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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 16, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Recycling, Leonid McGill, Movies I'm Not Seeing

Anything we don't want to own anymore, and can't get somebody else to pay for or accept as a gift, is garbage.

But these days, you can't just figure "garbage is garbage" and put it in the trashcans or take it to the dump.

"Yard waste" will be picked up if you put it in clear plastic bags, or in your own 32-gallon trash can, or if you tie it with string (like branches) into bundles no more than five feet long and no heavier than 50 pounds.

Also, in the fall you can pile leaves at the curb, and after Christmas you can leave your tree to be picked up at the curb.

But "yard waste" does not include dirt and rocks. So what do you do with uprooted weeds? Wash them?

And you can't put "yard waste" in the regular garbage cans. But what about cut flowers from vases? They never grew in your yard -- can you throw them away in the regular trash? Or do you have to bag them with the yard waste?

The rules can be pretty arcane -- but no matter who puts stuff in your trashcans, violations are the responsibility of the homeowner.

We've had to institute a complete ban on anybody else putting stuff in our brown recycling can, because nobody else seems to know the rules.

Not that we were always wise about them -- and they've changed over time.

For instance, it used to be that you followed the number in the triangle on the bottom of plastic containers. Numbers below five or six (I can't remember now) could be recycled.

I didn't get the memo when this changed. But now the numbers mean nothing. Instead, it's the shape of the plastic container. Different shapes use different manufacturing processes.

If the neck is narrower than the body (like bottles and jugs), it was blown. If the neck is as wide as or wider than the body (like yogurt and cottage cheese tubs), it was injection molded. The two processes use different resins. The blowing process results in plastic that can be recycled; injection molding doesn't.

So much for those lovely plastic drinking cups with the little "1" in the triangle on the bottom. Our family goes through thousands of them a year. And they can't be recycled.

Now, there is a natural recycling method that would put the constituents of any plastic back into natural circulation. It's called "burning." If we burned all that plastic, it would become mostly carbon ash and carbon dioxide. No grocery bags would be choking fish in vast Sargasso Seas of plastic in our oceans.

But alas, the religion of environmentalism has declared carbon to be the devil, and so if you burn anything you're causing "global warming." This sad fantasy means that we can't get rid of this plastic using the easiest, most efficient, and most natural method.

In the real world, carbon from burned plastic becomes airborne fertilizer, which enhances plant growth throughout the world. But in the mythic universe of environmentalism, carbon dioxide supposedly causes fluctuations in global mean temperature.

Never mind that actual global temperatures do not track with carbon emissions at all -- which should be sufficient evidence that there is no effect whatsoever on global climate from human carbon emissions. No, we have to take it on faith, because the prophets of doom have pronounced, without any credible evidence, that burning petroleum products is a sin.

So we have all this plastic we can't recycle and we can't burn. It's our equivalent of the potsherds that pottery-based civilizations left behind. Our garbage heaps will be filled with cups and tubs and all sorts of other nonsense for future archaeologists to sort through.

Maybe a hundred years from now -- or fifty, or ten -- someone will wise up and they'll open up landfills and set them on fire, to burn up the plastic.

But no, that would be dangerous, because of the other stuff we've been throwing away. Like computers and televisions and batteries with rare and dangerous chemicals and metals in them.

On July 1 of 2011 in the state of North Carolina it becomes illegal to throw away televisions and computers -- laptops, desktops, monitors, video displays, printers, scanners, mice, and keyboards -- in any trash that gets taken to a landfill.

So what do you do with old TV sets and computer equipment? As we switch over to HDTV, old analog TVs have to go somewhere. Computer equipment that has become outmoded (i.e., it doesn't run the latest monstrosity of Windows from the crapmasters at Microsoft) can't even be donated -- how can a school or retirement home use a computer if there's no software that will run on it?

You can't recycle. You can't donate. It's illegal to put TVs and computer equipment in any of the garbage cans the city picks up. They won't take them if you simply leave them at the curb. (The yard-sale scavengers might take them, but the city won't.)

Here's how you get rid of an old television or computer mouse or printer or whatever: You put it in your gas-burning motor vehicle and you drive, from wherever in Guilford County you might live, to the Hazardous Waste facility at 2750 Patterson Street.

But they don't keep normal business hours. They are open from Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Write that down -- you'll never remember it, so you'll show up on Monday or Tuesday or at the wrong time and then you'll get frustrated and ...

And you'll do what most of us are already doing with our batteries. We're not supposed to throw them in the trash. Ditto with fluorescent light bulbs. But you do it -- you know you do.

Then you tie up the top of your white or green plastic garbage bag, you put it in the green city trash can, and the truck comes by, picks it up, and carries it to the landfill.

