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John Sandford, Politics, and Extremism

John Sandford has always been both an author I enjoy and one who fascinates me from the political perspective. His writing is aware of politics, and often revolves around politics, but few of his protagonists have any interest in discussing their political views beyond the immediate. Perhaps this reflects the author. Who knows?

Lucas Davenport shoots and kills people, a lot. He’s a cop. There’s also a strong thread of police corruption in those books. Nobody is a hero just because they wear a badge.

Here’s the blurb for The Empress File, from the Kidd books:

One stifling summer night in Longstreet, Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Darrell Clark ran home thinking about two things: the ice cream he couldn’t wait to eat and an algorithm he was working on, a way to generate real time fractal terrain on his Macintosh computer. The cops who shot him in the back, mistaking him for a purse snatcher, found the ice cream in the paper bag on the ground next to Darrell. They’d never know anything about computers, or about the events they had just set in motion.

When the predictable cover-up occurs, a group of blacks, led by Marvel Atkins, decide the time for action has come. The city government must go. Through Darrell’s computer, Marvel, with the incredible liquid eyes, links up with Kidd, who takes on jobs that may be a little beyond the law. She lays out the objective, but he makes the plan. The mayor, city council, city attorney are all corrupt. The firehouse is the center for drug dealing, and the recreation director skims money like algae from the municipal swimming pool. And then there’s Duane Hill, the dogcatcher/enforcer who uses Dobermans to get his way. Kidd will simply find the crack in the machine and work it until the city comes down like a house of Tarot Cards.

Written in 1991. I haven’t reread it in a while so I’m not making any claims about anything other than to say that Sandford is keenly aware of the state of the world.

So: The Investigator. I read most of Sandford’s books eventually, once they hit paperback or from the library, and I added this one to my queue without knowing much about it. To my surprise, the antagonist group turned out to be an anti-immigrant militia. I could nitpick the depiction; for example, there’s a little bit more weight given to the economic anxiety theory than I’d have liked. On the other hand, Sandford did his research. He treats the militias as a real threat, he understands the distributed nature of the beast, and most interestingly he understands the military to extremism pipeline. I don’t know if he’s read Kathleen Bellow’s Bring the War Home, but he might have.

There are a couple of threads in there that lead me to think we’ll see some of those militia members again in this series. Even if we don’t, I have to be pleased that a book with this plot hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list.

Penstock Coffee Roasters: Sisola Mill, Indonesia

We signed up with Bottomless recently (referral link) because we wanted to get more forced variety in our coffee and because I’m a sucker for tech. I want to make sure I remember what we like so I’m going to try and get in the habit of dropping a quick review.

The first delivery was Penstock Coffee Roaster’s Sisola Mill from Indonesia. The base flavor is a really complex flavor, fairly sweet for coffee, and there’s a sour overtone that’s almost too much for my tastes. I also normally like a darker base. I enjoyed this nonetheless. I might not seek it out on purpose but I won’t be sad if it comes up in our rotation again.

Jupyter Notebooks, GitHub, & Secrets

This week I needed to do some analysis of JIRA tickets that goes beyond the reporting JIRA provides — not entirely an uncommon task. My usual quickie toolkit for that purpose involves Jupyter notebooks, which I prefer over downloading CSVs and playing with spreadsheets because I can automate the notebooks given a JIRA API key.

In this case, though, I really want one of my PMs to be able to run these reports, and I don’t want to get into the whole “OK then type this at the command line” thing. The post title kind of gives this away, but after some thought I realized, hey, just check the notebook into the company’s GitHub and there we go.

But how about that API key? Obviously I don’t want to embed mine in the notebook. Is there some way to use GitHub secrets for this? Answer: yes, there is, and it’s really simple, but I don’t see it documented step by step anywhere else so I’m gonna do that here.

If you want the quick answer: GitHub makes secrets available as environment variables, and if you’re working in the GitHub Jupyter environment, you don’t need to do anything special with workflows to make that happen. Therefore, you can just use Python’s os.environ mapping object to get at secrets.

Letterboxd Feed Update

I love copying my Letterboxd reviews over here, but I hate how much they dominate my feed. This week I started rewriting my script so that it’ll batch reviews up a week at a time. Gonna take a little more thought about formatting and such, but I’ve got the basic aggregation working and the output looks like this:

Year: 2022
    Week: 9
        Polytechnique, 2009 - ★★★★★ (contains spoilers)
    Week: 10
        Forbidden City, U.S.A., 1989 - ★★★½
        The Last Days of Disco, 1998 - ★★½
        A Bay of Blood, 1971 - ★★★

So that’s cool. This’ll also let me comfortably grab the whole backlog from Letterboxd via their export feature, which I didn’t want to do because a lot of my older reviews (from, say, Fantasia) are one-liners.

