You may be growing bacteria in your reusable grocery bag

Many communities in southern California have banned plastic grocery bags and required surcharges for paper bags in hopes of convincing shoppers to switch to reusable bags.

But now a study shows that reusable grocery bags may pose a health risk.

Reusable bags tested positive for E. coli, salmonella and coliform bacteria, according to studies by Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona.

The bacteria proliferated wildly when the bag was left in a hot car.

A whole haul of groceries could be infected by contaminated bags, said health educator Rosemary Anthony.

Maybe there’s hope for our planet after all: 9 year old girl lectures McDonalds CEO on nutrition

Sometimes I see so many news stories convincing me the human race is just too stupid to carry on that I lose hope. But then I run across things like this, and I think maybe there’s hope for us after all.

McDonald’s needs kids more than today’s kids need McDonald’s.

Perhaps no one knows that better than CEO Don Thompson, who was seriously put on the hot seat by a 9-year-old girl at Thursday’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Oak Brook, Ill.

For a few moments, Hannah Robertson — whose mother, Kia, is a kid’s nutritional activist and creator of an interactive children’s game on nutrition called Today I Ate a Rainbow — stood and lectured the CEO of one of the world’s biggest brands.

“There are things in life that aren’t fair — like when your pet dies,” said Hannah, whose voice never wavered. “I don’t think it’s fair when big companies try to trick kids into eating food. It isn’t fair that so many kids my age are getting sick,” she said — blaming McDonald’s for unfairly targeting kids with advertisements for food that isn’t good for them.

It’s so much fun to nitpick: Star Trek Into Darkness

Ah, nitpicking. It’s so much fun. Especially for movies that put a premium on action over story, like Star Trek Into Darkness.

(Warning: what follows contains spoilers.)

Don’t get me wrong — I thoroughly enjoyed STID. (Wait, that’s looks like STD. Never mind.) I’ll probably see it again. I think J.J. Abrams is a good director on his way to being great as soon as he finds writing partners equal to his talent at constructing action sequences.

But there are some things in Darkness that cried out for a little more care in the writing, and I think they could have been fixed without sacrificing the summer action movie pace Paramount demands of Abrams for the rebooted Trek franchise.

Right off the bat, we have the Enterprise hiding underwater to avoid being seen. Um, okay… so staying in orbit was out of the question? And to beam up Spock meant they had to come up out of the water to get “line of sight” on him? It would have been possible to get “line of sight” on Spock in the volcano from orbit… although that would have killed the shot Abrams wanted to get of the massive Enterprise coming up out of the ocean.

Easy fix: offer an explanation for why orbit wasn’t an option. It could have been a two-second line of dialogue.

Speaking of Spock in the volcano, are we really supposed to believe that his suit can withstand the heat, but the shuttle couldn’t? Easy fix: explain that particles in the volcano would have fouled the shuttle’s ability to fly or hover. A two-second line of dialogue. They wasted those two seconds telling us the shuttle couldn’t take the volcano heat, which makes no sense if Spock’s suit can.

I’m not going to bog this article down with trying to explain the problems with Khan’s overly-complicated and nonsensical plan, not that we ever got a clear idea of what he was hoping to accomplish. But this seems to be an Abrams eccentricity with all his villains.

Towards the end, we have Spock beating Khan senseless, except, not. Khan takes the beating because of his enhanced, genetically-engineered strength. Then Uhura appears and stuns Khan repeatedly and he doesn’t go down — because of his genetically-engineered strength. Except that earlier Scotty dropped him on Kirk’s order with one stun blast.

Easy fix: Make it clearer that Khan faked being put down by Scotty’s phaser blast because it was part of his already overly-complicated plan. See how easy?

Then there’s Khan’s blood being used to bring people (and tribbles) back to life. So does this mean that now when someone dies they just need to grab some Khan blood to bring them back? Now the Federation has a miracle cure and no one ever has to die or be sick? So why didn’t they use Khan’s blood to bring back some of the other crewmen who died? Is it too late to bring Admiral Pike back?

Speaking of which, why only Khan’s blood to save Kirk? Didn’t they have 72 canisters with more of these genetically-engineered supermen and women waiting around in suspended animation? Doesn’t their blood work too?

Lazy storytelling, that’s all it is. Granted, you don’t want to slow down the summer action with too much exposition, but in these cases I think spending an extra few minutes on thinking through the plot could have fixed these WITHOUT sacrificing the breakneck pace.

But I’m a nitpicker. Can’t help it.

P.S. Hollywood, I’m available to nitpick your scripts. Low rates and easy availability.

Star Trek Into Darkness

This review will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Not too long ago in an office not that far away, Paramount movie executives looked out upon the multiplex galaxy, and saw the wondrous financial returns of big budget franchises that guaranteed history-making box office sales. They saw Batman. They saw Marvel’s stable of heroes. They saw Harry Potter. They saw a rebooted James Bond. And their mouths did water.

The secret of the franchise is name recognition. Paramount rummaged around their closets and all they found was Star Trek.

