It sounds as if the famous counter culture alternative weekly has finally gone the way of the Dodo. After 62 years in print and one final year online only, the Village Voice has ceased the publication of new stories. Village Voice owner, Peter Barbey released a statement basically saying he couldn’t keep the publication in business due to harsh economic realities.
Most of the staff is going to be (or perhaps already has been) laid off with only a skeleton crew remaining behind to work on a digital archive of past stories.
This story is nothing new. The Village Voice joins a long list of familiar names that have abandoned print in favor of online only content - Jet, Computerworld, Vibe (who now prints only quarterly, I believe), Electronic Gaming Monthly (which has come and gone in print for the last decade and is currently gone). But that doesn’t mean they won’t be back.
About the only chance the Voice has is if it’s sold to a larger conglomerate that can eat up a bit of a loss to get it (print or online) back in shape. To outsiders (as in, those living outside NY) the Voice probably always seemed like a gossip rag but New Yorkers loved it and viewed it more as news that affected New Yorkers and a local info source for all sorts of counter culture shows, venues and art. I lived in NY for several years and let me tell you, that mag was revered in coffee shops around the five boroughs.
But the closing was to be expected, especially if you know anything about NYC (and / or currently live there). “Counter culture,” and I use that phrase in the common sense attachment of the word, has become more mainstream. Hot Topic flourishes in malls around the country sitting pretty next to a Footlocker or a Gap, while most brick and mortar alternative retail locations have faded (though I note that Trash and Vaudeville is still going strong on 7th street!). Even NY’s most famous alternative 24 hour restaurant, The Yaffa Cafe closed down a few years ago. (Which made me sad - I adored late nights at the Yaffa Cafe).
And so it comes as no surprise to me that the mainstay alternative press in NYC has finally closed down as well. And so after more than 60 years in publication the Village Voice is no more. Perhaps, a miracle buyer will resurrect the beloved alternative press but … I won’t hold my breath.
All good things...
Multiple sources are reporting that Louis CK made a surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on Sunday night. You may or may not know that at the height of his career Louis CK was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. He sidestepped and denied the allegations for many years, finally telling the NY Times in 2017 interview:
“I’m not going to answer to that stuff, because they’re rumors. If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real … (CK then was asked, “So they’re not real?”) … They’re rumors, that’s all that is.”
Well, CK denied the “rumors” for years. Until too many women came forward and then he admitted that “These stories are true.” He was immediately fired from multiple shows, lost deals and had his recent film, “I Love You, Daddy” pulled from distribution. A film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. The film also starred Chloe Grace Moretz and John Malkovich. The unreleased film is about an aging filmmaker (Malkovich) with an appalling sexual misconduct past and his new relationship with seventeen year old Moretz who happens to be Louis CK’s daughter. It’s unreleased but folks have still seen it. I mean, hell - I’ve seen it. And to be honest - it was okay. It’s even been nominated for awards! True story - the Alliance of Women Film Journalists gave it nominations and an award - winner of the Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award and nominee for the Hall of Shame Award!
Way to go Louis! =)
Anyway. You can imagine the shit storm of negative social media and press Louis CK was going to get when he made a walk on surprise appearance. Keep in mind that Louis CK often did walk on performance in the past to the sold out room (115) of the Comedy Cellar. It’s just that this was the first one since the allegations broke almost one year ago.
Apparently, audience reaction was fairly positive. His fellow comedians performing that evening said it was “classic Louis” and “quite good.” Cellar owner, Noam Dworman verified that he received one complaint email but also, several supportive emails. So, it sounds as if the walk on show - was fine.
But for the most part celebrity reactions have been uniformly disgusted. Comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted: “You know how many talented women and POC comics are knocking on doors trying to get some time in front of audiences or powerful people in this business? And Louis just gets to glide back in on his own terms? Gosh, does it payoff to be in the boys club..the white boys club.”
Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi tweeted: “Not falling for this Louis CK "triumphant return" narrative after years of him humiliating women who worked for & with him.”
I would even go so far as to say the vast majority of coverage of Louis’s surprise set was negative. Very, very outraged and negative.
But Louis was not without his supporters. A few fellow (male) comedians voiced approval. Marlon Wayans said, “It’s nice to see Louis out of comedy jail.” SNL actor and Emmy host Michael Che had a lot more to say.
He mocked the twitter outrage with, "'OMG! Can you believe that guy went on with his life?! (Yes, I can.)”
But Che’s main point was that the outrage was more about fame obsession gone wrong. Che wrote:
"What’s interesting to me about these articles against Louis CK performing again, is how important fame is to people. A lot of what I read says that CK shouldn’t get to be a ‘famous’ comedian anymore. Because to them, he’s still winning. Isn’t that strange? Meaning he can be shamed, humiliated, lose millions of dollars, lose all of his projects, lose the respect of a lot of his fans and peers, and whatever else that comes with what he did. But since he can still do a comedy set for free at a 200 seat club a year later, it means he got off easy. THAT’s how coveted fame is. Just because it looks to you like someone is 'getting off easy' cause they still have the perks you would kill to have, doesn’t make it so."
Okay. Maybe. Those are some fair points that I hadn’t considered.
I would push back though, that Che doesn’t seem to mention the shame, humiliation, loss of $$$ and loss of projects that all of the women suffered due to CK’s actions, the subsequent cover up and the strong arm harassment tactics to get the women to just shut up. A lot of them left comedy because of it. How are we to value their loss of $$$ and loss of careers. How do we offer them their “comeback?” Is that even a thing? Are you allowed a comeback for something you dropped ten years ago due to harassment against you? I mean, you might not even be good at it any longer - because you haven’t done it in ten years! So, what should we allow your “come back” to be? A check? How much should it be worth? Should it be based on the overall value of what you lost? How do we calculate that? Is your only “payment” from this ordeal that Louis CK no longer gets to work in comedy? Is that fair for all parties involved?
I mean, you can be cynical and say that had the women not been subjected to sexual misconduct and harassment - maybe they still wouldn’t have had “what it takes” to become a famous comedian. Okay. Well, what if some of them did have “what it takes.” Maybe one of them had the potential to become the next Tiffany Haddish (only the greatest female comic working today!).
Oh, man. That hurts my soul a bit. To think that a comedy powerhouse like Tiffany Haddish could have been lost to us because of sexual misconduct and harassment. That could have happened. And maybe it did.
Look, maybe Louis just “tried it out” to see what the reaction would be. And now that he sees the overwhelming negative praise, he won’t try it again. Or at least not for a long time.
Maybe he’s working out new material and planning a big come back and doesn’t care if social media is angry. We have no idea what Louis CK is thinking or if he has done anything (or nothing) to right some of his wrongs.
But something tells me - we’re about to find out.
Legendary conservative maverick John Sidney McCain III died today from complications to brain cancer. His family announced just yesterday that McCain would no longer receive treatment for his cancer. Like many, I assumed that meant his passing was near but I was still shocked to hear of his death not even 24 hours later.
McCain has been in politics for 40 years first as a Navy liaison, then in the House and then a six time elected Senator. He was mainly an old school “war hawk, small government” Republican but at times cast surprising votes as he did in the July 25th, 2017 American Health Care Act vote but for the most part he, like most other politicians towed the party line. Initially, he even supported Donald Trump, albeit tepidly although in the past several months McCain has been incredibly critically vocal against the sitting president. McCain has laid low at home since December battling cancer, but he has still been active on social media and has only harsh words for the sitting President, basically agreeing with Hillary Clinton that Trump is a Putin puppet.
