Monday, September 1, 2014

Cute Animals, Neoteny and Rights

The other day while I was finishing watching Season 8 of Supernatural, I noticed that my dog suddenly seemed very interested in something on the carpet. Well unlike Robb Stark, I make a point of paying attention to what my direwolf is trying to tell me. For someone with a pretty small brain the dog notices more than you might think. I halted the DVD and went to see what the dog was watching. It turned out to be a rather large spider. So I moved the dog away from it. Now usually I would have just killed the spider. But having read the recent special Time magazine issue on animals and how we think of them I decided against that. I retrieved some paper towels. I carefully picked up the spider and dropped it outside. Would I extend such mercy to a housefly? Doubtful. I'm not familiar with the exact details of the different habitats, hygiene and dietary habits of spiders and flies. However, when I see a fly I immediately think disease, dirt, filth and nastiness. A fly vomits on its food before eating it, eats fecal material, and most importantly looks disgusting to me. A spider also appears alien but does not immediately and automatically bring up to me all the images of decay and filth that a fly does. So it was easier for me to save the spider. Any fly that enters my house is going to be almost immediately swatted or chemically poisoned. Is that fair or logical? Probably not.

Happy Labor Day!

John Henry, the steel driving man
I hope that wherever you are and whatever you may be doing that you are having a good Labor Day. Perhaps after your barbecue and/or visits with family or friends or three or four day weekend or mourning period that summer is finally over you might drop by and spare a few thoughts on what you think the state of current labor politics is in the United States. Does this holiday mean anything to you any more? Did it ever? Private sector union membership is at all time lows. Public sector unions are under increasing attack. Wages have been flat for years despite rising worker productivity. There have been inconclusive battles for increased minimum wages. One political party has been making an all hands on deck offensive against unions in particular and labor in general while the other political party appears to take workers for granted and generally ignores their needs. Labor force participation is also at or near record lows. Between outsourcing, increased overseas competition and automation, it appears that the American economy simply doesn't need as many workers as it used to require. This means that we may have to do some serious rethinking about what it means to be an American worker. What does full time employment mean? Many of these questions have been framed in terms of women's work experiences but these issues impact everyone. The economy increasingly is not conducive to people who want to work 30 or 40 years in the same company or same career, getting at least a 3-5% raise each year and a sizable pension and gold watch at retirement. Those days are gone. How do we ensure that the American economy produces enough jobs for every American who needs one? How do we ensure that record corporate profits are translated into higher wages for American workers? 

Can labor unions and other pro-worker organizations remain relevant in the current socio-political environment? Are we all doomed to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place? I don't know the answers to these questions but as a society we need to address them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Reviews: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Let's Be Cops

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (hereafter referred to as Sin City 2) stars Eva Green's breasts in the leading role. I think they ought to win an award. They dominate every scene they're in. Seriously. In the rare moments when Green is not topless or completely nude, she's usually braless in diaphanous clothing. Acting in support were Rosario Dawson's full lips and Jessica Alba's perpetual motion waist and hips. Some people may be impressed by this; others may yawn. The target audience for Sin City 2 likely includes many people who would be dazzled by Green's mammary glands which probably explains why they get so much screen time. Once you get past the "They're real and they're spectacular" aspects of Green's performance you realize that this noir cartoon has less going for it than its predecessor did. So if you have low expectations this film is for you. Green's sneering, red lipped, exaggerated, femme fatale performance would have been almost as enjoyable had she not spent the entire film showing what her mother gave her. There's nothing subtle here.

Dangerous men and even more dangerous women populate the corrupt hellhole of Sin City. Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) presides over the city with lip curling sadism and diabolical demeanor. No good deed goes unpunished. Everyone considers revenge to be the highest moral virtue.

