Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Interview: North Korea Punks Sony and Hollywood

I don't like confrontations. However there are situations where some people or organizations will provoke a conflict to take something from you or yours. Maybe it's your lunch money or a job promotion. Maybe it's your self-respect. Maybe someone has insulted your little sister. When these things happen the only thing you can do is fight. Someone wants to throw down? You give them all they expect and more. You need to punch the bully in the mouth. You won't always win. You may get a beatdown, figuratively or even literally. But by fighting back you raise the cost of the clash. Bullies, like other predators, seek easy weak prey. If they have trouble taking things from you then even if they win the resulting fight this time, the next time they may leave you alone.  When you fight back you might win. You show the bully and other observers that the bully made a mistake. By refusing to cave to extortion you reveal that it's the bully, not you, who is the weak cringing coward. Sometimes just standing up to a bully may end the situation. It's hard to say for sure. But it's certain that allowing yourself to be bullied, to be insulted, to be humiliated, will bring more of the same. Once you get on your knees for someone it's pretty difficult to stand up straight again. Unfortunately Sony executives, other Hollywood magnates, film distributors and theater owners never seemed to learn this critical life lesson. Hackers connected to the North Korean government broke into Sony's databases to steal sensitive, private and confidential information. They warned Sony not to release The Interview, a Seth Rogen satirical comedy about the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. 

The hackers threatened to publicize other private information or to engage in unspecified 9-11 type actions. They also threatened Sony's vendors and business partners. Sony and US film distributors crumpled like a wet paper bag. Major theater chains declined to show the film. Sony pulled the film from release. 

Movie Reviews: As Above, So Below, The November Man

As Above, So Below
directed by John Eric Dowdle
What is the basis of fear? It's the unknown isn't it? It's the dark. In the dark our primary sense of sight is useless. That in and of itself can cause disorientation. Another major fear that many people suffer from to a greater or lesser degree is claustrophobia. I might have a tinge of this myself. I don't like the feeling of being restrained, caged or closed in someplace. At all times I want to know that I'm in control, that I can get up and leave from wherever I might be, that I can move around and breathe freely. As Above, So Below is an interesting horror film that combines the hoary old tropes of found footage and handheld cameras with some cool historical and semi-mythological information. It gives a tip of the hat to films like National Treasure,  Angels and Demons or The DaVinci Code. Obviously it also makes very strong references to The DescentIt may raise the more thoughtful viewer's curiosity about lost cities, ancient science and the flotsam and jetsam of civilization. As mentioned, the film emphasizes the simple fears of being trapped and lost somewhere in the dark. The ending is not the best in my estimation but no film is perfect. I did like that not everything was explained. The movie allows you to make up your own mind about some things. This film uses some very simple and classic techniques to ratchet up dread and excitement. Generally speaking my interest was kept throughout the entire film with only one or two dead spots. The movie maintained viewer interest without too many magnificent massive mountains of mammary gland tissue displayed willy nilly or excessive grotesque gratuitous gut-wrenching ultra-violence. So I suppose that's a skill that must be recognized. It is possible to make an entertaining film and scare people with only modest amounts of violence or toplessness. There are plenty of shocks and frights that the viewer may know are coming. Until the very end these shocks still manage to impress. Sometimes very simple techniques can work the best. And believe it or not, the black guy didn't die first. He's not a primary character but not dying first is a step forward.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lansing Michigan Satanic Temple Holiday Display

I am not religious. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am also however a big believer in the right of the individual to make a stand based on his or her sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs. Sometimes, these tenets can conflict. What is right or good is not immediately apparent. In the past few decades though what has been apparent is that some devoutly religious Christian people feel that there is a "war on Christmas" or that they are losing ground in American culture. This has provoked a backlash in which some Christians seek to leverage their majority status to place a Christian imprimatur on government and/or secular functions. The classic examples of this are attempts to make Christianity the official religion of a state or the entire country, Christian prayers at legislative sessions, which the Supreme Court upheld (wrongly imo) and the never ending battles over holiday nativity scenes at government buildings. When challenged over the last, people supportive of such scenes often ask those opposed what's the big deal, advise them to quit being so sensitive and suggest that they have a nice warm steaming cup of STFU. Well.
I am not among those who are outraged by nativity scenes but I definitely sympathize with those who are. And once you open the gates to allowing religious displays on government property, well then you need to understand that it's an all or nothing type of rule. The people in Lansing, Michigan, our capital, are learning that this holiday season as the Satanic Temple (Detroit Chapter) is moving ahead with plans to place its own holiday display on the Capitol lawn. The Satanic display was originally planned in response to a Christian nativity scene but the Christians were apparently lacking in organizational skills and so far have not finalized plans to get their nativity scene in place.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guns Guns Guns!!!

