Saturday, October 21, 2017

Trump Tax Plan

President Donald Trump and his team of economic advisers recently released their plan for tax "reform". You can read some of the highlights here


On September 27, 2017, the Trump administration released its tax reform plan. The Unified Tax Reform Framework would cut income tax rates, lowering the top rate to 35 percent. It doubles the standard deduction but eliminates personal exemptions. The plan would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. It allows a one-time repatriation of corporate profits earned overseas.

The Framework would lower the maximum corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. But that doesn't hurt large corporations. Most of them don't pay more than 15 percent. That's because they can afford tax attorneys who help them avoid paying higher taxes.

Trump's plan lowers the maximum tax rate for small businesses to 25 percent. That includes sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations. Many of those are real estate companies, hedge funds, and private equity funds. As a result, 85 percent of the tax cut benefits the top 1 percent of earners. Most mom-and-pop small business won't benefit from the reduction. They don't earn enough to qualify for the top tax rate. The Framework does not mention increasing the tax on some profits, called carried interest. That's taxed at 15 percent instead of the income rate. It benefits private equity funds. Trump campaigned on making them pay their fair share.

Trump's plan would almost exclusively benefit the extremely well off. The people that Trump sent out to defend this plan couldn't speak with a straight face about the plan's benefits to the middle class or working class. There are few benefits to the working class or middle class.This plan is warmed over supply side trickle down economics, which is the discredited but never truly dead idea that if we would only reduce taxes on our "betters" then they would be inspired to open more businesses and hire more workers, and not instead buy another vacation home or more stocks or bonds.

Movie Reviews: Wish Upon, The House

Wish Upon
directed by John Leonetti
The good thing about this bland horror film is that it generally avoids jump cuts. That's unusual these days. There are deaths. It's unusual to make a horror movie without them, but by genre standards Wish Upon is not a particularly bloody or grotesque film. Unfortunately it's only infrequently a scary film. The film has pedestrian writing. I've seen much better writing and acting on early Supernatural or Friday the 13th episodes. After ten minutes of Wish Upon the viewer will know how the story will turn out. The only question is who is going to get it in the neck along the way.  This movie reminded me that time waits for no one. I am used to seeing certain people as the curvaceous sultry babe or young dashing rake.  They are now playing respectable, stolid, wrinkled, greying, middle aged parents and neighborhood residents. If they are still around in another fifteen years or so they'll be playing grandparents. So it goes. Anyone who has seen any horror movie knows that if you find an antique of uncertain provenance with warnings in languages that aren't easily understood, it's not a good idea to bring that item home. Anyone who has watched horror movies also knows that when you get something that's too good to be true, it is too good to be true. 

We always pay a price for what we do. I guess that it says something about human nature that this basic lesson is one that we must constantly relearn. There are no free lunches. So maybe we use horror movies to illustrate moral lessons. 

Call Of The Wild: What Makes Dogs and Wolves Different

I love dogs. I am a dog person. I love the idea of wolves. I love wolf iconography, whether it be the rock band Los Lobos, the blues giant Howlin Wolf, Stephen King's fiercely protective if somewhat dim character Wolf in The Talisman, or George R.R. Martin's Stark sigils and loyal direwolves. However it's not that easy to be a wolf person because wolves do not like or trust people. They are after all wild animals. They are not designed to be around people. Although the wolf's danger to humans and cattle is often overstated, it's usually a bad idea to raise a wolf or even a wolf-dog hybrid in your home. Wolves are predators. Wolves are more intelligent than dogs, stronger and more aggressive. Wolves are skittish and unpredictable around humans.

Dogs and wolves share so many characteristics that they are usually considered to be the same species. Humans have had dogs as pets and working animals for at least 14,000 years. Dogs are the first animal that humans domesticated. Did humans change some of the more docile wolves into dogs over time? Or are dogs and wolves descended from some extinct common ancestor? Dogs need time to learn the rules of being a dog before they are ready to leave their mother. How does this work for wolves? What makes an animal shy, skittish and potentially dangerous? Is it nature or nurture? Are the canid genes associated with fear or introversion the same as those in humans? Watch the video below the fold to get some answers to these questions.

