Saturday, April 29, 2017

Movie Reviews: Sleepless

directed by Baran Bo Odar
This is a crime thriller movie which despite a talented and energetic cast suffers from some languid direction and a couple lazy stereotypes. Movies with black leads are few and far between but nevertheless I'm glad I skipped this in the theaters. It wasn't a horrible film but it turned out to be nothing that I hadn't seen done better before. Regarding stereotypes how many times do we need to see the aggressive female cop with a chip on her shoulder who's eager to prove she's just as tough as the boys? How many times do we need to see an angry black woman with an attitude who thinks that she knows everything? How many times do we need to see aggressively alpha male pugnacious hillbillies going out of their way to show how insane they are? At least once more according to this film I guess. The film's hero was far from invulnerable but that didn't make me see him as relatable. I've mentioned it before in other reviews but my experience growing up all those years ago was that black parents were generally less tolerant than other parents of anything involving disrespect from their children. In my circles if a kid even looked like he was thinking about talking back that kid would have a serious problem on his hands. And from the black parents I know today it seems to me that cultural expectations of deference towards parents haven't changed all that much. In Sleepless the kid yells at and almost curses out his Dad with no repercussions. Yeah. Well maybe. But not in my neck of the woods. 

There were better ways to show the family issues. If the film had had a black writer perhaps it might have found them. Sleepless moves quickly, primarily because there's not all that much to to the story or plot. Visually it's ok. A lot of it takes place in darkness. It has the blue filter that many of these films like to use. 

Trump Tax Plan Is Giveaway To Fat Cats

President Trump recently revealed a summary of his preferred tax plan. It is something that is as many people said, unserious. Of course that description depends on your perspective. The plan was something that many Republicans would support. Among other things the tax plan would radically cut taxes on businesses and the well off, eliminate some funding for ObamaCare, end federal deductions for state and local taxes, and eliminate the estate tax. If you earn a lot of money or have a lot of wealth then there's a lot for you to like in this plan. Some representatives from states with high tax burdens don't like this plan because they don't want their constituents to lose the ability to deduct their local taxes. People who earn in the high six, or better yet, seven or eight figures, would make out pretty well if this plan were to be adopted as is. People opposed to the plan have spent and will spend a great deal of time going over the tax cut plan summary (and perhaps details once those are released),and pointing all the various ways in which the average taxpayer will get hosed, to use a verb that is safe for work. 

Detractors will say that this proves that all the people who voted for Trump are dummies. They will alternate between mocking the stupidity of the Trump voter and wondering how long it will take before that moron sees the light, if ever. They will enjoy this. And so on.
That's all good as far as it goes. As Jonathan Haidt has pointed out people on the progressive side of the spectrum tend to value the moral concerns centered around "care" and " fairness" very highly, even occasionally to the exclusion of all else.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Michigan Doctors Charged with FGM

Every culture and religion has slight to extreme different ideas about right and wrong. In most cases these differences of opinion are minor. People avoid discussing them. Or if the subject can't be dismissed people often take a live and let live attitude. In other instances though these different concepts simply can't exist in the same polity. One side must win. One side must lose. An example of this sort of dispute is the ugly practice of Female Genital Mutilation, which may involve a number of different cuttings to young girls' genitalia, whether it be snipping of the labia, cutting or total removal of the clitoris or narrowing/tying of the vaginal opening. It differs from culture to culture. But in Western culture, specifically American culture, this practice is looked upon with horror and outlawed. But as greater numbers of people arrive in America from areas where this custom is normal there will be more conflicts between those who are convinced they are living up to their religious and cultural requirements by having their young girls cut and those who seek to stamp out something they see as a horrific infringement on a girl's body. Two Southeast Michigan doctors were arrested for performing a banned procedure on two seven year old girls from Minnesota. The doctors, at least one of whom is an American citizen, are apparently both South Asian descent Shiite Muslims from a sect known as Dawoodi Bohra. If the case goes to trial it will be the first ever federal trial for FGM in the United States.

(CNN)A 7-year-old girl who underwent a painful genital mutilation procedure told federal investigators that after a doctor completed the process, she was rewarded with a piece of cake for "doing good."
Court documents obtained by CNN contain that account, along with other details in the cases of three medical professionals now facing charges in the first federal female genital mutilation case in the United States. The father of the girl -- one of two 7-year-olds who underwent the procedure on the same day -- told investigators, "that if they knew what would come of it, this would never have happened," according to the documents.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Everyone Has The Right to Free Speech!!

I've written on this before but it's an issue which is worth revisiting. The University of California at Berkeley, which is a public university, has earned a reputation as ground zero for battles over free speech in the past and the present. College students and others at UC Berkeley and elsewhere have used the threat of violent reactions or actual violent reactions to prevent or shut down speeches by conservatives such as David Horowitz, Heather MacDonald, Milo and others. The latest skirmish in this battle involves conservative writer and provocateur Ann Coulter, who had planned to speak at Berkeley on April 27. Berkeley required a number of conditions for this speech to proceed, all of which Coulter claimed she followed. Nonetheless UC Berkeley said that it could not guarantee Coulter's safety nor that of its students or other people. So UC Berkeley cancelled the planned April 27th speech. After some negative reaction UC Berkeley backtracked and stated that an early May date at a different venue might be possible. That also happens to be when many students would most likely be in finals or off campus, so the possible audience for Coulter's speech would be much smaller. At the time of this writing Coulter is stating that she will give a speech on April 27 as originally planned. Period.This sets up a possible showdown between Coulter and supporters and campus or city police. This is probably exactly what Coulter wants.

As part of this generalized controversy over conservative "hateful" speakers being prevented from speaking at public universities, former Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean tweeted that "hate speech" was not protected by the First Amendment. Some writers and intellectuals that I otherwise appreciate and respect actually agreed with him. 

