Tuesday, March 3, 2015

DOJ Finds Pattern of Discrimination by Feruson Police...Go Figure

Washington (CNN)A Justice Department civil rights investigation has concluded that the Ferguson Police Department and the city's municipal court engaged in a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against African-Americans, targeting them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force, and jail sentences, according to a U.S. law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.
The probe is the result of an investigation ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder after the police shooting that killed Michael Brown last summer.
Among the findings, reviewed by CNN: from 2012 to 2014, 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American; 90% of those who received citations were black; and 93% of people arrested were black. This while 67% of the Ferguson population is black.
In 88% of the cases in which the Ferguson police reported using force, it was against African-Americans. During the period 2012-2014 black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, but 26% less likely to be found in possession of contraband.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

GOP Cave on DHS: One Week Funding Approved

President Obama is head of the executive branch of the Federal government. He has, like it or not, pretty expansive powers to direct or change the enforcement priorities of the executive branch. Arguably he has exceeded those powers in his latest executive immigration policy. The courts will end up making that decision. However the legislative branch, has, like it or not, the authority to determine what the budget is and on what it may be spent. In its own way this power is just as awesome as that of the President. Reckless or not, Congress has the ability to defund executive actions that it does not like. Ultimately this is what happened with the Vietnam War. However for either the President or Congress to effectively wield those powers which they possess they must be willing to say "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" and ignore objections to valid use of those powers. For all the criticism which President Obama has received, some valid, some not, for being a weak vacillating mouse of a man who is too eager to find common ground where there isn't any, on this executive action on illegal immigration, it turns out that at least to this point he's the one with the intestinal fortitude. Faced with the reality of what a DHS shutdown would mean to the country, DHS employees, and to their poll numbers Senate and House Republicans blinked, approving a one week DHS funding bill. President Obama signed the legislation last night.


The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted today to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the budget year — without any restrictions on immigration. The vote is a victory for President Obama as Republicans had wanted to strip funding for the president's executive actions on immigration from the bill.

The measure now heads to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

Movie Reviews: Heat Wave, The Phantom of The Opera

Heat Wave
directed by Ken Hughes
This is another of Hammer's film noirs. Heat Wave was in the package my brother sent me. Like many other genre movies Heat Wave owes a lot to The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. The movie looks grand. It's shot in black and white. It has the typical use of shadow and staging that one expects from such films. Everyone and their mama is smoking a cigarette and throwing down scotch and bourbon. There is the light filtered through the Venetian blinds. There's a fair share of tough guy and tough gal dialogue. I like film noir and usually enjoy watching genre flicks. Yet for all that the story ended up not being top tier. In my opinion, the two leads didn't really have much chemistry together. And the femme fatale was a bit too hard bitten. Camera closeups didn't exactly do her any favors in my view. Instead of being able to easily understand or take for granted how and why the male lead fell so hard and fast for this married blonde I was constantly wondering why he just didn't pursue her much friendlier, prettier and apparently unattached stepdaughter, who apparently had a fancy to him anyway. So that took me out of the film a bit. If you want me to believe that a man will risk everything for lust because if making love to that woman is wrong he doesn't want to be right then you should show the passion more than Heat Wave did. Nevertheless older movies remain interesting time capsule documents of how human nature doesn't change that much over the decades or even the centuries. Lust, selfishness, loneliness, and cunning are constant elements of the human emotional stew. People will risk a lot to get their needs met.

HBO Game of Thrones: New Season Five Trailers

Here are two new snippets from the upcoming Season Five of Game of Thrones. In the first clip Brienne seems to be a bit down emotionally while talking to Podrick. In the second Jon Snow is trying to convince Mance to do something. Brienne probably has a lot to be down about. Her first Lord, Renly Baratheon, was murdered. Her next Lady, Catelyn Stark, was murdered. And she has so far failed to save Arya or Sansa Stark. Additionally as you can no doubt infer from the poster this season could see a serious departure from the books insofar as Tyrion will meet up with Daenerys. In the books this hasn't happened yet. Books Four and Five were both the middle of the series. Martin spent more time moving characters around for yet to be determined end games or in some cases feints at end games. When Tyrion does meet up with Daenerys and her dragons (and based both on this poster and previously released trailers it seems almost certain), Season Five of Game of Thrones could wind up cutting out a lot of the more leisurely moments from Books Four and Five. I certainly hope that this turns out to be the case. Some of that was tough reading and probably wouldn't translate well to television. Although I appreciated that Martin spent some time showing the aftermath of war and the impact of war on the common man and woman, I still thought overall that Book Four was a disappointment. It may be that Benioff and Weiss have extracted all of the good parts from Books Four and Five, created some of their own story lines and mixed it all up with yet to be published insights from Martin to create a really good Season Five. This season should reveal many surprises for book readers and show watchers alike as we have heard from the Word of God (Martin) that more characters will die this season who are still very much alive and kicking in the books. We shall see. This is the first year that I am not 100% certain of what will happen or if the story will continue to exist at a high level of excellence. It all goes down on Sunday April 12 at 9 PM.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Federal Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Al Sharpton and Comcast

