Saturday, September 23, 2017

Farmer Tennes, East Lansing, Free Speech and Gay Marriage

We previously have discussed many times that the First Amendment does not protect you from dealing with the consequences of your speech visited upon you by a private entity. If I shared derogatory, confidential, proprietary or private employer information in any of these blog posts, my company would immediately walk me out of the door. I would have no recourse. Many people have used Twitter, Facebook or other social media to share ideas or images that their employer and/or other people found hateful. Often, these people have been fired or have faced calls from the public to lose their job. For many of us I would bet it depends on just whose ox is being gored before we decide if we will join the latest digital mob howling for blood. That's just human nature. I am more sympathetic to some "victims" than I am to others. You probably are as well. There often is a First Amendment issue when the government attempts to punish you or harm your livelihood just because of your speech. That's usually not allowed. Although the Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriage throughout the land, it emphatically did not make anti-gay discrimination illegal to the same extent as racial or gender discrimination. 

The 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn't include gays. And Congress has until now resisted calls to change the law. Some states have made laws against gay discrimination; see the lawsuits over religious bakers refusing to cater gay weddings. But many others have refused to do so.

The Mad Pooper of Pine Creek

I get upset when other people let their dogs do their business on my lawn without cleaning up after them. The dogs don't know any better. They are acting in accord with their nature. I can't get angry at the dog. But a human? I can't imagine a normal person doing this. If someone did this on my property or on my sidewalk I think I would have to have a short and ugly "discussion" with them. But only after I put on some latex gloves.

The Colorado Springs family has spent weeks trying to get a mystery woman they've dubbed "The Mad Pooper" to stop defecating in their neighborhood, right outside their house.
Cathy Budde says her kids caught her first mid-squat, pants down and unashamed.
"They are like, 'There's a lady taking a poop!' So I come outside, and I'm like ... 'are you serious?'" Budde recalled. "'Are you really taking a poop right here in front of my kids!?' She's like, 'Yeah, sorry!'"
The family says it was just the first time it actually caught the runner doing it, but it wouldn't be the last. Budde estimates the runner leaves behind human waste at least once a week. She says "The Mad Pooper" has been at it for the last seven weeks.
She can't help but laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation.

Movie Reviews: Wind River, Jackals

Wind River
directed by Taylor Sheridan
Just like the movie Sunlight Jr., reviewed here, Wind River is a film that shows that entertainment and social messages can mix. Films do not have to be painfully and obviously didactic to communicate their message. Films can be thrilling without being stupid. When you make a film that discusses, however obliquely, the impact of structural racism, some people will immediately become defensive. They will point out that as far as THEY are concerned they're innocent of malicious intent or actions. So then the film never gets a chance to entertain because some audience members have already closed their minds to the director's or writer's message. On the other hand, some films that include themes about racism put all the blame on individual bigots who are walking stereotypes of racialized enmity. Although people like this do exist, they are usually not the major problem anymore. Their film depiction allows the mainstream audience to disassociate and feel better about themselves, even if they have the same viewpoints. Wind River walks the line between these two poles. Its villains are bad but are still recognizably human in their evil. 

The good guys can suffer from a racialized blindness. This is highlighted in a powerful scene between a white female FBI agent and the father of a murdered Native American girl. The white woman is arrogant and naive enough to question the parents' grief. The next scene makes it clear that this was a mistake based on the agent's bad assumptions. Her good intentions don't prevent her from saying the wrong thing. And when someone hurts you it doesn't always matter to you that they didn't mean it.

Book Reviews: The Force

The Force
by Don Winslow
Winslow is a skilled writer who has done his research into the NYPD. Winslow dedicated this book to the cops killed in the line of duty. This book is not the simplistic self-righteous agitprop of the TV show Bluebloods. Winslow is too talented for that. But when Winslow says that we rely on the police to protect us or that we give the police conflicting goals that complicate their jobs I don't think that me or mine are really part of Winslow's "we". Life is indeed complex, as are Winslow's characters. Still, having read this book I wonder if I could trust Winslow to be willing to convict a cop in real life. But it's just a novel so who knows. Maybe that's part of Winslow's skill.