Movie Reviews: The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation
directed by Nate Parker
I try to handle it without violence being involved/But sometimes that's the only way these problems are solved
Well run Red run because he's got your gun/And he's aiming it at your head
I am finding it hard to accept the apparent rebuff at the box office of “The Birth of a Nation,” particularly after seeing the film last weekend. It is an exceptional piece of artistry and a vital portrait of our American experience in trying to live up to ideals we say we have. No one should miss it — no one who respects our country and its long struggle to define itself. I am sorry about the conflict with Nate Parker’s past, but let’s try for some honesty here. If you want to make a list of the directors and actors who have rather public indiscretions, and who have in some cases been acquitted of them, start counting. What troubles me is this: Are we being particular here with this extraordinary film because it’s about the racist curse we are struggling to erase from our country and its director is black? The curse is there. Go look at it. Do we have the courage to do that? It’s a fine work.-Hal Holbrook

The Birth of a Nation (BOAN) was probably not an Oscar winning film considering all the competition it was up against. It has a tour de force incarnation by first time director Nate Parker as Nat Turner, leader of the most successful slave revolt in American history, but everyone else virtually fades into the background insofar as memorable performances go. BOAN should have done more to depict just how frightened whites were of the spectre of black revolt. White slaveholders throughout America were worried about the recent successful Haitian revolution. Slaveholders knew what they were doing was wrong. Some of the more perceptive, including one Thomas Jefferson, knew that there would be a reckoning some day. But addicted both to free labor and the venomous ideology of white supremacy which justified black enslavement, whites found it impossible to free slaves and outlaw slavery, even if they wanted to, which most of them assuredly did not. Every fact or argument was used to justify slavery, no matter how contradictory. Was a black person stupid or cowardly? Well that just showed that slavery was his or her natural state of affairs. Was a black person brave or intelligent? Well then by God you had better break their body and spirit to show to everyone else that no n***** would ever be equal to a white person. BOAN probably needed a more detailed white villain to show the utter desperation in which enslaved Africans found themselves. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bill O'Reilly Fired From Fox News

Apparently because of a combination of spousal pressure, bad publicity, and advertising losses Fox News owners Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James decided to let go of long time employee and number one cable news host Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly had a long history of sexual harassment settlements. The New York Times recently ran a story detailing that the settlement amounts and number of settlements were higher than was publicly known. Bill O'Reilly took a previously scheduled vacation. Unfortunately for him this was right around the time of the Times story and new allegations of sexual approaches by former Fox news personalities or other associates. Faced with the loss of advertising revenue from departing companies, all of this O'Reilly mess was apparently too much for Murdoch and sons, who told Bill O'Reilly not to come back from his vacation. As Smokey might say, you have to be a stupid muyerfuyer to get fired on your day off. 

O'Reilly is a stupid muyerfuyer in many ways. He's also a very racist one. What's ironic about advertisers and O'Reilly's employer parting ways with him now over sexual harassment allegations is that O'Reilly has a very long history of making covertly and overtly racist comments. This is not just a question of people being too sensitive to someone born in a world that's for good or bad now gone. It's much more than that.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mr. Trump Goes To Washington

You may recall that the issues that won Donald Trump the Republican nomination and ultimately the Presidency were things that more or less had simplicity and economic nationalism in common. Trump wove a story of feckless elite American leadership that was either compromised by, intimidated by or in bed with foreign interests.Trump was going to change all this by putting America first. Now people who bothered to look at Trump's business history and that of his family knew that this was at best unlikely. But what the Democrats and their candidate didn't understand was that there was a hunger for the narrative that Trump was selling, that America needed to put its own economic and military interests first and stop dancing to the tune called by transnational corporations and Beltway elites. There is obviously a very strong racist and anti-Semitic undertone to some of this once you dig into it. But as I've written elsewhere in and of itself nationalism is not always a bad thing. Many of Trump's most fervent supporters were drawn to his oft simplistic, yet generally nationalist stances on trade, immigration, jobs, foreign policy and infrastructure. Well the Presidency has a way of changing people. There were plenty of indications of this even before the latest news but over the past ten days or so the President has gone out of his way to reverse himself on many of his statements made prior to becoming President.  

Book Reviews: The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth was one of my favorite children's books. A few months back I reread it to see if the story held up to a more jaundiced eye. It did. I believe that this is one of the rare books that can be equally enjoyed by both children and adults. Adults and precocious children alike will appreciate the unending wordplay, puns and explorations of paradox. Adults might also take to heart the book's underlying message that time is precious and that what you do on this planet matters. The Phantom Tollbooth can also be understood as a quirky Alice in Wonderland story and enjoyed purely on that level. The book made just as much of an impression for the illustrations, provided by famed cartoonist Jules Feiffer, as it did for the story. This is a relatively short story that doesn't waste a lot of time on character development. This makes sense because the protagonist literally doesn't have time for long discussions with one or two people. He's thrown immediately into adventure. 

People are annoyed that he doesn't get up to speed as quickly as they would like. This is an ongoing source of humor throughout the book. It is interesting that this author was able to get so much out of the "You could do it all along" trope which is found in Dumbo, The Wizard of Oz, and many other stories. Again, I would bet that this book has more puns contained within than any other book with the exception of stories written by Terry Pratchett. Milo is a preteen child who is, despite his tender age, bored and cynical about the world. He can't stand school and views afternoons as nearly impossible to get through. Although he's not suicidal or anything he is a little depressed. Life seems pretty meaningless. And there's too much of it left. 

My Office Hours Are From Nine To Five

In the movie The Five Heartbeats there is a classic scene in which the singer Bird, disturbed by some irregularities with his royalty payment amount and frequency, confronts the cheerful record label owner (and gangster) Big Red at a party. Big Red calmly explains to Bird that Big Red prefers to handle business during his office hours, which are nine to five, and not during his time off. Bird expresses his displeasure at this stance. Big Red then convinces Bird to see things his way. I recently remembered this movie scene when I was in line at the local post office. It was just before closing time. At closing time a post office employee will lock the entry door. At that point if you aren't already in line you won't be allowed into the post office service lobby. Roughly two minutes after the workers had locked the entry door a man who may or may not have been mentally challenged came into the post office through the exit door and started ranting and raving about how he needed to pick up a package. 

