BlackfishThe Q Filmcast guys did Marwencol this week. It tells the story of artist Mark Hogancamp. It sounds really good and I expect that I will watch it at some point. However, it did not seem like a very good choice with my continuing depressive period. But at the end of the show, they did another of their “top three” lists. This one was, “Top 3 Documentaries that SHOULD be Motion Pictures.” Am I allowed to be a pedant and point out that documentaries are motion pictures? No?! Well then, I won’t mention it.

Michael, who is the smartest of the bunch (he gave The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra the highest rating), was nice enough to give me a shout out, listing my top three: Nanook of the North (one of the Q guys is right though: its only kind of a documentary), The Cats of Mirikitani, and Exit Through the Gift Shop. The whole segment was very funny, because one of them apparently has never seen a documentary, so he read some descriptions online and proposed them. Overall, I think the guys missed the mark. I think there are two issues. First, would the documentary really make a good narrative film? In most cases, no. Second, is the documentary already so good that it doesn’t need to be made into an a narrative film. I think Harlan County, USA falls into this category.

But one of the films mentioned (by Max, I think) really caught my attention: Blackfish, a documentary about a SeaWorld Ocra who has been involved in the deaths of a number of people. So, because I’m a total idiot, I watched it. As I said: continuing depressive period. I’ll get to it in a moment. But it would make a terrible narrative film. At best it would be something like Without Limits; at worst, well, Orca.

Blackfish is a fantastic documentary. It is also a sob fest. My heart was broken in equal parts by the treatment of the whales and the injuries and deaths of the idealistic trainers. SeaWorld management are the bad guys, but they are more implicit to the film than anything. The closest the film comes to them is one former trainer who thinks that the whales could be kept in captivity, but that no one is doing it.

The Orca are amazing animals. I’ve told the story before about one who apparently gets annoyed with a Great White shark and so drowns it and then eats its liver. There are also broadly speaking two cultures of Orca: resident and transient. The residents get along fine with dolphins, seals, and sea lions. The transients see them as prey. Anyway, they are amazing and beautiful creatures.

The film starts with an Orca hunt four decades ago. It’s horrible to watch. Most of the story is told by a man who took part who is clearly scarred to this day. Basically, they corral a pod and then kidnap their young (because they can be more easily shipped). The remaining family members hang around, calling out to their children. It’s horrifying. And that sets the tone for the film. It all comes back when a mother and child born in captivity were separated. It reminded me very much of chattel slavery we practiced in his country until 150 years ago. It’s all about money. There was no room for human dignity then; none for Orca dignity today.

There is a lot of emotional content in Blackfish. I jumped out of my seat a couple of times. But there is also a lot of information. For example, despite the claims of SeaWorld, Orca in the wild live to be about 50 on average in the wild. But they can live to be 90 years old. In captivity, they usually die by the age of 25. The film put me through the wringer, but I can’t recommend it more highly.

Also: never go to SeaWorld or any other similar place.

Tolerance Lessons From Honey Boo Boo

Honey Boo BooKathleen Geier is doing the blogging over at Political Animal this weekend. She apparently knows a lot more about reality television than I do, which she displays in, Your Mandatory Duck Dynasty Update. She compares the bigotry on display among the Duck Dynasty clan to the open-mindedness of—Wait for it!—Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

The thought had never occurred to me, given I haven’t seen either show. But as Geier notes, how could the family not be accepting of the LGBT community when they are so involved with the beauty pageant circuit. That’s about as gay as it gets, and it is unlikely that those sets get dressed without a good deal of homosexual help. But she also sees the show in a way that is different from anyone else’s view I’ve ever heard:

The family in it is being mocked, of course, but they are also in on the joke. Above all, what viewers see is a family that is fun, loving, enormously likeable[1], and tolerant. As has been made clear more than once, the Thompson clan is very gay-friendly.

I guess you would have to be tolerant. All I’ve seen of the show is a two minute clip that Andrea forced me to watch. Based upon that, how could they not be tolerant in a general sense?

But there is another aspect of this that I first discussed in, The Sad Reality of Duck Dynasty. The Duck Dynasty clan are pretenders. They are just members of a family that has been rich for generations. They are, in other words, the Romneys with long beards and camouflage. And that is just a business decision for them.

The Thompson clan, for all that I find offensive about them, really are the loud redneck Mountain Dew downers who they claim to be. And as wealthy as I know they must by now be, they are still what they always were. They are what the Robertson clan is not: authentic.

Now I have no use for either family. But I at least appreciate a bit of honesty. And what do you know: the truthful ones are also the accepting ones:


I don’t think I’ve written about it here, but I have in the comments on other blogs. What was most offensive about Robertson’s GQ interview was his racism. It sounded just like what bigots were saying in the early 1960s, “None of our coloreds was unhappy until them northern liberals got ’em all worked up!” In a nation that had any shame, this would be the last season of Duck Dynasty. Because no one would watch it anymore.

[1] I hate that spelling. It is older than “likable.” But in the US (Which is where Political Animal comes from!) the spelling is pretty much always the newer “likable.” My project is to make English usage and spelling simpler. “Likeable” looks like something out of a Ben Jonson play. I have enough headaches!

Mathematics in a Vacuum

Srinivasa RamanujanOn this day in 1915, actor Barbara Billingsley was born. She only died a couple of years ago at the age of 94. Best remembered as the mother on Leave It to Beaver, she is the ultimate symbol of 1950s domesticity. Never exactly a hottie (she only started acting at the age of 30), she exuded what we all wanted mothers to be. And I don’t mean that in an entirely neutral way. She was meant to be sexy. She was 42 when she started the series. The original MILF.

The British broadcaster James Burke is 77 today. He is best known for his BBC science series Connections and then the later (and better) The Day the Universe Changed. They were basically science history. I think he was pretty loose with his causality. But it was always fun. The following video is from the very end of the latter series. At the time, I didn’t really believe this specific bit. He makes the case for religious belief—at least non-dogmatic religious belief. This goes entirely against what he’d been saying throughout the rest of the series. But I’ve come to be far more agnostic on that topic. But there’s no way I’m giving up indoor plumbing and center heating. And neither is Burke! “If the universe is what you say it is, then say!” (BTW: that was in 1985—two years before I got on the internet.)

Other birthdays: composer Carl Friedrich Abel (1723); mathematician Pierre Ossian Bonnet (1819); baseball manager Connie Mack (1862); mathematician Dmitri Egorov (1869); American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869); tragic (I really don’t think he was a Nazi) composer Franz Schmidt (1874); actor Hector Elizondo (77); American traitor Paul Wolfowitz (70); mediocre journalist Diane Sawyer (68); and actor Ralph Fiennes (51).

The day, however, belongs to… Wait. In India, it is National Mathematics Day. This is in recognition of today’s birthday winner, Srinivasa Ramanujan who was born on this day in 1887. He was born into the Indian middle class—basically a caste of teachers. And so he was educated, but poor. He showed amazing mathematical ability at a very young age. And he mostly taught himself. But because he was isolated from Europe, he worked independently. He rediscovered many theorems and developed entirely new areas of mathematical research. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 32, at least partially as a result of malnutrition. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest mathematical minds ever, on the order of Gauss. But it just shows what nonsense are ideas of “equality of opportunity.” Ramanujan is not a household name because he was born in the wrong place. Still, his influence is felt to this day and will continue as long as humans continue the study of mathematics.

Happy birthday Srinivasa Ramanujan!