Today, we'll let the stories speak for themselves:

From Australia:

The gunman who held hostages for more than 16 hours in a Sydney cafe was no stranger to police -- and was on bail for violent criminal offenses at the time of the siege.
Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born refugee who was granted political asylum in Australia in 2001, had "a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.
"It's pretty obvious that the perpetrator was a deeply disturbed individual," he said at a press conference Tuesday, adding that the 50-year-old was "well known" to federal and state police, as well as the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.
"But I don't believe he was on a terror watch list at this time."
New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said authorities were investigating why Monis -- who was killed in the siege -- was at large, given his criminal background.
"We're all outraged that this guy was on the street," he told reporters. "We need to understand why he was. We also need to understand why he wasn't picked up."


Uniformed militants attacked a school, killing at least 126 people and taking hostages on Tuesday, an official said - an atrocity condemned by the White House as "heinous."
"The gunmen entered class by class and shot some kids one by one," a student who was in the school at the time told local media.
Provincial official Bahramand Khan said at least 126 people were killed and 122 injured. More than 100 of the dead were school children, he added. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to be targeting the the children of senior military officials.
Bombs planted by the attackers slowed rescue efforts, a military official said, adding that operations at the scene were "closing up".

And not to be outdone, from the good old US of A:

The manhunt for a Marine veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five of her relatives amid a child custody dispute has spread to two suburban Philadelphia counties.
Some schools were closed Tuesday, hospitals and other public places increased security and residents remained on heightened alert, even as officials lifted a shelter-in-place order for parts of Bucks County, where a knife-wielding, fatigue-clad man resembling suspect Bradley William Stone attempted a carjacking Monday night.
The killings and the manhunt through neighborhoods and woods echoed two other Pennsylvania tragedies: George Banks shooting and killing 13 people, including five of his children, at two locations in Wilkes-Barre in 1982; and Eric Frein's 48 days on the run through the Poconos after a shooting in September killed a state trooper and injured another.
Monday's shooting rampage started before dawn at the home of Stone's former sister-in-law in Souderton and ended about 90 minutes later at ex-wife Nicole Stone's apartment in nearby Harleysville, prosecutors said.
Stone's former wife, 33-year-old Nicole Stone, was found dead after a neighbor saw Brad Stone fleeing just before 5 a.m. Monday with their two young daughters.
Police then made the grim discovery of five people killed in two other houses: Nicole Stone's sister, brother-in-law and 14-year-old niece were dead. A 17-year-old nephew was left clinging to life. And her mother and grandmother had been fatally shot.
Brad Stone and his ex-wife had been locked in a court fight over their children's custody since she filed for divorce in 2009. He filed an emergency motion early this month, although the resulting Dec. 9 ruling remains sealed in court files.
 Your thoughts?
 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Music Reviews: The Chi-Lites, Stuff

The Chi-Lites
As much as any other music artist or group not named James Brown or The Jackson Five, The Chi-Lites were the primary group that would exist on a soundtrack of my childhood. I have many positive early memories that involve Chi-Lites songs. My father sang a lot around the house. I recall Chi-Lites songs being among his favored groups. People tend to look back through a rosy lens at the music of their childhood; I am likely no different in this regard. Nonetheless I do think that The Chi-Lites were special for their time and compare positively with a lot of the singers around today. The Chi-Lites (a Chicago based group, hence the name) were a smooth soul/R&B singing group that updated fifties doo-wop stylings for the then current pop/soul market. They combined soul, gospel, pop, funk and slight mixtures of rock-n-roll and even lounge music for a format and sound that was pretty perfectly balanced between sweetness and grit. A lot of their early work featured compositions which opened with heart felt spoken word intros that segued into passionate tenor leads, sparse instrumentation with occasional fuzzed out guitar leads and slickly harmonized backup singing. Like any other group that wanted to sell records and thus continue to eat, the Chi-Lites changed with the times, moving from the funk, romance and nationalist inspired lyrics of the early seventies to smoother semi-disco sounds of the late seventies and early eighties. I prefer the earlier sounds which are disproportionately represented here but to each his or her own. If you are into soul music or pop-soul with generally positive, or at least not overtly negative lyrics, The Chi-Lites may have something for you. Musically you can easily hear the family relationship between The Chi-Lites and Curtis Mayfield's music or some of Hendrix's clean toned ballads. 

