Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

Friday, 20 April 2018 16:24

The backtracking of Sun Country Airlines

Oh, how a few days of extremely bad press will get a CEO to do the right thing. Last week the Midwest was bombarded with another snow storm and several states slowed down. And I mean, everything pretty much ground to a halt. Especially the airports. Flights were cancelled all day long while the gods above sent two feet of snow to cover our Midwest lands.

 

Sun Country Airlines is based out of Eagan, MN and, just like all the other airlines affected by the snowstorm, they had to cancel flights for a variety of reasonable issues - employees couldn’t get to work, planes couldn’t take off, visibility issues, landing issues, etc, etc.

 

That’s not news. That’s just what happens when twenty four inches of snow blows up your state. The specific hot water Sun Country found themselves drowning in is related to about 250 passengers that the Airlines left stranded in Mexico following the blizzard. Apparently, the flights scheduled to carry the Americans home were the “last flights of the season” and they refused to extend their schedule or pay for the fuel to send another flight to bring the stranded passengers home and sent them a, “We’ll refund your ticket price but we’re not coming to get you. You’ll have to find another way home. Good luck!”

 

I mean. Wow. Just think about that. Sun Country Airlines actually told their customers that not only was the airlines leaving them stranded in a foreign country but it wasn’t even going to offer to assist them finding new flights home.

 

I don’t know about you but now that I know Sun Country will leave me stranded in a foreign country for reasons - I will not ever give them my money. Like, never. Ever.

 

Obviously, the customers turned to the social media to vent. Many of them had to spend thousand of extra dollars to buy a last second ticket in order to get home. Sun Country’s reimbursement for the tickets customer’s had already bought will, like all returns, take several days to process. But even once a customer received their refund for their original ticket - no way will it cover the cost of purchasing a last second brand new ticket.

 

And then both MN Senators send letters to Sun Country Airlines demanding an explanation and the customer relations nightmare began. Well it took a couple days but the social media blitz worked. Sun Country, after suffering horrendous amounts of negative press and loss of business - is going to do the right thing.

 

Funny how that works, huh? Sun Country made a business decision to not spend money on fuel to send new empty flights to go pick up stranded passengers because it wouldn’t be “cost effective” and now have lost incalculable amounts of money through negative coverage and bad will against the company.

 

Sun Country’s brand new CEO, Jude Bricker sent out a company wide email a few days after the idiotic decision he made to strand the passengers in the first place. The email is overly long and defensive, you can read the full text here but it’s very nauseating to read that condescending "corporate speak" sorry / not sorry apology. The gist of it though is, “But hey, we did some things right and our contract says we technically don’t have to do anything for you if you’re stranded. So, I mean - there’s that. And we can’t control the weather. You know? And some of our flights got home. So that’s good - we rock! I guess we need to work on our customer communication. Maybe that might be a super tiny (not really big deal at all) issue. I’m not saying it’s a problem though! But, maybe, like - a tiny, tiny, tiny issue.  So, we’ll reimburse SOME of the costs that customers spent getting home. Sun Country Airlines forever!”

 

Sorry Bricker. You lost me for life.  If they fire you. Maybe I’ll come back. But don’t hold your breath.

 

Friday, 13 April 2018 17:58

MoviePass: Two month review

Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service, which is explained below.

 

A few months ago I wrote Movie Pass: What is it (and is it too good to be true). At the time I wrote that piece I didn’t actually have  MoviePass but I had ordered one and was waiting for it to arrive.

 

Well, it arrived and I’ve since used it for two glorious movie filled months! For those not in the know:

 

When I bought MoviePass it was a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee (usually $9.99) and then you can use your MoviePass card to see one free movie every day but they have recently updated their terms of service. New subscribers are limited to one movie per week and a maximum of four movies per month. If you are a new subscriber you also receive a free subscription to iheartradio all access.

 

Wait, seriously? That sounds too good to be true.

 

Yes. Seriously. MoviePass is totally legit! Since I received my MoviePass card in the mail on Friday, February 16th, here are the movies I’ve seen with it:

 

Annihilation

Black Panther

Red Sparrow

Game Night

Thoroughbreds

Love, Simon

Tomb Raider

Unsane

Ready Player One

Pacific Rim 2

A Quiet Place

Chappaquiddick

Blockers



I even kept track of how much each ticket would have cost had I not been using MoviePass - $126. I actually bought a full year subscription which gave me a discount ($7.95 per month) and a one time sign up fee of $20. So my total cost up front was approx. $120. Alas, that deal is no longer available. The new deal is nice but just not as good as those of us folk who have subscribed for a while.