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement. At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves. When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones.

Music Reviews: None Of Us Are Free

None of Us Are Free is a song written by Brenda Russell along with the famed Brill building husband wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. If I didn't know better I would have thought that the song was an old traditional blues field holler or gospel song, although in retrospect I suppose the lyrics are a little more direct than those songs tend to be. It's hard to sing about how badly you want your freedom when the very person denying you your freedom is standing over you with a whip and a gun. Anyway, this song is another example of how talent doesn't really respect race. Although the song has an earthy black gospel feel, particularly in the version I heard, Mann and Weil happen to be Jewish Caucasians. So sometimes charges of cultural appropriation are balderdash. Either you have talent or you don't. Obviously these songwriters had talent. This song has been recorded by Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd but the version I want to share with you is one by late soul legend Solomon Burke with the equally legendary Blind Boys of Alabama on backup vocals. You really have to be someone to get the Blind Boys of Alabama to sing backup for you. And Solomon Burke was. Maybe that's another post. If you're not already familiar with Solomon Burke then you should become familiar with him.

Anyway I really liked Burke's interpretation. The inspirational lyrics are simple but biting. The lyrics reminded me of so many different struggles. This song also reminded me that sometimes the collective is as important as the individual. This version was recorded live in the studio. It's not easy to find this sort of singing in what is today called R&B. I'm not saying that to be snide. It's just a fact. It seems as if resonant baritone and bass voices have been all but exiled from modern black American popular music. That's a shame. But so it goes. Anyway check out the lyrics and song below.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kellywise the Dancing Clown

I thought this was humorous. It's probably more humorous if you have seen the new IT movie or spent even a little time listening to Trump counselor/spokeswoman KellyAnne Conway spew contradictory nonsense whenever she's on television. Kate McKinnon continues to hit the ball out of the park when doing impressions.

 

Mice on the Menu at the Fortune Buffet

Let's say that you are sitting down to eat at your favorite restaurant. Just as you are preparing to consume your preferred meal, the one that is only really done right at this place, you notice mice or rats running across the floor. Do you shrug your shoulders and continue to  chow down? After all, we all have immune systems for a reason. You might as well give yours a work out. If you look behind the scenes at almost any restaurant you'll probably discover some information that won't give you a warm fuzzy feeling about eating there. Heck maybe those raisins in the salad aren't really raisins? Or, now armed with the knowledge that your food was prepared in a place shared with nasty filthy diseased little mice and their droppings, do you immediately leave the establishment,  cussing out the owners and swearing by the sixty-two moons of Saturn never to set foot in there again?

This is not just a hypothetical.
LIVONIA - Customers are complaining of a rodent infestation at Fortune Buffet in Livonia. Customers took out their phones to record it, as employees ran around with brooms during a lunch buffet. Fox 2's Hilary Golston talked with the owner.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Reviews: The Whistler

The Whistler
by John Grisham
I usually like a lot of Grisham's work. Like many other former lawyers or legal experts who have become thriller or mystery authors he is able to build excitement around oft boring judicial proceedings or explain legal esoterica to those of us who didn't go to law school. This book wasn't his among his most worthy creations though. The Whistler starts out in the familiar Grisham style. Two investigators for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct, Lacy Stolz and Hugo Hatch, receive information regarding potential judicial corruption. They follow up on it. But they're not expecting anything big. Although they are lawyers and work for the state they have no arrest powers and don't carry weapons. They investigate judges. The most dangerous things they normally encounter in their daily labor are nasty insults from $800/hr defense attorneys or empty threats from angered judges. Lacy and Hugo don't make a lot of money in their job.

