Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Reviews: Waking Up Screaming

Waking Up Screaming
by H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft was probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th century. His influence has touched people as disparate as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, and many many more. Despite his posthumous fame, Lovecraft made very little money during his life. None of his books was ever published during his lifetime. His primary source of income was writing for pulp magazines, which paid little and not regularly. Lovecraft died of cancer, though the poverty derived starvation may have gotten him first. Lovecraft's primary work was done in short stories though he also created a few novellas and novels. Calling Lovecraft a horror novelist is far too limiting. Probably it is more accurate to call him a creator of weird fiction. Horror, sci-fi and just strange goings on all are found in all of his stories. Lovecraft was a peculiar man who professed to be indifferent to sex. His ex-wife famously said that Lovecraft was "adequate" in the boudoir. Also, even for his time and social/gender group Lovecraft was extremely racist. Just being around those he considered to be his biological and social inferiors could leave him in a quivering rage. So those elements occasionally came through in his stories. Heck some scholars believe that those personal failings are what drove and inspired Lovecraft. You can either deal with that or not. Beautiful flowers can grow from some ugly s***. Women are rarely found in Lovecraft's fictional creations and never as protagonists. Non-whites?  The less said about that the better I think. Let's move along. Anyhow, Waking Up Screaming is (mostly) a collection of Lovecraft's short stories which is tilted towards his early period. If you haven't ever read anything by Lovecraft before this could be a good place to satisfy your curiosity. He had a very distinctive prose style, one that is extremely descriptive, too much so at times. Lovecraft never met an adjective or adverb he didn't like. And the more out of the ordinary or antiquated the word was the more likely Lovecraft was to use it. Lovecraft was, as mentioned, something of a reactionary who thought that the US might have made a mistake separating from the United Kingdom. Lovecraft was a big fan of the 18th century and no doubt would have been happier living during that time.  What Lovecraft didn't like in his writing was dialogue. This can make his writing hard to get through at times. A great many of his protagonists are men such as Lovecraft saw himself, sensitive souls who may go mad when they discover or are forced to confront some other dimensional horror or worse some secret from their past.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fun and Games in Michigan: False Accusations and No Nonsense Judges

It shouldn't matter but because people often jump to conclusions based on misunderstanding or disliking an argument I would like to point out that I do know people who have been sexually assaulted or molested. It's a horrible crime, almost as bad as murder. As we recently noted the seriousness of sexual assault shouldn't be minimized. But in a time where people are judging movies by what crimes their directors were acquitted of or trying to decide if a Presidential candidate assaulted women, it is important to remember that although we don't like to admit it, some women really do lie about sexual assault. There is debate as to how frequently this occurs. Most reputable studies suggest that only a small percentage of accusations are ever proven to be false. Just because some women lie doesn't mean most women do. In this recent story Leiha Artman lied about being raped and kidnapped. The lie was evidently detected before someone was arrested, charged and convicted. So from what I can tell right now no unfortunate soul who "fit the description" was hauled into court based on Artman's lies. Contrary to the current zeitgeist, women are just as capable of immoral behavior as men are. Just because someone makes a charge doesn't mean that the charge is true. If someone denies a charge or vigorously defends himself we can't assume his actions indicate hatred of women or promotion of rape. Our justice system hinges on the idea that the burden of proof is on the person making the accusation. No one is entitled to be believed automatically without evidence. There are all sorts of reasons someone would lie about being the victim of a horrible crime. To reach the truth it's imperative that the hypothesis that a crime was committed be challenged, tested, poked and prodded. Nothing is perfect. There will be some guilty people who go free and some innocent people who go to jail or prison. In some cases we'll never know what happened. And beyond reasonable doubt doesn't mean beyond all doubt. But ideally our system is designed to minimize the number of innocent people who are convicted. I am glad that in this case the criminal is going to jail. If anything I think her sentence is too light. She could have gotten six years. I definitely would want to give her a sentence that would impress upon her the wrongness of her actions.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

