Monday, October 29, 2018

Do Now for Monday, Oct. 29, 2018

Use the interactive map at U.C. Davis to answer the following questions.

Write your answers in a complete sentence that restates the question.

  1. Which trade circle is Jenne a part of?
  2. If you took the southern trade route from Timbuktu to Cairo, what two other cities would you pass through?
  3. Did the Black Death reach Timbuktu?
  4. What is one city that both Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta visited?
  5. What state (or nation) was Timbuktu a part of in 1279?
Write your answers in your history spiral.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

I will confess that last year I watched the Kevin Bacon series The Following all the way to the end.  While the show started out well--excellent acting, a fascinating premise, loads of plot twists, intelligent scripts--it soon descended into sheer stupidity. I found myself spending the last three or four episodes screaming, "Oh, Please!" to the screen.  The ending was possibly the dumbest thing on television since Nancy Reagan delivered an anti-drug message on Different Strokes.

For example, there was a scene, about halfway through The Following, when the F.B.I. discovered a secret hideout where the murderous cult leader had imprisoned some of his followers.  These cult members willingly stayed in what was essentially a Medieval dungeon because the cult leader had convinced them it was the only way they could purify themselves and ascend to the next level.  Whatever, I thought.  Who's going to volunteer to stay locked up for weeks just to prove their loyalty to some yutz, I thought.  This show is already getting stupid.

Turns out, this scene could have been based on the history of Scientology, the 'religion' started by L. Ron Hubbard.

In his new book, Going Clear, Lawrence Wright details the life of L. Ron Hubbard, and the history of Scientology.  It's worse than you think.  The 'church' denies most of the events Wright talks about, but he presents enough eye-witness and documentary evidence to support the story he tells, in my opinion.

Although he does not talk about this, I was intrigued by how similar the story of Scientology was to the story Wright told in his book  The Looming Tower about the rise of Al-Queda and the events leading up to the second World Trade Center attacks.  The way members of each group prove their loyalty are uncomfortably similar, if memory serves me correctly.  I'd love to have Mr. Wright over for dinner to discuss this topic.

Somehow everyone I've talked to about Going Clear, whether over dinner, a cup of coffee or in passing, already knew much more about Scientology than I did.  Many of the things I was shocked about, they had already heard of long ago.  The Thetans, Xenu, the high cost of auditing,, the secret bases, all old news to everyone but me. I guess I don't watch the right television shows or read the right websites, but most of what's in Going Clear seemed shocking to me.  I may live in something of a bubble, but it's a nicer place than the real world much of the time.

One thing that  surprised and interested me was Wright's account of, the group for young people dedicated to L. Ron Hubbard's teachings. provides the foot soldiers for Scientology, young people who will work for nothing to advance the mission of their 'church.'   It seems that many, possible most, of the children who grew up in Scientology joined at some point.

Mr. Wright describes how members of, along with members of Scientology in general, are subject to punishment when they fail to perform up to the standards set by church leaders.  Punishment has included time spent in conditions that were pretty darn close to those in The Following.    Critics of Scientology along with former members are plagued by legal action, and sometimes friendly sometimes not-so-friendly intimidation.  By the end of Going Clear, I couldn't put the book down, which is probably the reaction Mr. Bacon et al were going for with The Following.

By the end of Going Clear I felt that I owed Kevin Bacon something of an apology.  While The Following certainly got stupid by the end of the series, it wasn't nearly so bad at the halfway point as I thought it was.  I guess The Following   was more believable than I thought.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick


I’ve been engaged in a little Stephen King project inspired by the wonderful documentary Room 237 about people who are obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of The Shining.  I’ve already re-read The Shining, and I plan on reading the new sequel to it, Doctor. Sleep as soon as it’s my turn at my local library’s copy.  

For Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of The Shining I thought it might be fun to do a “live blog” sort of thing.   So I sat down with a bottle of wine and some crackers and cheese;  opened up a new file on Google Docs and clicked play on my DVD.  What follows is an edited version of the notes I made while watching The Shining for the first time in some 25 years.  I’m assuming you’ve already seen the movie, so there will be spoilers.

