Saturday, March 28, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones: Quick Draw Videos

Some people on my facebook feed or at my workplace who pride themselves either on not being up to date on pop culture or on not reading anything remotely fantastical have finally gotten a vague idea that this Game of Thrones television thing is somehow popular in some circles. So they have asked me to explain it to them in a way that they can understand. At this point it's a bit much to try to break down everything that the story includes. And if they didn't pay attention the first time I tried years prior I usually won't have much patience for doing so again.  Maybe I will start using the below new 60 second quick draw video shorts on the lives of Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Ygritte, and Khal Drogo to explain the important story elements of the Game of Thrones series to people. I think the videos are good accurate summations of the key events. The videos are useful if someone has a short attention span. Of course hopefully these videos are also amusing to people who've read the books or watched the show. 

Movie Reviews: Sword of Vengeance

Sword of Vengeance
Directed by Jim Weedon
When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings and became the first Norman King of England, not everyone on the island was thrilled with this turn of events. Some nobles refused to swear allegiance. Others were slow to provide feudal service or managed to be out of town whenever William sent messages requesting same. A few peasants and merchants were always telling William that their tax payment must have gotten lost in the mail. They were sure it would turn up any day now. The church hierarchy remained dominated by Saxons who weren't necessarily loyal to the new Norman overlords. Some folks even mocked William's accent, his illegitimate birth and mother's lowborn status. This last was a really bad idea as William's berserk button was anyone saying ANYTHING remotely negative about his mother. William tended to break things (and people) when someone insulted dear old mum. The people who were the most dismissive and defiant of the Normans were the Saxons in the north of England. They had rustled up a rival Saxon heir to the throne. They were buoyed by a Danish incursion (at this time the Danish and northern Saxons were close kin). Apparently the Northern English believed that William was too far away to do anything to them. Well they were wrong about that. This was not an era that rewarded weak or indecisive leaders. And William was neither. He was a brutal man for brutal times. When his enemies refused to bend the knee, William decided to bury those cockroaches, Norman style. William launched an invasion of the North that was considered close to genocide by contemporaneous historians. In what was called the Harrowing, William and his armies not only defeated, executed, chased off or paid off rebel armies, they also ruthlessly and thoroughly destroyed the ability of the North to rebel ever again. 

Book Reviews: Killing Johnny Fry

Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel
by Walter Mosley
Killing Johnny Fry is an older novel by Mosley that I never got around to reading. I had heard both good and bad things about it. But mostly I heard that it was very different from his usual style. So nothing if not curious I finally felt compelled to sit down and read this book during my all too rare and rapidly shrinking lunch breaks.
Well.
Different doesn't begin to describe what's going on here, though the change is still more in subject matter and tone than it is in style. Although the subject matter and language may be something new to Mosley's work, the everyman hero is certainly someone who would have fit quite easily in Mosley's other novels. Although Killing Johnny Fry is not technically pornographic if only because the primary purpose of the text is presumably not physical self-pleasure, Killing Johnny Fry is sexually explicit to the point where it could just as easily be pornography. You say toe-may-toe. I say toe-mah-toe. One might say that Killing Johnny Fry is an erotic novel of adventure. I have often noticed that people, including yours truly, and for that matter animals, often take things for granted. When I was a child my family had two dogs. The older dog would often ignore the toys we gave her until the younger dog tried to play with the toy. The older dog would bare her teeth or grab the toy and walk out of the room. Humans are similar. When someone tries to use or take something of yours without asking, you'll probably protest even if you weren't using the item. I can't steal a classic car from your garage and successfully defend myself by saying that you had not been properly maintaining the vehicle. People often feel that same possessiveness towards providers of their nookie. It doesn't matter if said nookie wasn't very good or the provider was unskilled or indifferent. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inkster Cops Beat Black Man

So much of how police react to you depends not just on what you do but on you who are. If you are a black man or even a black woman, police are much more likely to see you as a threat to be neutralized than if you are of another race. This is regardless of whether you are actually doing anything wrong. At every point in the justice system black people don't get the benefit of the doubt. A situation that would call for a friendly warning results in snide lectures and tickets. Wallets are mistaken for guns. What would normally require a stern talking to turns into an arrest. A situation that necessitates probation ends up in incarceration. Instead of a ticket you get a beating. A child playing with a toy gun is shot dead. This is a nationwide problem. It's not just Ferguson or the South or in small towns where there is explicit racial hatred far beyond the ordinary. It's not an individual problem but a systemic one. I was recently reminded of this ugly truth when a local retired(?) black man named Floyd Dent, driving through a mostly black city, cruised past a stop sign and was soon after stopped and beaten by city police officers. The police later claimed to have found crack cocaine in Dent's vehicle. This brings to mind Dave Chappelle's skit line of "Sprinkle some crack on him and let's get out of here." Mr. Dent tested negative for drugs. He has no criminal record. He points out that his fingerprints are not on the bag that the police claim to have found in his car. Charges of fleeing and resisting arrest have already been dropped. The drug charges have not been dropped. Dent did have a suspended license. The cop seen punching Mr. Dent in the head had previously been acquitted of, among other things, planting evidence. 

