Monthly Archives: March 2019

Born in East LA – Cheech Marin’s 1987 Comedy about Immigration


Born in East LAis a 31 year-old comedy about the Mexican Border that feels like it was filmed today.  Cheech Marin is Rudy, and American-born Los Angeles native, who gets thrown out of the United States simply because he looks Mexican. 

Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in “Born in East LA”

Rudy has to pick up someone at a factory near the border and he mistakenly leaves his wallet at home. The factory is raided by immigration agents and Rudy is arrested with all the Mexicans. Since he has no identification and can’t reach his mother or sister by phone, he is put on the bus back to Mexico with the rest of the factory workers.

Daniel Stern in" Born in East LA"
Daniel Stern in” Born in East LA”

 Once in Mexico, Rudy’s troubles are just beginning. Rudy speaks no Spanish, and without his wallet he has no money or identification. Rudy ends up working for Jimmy (Daniel Stern), a sleazy American who owns a bar and pool hall in Tijuana. If Rudy can earn enough money, he will be able to pay a “coyote” to sneak him across the border back to LA.

Born in East LA is played for laughs, but it has a serious side to it as well. Rudy falls in love with Dolores, (Kamala Lopez) who is working 3 jobs 7 days a week, also trying to earn enough money to come to America.

The acting in Born in East LA is terrific. Cheech Marin shows a more serious side than in most of his films. Kamala Lopez is great as the hard –working but vulnerable Dolores. Daniel Stern brings a wonderful complexity to the role of Jimmy, who himself is lonely and trapped in Mexico.

Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in “Born in East LA”

Of course, being a Cheech Marin film, there is also a lot of comedy. One of the jobs Rudy gets in Mexico is teaching people how to “fit in” when the get to LA, and not look like immigrants. He does this by showing them how to speak very loudly, use a lot of slang and walk with an arrogant swagger.

Neith Hunter in "Born in East LA"
Neith Hunter in “Born in East LA”

Neith Hunter has a short but memorable part as Marcie, an incredibly sexy woman walking through East Los Angeles to Rudy’s garage. When Rudy can’t find her he goes to the local park and asks, “Hey – has anyone seen a girl with red hair in a green dress?” Every male in the park immediately points in the direction Marcie was walking.

In 31 years not much has changed in the strange relationship between the American economy and its illegal Mexican workforce. In Born in East LA, 100% of the factory’s production workers are illegal immigrants. After the Immigration raid, the factory has to close for the day. On the deportation bus to Mexico, Rudy asks one of the Mexican’s what happens next. With a bored look, the Mexican replies, “Once we get to Mexico, we figure out a way to come back in time for work on Monday.”

Stanley Kubrick Predicted why the Boeing 737 Max kills people.

The crashes of the Boeing 737 Max jet were predicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. In the film, HAL the computer comes to believe that the humans on board are a danger to the mission, and begins killing them. Unlike HAL, The computer system on the Boeing 737 Max is not purposely killing people, but it does believe that human beings are dangerous to the success of the mission. Consequently, the automatic pilot on the Boeing 737 Max ignores the commands of the pilots and even overrides them.

Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

The Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes both took place when the computer system of the Boeing 737 Max forced the plane to dive into the ground while the pilots were desperately using all their strength to try to get the plane to climb. The computer ignored the climb commands and people died.

Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Boeing initially stated there was no problem with the 737 Max, and later came out and admitted that a “slight software fix” might be requited. This understatement reminds us of what HAL the computer said in 2001: A Space Odyssey after it killed all but 1 person on the spaceship.

“I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do.”

Somehow we can picture the automatic pilot system of the Boeing 737 Max making the same statement.

The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max
The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max

Poor Pilot Training is another issue that Boeing management has blamed for the crash. They are partially right about that. We previously pointed out the lack of pilot training in our post 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid To Fly. However, the biggest problem with the automatic pilot system on the Boeing 737 Max is that it is a hugely complex procedure just to turn the thing off.

The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.

