Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Eat a Bug and Save The Planet!

As mentioned in the review of the film Soul Food Junkies, food is about much more than what you put in your body for nutrition. Food is about comfort. Food is about race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender roles, family pride, and many other considerations. Many of us, if we are honest, would probably admit to looking askance at someone else's food choices at some point in our lives. Even though we were usually taught not to publicly deride someone else's diet there's no denying that cultural patterns are often difficult to reject, even if we wanted to break them. We all have taboos under which we live. Some of these taboos (incest, kin-slaying) seem to be almost universal across cultures. These are fundamental to human existence. Society can't exist without them. Other taboos, like those associated with food, may vary widely across or even within cultures. Although the people within a given culture or religion may think that a given taboo is natural and universal, people with different perspectives may find the taboo silly or pointless.  As the culture matures or degrades, depending on your point of view, the taboo against certain foods may be relaxed, eliminated, ignored or forgotten. For example, in the West, dogs are usually companion animals for humans. They may be living tools or toys.They may even be cogs in horrific dog-fighting rings. But they are almost never food. Some other countries do not have this taboo against eating dogs. Similarly in the West most people do not look upon insects as a ready made inexpensive renewable protein source. Eating bugs is still considered to be something pretty nasty and disgusting by most people in the US or Europe. It's something that only poor sad sack people from the Third World would even consider doing. But in some non-Western cultures there is no sense of disgust at consumption of bugs. Food is food. Because meat production, storage and consumption are expensive for the producer and consumer and environment, we may be on the verge of relaxing our taboo on eating insects. There are going to be too many people in the world with tastes for steak and not enough cattle. Insect consumption might be a partial solution to this problem.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Movie Reviews: Soul Food Junkies, Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back

Soul Food Junkies
Directed by Byron Hurt
When you think of soul food what comes to mind? Well I think of food that is traditionally associated with African-Americans such as slow cooked greens, sweet potato pie, macaroni-and-cheese, grits, ribs, chitlins, black-eyed-peas, fried chicken, spicy rice, and other such items. These dishes and style of cooking really come from different antecedents. Kidnapped Africans weren't blank slates. They brought to America their own varied African palates and cooking styles. Africans, Europeans and First Nations peoples in America all learned and shared, willingly or not, each other's recipes and tastes. And during slavery, obviously slaves didn't get the choicest cuts of meat or the best vegetables. They had to make do with what their enslavers provided for them and/or learn to grow their own food. Over the centuries these pressures all combined to create the style of soul food that most black people know today. However there is a problem. Soul food is often heavy in salt, fat, starch, grease and sugar, all things which in large quantities we know are not ideal for human consumption. Black people in America also tend to have some issues with obesity as well as the diseases and conditions which track closely with obesity. These problems include diabetes, hypertension, strokes, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, and cardiac disease, among other issues. Soul Food Junkies is a documentary film directed by Byron Hurt. It examines how the diet which black people used to survive in hostile conditions needs to be altered to help black people live longer and healthier. Hurt frames the story around his own family, particularly his father, who was obese and died of pancreatic cancer in his early sixties. This is not however a sad or preachy story. And it's also not a story which is blaming people who were victims of bad information. Not in the least bit. This is ultimately a very optimistic tale.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Reviews: The Fadeout (Act One)