The Reverend Al Sharpton, whatever his other gifts may be, is not a particularly adept television host. His cadence grates. To this Midwesterner he usually sounds as if he's about to punch someone in the mouth. Sharpton mispronounces words and misses cues to open or close segments. He yells all the time. Sharpton's only two emotions are surprise or outrage. He seems to be in a perennial search for the teleprompter. We posted about all this before but Sharpton's shortcomings are obvious to anyone that watches his show for longer than five minutes. For these reasons and many others, Sharpton's ratings on MSNBC have mostly been bad. I can't blame him too much for this. If someone offered to pay me many multiples of my current salary to do something for which I was poorly qualified I might well take the money and cry all the way to the bank. Sharpton has to this point survived the latest reshuffling of talent at MSNBC which saw Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow lose their even less popular shows. This ability to survive purges and even the ability to get hired in the first place had some people shaking their heads and muttering about conspiracy theories. Others laughed at the sheer audacity and tenacity of Sharpton. It takes a lot to survive as a public figure in this world and Sharpton has it. Although his television show is an ongoing dumpster fire I appreciate that Sharpton brings attention to some situations that would otherwise go unnoticed. However someone just recently revealed his belief that Sharpton's hiring and survival at MSNBC was more about corporate payoffs and hiring a spook to sit by the door than it was about Sharpton's hosting talents. So this man filed a $20 billion dollar federal lawsuit.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Best Moment of the 87th Annual Academy Awards: John Legend and Common's Performance of Glory (Video)

Congratulations to Common and John Legend on their Oscar win!

The performance in case you missed it:

Their acceptance speech:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Politeness takes a beating

We've talked previously about how politeness and chivalry are wasted on some people. Case in point, recently I went to a doctor's appointment. The admitting nurse took notes and asked me questions as nurses are wont to do. Now it's important to point out for reasons that become important later in the paragraph that this nurse was obviously significantly older than I am. She might not have been of an age with my mother's or father's generation but she wasn't that far from it either. As most people who know me offline would tell you I am normally nothing if not polite. When I was raised I was trained and expected to ALWAYS say sir and ma'am to my parents. Not doing so was a sign of grave disrespect. And if you were a child in their house you did not want to disrespect my parents. Outside the house I might occasionally throw in a sir or ma'am to an older person with whom I was interacting but unlike with my parents THAT honorific was optional. It depended on if I was in a good mood or the older person was being polite or if I knew their last name and could instead call them Mr. or Mrs. so-n-so or a million other reasons or no reason at all. Spending time down south with my maternal relatives made me even more polite because my grandfather usually said sir or ma'am to everyone, old or young. So being the polite man that I am I answered one of the nurse's questions with "no ma'am".

Book Reviews: Quarry's Choice

Quarry's Choice
by Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins is an Iowa based writer of various mystery stories and graphic novels. He's probably best known for Road to Perdition. His Quarry series is also popular. Each book stands alone. This isn't a series in which it's essential to start from the beginning because Collins provides the same sketchy origin details in the first few pages of each book. As you might surmise from the slightly risque cover of Quarry's Choice, this story is a detective/gangster novel written with a nod to the style of the pulp fiction dime store novels from the 30s thru the 70s. For lack of a better word the writing style and themes which Collins uses in Quarry's Choice are unabashedly masculine. You may be intrigued, excited, unimpressed, disgusted or bored by that. I can't call it. But Collins' prose is miles apart from that of say something like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Collins was influenced by pulp fiction godfather Mickey Spillane, creator of the Mike Hammer character. Collins worked with Spillane and even finished a few Spillane stories. That Spillane sway suffuses the text. Sex is integral to the story. The protagonist likes sex. He likes women. And he's not shy about trying to determine a woman's interest or availability. There's a lot of sex in Quarry's Choice, tender and otherwise. The story is set in the early seventies. The titular hero is not really a hero in the classic sense of the word. He's a hitman who's not too particular about his employers provided he's paid on time and in full. He is particular about rules though. His word is usually his bond. If he ever takes altruistic steps he'll probably look back on them as a mistake. Quarry is a former Marine sniper and Vietnam veteran, who upon returning home and dealing harshly and permanently with his wife's lover, discovered that the only thing he was really good at was killing people. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Creepy Joe Biden and Mrs. Carter

