Saturday, June 23, 2018

Black Doctor Prevented From Entering Her Own Neighborhood

I've written before about how one of the most persistent elements of American anti-Black racism is the idea that some non-Blacks have that a given Black person doesn't belong in a certain space and can or must be challenged. Racists of various nationalities or ethnicities often can't believe that anyone Black can legitimately own or enjoy nice things. These challenges can range from anything from hard stares, special charges, and slow service at an upscale restaurant to extra demands for id when writing a check or using a credit card, to mistaking a co-worker for a criminal or janitor all the way up to profane insults and physical attacks by the police or others. This all goes back to slavery and formalized Jim Crow. This suspicion of and contempt for Black people is passed down from generation to generation and even to people descended from groups that arrived in America after slavery or Jim Crow, who of course often have their own independent tradition of anti-Black animosity.

During slavery Black mobility was severely limited and had to be literally signed off on by a white of sufficient authority to grant it. Blacks, free or otherwise, who were caught in the wrong areas without some sort of pass could run into some serious trouble. This attitude has never really gone away. Most Black people can tell a story in which this racialised hostility is revealed either in a minor or major way. The other day it was a Black doctor's turn.

ATLANTA — A Black doctor is upset at a man who she says racially profiled her when he blocked her from entering the community that she has lived in for about eight years. A part of the nearly 30-minute exchange was captured on camera. A police report indicates that Nnenna Aguocha stated she was attempting to enter the Buckhead Townhome community after just coming off an overnight shift when another property owner stopped her at the gate entrance. 

She said he parked his car under the gate arm and refused to move forward to let her in, despite her repeated requests. "He got out of the car and threatened to call the police on me because I was trespassing," she said in the video recording taken at the scene. "This is racial profiling at its finest."

Movie Reviews: Gangster No. 1

Gangster No. 1
directed by Paul McGuigan
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
On one level this older film is the answer to the question of what would Alex from A Clockwork Orange be doing once he grew up. Malcolm McDowell, who gave such a frighteningly charismatic performance as Alex, is here a bit more muted, though just as nasty as the unnamed titular character, the undisputed boss of the London underworld. 

In the present day Gangster is in his late fifties and is apparently living it up. He enjoys fine dining and good food. At a boxing event with Gangster's cronies someone mentions that one Freddie Mays is finally getting out of prison after some thirty years. This news apparently upsets or confuses Gangster as he leaves the table and walks about thinking to himself. The director then takes on a flashback to the late sixties. At that time Young Gangster (Paul Bettany) is just a oddball enforcer with ambitions to rise in the gang led by Freddie Mays (David Thewlis), a dapper criminal who usually eschews personal violence though he has killed a cop and gotten away with it. 

The movie examines the events that have led up to the present day with Gangster firmly ensconced in the number one position. This film was based on a play. The director kept that theatrical feeling. There's a strong sense of deliberate performance that emanates from the actors and how the director sets up the camera and sound. It's all very stagey. This is a million miles away from work by Scorsese, Ritchie, or similar types. 

Kelly Cochran: Serial Killer

Have you ever eaten something you shouldn't have and suffered for it later? Well you probably have. Have you ever been around someone and had an epiphany that for whatever reason it wasn't good or even safe for you to be around this person? 
Some of us have likely had that experience as well. But unless you happen to be a friend or acquaintance of Kelly Cochran, you may not have been unfortunate enough to combine both of those experiences into one unsettling encounter. 

DETROIT — If you've ever seen the end of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," then you have an idea of what may have happened to a Michigan man in 2014. In a new television documentary, authorities allege that a serial killer and her husband chopped up and killed her former lover and then served his remains at a neighborhood barbecue in 2014, WJBK-TV, in Detroit, reported this week. 

Kelly Cochran later injected her husband with a lethal dose of heroin in February 2016 in Indiana. The docuseries on the Investigation Discovery channel called "Dead North" takes the viewer on a journey that might just leave a bad taste in their mouth. Cochran, 36, admitted in court that she and her husband lured her lover, Chris Regan, inside their home, shot and dismembered him in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Cochran said she and her husband made a pact that they would get rid of anyone "involved in their extramarital affairs."

Einstein, Politics, and Art

There have been many situations in which artists of varying talent levels have been accused of committing or proven to have committed nasty acts, often criminal, often against women. Others have been accused of saying or believing foul things about women or people of different races, religions or nationalities. Recently this has led to many people claiming that in order to show our disdain for the artist and his bad actions or thoughts and support for his alleged or actual victims we should remove the artist's works from our playlists, cd players, theater stages, movie and tv screens, galleries, or bookshelves. Other critics of an even more puritanical bent, or perhaps just jealous, have argued that the artist's work itself is hopelessly flawed because of his bad thoughts/actions and thus must be completely expunged from existence and memory. They have argued that by definition anyone who believes or behaves a certain way can not produce work that is worth anything.

