coalition of states representing less than half of the country’s population."
But I think a fired up electorate can overcome some of these problems.  There are still many disillusioned people who do not vote.  Trump's administration has been the best example of why not voting is a terrible  idea.