Neither of them earns much more than $60,000/year. Lacy is single and quite attractive. Hugo is married with a growing family. The two co-workers are close. Not in THAT way. Lacy babysits for her partner and his wife from time to time. But the stakes of Lacy's and Hugo's job are usually pretty small. At worst a particularly venal judge might be indicted and convicted of a crime and serve a few years. That's pretty rare. Prosecutors and judges don't like to take down fellow big shots. Usually what happens is that a judge is censured, forced to resign, reassigned, fined or perhaps disbarred. But this case is different. Their contact, a man calling himself Greg Myers, claims to know of a corrupt judge who has stolen more money than all judges, ever. And the judge is involved in worse crimes. Disbarment or fines wouldn't be appropriate for this judge. These are federal crimes with real penalties.


Detroit CPL holder practices Self-Defense

I don't have much to say about this incident. On Detroit's east side one man armed with a gun tried to rob another man. The would be victim was legally armed and defended himself, shooting the robber multiple times. The robber is still alive. The victim had no time to call the police. And since the victim is neither bulletproof nor a superhero he had no way to wrestle with the assailant and disarm him without being shot. The victim did run away but again only Superman is faster than a speeding bullet. We stop someone who is wrongfully initiating force against us by meeting that force with equal or greater force.

I think that there are many reasons why violent street exists, some of which the government can and should address and resolve and some of which are probably beyond government solution. But that's another discussion. When someone is either shooting at or threatening to shoot you, it's too doggone late to make his parents raise him right. It's too late to give him enough self-respect and material success so that he won't want to risk prison or death. It's too late to rewire his moral code so that he doesn't enjoy hurting other people. The only thing we can do is stop the threat. And the most effective way of doing that is to be armed. There are some areas that are more dangerous than others. People who can should avoid those areas. But sometimes you can't avoid being in a bad area because it's your home area. Most people are not criminals. Most people won't ever be attacked. But I think it is non-negotiable to insist that American citizens retain the right to defend themselves both in their homes and in the streets.

Movie Reviews: Killing Gunther

Killing Gunther
directed by Taran Killam
This film was a mixed bag. It tried to be This is Spinal Tap for hitmen but didn't make it.
Killing Gunther is Killam's directorial debut. Killam is a SNL veteran. So often, this movie does feel like an unnaturally extended SNL skit. I thought that the premise was humorous. The film's energy flags occasionally. I think that the hour and a half long Killing Gunther could have dropped about 20 minutes from its running time and done okay. It's action comedy film that mixes slapstick, Airplane like sight gags, and black comedy to decent if not great impact. The first 20 minutes I laughed out loud quite a bit, after that, not so much. If I had seen this in theaters I probably wouldn't have thought it worth the expense and trouble of going to the movie theater. It was okay as a Saturday afternoon film.

 Although some more squeamish people may be turned off or even offended by the premise, the movie is not all that different from any number of comedies set in corporate offices or shady bars where a bunch of lovable losers come up with their planned big score. I was reminded of Welcome to Collinwood. Blake (Killam) is a somewhat louche, highstrung, world class hitman. Although he's good at what he does he's by no means the best. That appellation is reserved for the target of his ire, Gunther. Nobody knows what Gunther looks like. Some people aren't even certain that Gunther is a man. 

Everyone agrees that Gunther is the best. Maybe he's the best ever. Gunther takes on impossible hits and makes them look easy. Gunther shows off and steals all the best jobs. He makes other assassins look bad. Blake resents not being number one in his field. Blake decides that the way to set his own rep in stone as the man to see when you want someone murdered is to kill Gunther. As Ric Flair always says to be the man you gotta beat the man!!! Blake also has some more personal reasons for wanting Gunther dead. These become obvious later on in the film.

Columbus Day

1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them..

Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world and they were meaner than anybody else and they had gunpowder...The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their ability to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were."-Kurt Vonnegut
This past Monday, October 9th was Columbus Day. It's a federal holiday but many people do not receive the day off. Increasingly Columbus Day has become a flashpoint between people who would like to bring to light that there were already people living in the "New World" in 1492 and those who see any attempt to revise bad history as a simplistic scurrilous attack on whites, Italians, or Western Civilization. I was reminded of how the second group thinks when I was listening to a local white (supposedly liberal) radio host bemoan the city of Detroit's planned renaming of Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. The radio host and most of his callers were of the opinion that everyone (by which they meant non-whites) was just too sensitive these days. They said that well sure maybe Columbus did some bad things but Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't perfect either. 

