Monday, December 5, 2016

Judge declares mistrial in Walter Scott shooting

Breaking News:

A judge declared a mistrial Monday afternoon in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man at the hands of a South Carolina former patrolman, after the jury said they could not come to a unanimous verdict.
In a statement read by Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, the jury said "We as the jury regret to inform the court" that they were unable to come "to a unanimous decision in the case of the state versus Michael Slager" after a day of questions and deliberation.
"The court therefore must declare a mistrial in this case and I so declare that is case is mistried," he said after the jury returned to the room and confirmed their decision.
Scott's mother, Judy Scott, gave an emotional statement after the verdict, saying she "knows justice will be served."
"God is my strength and I know without a doubt that he is a just God and injustice will not prevail," she said.
Scott added that "we have the federal trial and another trail to go — I'm just waiting on the lord, I'm going to rest in the lord."
"I don't care how it looks, it's not over — you all hear me — it's not over, until God says it's over," she said.
Scott family attorney Chris Stewart said the mistrial was a "missed opportunity to heal a lot of wounds in the country" and "to remind the good officers that put on that badge that they aren't Michael Slager."
"If you thought that we were going to come out here crying or weeping or weak, you don't know the Scott family. That was round one — we've got two more rounds to go," he said, adding that solicitor Scarlett Wilson planned to try the case again as soon as she could.
The jury had remained undecided — but not deadlocked — on Monday in the murder trial.
The defense in ex-patrolman Michael Slager's the five-week trial claimed that he feared for his life when 50-year-old Walter Scott got control of the officer's stun gun and pointed it at him.
But Scott was shot five times in the back while running from Slager during a routine traffic stop.
Slager was fired from the North Charleston police department after his confrontation with Scott on April 4, 2015 led to Scott's death.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren

You may have heard about this recent interview/discussion/confrontation between conservative media personality Tomi Lahren and Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Using both logic and gentle ridicule where appropriate Noah shot down most of Lahren's talking points. Although I think it's unlikely that Tomi Lahren will change her mind on anything anytime soon I think it's also important to engage and confront people who make bad arguments. One of the things which the right has done much more successfully than the left is to use telegenic seemingly friendly media spokeswomen and spokesmen to sell repulsive ideas. It's true that some of these people are indeed beyond redemption or aren't worth engaging because all they want to do is insult people. Debating your own humanity is a sucker's game. But sometimes people can be too quick to scream in outrage and cease debate when faced with ideas that challenge their mindset. This can be tempting; it's sometimes morally justified. There is no such thing as reasoned debate with a dedicated Nazi or someone who thinks slavery was a positive good. That person has made his decision. But to the extent that plenty of people on the right don't fall into those categories but still ascribe to "deplorable" ideas, as Hillary Clinton might put it, it is important for people on the other end of the political spectrum to engage in spirited debate and show people how and where they are wrong. Lies that go unchallenged can spread more quickly than one might think.

People, no matter their political beliefs, should not be able to get away with making stupid comparisons based on facile analysis. The Jewish Defense League is not the same as the SS. A man using violence to free himself from slavery is not the same as a man using violence to keep other men in slavery. And the Black Lives Matter movement is not the same as the KKK. There ought to be better understanding about what the KKK wants, their past and their ideology. Black Lives Matter is a decentralized reformist movement that wants police officers to stop wrongfully harassing, beating or killing black citizens. The KKK is an organization whose very reason for being was to harass, beat or kill black citizens. So despite what Lahren thinks, these things aren't the same. Obviously both Noah and Lahren benefit from the buzz around this but I thought it was interesting comparing Noah's generally calm mien with that of Roland Martin, who when recently debating someone similar, let his hostility and emotion get in the way of the points he was trying to make. Watch the video below.