This is a favorite poem of mine. William Ernest Henley wrote this poem in 1875 when thanks to tuberculosis he had to have one leg amputated. He narrowly avoided losing his remaining leg. So, presumably as a way to avoid saying "why me?" for the rest of his life (Henley lived another 28 years after the amputation), he wrote this poem. It wasn't the only work he ever did but it was his best known work. It's something that has touched people who are motivated by good (Mandela) and evil (Timothy McVeigh). The bottom line is that we all have to make our own decisions in life. And no matter what happens in life we have to keep on going. Though this poem has a grim determination to it I don't think you have to lose a leg, spend 27 years unjustly imprisoned, or blow up a government building to find inspiration in these words. There's nothing guaranteed to us in life so there's no point in crying about your losses. You might as well get up when you get knocked down. After all what else are you going to do? The important thing to remember is that each of us gets to make our own moral choices. You should never let anyone warp or remove your moral barometer. 

Ben Carson Puts His Foot In His Mouth Defending Trump

Let's say you're a campaign surrogate. If people are constructing what you believe is a false narrative around your candidate you must defend your candidate in a way that destroys that narrative. If your candidate is accused of hating black people you can't dismiss that narrative by saying "My candidate loves the darkies! And you won't find a n*****r that says otherwise!" So if your candidate is accused of behaving nastily towards women it's probably not a good idea for the campaign to send out a surrogate who's going to fight with women media figures and ask the male tv host if he would turn off the women's microphones or put a plug in their mouths. Just saying. I don't believe that if you think that a woman is being unfair, rude or dishonest that you need to accept her behavior or her premises. Not at all. In the media Octagon everyone is fair game. But there is a rather large range of verbal choices between "Here's why you're wrong Miss So-n-So" and "Someone shut this witch up so I can speak, dammit!" Unfortunately Trump campaign loony surrogate Dr. Ben Carson, showing more aggression on behalf of Trump than he ever did for his own Presidential candidacy, probably did more on MSNBC to advance the idea that Trump did some of the things of which he is accused than convince people that Trump was falsely accused. Dr. Carson was an enormously skilled neurosurgeon but he has poor political instincts. Having Carson defending you or explaining away accusations against you doesn't work. He's like a fireman who tries to extinguish a fire with gasoline. Trump is verbally pugnacious and belligerent. Carson seems to have picked up his new friend's traits. But you need to understand when, where and how to fight. If you don't get that, as Carson and Trump apparently don't, you run the risk of turning off Republican women who would otherwise vote for you. When you're baited into saying that it doesn't matter if Trump's accusers are telling the truth you probably should stop and review your moves to see how you wound saying something so stupid. Because you're not serving your candidate's interests. You're serving his rival's interests. 

Book Reviews: When The Thrill Is Gone, Assassin's Code

When The Thrill Is Gone
by Walter Mosley
When I call from work and the phone is busy/I never never never ask who was on the line
When I get home late she don't ask any questions/Cause she's got her thing going on and you know I got mine - One Big Unhappy Family Isaac Hayes
This Leonid McGill mystery novel reminded me of the above Isaac Hayes song about a married couple who stay together for some bad reasons. The book's title references the title of one of B.B. King's best known songs. That song tells the story of a man who informs his woman that her magic doesn't work on him any more. Although he's hurt by her infidelity and will be lonely without her he's leaving for good. In Mosley's book there's a great sense of weariness that the protagonist, a private eye trying with varying degrees of success to live a moral life, expresses. Leonid is thinking a lot about his deceased father. Leonid is constantly remembering things that his father told him and weighing them against how the world really works. Even though Leonid has stayed married to his beautiful blonde middle aged wife Katrina it's an open question as to why. Leonid tells himself that he stays with Katrina for the children but that's probably no longer true. The children, only one of whom is biologically Leonid's, are certainly old enough to realize that their mother and father don't have a happy marriage. Leonid knows that Katrina has taken up with a new man, someone who is only a few years older than her oldest son. Leonid even suspects that Katrina might be using some of the children to cover up her dalliances. Leonid might view his indulgence for Katrina's infidelity as well deserved punishment for his past evil acts. He might turn a blind eye to her running around because being old, short and stout he could struggle to find a woman of Katrina's beauty. Or most likely Leonid doesn't care about Katrina's cheating because Leonid has his own extra-marital interests, most notably his on-again off-again girlfriend/friend with benefits/muse Aura. Regardless of his disconnect with Katrina, who paradoxically is very friendly with Leonid now that another mule is kicking in her stall, Leonid still wants to protect his family. His biological son Dmitri is pining for a foreign femme fatale. Leonid's favorite son, Twill, is getting involved in less than legit activities. Leonid tries to keep an eye on him but Twill is elusive. Twill may not share any DNA with Leonid but Twill definitely has his "father's" ability to shade the truth, keep numerous plans in the air all at once, manipulate people to his advantage, play rough if need be and avoid direct answers whenever possible. If he didn't worry about Twill so doggone much Leonid might admire him more. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Let's Talk About Sexual Assault Baby