Winslow depicts realistic racist characters. People often disingenuously defend themselves from charges of bigotry by claiming that they couldn't possibly be racist because they have had sex with someone of a different race, have friends of different races, work with people of different races or like music by people of a different race or so on. That's balderdash. The white cop who sodomized Abner Louima had a black girlfriend.  Former NFL star and black man Albert Haynesworth claimed that his white ex-girlfriend abused him and called him racial slurs. People have different facets. We are mixes of good and evil.  Someone can have a cordial work relationship with people of different races while telling nasty racially hostile jokes to those of their own race. A manager can mentor an employee of a different race while passing along Obama monkey jokes. For obvious reasons people may like the attractive opposite gender members of a race that they otherwise despise. You can love your mixed race nieces, nephews or grandchildren and still privately wish your sibling or child had married within their own race. Racist people can respect and even be willing to die for someone they hate because that individual has proven themselves to them. The Force's primary protagonist is a walking example of how humans contain all these contradictions.

The Root's Damon Young is Wrong: Straight Black Men are not oppressive patriarchs!

Damon Young, previously of Very Smart Brothas, now of The Root wrote a poorly argued, badly reasoned and completely fact free post which claimed, "Black straight men are the white people of the black community". By this strained metaphor, he apparently meant to say that black straight men are the evil patriarchs of the black community who are oppressing heterosexual black women and black gays of either gender. Young writes many posts like this. It is his calling card. This particular one stood out to me not just because of its usual simple mindededness and lack of empirical data but from the sheer bile towards black men shown by someone who is a black man himself. Progressive black people are often quick to see the self-hate when it is on display by someone who is on the right like Jason Riley or Sheriff Clarke. The left, particularly its feminist circles, can have just as much anti-black male animus. 
But assessing our privilege (or lack thereof) on these facts considers only our relationship with whiteness and with America. Intraracially, however, our relationship to and with black women is not unlike whiteness’s relationship to us. In fact, it’s eerily similar. We’re the ones for whom the first black president created an entire initiative to assist and uplift. We’re the ones whose beatings and deaths at the hands of the police galvanize the community in a way that the beatings and sexual assaults and deaths that those same police inflict upon black women do not. We’re the ones whose mistreatment inspired a boycott of the NFL despite the NFL’s long history of mishandling and outright ignoring far worse crimes against black women. 

We are the ones who get the biggest seat at the table and the biggest piece of chicken at the table despite making the smallest contribution to the meal. And nowhere is this more evident than when considering the collective danger we pose to black women and our collective lack of willingness to accept and make amends for that truth.

It gets worse after that.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Equifax hack: Time to get rid of credit bureaus?

You probably heard that Equifax suffered the worst hack in its history. Hackers viewed or stole the private personally identifiable information of approximately 143 million adult Americans. I am talking about your name, your maiden name if applicable, your address, your date of birth, city and state of birth, your income, your previous addresses, and of course your social security number. Equifax not only failed to secure this critical information but also some Equifax big shots allegedly sold Equifax stock after they discovered the hack but before the news became public. And Equifax took its sweet time before informing the public. Two corporate officers have retired but other than that Equifax or its principals haven't suffered any legal criminal or civil penalties. It's unclear as to exactly how much Equifax or its two other primary competitors, Experian and TransUnion CAN be regulated or fined. They theoretically fall under the bailiwick of the FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but neither of those organizations have the power to impose harsh penalties. And the current Administration is not exactly known for its belief in keeping a short leash on corporate behavior. Nevertheless this is such a horrible breach that the various states and the FBI are reviewing what happened.

In the online age some have become blase about sharing personal information but this incident could change that. Individual consumers never handed over their information to credit bureaus. It was their employers, insurance companies, banks and/or creditors who did that. This data could be a jackpot for criminals around the world. There is literally no end of mischief someone can get up to if they have all of your personal information. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Disrespecting the President is Fine..if the President Is Black: Jemele Hill, Donald Trump and Barack Obama

You may have heard that ESPN personality and Detroit native Jemele Hill ran into some controversy when she recently tweeted that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist, which is a big part of why he was elected. Now if you are an employee as opposed to the owner of the means of production you always run a risk of losing your job if you say something political. Your statements could mess up your employer's revenue flow or associate your employer with beliefs that your employer does not hold. That's just the way it goes. So it was one thing when various conservatives and racists crawled out of the woodwork to attack Hill. That was to be expected. What was a little different though was that the White House, through its oleaginous spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Hill's tweets were fireable offenses. The level of hypocrisy here is just off the charts. Now there is a larger issue, which I may address a little later when I have more time, about people's social media statements, heartfelt, stupid, inappropriate or otherwise getting them in trouble with the public or their employer. There's a lot of that going around right now. It's seemingly almost every day! But I have no time to write on that now.

