Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Reviews: Mafia Prince

Mafia Prince
by Philip Leonetti with Scott Burstein
I'm not too familiar with current organized criminal activity in the Philadelphia-Atlantic City-South Jersey area but throughout the eighties and nineties this area was shared by at least seven different Italian-American criminal organizations: the five New York Families, a small moribund North Jersey Family and the Philadelphia Crime Family, which had a dominant presence in Philly and Atlantic City. Although Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti would personify a new brash breed of go-go eighties mobster, in fact he was preceded by his good friend Philadelphia Family Boss Nicky Scarfo. Scarfo's reign was extremely violent. Scarfo was apparently something of a paranoid press obsessed pint-sized psychopath whose dedication to violence and to preemptive murder turned many family members and associates against him, including his maternal nephew and later underboss, Phillip Leonetti. It's one thing to kill someone who has broken some widely accepted Mafia rules. It's something else again to kill someone's "civilian" relative or order murders of crew members for the tiniest of transgressions, real or imagined. Scarfo's reputation for violence initially increased the amount of money flowing into mob coffers but he enjoyed killing too much. He brought in too many people whose only skill sets were intimidation and murder. Blood costs money. The relevant state and federal law enforcement agencies made putting Scarfo behind bars a top priority. This book primarily describes Leonetti's relationship with his uncle and Scarfo's rise to and fall from power. There are some things revealed within that I didn't know. Philip Leonetti, or "Crazy Phil" as he was known on the streets, was an accomplished murderer in his own right. During a mob war his mere presence caused one man to commit suicide (FWIW Leonetti said he just wanted to talk to the man) It's not really possible to feel too much sympathy for him.  But unlike a mobster such as Kenji Gallo Leonetti doesn't seem to miss the old days of murder and mayhem. He's also pretty circumspect about the day to day business in which he was involved. We read about control of or influence in unions but not much about how it was established or how it works on a daily basis. It was usually maintained by threat of murder.

Music Reviews: Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly
by Puccini
For some reason I actually was more familiar with the gender bending remake M. Butterfly so it was good to recently see the original in the Detroit Opera House. The original story had much more in common with The Jerry Springer Show than with The Crying Game. When Madame Butterfly first came out it was considered to be quite trashy. So maybe a century from now people will think that Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and Wendy Williams are high art. You never know. I was actually surprised to feel some pathos while watching and listening to the opera, particularly during the tragic third act. While some people are able to become intimate with others and keep things on a even keel without serious commitment, other people who engage in the dance of life are like swans. They mate for life and expect their partner to do likewise. Many people think that these characteristics differ between genders but every individual is different. There are men who get one-itis and never ever get over their lost true love who rejected them in some horrible fashion. There are women who are quite comfortable using emotional or physical intimacy to extract things from men while never truly committing to any single man. But Madame Butterfly sticks with the more common and familiar tropes of gender expectations regarding which gender is more likely to have "love them and leave them" as a viable if not preferred option and which gender is more likely to stay up at night wondering if someone will call or have concerns about sexual intimacy occurring too soon. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Obama to Announce New Immigration Policy Tonight