Any factory manager knows that one of the keys to safety is to have a highly visible and easy -to-use Kill Switch located next to any machine that might malfunction. There is no Kill Switch to turn off a malfunctioning autopilot on the Boeing 737 Max. Pilots must execute a complex set of computer commands to turn the system off, even if the autopilot is flying the plane into the ground. If the pilots are not experts in these programming steps, there is no way for them to take back control of the aircraft.

Airplane designers know less than they think they do.
Airplane designers know less than they think they do.

The fact that you should never turn human control 100% over to computers has been a standard warning in science fiction books and films for decades. The Terminator, War Games, I Robot and countless others have focused on the unintended consequences of ceding control to machines. Yet Boeing, Airbus and other jet manufactures are working to steadily make pilots unnecessary. Some airlines have been pushing the FAA for rules to take the first step by eliminating rules requiring a copilot.

Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?
Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?

On the ground things are no better. Google is working on developing a driver-less tractor trailer. Imagine an 80,000 pound tractor trailer loaded with dangerous chemicals roaring down the highway with no driver. What could possibly go wrong?

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 speculation about malfunctioning computers causing human deaths was an interesting futuristic speculation. Now is is all too real.

Read our article. 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid to Fly

Read The Chemical 9/11

Read Dusty Cars – a 9/11 Story

I Think We’re Alone Now – Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning’s Independent Film

I Think We’re Alone Now stars Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning as two lonely people caught in a world where everyone else has suddenly died from a mysterious illness. Trapped together, they must learn to cope with the new reality.

Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning joke around on the set of I Think We're Alone Now.
Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning joke around on the set of I Think We’re Alone Now.

Peter Dinklage is Del, a library worker from a small town in the Northwest. Alone in the town where everyone else has died, Del lives a Zen-like existence, caring for the town and preserving the memories of the people.

Peter Dinklage in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Peter Dinklage in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

One by one, Del goes to each house in town, removes and buries the bodies, cleans the house and retrieves any personal photographs. Del then brings the photos back to the library and careful catalogues them. Why he does this is never exactly clear. However, it appears that he is trying to form a connection with the townspeople that he never really had when they were alive.

Elle Fanning & Peter Dinklage in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Elle Fanning & Peter Dinklage in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Del’s routing is shattered by the arrival of a feisty young woman named Grace (Elle Fanning). Del should be thrilled to find another human being, yet he does not quite trust Grace. She is very reticent about saying anything about where she came from, or what is going on in the world beyond the little town. All we know is that she has strange scars on her neck which she uses her long hair to hide from Del.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Despite their differences, Del and Grace come to depend on each other and slowly share their feelings. At one point, Grace asks Del if he was lonely in the town by himself. Del responds that he was more lonely when the town was completely full of living people and yet he was completely alone. (Who among us has not had that feeling of despair while being alone in a crowd of happy people?)

Paul Giamatti is Patrick in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Paul Giamatti is Patrick in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

I Think We’re Alone Now is a great independent film with a surprise ending. There are only 4 actors in I Think We’re Alone Now, yet the acting is so good that the movie is riveting.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet and Paul Giamatti is Patrick. To say who they are or how they appear in the film would be giving away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that Charlotte Gainsbourg and Paul Giamatti both give superb performances.

We give I Think We’re Alone Now the highest rating of Five Stars *****
Be sure to read all stories about Peter Dinklage

See all our movie reviews.

Modern Farmer- What Baby Boomers watched before cartoons

Modern Farmer is the T.V. show that taught Baby Boomers from the cities and suburbs all they ever learned about farming. Modern Farmer was on at 6:30 am Saturday mornings and the cartoons did not begin until 7AM. Kids sat through Modern Farmer because they did not want to take a chance of missing even a second of the precious Saturday cartoons.

Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.
Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.

When Baby Boomers were kids there was no way to instantly get a cartoon. No “on demand” channels, no VCRs or DVDs. Not even an internet. If you missed a cartoon you wanted to see, you had missed it forever.