I've written before on how I find these approaches short sighted and limiting. But it's of course ultimately a personal and rather arbitrary decision as to which art you patronize. There are artists whose works I don't appreciate because I was exposed to something ugly they said or did before I was exposed to their creative work. And there are artists whose work I appreciate even though were we ever to meet there would likely be nothing but mutual disdain if not hatred. So it goes. But even in the case where I dislike an artist for whatever non-art related reason I have, I still believe that the value of their work stands apart from my subjective response to them. A non-art example of this recently popped up with the reveal of Einstein's travel diaries.

The publication of Albert Einstein’s private diaries detailing his tour of Asia in the 1920s reveals the theoretical physicist and humanitarian icon’s racist attitudes to the people he met on his travels, particularly the Chinese.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Border Separation Debacle Unpacked

I've been silent for a long time because, quite frankly, there's been entirely too much nonsense to keep up with from this administration on a daily basis.  Every single day a new unforced error here, a new lie there.  It's exhausting.  Meanwhile the left and right can't even agree on what day it is and Congress is about as functional as the Gallagher family from Shameless. I used to enjoy movies like Idiocracy because they were far fetched fiction...now it seems like it could be a legit documentary.  My point is, there doesn't seem to be any bottom to how low this President and his administration of "the best people" will sink, and this past week has held true to that theory.

By now you've seen or heard of the videos of thousands of children, some of them infants less than a year old, being stripped away from mothers and fathers who encounter border patrol agents along the US-Mexican border.   Many of these families are seeking asylum from harsh conditions which means that, as a matter of law, they are not crossing the border illegally because US asylum laws allow them to enter the country while their asylum application is being determined.  Predictably, the Trump administration, aided by Fox News and right-wing media, went to work attempting to spin their own version of reality by blaming the Democrats (who are not in power in any of the 3 branches of the federal government) for this new enforcement policy as if a new law had just been passed. 

I'm a lawyer so the first thing I did out of habit was to look to see if any new immigration law had been passed by Congress recently that would require border patrol agents to separate immigrant children from their parents. 

Nope.  No new law. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Movie Reviews: Gringo, Fourteen Hours

Gringo
directed by Nash Edgerton
Uneven film with plenty of stereotypes. It has its moments but the cast was better than the writing.
I expected a little more from this film based on the cast. Most of the top listed cast actors/actresses have been a lead actor or actress in other successful films. So I knew they could act. I can't remember the exact quote which came to mind after I watched this movie. It could be apocryphal but I believe it was football star turned black action movie star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who in response to sixties and seventies Hollywood racial stereotypes insisted that if he were going to star in a film at least one of and preferably all of three things would have to happen. (1) He survives until the end (2) He wins the fights (3) He gets the girl. All of things are still uncommon for unambiguously Black male actors in large budget mainstream American films. Those plot points are the obvious indication that the lead actor is the hero, someone with whom the viewer should identify.

I'm not sure Gringo would satisfy all of Williamson's criteria. This is a very uneven sardonic black comedy showcasing people with few redeeming qualities. Maybe the better way to look at this film isn't necessarily through a lens of heroism but of confusion. Why, if there is a perfect, all knowing, and all powerful God, is there evil in the world? Why does it seem that many people who have the moral impulses of a hungry shark flourish in life while moral people suffer. People have asked these questions for years and do so explicitly in this film. Harold (David Oyelowo) is a devout Christian Nigerian immigrant to America. Harold wears his optimism and faith on his sleeve, something that makes people-particularly his bosses- think that he's not really that bright. 

Book Reviews: Agincourt

Agincourt
by Bernard Cornwall
Which one of you SOB's is ready to do some man's work today? Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!
In 1066 when William of Normandy invaded England, defeated its Saxon king and took the English crown, subduing the Britons and Anglo-Saxons, he did not give up his lands in France, or more precisely Normandy. His descendants were just as aggressive, at one point ruling just over half of what is today modern day France, though technically they were still considered vassals of the French King. This Anglo-Norman presence grated on continental French sensibilities and noble interests. The French began a long campaign to reduce English suzerainty in France, peacefully if possible, violently if not. 

In the 14th century a particularly complex chain of events left the English King with arguably the best claim to the French throne. As a result, long simmering national and dynastic tensions boiled over into the bloody conflict we know as The Hundred Years War.

Although ultimately the French would triumph, ending English claims to French lands or thrones, the English won many of the war's best known battles. Perhaps it's because the English were more adept propagandists (The Battle of Agincourt was memorialized by Shakespeare in "Henry V") and because we speak English that we know more of the English victories and not their final defeat. Overall the Hundred Years War helped to speed the transition of England and France from feudal territories into nation states. It was also a precursor to the English War of Roses but that's another post.