To be sure, immigration has been a hotly contested issue in this country since the country's founding.  As the world has become more globally connected, it seems that America's comprehensive immigration system has become increasingly inadequate at realistically dealing with those millions who would join our nation, especially when you consider that many of those millions are already here.  Throughout the years, the United States has been forced to deal with this problem through the Executive Branch which is the branch of the federal government charged with executing the laws passed by Congress.  I've written on the legality of this Executive Power before.  In a nutshell, when Congress passes most of its laws, it purposely leaves room for the Executive Branch to use its "prosecutorial discretion" in implementing those laws through the Executive's own Code of Federal Regulations, which are rules written by the Executive Branch that spell out in greater detail how the Executive Branch plans to actually carry out the laws passed by Congress.  The reasoning behind this is simple: Congress, as the law making body, recognizes that the people who are actually on the ground executing the law every day are in the best position to know when discretion should be used.  This is why police officers are allowed to let you go "with a warning" when you've been pulled over for speeding or why a prosecutor is allowed to decide whether or not to bring charges against someone or cut them a deal.  It's all about prosecutorial discretion.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan used that same prosecutorial discretion to allow the children of people legalized under the 1986 immigration law to remain in the country.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush used his prosecutorial discretion to extended that same benefit to spouses.  So for all of the political posturing that has come about over President Obama's propose use of prosecutorial discretion, the United States Executive Branch has already established a precedent on this issue.  So what exactly is Obama proposing and is it different from what has been done in the past by other Presidents?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
I recently realized that I refer to this book quite a bit but somehow never got around to doing a review on it. This is a children's classic. I suppose as an adult you can go back to reread it, analyze it and find some adult issues crammed in the nooks and crannies but imo this is firmly written for children. If you have lost touch with your inner child or worse, crammed him or her into the closet, locked the door and thrown away the key I don't think that you would enjoy this story too much. Although it is written for children L'Engle did not write down to children. Children may not understand sex, lust, violence and death in the same way that adults do but moral concerns can be similar regardless if the question is whether you should commit adultery with your best friend's wife or whether you should make fun of your fellow kindergarten classmate because their parents can't afford to give them new clothes. A Wrinkle In Time is the first in a series, which grew in grandeur as the protagonists did and obviously brought in more adult themes as everyone grew older, married and endured loss. Nevertheless this book is complete in and of itself. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger or leave too many major questions unanswered. So I appreciated that way back when I originally read the book and I appreciate it now. Something else which bears mentioning is that the primary protagonist is female and on the verge of emotional/sexual maturity. That was pretty unusual for a sci-fi/fantasy book written back in the sixties. So if you're not female perhaps this book might give you an insight into the female mind? I can't call it. Of course you could use this for good or for bad, I guess. 
The book's most critical element is its rich and dense religious symbolism. Madeleine L'Engle  was a devout Episcopalian. Her overwhelming faith in God's love and the basic goodness of people were essential to most, if not all of her works and are obvious motifs in A Wrinkle In Time. However although religion in general and Christianity in particular are very important here, this book can be enjoyed by readers of any faith or by those with none at all. Unlike some other self-identified Christian writers ( C.S. Lewis), L'Engle did not beat the reader upside the head with allegory and metaphor. Well, at least not most of the time she didn't. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

F Train NYC Subway Slap

On a NYC subway train a young woman named Danay Howard, who verbally bullied a man and then physically assaulted him, had the taste slapped out of her mouth by the victim of her assault. Evidently the man, one Jorge Pena, got in touch with his inner Sean Connery. A brawl broke out. I don't think that anyone should be laying hands on anyone else in violence outside of self-defense. It's just not right. It means that rational communication has disappeared. The people involved have lost the ability to peacefully settle differences. So I'm opposed to all violence, whether it be initiated by men against women, women against women, men against men, or by women against men. Unfortunately some women have gotten the idea that they can hit or slap a man with both legal and physical impunity. This is, for most women, a very bad idea. It's especially stupid if the man is a modern fellow who thinks that a woman who strikes him should be treated the same as a man who strikes him. Why can't people see this? Putting gender aside you never know if the person that you've started "stuff" with just happens to be a MMA or amateur boxer who enjoys tuning up people just like you. You don't know if they're armed. You don't know what they would consider a fair and equivalent response to your force. They could operate under the belief that a brutal stompdown in exchange for your slap or push evens the scale. We've seen these sorts of incidents before. I don't know if they're becoming more common but it certainly seems like it. You have to know your lane and stay in it. If a man went around picking fights with other men who were about 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than he was, few people would shed tears when he routinely lost these fights.We might even say that the man is pretty freaking dumb. So should we feel pity for a woman who does the same thing? I don't. I feel pity for the woman for being so loud and aggressive. I don't know that I feel pity for her when she started something and got handled. I don't necessarily think we need to go back to 1940s social relationships between men and women but if you want men not to hit women then you must also teach women not to hit men. Because a woman can't step into the predominantly male arena of physical confrontation and still claim the protection of a lady. Life doesn't work that way. Nor should it.