Who's your Daddy?
Once a year I have to take and pass an online course that covers inappropriate personal behavior in a corporate environment. A big part of this is just reading how not to harass, intimidate, insult or discriminate against your fellow workers. It's mostly pretty insanely freaking obvious stuff that can basically be boiled down to "Don't tell me no lies and keep your hands to yourself". The Company probably wants to make sure that no would be player can do anything stupid, get caught and try to blame the company by claiming that no one ever told them that their actions were wrong. Because that could end up costing the Company money and bad publicity. Sadly it looks like Vice-President Joe Biden could do well to take a similar course that shows him the right way and wrong way to act. Over the years I've seen more than a few people retire, get promoted or be otherwise honored in the workplace. Sometimes they even bring their spouse or significant other along for the announcement or celebration. Generally though, unless specifically invited to do so, it's usually a good idea for the boss of the person being honored to refrain from pawing, grabbing, kissing, stroking, fondling, hugging, patting or otherwise engaging in intimate touching with someone else's spouse. Such things are reserved for (obviously) the spouse or in some cases relatives or in-laws. Not bosses. Bosses get a lot of perks but pawing other people's spouses shouldn't be one of them. I learned that in a 45 minute online course. Biden hasn't learned that in 45 years of political service. Interesting.

There are always people who are more touchy-feely than others of course. I happen to be a person who believes that physical contact has little if any place in the workplace. Not everyone feels that way. I doubt that Biden meant anything but the optics just aren't good. The risks of giving offense are too high. If Biden were anyone else and/or if the lady got upset Biden might be looking for a new job next week. If Biden really just had to touch Mrs. Stephanie Carter, wife of the new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, perhaps a firm vigorous handshake would have sufficed. Because in some circles I frequent, Vice-President or not, putting your hands like that on someone else's wife can initiate some negative feelings or even start a fight. I'm just saying.

What do you think?

Doctor refuses to treat baby of lesbian parents

We posted before on how some business owners have come under pressure to serve same sex clients in what they see as expressive and more personal services such as renting a wedding suite to a same sex couple, creating photographs or video for a same sex wedding or providing a cake celebrating the same. To the extent that some extremely religious or extremely bigoted people have balked at customers requesting such services they have usually lost their case in court IF their state happens to have laws forbidding such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However not every state has such laws. Michigan for example does not. A local lesbian couple found that out the hard way when a pediatrician refused to see their child and referred the family to another doctor in her practice. Now medical coverage is just a wee bit more important than buying a cake or photographs from someone but the principle remains the same. I'm not sure there is a logically consistent method by which the state government could say we will allow market discrimination in that sector but not this one. Or is there? Is this an all or nothing sort of situation?

Dinesh D'Souza, President Obama and Racism

As we discussed previously there is a certain type of person, often but by no means always, non-black, who feels qualified to circumscribe and negatively judge what blackness is. This is an ongoing theme in American society. It arises from slavery, Jim Crow and the resulting American tradition of policing what is "white" and what is "black". Some people once criticized Spike Lee movies because they felt he wasn't focusing enough on black drug addiction. Others blasted The Cosby Show for showing two upper-middle class black people happily married to each other and presiding over achieving children. Occasionally people criticize out of ignorance or even well-meaning condescension. However some other people question or insult someone's blackness from pure malevolence, racism and fear. Such men or women are threatened, confused and ultimately angered by any Black person who doesn't fit their stereotypes. For them Blackness means always and only to be the permanent outsider, to be less than, to be impoverished, to be criminal, to be unworthy of respect, to speak incoherently and act ridiculously, to dress in a loud fashion, to be the grinning, shucking, jiving, spear chucking, incompetent, sex obsessed, perpetually late, lazy, dumb, Mandingo/Mammy/Jezebel/Uncle Ben/Nat Turner/Sapphire who haunts their worst nightmares or fevered fantasies. 