And in their view because America existed now that made everything okay. The radio host closed out with what he thought was the devastating conclusion that Columbus was good because "our European ancestors never would have made it here were it not for Columbus".  Wow. How can anyone argue with that logic.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harvey Weinstein Accusations

Harvey Weinstein is a famed award winning Hollywood film and television producer and distributor. He has produced and/or distributed such movies as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting, Clerks, The Crying Game, Shaolin Soccer,  The Iron LadySilver Linings Playbook, The English Patient, and Sex, Lies and Videotape among others. Weinstein is the executive producer of Project Runway. Weinstein also has a book publishing company. Weinstein provided an internship to Malia Obama, President Obama's daughter. Although Weinstein's recent films have not been as critically acclaimed or as profitable as they have been in the past, Weinstein has over the years built a well deserved reputation as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He's worth hundreds of millions.

Like several men who fit that description, Weinstein has had business relationships with some of the world's most beautiful or successful actresses and models, including such women as Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Ashley Judd, and Uma Thurman. Weinstein has allegedly used his power within the entertainment industry to make women put out or get out in the classic casting couch/sexual harassment sense. I was aware of a few isolated past accounts of settlements and accusations concerning Weinstein. But the New York Times recently ran an expose detailing numerous settlements going back decades. The story included women who were willing to go on record about their experiences with the satyric Mr. Weinstein. 

Update: The Weinstein Company’s board has fired Harvey Weinstein after reports of sexual harassment complaints against him. Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview. “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Ms. Judd said she remembers thinking.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Reviews: A Rage in Harlem

A Rage in Harlem
by Chester Himes
The author Chester Himes (1909-1984) had a very short career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers. It ended when studio boss Jack Warner heard about Himes' hiring and immediately ordered Himes' firing, stating "I don't want no n*****s on this lot!". So much for liberal Hollywood. Himes said that incident in particular and the Los Angeles racism in general was something that more than anything else embittered him. That's saying a lot since Himes had been tortured by police, served time in prison, and watched helplessly as his blinded brother was turned away from a whites-only hospital. But Hollywood's loss was literature's gain. This is African-American noir fiction based in, as is apparent from the title, late fifties Harlem. Hollywood made a nineties movie based on this 1957 book starring Robin Givens, Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover. I've seen the film but didn't remember much about it. Hollywood previously made seventies era semi-comedic blaxploitation films based on Himes' other works. I didn't recall much about those movies besides the Donny Hathaway soundtrack and Redd Foxx appearance. So when I set down to read this taut, short novel I didn't have a lot of expectations, good or bad. 

After reading it I was impressed. Himes doesn't waste prose. He describes things quickly. You don't get bored with tedious explanations. Himes paints a picture and lets the reader fill in the rest. The novel has some humor, but it's not slapstick. It's more subtle. And at least in this story, which serves as the introduction to the rough black detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, the detectives are not humorous at all. They aren't interested as much in protecting citizens as they are in ending any challenges to their personal authority.  They are not nice people. 

Himes writes: Grave Digger and Coffin Ed weren't crooked detectives, but they were tough. They had to be tough to work in Harlem. Colored folks didn't respect colored cops. But they respected big shiny pistols and sudden death. It was said in Harlem that Coffin Ed's pistol would kill a rock and that Grave Digger's would bury it. They took their tribute like all real cops, from the established underworld catering to the essential needs of the people--gamekeepers, madams, streetwalkers, numbers writers, numbers bankers. But they were rough on purse snatchers, muggers, burglars, con men, and all strangers working any racket. And they didn't like rough stuff from anybody else but themselves. "Keep it cool", they warned. "Don't make graves."