Therefore, Baby Boomers got up extra early every Saturday and watched Modern Farmer while waiting for the cartoons. Modern Farmer was not a cartoon, and was not even a kids’ show. It was a public service documentary designed to instruct farmers about all the most recent technological advances in American Farming. Modern Farming showed how harvesters and combines worked. It demonstrated the importance of rotating crops, and the most efficient methods of irrigation. It had films of real American farms producing the vast supply of food that is one of the country’s greatest strengths.

Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from
Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from

Modern Farming was not designed to be a show to teach kids, but teach kids it did. Children have amazing absorbent minds, and millions of children throughout the United States learned about farming while waiting for cartoons.

Ironically, I remember a lot more about Modern Farming than I do about the Saturday cartoons. To this day, I have a tremendous respect for American farmers and the complexity of their profession, all thanks to Modern Farmer.

The impact of Modern Farmer should have lessons for today’s T.V. producers. Children are much smarter than producer think, and kids have an amazing capacity to learn. Teaching them something worthwhile is up to us.

So what ever happened to Modern Farmer? It actually never went away. Various versions of the show are popular throughout the world. German Farmer, Japanese Farmer and Korean Farmer have all been made.

Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.
Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.

There are even many video farming games where kids can get a feel for how hard it is to run a farm.

Very few Baby Boomers ever became real farmers. Food production in the United States is so efficient that the number of farmers has been decreasing for decades. However, Modern Farmer did teach a whole generation of kids that food does not just magically appear on the table. It gave them an appreciation for a complex and fascinating world just a few miles away from the cities and suburbs.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic stories.

The Book of Answers – Information before Google.

Before Google existed, the fastest way to get an answer was to call the New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service. It has been operating 9 hours a day 6 days a week since 1968. The Book of Answers is a fascinating summary of the most interesting answers and questions fielded by the service.

The Book of Answers
The Book of Answers

Unlike Google or Wikipedia, the NY Public Library goes to great lengths to make sure that the answers they give are accurate. The Library’s answers are not influenced by what most people “think” the answer should be. What goes into Google or Wikipedia is not the truth, but rather what Stephen Colbert refers to as truthiness. That is, something that people think is true because it sounds true.

What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?
What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?

The Book of Answers has a section devoted to correcting misconceptions people have on a number if items. These include items such as:

  • Despite what most people believe Poinsettias are not poisonous.  Despite this fact every Christmas season every local T.V. station runs at least one story warning people about poisonous Poinsettias.
  • Panama Hats are not made in Panama. They are and have always been made in Ecuador.
  • Abraham Lincoln was not the first President born in a log cabin. Andrew Jackson was actually the first.
The New York Public Library's main Reading Room.
The New York Public Library’s main Reading Room.

There are also some fascinating but lesser known facts about a huge variety of subjects.

  • New Zealand was the first nation to give women the vote in 1893. Switzerland did not allow women to vote until 1971.
  • The most common color candy in a bag of M&Ms is Brown composing 30% of the candies. Red, Yellow are 20% each and Green, Orange & Tan are 10% each.
  • The covering on the end of a shoelace is an “aglet”.
  • The metal hoop that supports a lampshade is a “harp.”

The Book of Answers was written by Barbara Berliner with Melinda Corey and George Ochoa. The Book of Answers was published in 1990 at which time Barbara Berliner was the head of the New York Public Library’s Telephone Reference Service.  It is nice to know that despite Google and Wikipedia, this service still exists.  

Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.
Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.

There strict rules the Reference librarians must follow before they can answer any questions. There are:

  • Librarians are not allowed to guess about any answers. They must have a verified source for the answer or else truthfully state that the answer is “We don’t know”. In that case the library will try to find the answer and call you back at a later time.
  • Librarians will not give you the answers to any contest that is still open. In other words, you can’t use them to cheat on a quiz show or radio contest.
  • They won’t give you the answer to the impossible questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” or “why does anyone watch The Kardashians?

You can still find this little gem of a book on Amazon, and it is a lot of fun to browse through. After all, in this confusing world don’t we all really need to have “The Book of Answers?”