The Fadeout (Act One)
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
This is the first installment of a mid-length graphic novel set in 1948 Hollywood. There are three acts in total. It's a collection of a serial comic. If you like noir stylings, this story has that in spades. You can almost smell movies like In A Lonely Place, LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia and The Big Sleep wafting from the pages of this story. The Fadeout is not just a collection of cliches and tropes though it certainly puts those to good use. It's a pretty fast paced murder mystery that is both firmly rooted in a certain place and time and like most good literature, universalist in message. There is some violence but if you'll pardon the pun it's not comic book violence. This is serious stuff. In some aspects this is a detective procedural with the most unlikely of protagonists. The writers skillfully mix fictional and real characters in the story. This novel takes the reader back to a time when Hollywood was more literally the land of illusions and dreams. There were no 24-7 gossip websites. People with sexual tastes outside of the norm had a big incentive to keep those desires secret. This went even double for the studios. If a Hollywood glamour queen preferred men of a different race than her own or a Hollywood leading man liked men, the studios would do their best to keep that information strictly on the hush-hush and down low. Only those who needed to know knew about such things. What was later called sexual harassment was rampant. And if a powerful man liked starlets that weren't necessarily of age in all 50 states, then he could do as he pleased, as long as his movies were selling. The lead character in this tale of Hollywood Babylon is Charlie Parish, a WW2 veteran with a drinking problem and what would today be called PTSD. Charlie is a writer for one of the big studios. Like many Hollywood writers, Charlie has relatively low social status within the Los Angeles entertainment circles. Sometimes this bothers him. Sometimes it doesn't. But what does bother Charlie is when after a drinking binge and blackout he wakes up in a house where the actress Valerie Summers was murdered while Charlie slept.

Enter Sandman: Metallica, The Roots and Jimmy Fallon

I thought this was fun. You should always remember not to take everything so seriously.😀

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why Trump's Muslim Ban Is Down But Not Out

As you've likely heard by now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of State of Washington & State of Minnesota v. Trump, ruled 3-0 to uphold the temporary restraining order ("TRO") blocking Trump's Executive Order nationwide. The emergency TRO was put in place a few days ago by federal district court Judge James Robart.  After the TRO went into effect, Trump, true to form, took personal shots at Judge Robart via twitter, calling him a "so-called judge," and launched the appeal that led to yesterday's decision from the 9th Circuit (ironically, Judge Robart is a conservative Judge appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush).  But this fight is far from over and now the world wants to know what happens next.  Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's break down what has happened and what the options are for the Trump Administration going forward.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Open Carry and Double Standards

There are studies which claim to show that police are more likely to use violence against black citizens regardless of the threat level. That is to say that police, black, white or other, tend to view black skin as a threat in and of itself. Other studies claim to show the opposite. Anecdotally there are numerous examples of police violence against black people. Police have shot black men because police mistook a wallet for a gun. Police have choked black men to death because they didn't think the black man was submitting to arrest quickly enough. Police have tackled and body slammed black schoolgirls because they didn't like their attitude. Police have shot black boys because they thought the black boy's toy gun was real. Police have shot black men who were holding BB guns in stores which sell BB guns. Police have shot black men who opened doors in housing projects. Police have shot black men who called police for help. Police have shot black men who were running away from them. Police have publicly strip-searched black men and black women just because they felt like it. Yada, yada, yada. Some police appear to have a lower threshold for using violence against black citizens. It doesn't take much for a black person, armed or not, to put some police officers in fear of their lives. The flip side of this is that some police appear to, with white citizens, at least be open to the idea that deadly force should be a last resort and not the first/immediate one. Michigan is an open carry state. You may legally carry a loaded firearm on your person. This is highly unusual though. Most people don't do it. And there are exceptions to open carry based on location.

Open Carry activists James Baker and Brandon Vreeland, upset about an earlier run-in with the Dearborn police, decided that they needed to file a complaint. They also decided that the best way to make this complaint was to visit the police station and use cameras to document their grievance. Nothing unusual about that right? Nope. Oh I forgot to mention that along with the camera they took along body armor, masks, and a pistol and rifle. They wanted to test the police department's fidelity to the law and the constitution. They didn't prove anything to me other than not being black has its privileges. They weren't immediately lit up. I can't imagine too many black people in today's world doing what they did and living to tell the tale. Video is below. It's a good thing Baker and Vreeland weren't carrying BB guns. Cause then they might have gotten shot.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gigi Datome Has Dunk Blocked By The Backboard