 

I have now made my money back and still have another ten months on my subscription.

 

But you don’t have to pay all that money up front. You can sign up for the monthly subscription at $9.95 per month and cancel any time. But you should know if you cancel you can’t sign up for MoviePass for nine months.

 

But, wait - how is MoviePass sustainable?

 

Fair question! The average ticket price across America is somewhere in the $8.50 range so if a typical MoviePass customer attends the cinema twice per month - MoviePass loses money! And they have been losing money this last quarter claiming a $150 million loss. If that sounds like a lot of money to you (it does to me) that doesn't seem to phase the CEO of movie pass who says that they have enough start up money to operate well into 2019 when they expect to be profitable. (Of course, what else is the CEO going to say?) I guess I am reminded of Amazon - which lost money for a staggering six years in a row before turning a profit. I don't understand how that's possible but there it is.

 

So, how does MoviePass plan to survive?

 

Well, they've already raised the money so they're not going anywhere - just yet.

 

Second, MoviePass has 2 million subscribers. Third - MoviePass is the only company that can tell theaters exactly who and when people are going to the movies. This is valuable information for theater chains to have and it has led studios to pay MoviePass to advertise specific films through the MoviePass app.

 

Finally, MoviePass will sell your data in some situations but they are very open about it on their website saying,  

 

“Except where outlined in this policy or otherwise communicated to you, we will not sell, rent or disclose your personal information to third parties without notifying you of our intent to do so. In such an event, Users will be notified in advance, giving you the opportunity to prevent your personal information from being shared.”

 

 

Finally, concessions. MoviePass, as of yet, does not get a cut of concessions but they are certainly pursuing that option.  It is no secret that theater chains make the overwhelming majority of their money selling concessions. For example, that $12 bucket of popcorn you buy at the theater cost the theater chain about five cents. That, my friend, is a lot of profit.

 

And if MoviePass can demonstrate that it is driving customers to the theaters, customers that would not normally attend - why not cut them in? I am proof positive that MoviePass is driving me to the theater. And I am proof positive that I will NOT go to a theater that does not accept MoviePass.

 

Of the thirteen movies I have seen with MoviePass I bought concession twice. Which, to be honest, is probably unusually low for a typical consumer. I suspect the average cinema attendee buys concessions closer to fifty percent of the time. Maybe higher.

 

MoviePass has already shown the theater chains that it is driving about 5% of moviegoers to the theater but when MoviePass promotes a specific film that percentage jumps up to 20%.

 

Studios and theater chains are taking notice. MoviePass currently has approx. 2 million subscribers but if they can get that number up to four or five million that will be a game changer for them.

 

What about their lousy customer service?

 

Yeah, I read all about that too. When MoviePass jumped from a few hundred thousand subscribers to 1.5 million (in the span of about a month) they had serious delays in meeting demand. I mean, they still have to produce and ship an actual card to your house. It’s not just an app.

 

They just didn’t have the manpower to keep up with the sudden demand. They also didn’t have the manpower to respond to emails and phone calls.

 

Mitch Lowe, the CEO of MoviePass sat down with CNN money and discussed this very problem. Basically he was like, “Yeah, our customer service sucked for a while but we’re working on it.”

 

And they did. I signed up for MoviePass and recieved my card in about a week. It takes me all of fifteen seconds to use the app and check in to the theater and access my free movie. The only minor hoops you have to jump through:

 

  1. MoviePass only allows you to see 2D movies - no IMAX or 3D movies.
  2. You can only use MoviePass to see one movie per day.
  3. You can not buy tickets in advance with MoviePass. You must be at the theater. (Though, there are a handful of smaller independent chains that now allow you to use your MoviePass to purchase online in advance but this seems to be an exception to the rule).
  4. You need to use your phone or tablet to access the MoviePass app so you will need internet access.  

 

These are very minor hoops and I have not had a single issue with MoviePass. It is a totally legit service and I will use it until the end of days!


To learn more about MoviePass and / or to sign up for the service, visit their site here.