Book Reviews: Monster

Monster
by A. Lee Martinez
This is a light hearted book about love, magic, and the possible end of existence as we know it. In this book magic is real, although most people don't realize it. There are three types of humans. The first group is the largest. These people don't believe in magic, don't understand it and if forced to deal with it will create for themselves a reality where magic doesn't exist. For these folks there is always a rational explanation for an odd event. If something magical happens in front of them their brain will create an alternate reason before wiping the event from their memory. The second group of people are slightly more magic-sensitive. They can believe in magic and under certain special circumstances can even use magic themselves. But like the first group they will generally forget supernatural events that occurred, though it might take a little longer for this to happen. They may go insane trying to remember magic. Some of these people spend their whole lives trying to grasp something they saw from the corner of their eye. But they never can quite see it. This is not a matter of hard work or training. It's something you either have or you don't. To paraphrase a snide book character, "You can't teach a monkey to drive a stick shift can you?" It's just genetics. The smallest group of humanity, and this group is indeed rare, is made up of those people who are not only aware of magic but are able to use it and interface with it without going insane or forgetting things that happened in order to save their own sanity. These people really do know what goes bump in the night and who the Boogeyman is. This group of people, despite their genetic ability to recognize or use magic, is otherwise like any other group of humans. They vary widely in their abilities, morals, motivation and intelligence. Monster is a man who falls into the third group. He runs his own pest control agency. This is a crypto-biological removal agency. Monster captures and removes such "mythical" beasts as griffins, centaurs, kraken, ogres, trolls, wendigo etc. Monster has a college degree in this field. However business is not great because of competition, intrusive licensing and regulation, and arduous post-grad training. And getting bit or stung by magical creatures can have unpleasant side effects.

When Judy, a slacker and night shift clerk at a Food Plus Mart, notices a yeti in the freezer eating all of the ice cream she calls Animal Control Services. Eventually Monster arrives. On his best day Monster is a sarcastic irritable smart mouth. This is not his best day. When Judy tells Monster that she doesn't think his plan to capture the yeti will work Monster's reply is swift and biting:
"Lady, I don't recall asking you what you thought. How about I leave the delicate art of stacking canned goods in decorative pyramids to you, and you leave the yeti wrangling to me?"

What is Obama's Legacy?

In ancient or medieval times (as well as in the 20th century) when a new king or queen took control, the previous ruler's closest relatives, friends, business associates or lovers would often make themselves scarce or even leave the country or kingdom. It could be hazardous to one's health to have a valid competing claim to the throne or to be seen as too friendly to the previous leader. If the new ruler was a paranoid, vindictive, vengeful sort who enjoyed nothing more than bullying people or eliminating perceived threats, he or she might kick off a set of purges. Sometimes the new ruler hated the old ruler so much he or she would forbid the populace from speaking the old ruler's name. If the new ruler was particularly egocentric, fame hungry and thorough he or she might order the elimination of the previous ruler's public works and the striking of the previous ruler's name and accomplishments from history books. Well we don't live in a society where the new President can go quite as far as the kings, queens, pharaohs and emperors of old. Barack Obama's name will live on despite the fact that he will turn over the Presidency to a man with whom he appears to share nothing but mutual disgust. But his accomplishments? That could be a different story. After Trump's inauguration the Republicans can kill ObamaCare, as they have threatened to do many times. President's Obama's executive actions or agency decisions on climate change, immigration and wage policy will all be under the gun. The Iran nuclear deal may be tossed or greatly modified. What is done with a pen and a phone may often be undone with a pen and a phone. Much of President's Obama's legislative or executive achievement could wind up like that puppy dropped off at a shelter by a bored callous family. There's a new sheriff in town, one with rather different priorities. But all may not be lost. A President Trump may well value policy continuity more than we realize. Some Obama initiatives are popular with anti-Obama voters as long as they don't know Obama was behind them. And Trump's cabinet looks as if it will have many of the same banker fat cats he excoriated Clinton for befriending. We'll have to wait to see what actions newly empowered Republicans take under President Trump. President Obama entered office with support from anti-war and pro-civil liberties voters but wound up continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while siding rather forcefully with the national security establishment on whistle blowing cases, domestic spying and surveillance. 