Michigan Mother Jailed Over Vaccination Refusal

People have differing beliefs about the efficacy of some scientific or medical procedures. We have, within some very wide parameters, the ability to make these decisions for ourselves. Your body. Your choice. There are limits. You can't legally decide that ingesting cocaine and meth is the best way to spend your weekend. You can, however, eat and drink yourself into a stupor. An adult can refuse medical treatment for conditions or diseases that everyone knows require immediate treatment. The state or concerned family or friends face a high barrier trying to force an adult to accept medical treatment or drugs that he or she opposes. I know some doctors and lawyers who are frustrated by this. They snark that someone has spent a few hours on Google or WebMD and now considers themselves a doggone legal/medical expert. I've had discussions with friends and relatives who have what I consider to be conspiratorial paranoid mindsets. I know how irritating it can be when someone refuses to see reason. But this is our system. An adult doesn't have to justify his or her bad decisions. The state or other adults have to justify why they wish to substitute their judgment for someone else's.  

But children are a little different. With children the state has an independent interest, separate from the parents, in ensuring the child's health and life. When the parents disagree with the state or disagree with each other things can get messy. Rebecca Bredow, a local Southeast Michigan woman, shares joint custody of her son with her ex-husband, James Horne. Horne wanted his son vaccinated. Bredow disagreed, citing health and religious beliefs. The judge presiding over the case was unconvinced

Las Vegas Murders and The 2nd Amendment

I don't have that much to write about the recent atrocity in Las Vegas where a wealthy semi-retired real estate investor and gambler shot hundreds of people at a country music concert. Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people and wounded over 400. Likely many of the survivors will have lifelong physical and even emotional or mental issues. It's a horror. No one yet knows the killer's motive. From the information released to the public, it appears that Paddock used bump stocks to increase the rate of fire of his weapons. Bump stocks are legal devices which redirect the gun's recoil to make a semi-automatic weapon behave somewhat similarly to an automatic weapon. Automatic weapons made after 1986 are of course already banned for civilian usage. Those made prior to that time are legal but only with strict government oversight. 

In the wake of the shootings many people who were generally already pro-gun control were greatly outraged.  Some people expressed content that country music fans and presumed Trump voters and pro-gun people were the victims of the shooting. Others called for more gun control: bans on bump stocks, bans on semi-automatic rifles, increased fees, taxes and insurance on gun owners, criminal liability for people whose guns were stolen, limits on the number of weapons or ammunition any one man could purchase, warrantless searches of gun owners' homes, long prison sentences for someone caught with a banned gun, medical sign off to own a gun, government surveillance of anyone known to have more than x number of guns, lawsuits against the NRA or gun manufacturers, profiling of white men, registering of all guns nationwide, only particular types of guns (revolvers or shotguns) being allowed for civilian ownership, confiscation of all guns except for police or military use, and the repeal of the 2nd Amendment.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Reviews: Fortunate Son

The music business is a dirty corrupt place. Record company owners and executives, talent scouts, radio dj's, music publishers, managers, agents, promoters, lawyers, venue owners, producers, and several other business types have the means, motive and opportunity to exploit and cheat musicians. It's the rare musician who has avoided these problems over the course of his or her career. In the bad old days such exploitation was common. As frontman, lead guitarist, primary songwriter and singer for the California bred Southern sounding roots-rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), John Fogerty is famous for his songs, his style and his distinctive almost prophetic voice. He is also famous for being ripped off by his record company owner and publisher, Saul Zaentz. John Fogerty is and was not a man to suffer quietly. John Fogerty apparently can hold a grudge like nobody's business. Fortunate Son is an autobiography and hopefully an act of catharsis. I can appreciate someone who is forthright. If you step on John Fogerty's foot, he is not going to be quiet. He will tell you to get the f*** off his freaking foot!  He will then continually remind everyone of the time in 2017 when you stepped on his foot. Your mileage may vary on this. If someone cheated you out of payment for and ultimately ownership of songs that you wrote, and then later had the audacity to sue you for plagiarism for sounding like yourself(!), you also might become a bit irritable. Would you let this disrupt a sibling relationship? Well maybe, maybe not. It's hard to say until you're in that situation.