 

Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service. If you purchased a MoviePass before today's date you continue to receive your one movie a day plan. If you purchase a MoviePass starting today, their new plan allows one free movie per week (total of four per month) and comes with a free three month subscription to iheartradio all access. This is still a great deal but, sadly, not the awesomely phenomenal deal I wrote about when I put this story up last week. With the new change I would recommend you purchase the month to month plan and receive the free iheartradio subscription. You will be billed for the first three months and then billed quarterly. Hold off on buying the full year subscription. But for now - at $9.95 a month for one movie a week MoviePass remains a good deal!

 

Friday, 30 March 2018 19:54

Film review: Ready Player One

**SPOILER FREE**

 

Spielberg's new film, Ready Player One, is based on the once loved, now often ridiculed or outright disliked novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The novel is unread by me but I understand the premise. And I’ve seen the movie now which probably means all the good parts of the book have been spoiled for me.

 

The novel, from what I understand, is a nostalgic, geek lore Easter egg hunt oft criticized for being fun but not exactly a writing masterpiece, but whatever. The reader was bombarded with nostalgic, nerdy, geek references from the 80’s. And that nostalgic weight carried RPO on to the NYT best seller list for a long time.

 

And now Steven Spielberg, the man directly responsible for much of our actual 80’s pop culture and nostalgic geeky moments has his new movie! So what is it about?

 

From rottentomatos.com:

 

“In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-known as the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.”

 

Okay. Fair enough. Dystopian world - bad. Super cool VR world - good! That premise seems Spielberg enough. And, for the most part the movie is charming, nostalgic, good fun. With only a single swear word (one delightfully placed F bomb) the movie is standard Spielbergian Hollywood family entertainment and kids of all ages will probably dig it. RPO has at least two beautiful action sequences and one perfectly recreated set piece from a beloved horror film (which I suspect will go down as the one truly great scene of the film).

 

Anyway. I like RPO. To get that out of the way. I was hoping to love it, I was worried I was going to hate it but - no, I like it. That being said, despite all its stunning technical charm, the movie is a little shallow and the characters are poorly drawn and one dimensional.

 

Right now let’s focus on the good in RPO. Remember the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King where Legolas kills the Oliphant? Well, the technology was there to … well … make it look like a CGI Legolas awkwardly bouncing around on a giant moving elephant and finally sliding down its trunk. Despite my dislike of the scene, the CGI isn’t quite capable of pulling that off perfectly. Things don’t look entirely real. It kind of gets the job done. I guess. We get what was going on. The oliphant looks good but the motion of Legolas is just - bizarre and not based in real world physics.  

 

Well, those days are gone! The CGI is now there and the work in RPO is stunning. Movement and motion of all CGI (and / or motion captured) characters are flawless. RPO effortlessly blends realistic looking monsters and creatures with virtual looking avatar figures and their realistic looking weapons, vehicle and gear.

 

The scavenger hunt / investigation portions of the film are as entertaining as the action. Nothing slows the pace of the film. The moments of humor all work and we easily understand the motivations off the lead protagonists, (Ty Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) and the story’s main antagonist (Ben Mendelsohn). If you are looking for beautiful looking family friendly action - RPO is your movie.

 

But it’s not exactly a sophisticated think piece - and it doesn’t have to be! But RPO is a bit hollow at its core for me to love it. Casting is a slight issue. Ty Sheridan plays lead Wade / Parzival. Sheridan was a fairly accomplished child actor and has turned into a totally adequate teen actor. He will not fuck your scene up. Nor will he take a poorly drawn character and breath true life into it. And Wade, as a character is … you know. Fine. Except for that one thing (which I’ll get to later).

 

Which is the polar opposite of wunderkind Olivia Cooke who wowed me a couple of weeks ago in Thoroughbreds. Watching that film I kept thinking, “Who the F is this incredible actress and where did she come from?” From many things it turns out, but most famously from Bates Motel. Cooke is great and watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder how fantastic a lead she would have been if they switched the genders of Wade / Samantha. (Imagine the nerd rage). Sadly, Cooke’s character, Samantha / Art3mis is a little underdrawn and mainly acts as a prize for Wade to win.

 

Of the additional three supporting cast - Aech gets the most virtual time with Daito and Sho rounding out the High Five (as they call themselves). But once we meet them in the real world they just kind of stand around. One of them drives a van. Not exactly the stuff of supporting cast legends.

 

But if you were to say, “But the story is about Wade! He is the only one that has to be a fully realized character!

 

Fair enough. But do we really need yet another tent pole Hollywood blockbuster featuring a white male lead who is backed up by his super hot white trophy prize girl friend with a couple of people of color in the background who don’t get to do much other than stand around and be people of color? Steven Spielberg virtually has the clout to do anything he wants in regards to his film. Perhaps he could have pushed a little on this point.