Sure, Trek had recognition. There’s hardly anyone in America who doesn’t recognize a Star Trek reference. But the trouble with Trek was that it’s glory was long past, and even that glory wasn’t nearly so grand as Star Wars or any of the other big budget franchises. The multiple TV series had creatively dried themselves up, the movies were an exercise in diminishing returns, and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. But it was the only franchise they had.

Sure, they could cobble together another Trek movie, but the problem was this: Even if they made one that was well-received by the fans, a la Wrath of Khan, there was only so much money they could make, and the ugly truth is that the Trek audience, even if they came out in droves, could not give them the same return a Marvel movie can, or a Batman, or a Harry Potter.

So they decided to roll the dice, find a hot young director/producer, give him the biggest wad of cash they’d ever given to a Trek movie, and reboot the whole damn thing.

J.J. Abrams got the nod. His orders were simple: Give it a young, sexy new cast, and make it MASS APPEAL. It’s summer blockbuster time, gentlemen, and we need those kids in the movie theaters. We need fun, we need space battles, we need fight scenes, we need explosions.

And Abrams delivered. He had to jettison many of the science fiction and story elements that the TV shows had become known for, and he also had to unshackle himself from decades of rotting continuity that even the TV producers had trouble maintaining.

With 2009’s introductory reboot of the way, Abrams now brings us its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness.

I’ve already written about why Star Trek really stopped being Star Trek once it hit the big screen. I take Abrams’ version on its own merits, and all I can say is, WOW.

As a summer blockbuster, Into Darkness is terrific. It’s got a great cast, incredible effects, and a plot that zips along fast enough so you don’t trouble yourself over the gaping plot holes. Or the questionable science and physics.

Chris Pine settles into his version of Captain James T. Kirk here, and I must say I like the arc of his character better this time around. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as the villain, probably the best villain a Trek movie has had in a long time. Quinto again nails it as Spock. Karl Urban’s McCoy is a spot-on impression, but sadly doesn’t get much to do here, nor does John Cho’s Sulu. Checkov and Scotty get to have a little fun, though. Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus is young and sexy and well, sexy. (I didn’t roll my eyes too hard at the gratuitous T&A shot.) And Zoe Saldana continues with the emotional core of her expressive Uhura, and even gets to powwow with some Klingons.

Yep, there be Klingons here!

There is a death scene in the film that I knew was coming, and did not like the idea of one bit. Not because I knew the character couldn’t really die, but because I felt it was an insult to the death scene from Wrath of Khan it was riffing off of. It was the one part of the movie where I stopped enjoying it… but then something happened. Despite all my misgivings, the emotion of the scene got to me. It actually made me choke up — a testament to Pine’s and Quinto’s performance. Okay, Abrams, you win this time.

Complaints? Yeah I’ve got a couple. The aforementioned plot holes, for example. “Harrison’s” evil plan is so convoluted and illogical as to be nonsensical, but again, the plot moves along so fast you don’t have time to care.

But my biggest complaint is this: Abrams took the time to reboot Trek’s universe. I really wish he’d taken the opportunity to move on and tell a brand new story, and he chose not to. He chose instead to reimagine Wrath of Khan. Also, I really could have done without old Spock’s cameo. It was needless and did nothing to move the story along. On the other hand, the old Trekkie in me enjoyed the numerous shout-outs and throwaway lines from other movies and TV episodes.

By the time the credits roll and the familiar Star Trek theme washes over you, you realize your money was well spent and you just had a great ride. And that’s what summer action flicks are all about. I dare say this is J.J. Abrams’ best film yet.

Four and a half stars out of five.  Good work, Mr. Abrams, Mr. Pine, Mr. Quinto, Ms. Saldana and Mr. Cumberbatch. I look forward to the next trek.

A few thoughts before going Into Darkness

I haven’t seen Star Trek Into Darkness yet, but I’d like to offer a few thoughts before I go where many have gone before.

The reaction of a few hardcore Trek fans, i.e., those who became Trekkers during the run of the original series, during it’s resurgence in reruns in the early 70s (that’s when I joined in), or during the run of Next Generation, are a little disappointed. They feel J.J. Abrams has destroyed what it was that made Trek Trek.

Here’s the hard truth, Trekkers: Star Trek is dead, but it wasn’t J.J. who killed it.

It’s in the movies themselves where Trek stopped being real Trek.

Star Trek is best on television, if by best you mean where the show focuses on the Enterprise family and how they respond to new worlds and new situations. That’s something that can only be accomplished week after week.

When you’re with a family week in and week out, that’s living with them. The bridge becomes home, and you see your family and friends in their natural element, they way they live every day. But when you only see them every two to three years (or longer), that’s like living in another city and coming for a visit. They have to pull out all the stops to show you a good time. You’re seeing them put on their best show. It’s not the same.