The workers said that the office was now closed. This man yelled that if he didn't get the package today then he would lose his job. The senior post office worker responded that the man's problems had nothing to do with them; the man needed to close the door and leave. The man left. But he was wandering around the parking lot gesticulating and screaming. Then an older woman who was apparently either the man's caretaker, mother or grandmother came in. She also started yelling and making snide comments about how "you people" should help the man because he was about to lose his job. The senior post office worker again said that the office was closed and that the woman needed to leave! Things were starting to get heated.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Santa Monica PTA and Equality

I thought that this story coming out of Santa Monica was interesting because it obliquely and not so obliquely touches on a lot of the fault lines of modern life-race, class, gender, citizenship status. It also reminded me, as many social programs are likely to do, of Kurt Vonnegut's dystopic satire Harrison Bergeron, in which equality is not only the law of the land but is affirmatively guaranteed and vigorously enforced by action of the government. In this story equality of outcome, not equal opportunity, is what is mandated. So no one is allowed to have more or less of anything than anyone else. Smarter people have electrodes placed in their brain to disrupt their thinking. Attractive people must wear prosthetics to make themselves less good looking. Strong people must have weights attached so that they can't take "unfair" advantage of their strength. And the Handicapper-in-General is licensed to arrest or execute anyone who tries to use their natural talents.

Broadly speaking, Vonnegut was a man of the left. But the Harrison Bergeron story, which today reads as if it were written by a right wing libertarian, remains a prophetic piece of sci-fi. So this story out of California was intriguing.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Of all the inequalities between rich and poor public schools, one of the more glaring divides is PTA fund-raising, which in schools with well-heeled parents can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more. Several years ago, the Santa Monica-Malibu school board came up with a solution: Pool most donations from across the district and distribute them equally to all the schools. 

This has paid big benefits to the needier schools in this wealthy district, like the Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica, where half the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The campus is decorated with psychedelic paintings of civil rights icons such as Cesar Chavez and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the work of the school’s art teacher, Martha Ramirez Oropeza, whose salary is paid by the pooled contributions. That money has also funded the school’s choral program, teacher aides, a science lab and a telescope. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Reviews: Say Nothing

Say Nothing
by Brad Parks
It is fascinating that by browsing in a bookstore you can find books that you never would have found online. That's the biggest reason why I still patronize bookstores. You can get a feeling for a story by holding the book and flipping through it that you can't get otherwise. I don't think I had ever heard of this author before. Without his book being on display I would have continued on, blissfully ignorant of his work. Well that would have been a loss. Don't get me wrong. You can also get some truly bad clunkers by picking up unheralded books but overall I've been pretty lucky in finding some heretofore hidden gems in bookstores. Now for all I know this book could have been hyped endlessly in various newspaper reviews. I don't know. All I know was that it was new to me. I enjoyed it. Although this book is not by any means a horror story I found myself being reminded of Stephen King for the quick easy way that Parks outlined his characters and put them in some very dangerous yet believable situations. A truism about life that is both wonderful and yet terrifying is that something horrible can happen to you, something that will change your life forever, and the world will keep on turning. Right now someone somewhere is drawing their last breath. Someone is falling in love. Someone is being fired. Someone just got shot. Someone just got promoted to partner/division head/managing director. Someone is beating their spouse. And someone is joyously listening to their child's first words. And despite all of that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.

Suburban Virginia resident and Federal District Judge Scott Sampson experiences the seeming arbitrary nature of life one Wednesday afternoon. He is, as is his prerogative as workplace boss, about to leave work early to pick up his six year old twins, Sam and Emma, from school. The plan is to go swimming at the YMCA as they do every Wednesday.  Scott really enjoys being a father. He enjoys every second he spends with his offspring.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Trump Launches Over 50 Tomahawk Missiles Into Syria

WASHINGTON — President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against Syria early Friday local time in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people on Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.
The attack, the first conventional assault on another country ordered by Trump, comes a day after he declared that the chemical weapons assault had “crossed many, many lines,” including causing the deaths of 27 children.
Years of previous attempts to change the behavior of Syrian President Bashar Assad have failed, Trump said from his resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
The missiles, fired from a U.S. Navy vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, struck multiple sites, including the airfield where Syria based the warplanes used in the chemical attack, a Defense official said.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Illegal Immigration and Discrimination against Black American Men

With Donald Trump's election there has been a sharp shift in interior and border enforcement against unlawfully resident foreign nationals (illegal immigrants). Per Trump's directives, most of the people detained so far by ICE have been people with felony records and/or previously existing orders of removal. Many people, American or not, fiercely oppose the new Administration's policy changes. Some folks demand that there be not a single more deportation. Others have dropped their pretenses and now insist that the US have open borders. Scarcely a day goes by without one of the major newspapers of record (New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, etc) featuring a story, editorial or column decrying the possible removal of illegal immigrants. Some people have drawn analogies between deportations and the US enslavement of Africans or the Holocaust. There have been multiple demonstrations and even a few disturbances here or there. But many people have overlooked the impact that illegal immigration can have on American citizens. This is a story from December of 2016 but it's still quite timely in my view. 

A group of African-American men filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Chicago federal court alleging systematic discrimination by a temporary staffing agency and several of its clients they say passed over black applicants in favor of Hispanic workers. The alleged discrimination took place at MVP Staffing's Cicero branch office, which the lawsuit claims was directed by clients not to send African-American workers to their companies for assignments.
Those wishes allegedly were communicated using code words, according to testimony from former dispatchers and on-site representatives given in prior cases and attached to the filing as evidence. For example, according to the lawsuit, "guapos," which translates to pretty boys, would be used to refer to African-Americans to suggest they don't want to do dirty work. The terms "feos" (translated to mean "dirty ones")," "bilingues" (bilinguals) and "los que escuchan La Ley" (referring to people who listen to Spanish-language radio station La Ley) were used to refer to Hispanic laborers, the lawsuit alleges.