McCain has even been planning his funeral for months and has made it explicitly clear that President Trump is not invited. In fact, Senator McCain asked that former Presidents Obama and Bush give the eulogy. It reminded me of a few times during his failed 2008 Presidential run where he defended Obama against hostile crowd members. How many modern politicians can you name that have the guts to stand up to their own voters and defend a rival? The only two I can think of are Senator John McCain and President Barack Obama.
Anyway. Much has been written about and by him. He has multiple memoirs and there are thousands of tributes to him all over the internet. I will leave it to you to seek them out. Love him or hate him, Senator McCain was a very important figure in the United States and he fought a lot of good fights.
I doubt we will see anyone like John McCain in the Senate, especially on the Republican side of the aisle - any time soon.
I leave you with a touching tribute from his daughter, Meghan McCain. Her tweet this morning:
I just finished Netflix’s “The Keepers,” a seven-part, true crime docu-series about the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik and the following abuse scandal at the Catholic school she taught at. The series is raw and harrowing and shocking. The amount of women and boys that one priest was able to abuse and cover up for decades is almost unbelievable.
Because we’ve seen this kind of scandal before. And we’ll see it again. The Spotlight abuse cover up as reported in the Boston Globe in 2002 and dramatised into an Academy Award winning movie of the same name.
And now comes the Pennsylvania cover up. A new 1356 grand jury report documents that more than 300 priests abused more than 1000 children.
From the opening paragraph of the grand jury report:
“We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
Later, it reported:
“We were given the job of investigating child sex abuse in six dioceses .. We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse. We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents … Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”
Wow. Protect the institution above all.
But, of course - that’s how it’s always been. Or more importantly, “protect all the men.” Keep in mind, this report is only from a single state and covers the last 70 years. Multiply that by 50 states and then don’t forget to add in the previous four, five or ten centuries.
As usual it took the Vatican a few days to respond. Don’t ask me why it took them two bloody days to come up with the words, “Shame and sorrow” but there it is. The rest of us, within seconds of reading the news collectivilly had plenty to say and was probably more along the lines of, “Wow. The sick fucks running the Catholic Church covered up for another bunch of child raping male priest fuck heads! Just like they always do!”
Seriously, that took me all of twenty seconds to come up with. But as usual the Catholic Church waited to see if this recent abuse scandal would blow over and so they bit their tongue and said nothing. (Which is what they are good at).
Here is a video at MSNBC where survivors share their survival stories. One, an elderly man talks about his abuse in 1948 and flat out says incredulously (and correctly), “Who would believe me. A priest abused me? In 1948?”
He was right then. And he would have been right up to until … maybe two days ago when this grand jury report came out. I hate to be a cynic and assume that thing will go back to priests raping children because, after all - the Church has a lot of money to spend on PR and lawyers.
But that’s probably what will happen. Until the people at the top of the Church go to jail for this - things will only temporarily change at the bottom of the totem pole.
I mean, the Pope could do something about it. The Pope could, basically fire the shit out of all top brass involved. But, to be honest, he would have to probably get rid of the vast majority of the Church top brass all over the world. These scandals are just all too common and widespread for most top brass priests to not have their hands dirty at one point or another.
Actually, to be fair, I don’t know if the Pope can “fire” priests. Excommunicate them? Maybe that’s it. Maybe the Pope should just excommunicate 100 percent of all the priests above the level of OT V!
No, wait. That’s Scientology.
Well, whatever, The Pope can fire the shit out of them too.
I hope some justice happens and a lot of priestly heads will roll (metaphorically speaking). Alas, I just expect the Church to throw their endless cash reserves at the problem and it will all go away.
And then the Catholic priests will again, come out, come out from wherever they are.
And finally, does anyone else understand how Catholic priest sexual abuse would drop to about 0.0 percent if all priests were women?
On Wednesday, Academy President John Bailey and C.E.O. Dawn Hudson announced three “key changes” - a shorter show with a three hour hard limit, an earlier date for the ceremony and a new “Popular Film” category.
Um. Okay. Well, key changes is usually code for, “We’ve noticed our ratings dropping and we’re panicking - quick, let’s make some key changes!”