First glass of wine:

The opening shots are beautiful, what with the helicopter following that little yellow car up the mountains.  The music is creepy low French horns, maybe tubas.  Those instruments to do not get much work these days.

Starting with Jack’s job interview  makes a lot of exposition possible.  A lot of exposition. The hotel manager  has amazing hair.  Nicholson’s hair is not great.  The movie has just started and he already looks insane.

First shot of the famed elevator of blood opening.  It’s a vivid image, not scary, kind of pretty in a way and puzzling.  

Danny sees the twin girls for the first time.  Creepy.  Nothing happens, but it's creepy.  Maybe it’s their blue dresses with the white socks.  One little girl  in a blue dress with white socks suggests Alice in Wonderland, but two of them in the same dress is creepy.  

More exposition.    

Second glass of wine:

More exposition.  

Scatman Crothers is pretty good.   

So far there has been only brief mention  of Jack’s drinking.  From the movie we think that he got  too physical with Danny once, but we don’t know the extent of the damage his drinking has caused his family.  This movie is a haunted hotel movie; the book was about the effects of alcoholism.

Long tracking shots showing off the hotel set.  

Here’s the Big Wheel.  This is the part of the movie I liked the best the first time I saw it.  The sound of the big wheel going on and off of the rugs--how did they do that with a whole camera crew following him?  

It’s a good thing there’s creepy music during the creepy parts, otherwise we’d just be bored watching Shelly Duvall and Danny walk through the maze for the first time.  

More Big Wheel stuff. Danny is wearing the same outfit he wore the first time. Maybe he has Big Wheel clothes the way some of us used to have play clothes.   

I used to have a Big Wheel when I was a kid.  Riding it around a massive empty hotel would have been so cool.  

I think this is the worst Jack Nicholson performance I’ve ever seen.  He’s comical, like a bad SNL parody of Jack Nicholson.  Duvall is trying to do her best with some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard.  Who wrote this?  They really just should have stuck with King’s dialogue.  It was better than this.  

Nicholson has yet to interact with Danny in a way that would lead you to think he was a decent father. In the book, he loved Danny, and Danny was devoted to him.  Even though he was a problematic father at best, you could see why Danny loved him.

First look at crazy Jack face.  Was that supposed to scare me?  The music was intense.  

Duvall is trying  to make a call but the lines are all down.  She talks over the radio with an attractive young park ranger.  He has good hair too but not nearly as good as the hotel manager in the opening scenes.  Besides the amazing set, the period haircuts are best thing in the movie so far.   

More Big Wheel.  He’s wearing a different outfit.  There's the twin sisters.  Creepy.  

They speak

“Hello Danny. Would you like to play with us?”

Run kid run run run run.

He’s just breathing heavily, quick shot of the twins bloody with axe on the floor.  

Okay, that was scary.  

Third glass of wine.
I think this would be a better movie if they edited Jack out of more scenes.  I’ve a feeling that if I were watching this with friends we’d all be laughing every time he speaks.  

The scenes with the kid are kind of creepy, and would be even without the music telling us they are supposed to be creepy.  

Danny shows up with bruises on his neck and Duvall accuses  Jack of doing it.  Genuinely scary.  Nicholson heads for the bar.  The music is becoming earsplitting so I know the next part will be really scary.  Lloyd the bartender appears.  Not really that scary.  Just puzzling. Can't trust the music, I guess.

Cut to Miami where we find Scatman Crothers with a really amazing poster of a nude black woman with the biggest afro anyone has ever seen. There is some intense hair in this movie.

Inside Room 237 and whoever designed the carpets for this hotel should be shot.  The camera moves in slowly towards the bathroom.  The bathroom door slowly opens to reveal a very nice green bathroom with a very large tub.  Jack is there too frightened to approach the woman in the tub.  There are a lot of very problematic woman issues with this movie.  Seriously.  Jack is smiling now because the woman in the tube is naked and is standing up.  She’s much more attractive than he is.  She steps out of the tub showing more George W. than I’d really like to see.  She approaches Jack in slow motion or maybe she just really walks slow when she’s naked. The floor could be slippery and she did just step out of the tub. The music is getting really scary.  They stare at each other before she touches Jack. She may be about to take his clothes off.  It’s really slow motion or slow movement. She has her hands around his head he takes her in his arms and moves in for a kiss.  The music is telling me that this is a scary scene but I’m basically confused.  Jack opens his eyes to see that she  is a decaying corpse in the reflection of the mirror. She’s an old lady laughing and walking towards him then floating in the tub, Jack backs up while she laughs and walks towards him and gets out of the tub. Jack stumbles out of the door and locks it leaving a naked old lady/decaying corpse laughing inside.  