Pena, Howard and two other people were arrested. Miss Howard got a felony assault charge for her troubles. This situation is another reason I avoid public transportation. Check out the video below.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lessons Learned: 2014 Midterm Post-Mortem

At the end of every Godfather movie there was a point when Michael Corleone's enemies, wrongly believing that the Corleone power was destroyed, learned the hard way that Michael's reach was long and that he had no use for mercy. Michael's antagonists never saw the purge coming. Although unlike the Corleone rivals, the White House and Democratic elected officials knew that a midterm defeat was likely, I don't think that they fully anticipated the depth and breadth of what went down. In fact, this was beyond even Corleone capacities. This was some Breaking Bad stuff. Across the country Democrats were shanked in the shower, thrown off balconies and beaten in the head with barbells. And only a few lived to tell the tale. This was a loss of historic, almost biblical proportions. The Republicans almost swept the field. There are more Republicans in the House of Representatives than any time since the 1920s. There will be 31 Republican governors. Republicans took back most of the South with a vengeance and made electoral gains in Midwest or Eastern states previously considered to be solid blue. Although Senator Landrieu of Louisiana survived to fight another day, the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is pulling funding for Louisiana political commercials suggests that they don't think her chances for reelection in a runoff are very good.

Whether you win or lose a contest you always reveal something about yourself. You should learn something that you didn't know before. What do I think that the Democrats should learn from this debacle? Well there are a number of things that ought to be, if not taken for gospel, given greater consideration by current or would be elected Democratic politicians.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Reviews: NOS4A2

by Joe Hill
The book's title is essentially a neological homophone for Nosferatu. It is also the license plate of the book's primary villain. Joe Hill dedicated this book to his mother. I guess that makes sense as the balance of the story is concerned with the love and special bond that a good mother has for her children and how she would go through hell to protect them. I don't know what it would be like to wake up one morning and suddenly have a completely different distribution of fat and muscle, different skeletal structure, be shorter, weigh less and have a sexuality which is suddenly flipped. I don't know what it would be like to be almost by definition much weaker than half of the population. In short I have no idea what it would be like to be a woman. The thing about good writers though, and Joe Hill is obviously among that population, is that they can very easily imagine and communicate such things. Writing from a different perspective or even being able to imagine life from a different perspective is pretty critical to creating good fiction. After all, our human similarities are much greater than our differences, even for something as fundamental to our existence as gender. Anyway, I thought that the heroine of the book and some other female characters were indeed realistic. The tense relationship between the book's primary protagonist and her mother reminded me of some folks I've known. Although some gender experiences are totally beyond the opposite gender's understanding, if you listen, watch, interact and think you can learn quite a bit about how men or women respond and react in general. But all the same I would be interested in knowing what real life women thought of these characters should they decide to read this book. Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. Obviously there is some of his father's voice and skill in what he writes. How could there not be. But he has his own voice and makes that quite clear in NOS4A2. The only things that reminded me of Stephen King were the facts that once I started this book I didn't want to stop and that Hill skillfully mixes the weird and frightening with the mundane. Storytelling is a skill that not every writer has. But Hill has it. Some authors bore you from almost the first page while others have you following them like children following the Pied Piper.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Rundown of All That's Happened This Week.......

I don't know about you, but this year can't come to an end quick enough. As you've probably noticed, life has taken over for most of us here on the team and we have little time to crack the nuts and bolts of our political climate. However, this week was pretty "epic" so i'm going to give a quick rundown and give my two cents.

1. The Republican's Are Now In Charge
Ehhhh! This is nothing really new and their senate wins on Tuesday were of no surprise to anyone. I'm actually glad it happened. Maybe this will force the Democrats to grow a damn back bone and learn how to play the game. This is not a time to play "Let's Point the Finger at President Obama." I was a bit checked out on this years midterms. I had to focus on the nonsense we were dealing with here in New York. However, on Tuesday I looked over some of the big Democratic loses and I couldn't help but to shake my head. Martha Coakley in Massachusetts and Charlie Christ in Florida to name a few. Who in the hell thought those were good ideas. Martha Coakley was an EPIC FAILURE in 2010 when she threw away a 25 point lead due to her laziness and self entitlement syndrome, delivering the senate race to an unknown underwear model by the name of Scott Brown. From speaking with a few folks in Massachusetts I understand that Coakley won a highly contested Democratic Primary Race. Still, why was she able to run and be taken seriously is beyond me. Right now, President Obama is on the news delivering his expected "I see room for bi-partisanship" speech. We can expect our do nothing congress to continue to do nothing. 