The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the ugliest campaigns in history.  On my commute this morning, all my favorite radio stations covered the latest attacks and zingers aimed at both candidates.  In fact, many news agencies are referring to this election as the "Scorched Earth" election based on the sheer levels of vitriol spewn at both candidates.  The  two campaigns are mired in the deep muckity muck, and clearly this won't end until the night of the election, at the earliest.  On one side you have Donald Trump, a candidate who has gone on the offensive after making his now-famous quip, where he heralds that because of his star power he can, "Grab [women] by the pussy."  On the other hand, you have Hillary Clinton, who as the wife of former President Bill Clinton, has had to deal with multiple accusations of sexual assault since he was governor of Arkansas.  Additionally, she has been criticized for her treatment of Bill's accusers.

In 2016, both campaigns have drawn their war lines.  Trump's campaign has made it clear that if more tapes or videos are released of him making crass statements about women, the personal attacks he shoots at Hillary will increase in severity.  Clinton's campaign is using surrogates (i.e., Michelle Obama) to slam her opponent and keep his treatment of women (according to them) on their minds for election day.   But going negative is always bad right?  Doesn't it hurt the campaigns and set our country back before the glaring eyes of the world?  Well....I'll answer that in a bit.

Of all the post debate polls pasted to the screen,  the ones I appreciate most are the ones measuring the public's reaction to negative comments made by candidates.  I don't believe I've ever seen a poll where viewers positively critiqued candidates that focus on negative attack ads.  There are even studies that measure the number of negative television and radio ads a candidate uses along with the public's response.  From what I've seen, the majority of the public doesn't like when candidates go negative.  So can we just conclude going negative is a bad thing for campaigns and move on?  Well, not so fast.  I think there's a silver lining in this election's negativity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Faithless Electors: Could Electors Defect and Conspire to Elect Who They Want?

The other day, I had a conversation with a few friends about the Electoral College.  We had a spirited discussion on this topic because my friend posed the question:  If a bunch of billionaires got together, could they conspire and create enough faithless electors to get their candidate in office?

Before I answer this question, let me give you a bit of background about the Electoral College and then a tad bit of facts about faithless electors.  Don't worry, I promise not to bore you.  Stay with me.

As you know,  those elected as members to the United States Electoral College promise to vote for the presidential or vice presidential candidate their state chooses in the popular vote.  Although ordinary citizens pull the lever for their candidate to occupy the White House, the elector's vote is the vote that actually counts toward the 270 required to elevate a candidate to the office of POTUS.

In most states, electors are chosen by political parties or that party's presidential nominee.  The chosen elector is generally a proven, committed, and faithful member of the party.   This is a safeguard to ensure the faithful vote of electors.  However, this safety mechanism fails to eliminate faithless electors, who are members of the Electoral College that either vote against or abstain from voting for their party's chosen candidate.  

Since the beginning of the electoral college, there have only been 157 instances of faithless voting.  Read here for more information.  Surprisingly, there has never been an instance where faithless electors have affected a presidential race.  There was, however, one close call.  It happened in the election of 1836 where 23 Virginian electors went against the grain and abstained from voting because their vice presidential candidate, Richard Johnson, openly admitted dating his black slave.  This action forced the vote for the office of the vice president to be decided by the Senate, who selected Johnson anyway.  Crisis averted.  Other faithless electors flipped their vote because of their candidate's death or to make a political point.

Ok enough background (I told you I wouldn't bore you), now let's get to the answer.  Again, could a bunch of affluent conspirators gather enough faithless electors and change the course of an election?  My answer may surprise you.  See it after the jump.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Birth of a Nation" Tumbles at the Box Office: The Only Person to Blame is Nate Parker!