Watch the below video. Make up your own mind. I don't think that the police were defending themselves. They started beating on Dent immediately. This is about hatred, fear and frustration. We can talk about retraining police but the only way to reduce and ultimately stop these incidents is for police to know that they will be imprisoned when found guilty of such actions. That's a very rare occurrence. Otherwise perhaps Cliven Bundy had some good ideas on how to deal with the police?

Germanwings Plane Crash Was "Deliberate"

I hate flying.  I hate the lines, the security checks, the lack of legroom in the seats, the extra fees that airlines tack on for everything that used to be free.  But most of all, I hate the feeling of turbulence while flying.  Every time the plane shakes I'm the guy looking out the window to make sure that the wings of the plane are still attached to the plane's body.  So it's safe to say that one of my greatest fears is going down in a plane crash.  Such a fear was unfortunately realized by 144 people recently who were on board the Germanwings Flight #9525 which descended into the French Alps earlier this week.

Per NY Times:
The chief Marseille prosecutor handling the investigation into the crash of a Germanwings jetliner said on Thursday that evidence from the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the co-pilot had deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and steered the plane into its fatal descent.
“At this moment, in light of investigation, the interpretation we can give at this time is that the co-pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander, and activated the button that commands the loss of altitude,” the prosecutor, Brice Robin, said.
He said it appeared that the intention of the co-pilot, identified as Andreas Lubitz, had been “to destroy the aircraft.” He said that the voice recorder showed that the co-pilot had been breathing until before the moment of impact, suggesting that he was conscious and deliberate in killing 144 passengers and five other crew members in the French Alps on Tuesday.
And probably the worst part of all of this:

The captain is heard begging to get back in to the cockpit, but the co-pilot, heard breathing normally until the plane crashed, did not react, Mr. Robin said.
“You can hear the commanding pilot ask for access to the cockpit several times,” the prosecutor said. “He identifies himself, but the co-pilot does not provide any answer.”
“You can hear human breathing in the cockpit up until the moment of impact,” he said.
Before the plane crashed, he said, the sound of passengers screaming could be heard.
During the descent, he said, air traffic controllers repeatedly tried to contact the aircraft but received no response.

Reactions?



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is Ted Cruz Eligible to Run for President of The United States of America?

A Canadian is Running for President of the United States and the GOP is Okay with That?

Let's pretend for a moment that President Obama was indeed born in Kenya to his Kenyan father and very American (US Citizen born and raised) mother, that would be okay according to the GOP and supporters of the Canadian born Ted Cruz. Right? Would the "Birther Movement" even exist and would it have lasted as long as it did? Would we know who Orly Tate was? Would President Obama's birth certificate seen the light of day?

Will those same folks who questioned President Obama's legitimacy have similar questions for Ted Cruz, starting now?


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Movie Reviews: Horrible Bosses 2, The Crusades Documentary

Horrible Bosses 2
directed by Sean Anders
If you liked the first movie then you may like this remake sequel. Virtually everything is the same only MORE and DUMBER. I could probably just stop writing right there, actually. But that wouldn't be very descriptive would it? Horrible Bosses 2 features tons of sex jokes, the normal levels of cleavage, dangerous misunderstandings with the police, shockingly inept protagonists, inadvertent racial insults, car chases and various double crosses. Some of this is occasionally funny. But generally this movie is more hit or miss than the previous film. I guess your enjoyment of this flick will depend on your mood and your tolerance of lowest common denominator jokes. What was transgressive or fresh in the first movie is just "been there, done that" in the second. I think I checked out mentally when the sex crazed dentist Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston) revealed her familiarity with some very disgusting and filthy activities. But hey, to each their own. This film is horribly uneven. There are some (too few) very funny set pieces. But there are also plenty of scenes that didn't work too well. It reminded me of an aging boxer still trying to stick and move but missing his target and getting repeatedly tagged by a younger, quicker rival. Still, just like that old boxer, this film every now and again lands a belly blow that will leave you rolling on the floor (hopefully in laughter, not pain) This was definitely not a movie that needed to be seen in the theater so I'm glad I didn't spend the money to watch it there.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Epic Failure That is Damon Dash!