Professional basketball player Luigi "Gigi" Datome is an Italian player who had a brief stint in the NBA playing for the Detroit Pistons and later the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately for Gigi it soon became apparent to the decision makers in the NBA that Gigi, smooth as he might have looked in the European leagues, was truly not ready to compete with the men of the NBA. He lacked the speed and strength to keep up defensively. Unforgivably, against tougher competition with the pressure on, Gigi turned out not to be the deadly three point shooter which he had been marketed as being. Like many players stuck on the far end of the bench Gigi became something of a crowd favorite during his short time in the NBA. I still like to think that he could, in the right situation, offer something to a few teams. But that's neither here nor there. Gigi returned, not so triumphantly I suppose, to European basketball where he resumed being a key member of European championship caliber teams. Recently however, Gigi showed why as far as the NBA was concerned his presence wasn't missed. Gigi took off for a bad intentions baseline dunk ala Wilkens/Jordan/Dr. J but somehow managed to have his shot blocked by the backboard. One minute you're in the NBA. The next minute you're the poster child for "Don't try this at home kids" public service announcements. A man's gotta know his limitations. So it goes.

Movie Reviews: The Calling

The Calling
directed by Jason Stone
This movie had a pretty good cast but wasted them in a story that is by turns stolid and confusing. It has greater than normal amounts of exposition. But those explanatory scenes probably won't make the viewer more interested in the story. This film works the same side of the street as Solace and as Seven. But it's not as good as those films. The film is set in Canada but that's not really all that important to the story. Police Superintendent/Chief Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) is the top law enforcement officer in the Canadian town of Fort Dundas. Fort Dundas is a small sleepy place where everyone knows everyone else. About the worst crime Hazel has to deal with is drivers taking shortcuts over someone else's property. It's just as well because Hazel is definitely in the downshifting area of her life. She's old, embittered due to career and romantic setbacks, burned out and for reasons which are wisely not completely explained suffers from serious back pain. As a result of this pain and other emotional problems Hazel has become a high functioning alcoholic and a prescription pill addict. She's low energy. She just wants to arrive late to work, spend all day doing mostly nothing, and go home to have a drink. Hazel would rather not be bothered, thank you very much. Waiting to get home before having a drink is not a requirement as far as Hazel is concerned. These failings are generally but not always overlooked by Hazel's fussy live-in mother (Ellen Burstyn) and her perceptive and empathetic if occasionally impatient second-in command (Gil Bellows). We may not all have had run-ins with addicts but many of us have dealt with people who show self-destructive behavior or just do things which work our last nerve. When the object of your irritation is someone you love, finding a way to tell them about themselves, let alone getting them to stop the bad behavior can be tricky.

Trump New Yorker Cartoon

These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”
You may have seen this cartoon from the New Yorker magazine. It points out via parody that there really are such things as experts. The obvious comparison is to the election of Trump. An intelligent person wants the expert to be able to do his job without being second guessed by people who lack such expertise. No one wants a non-pilot trying to fly a plane. If you're charged with a crime you want someone who understands and is trained in the law. If your car breaks down then you want it repaired by someone who is mechanically inclined and keeps up with all the relevant certifications. If you discover that you have a life threatening disease then you want someone who has spent the requisite amount of time in medical school and has a proven track record of battling and hopefully curing the malady. Not many people have an issue with any of that, or at least not many smart people. The issue arises when you try to frame this "let the experts do their thing" idea into a rule of thumb for politics. Not only is that not how our system is set up (the only office holding requirements are things like age, citizenship and residency) but this sort of comparison misses the point by a country mile. There are indeed objective criteria that qualify someone to call himself a doctor, lawyer, or auto mechanic. If a doctor tells me that doing x, y and z is a bad idea then I should probably listen to him. If a lawyer informs me that the law means such and such then I should give a little more weight to that opinion. 

