Saturday, August 21, 2021

Headlines during Week 76

Deep sigh. If you use the arbitrary date of March 11, 2020, as the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — that's when the World Health Organization officially declared it to be such — then we're in Week #76 right now, with no clear end in sight. There have been 4.4 million global deaths and the United States passed 628,000 deaths today. (I'm writing in the morning for a post to go up in the evening, and there's no doubt we'll pass from the 627,000s to the 628,000s today.) 

COVID-19 takes up most of my workdays. Monitoring the news and latest developments. Editing letters about the pandemic. Rejecting letters filled with dangerous misinformation. Editing columns about vaccines, masks, schools, governors, health care workers, children, nursing homes and more. It's grim and stressful and frustrating. We didn't need to be in this bad of a spot in Week 76. 

This piece by The New York Times' Jamelle Bouie caught my eye this morning. In "On Freddy Krueger and Our Current Nightmare," he writes:
"But if there was anything that stood out to me after watching all seven movies, it is how within the universe of the films, the adult characters went from concern and terror over the brutal and mysterious deaths of their children to virtual indifference. When a young woman is killed at the start of the first film, it becomes a town crisis, reason to mobilize every available resource to find the killer. ... The adults of the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' franchise just don’t seem to care that much that kids are dying; and in the same way, we live in a society that can’t seem to muster the energy to protect kids from needless death and suffering, whether from gun violence or a deadly pandemic."
It's a depressingly apt comparison, even if it's drawing lines between supernatural fiction and reality. The bummer in pointing out there parallels is that movies have always served as an escape from reality. Especially when reality is at its most crushing. Many people have doubled-down on their love and viewing of horror films during this pandemic, as a way of coping. I think it's a nuanced (and fascinating) topic, and we shouldn't say there's any singular biggest reason for the surge in horror fandom. But this excerpt from a March article in Psychology Today by Juliana Breines speaks to one aspect of the trend:
"Fans of horror movies reported feeling lower fear and anxiety related to the pandemic, and that those with an interest in pandemic-related films in particular reported greater resilience — they were better able to find meaning and enjoyment in life despite what was going on around them, and to take the daily onslaughts of bad news in stride."
Personally, I've found solace in quieter films, such as those by Yasujirō Ozu and Agnès Varda, during the pandemic. But Ashar and I have also watched a lot of horror films, new and old, during the pandemic. There's been run on Boris Karloff films, for example. And there's always the comfort food of The Walking Dead, which returns this weekend. 

Last year, we planned out and watched a whole slate of horror to celebrate October as Halloween Month. We're planning the same this year, as there's a seemingly bottomless reservoir of horror classics he's never seen, including series Bouie referenced. 

This is a longer preface than I intended to sharing some of this week's terrible headlines for posterity. I have previously done this on March 25, 2020; April 25, 2020June 27, 2020; July 18, 2020; July 26, 2020October 6, 2020; and December 4, 2020. Amazingly, this year has just flown by (sort of) and I haven't done any collections of headlines, to the best of my knowledge. So here we go, for posterity:
  • ‘Nursing Is in Crisis’: Staff Shortages Put Patients at Risk
  • The F.D.A. is aiming to give full approval to Pfizer’s Covid vaccine on Monday
  • In Melbourne, Australia, a protest against Covid restrictions turned violent
  • LG Health raises staff vaccination rate, seeks to rehire former hospital nurses amid staffing losses
  • Manheim Township will require masks indoors to begin school year
  • Vaccine resistance in the military remains strong, a dilemma for Pentagon as mandate looms
  • A Texas GOP official’s covid-19 death went viral. Then came calls for vaccination — and bitter divides.
  • Finding reliable masks online can be tricky. Here are tips that can help.
  • Monoclonal antibodies are free and effective against covid-19, but few people are getting them
  • Covid reaches 'astronomical' levels in Louisiana
  • Health officials warn people not to take a drug meant for livestock to ward off or treat Covid-19
  • University of Virginia disenrolls 238 students for not complying with university's vaccine mandate
  • Analysis: Trump heads to Alabama but his Covid politics are everywhere
  • Hurricane Henri puts 42 million under storm alerts as it heads to Northeast coast
  • Variants likely to bring a fall and winter of mandates, anxiety...
  • Orlando mayor urges water limits because of surge...
  • Outbreak shuts entire police force in Illinois...
  • 48% Want Govt to Restrict 'Misinformation' on Socials...
  • Coronavirus live: UK death toll rises by 104; fears of ‘super-spreader’ Trump rally
  • Classrooms in England to get air quality monitors to help combat Covid
  • ‘This isn’t surprising’: Jacinda Ardern warns New Zealanders to remain calm as Covid cases rise
  • Quarter of New COVID Cases in Florida Among Those 19 or Younger
  • Dallas Hospital to Open 4th COVID Ward as Cases Surge in County
  • Hannity Called Out by CDC Chief Rochelle Walensky for 'False' Vaccine Claim
  • Over 1,000 Quarantining in Texas School District Fighting Abbott on Masks
  • Vietnam Deploys Military to Get Food to People Trapped by COVID lockdowns