We all know Damon Dash as the often combative and egotistical former part owner of Roc-A-Fella Records. He rose to fame in the 90's through his partnership with Jay-Z. For years we heard stories of Dame's temper and his no nonsense approach to business. We saw him in video's, interviews and anything hip-hop related. At one point wherever you saw Jay-Z, you saw Dame. Jay-Z and Dame Dash were epic and turned the business that is hip-hop upside down on its head. Using the blueprint created by Sean "Puffy" Combs, they expanded the business of music outside of music and made a lot of money together. The two seemed to work well together because they some what balanced each other out. Jay was the calm chess player making conscious and calculative moves, while Dame seemed to be the more aggressive my way or the high way, I'll put my hands on you type who just happened to get shit done. Over the years Dame gave us laughs and a lot of "huh, did he really say that" moments. I'll never forget hearing him describe his relationship with Aaliyah, in which he declared she was just so great so he never had to argue or raise his voice at her. One of my favorites was his "Harlem Makes it, Brooklyn Takes it, the Bronx Fakes it" mantra. I always thought Dame was pure ignorance. He always seemed like a ticking time bomb about to explode. To really understand who Damon Dash and what he is about, just sit back and think -- how was Jay-Z able to walk away with Roc-A-Fella so easily and flip it into the multi-conglomerate that is now RocNation? If you listen to Dame talk and watch him pump his fists about his money, his clout and all that he did, you have to wonder what really went wrong with that relationship. 

When Dame made a stop at New York's "Power 105.1's Breakfast Club" morning radio show, not only did Dame show us why his relationship with Jay-Z no longer exists, he threw a whole new stink of ignorance out into the atmosphere and showed us exactly how he conducts business........

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring Finally Arrives!

"This is no thaw. This is spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed I tell you!"-The Dwarf in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Although fall is my favorite season by a huge margin I also enjoy spring, at least the early part of spring. It's good to live in a country or an area which has four well defined seasons. I like that. And I like spring. From a purely prosaic standpoint spring usually means a (not large enough) pay raise/bonus and the ability to turn off the gas heat in my house. Both of those things mean more money in my pocket which is a good thing. Obviously there's a lot more that's good about spring that has nothing to do with greenbacks. Another great feature of spring is that the ice, snow and cold of winter has departed or is about to depart. Walking through the cool streets early in the morning all you hear is the sound of water from the melted snow rushing through the sewer system. Your vehicle is no longer encrusted with all the salt, muck and mud of the Midwest winter. You can venture outside without having to wrap yourself up in layers of clothing. You can stay outside without wondering if you're putting yourself at risk of frostbite or fever. Many birds have come back; those who never left are more vocal. Spring is that sweet spot where it's cool enough so that no one is running around reeking of sweat and funk but warm enough so that you can enjoy the feeling of the sun on your skin. Sunshine is the best way to ensure that you're getting your vitamin D, after all. And that is very important for your health. There's something to be said for clean air and sunshine.

Book Reviews: Murcheston

Murcheston The Wolf's Tale
by David Holland
This is an older book which you will hopefully be able to find online or in a quality used bookstore. Everyone should be so lucky as to live close to a good used bookstore. You never know what you might find there. If you happen to have literary tastes that range beyond the pedestrian these are good places to hang out. Unlike the few remaining big box bookstores these tend to be quiet places that cater to people who actually like to discover new authors and genres. Used bookstores often have their own (quite literally in some cases) funky aroma and style, whether it be an insouciant feline who struts across the counter while you're trying to pay for your purchase, a sleepy old dog who warily watches you from one eye or a clerk of indeterminate gender and excessive body hair who apparently hasn't showered or used deodorant since sometime during the Clinton Administration. But if you're a bookhound you put up with all of this and perhaps even enjoy it in small dosages. You do that because occasionally you discover little gems like this book. It is no spoiler to say that this book plunges into the supernatural, as should be evident from both the title and the cover art. Duh. But what sets this book apart is not the supernatural story but the philosophy, worldview and settings that animate the story. It tells the tale of a world long gone in Victorian era Great Britain. This setting still engages the imagination of many. At just under 400 pages this book is a quick read but one that is still relatively dense. You are easily brought into the description of events and will want to find out what happens next. The story seamlessly switches between third person and first person. The first person is largely told via diary flashbacks, something which (deliberately?) puts the reader in mind of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blurred Lines: Jury Finds for Marvin Gaye

From USA Today:

(Photo: David Buchan, Getty Images)
Was it simply an homage? Or flat-out copying? The jury decided Tuesday it was copying.
That's what has been at issue in the musically-packed, big-money Los Angeles trial over 2013 hit Blurred Lines.

Musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. preemptively sued the family of late singer Marvin Gaye for a determination on whether their hit song was an infringement on the copyright for Gaye's 1977 hit song, Got to Give it Up. Gaye's family counter-sued.

On Tuesday, Gaye's camp emerged victorious. The eight member jury voted unanimously that Thicke and song producer Williams had infringed on the 1977 Gaye song.

The jury awarded $7.3 million to Gaye's family. His children — Nona, Frankie and Marvin Gaye III — were present in court when the verdict was read.