 

The other main issue I have is the lack of real world empathy our lead, Wade, seems to have. There is a brutal tragic event in the film (which I will not spoil) that should leave Wade, at the very least - affected!

 

With emotion.

 

But no. Not so much. The very next scene Wade is ready to Game On!

 

It seems to me that there is a great movie somewhere in RPO or maybe it’s all there on the cutting room floor. But  instead of delivering that, Spielberg delivered the safest movie possible.

 

And it’s a very fine safe movie. There are things I like. I honestly believe that most folks who see it will enjoy it. The visual spectacle is such an eye feast that I might actually see it again. Perhaps I will warm up to the supporting cast a bit more. Perhaps not.

 

Ready Player One is fun, energetic and totally Spielberg. I just wish it had been a little more, I don’t know - wiser.

 

Indie darling film director Steven Soderbergh officially “retired” from filmmaking in 2013 but since then has directed HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky, and now the made in secret Unsane.

 

I mainly want to talk about Soderbergh’s process and less so review the film. This will be spoiler free for Unsane.

 

Soderbergh’s had a few mainstream hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and the Academy Award winning Traffic but mostly he works on under the radar indie experimental films like Out of Sight, The Limey and the Solaris remake.  

 

He’s actually been quite prolific in the last few decades since his debut feature film Sex, Lies and Videotapes wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, winning multiple awards. He’s directed 30 something features since then and produced (which means he actually worked on producing the film) or executive produced (in where he “puts up the money”) another 30 something movies.

 

And he continues to experiment. Sometimes he uses non professional actors, sometimes he releases a movie without a marketing campaign, he was the first mainstream director (that I’m aware of) that released a feature film on the theaters and on VOD at the same time. He is often quoted in interviews saying he’s not a storyteller and he doesn’t make movies because he feels he has a story to tell. He makes movies as an exercise in storytelling form. And form is what he plays around with in many of his films, offering unconventional ways of telling his story.

 

Soderbergh’s 1999 revenge film, The Limey, starring Terrence Malick comes to mind. What could have been a fairly straight forward revenge thriller turns into something quite different with an extraordinary sound design / editing technique employed during the production. The film often uses dialogue clips from previous scenes or flash forward sound clips from future scenes, juxtaposed with the current scene you are watching. This is used primarily to punctuate a scene with emphasis but it also creates a rhythmic sound structure of the film which really has to be seen and heard to fully appreciate. Anyway, my point being - no one else had ever done anything like that and overwhelming critical praise suggests it was quite effective.

 

And, one would assume, if a director finds something that works, why not use the technique again? Because that’s just not what Soderbergh is interested in. He used his sound juxtaposition as an exercise in form for that one film and then moved on to other experiments.

 

Which brings me around to Soderbergh’s latest experiment, his newly released film, Unsane, starring Claire Foy (the Queen on Netflix’s The Crown). Soderbergh decided to shoot the entire feature film on the iPhone 7. Now, I know he’s not the first director to do this (but he might be the first "big name" director to do so). There are a handful of films I can think of shot on an iPhone in recent years, 2015’s Tangerine being the most popular, and also the Oscar winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man.

 

Actually, Searching for Sugar Man wasn’t entirely shot on an iPhone. Some of it was shot on 8mm film but when the director ran out of film he used iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to finish portions of scenes.

 

I can see the appeal of shooting on an iPhone. Inexpensive. No clunky rig set-ups, no apple boxes, no grip tape, no ten crew members just to track and push your dolly. Soderbergh acted as director, director of photography and camera operator. And he was able to just follow the actors around with relative ease.

 

The actors loved it, of course. Without all that excess gear and crew and Soderbergh allowing scenes to go on and on the actors were fully immersed in the scenery and the story.

 

Claire Foy talks about the process in an interview she gave for Entertainment Weekly:

 

"The thing I loved about it was that Steven was in the room, he was operating , so it really felt like he was there, watching everything, being part of it, which felt really amazing. I've never had that before … We shot it in 10 days, and it meant Steven had huge amounts of freedom in where he could put the camera, what he could do with the camera, what he could try and then get rid of … He was just experimenting all the time. We shot it entirely chronologically. It just moved. It just moved a lot. And it had an energy, and a rhythm, and a momentum to it that felt fresh, and unrehearsed, and full of life.”