The Chi-Lites' primary, albeit not exclusive, songwriter and lead singer was Eugene Record. His plaintive tenor defined male romantic need though it would take time before I understood his lyrics.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"TOP FIVE" in Theatre's Today - Who Makes Your List? Dead or Alive


In honor of the release (TODAY) of "TOP FIVE" written and directed by Chris Rock, let's discuss your TOP FIVE.

First watch this fun roundtable where Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Angie Martinez, Ed Lover, Miss info, Jayson Rodriguez, Datwon, and Shaheem Reid discuss and defend their TOP FIVE list of greatest rappers ever.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee Releases CIA Torture Report

The Senate Intelligence Committee just recently released a declassified (by the White House) report on torture engaged in by the CIA and other agencies under the Bush Administration post 9-11. There's not too much here which is surprising or that was unknown to anyone who was paying attention to some of the leaks and other allegations that have come out over the past decade. And certainly it's not unknown to the people who were tortured or the governments which assisted the US in activities which are illegal under both national and international laws. No, the only people who might be surprised are American citizens who don't pay a tremendous amount of attention to what their government is doing. Because the Obama Administration whiffed on bringing these perpetrators to justice immediately after the inauguration it's unlikely that any of these folks will ever be identified and held to account under the American criminal justice system. Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful thing sometimes, eh? But that aside as others have said in a democracy, in a constitutional republic, in America, theoretically the citizens are still the boss. And the boss always has the right and for that matter the obligation to know what his employees are doing. It is amusing to me that some of the conservatives who were against this release claim to be more concerned about the possible negative impact on US interests or citizens overseas than they are about the rights of US citizens to know the crimes the government has committed in their name. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Highland Park Police Love Triangle

The town of Highland Park, Michigan is not really a suburb of Detroit as the entire town is within Detroit. It is almost smack dab center in Detroit. Although it is an independent municipality, it has more or less the same class and racial demographics as Detroit and many of the same financial and tax issues. Center Line is a suburb of Detroit though, it, like Highland Park is surrounded by a larger city, in this case Warren. Warren and Center Line have (changing) demographics which still remain quite different from those of Detroit and Highland Park although neither Warren nor Center Line is a rich area. Thus concludes the SE Michigan geography lesson. I mention that only to point out that no place has a monopoly on stupidity. Although nationally you might have heard of this story as "Detroit area" or "Detroit cops" apparently none of this took place in the City of Detroit proper. So thank goodness for small favors.


I won't judge anyone else's private proclivities. You put a camera in anyone's bedroom you might be surprised at what you find. All I will say is that when your private behavior causes you to have to pull guns on people with whom you were previously doing the do, perhaps you might want ask yourself if you are really making good decisions. Because I'm thinking you're not. Fortunately nobody in this story was shot though but that was mostly through dumb luck. Situations like this while possibly humorous because of the exposed private affairs are also important reminders that police are not necessarily any more worthy of respect than other people. Though as they are usually armed they can be more dangerous than other people. But police or not some things are just dumb. Stupid is as stupid does. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. Watch the video below the jump.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Reviews: The Devil's Red Nickel, The Sinatra Club, The Savage Sword of Conan

