Amazing Library in China

There are few things writers and readers love more than libraries.I have fond memories of bicycling to and from the library when I was growing up in Ridgewood, NJ, and I also have spent plenty of quality time at events and doing research at the New York Public Library.

But feast your eyes on this amazing place in Yangzhou, China.

The image above is the entrance, which uses a black mirrored finish on the floor and distinct rounded shelving to create a stunning effect.

Here’s another shot of it.

img_9_1467955356_37693cfc748049e45d87b8c7d8b9aacd

Inside, the otherworldly effect continues with rounded pillars, shelves, and ceilings.img_6_1467955356_c51ce410c124a10e0db5e4b97fc2af39

The first thing of thought of when I saw this was the sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

img_4_1467955356_0a8005f5594bd67041f88c6196192646 img_2_1467955356_faeac4e1eef307c2ab7b0a3821e6c667

This may be the best reason to visit China I’ve seen so far.

All images © Shao Feng.

Happy (Belated) Monday September 12 (13th), 2016

This is 24 hours late. Apologies.

It’s time for National Geographic’s Nature Photographer of the Year Contest for 2016. They started accepting entries in August, and will until November 4.

National Geographics is making all of the entries available for viewing online as they are submitted. There are already some amazing shots in there. Here’s a few that caught my eye. Check out the contest for more.

7290386_1024x768 8367471_1024x768 8903709_1600x1200 8925182_1024x768

Read Some History and Call Me in the Morning

The party out of power tends to run on the idea that things are terrible. The party in power tends to run on the idea that things are fine and only going to get better.

These statements make sense. “Vote for me because I want the job” and “Vote for me because I want to keep the job” are not compelling campaign slogans.

We’re at a strange place in history right now. The party that controls both houses of Congress is making the case that things are falling apart and about to get worse, despite the fact that they wield quite a bit of power.  The party that controls the White House insists we are heading in the right direction, while their candidate promises fundamental changes in direction in areas like trade.

The Democrats have got a decent case. Without writing the 2,976,912th blog post about what a terrible human being Trump is, and how he is a uniquely unqualified candidate for anything other than Assistant to the Village Idiot.

But does Trump represent the end of society? The School of Life doesn’t think so.

When I heard this line, I backed up the video and listened again:

It makes no sense, and is a form of twisted narcissism, to imagine that our era has any kind of monopoly on idiocy and disaster.

This statement provides a huge helping of perspective.

Trump’s rhetoric sounds like that of past dictators, and I’ve written a lot about how our times bear a resemblance to the doomed Weimar Republic.

But we’re not there yet. Trump is a demagogue that has taken advantage of a fractured party’s feckless leadership. He’s trailing badly in the polls, and there’s a compelling case for him only doing as well as he is because he opposes by a very unpopular candidate who has done a good job of sabotaging herself.

Does this mean everything is fine? Do we have nothing to worry about? Of course not. But it’s not time to despair. It’s time to take action.

Friday Tunes: St. Cajetan by Cracker

I’ve decided Fridays will be for music videos. Since it’s my blog, that’s how it will be.

This is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. The sound quality is a little low, but it’s worth it to hear to a live version.

Cracker is a country band that was lumped into grunge and “post-punk” in the early 90s, partly because of their link to Camper Van Beethoven and partly because the people that used to control music publishing like to put things into neat little containers. I like to think of Cracker as “one of might favorite bands.”

Have a good Labor Day weekend!

Thoughts On The Night Of Finale

Stone and Naz
Stone and Naz

I watched the series finale of “The Night Of” prepared to be disappointed.

If you’re not familiar with this HBO series, you might as well just stop here. Not only is this post written with someone who has already watched the miniseries in mind, but it’s also packed wth spoilers too. Caveat emptor.

“The Night Of” was billed as a look at the criminal justice system from a suspect’s point of view, and for much of the beginning, that’s what it was. But somewhere around episodes six and seven, it seemed to take a turn for the worse. It started to feel both rushed and as if a new writer took over, one that was more interested in Hollywood and TV tropes than the gritty feel of the series’ beginning.

Flawed heroine or gullible young lady?
Flawed Heroine or gullible young lady?

Naz started acting like he was comfortable in prison. Too comfortable for me, and it was starting to look like we were heading for a cliched story about prison turning a good boy bad. While that would not be an unexpected ending, it seemed trite for how the “The Night Of” started out.

But it was Chandra’s (skillfully portrayed by Amara Karan) character arc that was killing the show for me. She started out as an underappreciated young lawyer in a huge firm. Allison Crowe, brilliantly played by Glenne Headly, literally picks her out of a room full of lawyers to assist on the case because of her race. But she forges a connection with Naz’s mother (portrayed equally well by Poorna Jagannathan) and then tells Naz, going against Crowe’s wishes, to turn down the plea deal Crowe negotiated for him.

I read Chandra’s disobedience as standing up for what she believes. Jack Stone, the lawyer Crowe pushed off the case, asks Chandra if she worked her way through law school so she could be used as a prop because of her race. She responds by going against Crowe’s wishes regarding the deal.