Let’s break down their panic!
Three Hour Limit
The Academy Awards is a long show. It usually runs three to four hours. Everyone knows this. It doesn’t stop people from watching. And it’s been that way for multiple decades. Sure, some folks have mild grumbles about that fact but ultimately - the exact same people will have the exact same complaint no matter how many hours the show runs. Cutting the show from 3.5 hours to 3 hours is fairly meaningless. Those same people will complain if it’s two hours or ninty minutes.
And the Academy ideas for how to cut the show is this - some “lesser” awards will happen during the commercial break and viewers will be updated in shortly edited clips during the broadcast.
Sheesh. Some of these folks are random crew members who will never be nominated and / or win another Oscar again. Just let them have their bloody five minutes on TV, for Pete’s sake!
“Change” conclusion: Unnecessary. And certainly not a “key” change.
Earlier Telecast Time
They want the show to broadcast 2-3 weeks earlier than its usual “last week in February” timeslot. I guess they think that the Oscars two weeks earlier will increase ratings. Or something. The next Oscar, the 90th Ceremony is moving to early March to avoid competing against the Winter Olympics. Which seems fair to move the telecast for that one year. But, in general - moving the ceremony two weeks earlier doesn’t seem as it if it will increase viewers. I just don’t know what they are thinking here.
Let’s test this. Ask a friend. Go to someone you know who doesn’t watch the Oscars at all.
Say to them, “Hi friend! Are you going to watch the Oscars this year?”
They will respond, “No, of course not. I hate that show. I’ll never watch it.”
Catch them with, “But what if it was broadcast two weeks earlier than usual?”
Watch their cold eye roll of indifference burn into your soul!
“Change” conclusion: Ridiculous and unnecessary. And totally not a “key change.
New Category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film
And the “We don’t think your film is good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award but because it made a lot of $$$, we’ll throw you a bone” Oscar, goes to …
This is the “key change” drawing the most negative press. Celebrity reactions have been mixed with (usually) the old folks saying, “I hate change” and the young folks saying, “I love change.”
Well, I’m all for change. As many have pointed out the Oscars have not added a new category since “Animated Feature” in 2002 so it’s certainly time for some change. I am happy to hear that a new category is in the works. For the last two decades I have oft said there is glaring missing category from the Oscars, the “Outstanding Achievement is Stunt Coordination.” Once I say that outloud aren’t you like, “Oh, yeah. They totally need that category.”
The fine folks over at Vox.com thought the same thing with their: Forget Best Popular Film. Here are 6 new categories the Oscars actually need. (Although, I disagree with their “Best Casting” idea).
Alas, no. It is not any of those fine ideas. The Oscars will now give an Award to the film that made a ton of money but wasn’t quite good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Of course, we already have those exact awards coming from both the Golden Globes and on a more comedic level - the MTV Movie awards. The Oscars is supposed to be the Award show with gravitas. It shouldn’t be handing out awards to movies because they are popular.
On the other hand - the Oscars originally, had two “best movie” categories. That’s right! The very first Academy Awards gave out two “best film” winners in two separate categories: Wings won “Outstanding Picture” and Sunrise won “Unique and Artistic Picture.”
Of course that was Academy Awards 1. By Academy Awards 2 the “Unique and Artistic Picture” category was gone - never to return. Because, “fuck those unique and artistic pictures!” #amiright
I kid. But seriously, in 2009 the Academy tried to address the “popular films not being nominated” problem by increasing the number of nominated “Best Films” from five to ten. Probably because The Dark Knight, a movie that was critically acclaimed and widely popular didn’t receive a “Best Film” nomination much to the chagrin of fans.
BUT THEN - just two years later the Academy was like, “Um, it’s really hard to find ten films we want to nominate for Best Film - every single year!” and changed the ruling from “ten films will be nominated” to “a number no less than five and no more than ten films” will be nominated for Best Film.