"Birth of a Nation" the biopic recapping the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, opened on Friday, October 7th with much anticipation and intense scrutiny. The film set records back in January, when Fox Searchlight paid a whopping record breaking $17.5M for distribution rights. Fox Searchlight made a major bet on Nate Parker and this film. Let's get the full picture so that we understand the depth of this bet that Fox Searchlight took on Nate...

According the Vanity Fair:
Fox Searchlight has a long history with Sundance acquisitions that, like any other company’s, is a bit checkered; they paid $10 million for Little Miss Sunshine at the 2006 festival and went on to turn that film into a summer box office hit and a best picture Oscar nominee. They also paid $12 million last year, at the time a Sundance record, for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the most buzzed-about film of that festival that went on to anemic box office and virtually no awards season presence. Making films is hard; knowing how much to pay for films, and then putting them in front of audiences, is sometimes even harder.
So Fox Searchlight really needed a win here! I can recall reading reports in January shortly after the acquisition where people talked about the emotional time it was watching the movie at Sundance. The film received a standing ovation at the end. People couldn't stop talking about it. There was a bidding war that involved Netflix, Sony, and the Weinstein Company. Everyone wanted this film. However, Fox Searchlight won and they were banking on this film to deliver them not only financial returns, but major accolades. 

Okay so what went wrong? 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trump's Crude Talk About Women

The murder rate is rising. In a slowly improving economy the unemployment rate is ticking up. Russia just made a not so veiled threat against American armed forces in Syria. Another black man was shot dead by the police. The President's signature domestic achievement is undergoing an accelerating implosion, just as predicted here and here. Even the President himself admitted that ObamaCare needed some changes. More illegal immigrants have (allegedly) committed murder. The President, rebuffed twice(!) by the Supreme Court in his attempt to give illegal immigrants legal status and work permits, has nonetheless decided to suspend deportations for the latest round of illegal immigrants arriving from Central and South America (as long as they aren't Haitian). China continues to move forward on its claim to the entire South China Sea. Israel, despite literally unprecedented US financial and military assistance, continues its occupation and settlement of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. In short there are a LOT of things going on in the world which will impact the standing of the US as a nation and have effects for good or ill on the lives of US citizens. And yet the big news of the day is that in 2005 Donald Trump made some crude nasty profane comments about women that he wanted to sleep with or failed to sleep with. Some of these women were married at the time as was Trump. Here I should probably state again that although I'm not going to discuss which candidate I'm going to vote for it certainly won't be Donald Trump. I despise him. All the same I believe there are plenty of issues to discuss in the debates and among the electorate that are at least as important as what a horny slimeball said in a private conversation eleven years ago. Maybe it's just me but I am given to understand that when men are in all male environments their talk can often turn to women. Shocking I know. And though I have no way to independently verify this information I have heard that women in all female groups sometimes talk about men in a manner that is rather less than ladylike. Imagine that. If you are stunned or surprised by Trump's filthy talk then you haven't been paying attention to what sort of man he is. Does his talk disqualify him for the Presidency? The voters will decide. He certainly wouldn't be the first President to use that sort of language. I think the sort of people who are likely to vote for Trump have already made their peace with the fact that he is a boorish crude man who sees unrelated women primarily in terms of their attractiveness to him. They may not be worried about a President who wants to grab women by their (insert bad word). Apparently Trump's marriage vows were restraints on his wife's sex life, not his. This video is intended to hurt Trump with that group of college educated suburban Republican white women who aren't crazy about Clinton but don't like Trump's persona. Will this video close the door on Trump's candidacy. I don't think so. But it will drag the race even further into the gutter. But with Trump as a candidate could it be otherwise? If Trump is truly surprised that this sort of stuff is coming out it again shows that he's not very smart. Watch video below.