 

Soderbergh was equally in love with the iPhone shoot telling appleinsider.com:

 

“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it's going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional way of shooting. The gap now between the idea and the execution of the idea is just shrinking and this means you get to try out more ideas so I wish I'd had this equipment when I was 15."

 

Later saying that iPhone's 4K footage looks like "velvet" and calling the device a "game changer."

 

Well, I’m all for experimentation in art and storytelling. But experimentation doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” And, Unsane, for all its form experimentation - is okay. Unlike 2015’s beautiful looking Tangerine, which does not look like it was shot on an iPhone (but was), Unsane actually looks like it was shot … well … on an iPhone.

 

The Highlights: It certainly has a gritty, voyeuristic feel to the visuals. It’s almost like you’re watching this awful thing happening in real time on security footage. So, that’s creepy. Which, at times is effect since Unsane is a thriller.

 

The Lowlights: A standard iPhone doesn’t allow you to play much with deep focus. You can pretty much only create a flat space look. Another problem is that the iPhone lens can’t handle close ups, sadly, it “fish eyes” the edges of the screen rounding them out. Again, sometimes this works but most of the time it just looks ridiculous. The blacks all get crushed and the lights are overly pixelated.

 

So when Soderbergh says the final product looks like “velvet” I seriously don’t understand what he’s talking about. Unsane, quite literally, looks like your kid brother shot a movie in the basement using his iPhone.

 

Velvet it is not.

 

That being said, sometimes the crushed blacks and pixelated lights work in favor to the story. The movie is, after all, about a woman going insane (or is it?).

 

Unsane is kind of review proof. It’s experimental on so many levels that some folks will just like it for what it is, and some will not. I kind of like a lot of it but I also wish Soderbergh had just used a film camera. Super 16mm would have been perfect for the tone. But using super 16 would have been a story telling choice and not a “form experiment,” which is what Soderbergh wants.

 

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the problems with Unsane have anything to do with what camera was used. The problems, like the problems with many, many horror films, is that there are too many dopey script choices.

 

And by dopey, I don’t mean silly because Unsane, to its credit, goes out of its way to be believable and I appreciate the tone of the film.

 

I could also say bad acting is a problem with many horror films but that’s certainly not anything Unsane has to worry about. All of the actors are quite believable. Even when they’re screeching ridiculous lines.

 

When “form” isn’t getting in the way, Unsane is as effective as it tries to be. And there are lots of things I admire about the film. But “shot on the iPhone,” isn’t one of them.

 

Unsane official trailer.

Craigslist has just announced they will shut down its hugely popular personals section in response to the Senate passing H.R.1865, FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act).

 

Posted this morning to their website:

 

“US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA,” seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

 

Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

 

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”

 

Basically, this means that websites such as Craigslist could be held legally responsible for whatever kind of illegal sex work interactions users take part on their website. The problem here being is that much of said sex work is between consenting adults and poses no danger to either party. Sex work should not be a crime.

 

Yes, of course there are horror stories to be found. There is no end to the amount of violence against women you can find in the country and online. So I understand the general idea behind the bill - to protect women. But, maybe … also … to control women. A little bit. Just sayin.

 

Best case scenario, this bill is designed to curb the growing online sex traffic industry and some might feel that right there to be a moral victory. And if you feel that way - fine. Have at it. And if it does protect people - that’s great news! Personally, I don’t have a problem with consensual adults engaging in sex acts - paid or otherwise. And neither should the Senate.

 

If FOSTA was a bill fighting underage sex trafficking that would be another story. Underage sex trafficking is a huge crime and often involves kidnapping, slavery and brutality against children & teenage girls and boys. The Senate should be specifically tackling that issue and not generally going after adult sex workers who may or may not be (but probably are) consenting.

 

Much has been written about backpage.com and its blatant sex trafficking and many believe FOSTA to be a direct reaction to this site, specifically. But there has been a lot of controversy that backpage.com participates in underage sex trafficking. Again, underage sex trafficking is a serious crime and those caught working in such a field should go to jail for a long time. Or worse.