Nobody inspects that garbage. Well, there are random inspections, but they're rare -- and is anybody really cutting open those plastic garbage bags to see if you've got a computer mouse or a laptop in there? They enforce the recycling rules because human beings sort through that stuff by hand, but nobody's going to sort through the plastic bags of garbage heading for the landfill.

So you can probably keep throwing stuff away with impunity, law or no law. As long as you don't put it in the recycling can, nobody's going to know.

But hey, we're civilized people, aren't we? We stop at stop signs even when nobody's looking. Unlike the global warming myth, these computer and television components really do have some hazardous materials that shouldn't be in the landfills.

And even though the danger from any one battery or bulb or piece of equipment is very small, the law is the law, and the principle is that civilized people cooperate in self-enforcement of the law.

The key for most of us is simply knowing the rules. For years I still thought the numbers on the bottom of plastic containers mattered -- because nobody publicized the change in policy, at least not in a way that reached me.

And I'll bet that most of you had no idea that as of July 1st, computer equipment and televisions could not be legally disposed of through normal garbage collection.

But now you do know, and I told you where the Hazardous Waste facility is, and when they're open. In other words, I just ruined everything. Now you can't claim you didn't know you couldn't throw away that stuff. Your conscience will require you to Do The Right Thing.

Or else you can start treating old TVs and old computers like old cars -- just put them on concrete blocks in your yard. Eventually, the kudzu or morning glories will cover them completely.

Or you can trim the weeds and regard them as art. Your yard can become a museum of technological evolution. Old laptops and mice are at least as decorative as flamingoes or gnomes.

*

Walter Mosley became famous for his "Easy Rawlins" mysteries, which tracked the life of black people in Los Angeles through the 1950s and 1960s.

Those mystery novels were the only thing gift Bill Clinton ever gave me that I actually appreciated. During the 1992 campaign, he was quoted as regarding Mosley as his favorite writer.

Even though Clinton made my skin crawl (I stopped watching the news because his face and voice kept turning up), I decided not to hold it against the writer he admired. I bought Devil in a Blue Dress on tape and listened to it while commuting to teach a class at Appalachian State. It blew me away, and I read everything else of Mosley's I could get my hands on.

But in my carefully considered opinion, Walter Mosley's best work is in his Leonid McGill series. Starting with The Long Fall and continuing with Known to Evil, these novels are about a former criminal who is trying to go legit -- and find some measure of happiness in the process.

Leonid McGill -- the son of a radical Marxist -- used to be a specialist in making crimes look as if they were done by other people. He made good money that way -- but he also harmed a lot of people.

Now, along with his legitimate private detective work, McGill tries to undo some of the damage he did. Not by confessing -- he's not insane enough to want to go to jail (or, more likely, get killed by some of his former clients) -- but by trying to make amends in some anonymous way. Trying to help people get their lives back.

Meanwhile, his own life is something of a mess. His wife has been unfaithful to him often enough that some of "his" kids are obviously not his at all. Yet he stays with her. Sort of. It's all very complicated, weaving in and out of legal and moral tripwires that leave McGill -- and the reader -- reeling.

The third McGill mystery just came out, and it's bound to be one of the best mystery novels of the year. When the Thrill Is Gone puts McGill in a weird situation, where the woman who hired him to keep her husband from killing her turns out not to be the man's wife at all.

The husband's first two wives definitely died in mysterious circumstances, and the husband blames himself -- in a karmic sense, at least. But McGill is hired to find out the truth and prevent the murder of the current wife.

Along the way, a powerful crimelord engages him to find out what happened to a friend from his past -- or so it seems. And McGill is dealing with a good friend who is dying of cancer -- in McGill's house.

There is danger. There is action. McGill is a boxer who, though small in size, knows how to take down less-skilled fighters considerably larger than himself. We get to see him at work.

But what makes these books brilliant is that McGill is also a thinker. He cares about right and wrong, but has a terrible time sorting through what right and wrong might be at any given moment. He doesn't always end up satisfied with his own choices.

Still, he succeeds more often than not. And along the way, we readers get taken on a great ride. Walter Mosley is a great writer at the peak of his powers ... so far. Who knows what he has in store for us in the future?

If you haven't read any of the McGill novels, that's fine. While there is a continuing story, everything you need to know for this story is contained within the book. This is an excellent place to start reading Mosley.

*

No, I'm not going to review Super 8. I made 8mm films as a kid -- my brothers and I would go out in the back yard, dig highways for our Matchbox cars in a dirt patch, and then make stop-motion animations of the cars driving around. Naturally, crashes figured prominently.

That was fun. What does a train crash and an alien and government investigation and all that have to do with making films as a kid? Nothing.

Truth is, I'm not going to see it because the film is obviously full of cheap-trick scary moments. From the trailers, from websites that rate movies, it was obvious that it was going to be all about springing surprises on you.