Movie Reviews: The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2
directed by James Wan
This movie is not really all that different from the first installment but in this case that is a good thing. If you have reached a saturation point for gratuitous violence and sex in horror movies then this film series is for you. Wan continues to show that you can scare people and more importantly tell a good story without constant blood flow and barely covered heaving mammaries. Not that there's anything wrong with those things of course. Obviously though the previous sentence assumes that you are a horror film fan. If you aren't a horror fan this movie might leave you cold. Even so it's nice to see a horror movie get solid actors/actresses like Farmiga and Wilson to play leads. Their presence and competence give the film a certain gravitas that too often eludes works in this genre. What are the things that scare us most? Among the top three are probably death, being alone and darkness. You could argue that the second item in that list is just a subset of the first in many aspects. Even the most introverted among us still needs some human contact. That's why solitary confinement is a punishment. And death is the cessation of our existence and the ending of human contact-at least on this plane of existence. What could be scarier than that? And as animals whose primary sense is vision, we find it disconcerting to be in complete darkness. The primary method by which we experience information no longer works. Our sense of what's real or not can be shaky. The Conjuring 2 uses all of these primal fears to tell a frightening story of haunting and possession.  You're alone in the dark and someone who is dead is talking to you. Sound like fun?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Reviews: The Bone Labyrinth

The Bone Labyrinth
By James Rollins
This is another installment in a series of thrillers but believe me when I tell you that it's really not necessary to have read the previous books. This book stands alone. I thought that the introduction and first few portions of the story were pretty enjoyable but that the story dragged in the middle. Because this was a very long book I felt that the story could have been cut rather dramatically without losing the good parts. If you like mysteries, thrillers and stories that feature ancient historical whodunit conspiracies this book is solid reading-for at least the first third of the book. The Bone Labyrinth reads as if Michael Crichton and Dan Brown sat down to write together. It's unusual in that instead of making the bad guys inhuman, Russian or Muslim the author draws upon his own unpleasant experiences in a Chinese zoo as well as some of the nastier aspects of Chinese culture to make some very mean Chinese villains. I didn't get any feel of serious xenophobia from this but of course YMMV. The villains aren't cartoon characters. However this is definitely not a book which will be made into a movie directed at Chinese audiences. Rollins doesn't mince words about his disdain for dictatorships with no respect for human rights or life. As the author writes in the book and has stated in real life, the US might want to rethink a university system that instead of concentrating on the education of American citizens, is awarding a sizable proportion of advanced science, math and engineering degrees to foreign nationals, particularly Chinese. This has the impact of funding our own economic and political competition as well as leaving ourselves needlessly vulnerable to various security risks both public and private. The author has also been a veterinarian. Throughout the story, Rollins provides sympathetic description of how animals and humans interact with each other. If you like animals there will be a great deal of tugging at your heart strings interspersed in this story. If you don't like animals or have a tendency to only see them as a means to an end then much of this book may seem a bit mawkish to you. All the same I think it is worthwhile to think about the millions of species who share the planet with us and what our responsibility is to them.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Detroit News Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson

The Detroit News is the primary conservative newspaper in the Southeast Michigan area. When The Detroit News endorses someone for President it endorses the Republican. This time it decided to endorse the Libertarian candidate for President, Gary Johnson. Now you can probably point out that most people don't decide whom to vote for based on recommendations by a newspaper's editorial board, particularly not a small regional paper such as The Detroit News. And you're probably right. Still the reason I thought this was worthy of note was that no matter who wins in November, the definition of conservative will be changing. The Detroit News editorial board members Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques list the first two (and presumably from their view the most important) reasons not to support Trump as immigration and trade. Johnson is in support of the TPP and is for virtual open borders to the US. Anyone who wants to come in to the US (and is not a criminal) should be able to come in as far as Finley and Jacques are concerned. These positions track well with the free-trade and big business types among conservatives but they are utterly unacceptable to many of the conservative voters who successfully made Trump the Republican nominee. There is a question as to whether the nation's definition is more important or earning money is more important. That is a deliberate reduction of some complex issues of course. And Trump, the consummate internationalist businessman, is hardly the paragon of America First which he portrays himself as before certain audiences. But nonetheless there is a divergence of interests between the nativist, nationalistic, and even racist types who do not privilege earning money over what they see as national or racial interest and those conservatives who are eager to expand trade, transfer capital and labor abroad and welcome different types of people into the US because they see money making opportunities. These differences can no longer be papered over. At this time, I still think Trump will lose the election but regardless of November's outcome the Republican party will not return to a point where the free-marketers get to run it without opposition. The blood-and-soil people are there. They're angry. They're not quiet about it. Going forward there is going to be more infighting about what it means to be a conservative in the US.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

So Who Won?