Movie Reviews: Escape Plan

Escape Plan
directed by Mikael Hafstrom
This 2013 release was a solid action movie that was, strangely enough, the first to feature eighties action film icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as co-leads. This film is something that really would have been better made in the eighties during both men's salad days. It says something perhaps not so good about the crop of current Hollywood action heroes that I can't immediately think of anyone younger than Sly and Ah-nuld  (besides Mark Wahlberg) who could have given this film the sort of testosterone heavy swagger that its two leads attempt to bring across. The leading men aren't as believable in these roles as they would have been thirty years ago but who else could be cast in these parts?

They may be past their prime physically but each actor brings a sense of gravitas and well, masculinity, that is needed for these characters. Stallone mumbles and Schwarzenegger smirks but what else is new. The story is almost painfully paint by numbers predictable but that's okay for these types of films. You don't watch a film like this for its engaging and surprising story line. You watch to see the put upon heroes struggle, be betrayed, almost fail and then rise above it all to deliver some truly righteous a$$-kickings. And this movie delivers in that regard. And when is the last time you heard Schwarzenegger give extended monologues in his native German? And they even made sense for the story. Schwarzenegger looks like he's having more fun than Stallone throughout the film.

HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven Trailer (2)

Well another day another HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven trailer. Like the one before it this one appears to be designed to give away precisely nothing while increasing speculation. There are, or apparently will be, three power centers in Westeros now: the reconstituted Starks in the North, Cersei Lannister in King's Landing and The Westerlands and the soon to be arriving Daenerys Targaryen, who will possibly have the support of everyone in the South who doesn't like Cersei. And since Cersei has never been shy about murdering her enemies, that's a lot of people. All three rulers appear set on a collision course. 

Will Daenerys and Jon learn that they are aunt and nephew? Will the rulers have to make common cause against the long delayed White Walker invasion? And what do Sansa and Littlefinger really think about Jon ruling the North? Jon doesn't exactly have a lot of loyal retainers to call upon since he only survived thanks to intervention by the Vale (which means Littlefinger). Can Cersei and Jaime possibly forgive Tyrion for the murder of their father? Stay tuned I guess. Clip is a little over 90 seconds. Nothing happens. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

ObamaCare Lives Another Day

In case you somehow hadn't heard the Republican members of the House of Representatives could not come together to support the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The more right wing members of Congress refused to support anything that wasn't a total repeal of President Obama's signature legislation. I don't have a lot to write on this at the moment both because (1) I've already written at length why I think that the law (PPACA or ObamaCare) that the AHCA was designed to replace is destined for a slow ignominious demise and (2) my Day Job supervisor has taken the time to make it crystal clear what my true priorities are during quarter close. And they aren't blogging. But I do just want to say that I think that both the defenders and detractors of ObamaCare are missing some critical points by getting lost in the partisan weeds of denying President Trump a win or trying to ascertain who is up and who is down in the Byzantine politics of Washington D.C.

Numbers don't lie. The PPACA is a bad deal for younger healthier people. It doesn't reflect their expected value or risk. It's mispriced. Younger folks will, all else equal, continue to avoid enrolling in the expected or promised numbers. That's not going to change. The other thing which isn't going to change is that some of the very people who for the past seven years ran around spitting at ObamaCare, waving "Obama is a monkey" signs and voting for people who swore blood oaths to rip up the PPACA root and branch, turned out to have a different feeling about ObamaCare when Uncle Bud was covered for the cancer meds he needed or Cousin Sherri finally got enrolled in a program to help with her opioid addiction. There are relatively few people who will, if push comes to shove, place their ideology over their survival. They won't brag about this. It's not the stuff of heroic stories. But it is human nature. And even a lot of big bad Republicans who wanted to kill ObamaCare still flinched away from taking away popular benefits.

Now that there is Republican control of the executive branch with all of the awesome discretionary prerogatives included with that, Trump and his minions could accidentally on purpose help along ObamaCare to an early grave. And there wouldn't be too much that Democrats could do about it. Or given Trump's desperate need for adulation, he could attempt to reshape the PPACA via executive fiat and administrative rule making into something that keeps coverage for many voters but slows skyrocketing premium and deductible growth. I don't think this will work even if Trump were a detail oriented policy wonk, which he is most assuredly not. So the most likely scenario is that the PPACA continues to limp along until the next midterms and then the one after that and so on. It's never going to be unpopular enough to kill. But it will never be popular enough to fix either. 

Cuba Gooding and Sarah Paulson: Inappropriate?

One of my favorite comedians was the English humorist and variety show host Benny Hill. A regular show gag was the extent to which men would go to get a gander at women. It didn't much matter whether the women were partially dressed or completely undressed (the latter was never shown on the show-just implied). Men just liked to look. Men would make utter fools of themselves doing so. This was all done for laughs. Hill's brand of admittedly oft puerile humor fell out of style in the eighties with an ascendant feminist movement. Recently the actors Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson touched on this style of humor when, at an event for American Horror Story, Gooding attempted to lift up Paulson's dress. 

At the time of this post I don't know if this was a spontaneous prank on Gooding's part, something pre-planned by both Gooding and Paulson, or some sort of in character reference to their roles on the show. Paulson didn't appear to take offense. She just slapped Gooding's hands away. But we live in the age of the internet and twitter so of course there were plenty of people who rushed to take offense on Paulson's behalf.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Reviews: Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer 
by John Grisham
Remember the movie The Lincoln Lawyer based upon the book of the same name by author Michael Connelly? Well author John Grisham certainly does. Grisham's novel Rogue Lawyer uses the same premise and seemingly even the same hero-a well, roguish, attorney who operates out of his vehicle, practices situational ethics, stays one step ahead of upset clients and angry law enforcement operatives, and has a black Man Friday of exceptional loyalty and impressive physical stature. Grisham doesn't try to hide the Connelly influence. In some respects I guess you could call it more of a tribute or deliberate tip of the hat as the title character, Sebastian Rudd, likes to read Connelly novels in his down time.