The Devil's Red Nickel 
by Robert Greer
In some very minor respects this mystery novel walks the same side of the street as similar works by Walter Mosley and Gar Anthony Haywood in that it imagines a black hero in a genre which still has very few such characters. But aside from the fact that the three authors share chromosomes and similar melanin levels and take black humanity for granted there's not too much else in common. The writing styles are utterly different. C.J. Floyd is a middle aged bail bondsman/private detective who lives in Denver, Colorado. He's definitely and defiantly old school. He drives around town in his 1957 Bel Air convertible. He's a man who loves listening to doo-wop and classic R&B. Think Esther Phillips and not Beyonce. Floyd is not exactly a wealthy man. In fact he's under some financial constraints because he's having some issues with people skipping their bond. But Floyd's not a man to let anything get in his way of doing what he sees as the right thing. He's good people. An older man named Leroy Polk dies of what appears to be a heart attack. The doctors/medical examiners find one of Floyd's business cards among the dead man's effects. Now Floyd did not know Leroy Polk personally but like millions of other people he knew the man intimately in Polk's persona of "Daddy Doo-Wop", a Chicago area DJ, music promoter, A&R man, producer and would be record company owner. Daddy Doo-Wop helped break tons of black music acts throughout the Midwest and West. Record companies and their acts would do their best to get their music played on his show. If Daddy Doo-Wop played your record that could make you famous and make you a lot of money. On the other hand if he didn't like your music it could be very difficult to get people to come to your shows. In some instances you might as well have quit the music industry and taken up needlepoint.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rolling Stone Magazine Retracts UVA Fraternity Rape Allegations

Although it should scarcely need to be repeated for the generally fair minded individuals who read this blog every last single one of us has our own individual biases, which are often magnified and accelerated by our experiences and the gender, race, class, sexual, political and other identities through which we experience the world. It’s just the way human beings are. So that is why it is important, though we can all forget it from time to time, to remember that an accusation does not equal proof that a crime occurred. Sometimes people do not remember what happened. Sometimes people lie. And I have not seen any evidence that shows that lying is solely or even disproportionately the preserve of one gender or another. Men and women are equally human. We all have both angels and devils lurking within.

So when the Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape at UVA came out, complete with such lurid details as beatings and rape as fraternity initiation and a woman being violated on top of broken glass, I didn’t feel one way or the other about it. I wanted to see some proof. There were some inconsistencies in the account that made me think that this was more of an urban legend than an actual event but I am not a journalist or criminologist. If true then someone definitely should have been arrested and charged (unless of course the assailants were cops but I digress) Unfortunately UVA and the people who are concerned with stopping rape didn’t bother waiting to find out whether this was true or not before taking action against the fraternity (in UVA’s case) or repeating what have turned out to be untruths (in the case of the media and various other social justice warriors)

Why EVERYONE Should Care About Our Justice System's Failure to Prosecute Law Enforcement for the Deaths of Citizens






My Two Cents........


We are living in very interesting times.


A police officer can murder a man using a maneuver that is not only violent and inhumane, but banned by the very organization which employs the officer. This can all be captured on video but not deemed a crime.

Police officers can murder children for no reason except that they felt scared. That is not considered a crime. There is a serious problem here and it should pique everyone's interest, regardless of race. Officer Daniel Pantaleo was an eight year veteran of the New York City Police Department. Within those eight years he has cost the taxpayers of New York City a great deal of shame and $30,000 in lawsuit settlement costs.

In 2013 Darren Rice and Tommy Rice filed a federal lawsuit alleging that their civil rights were violated when Officer Daniel Pantaleo and four other officers (including a sergeant) wrongfully subjected them to a public strip search. This search included the removal of their pants and underwear in broad day light. Of course the officers claimed they never strip searched the men, making this a civilian's word versus an officer's word situation. However, when it came to giving just cause for stopping the men in the first place, conflicting stories were given by all of the officers involved. This led to the City of New York settling for a monetary amount with the men and closing the case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No Indictment for NYPD Officer Responsible for the Death of Eric Garner

 
No Indictment in Murder of Eric Garner

A Real Conversation on Race

In the days since the announcement by Ferguson, Missouri District Attorney Bob McCulloch that former police officer Darren Wilson did not commit an indictable offense when he fired multiple shots at and ultimately killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, the national discourse has erupted with the usual suspects calling for an open and honest conversation on race yet speaking only to their own respective echo chambers.  The liberal crowd has rushed to MSNBC to decry all things police, while the conservative crowd has rushed to Fox News to decry all things Michael Brown.  Like two ships passing in the night, the two camps are largely speaking past one another as opposed to speaking to one another. 

