Wednesday is upon us, and I’m still mulling over last night’s entertainment — with Alan off this week (pulling the boat, putting storms in the doors, that sort of thing), we’re doing weeknight thing we never get to do otherwise. Staycation fun, peeps! Monday night was open-mic comedy night at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, at which we were the only white folks and I heard more N-bombs than in a month of streaming hip-hop. And last night we saw “The Florida Project,” a spectacular micro-budget film about poverty in the Sunshine State. I can recommend it highly, for standout performances and an almost perfect mastery of tone in a story that’s essentially plot-free but still has a lot to say.
What plot there is revolves around Moonee, a six-year-old who lives with her mother Hallee in a dive-y motel near Disney World. Hallee has the emotional maturity of maybe a seven-year-old, so they get along like aces. Moonee is charming and fearless, and her mother is the same way, only in the adult you can see the sociopathy that lies beneath. (I don’t recommend this to Jeff, unless he can fit it in during work hours.) As a journalist, all I could think about were the stories I and my colleagues have been writing for years, calculating how far behind Moonee must be in school by now (even as a first-grader, yes), her behavioral deficits, even the toll her diet – which seems to consist solely of waffles, jelly sandwiches on day-old bread from the food bank, soda and pizza – is taking on her baby teeth. The film takes place over part of a summer, when Moonee and a couple of friends run wild through the motel, and others like it nearby, having charming kid adventures, while her mom tries to avoid work but still make the weekly rent on the $38/night room they share.
Things happen, expected things. But the story still feels like a series of snapshots laid in a row. Both thrilling to watch and deeply unsettling. Find it at an arthouse near you.
I see somehow the comment thread on the last post skated off on a tangent about wind turbines. Michigan is starting to add them here and there, primarily in the Thumb, but the ones we see most often are on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair, and by “see” I mean that driving home on a dark night when it’s reasonably clear, you can see their red lights blinking way over the water.
A more vivid experience was a few years ago, when we drove to Stratford for a little theatuh, and took the Port Huron route, which is less freeway and more country road than you get by crossing in Detroit. It was a foggy day, and these behemoths were obscured until we were almost upon them, and they’d loom up out of the mist, turning slowly. Very dramatic, like something in a fairy tale. It was almost enough to distract from the unexpected (for an American, and especially a Michigander) pleasure of driving on a well-maintained, non-potholed road.
Canada. They get the job done.
I have yet to see a driverless car on the roads around here, although truth be told, you wouldn’t know one to see it – they still have people sitting in the driver’s seat. There’s a robot bus running around north campus at U-M in Ann Arbor, not sure of the human-override factor on that one, although my guess is, they have one. The technology isn’t advanced enough yet, but it’s getting there, and fast. David Leonhardt wrote a column about testing a driverless Volvo that got to the heart of the adoption problem, I think:
I expect that we will agonize about using them, out of both legitimate caution and irrational fear. Any driverless crashes will be sensationalized, as has already happened, while we ignore tens of thousands of deaths from human crashes. But I still expect that driving will be revolutionized sooner than many people now understand. …Those researchers at Penn and Chicago also studied the circumstances in which people get comfortable with computer control, and found a theme: When the choice isn’t all or nothing — when people have “even a slight amount” of control — they are more open to automation.
That’s where driving is headed. The shift will be gradual, not sudden, as Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, told me. Cars will handle many tasks, while a human driver will have override power. The combination won’t be perfect, but it can be much better than the status quo.
I suspect he’s right. What he’s describing sounds like the cake-mix problem I read about somewhere. Duncan Hines is fully capable of producing a just-add-water cake mix, but they don’t, because customers prefer to add an egg and half a cup of oil. It makes them feel like they’re baking, not just phoning it in.
It’s funny. I know people who are terrified to fly for fear of crashing, but think nothing of driving every day, when statistically one is leagues safer than the other. But the feeling of control is powerful, no doubt.
I was charmed by the WashPost’s account of David Letterman’s Twain award ceremony. Perhaps you too.