Majority Leaders McConnell - SMH.

2. Loretta Lynch Expected to be Named Next United States Attorney General

I'll have to rely on my fellow UP partners who are more versed in Senate rules to give guidance on how this vote will turn out. It was just announced that Loretta Lynch the current current United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York will be President Obama's pick to replace Eric Holder, as United States Attorney General. Ms. Lynch would be the first African-American woman to hold the post. I'm sure that Fox News is working feverously to come up with some good race baiting garbage on Ms. Lynch. In the meantime let's go with the feel good according to her wikipedia page. Ms. Lynch is 55-years old and a Haravard Law School Alum (look at those HLS Alums sticking together) and was already an Obama apointee. I'm not sure if she was confirmed by the senate or apart of the recess apointment scandal. Let me just say, I can't wait to watch her confirmation hearings on TV. This will be bigger than #TGIT

Detroit Squatters

Another squatter tried to take over a home in Detroit. I strongly suspect these events happen everywhere but they seem to happen more often in Detroit. All's well that ended well in this story but the fact remains that were it not for the local Fox station embarrassing the police department into doing its job this woman could have lost her home to the aggressive transsexual hoodlum. We talked about this squatters problem before in this post two years prior. I love the memory of my city. There are even today a lot of good people who live therein. Most people are good. Or rather most people don't have the audacity to think that they can just move into someone else's home without permission. But there are also a lot of people who view any sort of niceness as weakness and who are constantly on the lookout for weakness. Such people are the human equivalent of white sharks. Once they detect "blood in the water" so to speak, they attack. There have always been people like this and there always will be. That's not Detroit's problem. Detroit's problem is that people who behave like this are ever so slightly more numerous as a percentage of the population, perhaps because the authorities are overwhelmed with more serious crimes like rape, murder, assault, child abuse, and drug trafficking. So the authorities don't take crimes like this as seriously as they should. I mean we must set priorities, no?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Nov 4 Election US Senate: Democratic Disaster or Republican Rout?

According to Nate Silver's  538 forecast it appears that the Democrats are due for a solid thumping in the elections this Tuesday. The forecast currently predicts a 68.3% chance of Republicans winning the Senate. Most other forecasts I've seen suggest that it's a done deal that the Republicans keep the House and possibly even extend their majority there. A lot of the Republican likely electorate is said to be mad as hell and ready to grab the nearest baseball bat and (figuratively) beat the doggie doo out of any Democratic elected officials that they can find. Conservatives and perhaps Republicans are allegedly fired up to vote against the entire Democratic agenda. This could be why so many Democratic Senatorial candidates have done their best to keep President Obama at arm's length, with some even going to far as to refuse to confirm they voted for the man. Possibly having gotten all they can get out of the "war on women" rhetoric, the Democrats could be belatedly realizing that men also vote.  
Tuesday’s results, Mr. McInturff added, would tell “whether it is possible that the single-minded focus that most Democratic candidates attached to the ‘war on women’ meant they never conveyed an economic and jobs message that might have led a higher chunk of the persuadable male vote to vote Democrat.”

Republicans increasingly make that argument that Democrats miscalculated in their zeal to galvanize women who otherwise would not vote in a midterm election. Democrats counter that Republicans use the phrase “Republicans’ war on women” more than Democrats to stoke a backlash among older and married women who reject partisan, feminist-sounding rhetoric and lean Republican. Ms. Greenberg said Republicans were “deliberately misconstruing” Democrats’ legitimate attacks. Yet she and other Democratic strategists complain their party has not effectively espoused a broader economic agenda, when women tell pollsters their top concern is jobs and the economy.