This book is divided into three sections. This setup will be instantly familiar to anyone who has watched similar stories on VH1 or BET. First, Fortunate Son gives us the happy early days. John talks about his interest in black music, or what was called "Race" music in the forties and fifties. He was a big fan of people like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles and several other early rockers, country musicians and electric bluesmen, particularly Howling Wolf, whose phrasing and cadence John adored. John and his brother Tom were musically inclined youngsters. John describes trying to grasp Elmore James licks or watching people stumble playing Ray Charles riffs.

The Dog Was Here First: Southwest Airlines and Professor Daulatzai

We've seen people kicked off airplanes because they declined to purchase extra seats for children or because they refused to be bumped to a later flight or because they got into a dispute with the pilot or crew or because they refused to show proper id or because some bullying law enforcement or political official just wanted to flex his authority. I don't think I've ever seen someone kicked off a flight because they couldn't share the entire plane with a dog. This is not a brutal video all things considered but perhaps we have become so desensitized to anything involving police use of force that as long as there is no beating, shooting or tasing it's okay. Nobody of any gender, age or race likes having larger armed people touch their body without permission and force compliance. Is there a way to move a woman against her will without touching sensitive areas? Unlikely. I can't call it on this one. 

Fortunately I do not suffer from dog allergies. Occasionally people who do have such allergies will visit my home, which does have a dog present. Usually I will immediately put the dog in a separate area if the person has a serious problem and/or asks politely. But if the person tries to tell me what to do with my dog in my home my response might be a little different. Sometimes there is no way to square the circle and ensure that everyone has their rights respected. It's just a win-lose situation. Someone is going to lose. In the story below Maryland Institute College of Art and Harvard Professor Daulatzai lost her battle against the police and Southwest Airlines.


NFL Protests

Donald Trump's attack on black athletes kneeling during the national anthem is red meat to a white base which is, not to put to fine a word on it, racist.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out, you’re fired!’ ”

The Republican voting base not only has a high level of animosity toward black people, just showing them a picture of a black man changes how they think on a variety of issues. This isn't news to anyone who bothers to read comments on stories in their local newspaper or heaven forbid, yahoo. But it's good to have data to back this up. Inevitably whenever a black athlete or other celebrity takes a political stand that questions the status quo around justice in America many non-black people question the black person's intelligence. Additionally they start to call the person "lazy", "spoiled", "ungrateful", "entitled", "pampered", "arrogant", or "overpaid" among other epithets. This language almost exactly tracks the language of white slave owners upset that their former slaves were leaving the plantation or the language of European colonialists bewildered and angered that they were being kicked out of Africa

This view of black progress, that achievement or success is only being allowed or tolerated because of white munificence, is a fundamental building block of white racism, regardless of whatever other politics the person displaying such racism might have. It's found among liberals as much as among conservatives. It's just expressed a little differently.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Farmer Tennes, East Lansing, Free Speech and Gay Marriage

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

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

The Mad Pooper of Pine Creek

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

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

Movie Reviews: Wind River, Jackals

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

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

Book Reviews: The Force

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

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


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

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

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

It gets worse after that.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Equifax hack: Time to get rid of credit bureaus?

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

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


Saturday, September 16, 2017

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

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

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


Movie Reviews: IT

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

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


Movie Reviews: Kick-Ass, Last Exit To Brooklyn

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

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

Movie Reviews: Breakfast At Tiffany's

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

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Reviews: Pandemic

Pandemic 
by Scott Sigler
Pandemic is the conclusion to the sci-fi/thriller trilogy started in Infected (reviewed earlier here). This book has been out for a minute but I just recently got around to reading it. This was a shame because Pandemic is a really good story. But on the other hand I recently happened to be stuck at a few places where there was nothing else to do but read so this came in very handy. Sigler doesn't write, or rather I should say I haven't read, anything that is overtly supernatural, and Pandemic is no different. Obviously scientific reality is stretched but the dangers in Pandemic are based in plausible, although very unlikely events. The stage Sigler sets is much larger in the final series installment than in Infected and the middle book Contagious. There are some characters from prior books who return for Pandemic. I liked that previous events left marks on people. It made the depictions breathe.

