It sounds like a bad joke, but I’ve got two wakes and a funeral over the next three days. Here’s something to lighten the spirits, courtesy of Marketplace and the Guardian.

The choices are sexist and Brit-centric (of course). I made up answers to stuff I didn’t know and was closest to Taylor Swift. I’d post a photo of her but I have never looked that plastic

Sony Hack


While the event happened some time ago, the fallout continues.

Pay Inequity

Think Progress reports an enormous gender bias in Sony’s payments to male and female stars. This information may be old news in the sense that annual reports always put men at the top. Now women can use the revelations as evidence to support demands for more money. The examples demonstrate that pay has less to do with talent, or success, and more to do with testosterone level. Pathetic.

Prior Restraint

A more serious and far-reaching issue concerns Sony’s ability to stop news organizations and others from publishing the information released through hacks. Though probably protected, what’s the benefit of addresses and other personal information except to someone trying to pitch a film? The material that does have greater impact includes scripts, projects in development, and yes, opinions on President Obama’s viewing habits, which reinforced views that racism endures.

The Verdict has a thoughtful analysis of the issues. Sherry Colb points out rightly that the Pentagon Papers case and subsequent decisions have made it almost impossible to stop publication. The doctrine of “prior restraint” gives news organizations broad license to disseminate. The rule is: publish and deal with the fallout afterward. Of course there may be consequences, fines or jail time for revealing items that threaten our nationals security, for example. And of course the person taking the information can be prosecuted for theft. In this case Sony may also be able to claim monetary damages for the publication of copyrighted information.

Ms. Colb, though, thinks we should apply Fourth Amendment doctrine to rein in the First Amendment. The thinking goes that if law enforcement officers violate the protection against unlawful search and seizure, none of the information gathered as a result of that action can be used in a criminal prosecution. The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine has been curtailed over the years, and Ms. Colb urges the same thinking apply to the prior restraint doctrine.

The big problem with this scenario, of course, is that the Fourth Amendment and the “fruit” doctrine apply to government action. They are meant to limit intrusion by the state, specifically the police, into the lives of private citizens.

The courts have never understood the First Amendment in this way. It applies broadly not only to the government but to any person or entity that attempts to curtail the rights of individuals, the press, the church, etc. (The standards may differ according to the identities of the parties.) But the rule is clear:  “Congress shall make no law …” vs. “The right of the people … shall not be violated …”

The United States government did not steal Sony’s information, and even if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that North Korea did, U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply. Allowing prior restraint would send a message that it was OK to publish files that disclosed governmental lying during the Vietnam War, but Sony’s proprietary information is far more important. I’m pretty sure even this Supreme Court would say no.

So, the bottom line is: The hack impact will continue to ripple and may produce some positives, especially at the box office. Though I had no intention of watching The Interview before the hack, I plan to now – at least as much as I can stand.

What I’m Reading Now


Another in an occasional series, compliments of the hospital book mobile. It’s Friday, again. Between the massacres in France and some personal woes, I’m going to forgo heavy subjects and the topic overload list to write about a piece of fluff that I read in two hours between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

PIE appealed to me because of the cover: a Tiffany blue background with a cat well over normal BMI sitting on the title looking up at a perfectly made pie, steam wafting through the lattice work.

Sarah Weeks wrote the book for children, but any grownup who likes to bake or eat pies will luxuriate while enjoying the story of the slueth-ful heroine, the classic misfit girl in a small  Pennsylvania town.

The plot is simple: Young Alice’s sole champion is her Aunt Polly, who has put the town on the map with her prize-winning pies. Polly drops dead, and her will leaves her secret crust recipe to her bad-tempered cat, Lardo. (I assume Ms. Weeks didn’t want product placement by calling the cat Crisco.) Violence and threats of violence ensue. Someone trashes Polly’s shop. Someone catnaps Lardo.