Which is the easiest trick in the book for filmmakers. How many times have you seen this one: The character thinks he's all alone. Out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody in sight. And then he turns around and there's someone there.

In the real world, there is no frame. So you can't hide somebody by keeping them out of frame. People have to get from point A to point B, or they have to hide somewhere. Scary things are not always jumping out at you.

And I like it that way. If I want an adrenalin rush, I'll just drive the speed limit on I-85 and watch all the nightmare creatures whip around me.

I just don't like scary movies. Really. Every now and then somebody ropes me into seeing one. But I walk out of them. The only one I actually love is Poltergeist, because the family-in-jeopardy story trumped the stupid tricks (like the guy whose face melted in the mirror, only it turned out to be an illusion -- what was that about?).

I walked out of Alien. I walked out of Aliens. And they were both excellent movies.

You see, I let myself care about characters in movies. I can't help it, it's how my brain is wired. But at some point, filled with tension and fear, I realize: This is a movie. I don't have to be here. In fact, I paid to be here and I'm not enjoying myself, I'm frightened for these people. Only they're not real, nothing's real, I'm getting jerked around just for the sake of scaring me, and so why am I putting up with it?

In the case of the first two Alien movies -- and the Terminator movies, too, for that matter -- I walked out, and then later watched the second half on television, at home, surrounded by the walls of my family room.

At home, I can fast-forward through the meaningless tense walking-through-the-scary-dark-place scenes and slow down to regular speed when we get past the manipulative parts. At home, I'm in charge of my own viewing experience.

So I decided to save myself the price of admission. I pay for HBO -- I'm going to let them do their job and show me the movie on TiVo in six months.

Now, if I were paid to review movies, I'd have to see movies like Super 8. I might even give it a good review. But it's not my job. I go to movies that I want to see. I go to movies that I hope to enjoy. Sometimes I'm disappointed. But why in the world should I go to a movie that is specifically designed to make me scared at nothing for two hours?

I can get upset at home. I can think back over my life, over real losses and real pain and real fear. I can remember experiences on the freeway, or moments of sudden turbulence in airplanes, or getting called in to the boss's office when I might get fired. There are plenty of adrenalin moments in my memory. There are plenty of adrenalin moments in my future.

So I don't ride on roller coasters or things that spin. I don't bungee jump. I don't skydive. Heck, I don't even dive into swimming pools. And I don't go to scary movies. The King's Speech had all the excitement I needed last year.

And yes, I just spent a few hundred words reviewing my own decision not to review a big new crowd-pleaser and a must-see art film. But Hollywood decided that the combination of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg was so irresistible that there were no other new movies opening last weekend.

Another movie I'm not seeing is Midnight in Paris. Once upon a time, Woody Allen made funny movies. Now he makes art films. Only he's not a very good writer of art films.

And he's an absolutely terrible director. What, nobody's pointed that out before? Actors give their worst performances for Woody Allen -- bad acting is almost a given. A few pros are so talented they can survive a Woody Allen film, but not many. Woody Allen is the George Lucas of the art-film world -- actors are on their own, and good luck.

Woody Allen's reputation is a continual witness to the fact that intellectuals will swallow any kind of swill that they're told is "smart." The general public is far more discerning than intellectual movie-goers. So I will join the millions of people who are staying away from the latest Woody Allen film.

If I get nostalgic, I may watch a DVD of Love and Death or Take the Money and Run or Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.

But I probably won't. I'd rather watch reruns of That 70s Show or How I Met Your Mother.

*

So You Think You Can Dance remains the best talent show ever, because you can't fake dance. In the dance world, there is no Lady Gaga or Andy Warhol -- someone virtually without talent who becomes rich and famous simply by being surprising and outrageous and very good at manipulating their own publicity.

In dance, either you can do it or you can't. And the more you watch So You Think You Can Dance, the more you realize for yourself who has it and who doesn't.

Like American Idol this year, SYTYCD eliminated most of the train-wreck auditions. Instead, most of the audition phase was spent showing us people who do wonderful things. Some of them weren't versatile enough to make it past the grueling Vegas week -- you may be brilliant at one kind of dance, but on SYTYCD you have to be able to do everything.

This year they got rid of last year's obnoxious "telling them they made it or not" episode, which had the dancers gathered with friends and family -- only to find out in front of everyone they care about that they didn't make it onto the show. That was just vicious and I hated it. This year, they faced the judges alone, mostly one at a time, and we got to see snippets of them actually performing just before they heard the news. Good job.

Then, in the top-twenty introduction, they actually had the twenty dancers do several excellent small-group dances that truly gave us a taste of what they could do. They were astonishingly good already, and they've only just begun.

This year was American Idol's best year ever. Is it possible that the same producers are going to make SYTYCD the best it's ever been, too? That's how it's starting to look.


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