So, change happens fast because folks don’t seem to think things through enough. And then change happens again to fix the changes that were hastily made. I suspect something along those lines is what’s in store for this “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” idea.
I mean, if it’s an “outstanding achievement” - just nominate it for Best Film! Why wouldn’t you do that? The movie is an outstanding achievement!
It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me, folks.
Update September 7th: Due to overwhelming negative press and insider backlash the Academy has nixed the "Popular Film" category. Well, at least for now. Ratings were down 20% from the previous year so I'm sure they'll come up with an equally stupid ideas as Popular Film in a desperate bid to up ratings.
Transcript of the Academy’s full press release:
* * *
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson
The Academy later issued an addendum:
While the details for a popular film category are still being finalized, a single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture. The new category will be introduced this coming year, at the 91st Oscars. In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films.
Quite recently, and accidentally, I came across this six year old video about a photographers wild encounter with a family of mountain gorilla. It’s already been viewed almost 12 million times so it’s not like I am the first person to find it. That being said, it immediately charmed even my dark soul and made me wonder who the folks in the video are.
Which lead me to The Common Flat Project, the blog of John and Pam King. So who are these wildlife humanitarians? According to their site:
“In recent years John and Pam King have been pursuing a lifelong passion to experience and record the earth’s wild places and wild things through their photography. They co-founded The Common Flat Project in 2011 to foster a message of conservation and raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity on our planet especially on Cape Cod.”
The Common Flat, I have found out, is a tidal area off the elbow of Cape Cod and is part of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. That appears to be where John and Pam King spend the majority of their time and life. Their online gallery of the area is lovely and has landscapes, flora and fauna from all four seasons. They’ve also brought their photographic eye to all corners of the world and have captured images, as far as I can tell, on just about every continent.
Which is how, sometime in 2011, they ended up in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda. The National Park, from John and Pam’s blog - is remote and very difficult to get to and at the time of the blog post was home to some 350 mountain gorilla. Several years later, that number has remained about the same, which means it houses roughly, half the known mountain gorilla population. The rest of the several hundred known surviving mountain gorilla population is in the nearby Virunga Mountains, a volcano region on the border of Uganda.
Anyway, as the Kings point out in their blog, “... young gorillas are curious about humans and may approach, this is very rare. Adult gorilla to human interactions are virtually unheard of among the local rangers.”
Well, the Kings had a three day permit within the Park and imagine their utter shock when, on day three they find the one of the gorilla families had tracked them down just to - well, hang out with them for a while! You can read the Kings' full account of their experience here.
As far as I can tell the Common Flat Project is still going strong and John and Pam are still neck deep in nature photography and wildlife conservation and I’m thankful to both of them for sharing their photos with the world.
John and Pam King’s hardcover book, Wild Cape Cod: Free by Nature (2012) can be purchased here.
Italian researchers have discovered a Martian lake! Well - probably. You see, way back in 2003 the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express and it’s been orbiting the red planet ever since. It’s not the first Martian orbital mission, nor will it be the last. But Express certainly hit the jackpot recently when it scanned what appears to be a 12 mile radius underground lake in the southern polar region of Mars.
From the researcher’s abstract report:
“The presence of liquid water at the base of the Martian polar caps has long been suspected but not observed. We surveyed the Planum Australe region using the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) instrument, a low-frequency radar on the Mars Express spacecraft. Radar profiles collected between May 2012 and December 2015 contain evidence of liquid water trapped below the ice of the South Polar Layered Deposits. Anomalously bright subsurface reflections are evident within a well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone centered at 193°E, 81°S, which is surrounded by much less reflective areas. Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity (>15), matching that of water-bearing materials. We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.”
Water on Mars. Check.