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Hideko Takamine caricature from "Kita no san-nin"

It's been difficult these past two days to get into the right mindset for writing about ephemera. One does not simply tune out the devastating earthquake in Haiti; the unfolding American evacuation and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; and the seemingly disastrous start of the American school year amid another COVID-19 surge and as some public officials seem determined put obstacles in the way of commonsense health measures. All this happening amid the ongoing drumbeat of extreme weather events spurred by global warming, myriad other pandemic concerns and a polarized political climate still stuck in the long shadow of Jan. 6.

So I'll just check in with this interesting ephemera trifle from an obscure movie. For a breather this week I watched the 1945 Japanese film Kita no san-nin. It's a propaganda film that was made very late in World War II and centers on courage and heroics of a trio of women who have been trained to be air traffic controllers/radio operators.Various English titles for the film are Three from the North, Three Women of the North and Three People of the North.

What's perhaps most notable about the film, beyond the plot, is that it co-stars Setsuko Hara (1920-2015) and Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), who went on to become two of Japan's most beloved stars of post-war cinema.1 Hara's films included central roles in what is informally called Yasujirō Ozu's "Noriko trilogy." And Takamine is best known for the anti-war film Twenty-Four Eyes, which I watched earlier this year. Further, the lives and careers of these two actresses are jointly considered to be the inspiration for the main character in Satoshi Kon's 2001 animated drama Millennium Actress

Anyway, the screenshot at the top of this post show's Takamine's character (Yoshie) in Kita no san-nin. At the end of the film, Yoshie must serve as the radio operator during a dangerous flight, and her fellow crew members (all men) give her the caricature as a show of respect and support. It's an enjoyable little moment in a mostly somber film; I wonder if that sheet of paper still exists.

Very little has been written about Kita no san-nin, but I did find a review at a great website called Japanonfilm. (It's a movie blog that I plan to take a deep dive into, now that I know it exists.) Here's some insight from that review:
"Obviously intended to encourage everyone to do their part even as the American bombers began arriving, it unintentionally becomes a proto-feminist document. ... As with American 'Rosie the Riveter' kinds of movies, the Japanese were inadvertently planting the seeds of modern feminism because the war demanded women take over essential jobs that were left open when the men went to battle."
1. Kita no san-nin also has Takashi Shimura in a supporting role. He's best known for starring in most of Akira Kurosawa's films, including Ikiru.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Memories of the Epyx Fast Load Cartridge

Here's an advertisement that was packed in with some vintage computer stuff that Joan and Kaitlyn bought a couple of years ago. 

I remember this well and had my own Epyx Fast Load cartridge plugged into the back of my Commodore 64 in the 1980s. And my recollection is that they definitely made everything faster, back in those days of long loading times that would be unthinkable today. It helped to facilitate playing Ultima IV, Summer Games and California Games (both also from Epyx), Commando, Autoduel, SimCity and other games of that era I had. I don't think, however, that we ever got to the speed level of "leaping gazelle," as the advertising copy states.

Writing extensively about the cartridge on The Silicon Underground, David L. Farquhar explains that it "replaced the Commodore 64’s stock ROM disk loading routine with a more efficient routine that was about five times as fast. The result was that software that normally took three minutes to load often took closer to 30 seconds with the cartridge."

He also notes that the cartridge originally retailed for $34.95 in 1984, which is the equivalent of about $88 today. We spent some ridiculous amounts of money on our 8-bit computing in the 1980s! 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Teachers are awesome

On a sad weekend, this was a Postcrossing arrival in the mailbox that made me smile. It's from Alina, a teacher in Russia who wrote this note:

Hi Chris! My name is Alina. I'm from Russia. I work as a kindergarden teacher. And so I'm closely connected with the topic of folklore, fairy tales and children's literature. I read a lot to children, we put on theatrical skits and play role-playing games. Children love stories about princesses and princes, dragons and knights, warriors and kings and many other fairy tale characters.

We often make up fairy tales ourselves. We draw, model or construct a character and make up stories about them. Childhood is a wonderful world! 

I'm learning to learn about the world together with my children. Unfortunately, as adults we lose the ability to fantasize and enjoy little things. 

I wish you new discoveries and experiences this summer! Have a great mood and all the best!

Listen to Alina, everyone! And listen to your teachers, remember what they taught you and be thankful for them. Also, let's show her that we adults can still use our imagination and are capable of enjoying the little things.