Free Speech, Berkeley and Violence

The whole idea of free speech in the United States and to a lesser extent what is referred to as the West is that the State, that is government authority, can not sanction or prevent people from expressing their views. There are of course exceptions to this. I don't really have an interest in detailing or debating every last single court decision or legal argument around such exceptions. I'm not a lawyer. That's not the point of this post. The basic concept of free speech is that each individual is free to distinguish between truth and fiction, good ideas and bad on his or her own, using the logic, free will and intelligence that he or she has been granted by their Creator. In the US at least (again exceptions duly noted) there is no such thing as blasphemy. That is the state generally can't outlaw your speech because the state says it has bad content or is hateful. You can write nasty things about Jesus or Muhammad or Moses. You can make fun of other races or genders. You can't be arrested or put in jail because of bad thought nor can the state prevent you from speaking because of bad thought. These free speech protections do not apply to private actors nor do they allow you to use free speech as part of other illegal actions and claim that the illegal action was protected because of free speech concerns. Free speech doesn't allow you to demand that other people listen to you. Free speech doesn't mean that you can heckle someone and prevent them from being heard. Free speech doesn't mean that you can't be harshly criticized for what you say. Free speech may not even mean that if you say or write something on your own time and dime which your employer or business partner doesn't like that you may find yourself out of a job or business relationship. If you annoy someone on social media that person is under no obligation to talk to you or let you use their platform.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch: Should Democrats Fight or Roll Over?

President Donald Trump, and it still feels funny writing that, nominated Neil M. Gorsuch, Appeals court judge from the 10th Circuit, to serve on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch would replace the late Antonin Scalia and restore the Supreme Court to its full roster of nine justices. Gorsuch, is by the estimation of most of those who work or teach in the legal field, or observe it closely, quite qualified. He has the requisite Ivy League education, pedigree and connections, clerkships, experience and judicial decisions that many would agree that you want in someone who is being considered to serve on the Supreme Court. Most people on the conservative side are predictably thrilled. They see Gorsuch as someone with the intellectual chops of Scalia and the same dedication to conservative outcomes. Of course they would claim that Gorsuch is only correctly applying the law as written. Even some liberal legal scholars are singing the praises of Gorsuch, stating that he's beyond reproach and actually someone even people who may not politically agree with Trump should nonetheless support.

Just as predictably some people on the left are saying that Gorsuch is a very bad choice. And they can point to opinions or statements which would certainly back up their stance. In some respects this is all neither here nor there. Trump was not going to nominate a liberal justice. The only concern that many conservatives have is that Gorsuch doesn't turn into a David Souter-i.e. someone nominated and supported by conservatives who reveals himself on the bench to be a less than reliable conservative vote. Most conservatives seem to think that that won't be the case. Under normal conditions it would probably not be worth having a fight over Gorsuch, especially since he's replacing a conservative voice on the Supreme Court, not a liberal one.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Unintended Consequences of Trump's Muslim Immigration Ban

Lawyers providing pro bono legal services for detainees in JFK 
Where to begin? First, Trump's January 27, 2017 Executive Order cites to the wrong law: "The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview . . . " Section 222 of the INA is 8 U.S.C. 1202, not 1222. 8 U.S.C. 1222 does not require in-person interviews; that would be 8 U.S.C. 1202, not 1222. 

Second, the Executive Order cites to the 19 terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 as the basis for banning any and all immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. However, of those 19 terrorists, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates, 1 was from Egypt, and 1 was from Lebanon. In other words, NONE of the 9/11 terrorists were from the 7 countries now banned by Trump's Executive Order. 