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The Green Book – a feel-good movie but a complete lie

The Green Book is a “feel good” movie that also happens to be a complete lie about race relations in America. It is supposedly the true story of pianist Don Shirley’s 1962 tour of the Deep South where he played for all-White audiences. Fearing for his safety, Don Shirley recruited tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga to be his chauffeur.  Though completely opposite personalities, they come to understand and respect each other, leading to a life-long friendship.

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in "The Green Book"
Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in “The Green Book”

Mahershala Ali is perfect as Don Shirley, as is Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip. The action is exciting and well filmed, and audiences leave the theater feeling uplifted. However, The Green Book has been widely criticized by African Americans, especially Spike Lee, because Hollywood’s portrayal of the 1962 tour does not match what really happened. Here is a list of the major flaws with The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.

Don Shirley was not playing for White Audiences in the South. It was a tour of historically African American colleges in the South and the audiences were African American. The whole scene of Shirley playing for rich White folks in a private home and then being told he could not use the bathroom never happened. It was a pivotal plot point in The Green Book but was a complete Hollywood fabrication.

Don Shirley
Don Shirley

Don Shirley was not estranged from his family. He had a close relationship with his siblings, nephews and nieces his entire life. Writers Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Peter Farrelly and Brian Currie are all White. They did not contact Shirley’s family while making The Green Book. Nick Vallelonga has openly admitted that he did not even know that any of Don Shirley’s family still existed. Instead, The Green Book portrays Don Shirley as a lonely, isolated man who is “saved” by being invited to dinner with the Vallelonga family. In fact, some members of Don Shirley’s family actually attended many of his concerts in the South.

Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.
Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.

The Green Book pretends that racial profiling by police officers only happens in the South. The Green Book has several scenes where Don and Tony are roughed up by Southern policemen who seem to automatically hate all African Americans or Italians. Then when they are returning home, as soon as they cross the Mason-Dixon Line the police become friendly helpers. A police officer points out that their rear tire is flat, and then stays with them to direct traffic around the car in a raging blizzard. Following the logic of The Green Book, relations between the police and the African American community in the Northern city of Chicago must be excellent.

Nick Vallelonga
Nick Vallelonga

The Green Book gives the impression that racial tensions are somehow relegated to the past. After all, the Deep South no longer has legalized segregation and even the police forces are now integrated. Most people today don’t even realize that there actually was something called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a guide to what hotels and dining establishments African American’s were allowed to use in the South. The fact that this legalized racism no longer exists makes audiences feel good about how much progress has been made.  Spike Lee has stated that The Green Book gives a false sense of progress, and is a feel-good movie on race relations designed for an old audience. Spike Lee may have a point. At the theater where we saw The Green Book, the average age of the audience was about 67.

Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in "The Green Book"
Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in “The Green Book”

The Green Book is a “White Savior” Story. Tony Lip has to teach Don Shirley how to stand up for himself and be tough. Time after time in The Green Book, Tony saves Don from problems brought about by Don’s timid nature, or his own stupidity of going places without bringing Tony along to protect him. This is repeated so often in the film that you begin to wonder how Don Shirley actually survived in the world before he met his White Protector. Hollywood has a long history of making “White Savior” films. These include The Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, and even To Kill a Mockingbird. The mark of a White Savior movie is that its focus is about how heroic the White person is to be helping the unfortunate African American who would be lost without the savior. The main star is the White character, with the African Americans playing only supporting roles.

This may be a little bit of a hard judgment for The Green Book. After all, Don Shirley is portrayed as being immensely more talented, educated and literate than Tony Lip. In fact, the most amusing parts of The Green Book are when Don Shirley helps the almost illiterate Tony write beautiful love letters to Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). Don Shirley’s letters are so elaborate and romantic that Dolores begins reading them to her jealous friends.

Tony "Lip" Vallelonga
Tony “Lip” Vallelonga

Overall, The Green Book is an enjoyable film to watch, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you are seeing an actual portrayal of history. We can’t help thinking that it would have been so much better if the writers had taken the time to fully research the events and get input from Don Shirley’s family. It is true that despite their different backgrounds Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga did become lifelong friends. It would be fascinating to know what really happened when the toured the Deep South 57 years ago.