Friday, August 29, 2014

St. Paul Police Use Taser On Black Man For Minding His Own Business

Although this blog has discussed the issue quite often, over the past few weeks thanks to the events in Ferguson and elsewhere, there has been a great deal of media spotlight on the negative attention police give to black people, particularly black men. Whether it's a black man choked to death for allegedly selling unlicensed cigarettes or a black man shot and killed in Wal-Mart for considering purchasing a BB gun or a black woman brutally beaten for walking close to traffic it appears that police generally have a very low threshold for initiating and escalating violence against black people. Now we learn that in St. Paul, Minnesota back in January 2014 (the video was just released) the police tased and arrested a black man who refused to show them id. It is not necessarily a crime to refuse to show police id. Police can't demand id without some sort of "reasonable suspicion" that you're involved in criminal activity. Minnesota has declined to enact a "stop and identify" law. The police were originally called because the black man, one Chris Lollie, was sitting in a chair in a downtown skyway. A security guard claimed the chair was on private property and ordered Lollie away. Lollie left but apparently not as quickly as the security guard desired. When the video starts Lollie has already left the chair and is having a tense conversation with an officious female police officer. Lollie was waiting in the skyway (as he thought wrongly as it turned out) to pick up his children from daycare. Video below the jump.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't Shoot: The Game, Diddy, Rick Ross & Others Release Track In Honor Of Michael Brown & Ferguson

Let us know in the comments what you think of this track.

Jon Stewart, Fox News and Ferguson: Race Matters

The all too predictable thing about many conservatives is that whenever there is a situation in which there is an abuse of power by state agents and the alleged victims are Black, conservatives, with very few exceptions, rush to defend the state agents, insult and smear the victim, and go out of their way to do to the alleged victim what a police dog allegedly did to the Michael Brown memorial.  In defending alleged or even proven abusive state agents on hidden or not so hidden tribalistic/racial grounds they often will claim no bias. In their view they are being objective. Obviously conservatives aren't the only people with blind spots and unchallenged assumptions. Liberals, libertarians and people of other political persuasions and ideologies have their own hypocrisies and instances of moral myopia. I just don't care to discuss those today. What I find fascinating about the normal conservative stampede to defend the police, provided the victim is Black, is that these are often the very same people who will work themselves up to a high dudgeon about overreaching government when it comes to the IRS, or Obamacare or bossy TSA agents or the EPA or nosy census questions or Common Core standards or any number of other instances of government bigfooting that usually fall far short of a policeman beating or shooting someone. These folks will wave the Gadsden flag and opine about "freedom loving Americans" but won't criticize police who wrongly harm someone provided that someone doesn't look like them. Such actions say everything about who's considered a "real American" and why the President has been dogged with false claims about his nationality, race and religion.

Ultimately though, we're all in this together regardless of race.  As Angela Davis said it they come for me in the morning they will come for you at night. Police who are comfortable insulting, harassing, abusing, assaulting and killing black people will do the same things to any "unworthy" white people. We've talked about that before. You let some dogs get off leash and they will bite whoever they see.  Unfortunately some conservatives, say Bill O'Reilly, can't see this.  Such conservatives assume that if a black person got hurt, that thug/thugette had it coming. These folks glory in their privilege even as they deny it. In his own inimitable manner Jon Stewart tried to explain this to Fox News watchers/hosts in general and Bill O'Reilly in particular.

Nine Year Old Girl Armed With Uzi Kills Arizona Shooting Range Instructor

I believe in the individual right to keep and bear arms. I tend to be skeptical of many new gun control proposals. That said I am aghast that anyone would permit a child to attempt to operate an Uzi submachine gun in automatic mode. That makes about as much sense to me as letting a child drive a semi-trailer, fly a Boeing 777, represent someone in a death penalty case, or do anything else where the life of that child or the lives of others around the child will be put at risk by the child’s actions. Unfortunately not everyone agrees with me. You may have heard about the nine year old girl who apparently wanted to fire an Uzi.  Her parents took her to Bullets and Burgers Shooting Range in Arizona where instructor Charles Vacca assisted her in shooting the machine gun in single shot mode.  He then switched the weapon to automatic mode and moved to the girl's left. Unfortunately the recoil of the submachine gun was far more than a nine year old girl could handle. That's unsurprising.  I mean it's not like she was a veteran member of Spetsnaz or Shayetet 13. The Uzi's muzzle drifted upwards and to the girl's left. Vacca was shot in the head and died. It's a tragedy. But it's also a quite preventable one.  While gun safety experts, police or military veterans can review the video to determine if Mr. Vacca was in the proper area and/or can check the gun to determine if there was anything wrong with it, the rest of us can make an even simpler fix. Preteens don't get to fire automatic weapons. That's so freaking simple isn't it? If you wouldn't let a nine year old command a nuclear submarine then why would you let them operate an Uzi. The Uzi will still be there when that child grows up.  There's no rush. Ultimately the blame here must rest with the parents and with anyone else who thinks that children should be playing with guns. Guns aren't toys. Video below (it cuts off before the death).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The 2014 Emmy Awards

The Winners from last night:

Breaking Bad
Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan, Mark Johnson, ...
Outstanding Drama Series
Bryan Cranston
Breaking Bad
Outstanding Lead Actor - Drama Series
Modern Family
Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Ben Karlin, ...
Outstanding Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Outstanding Lead Actress - Comedy Series
Julianna Margulies
The Good Wife
Outstanding Leading Role Continued Performance - Dramatic Series
Allison Janney
Outstanding Supporting Actress - Comedy Series
Jim Parsons
The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding Lead Actor - Comedy Series
Aaron Paul
Breaking Bad
Outstanding Supporting Actor - Drama Series
Anna Gunn
Breaking Bad
Outstanding Supporting Actress - Drama Series
Ty Burrell
Modern Family
Outstanding Supporting Actor - Comedy Series
Jessica Lange
American Horror Story
Outstanding Lead Actress - Miniseries or a Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch
Outstanding Lead Actor - Miniseries, Movie
Cary Fukunaga
True Detective
Outstanding Directing - Drama Series
The Colbert Report
Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Paul Dinello, ...
Outstanding Variety Series
The Amazing Race
Jerry Bruckheimer, Phil Keoghan, Bertram van Munster, ...
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
Louis C.K.
Outstanding Writing - Comedy Series
Glenn Weiss
Tony Awards
Outstanding Directing - Variety Special, Outstanding Directing - Variety Special
Kathy Bates
American Horror Story
Outstanding Supporting Actress - Miniseries or a Movie
Steven Moffat
Outstanding Writing - Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special
Warren Littlefield, Noah Hawley, John Cameron, ...
Outstanding Miniseries

Watch the highlights after the jump:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

James Brown Song Test

Some critics have argued that in making rhythm so important and de-emphasizing melody and harmony as much as he did that James Brown routinely created or sang songs that all pretty much sounded alike, regardless of what the actual lyrics or title said. I disagree with this but even I must admit that on some tunes it could occasionally be a task to ascertain what James Brown was actually saying. Some relatives have even jokingly had the audacity to tell me that once you got past the "Maceo will you blow?" and constant "Uhhhh!" and "Hit me Fred!" exhortations nobody actually knew lyrics or titles to James Brown songs because they were too busy dancing to try to decipher Brown's grunts. Hmm. It's not well known but actually James Brown and I were very close friends. You could say that he was a godfather to me. It's only now that I can share the story of the night that James Brown and I had dinner together. You might say we had a funky good time. Ahem. How funky are you? Every single sentence in the (100% accurate, completely true to life and certainly not at all entirely made up from whole cloth during a remarkably boring mid afternoon conference call) story below the fold has at least one James Brown or related artist song title/lyric embedded within. There are over 35 songs/lyrics contained. How many can you find? Are you on the One? Are you a true Godfather devotee with plenty of funk in your trunk or are you just moseying through life faking the funk (or using Google)? Are you Sir Nose D'voidoffunk? We'll see. ;-))

Book Reviews: Under the Dome, Black Pulp, No Hero

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
When you're one of the world's greatest writers sometimes even your older ideas are still golden compared to everyone else's. Under The Dome, as King explains, is an idea he had way back in the 70s if my memory of his author's note serves correctly. He published it a few years ago. I just recently got around to reading it a few weeks ago. A television miniseries has also been made from it. My understanding is that the TV series is quite different from the book.
As usual King has a tremendous and unerring capacity for creating believable characters who are mixes of love and hate, good and evil. He's quite the people observer. Many of his characters have ugly little resentments mixed with their moral constraints and beliefs. With a few exceptions most of the "good guys" also have some bad mixed in them, whether it be a woman preacher who's unsure if she still believes in God but KNOWS she has a holy terror of a temper or an Iraq war veteran who's a decent enough guy back home but turned a blind eye to some horrible things during the war. There's a specific shout out to Lord of the Flies. That whole Things fall Apart element suffuses the entire story. Some people are walking monsters. Others didn't recognize their neighbors' evil because the law hindered their ability to do harm or forced them to confine their malice to smaller or secret misdeeds. How would such people behave in an enclosed environment with no rules or responsibility? What would you do if money, logic or decency no longer matter but viciousness and brute strength are what count? I read this story in two parts: two softcover books that were each around 600-700 pages. Even by King standards this was quite a lift. It reminded me of his earlier sagas like The Stand or The Talisman (with Peter Straub). However I thought that there were way too many characters (King has gotten almost like George R.R. Martin in this regard). The story sagged in the middle somewhat. 