All of us are literally teeming with bacteria, viruses, germs, and parasites. Many of these are essential for continued life. Others apparently have no major effect on us, for good or bad. And a small minority are dangerous to our health and life and those of other humans. Our immune system has evolved to prevent many of these organisms from killing us. But what happens if a superior alien intelligence bypasses or hijacks our immune system and rewrites our DNA in order to change humanity into something else entirely? That was the premise of the first two books. An alien Orbital encountered Earth. Relying on previously encoded instructions it seeded Earth (well mostly Michigan -the author is a Michigan native) with infections that were a combination of virus/machine/plant material. The infected humans changed. They attempted to convert other humans and build a gateway to allow the aliens to transfer themselves to Earth. These attempts failed. The US government destroyed the Orbital along with the changed humans.

However, Pandemic postulates that the artificial intelligence encoded in the Orbital was capable of learning from its mistakes. Before it was destroyed it altered the algorithm and purpose of the infectious agents it released upon humanity. It got smarter. And although it was destroyed, a small payload portion of the Orbital, no larger than a pop can, fell to Earth, in Lake Michigan to be precise.

Fall Peak Foliage Map

Fall is almost upon us. That means among other things plenty of apple and pumpkin pies, apple cider, baked apples, various sorts of apples in apple mills and grocery stores, women in sweaters, football, and the thankful departure of heat, humidity and insects. But as wonderful as all of those things are, perhaps the most glorious indication of autumn is the changing colors of the leaves as they slowly fall from the trees. This is really fun to watch and experience. There is a lot of beauty in the world. Fall is a great time to look around and experience it. The monotony of the summer season's green disappears in an explosion of all sorts of reds, oranges, browns, and yellows. I think that Michigan provides one of the most exciting displays of this change but in truth most places in the United States offer the marking of the changing of seasons and the approach of winter. The below foliage map shows the peak color change times for the lower 48 US states. Hopefuly wherever you may be you can take some time out to enjoy the physical beauty of the world. 

Some consider it to be the most incredible time of the year. Gorgeous colors vibrantly encoring the end of summer as the trees put themselves to bed for the long sleep of winter. The Great Smoky Mountains floods with thousands upon thousands of annual visitors all hoping to achieve a breath taking view of the beautiful renaissance of nature.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Walmart Gunwoman and Crazy Bus Passengers

There's a couple of things I don't do. The first thing is shop at Walmart. I don't like their declasse marketing approach and ruthless management style. The second thing is ride the bus. There's not many mass transit options where I live and work now anyhow. The last time I rode the bus was in Detroit some decades back. A fight broke out, one in which I had no part in starting and in which I did not participate. The bus driver stopped the bus and called the police. Not wanting to be bothered to actually do their job and figure out who did what the police just forced all of the black males in a certain area off the bus and called it a day. The group kicked off the bus included yours truly. The bus driver and police drove off. As the fight restarted I walked home, now fully convinced that I needed a car of my own. There are too many strange and/or violent people who infest our mass transit options.

I was reminded of both of these self-imposed prescriptions by two recent incidents. The first took place in Washington D.C. A bus passenger, a woman who is evidently suffering from either mental illness, drug issues or intense paranoia, didn't like the way that the bus driver, also a woman, told her to have a nice day as she exited the bus. Rather than do what most people would do and keep moving, this lady, one Opal Brown, threw a cup of urine on the bus driver before running away.