Well, I guess I mean - it is very probable that there is water on Mars. Looks to me like my dream of being a Martian colonist is one step closer. Of course, massive terraforming would need to happen for Mars to ever be habitable but still, it is the stuff of science fiction legends. But I’ve prepared for it. I mean, the Martian temperature can get as cold as -195 F during the winter and as warm as 70 F in the summer near the equator (but at night the temperature can plummet to about - 100 F).
And I live in Minnesota so I’m pretty much use to that range of temperature extreme. You feel me?
But I digress. Water on Mars. Sure it’s a frozen lake about a mile under the surface. But still. Water on Mars. I don’t mean to armchair speculate but I do watch The Expanse so I’m pretty much a Martian expert and my expert opinion is that - water = life.
Obviously, no one expects there to be actual Martians on Mars. As much as I love the JLA, Martian Manhunter is pretty much not going to happen. But still - microbes? Snow algae? Did you know that most ice has little pockets of water between ice crystals that microbes can use to keep from getting fully frozen?
I’m telling you guys - water on Mars and water = life!
Alas, it will probably be microscopic life but still - I’ll take it!
To the stars everyone! To the stars!
The full report can be found here.
A few weeks ago construction workers in the Sidi Garber district in Alexandria, Egypt accidentally unearthed a massive nine foot long, five foot wide, black sarcophagus. Construction laws in Egypt, I have recently learned, require developers to excavate the ground beneath any planned building developments. I guess they know their history and are always on the lookout for something - well … just like this. And man, did they hit the Mummy-licious creepy jackpot this time.
Some fifteen feet down, workers found the 30 ton black granite sarcophagus and an alongside an eerie alabaster head and both dated to approx. 305-30 BC. The head, presumably representing whoever was mummified within the sarcophagus. But a sarcophagus this large had to contain someone of great import - right?
Well, at the time of the excavation, no one at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had any idea who could be buried within; however speculation and twitter went wild. The tomb was, after all found in Alexandria. So - Alexander the Great? Maybe?
Of course, twitter took the high road with endless jokes about the curse of a mummy. Hey, I’m a fan of Brendan Fraser’s Mummy (1999), and I really liked The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) when I was a kid and I hated Tom Cruise’s The Mummy (2017). So all this means is that I’m pretty much an expert on the mummy topic and here’s what I have to say about the ordeal - do not open the black sarcophagus! You will doom us all to locust plagues and withering mummy rot!
Actually, they already opened the sarcophagus.
Oh. Well. That’s fine too then. Really it is. =)
Alas, to the thrill seekers - the opening was curse-less. found exactly what they were expecting - a mainly intact but rotten mummified man. They are currently looking into identifying the corpse but that may prove difficult as there were no inscriptions inside the tomb to point researches in the right direction.
As to who is buried within the 2000 year old tomb … well, the answer to that question will all come down to forensic science.
Or - maybe, Indy.
True Crime documentaries are nothing new. A few of the better ones have even freed innocent victims from jail for crimes they did not commit. The Thin Blue Line (1988) is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris that covers the story of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. One year after the release of Thin Blue Line Adam’s was exonerated and released from prison.
The Paradise Lost Trilogy covers the infamous West Memphis Three case where three teenage boys were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murders they did not commit. After 19 years in prison and two Paradise Lost sequels, new DNA evidence was found that linked a known serial rapist to the killings and the West Memphis Three were released from prison.
Netflix has a variety of crime docu-series available to stream. The most popular being last years ten part Making a Murderer, directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. Season 1 was a huge hit for Netflix and season 2 is expected on Netflix by the end of 2018.
And now Netflix has again struck true crime gold with The Staircase, a 13 part series directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade that covers the 2001 accidental death, or murder, of Kathleen Peterson . Kathleen was found covered in blood at the bottom of the stairs at her and husband Michael Peterson's home. Michael says she was drunk and slipped down the stairs. The police and the DA say that Michael Peterson bludgeoned her to death. 16 years of legal proceedings followed.
While the director and producers have very carefully claimed The Staircase is an unbiased look at the American justice system it becomes pretty clear that the docu-series is extremely pro Michael Peterson.