As mentioned Sebastian is the defense attorney of last resort for people who have run out of places to look for help.  Some of the people Sebastian represents include victims of police brutality, mobsters on death row, and mentally challenged teens wrongly accused of horrible crimes. It doesn't matter to Sebastian (professionally speaking) if a sanctimonious ambitious politician was caught in bed with a dead woman AND a live boy. Sebastian is still going to fight to make the state prove its case. Sebastian insists on trying to force the state to obey the law down to the last little detail. If need be Sebastian will cheat in court or stretch the law to its breaking point, especially when he knows the state's representatives are also lying. This makes Sebastian less than popular with prosecutors, judges, and cops. Sebastian's courtroom adversaries have tried to make his professional life hell, get him disbarred or get him found in contempt of court. But cops often take Rudd's opposition more personally. They have tried to kill Rudd or his buddy Partner on at least three separate occasions. But as Rudd says they're still standing...or still ducking. Not all of Rudd's clients are innocent. Many of them aren't. Grisham uses this novel to articulate all the reasons why it's important to constrain the power of the state to put people in prison or deny them of life. So that portion of the novel was intriguing. It wasn't didactic.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Come Have a Ball!

Because sometimes you feel like a nut. And sometimes you don't. We talked before of how some people in other cultures consume insects. Although in this culture that practice is not widespread some people would like to endorse it and spread it. There are plenty of things that people consume in this culture, however, which I find just as outrageous as eating insects. And of course not too far from me people are actually having a festival to celebrate the eating of cattle testicles and other delicacies.
DEERFIELD, MI - Members of American Legion Post 392 will host their 16th annual Testicle Festival on Saturday, March 18, offering savory options to patrons, such as cattle testicles and chicken gizzards.

The event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., typically draws a good crowd, according to Legion member Al Rau. Rau said the Legion will start serving dinner around noon "until they run out of nuts." Beer and mixed drinks are $2 a pop and there is no cover charge. "You get baked beans, coleslaw and a roll with dinner, plus the nuts and the gizzards," Rau said. "They taste like chicken."

Yummy! Nuts and gizzards! Even if I still ate meat there would still be some foods which I wouldn't eat for any amount of money. This is not a question of rationality. It is purely about an ick and/or taboo factor. I'm not eating sheep stomachs. I'm not eating hog intestines. And I damn sure won't be eating bull balls. I just have no desire to ingest bovine genetic material. But everyone gets to do their own thing for their diet. 

Are there foods you won't eat under any circumstances?

Book Reviews: Quarry's Vote

Quarry's Vote
by Max Allan Collins
With the Quarry series you pretty much know what you're going to get. This installment was no exception. Quarry is a ruthless Vietnam War veteran hit man with, if not quite a heart of gold, then at least a healthy respect for doing things the right way. Generally speaking if you're not on the list then you are as safe as a new born babe around Quarry. He's not the type to lose his temper and run around murdering people because someone insulted him or dented his fender. Live and let live is Quarry's motto, well at least it is when he's not removing someone from the planet for pay. Quarry lives by a code you see. As this book, a reprint from the late eighties opens, Quarry is living the dream life. After some unpleasantness from earlier stories, Quarry is retired from the murder-for hire game. He has fallen in love with a much younger woman, Linda and somewhat impulsively married her. Linda is good looking, busty, sweet, young and naive, which is just what Quarry likes. Linda doesn't know anything about Quarry's past. She doesn't understand Quarry's infrequent cold moods or know about the numerous guns, cash and fake id's that Quarry has stashed around their home and elsewhere. All she understands is that Quarry is a quiet man who loves her. And Quarry does love her, to the extent that someone considered the deadliest killer in the continental United States can love someone. By Quarry's own admission he's head over heels in love with Linda. He has learned things about himself that he didn't know. By his standards he's gotten soft and fat. He and Linda operate a Midwestern hotel, diner and gas station. 

The money's not great but Quarry isn't hurting for money. Quarry has found peace. In fact Linda has just informed him that he's going to be a father. Well you know that bad men like Quarry can never truly find peace. One day when Linda is away a man whom Quarry has never seen before stops by Quarry's house.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban Round 2 - Why It's Not Over

This week a federal court in Hawaii granted yet another temporary restraining order ("TRO") against the Trump Administration's attempt to ban immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries (on February 10 we wrote a post about the TRO which then blocked Trump's first Executive Order).  The second Executive Order ("EO") was a watered down version of the first EO, removing Iraq from the list of 7 banned countries and making clear that the ban does not apply to green card holders, among other changes.  The second EO was a do-over in response to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the TRO put in place by a federal judge in Washington state who blocked the first EO.  The second EO was specifically crafted to pass constitutional muster . . . so why is Trump's effort to ban Muslims from entering the United States being blocked in the courts for a second time? 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Maddow and Trump Tax Returns

And then suddenly, nothing happened.
I find Rachel Maddow's voice to be about as engaging as a dentist's drill so I didn't watch her MSNBC show last night which she breathlessly and shamelessly hyped as having the low down scoop on Trump's tax returns. So this morning when I awoke, I wondered if I had missed anything of import. No. No I didn't. Maddow didn't have Trump's current tax returns. She didn't have any evidence of nefarious tax evasion by Trump or investigation of Trump by the IRS or other ominous government agencies with a reputation for not playing around. She didn't have evidence of secret ties to Russian oligarchs or Trump owned dachas on the Black Sea. No, what Ms. Maddow had was two pages from Trump's 2005 federal income tax return that showed that Trump paid $38 million in taxes on an income of about $150 million. Please try to hide your shock. This juice wasn't worth the squeeze. 