The plot rages forward at furious kid bicycle speed, but the major appeal of the book is the fourteen recipes submitted by bakers from all over the country. I skimmed the fruit and cream versions having experienced more than my fill of apple, lemon, cherry, chocolate, and coconut. Will NOT try the peanut butter raspberry. I did note down the green tomato, thinking there is another use for the plethora of this vegetable next summer.

The most intriguing one is buttermilk, which consists of eggs, sugar, a little flour, vanilla, lemon, nutmeg, and “low-fat” buttermilk. Once the holiday goodies have completely left my system, I’ll give it a whirl. The recipe I anticipated, which did not appear, is Shoo-Fly Pie, It would be a natural given the Pennsylvania locale. My dad’s recipe may follow.

In the meantime, pour a cup of coffee, cut a slice, and enjoy PIE.

Serial Finis


Serial turned out to be one of those addictive radio dramas that kept giving. I listened to the first few episodes all at once and then couldn’t wait each week for the next one. At some point I got behind and then had to “binge listen” to the last two because I was afraid someone would spill the beans. Turns out I needn’t have worried. The “resolution” was, as I anticipated, not one.

One can hope the Innocence Project can at least get the question of Adnan Syed’s guilt before a judge so some of the holes might be plugged. Of course that could give producer Sarah Koenig another round of podcasts on this topic. In the meantime I hope she has two or three more successes.

I still don’t have a good answer to the “white privilege” issue. The main objections were that Koenig put herself in the middle of the story and that she never talked to Hae’s family. As to the first, she pretty much warned everyone from the outset that she would not remain the “objective” reporter. And as to the second, she and her staff apparently tried everything possible to interview people on the victim’s side of the story.  No one would talk. I certainly don’t see that she’s “whitewashing and stereotyping.” The big divide I see here is a reporter long out of high school trying to grasp the mores of what it was like to be a high school student in 1999 regardless of race.

Tops in Health

healthConnecticut scores fourth in 2014 good health outcomes by  America’s Health Rankings.

We have a low prevalence of smoking, which I realize every time I leave the state; a low “occupational fatalities rate”; and high immunization coverage among children.

The “challenges” are the “high prevalence of binge drinking” (maybe the large numbers of colleges is to blame?); high rate of preventable hospitalizations; and no surprise, “large disparity in health status by educational attainment.”

The states that beat us were Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts. I suspect Hawaii’s ranking has to do with its demographic composition and with the opportunity to exercise outside all year round. (I know the above photo was not taken in Connecticut today. It’s 10 degrees, going down to minus digits.) Vermont’s position comes from education, relative wealth, and lack of violent crime.

Even though we’re high on the list in a good way, it’s a good news/bad news situation. The good: adults are more active; diabetes rates decreased among the same population (there may be a connection); preventable hospitalizations dropped among Medicare recipients; cancer deaths decreased. The bad news: the number of children in poverty increased dramatically.

Given that we’re also the fifth richest state in the country with a median household income of $67,000, it’s inexcusable. The opening line of 24/7Wallst  is “Connecticut is both one of the richest and most unequal states. The state is often depicted in the media as the poster child for America’s growing inequality.” Beyond inexcusable — outrageous!

Catching Up With Getty Images

Here is the first of my “Topic Overload” entries, catching up from the update-induced hiatus.


I already posted what I consider the most moving and desolate image of the top photos of 2014. The headline is “10 years since the Asian tsunami.” The caption reads,

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated the coastline around the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004 was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Such was the magnitude of the disaster both the human and environmental impacts are still being felt over a decade later.

Other images of equal and greater devastation include photos of ebola victims and survivors, and a smoldering tire from the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine. A moving photograph of Robin Williams drew me back to the sadness of his death.

The other upsetting photo is a solitary black figure, hands raised, facing what appears to be a battalion of white men in gas masks, riot gear, camouflage, and carrying assault rifles. The headline is “Outrage in Missouri town after police shooting of 18-yr-old man.

The caption:

Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed
Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson.


Unbroken’s Flaws


Spoiler alert: If you intend to see the movie, stop reading and return here afterward.