And that’s fine because, after watching the entire 13 part series I’m on the fence as to his guilt or innocence. Which, I suppose - makes for fine viewing. I found the series to be more satisfying, than Making a Murderer which is equally on the side of the white male man accused of murder. What I mean by “more satisfying” is that, agree with the conclusion of The Staircase or not - it has an ending. Making a Murderer for all it’s pros and cons - is just going to go on and on.
So what exactly is “The Staircase” about? (A spoiler free breakdown)
Fair question. As mentioned above - it’s mainly about the legal proceedings of Michael Peterson who is accused of murdering his wife. It covers Michael's life in great detail including the lives of his children and his charismatic lawyer, David Rudolph.
People are fascinating. Late great film critic Gene Siskel always said that an actor’s face is far more interesting than an explosion. And that carries over to documentaries and real life. People are interesting and flawed and ridiculous and they lie when they should tell the truth and they tell the truth when they should probably lie. And that’s what’s great about The Staircase. It's about people. I liked Michael Peterson, I liked David Rudolph, I like Michaels daughters and one of his sons.
I found one of the other sons a little shady, only to find out that said son had a weird, extensive criminal history - none of which was presented in the docu-series. In fact, there was considerable amount of “strangeness” cut out of the series. Accused murderer Michael Peterson had a fifteen year love affair with The Staircase editor even though the director and producers all claim that fact didn’t affect her judgement as she cut together the series.
Um - maybe that’s true. But probably not.
There is a hugely popular theory of how Kathleen actually accidentally died that is oddly absent from the series. There theory is equally absurd as it is plausible. If you want to continue a spoiler free review do not click this link here (which discusses the theory in detail).
But the main thing I found odd about The Staircase is the lack of empathy towards Kathleen Peterson - the victim. The woman who either tragically died or was murdered. We know virtually nothing about her other than - she's the victim. Maggie Serota writes a really nice piece for Spin.com called Netflix’s The Staircase Doesn’t Seem Particularly Concerned With Kathleen Peterson.
From her piece:
“Like a supporting female character in a mafia movie, the Kathleen presented in the crime doc had no interior life of her own and existed only to know other people, namely her husband and likely killer Michael…”
Serota’s observation is spot on. For a 13 hour series covering the death (possible murder?) of Kathleen Peterson - we are presented very little information as to … well, anything about her. Which means the show produces very little empathy for the victim, other than a few harrowing photographs of the crime scene. And worse than that, doesn't even try to produce empathy for her. According to The Staircase, Kathleen Peterson is basically just - "the dead woman."
And that seems like a professional choice by the director, the producers and the editor in an effort to slant the viewer towards the idea that Michael Peterson is innocent.
And maybe he is. But Kathleen Peterson is dead under mysterious circumstances. And her in debt husband needed money. And Kathleen had a huge life insurance policy. By the way, if you are suddenly thinking, “You said this was spoiler free!” I assure you that information was spoiler free. You know why? Because the 13 part series doesn’t even bother to mention the fact that there was a money problem and a huge life insurance payout. (Motive, anyone?)
Michael Peterson received one third of the life insurance policy, which he spent on legal fees. The other two thirds of the money went to Kathleen’s first husband and her daughter from that previous marriage.
All that being said, I found The Staircase to be fascinating and in places, quite shocking. There are story twists in the series that, if you viewed them in a feature film you would say to yourself, “No way is this even remotely plausible!” But as they say, “Life is stranger than fiction.” And the events surrounding the death / possible murder of Kathleen Peterson are certainly that - strange.
All thirteen one hour episodes of The Staircase are currently streaming on Netflix.
In a Tokyo detention house, Friday morning (7/6/18) Japan executed seven members of the notorious Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attacks that killed thirteen and injured thousands.
Cult leader, Shoko Asahara, along with six followers were executed by hanging. They will not be missed.