 

It does not appear there is evidence that Craigslist was purposely allowing underage sex trafficking on their site. That being said, I understand why Craigslist made the decision they did. They could be held legally actionable if consenting sex workers use their site to find clients. It looks like Reddit altered their “content policy” this morning too, posting:

 

“We want to let you know that we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including:

  • Firearms, ammunition, or explosives;
  • Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy);
  • Paid services involving physical sexual contact;
  • Stolen goods;
  • Personal information;
  • Falsified official documents or currency

When considering a gift or transaction of goods or services not prohibited by this policy, keep in mind that Reddit is not intended to be used as a marketplace and takes no responsibility for any transactions individual users might decide to undertake in spite of this. Always remember: you are dealing with strangers on the internet.”


For more about fighting underage sex trafficking visit the unicef page here.

UNICEF - the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.

 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 18:50

World's last known male rhino dies

The last male white rhino has died. For a long while Sundan, the 45 year old gentle rhino lived in captivity at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He, his daughter Najin and his granddaughter, Fatu are guarded 24 hours a day because they belong to a subspecies of rhinoceros on the verge of extinction.

 

Rhinos, you see, are targeted by poachers who believe that the horns cure various ailments. According to www.savetherhino.org:

 

“Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine but more and more commonly is used as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth.”

Later when talking about the “ailments” rhino horn cures:

 

“According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-chen’s 1597 medical text Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu, the rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snake bites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” (However, it is not, as commonly believed, prescribed as an aphrodisiac).”

Whether it is true or not that rhino horns can cure ailments (but, probably not), the belief they can has brought the species to its knees. Conservationists have spent decades trying to save the white rhino but now, with the death of the last known male the future for their species is doubtful.

Dr. Steve Ngulu, the veterinarian in charge of Sunday told reporters that they collected sperm from Sudan and other long dead males but the problem is that the only two surviving female white rhinos have medical problems of their own - one is sterile and the other is not able to carry a calf to full term.

 

Dr. Ngulu told reporters, "The only other option that we have to have a pure northern white rhino baby is to retrieve or to do something we call ovum pick-up, collect eggs from the females."

 

Which brings all sorts of medical complications and doesn’t even guarantee that new born calf would be male or that it would survive as it would have to be implanted in the non sterile female and delivered mid term.

 

Extinction of the gentle white rhino seems imminent.


Click here to learn more about Save the rhino.

 

In China, government censors are struggling to keep up with an incident that occurred this week at the National People’s Congress (NPC). Shanghai based reporter, Liang Xiangyi, could not contain her eye rolling disgust at a fellow reporter’s softball question.

As a quick reminder, China is a communist republic. And the state has strict control over what news outlets (and internet outlets) may or may not do or say.

The National People’s Congress is a staged, scripted event where Chinese politician pretend to vote on policy in order to “fool” the world into seeing how democratic they are. The event is carefully choreographed and reporters are specifically selected to ask prepared questions that the delegates can easily answer. Many Chinese are sick to death of state run fakery.

Enter, Zhang Huijun, who works for American Multimedia Television (AMTV), an L.A. based company with ties back to China’s state media. And then, at the NPC, she is called on to ask her question. So, first of all, she is clearly just being called on to make it look as if China is ceding the floor to a “foreign” journalist. So, already - barf! But then, things get a little crazy when delightful Miss Xiangyi, standing right next to Huijun can’t take it any longer.

Liang Xiangyi, can not believe the ridiculously long, softball question posed by Huijun. Seriously, it goes on for forty five second! Which is a ridiculously long time for a live question to linger! (As a note, the carefully scripted response was only half as long as the question). During Huijun’s question, Liang, wearing the blue jacket, looks Huijun up and down like, “Wait! Who the F are you even?” Then, towards the end of Huijun’s tedious and not terribly relevant question, Xiangyi just -  can’t - even. Quickly followed by the epic eye roll, head turn! 

The problem here is that Chinese reporters are required to … well … obey. And Xiangyi’s eye roll was captured live on television to a huge audience. And Chinese censors couldn’t have anyone expressing disgust at their fake parliamentary proceedings. They had to do something!

I mean, God forbid anyone see right through their fakery and express disgust.

Well, Chinese censors went to work to scrub any and all bits of the eye roll, but they had a hard time keeping up. Videos of the epic eye roll were seen and shared by millions. Thousands of memes, GIF’s and parodies flooded China’s internet and Miss Xiangyi was bombarded with online support as many Chinese offered a collective, “Yes, we’re sick of state run lies, too!”

I do not speak Mandarin but the NT Times has a nice piece on the event including a full translation of the question.

But still - that eye roll, man.

Well played!  