University of Oklahoma Racist Frat SAE Suspended

By now you may have seen the video of some members of the SAE chapter at the University of Oklahoma and their friends allegedly singing a racist ditty about how they would never ever ever have black members in their Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter. I am not surprised by this even though I suppose in some quarters it's almost expected to say you're not surprised by these events. People usually drop their masks and speak and behave more honestly when they are surrounded by those that they consider their own kind. This is true across racial, religious, ethnic and gender lines. It's just the way that human beings are constructed. So no surprises here. But it does provide some anecdotal contradiction to the notion that the United States as a whole and as a collective is always moving forward when it comes to racial animosity. These young white people on the bus are future CEO's, hiring managers, jurors, judges, professors, FBI agents, realtors, venture capitalists, university administrators and many other future leaders who will have plenty of opportunities to put their prejudices into practice. So that's the real issue here. These are not people who grew up under segregation or explicit white supremacy. These are people who were for the most part born after 1994 or so. And yet they are behaving just as their grandmothers and grandfathers would have behaved back in 1964. So it goes. Racism is an ugly weed that will always continue to bloom anew. The other thing that comes to mind watching the below video is that we should remember that there are limits to integration and very good historical and current reasons for the establishment and maintenance of black political and social organizations.

HBO Game of Thrones: Season Five New Trailer

Well, well well. What have we here? It's yet another trailer for the new Game of Thrones Season Five starting April 12. This snippet is a little longer than the previous trailers. It touches upon a few more storylines. There are a few things referenced from the most recently published book. This looks good. I am starting to anticipate this season a little more than I had been. I will be interested to learn what items were cut from the books and what surprises are in store for us all. Unless this was all taken from episode nine (snicker) it appears that there could be more exciting things happening throughout the entire season. Time will tell. Perhaps Daenerys is ready to return to her continent of birth and reclaim the Iron Throne? Are Stannis and Roose Bolton going to have a conflict? How are the Red Viper's relatives and friends going to deal with his death? And the dragons are yet bigger. Will Tyrion end up back at the top of the game or will he continue to be everyone's lovable loser? Will Margaery be able to bend King Tommen to her will and remove him from the influence of Cersei, his capriciously cruel mother? How will the creators keep up the quality and excitement as the story moves into some places that I wasn't crazy about in the books? What is Brienne's purpose now? Where does she go? What does she do? Well it all goes down on April 12.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Conservatives Challenge Obamacare In The Supreme Court...Again

After practicing law in litigation for a number of years, you come to see that there are two types of lawyers: (i) those who argue to win on the merits; and (ii) those who try to win on technicalities.  The courts do not like to decide cases on technicalities.  If given the option, most judges will opt to hear a case in full and decide the controversy on its merits so that each side has their day in court.  Yet there are still those practitioners out there who would rather spend their time, their adversary's time, and the court's time looking up arguments that amount to whether or not a case should be dismissed in its entirety because the lawyer for the other side forgot to dot the "I" or cross the "T" on the 16th page of their 42-page brief.  These types of arguments seldom ever do more than cause a lot of unnecessary headaches for those who have to actually respond to them, and most courts have developed remedies to satisfy the nitpickers of the world while keeping a case moving forward towards resolution on the merits.  Usually, the remedy is for the court to say to said nitpicker "ok yes, technically what you're saying is true, but we all know that the intended result here goes against what you're saying."  In other words, courts tend to favor intent over technicalities.

Enter David King, Douglas Hurst, Brenda Levy, and Rose Luck, the nitpicker plaintiffs in the case King v. Burwell, which is the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka "ObamaCare").

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Movie Reviews: The Curse of the Werewolf, The Salvation, The Raid 2

The Curse of the Werewolf
directed by Terence Fisher
This film is a favorite which I just watched again. I am on something of a Hammer binge lately. The Curse of the Werewolf was a classic Hammer Film and AFAIK its only take on the werewolf myth. It's a film that I think I must have first seen when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old. I can't be sure. I am certain however that I would definitely not have watched this film with my parents. It just wasn't that kind of movie. I would not have been comfortable. There would have been a pretty good chance during a certain scene I might have heard something along the lines of  "Shady, I'm not sure this movie is for you". Snicker. And that would have been that. The Curse of the Werewolf did leave an impression on me, not just because of the gravity defying nature of Yvonne Romain's bountiful charms but also because of the essential unfairness and arbitrariness of the titular curse which afflicts Oliver Reed (seen here in one of his earliest film roles before obtaining his famous facial scar in a bar fight). This was Reed's first lead role, though ironically he doesn't appear on screen until about halfway thru the film.  I sometimes tend towards the cynical and fatalistic so Oliver Reed's smoldering cursed from birth protagonist appealed to me. Reed's character was literally born under a bad sign, as the Albert King song would put it. His fate was fixed.