But let's remember that Donald Trump was (is??) a prominent member of the birther movement. He argued that President Obama wasn't American. He also called President Obama a racist. Can you imagine the conservative response if the Obama White House had publicly called for Trump to lose business opportunities or be fired from The Apprentice because of his racist or stupid statements? Additionally the people who are currently screaming about the need to fire, censor, or censure Hill are mostly the same people who are also screaming about the need for free speech to include conservative and/or racist viewpoints. In short like a lot of people they believe in "Free Speech for me, but not for thee".

Movie Reviews: IT

directed by Andy Muschietti
The director of this film, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, also directed the film, Mama, reviewed here.
Because they have so much internal commentary and deep characterization, many of Stephen King's novels have resisted well-done cinematic adaptations. Muschietti got most of the important things in IT right. Muschietti successfully adapted the letter and spirit of King's novel while prudently dropping a few of King's written events that would not have translated to the screen or to mainstream audiences. Whereas Tolkien famously said that he disliked allegory, I do not think that King has ever made a similar statement. King crammed allegory and metaphor about the loss of childhood innocence into the novel IT. To quote a famous rock song that came out shortly before this novel we have to "Hold on to sixteen/as long as you can/Changes come around real soon/make us women and men". The director and screenwriter do an admirable job of capturing the unease and discomfort of youth sliding into adolescence with adulthood right around the corner. 

The movie gives us a supernatural trans-dimensional monster that stalks the children of Derry, Maine. The film subtly argues that this monster is no more dangerous to the children than such real life evils as physical abuse, incest, poverty, emotional assaults,  and racism or bigotry. And if the kids survive they will presumably have to confront the moral blindness, desperation and despair that too often accompany adulthood. The director does not beat you over the head with this argument. The director makes children the film's focus and shows adults from children's POV. 

Movie Reviews: Kick-Ass, Last Exit To Brooklyn

directed by Matthew Vaughn
A deconstruction of comic book movies that also is an ode to superhero movies
Kick-ass, a 2010 film, is a mish-mash of a movie. It is simultaneously a romantic comedy, a savage parody of superhero movies, a violent revenge movie, and an honest ode to heroism. Kick-Ass makes fun of almost all of the cliches found in comic book movies (it's based on a comic book) while later upholding them. YMMV on this. You can get whiplash from the multiple changes in theme and tone, but I liked this film a lot. The black humor will not be to everyone's taste. It came close to going over the top a few times. It definitely did with one character. The film's most memorable character is not the titular hero but a young girl killer who is the spiritual sister of such anti-heroines as Arya Stark and River Tam. This girl is deadlier and a little meaner. 

The title character, a high school student named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), is an average teen in almost every way. He has no super powers. He's not super strong or super smart. He has no special abilities with weapons, math or computers. And he would rather spend his time fantasizing about his busty English teacher or other women, attractive or not, than take the risk to try to get a real life girlfriend, like his sexy classmate Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Dave is content to go to school, hang out with the other nerds, and read comic books. 

Movie Reviews: Breakfast At Tiffany's

Breakfast At Tiffany's
directed by Blake Edwards
Based on a book by Truman Capote, this 1961 film made some big changes from the novel in order to get a heterosexual mainstream audience. It succeeded at that, becoming a very well known romantic comedy. It is probably equally as well known today for launching actress Audrey Hepburn into the stratosphere as a style icon of coolness AND for featuring noted actor Mickey Rooney in yellowface and buckteeth, playing a racist caricature of a Japanese man. Even for 1961 this sort of thing was becoming passe but it is what it is. Thankfully Rooney's role is small. But it's like eating a salad and finding a half-eaten rat turd on your fork. Completely takes you out of the enjoyment. Rooney and Edwards always said that no offense was intended and that they would have changed it if they could. Whatever. The thin waifish leggy gamine look which defined Hepburn and her role in this film was ironically something that may have been forced upon her by her horrific experiences and near starvation while working in the Dutch resistance during the WW2 German occupation of the Netherlands. 

This movie is all about cool. Everyone (with the notable exception of Rooney) is cooler than the other side of the pillow. Although the movie makes its implications pretty strong it still keeps plausible deniability as to the activities of one of the main characters. I think this was because in the 1960's people didn't want to spell everything out. That was considered crass. But this movie is a forerunner to such films as Pretty Woman but also movies like Car Wash in which the impoverished man seeks the woman. And obviously this film hearkens back to stories like Cinderella.