It's after midnight so I'm going to keep this brief.  During the first part of the debate, Donald Trump actually appeared like a serious Presidential candidate.  He was poised, he was on message, and he scored substantive points against Hillary Clinton on trade.  And for a moment, it looked like Trump was going to build upon his recent momentum in all of the polls with those on-the-fence Republicans and Independents who have been gravitating towards Trump.  And then it happened.  About 15-20 minutes into the 90 minute debate Hillary baited him about the loan he got from his dad to start his businesses, and from that moment forward he threw substance out the window and went on the defensive about himself.  In other words, Trump made it all about Trump.  It's important to note that this was deliberately done by the Clinton campaign.  They were hoping that they'd be able to turn Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and they succeeded.   

I think Fortune got it right here:
Trump arguably had his best moments in the opening section of the debate, which tends to be its most-watched portion. Drawing from his stump speech, he conjured an image of a blighted U.S., outsmarted by its trading partners and abused by its own companies. He promised, with his trademark bluster and imprecision, to get tough on those responsible at home and abroad. “We have to stop our jobs from leaving,” he said, dismissing Clinton as a member of the entrenched political class that’s presided over an economic hollowing-out.
Yet Clinton moved from the start to stick Trump in his softest spot: his business dealings. In her second answer, she explained their differing approaches to the economy as the product of their “different perspectives.” While she was raised in a middle-class family, she said, Trump started out in the real-estate business with $14 million in loans from father. Trump maintains he only received a small fraction of that amount, a key to his narrative about being self-made.
Trump took the bait, the first of several times that he allowed Clinton to provoke him with scripted digs that kept him on the defensive. She weaved into an answer about economic progress under President Obama, for example, a mention that Trump cheered the housing collapse at the time as an opportunity to turn a profit. And Trump chimed in: “That’s called business, by the way.” He deployed another self-defeating interruption as Clinton listed reasons Trump might be avoiding releasing his tax returns. “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes,” Clinton said. Trump, apparently confirming the charge, blurted, “That makes me smart.”
 And then Hillary dropped perhaps the most memorable line of the night:

"I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President."

Regarding the moderator, I think PoliticsUSA got it  right when they said:
Lester Holt – Holt did not allow either candidate to ramble, and where Trump was concerned, he pressed the Republican nominee on releasing his tax returns, dropped the facts on stop and frisk, and held both candidates on topic and to the clock.
There was a great deal of concern before the debate that Holt would allow Trump to run wild, or hold him to a lower standard than Hillary Clinton. The NBC Nightly News anchor was a fair moderator who relied on facts and set the standard for how moderators need to conduct themselves in future debates.
There was some rumblings that Holt essentially disappeared from the debate at times but I think for the most part he let the candidates go after each other, which is the role of a moderator.

The issue of race was also brought up and Trump took some fact checking from the moderator on the Birther issue:
LESTER HOLT (MODERATOR): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years, the president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You continued to tell the story and questioned the president's legitimacy in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, as recently as January. So, the question is what changed your mind?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, nobody was pressing it. Nobody was caring much about it. I figured you'd ask the question tonight, of course. But nobody was caring much about it, but I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.
HOLT: I'm sorry, I'm going to follow up -- I will let you respond to that, because there's a lot there, but we're talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans --
TRUMP: Well, I was very -- I say nothing. I say nothing because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before, I say nothing.
In sum, Trump will retain his core supporters after tonight but he did not do himself any favors with the on-the-fence Republicans or Independents who have been trending Trump in the past several weeks.  Indeed, early polls indicate that undecided voters who watched the debate trended towards Hillary by an overwhelming majority.  CNN conducted a small sample of 20 such undecided voters in the key battleground state of Florida and 18 of the 20 said that after watching the debate they now support Hillary over Trump.  Obviously 20 people is too small of a sample to represent the entire state of Florida, but it does tend to suggest that Hillary may have actually gained ground tonight whereas Trump likely lost it at a time where he needed those in-the-middle folks to get over the 50% mark in the key battle ground states that will ultimately decide the election. 