Members of the veterans’ writing workshop went to see Unbroken last week. I’ve since been contemplating why the film didn’t live up to expectations. To help with the answers, I returned to Save the Cat! It is a book on script writing meant for those who want to make the next Die Hard or Pretty Woman. Snarky defines much of Blake Snyder’s writing. Describing the characters in Miss Congeniality he includes “William Shatner and his hairpiece – and a very sporty model it is!”

Save the Cat! nevertheless offers keen insights into what makes a competent, if not stellar movie, whether it’s a wind-up action film or smart-aleck kid romp. I wish the Coen brothers et al. had reviewed the book while writing, or that Angelina Jolie had looked at it when editing Unbroken.

Laura Hillenbrand had the luxury of hundreds of pages to chart the arc of Louis Zamperini’s life from juvenile delinquent to track star to bombadier to tortured prisoner of war to PTSD sufferer and grim alcoholic to redeemed soul who survived and thrived until age ninety-seven.

It is of course impossible to fit all that life into a movie running slightly more than two hours. But to end with Louie’s return from the war and wrap up the last seventy years of his life with a couple of end notes fails to establish the “promise of the premise.” That’s Snyder speak for putting the premise before our eyes. In this case the premise runs above the title: “survival, resilience, redemption.” The movie gives us survival and resilience. We never see redemption, though we are told that it happened. The theme, “If you can take it, you can make it,” does play out, but only in the first-act section of Louie’s life. He had to “take it” and “make it” again before he found the promised redemption.

The half-finished arc is the biggest problem. Here are a few others:

  • The lead character in any film needs to change, and on-screen Louie really doesn’t after he begins to run track. The real change in his character occurred after the war when he went from bar-fighting, falling-down drunk to the man who forgave his torturers.
  • In a related problem, Louie spends most of the movie reacting, not acting. One rare time when he seems to be about to act is not at all clear. As the other POWs are enjoying airdropped magazines and canned goods and cigarettes, he goes to the room of “the Bird,” the sadist who has subjected him to many types of exquisite torture. In the book it is abundantly clear that Louie intends to kill the man. His motive remains confused in the movie as we see him staring at a photograph of the Bird as a little boy, standing with his father.
  • Jack O’Connell does a perfectly serviceable job as Louie, but there’s no depth, the sort of character arc that Snyder urges. We see Louie running, nearly drowning, getting hit, again and again and again. By contrast, Takamasa Ishihara, who plays the Bird, gives the character all the creepy psychopathic twists that Hillenbrand described in the book. At times he even looked like a woman, adding a new layer of complexity to the relationship between the two men.

In the end, the problem with Unbroken is that it tried to be a war movie in the way of Saving Private Ryan while at the same time serving as a biopic with greater aspirations.

Banished Words

It’s a new year. It’s Friday, and blog has returned after a near-death experience and much tooing and froing on Bluehost. Instead of a serious topic, here is fun with words, that is the words folks at Lake Superior State University want to banish in 2015. I did not realize the BW is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

I disagree that we should eliminate “enhanced interrogation.” We should keep it front and center, always followed by “the Bush administration’s term for torture” just to keep this shameful chapter in our history fresh in everyone’s minds.

A few of my (un)favorites:

Vortex this!
Vortex this!
  • Polar Vortex. This term has actually existed for some years. Al Roker  cited a 1950s-era textbook. In 2014 weather forecasters apparently couldn’t just use arctic front, or better yet, an actual temperature and wind speed. A suggestion: vortex this!
  • Curate/curated has become utterly meaningless and now replaces choose or chosen. Let’s uncurate everything in 2015 except the artwork at MoMA and the MMA.
  • Hack has become meaningless since it has nothing to do with actually breaking into a website and changing or deleting stuff. Let’s hack the hack.

Two I’d never heard before and hope never to see or hear again.

  • BAE – somewhere between half-assed and meaningless.
  • Cra-cra. So bad they had to say it twice.