 

 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 18:32

RIP: Dr. Stephen Hawking

Beloved physicist Stephen Hawking passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 76 years old. Hawking long suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), aka, “Lou Gehrig's disease.” He was diagnosed in his early twenties and doctors gave him 3 years to live. The neurological disease affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. And the disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse as time passes. There is no cure and it is known to ravage bodies quickly. So when doctors told Dr. Hawking that he had 3 years to live, that was a pretty fair estimate.

 

Instead, Dr. Hawking lived with ALS for 55 years even though it reduced his muscle control such that he could only blink his eyes and twitch a finger. He retained his mental faculties and became a giant in his field. How did Stephen Hawking live so long with ALS? According to King’s College clinical neurology professor Nigel Leigh, it was probably because D. Hawking was diagnosed so young. In the British Medical Journal Leigh states, “We have found that the survival in younger patients is strikingly better and is measured in many years - in some cases more than 10.”

 

From my limited understanding of the medical research behind ALS it sounds as if most of those with ALS become symptomatic in their 40’s or later, and then don’t live long. The younger you become symptomatic the longer you can survive. That being said, living 55 years with ALS seems like something of a miracle.

 

Hey, wasn’t that ice bucket challenge thing all about ALS?

 

It was! I’m glad you remember. I’m sure many of you recall the ice bucket challenge (IBC) from 2014. A challenge where you pour an icy bucket of water over your head OR you donate money to ALS research OR you do both. It quickly went viral with celebrities piling up to perform their version of the IBC.  Patrick Stewart’s was my favorite.  The viral challenge was deemed a colossal success and raised $115 million for ALS research. Here is the video of Stephen Hawking and his family participating in the IBC.

 

Much has been written about Professor Hawking, movies have been made, documentaries have been produced, he’s authored best selling books, he’s been published in many, many science journals and magazines. I will leave it up to you to find them.

 

ALS ravaged Dr. Hawking’s body but thankfully left his mind intact. And what a great mind it was. Dr. Hawking, I will always remember you, as yourself, on Star Trek: TNG.

 

Rest in peace.

 

A few words from his friends and colleges from their twitter accounts:

 

Dr. Bill Nye (Science Guy):

 

While here on Earth, Dr. Hawking made pondering the cosmos and our place within it commonplace. The extraordinary became everyday. Although his time was brief, his work changed the world.”

 

Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson:

 

“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.”

 


Matt Selman, Executive Producer The Simpsons:

 

View image on Twitter

 

“Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of The Simpsons.”

 

Official Big Bang Theory account:

 

“In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.”

                       



More about Stephen Hawking. 

 

Learn more about ALS.

 

Donate to the ALS Association.

 

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that if I voted for Hillary Clinton - I’d be stuck with a criminal president under constant federal investigation from day one! Turns out he was right! I voted for Hillary Clinton and now I’m stuck with a criminal president under federal investigation since day one!  - viral meme, 2017 - author unknown.

 

Republican President Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the conservative christian vote and yet we find him neck deep in another infidelity scandal. He was married to his first wife Ivana Trump from 77-92. Donald cheated on her a bunch (including with upcoming wife number two) and the rocky marriage came to a harsh ending. And it wasn't just about the cheating. Let’s not forget that in Ivana's 91 deposition she accused Donald Trump of physically abusing her up to and including one case where he ripped out fistfuls of her hair (for disobeying him) and another where he sexually assaulted after they had separated.

 

Wife number two: Marla Maples (92-99)

 

Shortly after his divorce from Ivana, Donald Trump marries his long time mistress. Of course, right before the wedding he tells People magazine he would “never marry Maples” because he has “too many other girlfriends” to look after. Well, I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that, reportedly, Donald Trump was extremely unfaithful to Maples. Then, in a moment of extreme hypocrisy, Trump decides to divorce Maples when he finds her “together” with one of their longtime bodyguards. Message clear - Donald is allowed to cheat, Donald’s wife - is not.

 

Third wife: Melania Trump. 2005 - present.  

 

It’s recently been revealed that porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 to hush-hush her affair with Donald Trump while his wife Melania was pregnant with their son Barron. A second story has now come out that Donald Trump had a 2006 several month long affair with another porn star, Karen McDougal. Ronan Farrow broke the story for the New Yorker on Feb 16, 2018.  

 

But that’s not all! Nineteen other women have come forward alleging stories of sexual harassment and / or sexual assault by the current president. That’s nineteen women alleging that from the 80’s up to as late as 2013 Donald Trump forced them into non consensual sexual encounters.