After thinking about it I still dislike the ending although the penultimate catastrophe was diabolical vintage King. I thought the book was well researched though a person with a physics/science background might find a few holes. There are some warnings, subtle and otherwise, about the dangers of bullying, of hurting people just because you can, of going along to get along, environmental degradation, and of the Bush-Cheney regime.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Whatchu Gonna Do When Ferguson, MO Comes To You?

Ferguson, MO has become ground zero for the modern day civil rights struggle here in America, after the death of 18 year old, unarmed Michael Brown. The small town has become a spectacle, reminiscent of what we are accustomed to seeing on network news, but always in a foreign country, most prominently the middle east. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and other assaults on Americans have become the norm almost overnight. Journalists, self proclaimed peace makers, and even 90 year old Jewish Holocaust survivors are not exempt from arrest, detainment and mistreatment.

As a result of the actions of this out of control police department, droves of activists have poured into the St. Louis area to show solidarity with the people of Ferguson, and to offer support in many ways.

What seems like an endless amount of stories on the town of Ferguson, coming from media, bloggers and social media activists, have detailed just about every aspect of what is happening and given us all much to think about concerning the state of race relations in America, the militarization of our local police departments, and what an individuals life — particularly a black persons life is actually worth.

But what makes Ferguson such an outlier?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lauryn Hill Dedicates New Song "Black Rage" To Ferguson

Lauryn Hill released a new song today on her Sound Cloud page called "Black Rage" which she says is dedicated to the people of Ferguson, MO.

According to Hill, via Twitter, the song was created in her living room and is a remix of sorts to the song "My Favorite Things," which she has performed in the past.

Take listen and share your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Michael Brown Shooting in Ferguson, Missouri - How Far Has America Come in Race Relations?

France Francois (pictured) last week at a vigil in Washington, D.C. holding a sign regarding the Michael Brown shooting
For the first time in world history, Amnesty International has deployed a human rights team onto American soil in the town of Ferguson, Missouri where just days ago an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot 6 times by a Ferguson police officer.  United States Attorney General Eric Holder will visit the scene tomorrow and over 40 FBI agents have already begun the their own investigation into the shooting. That's how bad things have gotten in the 10 days since the shooting.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Video: Michael Brown Shooting

The sobering thing about life today is that so much of what we do for good or for bad is captured by video, whether it be private, business or governmental.

Cell phone video taken by Ferguson resident Piaget Crenshaw and shown by CNN on Monday provides more footage of the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Crenshaw described the scene to CNN, in which she said that police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown multiple times after Brown had ceased running and turned around.
“I knew this was not right, I knew police should not even have been chasing this young boy and firing at the same time,” Crenshaw told CNN. “That fact that he got shot in the face, it was something that clicked in me, I thought, somebody else needs to see this. This isn’t right.”
Crenshaw said there was a struggle at the police car in which it seemed Wilson was trying to draw Brown in. Brown took off running, and Crenshaw said Wilson began firing; when Brown turned around, he was shot multiple times. Crenshaw said that her accounting of the incident concurred with what she knew of the autopsy report, which found that Brown had been shot from the front. “When [Brown] turned toward the cop was when he let off the most shots,” Crenshaw said.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Reviews: Get on Up, Clue

Get on Up
directed by Tate Taylor
Like Ray Charles but only more so James Brown was a larger than life musical figure who would likely be worshipped as a demigod if we lived back during pre-Christian times. There are very few people who had the influence that he did on popular music, not only in America but across the world. From Africa to Central America, the Caribbean to the Middle East, Europe to the Pacific there weren't very many people who didn't know who James Brown was. There weren't many popular or even more esoteric musicians who weren't influenced by him in ways great or small. People like Prince, Fela, Michael Jackson, vast numbers of soul and funk musicians, The Talking Heads, and many many more people or genres would not exist as they did then or do now without James Brown. James Brown had a pretty long run as someone making original music, maybe even as someone making high quality original music. I would argue that he was doing it to death for at least fifteen to twenty years, maybe even longer. That's unusual, in a music business that has always tended to reward the new, fresh and young. 

James Brown's impact went far beyond the musical of course. Along with such people as Miles Davis and Nat King Cole, Brown made it clear that a dark skinned black man could be not just a musical icon but a pop culture one, in a non-demeaning and even sexual manner. This was revolutionary stuff.