Chandra ends up leading on the case and puts on a strong defense for Naz. We still see her stumble a few times, but considering the lemons she had, she made a good pitcher of lemonade.

And then it seems all for naught. We see Chandra kissing Naz in a holding cell. We see her act as his drug mule. A woman that overcame being her firm’s token Muslim succumbed to a TV crime show cliche. I was ready to give up.

But I was going to finish the series, if for no other reasons than seeing John Turturro as Jack Stone and Michael Kenneth Williams as Freddy. I’m glad I stayed with it, too.

stoneJack Stone is a fascinating character. Turturro brings a vulnerability to him that’s hard to describe. The role was originally intended for James Gandolfini and in a few early scenes, especially when he approaches Naz at the police precinct, I could easily see Gandolfini in the role. But Stone is a character that Turturro brought to life and owned by the time the miniseries was halfway through, with the help of a script that gave him so many wonderful opportunities to act.

My favorite scenes were when Jack Stone was alone: treating his skin problems, feeding Andrea’s cat, tailing Andrea’s sleazy stepfather. Turturro created a fully realized character in these scenes. He is one of the greatest actors alive today.

IMDB tells me that Freddy, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, was only in three episodes. If this is accurate, it explains why I was left wanting more. In the same way that Williams used reserved confidence and subtle body language to make Omar a compelling character in “The Wire,” Freddy dominated the few scenes he appeared in and left me wanting to know more about him. Williams can tear up the scenery without raising his voice. I found his murder of Petey especially chilling.

Freddy
Freddy

That’s not to say Freddy and Omar are the same characters. When I saw the trailers for The Night Of I was concerned that we were going to see “Omar in prison,” but we didn’t. Omar was an outsider that was “street smart” enough to play the system to his advantage. Freddy is an integral part of the system and was better spoken and more educated.

When Chandra started to look like she was falling in love with poor Naz (that’s how it looked to me) I was bracing myself for one of two “Hollywood” endings: “wrongly convicted guy goes to jail” or “wrongly indicted guy is exonerated.”

The fact Andrea’s stepfather who, by the way, we learn has a history of violence and seducing wealthy cougars, was being served up as a last minute suspect didn’t help. It looked like the show that had started out as something different was going to end up looking like a crime procedural written by Dick Wolf.

It was evident to me by the midpoint that Naz’s innocent was beside the point and that having a big reveal where that proves his innocence or guilt would only ruin the story.

The opening episode was one of the best things I’ve seen in television or movies in a long time. The story required a series of coincidences to work, but together they wove a believable narrative that left you sure Naz was innocent.

Or did it?

In the finale, when Naz said he wasn’t sure either, it was a very satisfying moment. What made it even more satisfying was wondering if his experience in prison had made him less sure.

Putting Naz on the stand was the completion of Chandra’s fall. But her decision to do that over Jack’s strong objection redeemed her in my eyes. She wasn’t simply a gullible woman that fell in love with poor Naz, she was an idealist and a bit of an optimist. It was clear to her that Naz was innocent, and his innocence would be obvious to the jury too, once they heard from him.

That didn’t work out. And things didn’t work out for Chandra either.

Jack’s closing argument was the next big payoff for me. He saved the day by being himself, and that is was what was needed. The scenes with his preparation and the closing itself were also masterfully done. Here again, Turturro inhabited Jack Stone and showed a fully realized character.

The hung jury and the prosecution’s decision to drop the case against Naz were, at the end of the day, the only ending that worked. We still don’t know if he did it, and we don’t even have a questionable verdict to fall back on. Perfect.

It was Freddy that arranged for Stone to receive the video showing Chandra kissing Naz. That video may be lead to the hung jury since it set up Stone’s closing statement. Naz was as good as convicted after the prosecutor eviscerated him on the stand. Did Freddy know that? How could he have?

In their final scene together Freddy told Naz he enjoyed “having” him because he has the  “smelled of innocence” on him. While that means Freddy believes that Naz didn’t kill Andrea, it doesn’t mean he wants him set free. Discrediting defense counsel doesn’t always mean freedom for the defendant. It may just have easily resulted in a mistrial and lead to Naz being in prison longer. Was that his goal instead? What do you think?

Naz comes home with a rift between him and his family and a drug problem. It’s not hard to imagine that he will end up back in jail and that Freddy may get his wish. But would he still want Naz then? Would he still smell innocent?

We also have a story that could make a sequel. Detective Box, another fascinating character, seems to have found the actual killer. Box’s investigation contributed to the series finale seeming crowded and rushed as if they had enough material for nine or ten episodes, but HBO wanted to keep it short for some reason. But I enjoyed seeing more of Box.

Could there be a sequel in the future? I’m not sure how I feel about that. How about you?

Happy Monday, August 29, 2016 Edition

It’s Monday! Tired? Sad to be back at work? Having a hard time picking up where you left off from last week, or maybe from before a vacation you just finished? No matter how bad your Monday is, I bet you’re not as confused as this guy.

Do you know what he’s trying to do?  He’s trying to do this.

Pretty impressive, eh? Foxes are amazing little creatures. This would be a great place to mention what they sound like and insert another video, but I’m going to pass and just wish you a good week.