Jack tells Duvall that there was nothing in the room.  She is understandably upset.

Fourth glass of wine.  Empty bottle.


“You’re the caretaker, you’ve always been the caretaker. I should know I’ve always been here.”

Second genuinely scary moment when Jack meets Grady in the red bathroom.

“Danny’s not here Mrs. Torrance!”

Scatman Carutthers has no hair, by the way. I just noticed.  He’s on his way up to the hotel which will prove to be a mistake on his part.  He lived in the book.  Killing him here is really just mean on Kubrick's part.

Duvall finds the pages Nicholson has typed which say “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again for hundreds of pages.  I can’t help but wonder how much those pages would fetch on eBay.  But I remember this was a scary moment when I first saw the movie.  It’s scary this time around too.  

I read that Stephen King really hated the Duvall character  in this movie, but I think she’s much better than Nicholson’s character. He’s just a man gone insane for no reason that we can see, while she’s a mother and a wife trying to keep it all together in spite of how far gone her life and her husband both are.  Why is it that the killer gets so much credit for his performance while the victim never does?

This movie is really long.  The book was long too, but it didn’t feel as long as this movie does.  There were only a few pages in the book that I would have cut, but I could take 30 minutes out of this movie easy and not hurt it at all.  

Kathy Bates would have broken Jack’s ankles, Duvall locks him in the pantry.  It’s a big pantry mind you with a steel door, but his ankles are intact.

I think you could play this soundtrack with it’s creepy music over just about any movie you can name and you’d have a film just as scary as this one is.  

Red rum red rum red rum.

Danny picks up a knife at his mother’s bedside and pricks his finger on it. He walks across the room really slowly like the naked woman in room 237 did.  Takes a lipstick and writes redrum on the door.  He’s screaming REDRUM now and wakes up his mother who was inexplicably sleeping. She sees the word murder in the mirror and we all go Duh.  

Jack is taking his ax to the door now to try and chop his way into the room.  If the ghost of Grady could unlock the pantry why not bathroom doors?

I do like how the camera stays focused on the ax while he chops the door.

“Wendy, I’m home” and “Here’s Johnny” are silly lines.  These silly lines were not in the book. behind the door screaming her head off while the ax begins to break through the door is really scary, very effective. Too bad they took the camera off of her and put it on Jack again and again.   This is why I appreciate a good script doctor. This would have been a much better scene had this movie been openly about the Duvall character.  The book was much more evenly divided between the three main characters.

Scatman gets the ax which really shocked me the first time around because the creepy music wasn’t playing so I was surprised.  Jack is chasing everyone with an ax in hand, he’s limping too for some reason.  

Danny and Jack are off to the hedge maze to chase each other in the snow.  I can’t wait for this scene because  it means the movie is almost over.  
This really is a pretty good chase scene, but it would have been better if Jack weren’t shouting so much.  Just the visual and the creepy music would have done the trick.  Less is more, people.  less is more.

Duvall goes into a lobby and sees a bunch of skeletons covered in cobwebs which is just pointless.  Get back to the maze.

Danny does back steps in his own footprints which is just what I would have done in his situation.  

Jack is really limping and clutching his heart now. Maybe he’ll die soon and the movie will end.  

He is confused and angered by Danny’s footprint trick.  He runs off into the maze in the wrong direction so Danny can escape.  

Duvall and Danny escape in Scatman’s snow cat while Jack screams incoherently in the maze where he’ll soon freeze to death, or will he.  

Cut to frozen Jack and then slow zoom on the July 4th ball  photograph where we find Jack’s face among the 1921 revellers.  

Roll credits. Time to put the wine bottle in the recycling.