Every year I try to see both the Oscar-nominated animated shorts and their live-action counterparts. The documentaries, alas, don’t seem to make it into this neck of the woods.

This year’s roster:

Borrowed Time -a weathered Sheriff in the Old West returns to the remains of a terrible accident. It was done by a couple Pixar folks, so it is of high quality. I had seen this before online, and while it’s evocative of a mood, it didn’t quite satisfy.

Pearl – a father/daughter relationship from the point of view of the family car, and especially the music played therein. It is my wife’s favorite piece, and we saw it in a conventional theater. Watch it here or here or here.

Blind Vaysha – based, i think, on an old folk tale about a girl with cursed eyesight. One eye sees visions of the past, while the other peers into the future. It’s done in the style of German expressionist woodcuts. This was possibly my favorite. If you’re in Canada, you can see it here.

Piper – this is the Pixar piece, which I saw before Finding Dory. It had a photorealistic look of a newborn bird trying to find food on his own. I actually liked it more in the rewatching. See it here.

Then there was the warning about the final piece that contains sex and violence and language and that you might want to get the kiddies out of the room. I saw a movie a couple years back like that; it was quite terrible.

But before that, a few of the also-rans:

Asteria – wo astronauts make an unexpected discovery on a barren planet. A silly, yet quite pointed observation about the human condition.

The Head Vanishes – a woman is determined to make her annual train trip to the seaside when she quite literally loses her head. this about dementia, of course, which my late mother experienced in her later years. This too you may be able to see in Canada.

Once Upon a Line – a dialogue-free film using a clever pen-and-ink style continual illustrations in which a humdrum guy’s life gets upended by romance. It should have been in the final five in lieu of Borrowed Time.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes – “the aforementioned naughty film, which at 35 minutes is also four times the length of any other nominee. Apparently drawn directly from writer/director Robert Valley’s life, it tells of his friendship with a hard-living character named Techno, who winds up stuck in a Chinese hospital awaiting a liver transplant. Covering decades of up-and-down friendship in a hard-boiled but persuasive style, the pic pairs gravelly voiceover with luridly colored frames recalling some indie comic books. Though very tied to the specifics of Valley’s larger-than-life subject, the bittersweet featurette depicts a sort of character many older viewers will recognize: the kid who could be in charge and out of control simultaneously, who did what others feared until life caught up with him.” My wife and I really related to thie Techno character; we’ve both known that guy with a lot of potential who frittered it away.

It occurred to me that most of these films are about memory, in one form or another. All the nominated films, plus, of course, The Head Vanishes, fit into the category. A worthwhile visit to the Spectrum Theatre.

workplace-violenceAll of us SUNY Central employees were required to register for, and attend, a 90-minute Workplace Violence training session back in August.

“In accordance with NYS Law, SUNY System Administration has implemented required/mandatory Workplace Violence training to help ensure a safe working environment. This training extends to all employees who work within our System Administration locations, inclusive of our Research Foundation and Construction Fund colleagues.

“Even in the absence of any identified risk, employees should be knowledgeable about measures they can take to protect themselves in the workplace. Learn how to:

• Identify Risk Factors
• Prevent Workplace Violence Incidents
• Enhance Personal Safety
• Increase Survivability in Critical Incidents

“Be a part of our pro-active preventative approach to keeping the SUNY community safe!”

I had the idea that the workshop would spend more time diffusing a potentially volatile workplace situation. There was lip service about recognizing someone in a workplace situation who might be “ready to blow.” But it wasn’t the primary focus.

Instead, it was a lot about how you might live if an active shooter situation. There was a lot about flight or fight – flee if can, fight if getting away or hiding is not an option.

The speaker managed to namecheck all sorts of mass shootings, from the school kids and educators in Newtown, CT, to the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords in an Arizona strip mall that left six dead and the Congresswoman gravely wounded to the shooting in Binghamton, NY that killed 13. But there were a whole lot that you never heard about.

The takeaway, my colleagues all agreed, is where the heck would you hide, or run to, if you had to? Those folks with doors were subsequently issued door stops, but those with partial glass walls were less than comforted by this.

As someone with no office door, where I would run would to would depend on what direction the disturbance was coming from. The offices are in one big circle, and I am near the diameter.

For the next two days, it was all we talked about; if that were the intent, it worked. But it mostly made me depressed as hell.

There’s been a LOT of advice out there about what to do, and NOT to do, in response to the current American regime.

As someone who’s gone to more than a few demonstrations, and written some letters, in his time, some observations:

We all have different gifts; it’s Biblical. So it is unrealistic to suggest that we ALL should act on a list of ALL things ALL the time. Among other things, that will create burnout, which is the enemy of change.

Find the thing or things you can do. Be aware, though, that it may be something you’ve never done before. There was a guy on NBC Nightly News this month, who looked to be over 35, who had NEVER been to a protest march before 2017. Now he is getting guidance from the Indivisible guide every day. Or you could sign up for ACLU ACTION TEXTS. e.g.

Keep repeating the narratives, especially the ones you don’t think are getting adequate coverage, on social media. I was reading a piece in fivethirtyeight about what makes a story stick. Sometimes it’s just timing. “Persistence matters.”

One story I’d personally like y’all to beat to death is Read the rest of this entry »

I recently noticed that actor/comedian Jackie Gleason would have turned 100 on February 26, 2016, and will have been dead 30 years come June 24, 2017.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I used to watch his Saturday night variety show on CBS fairly regularly. Gleason played a variety of characters, including the snobbish millionaire Reginald Van Gleason III, the put-upon character known as the Poor Soul, and Joe the Bartender, who always greeted the bug-eyed “Crazy” Guggenheim Read the rest of this entry »


George Washington’s first inaugural address (April 1789), referring to himself: “One, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”

Now I Know: The Case of George Washington versus Pinocchio

John Quincy Adams: When The People Cheered

Presidents in Our Backyard – Part 1 (Martin Van Buren, Chester A. Arthur, Ulysses S. Grant)

The highest-ranked President who only served one-term is James Knox Polk.

Sarah Knox Taylor, the second daughter of Zachary Taylor and the first Mrs. Jefferson Davis

This is an actual standard fantasy I’ve had over the years Read the rest of this entry »

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