Amnesty International said the executions “do not deliver justice.” In general, I understand their policy of clemency but in this particular case, I am 100% on the side of - these people didn’t deserve to live.
The cult members of Aum are not martyrs or heroes. They were murdering, lunatic, fanatic cultists molded from a time of the dark ages.
And I’m glad they’re dead.
What was the Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult?
Well, it all started out innocuous enough. Shoko Asahara started a yoga and meditation class in his apartment. It steadily grew. By 1989 they gained official status as a religious organization and had attracted quite a few college graduates and alums from Japan’s elite universities, and gained the “religion for the elite” moniker.
Their religion blended ancient Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, taking Shiva (the God of Destruction) as their main deity and finally incorporating doomsday ideas from Revelations and Nostradamus.
Its founding member changed his name from Chizuo Matsumoto to Shoko Asahara and then, as these things often do, he declared himself a messiah and claimed all sorts of supernatural healing powers up to and including - that he would be able to protect and save all members of the from the upcoming apocalypse. This “survival protection,” somehow convinced really, really smart people - doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers - to join the cult. And somehow, at one point they had ten thousand members in Japan and thirty thousand members in Russia!
Oh, and “what apocalypse?” - you ask?
Basically, their doomsday cult involved the “original” idea that in 1997 (remember this was in the early 90’s) a nuclear holocaust would wipe out humanity and the attack would originate from the U.S.. They also, “originally,” decided that Jews, the British Royal Family, the Freemasons and all rival religions had labyrinthine plots working against Aum’s holy doctrine.
And for some reason they hated the Dutch.
Like I said, these folks were lunatics. And if that wasn’t apparent, yet - check this out - Aum Shinrikyo followers believed that the entire world was to be cursed with bad karma and upon death all souls would end up in some hellish limbo (or something like that).
Aum cult members knew how to save us all!
They would bring about the end of the world and therefor save everyone from their inevitable sins! You see, we were all going to bad karma hell but if we were killed by members of Aum - well, that act of generous murder by their holy hands would prevent our souls from accumulating bad karma and - save our eternal souls in the afterlife!
So, we are all going to hell unless we are murdered by cult members in Aum. So they have to end the world. And kill us all. To save us.
I have to admit that’s kind of a genius level super villain plot. It’s also, obviously - totally, batshit insane.
To make a long story short, over several years they kidnapped and murdered and prevented people from leaving the cult by torture, fear and … well, more murder. They assassinated rival religious figures and targeted politicians working against them. No one really knows how many people they killed. But it was a lot.
Then on March 20th, 1995 Aum released sarin gas on the subway in Tokyo, the cult’s most infamous attack. In the months after they had several more failed terrorist attacks. Eventually, authorities zeroed in on their compounds and rounded them up. A few fugitives escaped and remained at large for years after, but they too soon ended up in jail.
While cult members have not actively confessed to everything or accepted responsibility for their crimes there was plenty of evidence to convict and all top Aum cult members, ended up on death row.
And, get this, when authorities breached Aum’s main compound they found not just more sarin gas but they also found Ebola and anthrax cultures, thousands of automatic weapons, and a stolen Russian military helicopter!
This was a legitimate doomsday cult. These fools were not playing around. They wanted us all dead. You know, in order to save us.
How these lunatics remained at large for so long is beyond me. And you would think that that was the end of their cult. Right? But, no. They just changed their name and become Aleph. And then Aleph split into two factions with one keeping said name and the second branching off to be called Hikari no Wa.
But don’t worry, they’ve made it clear that the remaining members, approx. 1500 people - are just fine now. They even dropped the most of the “controversial texts” from their reading doctrine.
Thankfully, the Japanese government monitors the group now and will probably do so forever.
Interestingly, Japanese authorities do not notify any of an upcoming execution. And so, without fanfare, Aum’s leader and six of his cultist followers were hanged to death on the morning of June 6th, 2018. Seven more members of the cult remain on death row.