It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

This is not a review of Robot & Frank, an enjoyable film. This is about the future Robot & Frank imagines.

One critic does write specifically about the future imagined.

Joshua Topolsky at The Verge summed up his opinion in the last paragraph of his review:

“It’s also one of the few movies I’ve seen where the future is not a dystopic nightmare, 3D-generated phantasmagoria, or otherwise unbelievable peek into a not-too-distant hellworld. It’s future that seems real, palpable, and just around the corner — one where we have to figure out not just what our technology will do to us, but what it will mean to us.”

But Topolsky is wrong. Let’s be clear: I’m bias. My job as a criminal justice reporter for a weekly newspaper in a small community means I’m more aware of what police may be able to do, and what they may not be able to do and when they’re violating somebody’s rights.

Very few, if any, of the critics I read picked up on the fascist state director Jake Schreier and writers Christopher D. and Christopher Paul Ford conjured up. It is, I imagine, the result of a creeping fascist state.

The main character, Frank (played by Frank Langella) is a retired cat burglar with varying degrees of dementia. His son gets him a robot to take care of him and the robot’s main directive appears to be Frank’s health, even if that means helping and allowing him to commit burglary, something that engages him intellectually.

(Far more than the robot’s love, gardening.)

And here is where the fascist state begins to show itself: the sheriff is friends with the new owner of the library, which has destroyed all its physical copies of books except for a few special bound copies kept under lock and key.

Spoiler alert: Frank and the robot break in to the library and steal the book. Frank leaves his reading glasses at the library.  After the theft, when he goes to a gala at the new library, devoid of books, with the librarian, the new owner of the non-profit that bought it points Frank out to a man we will learn is the sheriff and asks Frank about his criminal record. He then tells Frank not to come back to the library.

While this might not be a hellscape, fascist qualities begin to seep in. The library, a thing normally owned and operated by the government and for the people (which means no one can be banned without very good cause and, possibly, a court order) is bought by a non-profit which immediately begins to use its power to exclude people with criminal records. Having been convicted of a crime in the past is now a right and true basis for exclusion, as well as a further curtailment of your rights because having broken “the law” equates to probable cause.

Because your criminal record, in Schreier’s future, is enough to have you banned from a library and marked for harassment. For a man with dementia, none the less. (Frank was only convicted of tax evasion and another small, non-violent crime.)

Frank wants to get revenge on that damn yuppie and he has the sheriff, his friend, take him to Frank’s house (the robot lets them in) and take them to the back porch. There, the yuppie accuses Frank of stealing from his safe, and are finally told to leave.

(Most police are like vampires: they have to be invited in to private property and that consent can be rescinded. Once it is, or if it’s never granted, a warrant is almost always required for them to get into the property.)

Later, the cops start to stake out Frank’s house (apparently, with the victim). Eventually, they mount a raid and search a car without a warrant, and then his home, without a warrant, with the victim of the theft.

I love it! Warrantless searches. It’s like the county sheriff has become the NSA.

It’s not a hellscape, but, much like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it’s not a place where I want to live.

 

 

I may begrudge Santa Fe a lot of things: the lack of a Costco (marinated artichoke hearts by the three quarts), the over-all expensiveness, the lack of decent things offered on Craigslist and the subsequent over-pricing of thrift stores and ridiculous costs of things offered. Everyone seems to think torn-up couches are worth hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores, especially Good Will, think that coffee makers that cost $8 new at Walmart are worth $12-15 used.

That and the old white people. Going through Trader Joe’s is always some kind of terrible gauntlet, yet, I love Trader Joe’s, the wine, the tahini sauce, the pita bread. The gin.

All those gripes aside, Santa Fe has a pretty incredible movie scene, especially for a town so small. Hell, even for a large town. One movie theater is situated inside the university, another is a “United Artists” inside of a mall, yet a third was revamped and now owned by George R. R. Martin, although the screen is smaller than many in-home projections. And there’s another, one I have yet to go to, is the Center for Contemporary Arts.

The three arty theaters rarely overlap their movies, which is great. There are even foreign films, although, alas, rarely any German ones.

All of that preface because I went to see a film because it was set in Reno, although more appropriately, Reno and Sparks.

This Is Martin Bonner had an incredible score on Rotten Tomatoes, 92 percent. The audience rating was precipitously lower, hitting 67 percent, still a high rating.

I went in hoping for the best. It’s not the kind of movie, based on the synopsis, I’d normally see. Too benign. Too boring sounding. Reno, though. Represent.

The film is about an Australian who moves to Reno to help run a prison rehab program. Interesting enough premise. But the movie, the dialog, the plot all fall flat. The climax is hardly one at all and the movie just flatlines.

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