The Presidency gives you a different perspective on things, or at least it should. On the other hand the awesome power of the position can enable someone's worst instincts. I am still amazed that someone who throws temper tantrums on twitter will have nuclear launch codes but life is very strange.


What do you think will be Obama's legacy?


What will you miss (or not miss) about Obama?


What worries you (or excites you) about Trump?

Family Abandons Dog For Dumb Reason

Depending on what sort of dog you purchase or adopt you are looking at taking care of another living being for anywhere from six to sixteen years, give or take. The dog didn't make the decision to come live with you. You did. So why in the world would you break a commitment to an animal that if it's known for anything at all is known for its unbreakable loyalty? That stinks. But the world is full of callous people who can't be bothered to do proper research on what sort of pet they want or even if they are pet people in the first place. Fortunately in this instance it appears that the dog in this story wound up better off. Certainly that is no thanks to its previous family.  People should think things through more carefully before they decide to have a pet live with them. Pets aren't toys to be casually discarded when you lose interest. On Monday, Desi Lara, a shelter volunteer at the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control Downey, posted a video that will absolutely destroy you. It shows a 2-year-old German Shepherd named Zuzu, who was picked up by Animal Control after getting loose and hopping the fence into her neighbor's yard. When her family arrived at the shelter shortly after, Zuzu got super excited, thinking they had come to take her home. "With her fast wagging tail seeing her owners Zuzu lit up like a Christmas Tree," Lara wrote in the caption. "She looked like the happiest dog."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#WhiteisRight: White Skin, Black Bodies

SuperModel Tyra Banks posed in "white face" in 2013
to honor other Supermodels during New York Fashion Week
and the internet had a fit.
One of the biggests issues I've had with the results, or the outcome rather, of the Presidential election is not that Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, but that Michelle Obama will no longer be First Lady. For the last eight years FLOTUS has been the epitome of beauty, grace, and class; slaying in all four of her VOGUE covers. She may not have created #blackgirlmagic but she's exemplified the phenomenon since she first came on the National scene as the wife of an Illinois Senator who stole the show at the 2004 DNC. I lament daily on the impending absence of FLOTUS from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. These lamentations then turn to shudders when I think about her replacement. Melania Trump. The third wife of President-Elect Donald Trump, a Slovenian immigrant, model, who posed nude in British GQ. But hey ... you know ... white ... or white adjacent (that means you Tila Tequila) is always right. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Electoral College Fallout

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election there has been a lot of noise coming from both traditional and social media about the fact that Clinton won the popular vote. When I first considered writing this post Clinton's popular vote margin lead was somewhere between 1 and 2 million votes. Now her popular vote victory margin is above 2 million votes. There are a lot of stories, gifs and memes being passed around about this news. I think about half the people on my Facebook feed have posted something about this information. I guess they wanted to make sure that I knew about it. The obvious implications are (1) that Clinton really won the election (2) that the Electoral College is unfair (3) Trump will be illegitimate as President. Some people are calling for the electors to change their votes because they see Donald Trump as uniquely dangerous and unqualified. Other people are threatening some electors with violence if the electors don't do the right thing and vote Clinton. I've been clear that I don't like Trump. But the implication that Trump is illegitimate because he lost the popular vote is not correct. In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected with only 43% of the popular vote, not a majority. Bill Clinton had more support than each of the other candidates but it's also true that most voters chose someone else. But that's irrelevant. Hillary Clinton and her supporters knew the rules of the contest before November 8th. We have 51 separate popular vote elections which then determine electors. It's not as if we were going to use the national popular vote to decide but Trump changed the rules at the last minute. Ironically before the election it was Trump who was petulantly making noises about the election being rigged and Clinton bannermen who were responding with scorn. We talked about the "faithless elector" issue here.