One event, however, triggered both camps to look up and take notice when the St. Louis Rams demonstrated their support of the protesters of the Michael Brown shooting.  It seems that the problems between minorities and the criminal justice system is a problem that most in America are willing to (somewhat) acknowledge, but when it interrupts Monday night football then things have gone too far.  People like MSNBC's Joe Scarborough immediately turned red and went on now-infamous tirade about how the St. Louis Rams players should be punished and should apologize and how the entire "Hands Up" symbol is, according to Scarborough, based on a lie and should not be repeated.  Fox New's Greta Van Susteren similarly took offense to the act and stated that football should be off limits to discussions of race or politics.  Then, almost within the same breath, both Scarborough and Van Susteren called for an open and honest dialogue about race.  Apparently this "open and honest dialogue" does not apply to Americans who play in the National Football League.  If you're finding it difficult to reconcile these two contradictory notions then you're probably not alone. 

The point is this: if you want to make progress towards improving America's race problem (and let's not waste time debating whether there is, in fact, a problem) then you must be willing to address it not only when it conveniences you but also (and here's the kicker) when it inconveniences you.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bill Cosby Rape Allegations and Al Sharpton Tax Issues

It's difficult to keep up with the various rape accusations against Bill Cosby. There are currently over fifteen different women who have made allegations that Bill Cosby either attempted to seduce them or raped them. Unfortunately, for those of us who would like to know the truth, these charges detail events that may or may not have occurred many decades ago. Some accusers (Janice Dickinson) have made past statements which contradict their present ones. Other women claim to have engaged in ongoing intimate relationships with Cosby after the alleged rape. Cosby himself has categorically refused to address the accusations. He has previously reached civil settlements with some of the women. Because of the statute of limitations, unless someone with more current accusations pops up, these claims can't be criminally tried. I don't know if outstanding claims can be heard in civil court but there are lawyers who could address that. Nonetheless there are so many accusers that lack of criminal convictions notwithstanding, Bill Cosby's reputation and future business plans have taken a serious hit. NBC and Netflix cancelled planned projects. Much like with allegations with Herman Cain or Jian Ghomeshi, with this many women coming forward, even a Cosby fan who holds innocent until proven guilty as a moral cornerstone might wonder about some things. It's important to point out that I am agnostic on Cosby's guilt or innocence. Who among us knows either Cosby or his accusers? There is no evidence so far that anyone has provided that would strongly convince me of his guilt or innocence. Too much time has passed. We're not in a court of law.

We could be watching bitter former groupies or mistresses lie about an innocent man. We could be watching some delayed justice catch up with a filthy serial rapist. I simply can't call it. Women can and do lie about being raped. Men can and do get away with rape. People who claim that women never lie about rape or that men are constantly beset with false allegations of rape generally have ideological or personal axes to grind.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie Reviews: Nightcrawler, Deliver Us From Evil

Nightcrawler
directed by Dan Gilroy
Nightcrawler is an independent film by first time director Dan Gilroy (he wrote The Bourne Legacy) which is worth checking out. Have you ever been around someone who makes you truly uncomfortable? Do you know someone whose smile or laugh gives you the impression that they are doing so not because they actually find something funny but because they learned on their home planet Voltron that humans occasionally smile or laugh. So they're trying to blend in. They're imitating human emotions. Some people fake feelings better than others do. Such a person could be a sociopath. They don't really have very many human passions other than lust or the need to dominate but they can temporarily put on many sentiments just as you put on clothing every morning. But as clothing is not a part of you, human instincts are foreign to sociopaths. Sociopaths can use emotions to manipulate or trick people. The more skilled of them can, when necessary, give an impression of actually caring about people. But truly, they don't. People are just a means to whatever end they are seeking. The sociopath can take off whatever emotion she was using to delude you and move on to the next mark. Guilt, shame, regret and honor are all meaningless concepts to such people. Trying to explain such things to them or worse trying to make them experience them are a complete waste of time and could wind up with someone getting hurt. In my current career, I don't think I've ever known anyone truly like that. I might have when I was in financial sales. 

The higher I've moved up the food chain the more I find that many people closer to the top do not give a flying Fibber McGee about the folks below them. But honest to God true sociopaths? I think those are rare, at least at my relatively low level of authority. But Nightcrawler would have you believe that many of them are working in the news business. Los Angeles man Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is such a person.