Ultimately, the reporting that Ms. Maddow eventually aired on Tuesday night’s show — two pages from a single, decade-old federal tax return — was less groundbreaking than the mere fact that a portion of the president’s records had surfaced at all. The journalist who obtained the records, David Cay Johnston, a former tax reporter for The New York Times, said that the documents arrived “over the transom” in his mailbox. Mr. Johnston even speculated on-air that Mr. Trump had sent the documents himself.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rap Music and Race

If you don't like rap music or more precisely certain types of rap music does that mean that you don't like Black people. Well it might. But as a pure question of logic of course disliking rap music doesn't mean you are a racist. One of the things that is funny about modern life is how thoroughly and completely many people came to associate rap music as the sole music which young black people were permitted to enjoy while still being "authentically" black. The flip side of this expectation is of course how fiercely some black people defend any attack on any type of rap music as being a a racist attack on all black people. Well maybe. Maybe not. I was moved to write about this because of a relatively recent incident in Houston, Texas in which the white female owner of a famed local club declined to book two rap acts because she found their lyrics offensive from both a gender and racial perspective. She also went on to make a few uncharitable (bigoted?) comments about the type of people who came out to enjoy such music. She said that she would continue to book other types of rap music but of course by then the cat was out of the bag. Some comedians and musicians said that they would boycott the club because they felt unwelcome or that the owner was racist.

Movie Reviews: Black Book, Holy Rollers

Black Book
directed by Paul Verhoeven
There are a number of thoughts which I had after re-watching this 2007 Dutch drama film set in the waning days of World War 2. The first is that the lead actress Carice Van Houten, just like her character Melisandre in HBO's Game of Thrones, seemingly hasn't aged at all over the past decade. Maybe it's just good genes and clean living. She wasn't wearing a ruby necklace in this film. Actually often she wasn't wearing anything in this film. 

The second thought is that if real life were a story, after the unpleasant experience of being invaded, defeated, occupied and subjugated you would think that the Western European democracies would have realized that violence, racism and colonialism were wrong. But real life is not a fairy tale. Freed from Nazi threat or rule, the post war European democracies almost immediately all fought vicious, bloody and ultimately pointless wars attempting to maintain white control over non-white nations in Africa and Asia. Some of the very same people depicted here leading the Dutch underground against the Germans wound up in Indonesia doing the same thing or worse to Indonesians that the Germans did to the Dutch. Life is strange. Everyone's a hypocrite. And the last major issue which crossed my mind after viewing this film is that both loneliness and love make for some very strange bedfellows sometimes. Even the worst of us usually still need human contact. 

Today we have people opposed to the current U.S. President who style themselves the Resistance. Their opposition primarily consists of snarky tweets, strongly worded opinion pieces, hats shaped like female genitalia, sucker punching Trump voters and an occasional march or two. What would the Resistance look like once people started getting shot?  Death has a tendency to reveal just who is real and just who is faking the funk by calling themselves the Resistance. There's no shame in recognizing that in facing real oppression, most people will go along to get along. Most of us would prefer not to be shot.

Book Reviews: I Am Providence

I Am Providence
by Nick Mamatas
The title of this book will be instantly familiar to any Lovecraft fan. It's what is engraved upon Lovecraft's tombstone. It's also an atypically boastful quote from the writer. So you might expect that this is a book about H.P. Lovecraft. Well it is and it isn't. If you are the type of person who avoids horror or sci-fi stories then don't worry because despite the seeming subject matter this is not at all a horror or sci-fi story-with perhaps just one or two minor exceptions. However we earn our daily bread there are millions of other people who do so in the same fashion. And from time to time people in the same line of work will have reason to come together for conferences, dinners and social gatherings. The conversations at such meetings may well be incomprehensible to people outside of that particular circle of experts. There are discussions about the finer points of the law or physics debates about dark matter theories which would not only bore me to tears but which I do not have the training or experience to follow. Someone who works on a farm may have a deep understanding of bovine diseases and be excited to compare notes with like minded people dealing with the same issues. A person who writes or acts for a living will probably be excited to rub shoulders with other artists who do the same thing and discuss challenges which less artistically inclined people simply can't understand. Cops get together to talk about the latest tactics in crowd control, legal requirements and forced entry. Accountants get excited over new payroll software. Guitarists may spend days arguing over amp circuitry and music theory. And so on. Everyone has some area of knowledge which intrigues them and in which they may well be expert. This book asks the reader to imagine that the experts in question are not accountants or lawyers or physicists but instead H.P. Lovecraft fans, writers, would be writers and even a few groupies.

The Lovecraft experts, some of whom fit the stereotype of nerds blissfully unencumbered by traditional notions of hygiene, politesse or body hair removal, have come together in Providence, Rhode Island for the Summer Tentacular, an annual Lovecraft convention. Just because they all get together doesn't mean they like each other. A lot of the attendees are just there for the food and feuds.

Roosevelt Franklin and Baby Breeze

Sesame Street used to come under pressure to have muppets that were easily able to be identified as African-American so that African-American kids could feel that they were part of the Sesame Street family. One of the characters who came out of this desire was Roosevelt Franklin. This muppet was voiced by African-American actor Matt Robinson, who played Gordon. I liked Roosevelt Franklin a lot. As an adult, I was surprised to learn that the character was cancelled/phased out because some people (no doubt some of the same people who were clamoring for definitively black muppets) found Roosevelt Franklin and associated muppets like Baby Breeze to be stereotypical and negative. I didn't see it that way at all. My parents were pretty vigilant about such things. If they thought Roosevelt Franklin was stereotypical I can pretty much guarantee I never would have watched it growing up. Oh well. Everyone has different tastes and sensitivities. My brother recently sent two Roosevelt Franklin skits/songs to me. I don't remember the street crossing skit but I can say that I feel the same way as Baby Breeze does about people trying to talk over me at meetings that I called or am leading. Just don't do it. 

The message in "The Skin I'm In" is still relevant in 2017 America, which is kind of messed up. I do remember the "The Skin I'm In" song. The lyrics "I know my letters and numbers/Maybe better than you/So if you look at me funny/I look at you funny too" remain a pretty humorous and accurate take on being black in America.

HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven Trailer

Supposedly there are only two seasons (and thirteen episodes) left in HBO's Game of Thrones series. This first trailer doesn't show anything but it definitely leaves the impression that the story is coming to an end. I am still a little peeved that the ending will be revealed on television before Martin writes it down in his books but such is life. People work at their own pace. And there's very little anyone can do to change that. The zoom out to the blue eye of presumably a White Walker and the crumbling of the various House sigils makes me think that this season will finally see the White Walkers become real to people outside of the Night Watch. We shall see. The new season starts on July 16th, 2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Historical Narratives, Namibia and Self-Respect

Can you imagine a statue honoring SS boss Heinrich Himmler being erected in Tel Aviv, Israel? No?
Do you think that current day residents of Nanjing, China would support a monument to the bravery of WW2 Japanese General (and Prince) Asaka, who oversaw the horrific Nanking Massacre? That probably wouldn't go over too well either. Well would modern day citizens of Bulgaria be in favor of a monument to the Ottoman Turkish general who ordered the Batak Massacre? Perhaps not. Presumably locals would be unmoved by callous arguments that these men were trying to bring civilization to recalcitrant ungrateful hardheaded backwards savages or that whatever atrocities occurred were regrettable, rare and overstated or that hey you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs or the old standby that it was a different time and place so we shouldn't judge those brave men by our current moral standards. It has always been a bad thing to rape and murder people. It has always been a bad thing to deliberately target non-combatants. It has always been a bad thing to attempt to wipe out entire groups of people. The problem is that humans are as a species very tribalistic. We often have difficulty applying the moral standards that we know are true to people who are not part of our tribe. And when someone looks different from us or has what we consider to be odd cultural patterns the more trouble we can have accepting that this person has the exact same moral claims to life, liberty and happiness that we do. So even though we know that certain actions are wrong often times it doesn't hit home that those things are wrong until someone does them to someone who either looks like you or someone that you care about. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Movie Reviews: Get Out

Get Out
directed by Jordan Peele
Get Out is a horror movie that has the Black American experience of race and racism at its core. You would think all else equal that more horror films would explore all the rich story possibilities that race/racism allow. I mean what could be more horrific than being kidnapped and treated as subhuman for generations without end. Horror movies quite often reference either directly or more often obliquely social questions and concerns: gender, sexuality, child abuse, feminism, class struggle and many others. But it's rare for a a horror movie to include references to race other than the easy cheap plot device of the sole black character dying first. It's even more unusual for a horror film to tell a story from a black point of view. This is very simply because most horror directors and writers are not black. And even those who are are often under pressure to minimize or eliminate black concerns. This isn't unique to the horror genre by any means. There are many black film directors and writers who can tell war stories of having their book covers altered to avoid informing the reader that the protagonist is black or of having producers and studios refuse to greenlight big budget movies with black leads. But the world is changing. Get Out is a film that might not have been made or more accurately distributed and marketed by a major studio ten or definitely twenty years ago. Not only does it have a black protagonist but American racism is the animating theme of the movie. Wisely Get Out avoids the normal cheap plot device of having the bad guys be Confederate flag waving, low class, incestuous, pickup truck driving, banjo plucking white people from the land that time forgot. The film is both more ambitious and more subtle than that. As I wrote times have changed. Although recently it seems as if a loud minority would indeed would indeed like to turn the clock back to some time around 1922, I would argue that certain incidents not withstanding that racism as most black people experience it today doesn't include howling mobs bent on pogroms. Things are usually more subtle than that. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Music Reviews: What A Little Moonlight Can Do, Kitchen Man

What a Little Moonlight Can Do (as sung by Billie Holiday) and Kitchen Man (as sung by Bessie Smith) are two classic blues/jazz songs. Both songs express the joy of love but do so in lyrically different ways. I think you might say that each song is talking about a separate aspect of love. Both are written from a female point of view. What A Little Moonlight Can Do is a jazzy swing song that captures the excitement,wonder, chaos and giddiness of actually falling in love. The noted Tin Pan Alley songwriter Harry Woods wrote the song. Ironically even though the song is incredibly optimistic and upbeat, Woods himself was an often depressed alcoholic who didn't mind putting hands on people when he found it necessary. Holiday's version of the song included a number of musicians who like her would become legendary: Teddy Wilson, Ben Webster and Benny Goodman. Kitchen Man is a bluesy piece that is much earthier. The love it describes is perhaps indistinguishable from physical lust. Kitchen Man makes uses of barely concealed double entendres. The singer is not falling in love but rather describing all the reasons why she is in love with the titular hero. And the love she's detailing really doesn't have a whole lot to do with moonlight or stuttering or uncertainty. The singer knows exactly what she wants. And she's going to tell you. Kitchen Man features Eddie Lang on guitar and Clarence Williams on piano. Eddie Lang was actually Caucasian (Italian-American born Salvatore Massaro) and had to resort to pseudonyms in order to record with black singers. Lang was one of the many people instrumental (pun intended) in replacing the banjo with the guitar in jazz songs. Clarence Williams was not only a pianist but a composer, producer and music publisher among other things. For a time in the 20s and 30s Williams was the primary Black music publisher in the nation. Williams also produced songs for white country artists such as Hank Williams. And Williams would later become the grandfather of noted actor Clarence Williams III. I like both songs listed here. Each singer had her own enjoyable and influential vocal style. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Jeff Sessions: Oh You Mean THOSE Russians

There are a number of different ways to not tell the truth. You may say something that's untrue because you don't know the truth. You may honestly not understand the question because it's vague or you're not too smart. You may forget to include information that is relevant to the question you're answering. You may answer with extreme precision the exact question that you're asked, knowing that the interrogator has mistakenly not asked you the correct question. And of course you may just flat out lie and tell the person asking the question something that you know to be untrue. Lawyers often tend to be masters of this sort of wordplay. Exact wording is something that has been used both in fiction and in real life both by heroes and villains to give their enemies their just deserts or prevent said enemies from getting their proper rewards. The Norse god Loki, having wagered and lost his head, prevented decapitation by insisting that he had bet his head, not his neck so no sword or axe could touch his neck. The Witch-King boasted that not by the hand of man would he fall but apparently forgot that women and hobbits could wield swords. Khal Drogo, having watched his annoying brother-in-law Viserys, threaten to murder his own sister, Khal Drogo's wife, promises to give Viserys a golden crown. He keeps his word by giving his brother-in-law a molten golden crown which kills him. 