The King of Marvin Gardens, 1972 – ★★★

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 23/52
Prompt: Watch a film from the “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story” collection

Less than the sum of its parts. I decided to watch this one next because I just rewatched The Last Picture Show and Ellen Burstyn was so good in it. She’s great in this too, in a role that echoes her Lois Farrow. Nicholson’s great, Bruce Dern is great, and the weird surrealist angle on Atlantic City is great.

But, I dunno, it just didn’t cohere for me. I see where it was going at the end, with the pathos, but it didn’t totally earn what it wanted me to feel. Possibly I didn’t buy Dern and Nicholson as brothers, completely? Maybe Nicholson was just a little too detached for the sake of playing against his normal type?

Enjoyed it fine, even if I didn’t love it.

AEW Hard Eight

I was chatting the other day about how I’d book an AEW round-robin tournament and I thought I’d expand on the subject somewhat here.

Background: most US pro wrestling tournaments are single elimination. There’s a bracket, and if you lose you’re out. In contrast, the big Japanese promotions tend to run round robin tournaments, where you earn points for wins, and the wrestlers with the most points face off in the finals.

Round robin tournaments chew up way more time. Typically, while something like NJPW’s G1 is going on, the majority of each show is dedicated to tournament matches. This would be hard for an American promotion.

The G1 has 20 wrestlers in two blocks. In each block, each wrestler fights every other wrestler in the block, so everyone has nine matches. That means you’re running 18 shows with four tournament matches apiece on them, and there’s no way AEW could devote over two months of TV time to something like that.

But the value of a round robin tournament is that you can book a lot of matches that might be awkward otherwise — faction members against each other, and so on. You can also do a few stunning upsets because nobody can be expected to win all their matches. So how would you make it work in the US?

I think you cut it down to eight wrestlers in two blocks of four. Now each wrestler only has three matches. Each week, you put two tournament matches on Dynamite and one on Rampage. One match is always the main event each night to maintain significance. Each block gets Dynamite one week and Rampage the second week, so over the course of the two week cycle each block completes one set of matches.

That means the whole tournament except the finals takes six weeks to run and only occupies a third of the available TV time. That’s not bad at all, even after you double it to fit in the women’s tournament.

Okay, how do you book it?

You run this at the end of the year. AEW resets win-loss records at the end of the year for the purpose of rankings. The first consequence of the tournament is that the wrestlers are seeded in the new year’s rankings based on their records. Come in third, and you’re third in the top five. Second, and more important, you give the winner the traditional shot at any title they want. Include tag team titles in that.

Finally, you determine the entrants by a mixture of skill and luck. First off, the top four wrestlers in the rankings as of the start of the tournament get in. That ensures you have stars. Second, you “randomly” pick four other wrestlers to fill out the field. That means you can give a newcomer a boost, you can set up inter-faction matches, all that good stuff.

And to maintain the gambling theme, you call it Hard Eight. You also get a bonus gambling note by using a roulette wheel or something to do the random selection.

Love and Anarchy, 1973 – ★★★★½

Three phases.

First: “OK, neat, this is about radical leftism and anti-fascism contrasted with broad Italian sex farce, that’s kind of cool even if the marriage seems a little forced. And I dig this guy’s acting.”

Second: “Oh, wow, no, this is really authentically touching. This really is about love as much as it’s about anarchy, and Wertmüller really does care about both. This is quite good. And I dig this guy’s acting.”

Third: “Oh, fuck, no, this is now a brutal exploration of the compromises that anti-fascism may require from us, and an authentic query about the value of love when contrasted with the value of freedom. What’s one worth without the other? And Giancarlo Giannini’s acting is emotionally wrecking me. He’s so afraid.”

A Room in Town, 1982 – ★★★½

Not one of Demy’s masterpieces, but still quite good. It’s a little less graceful than The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and as a result it perhaps lives in that movie’s shadow — “ah, yes, the other Demy in which all the dialogue is sung.” Well worth taking on its own terms, though.

The thing is, it’s deeply political. The doomed romance doesn’t work without the tension of the strike and the class struggle. Demy isn’t subtle about this. The relationships are all driven by money, need for money, or (privileged) rejection of money. Also there’s a swastika on the doorway in the film’s final scene, visible right after the confrontation with the cops, and Demy always has too much control over his sets for that to be an accident. “All Cops Are Bastards” in French.

La Haine, 1995 – ★★★★½

Scathing. It took me a while to realize that Paris is the locus of whiteness in this one: white art gallery, white skinheads, white cops. The immigrant/minority protagonists come from the banlieues. The suburbs. So that’s a difference between France and the United States. But, you know, it’s the same fear of the different.

Pay attention to which one of the kids doesn’t get blamed for the riots, and which one (it’s the same one) who slips past trouble most of the time.

Everyone involved in this was young. The energy shows it. You can’t get away with borrowing as much as Kassovitz does without being brash about it. He fuses it together into his own creation, certainly.