Dinesh D'Souza is such a racist. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama's Immigration Plans

Earlier this week on Monday, a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas issued an order in the case of State of Texas, et al., v. United States which pushes the pause button on the Obama Administration's plans to use the prosecutorial discretion of the executive branch (namely, the Department of Homeland Security) in order to implement the "Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents" program ("DAPA").  Although not at issue in this case, the injunction also temporarily prevents the Obama Administration from implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ("DACA").  These are programs aimed at giving relief to undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as children, as well as relief to their parents.  All told, the programs were estimated to affect approximately 4-5 million people living here in the United States. 

The question squarely before the district court was this:

Do the laws of the United States, including the Constitution, give the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to take the action at issue in this case?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Are the Producers of Top Chef Racist?


Last Wednesday Bravo's hit culinary reality television series "Top Chef" concluded its 12th season, crowning Mei Lin with the coveted top prize. Coming in runner up, for the second year in a row was a high performing African-American chef. This year's cheated chef was none other than Gregory Gourdet. The producers made sure to properly edit the finale and comments of the judges to ensure we didn't have a full out catastrophic repeat of last years egregious titling of "Top Chef" to Nicholas Elmi. If you are unfamiliar with the show and the catastrophe I just mentioned, let me fill you in. "Top Chef" fans, I'm sorry we must rehash season 11 to fully understand what's going on here....

Saturday, February 14, 2015

McDonald's Meltdowns and Wal-Mart Head Butts

I work in a white-collar office environment. It's air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. I don't have to punch a time clock upon arrival, when I go to the bathroom, or upon leaving for the day. There is not a lot of cursing and yelling going on most days. Not every white-collar environment I've been in has been like this. A boss with a reputation for bullying once yelled something nasty at me. I had a very short, direct, and serious discussion with him where the upshot was he apologized. I later heard that he expressed admiration that I was willing to stand up to him. Whatever. Some former co-workers were quite passionate about their job and would routinely get into very LOUD profane nasty shouting matches with each other. They once got into it in front of a visiting company director. I don't know if they were disciplined or not but I do know that neither one was ever promoted. They're doing the same job today for close to the same pay that they were doing fifteen years ago. So you can connect the dots there I guess. I do not usually work with outside customers. I'm more adept with the written word than with verbal communication so this is probably for the best. There are many angry, frustrated customers who are eager to vent their spleen to an easy target, like say an employee who has certain rules to follow lest he or she lose his job. Having to take this sort of abuse coupled with just the normal problems and issues of work can cause some employees to lose it. The three below videos show some examples of what's really going on the front lines of customer-employee interaction. 

Movie Reviews: Fury, Rob The Mob, The Raid: Redemption

directed by David Ayer
"Better a Russian on your belly than an American on your head".
If American Sniper depicted the true life tale of a righteous soldier in what many Americans thought was a bad war, Fury tells a fictional story of flawed soldiers in what most Americans, Patrick Buchanan aside , still think of as the good war. People beatify the Greatest Generation and tend to overlook their foibles. They had the same flaws as any other human who must adapt to killing and other forms of brutality exercised in the cause of "good". Only someone who has actually been there or has studied what war does to people can speak authoritatively about what actually happens but humans are very observant. Since the times of the ancients, people have noticed that war changes people. War can take a mental toll on the surviving participants. Every veteran deals with this in different ways. Many have no issues reintegrating themselves into society. Others struggle. And a minority are never quite the same. There may be glory in war. But there is also fear, cowardice, viciousness, savagery, rape and any number of ways for soldiers or civilians to die slowly, painfully or suddenly. It's a sudden death which opens Fury. A German officer rides a horse through a smoking battlefield littered with debris, wreckage, shell casings and corpses. He is set upon from above and quickly and coldly dispatched by an American soldier who was playing dead. This soldier is Staff Sergeant Don "WarDaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt in high testosterone mode), commander of the Sherman Tank named Fury. It's early 1945 and much to WarDaddy's chagrin the Germans won't stop fighting. He's been killing them in North Africa, Italy, France, The Netherlands and now Germany but those slimy SOB's just won't quit.