Star Trek on television was able to tell the smaller, more contained stories. You could get City On the Edge of Forever, Measure of a Man or The Inner Light on TV, but they would never do on a big screen where a movie studio puts up big money and needs many sweaty summer asses in the seats to recoup their investment. Up on the movie screen, the only stories that can be told are the big ones, the ones that guarantee action sequences and an excuse for big special effects. You have to have space battles and fight scenes.

And let’s face it, my Trekkie brethren and sistren: the movies weren’t as good as the TV shows when it comes to storytelling. Even the film Trekkies consider the best, Wrath of Khan, doesn’t come anywhere near in story quality to City on the Edge of Forever.

But are the movies better spectacle? Of course they are. Writ bigger on the big screen, they have to be.

The TOS movies were always about how our Enterprise family was aging and dealing with remaining relevant — already the familiarity with the characters was muted by age and time. The TNG movies featured stories that were pale imitations of much better episodes, but already even that cast was beginning to age.

And then we come to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot, the most money Paramount had ever decided to spend on the franchise, and it paid off. It really was the first time a Trek movie had been done with the full financial backing of the studio (they were always looking at budgets cut to the bone on the films after The Motion Picture).

J.J.’s marching orders were to make the franchise appealing to a mass audience, to make it Star Wars size. And he succeeded. And to succeed, he had to do away with some of the elements that made Trek Trek… but we have to be honest, some of those elements were gone the moment Trek left the small screen in 1979. Tell me, which movie (short of TMP barely) was really about “seeking new life”?

J.J.’s Star Trek made more money, I’m told, on its opening day than the opening days of all the other Trek movies combined. Trek was suddenly mass appeal. Hardcore fans weren’t really happy about that, in the same way fans of indie bands aren’t happy when their favorite group suddenly comes up with a massive hit album. “They’re not as good now that they’ve sold out.”

Every big Trek film now follows a formula: Earth must be in direct jeopardy, there must be at least one huge space battle sequence, preferably several, and it must be filled with action and explosions. In other words, they have to all be summer blockbusters from now on.

All indications are that Star Trek Into Darkness more than fits the bill and is on its way to being a massive hit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. J.J. knows how to make a good summer action thriller, there’s no doubt about it. But is it really Star Trek? Probably not, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter who makes the movies, they won’t erase all the hours of great television that came before, hours that we can own or stream and re-watch to our hearts’ content.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of J.J. Abrams. I enjoy his version of Trek for what it is. They’re great action, have terrific special effects, and feature an extremely enjoyable cast – I especially like Chris Pine’s younger, brashier take on James T. Kirk. But I’m not suffering under any delusion that I’ll ever see “real” Star Trek up on the big screen.

It just wouldn’t fit.

Trek is dead. Long live Trek.

Trapped in a warp bubble of its own making

Interesting how it was the mostly undefined “warp drive” of the original 60s Star Trek that led one of the leading scientists in the field to develop theories about how it might work, and then his theories were incorporated into the warp drive of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 80s and 90s. It’s kind of like the ultimate “grandfather paradox” of time travel stories…

Warp speed, Scotty? It may actually be possible…

 

Moms, real and otherwise

I don’t have any pictures of my real mom.

And I hate the term “real mom.” It implies that my stepmom was not a real mom to me. She was. My dad and my stepmom supplied a far more stable home to me than my real mom was ever able to.

I don’t fault my mom for this. She did the best she could with the cards she was dealt, and the cards she was dealt gave her not just difficult circumstances, but abilities that weren’t always equal to the task, and weaknesses that many others don’t have to face, and people who don’t face those weaknesses often account themselves stronger than they really are.

So I don’t have any pictures of my real mom. Maybe that makes me a bad person, I don’t know. It doesn’t mean I didn’t love my mom, but I did know who she was, what her faults were, and some of what she felt she had to do to make it in a world that’s not always kind to the weak, not always forgiving of some of the mistakes she made.

My real mom is not with us anymore. Maybe this means she’s at peace. More likely than not she only exists now in the memories of her family and those who knew her. If there’s peace in that, she certainly deserves a portion. I think of her from time to time. And I have to confess, it’s usually with a little sadness that there weren’t more good memories. Oh, I know she loved me. I have absolutely no doubt about that. But past is past, and gone is gone, and it rushes away from us at warp speed, forever drowned out by the troubles of the present and the worries of the future.

But my stepmom is still with us. In the most difficult portion of my childhood and teenage years she was never less than kind, sweet, and understanding to me. I try to think back to a time or incident in which I was angry with or disappointed in her, but for the life of me, I can’t recall a single one. I’m sure I backtalked her a time or two, and I’ve had the occasional fight with my dad… but really… not that many. The single greatest gift my stepmom gave to me was a home and a household where there was so little drama that I can’t bring one overwrought scene to mind.

How many of you can say that about your childhood?

So damn straight my mom gets a phone call on Mother’s Day. I call her mom. I don’t call her stepmom. She showed me what it means to be gentle and kind and caring, and there aren’t nearly enough people like that in this world. If I believed in a god, I would ask him for only one favor: A few more like my mom, please.