Third (and this is the real kicker), Trump’s Executive Order did not ban any of the Muslim countries where the Trump Organization — which is now being run by his sons — has business interests. Those countries where Trump has business interests include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates — all countries where the 9/11 terrorists actually came from. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Reviews: In the Midnight Hour-The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett
by Tony Fletcher
This was a gift from my brother. This is a beautiful book. As far as I know this is the only complete biography of Wilson Pickett (1941-2006) that exists. There is a quote within the book that really tells you everything about the man who was also known as "Wicked". Picket said in 1979, speaking to another musical journalist that, "James Brown to me is strictly small time. Just some Georgian kid working in some cramped sweaty bar where the stage is so damn small there's only room for him and the drummer.". That Wilson Pickett was quite comfortable calling Soul Brother Number One "small time" and making fun of his show lets you know that if nothing else Pickett had a very healthy ego. It was this ego and drive, along with his earth shattering voice, leonine good looks, and regal stage presence that took him out of the Alabama backwoods to Detroit success and later stardom with New York based Atlantic records. Pickett pioneered the sort of hard soul singing that was strongly based in the black gospel in which he had grown up and first made his mark. Whereas James Brown was a screamer who could sometimes sing, Pickett was a singer who could and did scream in key. Brown might have been funkier but Pickett was soul. I thought the book was at its most interesting when it was detailing Pickett's early days on the Detroit music scene. People who would later become legendary were just kids trying to learn their craft while occasionally getting ripped off along the way. Some famous people went to my neighborhood school. There are also some uncomfortable facts which the book brings up. 

I knew that Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin's father and a civil rights activist and supporter, had a certain reputation as a ladies' man. I didn't really think less of him for that. Most musicians/celebrities have similar reps when you get right down to it. I didn't know that the good Reverend had fathered a child with a twelve-year old. Ugh. 

There's no evidence that Pickett knew about that sordid history. But it is a fact that the devout Pickett, who was a friend to Aretha and sang at the Franklin church, grew tired of singing to drunk/hungover people at Sunday morning services. As Pickett told friends, he might as well be performing secular music if that was going to be his audience. There are some other unpleasant warts revealed but this is not a gossipy salacious book. It doesn't dwell on Pickett's bad side. It just tells it like it was. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

President Trump Executive Order on Private Mortgage Insurance

Dear America - President Trump did not raise mortgages for all American home owners

Quick Synopsis: When you take out a mortgage to purchase a home you generally have a down payment that can range anywhere from 3.5% - 20% of the total purchase price. In the height of the ruckus leading up to 08 crash, banks were doing 0% down loans. We learned our lesson and stopped doing that. To assist first-time home buyers and those with lower incomes or maybe lower credit scores, exists the FHA Mortgage program. The program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Anytime the down payment is less than 20% the homeowner is required to carry "private mortgage insurance"often referred to as PMI. The insurance carries a monthly premium that is in addition to your principal, interest and property taxes. You pay this additional premium until you've reached 20% or more in equity on your home. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Movie Reviews: The Accountant, The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Accountant
directed by Gavin O'Connor
It is a challenge to raise an autistic child. While there are some children who are ultimately too much for their parents to handle and become a danger to themselves and others, other children who fall into that category wind up becoming highly productive and independent, if occasionally eccentric, members of society. There is no current way that we know of to prevent or cure autism. I know some people who are dealing with such situations. It's no picnic. Unlike the parent in this movie though I don't think that in real life most parents of autistic children attempt to train them agoge style. But you never know. It's difficult to review this movie without giving away spoilers even though the twist is pretty obvious after the first 30 minutes or so. Still, the film is entertaining on a couple of different levels. It may make you think a little more about the challenges of dealing with autism or successfully raising another human being in this world. Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck-who is apparently still hitting the weights pretty hard) is an accountant who works out of a small strip mall in Plainfield Illinois. Well he's a little more than an accountant. He has a genius level understanding of mathematics, tax policy, accounting, payroll, etc-anything to do with numbers. He is a high functioning autistic with some severe though controlled OCD issues. He likes things to be just so. He doesn't get humor, white lies or really understand most of the rules that define our daily interactions with each other. If you ask him if he likes an item of clothing you're wearing or if he enjoyed a gift you gave him he's going to tell you the truth without any regard for your feelings. He has difficulty making eye contact or speaking outside of a monotone. He tends to take things literally, He lacks any sense of sarcasm. We see via flashbacks that Christian used to be much less able to deal with outside stimuli than he currently is. But in various montages that are reminiscent of Batman movies, his father trained and had others train Christian to face his fears and deal with them. This normally involved physical stress of some kind.