 

Right now I really want to say - do you know how much Fox News and Republicans would have lost their shit on President Obama had he been on his third marriage, had multiple stories of cheating against him and then had nineteen additional women alleging sexual misconduct against him?

 

I mean, seriously? Can you imagine? There would have been conservative rage aneurysms like the world has never seen.

 

Of course, obviously - I don’t need to say “what do you think conservatives would have said if Obama did it”  because - President Obama wouldn’t have done anything like that!

 

President Obama: one spouse, zero sex scandals, zero assault allegations against him, zero abuse allegations against him. Conservative christians - hate him!

 

President Trump: third spouse, dozens of sex scandals, multiple assault allegations against him, multiple abuse allegations against him. Conservative christians - love him!

 

Multiple cases of fraud have dogged president Trump for decades, there are federal investigations into him for election tampering and an endless backlog of fraudulent business dealings weigh him down, gross nepotism has created a WH that multiple sources report is “chaotic” and “nonfunctional” and a cabinet so corrupt they are dropping like flies.

 

How many over all scandals has President Trump had in year one of his presidency? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? I honestly can’t remember. It’s too hard to keep up. I am scandal weary and he still has another three years.   

 

I know my conservative allies across the aisle really want to believe that President Obama was a foreign Muslim spy in charge of the Illuminati. After all, you read it on www.hateragemoronsforever.com - so it must be true! And go on ahead and continue to pretend that the reason you hate him is because he is a foreign Muslim spy coming after your guns! Because we know it's probably that other reason - something about the color of his skin? Maybe?

 

Anyway, what is actually true is that we currently have a President with ties to a real and legitimately evil foreign power. A foreign power that actively works against the best interests of the United States. That's true news. As opposed to fake news such as "Obama is a Muslim spy" and "Clinton family uses local pizza parlor to sell underage sex slaves."

 

But, you know - thankfully, we didn’t end up with Hillary in office - what what that email scandal of hers! We sure dodged a bullet there! (Note the sarcasm).

 

Of course, turns out -  Gov. Pence was doing the exact same thing!

 

And Pence was hacked by parties unknown!

 

And Pence shared all sorts of sensitive matters and homeland security issues in those emails.

 

On his unsecured AOL account.

 

At this time my conservatives allies are all uttering the battle cry they learned so well during the 16’ election campaign - Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! #amiright?

 

That’s totally what they’re saying.

 

Right?

"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider."

 

Frances McDormand’s closing words to her Best Actress acceptance speech left many folks, including me, to wonder - what the F! is an inclusion rider? So I looked it up!

 

The idea comes from Stacy Smith during her 2016 TED talk. Smith is the founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the U of So. Cal and has studied data on diversity (and lack there of) in films produced in the US from 2007 until today. Her fifteen minute speech is well worth watching although the results will probably not shock you.

 

Diversity in US films is - well - doesn’t exactly represent the diversity of the country. In fact, it’s not even close. Her data shows that a very small margin of speaking roles, crew members and directors are women, people of color or members of the LGBT.  

 

From Smith’s talk:

 

Across the top 100 films of just last year (2015), 48 films didn't feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one. 70 films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn't feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters.”

 

And later, talking about the ethnicity of the directors in the several hundred top grossing films from the last eight years,

 

“…800 films, 2007-2015, 886 directors. Only 4.1 percent are women. Only three are African-American or black, and only one woman was Asian.”

 

One of her solutions is to hire more women behind the camera and, as her data suggests - women are just better at hiring a diverse cast and crew. Another solution is to have A-list actors demand an “inclusion rider,” which is a clause in the actor’s contract that demands that the crew and the cast be more equally represented in regards to women, people of color and LGBT folk.

 

Smith’s exact wording on the inclusion rider stipulation:

 

“Second solution is for A-list talent. A-listers, as we all know, can make demands in their contracts, particularly the ones that work on the biggest Hollywood films. What if those A-listers simply added an equity clause or an inclusion rider into their contract? Now, what does that mean? Well, you probably don't know but the typical feature film has about 40 to 45 speaking characters in it. I would argue that only 8 to 10 of those characters are actually relevant to the story. Except maybe "Avengers." Right? A few more in "Avengers." The remaining 30 or so roles, there's no reason why those minor roles can't match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place. An equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.”

 

And so that, ladies and gentlemen is exactly what Frances McDormand meant in her speech.