So who do you think won?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

First Presidential Debate: Trump vs. Clinton

Monday night, September 26, at 9 PM at Hofstra University, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for their first debate. The debate will run for approximately 90 minutes or so. I don't know that there are a whole bunch of undecided voters left out there but the latest polls show that the race is very close. I think for most viewers the debate will be more about trying to find some "gotcha" moment to rile up their base or confirm their own suspicions about their disfavored candidate. If you are convinced, as he has repeatedly shown in statements, that Donald Trump has no real understanding of foreign or domestic policy, constitutional framework or the workings of our government then I doubt the debate will do that much to change your mind. If you think that Hillary Clinton's theme song as she walks onto stage should be Ave Satani then no amount of displayed knowledge or executive command will serve to change your mind. Still, each candidate has weaknesses which the other will try to exploit. For Trump, as I've written before and everyone has noticed, it's his tendency to take everything personally and respond with ad hominem or in this case ad feminem attacks.This worked in the Republican primary debates because the Republican primary voters are highly unrepresentative of the larger electorate. Voting for Trump was a giant middle finger to the establishment from people who thought rightly or wrongly that they had been sold out by their country. They were looking for someone to hear their pain and give them someone to blame. Trump cannily exploited and amplified these fears to become the Republican nominee. But an angry numerically declining base which is already threatening violence and/or secession should Trump lose isn't enough to guarantee Trump victory. He has to convince more moderate Republicans, independents and a few conservative Democrats that he's not just a bully boy know-nothing with an out of control id. This debate is his first chance to do that. When Clinton attacks him will he deflect, defend and counterattack with facts or will he sneer and say "Look at that face!" ?

For Clinton this debate offers a chance to contrast her command of facts against someone who is pretty proud that he's mostly ignorant of relevant facts. Her job will be to bait Trump into swinging and missing. If Trump makes a few insane off the cuff statements Clinton can either skewer them on live tv in front of millions or just look at the camera and smirk. Clinton's weakness will be her involvement in foreign policy initiatives that haven't worked out well (Libya) and the fact that she's been around for so long. Many people do not like or trust her. There are millions of voters who aren't happy with the status quo. Clinton, despite being identified with the status quo, must convince those voters that Trump is a dangerous and even unacceptable alternative. I still haven't really heard Clinton express a compelling reason WHY she wants to be President. The debate should make for good television if nothing else. In my view it's too bad that one of these people will most likely be our next President. But that's the system in which we live.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Movie Reviews: Keanu, Blood Father, In A Lonely Place

directed by Peter Atencio
I didn't routinely watch the comedy sketch show Key and Peele when it was still running. Every now and then I would see something online by the show stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and remind myself that I probably needed to watch more of their work. Some of their comedy is really really good but much of it is just okay, nothing special. So when I heard that they were involved in writing and producing this movie, and that the film was directed by their former sketch show director, I watched it. Well the movie was just okay, nothing special. Meh. A theme which runs through Key and Peele's work as well as that of many black artists or creatives of all types is the surreal nature of race in America. In this particular case it's the expectations that people (and this includes all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality) can often have around black men or for that matter black boys. All of these stereotypes ultimately go back to slavery/colonialism/Jim Crow and may never really be rooted out. Rather than list them all here in gory detail it's probably safer to say that a great many people expect that most black men are hypermacho, supercool, and able to handle themselves physically in just about every situation. While these stereotypes can be embraced by blacks and used to individual advantage (most rap music over the past thirty years) they are more likely to be used by people outside the black community to black disadvantage (witness many black interactions with the police). So Key and Peele use the movie Keanu to investigate in a comedic way how silly these stereotypes are. They do this by simultaneously embracing and deconstructing the stereotypes. YMMV on how successful they were in doing this. This is stuff that goes back to Baraka's Dutchman and Ellison's Invisible Man. It was done better in those works. If the only way to succeed is to do the modern day equivalent of putting on blackface and tap dancing is that admirable? This isn't just a dry academic question. A black comedian referred to the black President with a racial slur. Many black people fell over themselves praising the comedian. Others passionately defended their right to call themselves racial slurs as unassailable proof of their racial bona fides. It's a strange, strange strange world in which we live.