We don't choose the President by the national popular vote. We choose the President by who receives the most electoral votes. The popular vote and electoral vote normally line up together (just like points scored and total yards in a football game) but when they don't it's the electoral vote which is key.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Take, Law Abiding Citizen

The Take (aka Bastille Day)
directed by James Watkins
Stringer Bell and Robb Stark team up only to discover that they're probably better off apart.
This is another action film that continues the practice of using British actors in American roles. Some people (Idris Elba) can pull this off pretty seamlessly; others really ought to stop. There's not in my opinion, in most European based stories a compelling reason why a protagonist needs to be American. Done properly Americans will line up eagerly for films or series with European national protagonists (James Bond, Downton Abbey or Harry Potter anyone) -especially British ones. So why continue this practice of forcing British actors to try to take on American accents. Some of them just can't or even when they can are already so thoroughly identified with roles reflecting their own nationality that seeing them trying to pretend to be American immediately takes me out of the fictional story. Well whatever. You may feel differently of course. Acting is about new challenges and pretending to be someone else after all. The Take is a solidly made but altogether generic action movie that never quite lives up to the hype generated by the two male lead actors. It also suffers from not having a strong female lead. I don't mean strong as in physically or verbally combative. I mean that the lead women characters don't really have a lot of motivation on their own or for that matter have much meaning to the lead male characters. They could have been played by anyone. They didn't have a lot to do. There is a a small but noticeable lack of chemistry between the men and women. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot was left on the cutting floor with at least one of the women characters. When the women are in danger I didn't feel anything other than "ho-hum". This is probably not a good thing. And for goodness sakes, when someone casually tells you "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. By the way did you tell anyone else about this?", the correct answer is always "Why yes. Yes I did. I told everyone and shared my itinerary with them as well!"

Book Reviews: Chaingang

Chaingang
By Rex Miller
I reviewed one of the late Rex Miller's books before here. He was not an author for the faint of heart as the saying goes. He was writing deliberately shocking ultraviolence before similar modern artists like Tarantino did the same on the movie screen. Like Stephen King Miller could cheerfully go for the grossout but he didn't have quite the same gift at creating believable human characters that stuck with you after the book had finished. No one is perfect of course. Miller's most memorable character was one Daniel Edward Flowers Bunkowski. He introduced this character in an earlier book Slob, in which it appeared that the hero, Detective Jack Eichord, put an end to Bunkowski aka Chaingang. But much like with Arthur Conan Doyle bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the dead, Miller evidently had more stories to tell about old Chaingang. The book Chaingang takes place in the early nineties. The title character is a serial killer. But he's not your run of the mill serial killer. He's a man who stands 6'7" and weighs close to 500 lbs. A Vietnam War vet, Bunkowski served as a special assassin for the government on various classified black jobs throughout Southeast Asia. Both before and after his government service he has killed so many people that he's lost count. He's extremely dangerous, not just because of his size, strength and sheer malevolence towards all humanity but because his intelligence is off the charts. He's able to use more of his brain than most people and maintain conscious control over functions that are automatic for most of us. His abilities to detect and anticipate danger verge on the supernatural. Bunkowski's brain is a literal library; his memory is massive. The kinds of activities Bunkowski thinks of as fun are things I won't mention here. Bunkowski's only saving grace is that he has a soft spot for animals in general and dogs in particular. Bunkowski grew up under horrific sexual and physical abuse from his foster parents. Bunkowski's only childhood friend was a dog who similarly suffered. At the book's beginning Bunkowski is detained at the Marion Federal Prison. For reasons that line up exactly with some of the real world evil our government has committed for the so called greater good, Bunkowski is released in the vicinity of a small Missouri town. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Trump: Now What?

So Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Imagine that. I didn't think he would pull it off but he did just that. To the extent that you are worried about what a Trump Presidency could accomplish in a wholly negative sense I share those concerns. But I would also question then why should any President have that much power. Since at least WW2 there has been an accelerating bipartisan tendency to concentrate power in the Presidency. People only seem to care about this when it's not their guy in the Big Chair. That is unfortunately just human nature. If people thought about this some more they then might discover that that is one of the exact reasons why the Founders created a form of government where power was split between several competing and independent branches. From my perspective the silver lining in an otherwise gloomy prospect of a Trump Presidency is that perhaps some people on the left will rediscover a fierce commitment to separation of powers, federalism, a Senate filibuster and states rights. It's surreal that before the election people in the media and on the left were warning Trump supporters that they needed to accept the results. Now some Clinton supporters are writing about the need to secede from the nation. This is real. Papers have been filed.

Before the election people in favor of "immigration reform" were smugly reminding opponents that states and municipalities didn't get to make their own immigration law. Only the Federal government could create and enforce immigration law. And if the Federal government didn't want to enforce a particular immigration law there wasn't anything a state or city could do about it. Immigration was Federal policy. We couldn't have fifty states and thousands of cities creating immigration policy. But now some people who said that have seamlessly switched their view and are stating flatly that federal law or not, their particular city or state will resist any enforcement of immigration law that leads to deportation of illegal immigrants. So much for that whole federal supremacy idea, eh? We have people on the left endorsing what amounts to nullification! Apparently people, despite their partisan divides, aren't quite as different as they may think. It's ironic that it took Trump's election to bring that out.

Rutgers Incident: Keep Your Hands to Yourself!!!

I don't understand why it is so difficult for some people to understand that if you go around hitting people you will eventually run into someone who will hit you back. Fighting should be your last resort. It should only be done in self-defense. Although I can appreciate that certain insults can make a man or in this case a woman feel that honor requires them to lay hands on someone I would remind people that when you get into a fight with someone--especially when you start it--you're essentially signing up for whatever comes next. I think it's an utter obscenity for men and women to fight-whether it be in a domestic violence context or in a street brawl as in this case. There used to be an understanding in society that gentlemen did not hurl sexual assaults at ladies and that ladies did not attempt to fight gentlemen. Unfortunately many of those conventions have been lost with our insistence on equality as the highest and only good. Equality is necessary but it is not the whole of human experience. But in a country that insists upon placing women in combat is there any reason to be upset at this situation? I think there probably is though as a society we no longer have the vocabulary to explain why. So all I can say is morals aside, from a strictly pragmatic POV, this is why it is a very bad idea for most women to start a fight against most men. The difference in strength, speed and endurance is too great. And the law apparently doesn't protect people who start fights, regardless of their gender, even if they do wind up with a cracked skull.
No charges will be filed against the man caught slugging Emily Rand in the face with a right hook so hard that she was knocked unconscious when her head hit the sidewalk. “We’ve finished our investigation and interviewed the individual you see in the video, as well as a lot of other people. At this time there’s not going to be any arrests or any charges,” New Brunswick Police Capt. J.T. Miller told New Jersey 101.5 of the incident that took place around 1 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. “It’s a mutually exclusive fight between the individuals.”

The incident was captured on video, which was posted online.