The Battle of Agincourt was an English high point. An English army of  about 6000 sick and half starving men soundly thrashed a French army at least three times its size. Some people claimed the English were outnumbered by as many as five or six to one. Whatever the numbers were, contemporary chroniclers were shocked by the English victory. In this older book Bernard Cornwell takes the reader on an exciting and apparently realistic excursion into 15th century morals, ethics, hygiene, and warfare.

Italy Turns Away Migrant Ship

One of the hot button topics across what is referred to as the "West" is immigration, particularly illegal immigration and refugees. This issue was part of why Trump was elected. It was also behind the electoral success of some right-wing politicians across Europe, including, Italy. The new government in Italy made news recently when it refused to accept a French NGO ship crammed with apparent African and Arab refugees. France ostentatiously criticized Italy's decision but also refused to take in the migrants, something that caused the Italians to go off on the French hypocrisy and arrogance. The Spanish stepped up to take in the ship. Nationalists across Europe cheered Italy's decision.

PARIS — A boat crowded with hundreds of Africans sailing across the Mediterranean after being turned away by Italy this week has exposed anew the shaky fault lines in Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis. On Sunday, Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered the Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by humanitarian groups, to stop 35 nautical miles off the coast of Italy, refusing to let it dock.

The ship is now on its way to Spain, which showed up its neighbors by solemnly announcing that it would “respect its international engagements” and accept the boat after Malta, too, refused it, and France stood idly by. Brussels, the seat of the European Union, looked on in relative silence. There was no common policy to receive the Aquarius and no authority to impose one if there were.

The Italian refusal to offer safe harbor to a ship loaded with what aid groups described as 629 migrants — including 123 minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women — was intended to underscore a long-simmering grievance.

The Italians have bridled for years that they have been left alone by their European Union partners on the front line on the Mediterranean with an unmanageable burden of migration that Mr. Salvini pledged to reverse in his recent election campaign. But his refusal to accept the boat did more than pit humanitarian necessity against political expediency. It roiled tensions with European allies in ways that made President Trump’s performance at the G-7 summit last weekend look almost diplomatic by comparison.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Supreme Court Decision: Ohio Voting Rolls

If you live in Ohio, skip a few elections, and don't respond to state inquiries, you will be purged from the voting rolls. And the Supreme Court agreed that there's no problem with this.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday upheld Ohio’s aggressive efforts to purge its voting rolls. The court ruled that a state may kick people off the rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state election officials. The vote was 5 to 4, with the more conservative justices in the majority. The case concerned Larry Harmon, a software engineer and Navy veteran who lives near Akron, Ohio. He voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections but did not vote in 2012, saying he was unimpressed by the candidates. He also sat out the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014. 

But in 2015, Mr. Harmon did want to vote against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and found that his name had been stricken from the voting rolls. Ohio is the only state that commences such a process based on the failure to vote in a single federal election cycle,” said a brief from the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice. “Literally every other state uses a different, and more voter-protective, practice.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of Mr. Harmon in 2016, saying that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by using the failure to vote as a “trigger” for sending the notices.

A Reuters study in 2016 found that at least 144,000 people were removed from the voting rolls in recent years in Ohio’s three largest counties, which are home to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Reviews: The Outsider

The Outsider
by Stephen King
King's most recent book shares a title with Camus' famous 1942 existentialist novel and makes a slight head fake at some of the ideas bandied about in that book. But this is King, not Camus, so you already know that concepts such as the human desire to express and receive love, and pity for those lacking such connections will eventually show up. And they do. I can't read as often as I used to but I can't think of too many modern novelists in any genre who can so quickly and seamlessly build true life characters as King. There have been King plots I didn't care for and occasionally some settings or themes I wasn't crazy about. But his characters have always leapt off the page, at least for me. And this book was no different.

Here, King moved the setting from his beloved Maine to small town Oklahoma and Texas. YMMV on this. King did the research. None of the characters employ Maine drawls or aphorisms. On the other hand, although the book is set in the present day, some of the adult characters, who are mostly in their thirties, forties or fifties, have memories of key life events that would really be more in line with momentous occurrences in the life of a seventy year old writer from Maine. A 45 year old in 2018 probably won't remember where they were or what they were doing when John Lennon was assassinated. You will notice this occasional dissonance.

Although I don't like it, physics shows us that matter, in the form of electrons, can be in two separate places at the same time. Even more weirdly, observing one electron can impact the behavior of its "twin", at a distance. Apparently this only happens at levels that are far too small for humans to perceive. In our reality I can't simultaneously be at home writing this blog post and also doing the same thing at work.