So exact words can be tricky. I mention all of this because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, having been asked under oath in increasingly direct ways if he had had any contact with the Russians during the Trump campaign, said no. It has come out that in fact Sessions did have contact with the Russians. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Border Searches, Privacy and Profiling

I've written before on seeming or actual violations of civil liberties under the Obama Administration. For the most part it's fair to say that progressives didn't care too much about such violations. They decided that they had bigger fish to fry. And with a few honorably consistent exceptions the conservatives who criticized the Obama Administration's civil liberties record were quiet as church mice when it came to local police violations of the civil/constitutional rights of black American citizens. So conservative critiques about the Obama Administration's hostility to freedom of the press or separation of powers or due process generally fell on deaf ears. Many conservatives were themselves oft indifferent to or opposed to expansive interpretations of civil liberties (that is after all why they were conservatives in the first place). Others were just using civil liberties as a convenient club with which to bludgeon President Obama. They would drop this club just as soon as a conservative President took office. There are two recent incidents that occurred under President Trump that are receiving some attention. They both occurred at the border. I'm no lawyer. It is my understanding however that the authorities have been given more leeway than normal to conduct questioning and searches at or near the border. This may especially be the case where the object of official interest is not an American citizen who has never been to the United States before. So far there is no right for such a person to travel to the United States. But in both of these recent cases the object of the additional and to my mind disturbing state actions was an American citizen returning home. Unfortunately the two citizens did not have the right skin tone, correct European styled name or especially, religion. And this could be what triggered the additional state scrutiny, regardless of their citizenship. 

Street Harassment in Detroit and Confederate Thuggery in Georgia

There have been many words written about street harassment, which is usually defined as a man looking at a woman in a way she doesn't like or saying something to her that she doesn't appreciate. For what it's worth I think that for some this is a real problem though I don't think it warrants the heavy hand of state intervention. There are just some people who don't know how to act because they weren't raised right at home. Absent them putting hands on someone or making actual threats to harm a person I think that the police should have more important things to do than arrest men who use bad or insulting pickup lines. Free speech and all that, yada, yada, yada. Well recently in the city of Detroit a woman apparently felt she was street harassed because someone remarked on the size of her posterior. This lady evidently took offense. But rather than engage in a short frank discussion of why she didn't appreciate the remarks or simply remove herself from the area where such untoward language was in use, this lady and/or her friend allegedly decided to take the law into their own hands. And in her world the penalty for such disrespect for her gluteus maximus was death. The only issue, well beside the whole "I'm going to kill you because I don't like what you said to me" thingie, was that the shooters apparently killed a child (teenager) who didn't make the comment in the first place. Reginald Rose-Robinson just happened to have the bad luck to be in the general area. He may or may not have laughed. And now he's dead. Michigan doesn't have a death penalty. And even in states that still have the death penalty I don't think you can receive the death penalty for laughing at a bad joke or ugly comment that someone else makes. 

Detroit police are looking for a female suspect who shot a teenager to death Friday night on Detroit's west side. The woman thought the 17-year-old made a comment about her backside inside a party store. A car she was in pulled up to Robinson and his friends outside and fatally shot him in the head at 6:30 p.m. across from the Zoom gas station at Plymouth and Meyers. Two women walked into the store when a man they didn't know, made his remark. Somebody said 'Damn, she has a big booty' and we all started laughing," said Christopher, a friend of Robinson's. "That person (left), she looked and I guess she thought it was us."

The two women drove up to the boys in a dark sedan a block away and opened fire.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jon Stewart To The Media: It's Time To Get Your Groove Back

Jon Stewart made a surprise visit to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert


Monday, February 27, 2017

Eeny Meeny Mini Moe!

Quick! What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the title of this post?
I think of a kid's chant used to randomly pick someone for a team or decide who must perform a certain task. The common second part of the couplet is "Catch a tiger by his toe/If he hollers let him go". This rhyme also happens to be the chant used by the fictional character Negan played by the actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the cable show The Walking Dead. Negan is to put it mildly not a nice man. He is the undisputed leader of a community of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Some might even find the villainous Negan to be an anti-hero of sorts. He does keep his people safe. I say he's the undisputed leader of his group because Negan is prone to using his baseball bat to beat the brains out of anyone who displeases him or challenges him. And sometimes just to make sure people don't forget just who is the Big Dog, Negan will randomly pick among disfavored people to set an example. And wouldn't you know it he uses the rhyme "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe" to choose. As with most popular shows merchandising becomes an important revenue source. The Walking Dead has licensed T-shirts with Negan's baseball bat and the "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" phrase depicted. But in the UK, a customer was apparently so offended by the phrase that he wrote to the offending clothing store's CEO. Ultimately the store decided to remove the shirt from circulation. The customer thought the shirt was racist. Outraged Ian Lucraft was so offended by the "explicit" t-shirt that he complained directly to the discount clothing store's chief executive - and Primark has now apologised and removed the men's t-shirt from its branches. Mr Lucraft and his wife Gwen had visited the firm's recently opened branch in The Moor in Sheffield city centre to buy a present for their grandson when they spotted the white t-shirt with the message "eeny meeny miny moe" and a picture of a bloodied baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. 

The phrase and bat are both used by a character in the hit show. He said: "We were shocked when we came face to face with a new t-shirt with a racially explicit graphic and text. "It was fantastically offensive and I can only assume that no-one in the process of ordering it knew what they were doing or were aware of its subliminal messages.