Detroit Residents Locked Out of Little Caesars Arena Hiring

One of the greatest challenges in a post-civil rights movement society is to translate black political power into black economic power. I think it's fair to say that given the stats around black unemployment, wealth and income that just giving black people the right to vote isn't enough. Just electing black politicians (or white politicians beholden to black interests) isn't enough. We need something stronger to change economic realities. I was recently reminded of this by some of the latest news concerning the construction of the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. This arena will be a venue for concerts and for Pistons (basketball) and Red Wings (hockey) professional games. The arena will technically be city owned but will be managed and operated (and profited from) by Olympia Entertainment, a sub company of Ilitch Holdings. The Ilitches, a local billionaire family, own Little Caesars, The Detroit Tigers, The Red Wings, a local casino, and several other venues and properties in and around Detroit, including the famed Fox Theater. If you're working in sports or entertainment in the Detroit area, chances are excellent that you're going to rub shoulders with the Ilitches at some point. 

The Ilitch family was one of the few well known Caucasian run large private businesses to maintain a continual presence in Detroit during some very lean years in the eighties and nineties. They have given charity to many (including late civil rights legend Rosa Parks) and provided good pr for the city. They have also profited nicely from some sweetheart deals, including the financing of the new arena with taxpayer backed bonds, some of which was money supposed to go to public schools. Silly me. I thought that if you were a billionaire you could finance your own arena but maybe you don't become or stay a billionaire by needlessly risking your own money. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Salt Lake Police Arrest Nurse and Drag Her From Hospital

I'm not a lawyer. And I don't keep up with all of the ways in which the Federal government and various states and municipalities, often with winks and nods from the current Supreme Court, attempt to get around the limitations placed on government actions by the Fourth Amendment. But one thing which still seems to be in force, in law if not respected on the street, is that the police cannot absent your consent, your arrest, a warrant or some sort of probable cause take samples of your blood, your flesh, your DNA. A nurse named Alex Wubbels attempted to politely explain this to a police officer named Jeff Payne. Payne wanted to draw blood from a man who had been involved in an accident. Payne admitted to another officer that he did not have probable cause but wanted the blood drawn anyway. Wubbels refused and explained that the hospital policy, based on the law was that the hospital would not assist unless certain conditions were met. Payne apparently lost his temper and since he had been given previous authorization from his supervisor, arrested the nurse. Watch video below. Arrest starts at roughly 6 minute mark.

Book Reviews: Monster Hunter Vendetta

Monster Hunter Vendetta
by Larry Correia
This is book two in Correia's Monster Hunter series. To recap, just about everything that goes bump in the night is real. The government pays mercenaries or "hunters" who kill or capture (mostly kill) monsters. The government also keeps a watchful eye on these mercenaries, often interfering with their activities for "national security" reasons. At every incident with monsters the government is there to clean up the mess, provide cover stories, handle the media and "convince" witnesses that they didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Particularly stubborn witnesses might find themselves "disappeared". The primary mercenary group is Monster Hunter International. They are overseen by the federal government's Monster Control Bureau. Owen Pitt is the hero of the series. He's a former accountant of rather large size, much like the author, who having survived an encounter with a werewolf with his body and soul intact, joined Monster Hunter International. Monster Hunter International is run by the Shackleford family. This includes Julie Shackleford, Owen's love interest and soon to be wife, and her great grandfather Earl Harbinger. Earl is an all around bad$$$ who also happens to be a werewolf. Earl is not eligible for any bounties, not that anyone would be stupid enough to try. In the first book Owen and his team, Julie, his buddy Trip and former stripper Holly, saved the world from being devoured by those beyond. As part of this process a nuclear bomb was detonated in the dimension where the evil Lovecraftian god The Dread Overlord existed. This didn't kill the Dread Overload. But it did make him pretty upset. And Owen Pitt has moved to the top of the evil god's sh**list. 

In this book the Dread Overlord has sent its cult and wizards after Pitt. It wants Pitt brought to its dimension. Preferably alive, but not necessarily with all of his limbs. To this end the cult has pulled out all the stops to get Pitt. This means destroying Monster Hunter International and going after Pitt's family. But Pitt is a surly wisea$$ at the best of times. He's not going to sit still while anyone threatens his family, even if said someone is an apparently invulnerable wizard known as the Shadow Man