Movie Reviews: John Wick, The Purge: Anarchy

John Wick
directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
What do you get when you combine actors from The Wire, The Matrix, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, The Warriors, Oz, The Boondock Saints, and Hanging with the Homeboys among others? Well you get John Wick, that's what you get.
This is a very good, very simple, very direct payback/revenge movie. It's no more than that nor does it try to be. So Keanu Reeves, who plays the titular character, actually has a role that plays to his strengths as an actor. Wick, who lost his wife to cancer, spends a great deal of the film in a fugue state of confusion, grief and anger. There's initially heavy emphasis on the confusion. There aren't many actors who can look confused better than Reeves can. It's virtually his default state of being. So how fortunate for him and for us that he was cast in this movie. There's very little fat in this film. It has a taut running time of around 100 minutes. There are a few predictable setpieces common to the genre with one or two exceptions these are mostly done well. And with a virtual who's who of character actors and "don't I know that guy/girl from somewhere appearances" any writing flaws are more than made up for by smooth performances. The camera work is excellent. It changes throughout the movie to help express Wick's feelings and experiences. I've learned that a horrible thing about getting older is that you attend more funerals. Some are just business affairs but when it's someone you loved the feelings of sadness, isolation and meaninglessness can be very strong. 

We are all indeed dust in the wind. The zooming crane shots at the funeral of John's wife (Bridget Moynahan) establish John's grief and make you feel it just as surely as the John Woo The Killer and Equilibrium inspired hyperactive camera work during the gunfights makes your blood pressure rise.

HBO Boardwalk Empire Series Finale

Evil, why have you engulfed so many hearts...Evil
Evil, why have you destroyed so many minds...
Leaving room for darkness, where lost dreams can hide..
Stevie Wonder-"Evil"
It’s nice to imagine that everyone is or would be outraged at sexual abuse of children and would do anything within the law or beyond it to prevent an adult from harming a child. We often chortle self-righteously at the imagined hell that a convicted child abuser suffers in prison. We'll say he (and men are the ones for whom most of our justified rage is held) is getting what he deserves. But that's just not reality. Adults often turn a blind eye to child abuse. Whether it's international cinema stars claiming that Roman Polanski really isn't that bad of a guy despite his rape of a thirteen year old girl, Hollywood or music industry producers and agents with casting couches for teen actors/actresses/musicians, R&B musicians like R. Kelly who hang around junior high school girls, Orthodox Jews in New York City trying to prevent other Jews from reporting Jewish pedophiles to non-Jews, men in Afghanistan with teen or even younger male concubines, Baptist Church choir directors with scores of teen male "assistants", the various Catholic Church scandals or the fact that so many different people in authority pretended not to know what Jerry Sandusky was up to at Penn State, there are plenty of people in all walks of life and among both genders who will ignore evil committed against children. Some will even assist. One moral cretin at Rutgers has the nerve to counsel us to find sympathy for pedophiles. The world is full of people who make peace with such evil. They can justify their decisions by pointing to a greater good (usually for themselves), claim that they could not commit career or literal suicide by taking a stand, whine that they don't really know what happened, claim the child was no virgin or provide any number of other excuses designed to kill a conscience. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Child Support Gone Wrong: Michigan Man Paying For Child That's Not His

Apart from extreme purist libertarians and anarchists, I think most people would concede that a certain level of government is necessary. However I also think that many people outside of devoted statists would also admit that government has become in some cases too large, too powerful and far too dismissive of individual rights. There have been some recent incidents which do remind me of the fact that a government which has too much power will inevitably seek to exercise that power in ways that harm all of us. Now we all may have our pet peeves and biases. That's part of being human. I may be more concerned about police brutality than you. You might be worried about arrogant and bullying EPA workers when they are not even on my radar screen. Someone else might have good reason to really dislike ICE workers. And so on. Government is made up of flawed men and women, like every other institution. It makes mistakes just like we do. That's ok. But what's not ok, is when government, which has the right and the power to put you in prison and take money from you, makes a mistake, admits it made a mistake but continues to treat you as if it didn't. Do you have an extra $30,000 lying around? Because if you don't you have something in common with one Mr. Carnell Alexander of Detroit, Michigan. He doesn't have that money either. But even he did he wouldn't pay it to the State of Michigan. The state claims he owes them that money for something he did not do. Read more and see the video below the fold.
DETROIT (WXYZ) - The State of Michigan is ordering a Detroit man to pay tens of thousands of dollars, or go to prison. The reason? He owes back child support for a child that everyone agrees is not his.  "I feel like I’m standing in front of a brick wall with nowhere to go," said Carnell Alexander. He says he learned about the paternity case against him during a traffic stop in Detroit in the early 90s. The officer told him he is a deadbeat dad, there was a warrant out for his arrest. 