Miller said that the 19-year-old Middlesex County College student from South Amboy struck the man first and “there is evidence that she was aggressive towards other people before the video starts.”
Other people involved with the video do not want to pursue charges against Rand, according to Miller, who did not disclose the identity of the man. Rand has been at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center and was in a coma following skull surgery to relieve pressure in her swollen brain. Her aunt, Debbie O’Connor, said Rand has started to breathe on her own this week and will soon begin physical therapy.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Movie Reviews: Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year
directed by James DeMonaco
If I had known that Mykelti Williamson played a prominent role in this movie I probably would have skipped it. Everyone has to eat I guess but something about many of Williamson's roles just rubs me the wrong way. If you're looking for a black actor to spout some cringe worthy dialogue then Williamson's your man. I've always looked a little askance at him since his turn in Species 2 where he grabs a machete and says he wants "...to get African on some alien a$$" (and where coincidentally he's the only male human the sex hungry female alien has no desire to mate with). In the latest Purge installment Williamson's character is basically the Wise Old Negro who serves no real purpose except to provide service to other (non-black) people. He gets to have wonderful dialogue like saying that his team is like "a bucket of fried chicken about to be attacked by hungry negroes" or telling other black people that he "likes these white folks so I'm not going to let you negroes kill them". Hmm. We all have different things that annoy us I guess but a lot of the dialogue and assumptions in this movie seemed more than a little reactionary to me. Williamson is not exactly a desperate young actor who's willing to take any role to get his name out there so he can stop living in a studio apartment. I would have thought that a black actor with his success could have requested some script changes but who knows. His sensitivities are not mine. Ultimately it's all just pretend fun and games, right? Anyhow my hangups aside The Purge: Election Year is not a great movie, either in execution or in the meaning behind it. It's heavy handed and over the top. Every now and then there is a good scene but usually it's something that viewers have seen before, whether it be from Death Wish or strangely enough Jaws. If you are a person who is sickened by cinematic violence then this probably isn't the film for you. It's not super explicit but it does have more than its share of mayhem. But as this is the third installment in this series most of us have figured out by now that there's bloodshed in this film.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Night SNL Skit

President Trump. Wow. Depending on the vagaries of the Day Job and the insistent demands of merciless supervisors there might be other more detailed and substantive posts on the election results, political parties and what all of this means at a later time, but for now I did want to put this out there for your consumption. I thought it was humorous. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Reviews: Bad Guys, Red, Here There Be Monsters

Bad Guys
by Anthony Bruno
This novel was the debut fiction offering of now deceased true crime and mystery author Anthony Bruno. It is also first in a series. It was pretty quick reading with very little fat. I did find it a little over descriptive at times but on the other hand Bruno was able to bring you into a story which had only a few well drawn characters. Everyone else was more of a stock type in some aspects. But Bruno did make you feel like you were actually in the New York and New Jersey neighborhoods which he described in such detail. This book was just under 300 pages in paperback and can likely be found in any of your better used bookstores. It's set in the eighties so some of the references (pay phones, slow computers, video cassettes) can feel a little dated. The story is something that you've read a million times before -two cops who are wildly different in both morals and personality must work together to bring down a bad guy. The difference here is that one of the cops may be the real bad guy. This book tries and I think succeeds in having it both ways. It definitely doesn't make heroes out of the organized crime people who are the book's primary antagonists. There's no love for any of the mafiosi, who are depicted here as uniformly greedy, corrupt and personally dangerous. On the other hand the younger protagonist is indeed breaking the law. The fact that he's an FBI agent who values doing what's right more than he values upholding the law can leave the reader feeling a bit conflicted, which presumably was the author's intent in creating the character. It's the 80's and one Richie Varga, counselor to at least three New York based crime families has provided evidence and testified against his former bosses, helping to sentence them to life terms and destroying large portions of the East Coast Mafia. Varga has since disappeared into the Witness Protection Program. But word on the street is that Varga is also the man responsible for the grisly murder of three undercover FBI agents, although no one can prove it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Night 2016

As polls are closing around the country, we're here keeping track in real time on this election night, Tuesday, November 8, 2016. (See comments below)

For the record, 538.com has the following probabilities of victory as of this posting for the battleground states (from West to East):

Nevada - Hillary 58.3%, Trump 41.7%
Arizona - Trump 6.6%, Hillary 33.4%
Colorado - Hillary 77.5%, Trump 22.4%
Iowa - Trump 69.8%, Hillary 30.2%
Michigan - Hillary 78.9, Trump 21.1%
Ohio - Trump 64.6%, Hillary 35.4%
Florida - Hillary 55.1%, Trump 44.9%
North Carolina -  Hillary 55.5%, Trump 44.5%
Virginia -  Hillary 85.5%, Trump 14.5%
Pennsylvania - Hillary 77.0%, Trump 23.0%
New Hampshire - Hillary 69.8%, Trump 30.2%

If you plug those in, 538's map looks like this:


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com


We may be in for a long night, or a quick one.  Make your comments below...