“I knew I didn’t have a child, so I was kind of blown back,” said Alexander. The state said he fathered a child in 1987, and ignored a court order to pay up. It was the first Carnell had heard of the court order. He'd never even met the child. Eventually he, by chance, ran into someone he knew would know where the woman was, and got a DNA test. It proved what he had been saying all along: the child he had never met was not his.

The mother had realized that, and the real father was in the child's life. Alexander took this information to court. The judge was unmoved. Carnell's ex had a baby, and didn't know who the father was. She was struggling to care for the child. When she applied for state assistance, the case worker told her she had to name the father....

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bill Clinton tells President Obama to man up

Reality is a funny thing. It exists independently of our perceptions yet our perceptions are the only way in which we know reality. Our perceptions can color our "version" of reality. There are literally an infinite number of ways by which to generate the number 4. 2+2 = 4 is likely the first one that came to your mind. But let's say you work for a boss who who was taught to express the number 4 as the square root of 16. And let's say that is the only way which he permits anyone who works for him to express the number 4. His version of reality is accurate but it's not accurate to suggest that that is the ONLY version of reality. So just as in mathematics, in politics there are a number of competing and complementary narratives which all might describe reality yet look very different from each other. I suppose if someone had soundly beaten my wife, sister or other close female relative for something which she wanted very badly and yet asked for my help or her help shortly after doing so, my feelings for that man might best be described as complex. There is a Ben Harper song "Roses from my friends" which has the chorus "The stones from my enemies, these wounds will mend, but I cannot survive the roses from my friends". Former President Clinton may have shown how his version of reality differs from President Obama's while handing the President a thorn covered rose. Both in 2012 and in a recent interview with PBS, former President Clinton said that as far as personal attacks go, he's had it worse than President Obama even as he concedes that the partisan gridlock is worse today.
"Nobody's accused him [President Obama] of murder yet, as far as I know. I mean it was pretty rough back then. I think that most people underappreciate the level of extreme partisanship that took hold in '94."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Movie Reviews: Supernatural Season Seven, Dead Snow 2

Supernatural Season Seven
created by Eric Kripke
If Season Six was a bit iffy and a virtual series reboot Season Seven found the story back on more familiar ground. The Winchester Brothers are still doing what they do best, saving people, hunting things, you know, the family business. But this season there are two new extra dimensional threats, further challenges to the relationship between Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), and personal losses. While the show started with the Winchesters and their allies very firmly on the side of good, over time the series has subtly and not so subtly played with that perception. Both brothers have been to Hell and returned somewhat the worse for wear. Each of them did things or suffered things there that they don't want to talk about. Dean's arrogance can be matched by Sam's self-righteousness. Although the first reveal of angels, in the form of Castiel (Misha Collins) was awe inspiring and a reminder that pure good exists, later events showed us that although God might be omniscient, His angels certainly weren't. They were just as prone to bitterness, rivalries, jealousy and squabbling as humans were. The only difference was that angels played for higher stakes. By the end of Season Six the war between Castiel and his superior, the Archangel Raphael (played by Demore Barnes and Lynette Ware)  was concluded. Over Season Six Castiel realized that he lacked the raw power to defeat an Archangel. His army was badly losing the heavenly civil war. From desperation Castiel made a secret deal with the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard). Souls are power. So Crowley would manipulate the Winchesters into helping him search for Purgatory (the dimension where the souls of deceased non-human monsters reside) while Castiel would keep the Winchesters misled about the fact that it was he, not Crowley who had rescued the now soulless Sam from Hell.